Kali: The Viral Moving Poem That Sheds Light On Our Dark-Skin Stigma

‘Get gazillion shades fairer by using this skin-lightening extra-expensive cream that will make you hate yourself more’, is what I read when I see the ‘lovely’ and ‘fair’ advertisements on various media platforms.

What is this obsession we have with fair skin?

I can’t help but remember an incident from my school days. Our biology teacher was teaching us about various systems of the body and we reached the chapter about ‘skin’. I faintly remember how she said that the lighter the skin, the higher the chances of being affected by the sun’s rays. Bang! That day, a decade ago, all my inhibitions about skin colour were shattered and I was free.

Not everyone was that fortunate.

No one knows who defined ‘beauty’ as being synonymous with ‘fair-skin’ but most of us sure have been carriers of that shallow notion. ‘Biodatas’ for marriages often list ‘fair-skin’ as a requirement for a prospective bride or groom. Who cares about a fair heart? Who cares about even thinking twice about their obsession with ‘skin colour’.

I don’t even want to start talking about racism. So I’ll resort to talking about the famous fairytale we all grew up reading. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of all?” says Snow White’s wicked stepmother who is obsessed with being the fairest woman in the kingdom.  Then comes the witch and the apple and the dwarfs. Do you remember what happens to the stepmother/witch? She dies. Yeah, you get the point.

Even if you don’t get the point, this Mumbai-based woman surely got it. She penned down a beautiful poem named ‘Kali’ that has gone viral over the internet. Hema Gopinath Sah, a blogger and a proud mother, told the Indian Express, ” I once saw a TV interview of a little girl no more than four. She was asked why another little girl was her best friend, so the girl replied because she is fair. The audience laughed delightedly in understanding. How do we ever change this, lift this prejudice, which is entrenched in our DNA? I want to claim the word ‘Fair’ back. I want it to only mean the opposite of unfair. It should only stand for what it was intended- justice, equality, equitability.”

Here is the full text of Sah’s poem:

It was my mother’s fault that she birthed
Me on the banks of Kaveri
For try as they did they could not wash the black alluvial soil off my skin

Little piece of coal my mother’s brother calls me
As he pretends he can’t spot me in the darkened birthing chamber
It sounds very cute when said in Tamil
An endearment.

This one just got baked a little longer in the oven laughs my father when
My mother guiltily presents him with yet another daughter
One whose skin only a paddy farmer could love.

I am six when I am made to understand that
I who was proudly showing off my 99% in Maths was less than my classmate,
At least I’m fairer than you she says,
Sadly looking down at her own 73% marks

Raahat Ali hisses the epithet in class 3, that I would get familiar with through the years
Because I refuse to let him hold my hand

The shame I feel looking at my white face black neck makeup at my Arangetram
The shame
Is for the secret pleasure that even though I look like a clown, I am fair
For two hours

I burn my skin to a crisp with hydrogen peroxide, congratulations.
I now possess blonde sideburns to contrast my black skin.

The proud mother of a prospective groom, who insisted on a fair skinned bride
For her son who was ‘white as milk’
Amma told her off in no uncertain terms that her daughter
Is dark as decoction and only when you mix the two.
Do you get rich aromatic

The boy who said your skin shines
Like burnished copper.
I let him go, I thought he was lying.
Boris Becker declared that the only time
He noticed that his girlfriend was black
Was when he saw how beautiful her skin
Looked against his white sheets

Touching my husband’s peachy creamy skin when we make love
Wondering how he could find me desirable

Lakme has three shades white, off-white and peach
The joy I feel when I purchase my first compact
At Heera Panna smugglers market
At age 26
It is the mythical, never seen before MAC compact,
In the pre- Manmohan Singh era
And it is the exact shade of my skin,
They got me. They knew I existed.
I had a number.
I still have that compact. After 18 years.
But the shop assistant wants me to buy NC 44 Because it makes me look fairer.

I’m pushing my light-skinned daughter on the swings
Someone asks me where her mother is
I bristle that I’m the mother
The lady giggles apologetically,
Usually only maids are dark skinned no,
No offense meant ji

Stay indoors, don’t swim, don’t tan, it’s OK
That your Vit D levels drop to 4.75
Depression, stress fractures are a reasonable price for fair-er skin
Melanin is a disease, there are treatments for it

Stick to gold jewellery, silver makes you darker
Leave the diamonds to the porcelain Punjabis
Don’t wear white, don’t wear black,
don’t wear blue, don’t wear pink,
Don’t wear light colours, don’t wear dark
Don’t wear pastels, don’t wear warm colours, don’t wear cold either

She who stands naked
Wearing heads and blood
Suffering no one
Fangs are bared as are the talons
Fulsome, fearsome
Black of skin
Revered worshipped adored


Kudos to her! You can read her blog here.

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Heer Khant
Heer Khant

Traveller | Writer | Photographer | Maverick | Social Worker | Lawyer | A freedom-loving woman for whom words are like wings to her soul. She believes in aliens, hates boundaries and lives like the first human on Earth.

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