If you have grown up in a dark brown skin, like I have, you have possible heard this sentence many times in your life: " She is dark but smart", " She is not dark, just dusky. And, very intelligent". "She is nice. A little dark, but nice..."
I grew up in an age when being dark was a horrible fate. Being dark meant either being noticed because of your dark colour or worse still, ignored or neglected to such a point that you begin to feel you don't exist. That people can't see you.
Growing up, I remember the best years of my childhood were spent in clothes that were shades of either grey or brown so that I felt I was a mouse that disappeared into the background. Dark people could not carry reds, blues and greens was the thought back then but every time loving family members brought me yet another grey or brown dress for my birthday, my heart broke a little more.
If you look at photographs from my childhood you can spot me immediately. I am the girl in the corner of the frame, angry eyes staring down the photographer, almost willing him to make me look lovely, despite the drabness of my clothes. In many ways , I think the colourlessness of my clothes made affected my personality for a long time. I was a shy kid with few friends and I became a rebel to boot, possibly to get some attention for myself.
My parents and siblings never made me feel I was any lesser. My father, in fact, would proudly say I was his prettiest baby but the community around reminded me of the colour of my skin at every opportunity, not by talking about it but in subtler ways that hurt way more than that....
I never did know how to verbalize my hurt back then but my heart yearned to wear bright red, emerald green, orange and pink. It is possibly a hangover from my childhood that my cupboard is now full of these colours:-)
I celebrate colour and revel in wearing every hue of the rainbow.
Somewhere along the way I learnt also to look at life in a more cheerful way. Maybe it was because I felt so much on the fringes of life, side-lined and neglected, that I have grown up to be a person with empathy and compassion and a sensitivity towards the differentness of people. I seek out diversity in life and have made it my mission to celebrate that in every manner possible.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sudha Menon is a long-time journalist and author of best-selling non-fiction books, Leading Ladies; Women Who Inspire India and the recently launched Legacy-letters to their daughters from eminent men and women. After a childhood where she fought with the demons of self-doubt and a deep-rooted complex about the colour of her skin, she says she found her calling in becoming a "chronicler of people's lives."