Fifty Shades of Brown

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“Are you dark? Or very light?”

“You mean like plain..or milk chocolate?”

Following Nina Davuluri’s crowning as the Miss. America and the racist remarks episode, there were Indians that reacted to this saying that it was not fair to call her names and how someone becomes American by a way of settlement and not birth. Yeah, I agree to that completely but I also know that this is some kind of umm..uh.. hypocrisy because we (Indians) do not want to self-identify ourselves as brown. I mean, when was the last time we had a ‘brown’ Miss. India!

 

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In 1994, when Ash and Sushmita won the World and Universe titles, I was just a year old, but of course I knew of this when I was 7 or something. And I was very happy that we’ve had a decent number of beautiful women winning these pageants internationally. Growing older, however I have a different perspective- When you look at Ash or even Sushmita Sen, for that matter it is hard to tell that they’re Indian. Apart from the fact that both of them are shades fairer than the women we see everyday, they are also perfect examples of what the ‘elitist’ western world calls ‘elegant’, which can be interpreted as soft-spoken or ‘clean’.
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20 years later, I don’t feel validated. Not yet.

Waking up this morning,I was going through the matrimonial columns in the newspaper. (For those of you that do not know, a matrimonial is like an advertisement for men and women of marriageable age that ask for brides or grooms with certain specifications). And the word that repeated itself so often in these ads was…..1…2..3…say it. say it….FAIR! I don’t exactly lose sleep over the fact that a 30 or 40-ish business man or a software professional wants a ‘fair’ wife,but it confuses me because I still haven’t understood what could be called fair in an Indian context. (‘Should be fair’ is not as specific as saying ‘should wear a size 34’.).

Not just the word ‘fair’ but any word that is associated with looks is inappropriate in a matrimonial because that would just go on to show the reality that marriage is more or less viewed as a union that revolves around sex than other primary factors like compatibility, companionship, love, understanding, acceptance etc. Let’s save that for another post, though.

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India is a diverse country. And there is more diversity in India than the whole of ‘the rest of the world’ put together. And because of this geography and habitual influences, the complexion of course varies from region to region. Generically, one can say that the south is darker than the north.

The partiality towards fair skin is however as much prevalent in the south as the north of India. The reason for this is hard to place. Is it because of the fact that we were once ruled by the British that we’ve developed an affinity towards the people of ‘the crown’? Or is it just that we think fair-skinned people are much more beautiful than dusky/dark ones.

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The problem however,is more sexist in its essence than racist. While the ‘tall,dark,handsome’ holds for men in India, most dark-skinned girls are convinced that they’d never get a guy to marry them. Although the fear is slightly exaggerated, I can tell it is not entirely false. The obsession with light-skinned girls is everywhere. In the movies, particularly in South-Indian movies, while the guy is a brown tending to black, the girl is generally fair almost Caucasian.

The insecurity among the brown girls was not really evident to me until I started going to an all-girls’ college. I’d find that in a group of girls, each individual would be around the same shade of skin color. While most fair girls would wear pink lipstick or some red (yes, to college) in a way to highlight their complexion, most dark girls would highlight their facial features as if to distract beholders from the fact that they were actually dark. And the adjectives used on light skinned girls would be ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ where as on dusky ones would be ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’.

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I’m not against any group. What I see as pathetic,is how products promising to lighten the complexion of an individual, market themselves by making good use of someone’s weakness. I personally don’t recommend an individual worrying too much about looks. No, I am not selling any ‘beauty comes from within’ bullshit here; but your looks are something you are born with, and just because yours does not fit into what a group of people would call ‘pleasant’ doesn’t mean you should try and change it. Umm. There’s nothing you can do about what you were born with.

Acceptance. That’s all.

“Foolishly madam- by sitting down,has turned
My bottom raven black- One moment madam! – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears- “Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?””

 

 

 

The virginal Indian

 

 I am 21. And…I am virgin.

This is nothing extraordinary.  India offers an endless procession of virgins. Allowing a  few exceptions, almost every girl you meet, who is unmarried and below 30 years of age is invariably virgin. (There are of course, cases of girls saving themselves for marriage in India) But most of these are ‘accidental’ cases of virgins. While some are resultant of lack of opportunity or just not being able to find ‘a place to do’. This is some kind of a consolation to me- I am not alone.

I am  just like the many Indian spinsters living with their parents. I have a room to myself. The same thing, however could not be said about ‘space’. My parents were brought up on the old-school idea that  it was up to them to protect their daughter. And it was not the individual herself.

In a society where ‘morally correct’ roughly translates into ‘covered’, a society where a huge premium is put on virginity- I am doing things right. I have my privileges. I could just pick out any guy and if he likes me for the person I am, I could marry him without any fear. I am a girl with no evidences of the ‘past’. And being a virgin, I was also entitled to call any ‘hot stuff’ that displeased me-‘slutty’. Also is the fact that, I never really have to calculate my period dates in advance.

 

So why was I frustrated? Being a virgin did not bother me. Not as much as being shy. For someone with absolutely no inhibitions, I am a bit too shy physically, sexually. I know I would hold myself back from even responding to my partner’s advances, leave alone ‘taking the lead’. You might argue that this is nothing to be ashamed of. It is true. And it is also ‘opinion’. I am not someone that people would like seeing as ‘awkward’ in situations.I would hate to be seen as a sexual hypocrite or prude. (2/10 would bang). (Not like I have a problem with being ‘unattractive’. Still.).

 

 I am not the way I used to be at the time of puberty. I no longer get ‘butterflies’ on seeing some ‘great bod’.  Also are these insecurities about my appearances which didn’t exist  then. Almost every girl has been conditioned into thinking anything related to sex and the word itself- is wrong. And naturally is trained into expressing  herself verbally, bodily in an acceptable manner( that is, without the use of sexual references or expressions.).  And I’m used to this. And to suddenly shift to a more flirtatious or feminine demeanor wouldn’t come too easily. Much as  I know that  I am not too old. And also I’m aware of the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘right age’ to have your first erotic experience. And I don’t hate being virgin as much as I’d hate having to look aesthetically-pleasing  for someone to see. However, the realization that my first experience would be a little calculated and mature in opposition to the spontaneous and innocent ones, like in the movies (which in my opinion is how a ’ first’ should be) disappoints me. I feel like I was deprived of having  this ‘experience’. (Perhaps, it was for a greater good.).

 

I’m certainly not a fan of nudity or vulgarity. Nor do I want to see a whole new generation of single moms. I don’t advocate 14 year olds having non-condomed , pre-marital sex either. And deep inside me I know the ‘protective’ nature that is characteristic to a parent is something that I’d be grow up to appreciate. But decisions concerning one’s ‘virginity’ should be conscious/self-made.  An individual has the right to expression. And sex, is a form of expressing oneself. Let’s just say, having a choice is good.

 

 

 

 

Sachin, the brand.

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Even as Sachin’s 200th test match (his last ever cricket match) is being played against the WI at Wankhede stadium, Mumbai, my heart sinks at the thought- ‘I won’t see Sachin. Again!’. The ‘Master Blaster’ is most definitely not my favourite cricket player (he ranks around 10th or 11th on my list). However, he is the first cricket player whose name I learnt. He is a bit like Aqua and Michael Jackson to me; Growing up, I replaced them with ‘more favourites’. But the first is the first. All that’s immaterial here. My mother will miss him. She exclaims ‘He doesn’t look 40!’. My dad replies ‘No, he looks 39 at most.’. The conversation moves on to more next-door topics.

Sachin at a point of time was EVERYWHERE! Sachin is just not another cricketer. He is not like Rahul Dravid or Saurav Ganguly- the kinds that will be remembered for the cricket they played. Sachin is a ‘concept’. He has held every record there is, and it will take some time before they are broken. But that is just the ‘cricket’ of it.

If I get a picture of Tendulkar on my mind, I will also hear him saying “Boost is the secret of my…OUR energy.”. Boost (an energy drink) is only one of the many brands that the ‘GOD of cricket’ has endorsed. There was Pepsi, and now there is Coca-Cola. There was Brittannia and after that there was Sunfeast. And Sachin was the face of Adidas at the time Dravid was the face of Reebok. What I see as incredible is that- this man has been the face of a wide variety of brands. There was never a ‘kind of’ brand. He has endorsed everything write (right. lol I know. Get it?) from Reynolds to electronic brands like- Sanyo, Toshiba, Philips and Canon; Automobiles Fiat Palio and TVS. Others include- VISA, G-Hanz, Airtel, Ujala,Muzafir.com (what’s it?),Madras Rubber Factory (abbreviated as MRF but I just wanted to type ‘Madras’,yo.), Aviva India, Action shoes,etc. <breathes heavily> 

And there were also these ‘social’ ads like the ones he did for NECC “jo ande roz kaathe hain, woh hatte katte rahthe hai”(basically, it just means ‘eat eggs’) and AIDS awareness “I wear condoms, because life is unpredictable.”. (hehe) In both of these of course, he shared space with his teammates. But, he WAS there. 

And apparently, he is ranked #51 on Forbes’ top-earning athletes of 2013. But unlike 5 years back, he is not the most earning sportsman in India, with Kohli and Dhoni having over-taken him. But we know two things, We would have never seen Sachin endorsing ‘Fair and Handsome’ like Kohli. Nor have we seen him dancing with actresses like Kohli did in the ‘Clear’ shampoo ad. This just shows people don’t take him for a ‘face’ like Kohli. And we also know that no other cricketer will stay here for such a long time, making Tendulkar the winner here.

So will his retirement affect his Brand-image? I’d say “Yes” but “Not really”. Like when Aishwarya Rai got married we thought she was gone forever (with L’oreal almost having replaced her with Sonam Kapoor, and all). But she could not be gone for long. She got married, she had a beautiful girl baby, she lost some weight. And…we still see her with a shampoo bottle in hand. I’m not denying that she is less ubiquitous as before, but at least we see her. And with the baby growing up, we see her in more ‘home maker’ ads like the one for Prestige pressure cooker  with hubby Abishek. 

I’m not saying Sachin is like Ash. But retirement is to a cricketer what marriage is to a beautiful face. And with Canon having replaced Sachin with Anushka Sharma (hahahaha OMG!), I do have my doubts. But I know Tendulkar is someone the entire nation has made a habit to see on T.V. We won’t see him sweating it out or pouncing on cricket balls with an audio of a lion roaring for the BGM, but he will appear as a silent, wise guy, sitting on the steps of an indoor stadium, juggling balls patiently and giving advice on life and talking about ‘Retirement Plans’. 

 

 

 

 

 

Science Education for the ‘special child’ in India.

One of these days, I’ve been going through Science magazines from the 70’s and 80’s. And I’ve been immensely inspired by quite a number of articles. One article that really disturbed me was…uh..’Science for the special child’ by Ian J. Townsend, Mill Chase County Secondary School, Bordon in ‘The School Science Review’ (June 1971).  I read only the preamble, but I got his point. (Bordon is a town in the dist. of Hampshire, England,btw.)

His definition for a special child ‘is one, who in the middle years of his secondary education is unable to even follow a well-structured course due to his inability to express himself in the basic skills.’. He goes on to say such a child falls on the borderline between ‘Newsom’ and ‘Remedial’.

And I immediately started relating it to the classroom environment in India.Now we know that a child is given a choice of ‘ if or not’  he or she wants to pursue her education with science as a subject only by around 16 years of age. So it is necessary that he/she attains the minimum required marks till then to go ahead (with life). If you have had your education in India, you know the kind of education system we have here. It is really difficult for any child to be motivated into pursuing science, leave alone a ‘special child’.

And there is also this question ‘Why is it necessary for a special child to do science?’ The reason I’d say, is that some of them are incredibly creative. And science is a creative subject. Science requires a vivid imagination and an active mind which these kids have. Apart from this of course, is the obvious fact that any child will have to live in a society flooded with scientific references. So it is really not fair to give them education without teaching them science.

In India, the student to teacher ratio is 40:1 in most schools. This makes it difficult for the teacher to actually focus on one individual who is perhaps under-performing or showing near nil progress. Such a child is generally subject to shame and embarrassment in front of his /her peers. And repeated questioning. (‘What is your problem, Jammy? Am I not teaching you? Pass mark you can’t score?’). This helps in only severely damaging the special child’s self-esteem. A special child’s problem is that his powers of concentration are near absent and this leads to poor powers of retention.However,the teachers are not to be blamed; the stress in the system of education in India lies solely on the examination. It is absolutely necessary for schools to show an impeccable academic record.

Given the low attention-span of a special child, how can it be made possible to hold his/her interest? Although, for most part of education we are taught verbally, there are many ways in which a child can learn-using visual, audio, olfactory and kinesthetic tools. But olfactory, of course- there is nothing to smell. So we have three options open to us- the visual, audio and tactile methods of learning. Visual method is just actually showing the child what happens rather than telling him; this way a child is able to learn a step-by-step procedure with relative ease. The second is singing out information. I still sing my ABCD’s out. And finally there is the tactile/kinesthetic method,which in my opinion, is the most effective in learning science. It is letting a child play with learning toys and imbibe information. The stress here will be on actually doing something than the end result.

All that being said, the actual effectiveness of these methods lie in the sensitivity of teachers, the open mindedness of the system, the willingness of the child to cope, the support from the child’s parents, the infrastructure of the school and (sadly) in some cases the social-standing of the special child.