“Why am I so black when you are so fair?” Veena asked her mother fondly touching the latter’s hand. “They call me Black Beauty in the school.”
“Ask your father,” said mother who was busy cooking the dinner. Father was dark in complexion, that’s what mother really meant. But Veena had not grasped that. She went to her father since he was a better friend than mother. The only reason why she had bothered to ask mother was that when her first bleeding took place it was to mother that father directed her summarily. That was just a few days ago. “There are some things that only your mother can explain,” father had said. Veena thought that the colour of the skin was also as mysterious a matter as the blood that came out from the unmentionable part of her body.
“You got my colour, dear,” said father putting aside Akhil Sharma’s Family Life which he was reading. “Don’t you like it?”
Veena’s nose twitched and her lips pouted. She realised that she had been unconscious of the fact that her father had a dark complexion. She looked at him keenly.
“Are you wondering why your mother married a man like me?” Father gave her his naughty smile. Of late he had noticed his daughter spending unusually long time while taking bath. Unusually long time while dressing up for school. She had changed her hairstyle. She was trying to become seductive.
Akhil Sharma’s narrator had said in the page that Raghu had just put down that writing the story had changed his life. Her daughter was faced with the problem of the complexion of her skin because the TV in the living room was advertising Fair & Lovely as a remedy for dark complexion. Is dark complexion a disease to be treated with an ointment?
Yet hadn’t he married Meena precisely because of her fair skin? What constitutes fairness? Is it the colour of the skin? Would Othello have loved Desdemona had she not been white-skinned? Why did Desdemona love Othello?
No, darling, explained Raghu to his daughter. Life is not about the colour of the skin except in TV commercials and in the minds of people who live commercialised lives. Commerce is what drives mediocrity and mediocrity is what drives commerce. Life is far beyond commerce so long as you rise above mediocrity and realise that the colour of your skin is as illusory as the promises of Fair & Lovely. Iago was the Fair & Lovely in the life of Othello. In every person’s life an Iago is sure to appear. Some time or the other. Iagos come in various forms. In the form of people who pretend to help you, to seek your charity, to promise you publicity for your blogs, to offer you a better job...
“Who is Iago?” asked Veena when she couldn’t understand what her father was saying much as she was used to his eccentric explanations.
“Iago is...” Raghu wondered what to say. His daughter was only in grade seven. “Iago can be the colour of your skin. Iago can be those who judge you by the colour of your skin.”
Raghu had been fighting with certain Iagos for quite some time. Those who said things like “Oh, the last blog of yours was written when you were intoxicated, wasn’t it?” or “Maybe one day your blog will win the Booker Prize?”
“Iagos are unavoidable, darling,” said Raghu. Life is all about meeting Iagos and going beyond them.
Going beyond Iagos is dangerous. Raghu knew it. But he didn’t tell that to Veena. She was not old enough to understand that yet. One of Othello’s heroic flaws was his isolation from Iago and such people. Superiority and the isolation that necessarily accompanies it are tragic flaws. Raghu knew it. Unless you know how to convert it all into a narrative. The narrative is the real beauty, dear.
PS. This story is dedicated to someone who is very dear to me and is tormented by the colour of her skin. The irony is that the person is unlikely to read this.