I was about 5 when I realised that I was darker than my younger sister. And immediately my 5-year old me deduced that darker probably also meant coarser, uglier.....
I would go around comparing the colour of my skin to that of my mother's and my grandmother's and would still come up with the same answer. I was clearly a brown skinned little girl whereas my sister, my mother, and my grandmother were yellow, cream and almost peach, respectively.
My even fairer mashi would come to visit Kolkata every winter with my rosy-cheeked boy cousins and the four of us would play and have our pictures taken and I stood out as the darkest and I felt almost unclean. I would try to scrub out the 'moila' but I still remained as brown as ever. A day in the sun would turn me coffee-coloured and them red.
Looking back, I saw that I was well-loved, pampered and almost spoilt by my parents and grand-parents. There were never any direct negative comments from them regarding the difference in skin colour. Looking back, I saw that my family tried to never make me feel bad about being dark. My grandmother would sing 'Krishnokoli Aami Taare i boli' to me all the time. 'Kalo ee jogoter aalo,' was a oft-repeated line. There was an anecdote about how the Doctor who delivered me told my mother that she now has a 'Pauroma Shundori' daughter. And then with their faces etched in difficult-to-hide disappointment, my mother or her mother would lament how I then grew darker because of the hot-oil massages they'd given me as an infant. I would then joke, saying good for those encounters with Hot oil, for I was a much healthier kid than my sister, and I rarely caught the sniffles. No, there were never any negative comments.
I was positively taught to consider being dark beautiful. But, sadly, if not for that I would have never known I was dark.
They tried too hard to make me accept myself, whereas, at 5, I had not yet looked at the mirror then and had not had any notion of the beautiful or the not.
With all the love and all positive reinforcements in my childhood, despite them, I grew up feeling ugly and coarse and ungainly (till I was about 11 or 12 when a very dear friend's casual comment about how pretty I am, made me relook in the mirror)
Of course, this is not a linear story. It has circular repurcussions. Since, I was not as good-looking as my sister (it's not only the skin tone – She is prettier), it was again and again said, how I was smart, and how I was such a precocious reader and the like, and my sister grew up believeing she is stupid.
Anyway. One day I grew up, after years of hearing my family debate about whether I was Shyamla or wheatish or just a bit 'moila,' I relooked in the mirror at 11 or 12 and realised what an attractive -looking girl I was and how I was barely even dark. Especially in Hyderabad, my home-city.