Living a few blocks away from Walgreens is highly beneficial to satiate your food cravings. on one such trip of gluttony, I was browsing through endless racks of sugary snacks when a woman beside me looked at me and said: “I love your complexion!”
I was stunned. I stared at her with hands clutching Milano biscuits mid-air. Now that I think about it, I feel my brain stopped processing at that very moment. She was obviously confused and assumed that I didn’t hear her properly. She took a step forward and touched my forearm and said: ” This,(tapping on my arm) you have a nice skin tone.” I managed a smile bringing my hands down and mumbled a weak thank you.
Why Did I Do This?
Probable reasons could be:
- Don’t know how to respond compliments: I am not a shy person, I do the most random things in public. But when it comes to receiving compliments I am as clueless as I was in my mathematical limits class. I just don’t understand what to do.
- Indian ‘Paavam’: As said by Indian stand up comedian Kenny Sebastian in one of his acts, Indians abroad tend to be in a constant Paavam mode. We genuinely believe we don’t deserve all the niceties. At least I do.
Or could certain incidents in the course of my life affect my behavior?
Let us go through a few of them:
- Pre-school: I vividly remember this day, we were assigned to specific seats. The seating arrangement was a boy and a girl shared a desk. The boy next to me was a bully and tried to take maximum space. When I asked him to move, he threatened me with a loud voice and said ” Aye Kaali!” which roughly translates to a blacky. I am not sure whether I understood the implication of the words, but I remember being scared and resigning to my fate of remaining quiet for rest of the year.
- School-Play: This incident took place when I was in my third grade, I was good at studies and active in school activities. For the school’s annual function, our class was supposed to perform a play. The play was about a princess, the requirement for the role as specified by the in charge was a long-haired girl. I was elated since I was the one with the longest hair in the class. As I stood up to nominate myself for the audition, I was completely ignored. With the confidence of a third grader, I stormed to the selection committee and asked why I was not considered. They said to me as a matter of fact that a princess is supposed to be fair-skinned. This incident triggered my inferiority complexity which led to anxiety and bouts of depression for the next decade of my life.
- Post-Graduation: After so many years of self-doubt and self-pity, I managed to gain my confidence back while pursuing my post graduation degree. I was extremely active and vocal in college festivities, almost participating in everything that came my way. One such event was the fashion show. I loved every part of it and received loads of compliments. I was exhilarated. The next day, while having lunch with my friends a good friend of mine said that our lecturer told her that I had everything working for me except for my skin color. If only I was a bit fair, I could have been much better. This one comment was to push me into the dark abyss of self-doubt from which I had so painstakingly crawled out.
This is just a few of the examples. I have been through a lot of jokes by my own friends such as finding me in the dark, suggesting white tattoos for my skin and redundancy of sunscreen for me. Some concerned suggestions from well-wishers, to avoid sun, caffeine and amass dowry for my marriage. And a few hurtful ones that are better left unsaid.
When someone compliments you on the same thing, that you were shamed for your whole life, being shocked is justified.
A person from a different continent made me believe in myself again with a simple compliment. It saddens me to know that my life could have been so different if a few kind words were spoken to me all those years back.
It would be a lie if I said I have overcome my inferiority complex, but I am definitely working towards it. As they say, One step a day and one day at a time.