Monday, March 23, 2015

An Avoidable Controversy - Musings of a Novice

Colour of Skin

Shard Yadav, a shrewd politician, recently created an avoidable controversy both in the parliament and outside, intentionally or otherwise, about the skin tone of ladies. Many of the lawmakers, particularly the women parliamentarians were up in arms against the alleged sexist remarks made by Shard Yadav. The TV channels, as usual, had a fest for a couple of days. I think it was an unnecessary controversy. Only in India, we attach undue importance to fair complexion as against brown and black. During my diplomatic service in African countries where generally people have black colour, I found that Indians would tend to, as it is natural, enjoy the company of black ladies but generally not marry them. Whereas fair coloured or white Europeans or Americans and others of both sexes do marry and live with blacks socially. It is a mindset which requires change. Black can not only be bountiful but beautiful also.

Here I have a small story to tell. It was long before in 1982. I was the Protocol Officer in the Ministry of External Affairs in New
With PM Indira Gandhi
Delhi. One of my responsibilities was to select and get approved the gifts to be given by our leadership to their foreign counterparts. PM Indira Gandhi was very particular and thoughtful in this regard. On such occasions, she herself approved gifts for the Head of States and Head of Governments and their spouses and other important dignitaries. We would arrange a sort of meena bazaar at her official residence for the purpose. Hussein Muhammad Ershad, after a military coup, became the President of Bangladesh some time in 1982. He, accompanied by his spouse, decided to come to Delhi on an unplanned and unscheduled visit. Obviously, PM Indira Gandhi, as customary, was to give them appropriate gifts. As the visit was sudden and unplanned, there was hardly any time to get the gifts approved from PM. Moreover, she was extremely busy and occupied as parliament was in session. Vice President M.H. Ansari was the then Chief of Protocol (COP). It was decided that President Ershad may be given a gift already approved by PM for another VVIP from an Islamic country. But what about the Begum (spouse) of President Ershad? Knowing the mind and interest of PM Indira Gandhi in such matters, nobody was willing to take any decision. But the matter was urgent. Given my earlier stint in the PMO in dealing with such matters, it fell on me, of course with full knowledge and guidance of COP, to sort out the matter. It was decided to propose to PM that a Banaras silk saree may be given to the first lady of Bangladesh. I spoke to PM’s personal staff at her residence and requested their help in the matter. The security considerations were not as stringent as now and I was a known and an old hand at the residence. They advised me to come with a few sarees. They informally agreed to inform the PM that I was there for the purpose when she would come for lunch. I spread a few sarees on the sofa in one of the rooms near the entrance and waited inside. But we were still keeping our fingers crossed. PM Indira Gandhi came for lunch. Her car stopped under the porch. While she was alighting from the car, one of her assistants informed her that I was waiting in the room for the purpose. She went inside and came back to the room, where I was waiting, with a towel in her hands cleaning her hands for lunch. One could imagine how busy she was. She had a quick look and said “Accha Hai, App Unhe Saree Dena Chahte Ho” (Good. You want to give her a saree) and enquired “Unka Rang Kaisa Hai.” (What was her complexion?). I may add that PM Indira Gandhi was such a great person that while dealing with and talking to juniors like me she was always courteous and generally spoke in Hindustani. I did not expect this question. In a quick and unpretentious response, I meekly uttered “Ji Mujhe Pata Nahin. Maine Unhe Dekha Nahin.”  On her own she said, “Bangladeshi Aam Tor Pe Saanvle Rang Ke Hote Hain.” and picked up a saree and added, “Yeh De Do.” She quickly retreated inside before I could say anything.  The job was done. Was PM Indira Gandhi colour conscious? No, not at all. She was simply human as, I think, Shard Yadav is.  I am reminded of a Punjabi song by a great poet but rustic and ordinary man Gurdass Ram Alam:

“Mahi Mera Kale Rang Da;
Behde Barda Ta Chand Chad Janda!

(When my dark skinned beloved enters the compound of the house, it looks as if the moon has appeared)


  1. great story sir. my view is that the main reason for such attitude related to skin complexion among indians in general and hindus in particular is rigid caste system.

  2. thanks abhishek. yes, caste system and low esteem for the women folk are also the reasons for this uncalled for thinking.

  3. thanks abhishek. yes, caste system and low esteem for the women folk are also the reasons for this uncalled for thinking.