Who’s the Fairest of them All? 

The preparations had come to a halt. Everybody was dressed in vibrant traditional attire. Fresh peonies were neatly arranged in a vase on the centre table. Piping hot snacks were being dished out straight from the fryer. Some of the toddlers tried sneaking the oil-dripping Pakoras, only to be silently reprimanded by their mothers, with enlarged eyes and a swift nay nod of their heads. 
Yes, arranged marriage proposals in India are a big deal. As big as it gets. Anisha was dressed in a beige kurti and red chudidaar. The light embroidery on the edges softened the silhouette, adding ethereality to her feminine stature. She sat in front of the mirror, while she applied Kajal under her eyes. She could never match the intensity on both the eyes. Was she the only one? She hunted for her coral lip gloss. She’d wanted to go for something bolder, but her mother felt it might intimidate the boy. 

‘You don’t want to scare him off, do you?

Honestly, she didn’t see the fuss. The pandemonium surrounding her didn’t convey sense to her. The pretence, the artifice was almost off putting. She carried on. 

After half an hour she was ready. Everything seemed perfect but understated. Subservient. If only her eyes sparkled

“Anu are you ready, they’ll be here any minute”

Muthachi walked in, her stance expressing just how overloaded she was with duties. But Anisha got along with her grandmother. Like she did with no one else. She looked at her.

“Do you not want to do this, Anu?”

“I do but I don’t know what to expect. There are just so many things I haven’t considered Muthachi. I just got a new job, what if they ask me to quit? What if they don’t like me? I’m really worried and everybody…  everybody taking so much tension isn’t really helping”.

“Beta, look. You’re just meeting him today. You can ask him whatever you want to, get to know him. It is your decision”. 

Anisha eased up. This must be as stressful for him as it was for her. She’ll ask him a few questions, get to know him and take it from there. 

Her thoughts were interrupted by a resounding door bell. She stayed in her room. She had to wait for them to summon her.

“Please come in, no don’t bother. Leave your shoes on! Did you find our house easily?”

Mr Murthy was a puny man, with a fuzzy moustache and a short nose. He let in the guests, saying all the right things. His enthusiasm could be sensed from a mile. 

They sat down. Small talk commenced and everybody took turns to speak. Forced laughter ensued

“Where is Anisha, we’ve been excited to see her!”

She was called. 

As she entered with a tray of cookies, the potential groom’s family shared glances at each other. They weren’t subtle. As Anisha took a seat, he introduced himself. 

His name was Harish Shetty. He was tall. Quite tall. He had hazel eyes, a crew cut for a haircut and beautiful cocoa complexion. She was attracted to him. 

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Murthy couldn’t help but notice the grim faces.

“Is there a problem Mr Shetty?”

“I don’t know how I should tell you this… But we were expecting her to be fairer. The pictures didn’t make her seem so… Dark“. 

Mrs Shetty interjected. “I mean it shouldn’t be a problem, there are a lot of treatments and fairness creams, we see advertisements on TV”. 

Anisha’s face was flushed. She looked at Harish. Surely, he would say something. 

“She should have applied some cream since childhood, uncle ji’

The tension could be cut with a knife. 

“Please have these biscuits, they’re freshly baked”. Dadi was an angel. 
“Okay we will never force you to see a guy, is that fine?”

“No it’s not. You wanted me to marry someone like this”.

“It’s done, we don’t have to see him again”.

“He should thank God I won’t see him again, I’d put a hammer through his head”. 

She took a deep breath. 

“At least I can keep my job”. 
Over the next two years, Anisha had gotten over the disturbing experience, but a little part of her always remembered how it had made her feel. How those people had made her feel. It had hit her confidence. Her personality was shaken. But the one thing that kept her head above the water was her job. She’d worked tirelessly to reach the position she had. She was now Vice President of the Human Resources department. Her salary had compounded and so had her reputation. She’d been particularly busy, given that it was recruiting season. She had a list of interviews to be conducted, and her assistant who usually conducted those was on leave. Again. There was a wedding every three weeks in the family. 

“Anisha, they’re ready for you, can I ask the first gentlemen to come in?”

“Yes please, send Shukla ji with a glass of water and my iPad too”
“Hi. Have a seat”. She extended her hand to shake his. He had graduated from the IIM at Indore a year ago. 

“How are you doing?”

“I’m doing great. Though, I’m a little disappointed with the reduction of lending rates and I think the stock of inflation was inaccurate and the marginal cut in the rates doesn’t affect the common man as it does industrialists”. 

“What do you eat for breakfast”, Anisha asked with a smirk. 

“Almonds. Oh actually the prices of almonds over the past three years have been following a certain pattern…

Forty five minutes hence, Anisha had died a little on the inside. 

“Thanks for coming”
“How was it Ani?’

“I’d rather swim with paper cuts on my face than talk to him. Raveena, send the next one in and make sure he isn’t a robot“. 
As the next gentleman walked in, she recognised the face. She recognised the height. The broad shoulders. The hair was slightly longer. It was Harish Shetty. It all came back rushing to her. Her palms were sweating. She couldn’t manage to speak. She took a deep breath. He was browsing through his résumé when he walked in. 

“Have a seat”.

“Anisha, right! Hey! How have you been?”

It’s Miss Murthy. I’ve been good, thanks. How are you?”

“I’ve been good too. I just want to apologise for the whole thing, that happened you know”.

“Oh don’t be. It was no one’s fault”. 

“Yes, so should we go on?”

“Yes, so tell me. How many fairness creams have you used since childhood?”. 

He was about to answer it when he realized what was happening. He froze. Squinting his eyes, he responded.

“I don’t understand… I thought you were over me”

Don’t flatter yourself. You turned me off the second time you opened your mouth to speak.. Also, don’t stop looking for jobs“. 
I honestly don’t know how that turned out. This is something that I feel very strongly about. Skin shaming is brutal. If there’s anyone who tells you that being dark, fair, olive or tanned is abnormal, inferior or wrong, you shouldn’t want anything to do with them. 

You can get in touch with me here:

Email- akashkumarexistence@gmail.com

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Twitter- @AkashKExistence

You can check out my last part of Collab Fest with a the brilliant Tanishq here: https://akashakumar.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/boggled-bloggers-w-tanishq-quraishi/