Nisha Susan in Tehelka:
In Delhi, Anu Thomas (name changed), a mother of three children, was horrified when her five-year-old daughter, Meenal, came home from school one day and asked her, “When I grow up, will I have to be a maid?” Meenal’s largely upmarket north Indian classmates had told her that day that someone who was her colour must be a streetchild and would grow up to work in someone’s house. Thomas knew that there was no one in these children’s lives who was dark, who was Meenal’s colour and held a position of power. Neither were there figures in popular culture that her curly-haired daughter resembled or could look up to. If you imagined a globalising India would bring Meenal a greater range of rolemodels, you are wrong. Globalisation has only amplified many of the old biases in India, such as the one that values fair skin. It has also created an army of clones.
In our electronic cocoons, increasingly, we each seek and understand reality through the media and not through our windows. Under these conditions, if all our exposure is to People Like Us, our ability to accept difference shrinks, our discomfort with those even marginally different from us increases. As it stands, in our world, those who can join the army of clones feel smug. Those who cannot, feel anxious.
This was easy enough to see in January in a Lucknow mall. While other stores in the mall stand near-deserted, in one clothing store the racks are teetering with the press of journalists, their skins grey from late nights and poor nutrition. In the centre of this mob are a dozen beautiful, young Amazons – the girls shortlisted for the Lucknow round of Miss India 2009. They are all dressed in white t-shirts and jeans. Only a couple are from Lucknow, the others are from nearby Meerut and Kanpur. Shard-sharp laughter and strangely automaton lines in careful English and rattling Hindi can be heard: “I want to rock the world! I am a perfect package of beauty and brains.” A journalist asks a stunningly pretty girl what her weaknesses are. She responds with a gesture sweeping up and down her body, “Look at me, can you see any flaws?” It is a remarkable, peacock display of confidence.