September 25, 2020

Hema Gopinathan Sah on dark being beautiful

I got in touch with Hema Gopinathan Sah as she came across this really interesting mum who had strong opinions and she had a very valid point to make on the amount of discrimination our society makes on being dark.

Beautiful but dark

Expressive but dark

Stunning but dark

In an attempt to break the barrier Hema shares how she wrote a poem that went viral on social media and she shares with Mums and Stories her journey and her attempt in spreading awareness on why this discrimination hurts and needs to end.

“ I grew up in the sprawling, verdant BARC colony of Anushaktinagar in Bombay. It was typical childhood of the 70s and the 80s before consumerism took over. Being scientists children, great emphasis was laid on academics and art and culture. We were held up to a pretty high standard of achievement, which I must say I rebelled hard against 🙂

I’m a writer, but I can’t always control the form my writing takes. But essentially I like to tell stories.

On her poem that went viral she says, “ I think I provided a personal context to being dark skinned. So far the campaigns, if any, have featured beautiful actors protesting colourism and discrimination. My voice was that of the average Joe. Of the hurts that discrimination can cause to a human. I think that is why so many people could relate.

The reactions are still coming, though the poem was published a month ago. Many people have written in with their own personal experience. But mostly they have written about feeling validated, of finding for the first time, words that spoke their story.  (Read the poem at the end of the story)

One young girl read out the poem at a family function to tell her family how she feels when they pull her down for her dark skin. She said finally the taunts have stopped. I think that’s the power of a story, told simply and truthfully.

I think we should discuss this with everyone, our sons, daughters and parents and friends. Let racism, colourism be addressed openly publically. That my poem has opened up spaces for conversation, is the most important effect of my poem.

I have two teenage children. My son is 13 and my daughter is 17. We are a homeschooling family, in that our kids don’t go to school and are entirely home educated. My daughter will be appearing for her 12th privately, soon. I think we need to walk with the times, social media is a reality and both my children were born into this world. I think if you raise children to be self-sufficient and capable, to think for themselves, and with a high self-esteem, they will be able to navigate tricky situations successfully. Both my kids cook and can make full meals for the family, they both can knit, sew and embroider.

They  both play a sport each and are deeply into fitness, they both play musical instruments and are academically driven. We made the choice of homeschooling them because we wanted to give them the time to learn at their pace and of things that interested them. We wanted them to learn holistically and experientially rather than through rite and being stuck in a classroom for better part of their childhood.”

Hema says being a mum is the hardest job in the world. “ I think my children were sent to this world to bring me up rather than the other way round. I have learnt more from them about being a mother and a good human than they did about being my progeny. Kids come into this world perfect, our jobs as a parents is to be a safe container for them to grow and learn, rather than be a bossy, old fashioned parent who lives their unrealised expectations through their children.

I also have crochet, art, writing that are all my passions. They keep me alive and engaged. Crochet is one of the fastest dying forms of handwork. I want to promote it, I want people to appreciate, the effort and time and intricacy involved in making a piece of crocheted art. My interest in handwork goes beyond just selling my art. I want to promote dying handcrafts, generate income for other women like me who have similar skill sets, but don’t know how to. I want to bring together a sisterhood, a community of women handwork artists.”

You can read the poem here or here at


It was my mother’s fault that she birthed

Me on the banks of Kaveri

For try as they did they could not wash the black alluvial soil off my skin.



Little piece of coal my mother’s brother calls me

As he pretends he can’t spot me in the darkened birthing chamber

It sounds very cute when said in Tamil.

An endearment.


This one just got baked a little longer in the oven laughs my father when

My mother guiltily presents him with yet another daughter

One whose skin only a paddy farmer could love.


I am six when I am made to understand that

I who was proudly showing off my 99% in Maths was less than my best friend,

At least I’m fairer than you she says,

Sadly looking down at her own 73% marks


Raahat Ali hisses the epithet in class 3, that I would get familiar with through the years because I refuse to let him hold my hand


The shame I feel looking at my white face black neck makeup at my Arangetram.

The shame

Is for the secret pleasure that even though I look like a clown, I am fair

For two hours


I burn my skin to a crisp with hydrogen peroxide Congratulations.

I now possess blonde sideburns to contrast my black skin.


The proud mother of a prospective groom, who insisted on a fair skinned bride

For her son who was ‘white as milk’

Amma told her off in no uncertain terms that her daughter

Is dark as decoction and only when you mix the two.

Do you get rich aromatic



The boy who said your skin shines

Like burnished copper.

I let him go, I thought he was lying.

Boris Becker declared that the only time

He noticed that his girlfriend was black

Was when he saw how beautiful her skin

Looked against his white sheets


Touching my husband’s peachy creamy skin when we make love

Wondering how he could find me desirable


Lakme has three shades white, off-white and peach

The joy I feel when I purchase my first compact

At Heera Panna smugglers market

At age 26

It is the mythical, never seen before MAC compact,

in the pre- Manmohan Singh era

And it is the exact shade of my skin,


They got me. They knew I existed.

I had a number.

I still have that compact. After 18 years.

But the shop assistant wants me to buy NC 44 Because it makes me look fairer.


I’m pushing my light-skinned daughter on the swings

Someone asks me where her mother is

I bristle that I’m the mother

The lady giggles apologetically,

Usually only maids are dark skinned no,

No offense meant ji


Stay indoors, don’t swim, don’t tan, it’s OK

That your Vit D levels drop to 4.75

Depression, stress fractures are a reasonable price for fair-er skin

Melanin is a disease, there are treatments for it.


Stick to gold jewellery, silver makes you darker

Leave the diamonds to the porcelain Punjabis

Don’t wear white, don’t wear black,

don’t wear blue, don’t wear pink,

Don’t wear light colours, don’t wear dark.

Don’t wear pastels, don’t wear warm colours, don’t wear cold either.


She who stands naked

Wearing heads and blood

Suffering no one

Fangs are bared as are the talons

Fulsome, fearsome

Black of skin

Revered worshipped adored


The b&w picture as Hema shares is the picture used along with the poem and is of her friend Catherine. Hema says Catherine is barely 17 and loves taking photos of herself and uploading them on social media. However every now and then there will be a crass comment related to the beautiful colour of her skin. But Catherine deals with it well, she ignores them; something that Hema needs to learn to do

(Reshma Krishnamurthy from Mums and Stories had got in touch with Hema for this interesting story and surely we all need to learn to ignore crass comments in our lives online or offline.)

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