Remember Biswajit Das, the Indian engineer who is in Canada studying for his MBA? He asked me to meet him when he passed through Toronto and I agreed. So, one day last week, first thing in the morning, I took the subway down to his hotel.
Before I left, I wondered who should pay for this affair. I mean, he's a student away from home but I was sacrificing billable hours to meet him. Well, generosity prevailed and I decided it would be me. So, as soon as I saw him, I said, "Come on, I'll take you for breakfast. Where do you want to go?" "There", he said, pointing to a classy hotel. "I'd like the buffet." Okay, fine. But, no sooner did we sit down than two other Indian engineers also taking their MBAs at Queen's just happened by and "naturally" sat down to join us. And when the waiter brought the coffee and asked if it was separate cheques Biswajit said, "No, he's paying," and pointed at me. "No way, Bombay!" I cried. "What is this, some kind of scam?" The Indians all started laughing (actually, howling) and said, "Don't worry, we'll pay," and then they started bickering among themselves. Finally, Biswajit told the waiter, "Okay, give it to me," and the problem was solved. We got our breakfast from the buffet and settled in for what turned out to be a long, frank conversation.
The first things we discussed were cultural differences. I started off with a burning question. Does India suffer from light-skin bias? Almost all of the movie stars in Bollywood seem to have light skin. And, I was astounded to discover that there is a huge market for skin-lighteners in India (for women) and that matrimonial ads boast of the woman's fair skin.
"A recent survey conducted by Hindustan Lever Limited revealed that almost 90 per cent of its consumers of cosmetics desired a skin-lightening product. Fairness creams are most popular (commanding 70 per cent of market share), followed by toilet soaps, sun blocks, talcum powder, bleaches and other such beauty aids." The Tribune
"It may seem a strange phenomenon that in a country where the majority of the people are dark-skinned with subtle variations in brownness, the overriding factor that declares whether a woman is good-looking or not is the lightness of her skin. Would-be mothers-in-law crave for fair-skinned brides for their sons; men young and old, prefer lighter-skinned partners (if they have a choice) and most pathetically of all, women from all socio-economic backgrounds go to unbelievable lengths to become just a little whiter."
The Daily Star
The guys readily acknowledged that Indians find fair skin attractive in women. They said that men's skin is not an issue. And they denied that it is related to caste or that it has a role in recruiting.
I've seen this light skin fetish attributed to a desire to ape Europeans but, in fact, I've also read that light skin was desired by women in ancient Rome, apparently because it meant you didn't have to work in the fields.
In ancient Rome, women deliberately lightened their skin with lead based cosmetics. Wikipedia
And, in ancient Cretan wall paintings, the women have white skin and the men, red.
Men are always depicted with a brick red skin tone, while women were painted with fair skin. Art From Greece
So, I tend to think my new posse is right or, at least, largely so. It's not a racial prejudice since everyone is of the same race. It's kind of like our love of tanning only super-charged and in reverse.
The conversation continued and in the next installment I'll tell you about flexibility in the global workplace. (Don't worry it's exciting too).