This is a piece of ‘dark’ comedy/satire.
A faraway land…
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a happy little girl.
When she was born, her parents named her Gori because she was fair of skin…
(…and because they were poor farmers and not celebrities with a fetish for ‘unique’ names.)
Soon, word of her beauty reached far and wide including the ivory towers of the palace. The Queen, who was the fairest (and therefore, the most beautiful) of all women in the kingdom, longed to see the child.
As did the King, albeit for a slightly different reason. For you see, the King had a young son, and as Sage Austen once said, “a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”.
So the King sent out a royal invitation to Gori’s parents.
On the appointed day, there was a merry buzz in the streets and the palace was livelier than usual. Gori and her parents were presented in court, and when the little child imitated her parents by prostrating herself before the King and Queen, a collective wave of ‘aww’ swept through the august audience; the courtiers behaved like deferential sycophants for they knew they were in the presence of their future queen.
(Yes, it was that predictable.)
The King was delighted with the child and wasted no time in demanding that she be married to the young prince.
(When they both came of age, obviously. The kingdom was not that regressive…anymore.)
((Okay, maybe a tad bit still.))
The parents consented, of course, for in their wildest of dreams, they could not have conceived a scenario in which their little one would one day rule over the entire kingdom.
(What about Gori, you say? Did someone ask her? Silly reader, Gori is a child. How can a child give consent? Really, you are too much. Besides, this was a different time.)
Now what about our fair Queen? How fared she?
She…She, dear reader, was not happy. Her heart throbbed with a jealous and blinding rage. The child was fair – fairer than she – and, in a few short years, would usurp her title!
Obviously, this posed a problem. So naturally, our wicked queen did what all wicked queens do.
(No, there was no poisoned apple or comb. Our Queen was smarter and a little less murder-y.)
She didn’t need to get rid of Gori to get rid of her problem. She only needed to make Gori not beautiful any more. In a kingdom where fairness was the end all and be all of beauty, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she did.
(But how, you ask? Well…let’s not talk about that, shall we? Cool? Cool.)
It’s suffice to say Gori woke up one morning to find that she was not gori anymore.
A few years later…
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a sad young woman. Her name was Gori, though she was not light of skin.
Soon, word reached far and wide including the ivory towers of the palace.
The King was incensed and wasted no time in calling off the betrothal.
(Let no one ever say the King was not a man of action.)
The wicked Queen cackled aloud. She was and will always be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom.
(Not always. She was not immortal. But you get the point.)
The Prince did not care for he had never met his betrothed, and filial defiance sounded like a lot of work for a fiancée who was not even ‘beautiful’.
(The Prince was no Prince Charming but since when has that mattered?)
Our Gori, though, was heartbroken. Her spirits sank and her future looked bleaker and bleaker with each passing day.
Her former playmates made fun of her and called her cruel names.
The elders worried about her and advised her parents to not let her out in the sun. Why compound the problem, they reasoned.
Her mother and father continued to dote on her for she was their only child, but couldn’t help but wonder: who would marry their dusky daughter sans a hefty dowry?
And Gori? Gori would look at herself in the mirror and sigh. Was there no way she could regain her fair complexion, marry the Prince, and rule the kingdom? Was that really too much to ask for?
One day, she decided she had had enough. She was a strong, independent woman, dammit! She was more than capable of looking after herself.
And so Gori went looking for a job. But place after place turned her down. Despite knowing how to sew, knit, cook, teach, turn lead into gold, etc., nobody was willing to hire her. Apparently, when you weren’t fair of skin, it wasn’t just your marriage prospects that were doomed.
At last, Gori found a place willing to take her – the royal palace. She was put to work as a scullery maid, and was told in no uncertain terms that that’s where she would remain for the rest of her working life. She could never move up the ladder no matter how hard she worked or how skilled or talented she was.
Tired of fighting against the kingdom’s absurd and unfair standards of beauty, Gori bowed her head and accepted her fate.
(Never mind that until recently, she whole-heartedly lived by those very standards, and only realised their unjustness and absurdity when they were applied to her.)
A fair-y godmother…
It was announced with much fanfare that the Prince was to be married in a month (to a beautiful maid, but not as beautiful as the Queen, of course). The King and Queen decided to celebrate the joyous occasion by hosting musicians, magicians, artists, and merchants from all four corners of the kingdom in a month-long extravaganza culminating in the wedding.
The whole palace was in a celebratory mood. Except for Gori, who was still not over the Prince she had never met but always dreamed about.
Understandably, she wanted no part of the festivities. No, sir. She was going to boycott the wedding. Register her protest. Make a mark.
Even so, she was sorely tempted by reports of just how great the bazaar was – anything and everything you could possibly ever want.
But no, Gori was making a principled stand. She would not go, come what may.
But then all her friends were going. And she was starting to feel a little left out.
It wouldn’t hurt to take a peek, would it? She won’t buy anything. Just look at the pretty objects.
So when her friends ‘insisted’ on her going, she had no choice but to give in.
She let them ‘drag’ her to the huge bazaar where tents upon tents of various shapes, sizes and colours were pitched in long rows that stretched as far as the eye could see. The whole place was crowded and noisy and confusing. Gori was being jostled from side to side and, before long, she found herself separated from the group.
As she went looking for her friends, she happened upon an odd-shaped tent. It was the smallest one in the bazaar and was tucked away – hidden almost – between two massive tents (one selling the finest silk in the kingdom and the other selling even finer silk).
In contrast, the tent Gori was interested in had neither a human representative nor a non-human signage outside. Nothing to indicate there was even a tent there. As if the owner was ashamed to hawk his goods.
(Not ashamed enough to sell them though.)
Curious, she opened the flap and stepped into the enclosure. And was immediately blinded by the radiant presence before her.
“Oh my god!” squealed Gori, astonished. “Is that really you?”
She couldn’t believe it. Standing in front of her was a woman renowned throughout the kingdom as the greatest actress ever to have been born. Gori had been to several of her plays (she had snuck in, okay? Don’t judge) and was a big fan.
“Yes, it’s really me,” assured the actress, glowing brighter than a radioactive isotope. “Now come, sit, and tell me something. What do you think is the secret of my professional success?”
“Uh…your talent and hard work?” hazarded Gori, shielding her eyes from the glowing presence before her.
“No, silly,” said the actress, laughing and shaking her head. “It’s because I am confident. And do you know why I’m so confident?”
“Because you are fair and lovely?”
“Ah! I see, you’re not a lost cause after all. And just why am I so fair and lovely?”
Gori thought of many things – genes, environment, good diet, exercise, sheer dumb luck, societal standards – but wisely held her tongue.
“I don’t know. Why?”
In response, the actress reached into a fancy-looking chest and pulled out an even fancier looking bottle. “Ta-da!”
Gori examined the bottle with curiosity. “What is this?”
“This…is your destiny!”
(Otherwise known as a fairness cream.)
((If that makes your conscience go all woke-y, why not go with skin lightening/skin whitening /skin brightening cream? Or really any other euphemism of your choice. Tan removal cream?))
“Will this really make my skin fair?”
“…and lovely. Three shades lighter in three weeks!”
She handed Gori a colour swatch. “Right now, you’re this,” she tapped on a shade that was a rich coffee brown, then dragged her finger up three places. “And this is what you can be in three weeks.”
Gori read the name of the colour. “Cosmic Latte… Hey, isn’t that the colour of the universe?”
The famous actress beamed. “See, what did I tell you? Des…ti…ny!”
“But will this really work?” Gori asked. “Will I marry the man of my dreams? Attain the heights of professional success?”
“Would I ever lie to you?”
Gori was ecstatic. But if the bottle held such magical powers, surely it must be expensive. How could she possibly afford it?
“H-how much is it?”
“That’s the best part! It’s free! Absolutely and totally free! At no cost to you at all!”
(Not true but then again, we are talking about celebrity sponsorships.)
“Uh-huh. The makers do not care about making money. They are benevolent incorporeal beings who just want to spread the secret of happiness and success in the entire kingdom…one small bottle at a time.”
“Oh wow! They sound like good people. You too…I-I will take a bottle then.”
“Great! Now remember, two times a day for three weeks! Follow the instructions carefully!” said the actress, wagging a radiant finger at Gori.
“I will…Thank you so, so much!” Gori turned to leave, then swiftly turned back. “Oh, and I really love your work. I’m a huge fan.”
A massive grin split the famous actresses’ face into two. After all, this was her life’s work – to help spread the secret of happiness and success to those less fortunate than her.
The happy ever after…
Gori followed the instructions meticulously. At the end of the third week, she stood in front of the mirror and held the colour swatch to her face. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
It had worked! The secret formula had worked!
She twirled, her skirt swooshing with joy. She felt a surge of confidence. A rush of dignity. Nothing could stop her now. The whole universe was at her beck and call.
She put on an expensive gown to match her newfound confidence and strode confidently into the palace where everyone was instantly dazzled by her beauty.
(No, I do not know where the dress came from. Really reader, you ask too many inconvenient questions.)
And she was instantly promoted. The kitchen was no place for a beauty such as her. No, she was to wait on the Queen herself.
Now when the Queen beheld the new ‘old’ Gori, she was beside herself with anger and jealousy. But before she could work her magic, the King and the Prince entered her apartments and, like everyone before them, were instantly dazzled.
And before he knew what he was doing, the Prince was on his knee asking Gori to make him the happiest man alive, whilst the King found himself directing a messenger to inform the Prince’s unfortunate bride-to-be that there was a slight change in brides…er, plans.
Gori accepted the proposal.
(Of course, she did. Why wouldn’t she? Did you think our Gori would reject the Prince and the kingdom, and go back to living a humble yet dignified life? That she would deliver a heart-felt monologue about how colourism is a morally abhorrent practice? About how emotionally damaging it is to the psyche of young women (and men)? That she would call out the insatiable greed of corporations peddling these ‘secret formulas’ and the hypocrisy of a kingdom that screams ‘racism’ when discriminated against by a foreigner, but then turns around and does the same to its own people? Did you really think Gori would say all this and more?
Tch, tch, reader! You need a shower for you reek of decency and idealism.)
The Prince and Gori were married and lived happily ever after.
(Well, as happy as two people lacking those pesky things called morals can be.)
((The Queen discovered Gori’s secret formula and then there ensued, in the kingdom, a fairness race that is said to continue to this day.))
(((The kingdom had yet to learn that there are only losers in this race, and no winners.)))
((((Unless you count the makers of the secret formula, that is. There were several of them now, all equally determined to spread the secret of happiness and success in every nook and corner of the kingdom.
In every nook and corner except in the West. Even though some of the makers were from the West. Why they choose not to spread the secret in their own province, however, remains a mystery to this day.))))
S.U. Ramesh is a freelance writer, and an indie author and poet
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty