Where Black is Never Beautiful

Social Commentary

Where Black is Never Beautiful

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré


wonder if Tannishtha Chatterjee, a Bengali girl born in Pune, has ever heard the word “moyla”? Moyla literally translates to dirt or dirty, and it is what loving grandmothers and great-aunts in Bengal use to describe a dark skin tone. There’s a facial expression that goes with it – a crease in the forehead, a scrunched-up nose, and a delicate downward turn to the mouth. A fitting facial complement to the implication: dark skin = dirty. It is also an expression almost never used for the menfolk.

I was a dark baby, born to a mother and two grandmothers with pearly, translucent skin. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my skin tone was the centre point of all conversations in my growing up years. We could begin talking about rohu, but it would end up at my skin. We could be discussing Didi and still it would somehow turn to my skin. Relatives flowing in and out of my life thought nothing of repeatedly remarking, “Or rong ta ektu moyla (Her colour is rather dirty).” It was the rallying cry of my childhood.