We know now that the word ‘fair’ has been eased out of brand promotion for a certain product and that Sunny Jain, president of Unilever Beauty Division has even gone on  record to announce that the company recognizes ‘that the use of the words fair, white, and light suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right’. Fair enough!

During the couple of days that the word ‘fair’ dominated the media debate I could see that the trio of fair, white, and light were in tears. I had a short online chat with these three notorious words and Fair began by appealing, ‘Is this fair play? All my cousins who were not on the package, caption, advert copy, and even the product insert think I am a villain. Is this fair play?’

‘Cousins?’ I asked, wondering what she really meant.

‘You know this well,’ wailed Fair, ‘Fair weather, fair trade, fair enough, fair copy, fair use, fair dealing, fair price, and even my second cousin fair usage policy are all there safe. I have been unfairly targeted. This isn’t fair play.’

Well, I could then see her point because, after all, we do have fairways, funfairs, and even affairs still going on all around. Before I could reply, Fair continued, ‘Do you think they will ban movies and books too that explore the nuances of the fair sex?’

‘Movies and books?’ I asked.

‘Come on, don’t say you haven’t read Vanity Fair and haven’t watched My Fair Lady. Will poets and lyricists stop calling love fair?’

I thought for a moment and asked, ‘The product we are talking about was produced and sold mainly in India.’

‘Ah! So you want me to give examples from Bollywood, right?’ said Fair, now fully primed like that famous anchor from Republic TV, ‘What about chittiyan kaliyan, yeh kaali kaali ankhen – ye gore gore gaal, chura ke dil mera goriya chali, gori hain kaliyan, gore rang pe na itna gumaan kar…’

I had to stop her there or she’d probably have gone on and given me enough material for an entire novella. I said, ‘You have a point there. But let me also ask White and Light for their side of the story.’

White then moved his chair closer to the mic, looked sideways as if confirming he wasn’t being stalked by anyone from the vigilance department, and said, ‘I’m just wondering what will happen to white supremacy and white privileges. You see, we are living in times when #BlackLivesMatter and digital transactions are making it easier and easier to tell black from white.’ White paused, gathered his thoughts and then began, ‘Life is being unfair and white is quite unnecessarily being painted black. Just look around and you’ll see that you are surrounded by whites.’

I apprehensively glanced all around thinking I may have been transported into a different world when White scribbled a few words on a white sheet of paper and held it up for me to read. The sheet listed these words and phrases:

“white page, black and white, white elephant, white noise, egg white, white collar, white lie, white goods, white wine, white blood cells, white bread, white coat, white metal, white pepper, white chalk, white chocolate”

And as he held his sheet up, he spoke, ‘You eat white, you drink white, you write on white, you write with white… and yet you now call white a villain. This isn’t fair play at all.’

‘You have a point there,’ I said, ‘lets now look at what Ms Light has to say.’

Ms Light had done her home-work well and said, ‘You photographed a Lighthouse when you drove to the white cliffs near London in December, remember? You dream of becoming light weight again, right? You want your essays to be a guiding light, am I wrong?’

‘I agree,’ I said but before I could continue, Ms Light went on, ‘Light verse is always on your mind and now you wish to shed light on a complex subject? The world stops at a stop-light, isn’t it? Your physicists work on the speed of light, teenagers love light music and light reading, and humans want workers with light fingers. Whatever will happen to first light if I am banned? Can your cities be safe without street-lights and neon lights? Can poetic stanzas see the light of the day without a light breeze?’

‘I know… I know,’ I said.

‘Will humanity light up, shed light on, take stress lightly and live with a lighter spirit? Rainbows need refracted light. Photography talks about ambient light. It is time for you writers, bloggers, and journalists to take up our case with lightening speed. Git it?’

‘Yes, yes, I know,’ I said, ‘and there is daylight, sunlight, twilight, skylight, gaslight, and even your appeal that I now highlight.’

‘Are you making light of our concerns?’ growled Ms Light.

‘No. No,’ I hurriedly added, ‘I mean I just have a flair for such expressions.’

‘FLAIR!’ shouted Fair, ‘this relative of mine was saved by an L in there.’

Fair seemed as agitated as some find Maj Gen G D Bakshi on his television appearances… and was asking permission to add to this debate. One being asked to go ahead, Fair quoted a tweet published on the oneindia website:

ANI reports a tweet sent by Kage: ‘You say Prime Minister changes outfits again & again. Arre, he is fair and handsome, that’s why he changes constantly. But even if you (Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy) bathe 100 times a day, you will remain a black buffalo.’

You see,’ said Fair, ‘it is only fair to tell you that it is humans who misuse the word ‘fair’ and then it is words who have to tackle the backlash. He also said that the same article mentions that once ‘Thakore had alleged that Prime Minister Modi disliked Gujarati food and was fond of Taiwanese mushrooms which cost Rs 80,000 per piece. “He was dark like me but he became fair because of imported mushrooms,” Thakore had reportedly said.’

This debate would have gone on and on without a conclusion, but then I had to intervene and told the three participants that all words are simply beautiful and that it is only the way certain vested interests in brands employ them that creates a whole new range of misunderstandings. I told them that fair is there where needed and cannot possibly replace black in black money… and if it does, we will see fairness take a nose-dive. ‘For that matter,’ I added, ‘using fair, white, and light will remain immortal and these changes only help you evolve.’




All words matter - even fair, white, and light
All words matter – even fair, white, and light




Arvind Passey
09 July 2020