-Tanaya Singh

When I finally had something to write an open letter about, I was told that the
practice is cliché now.
That such letters – embracing sarcasm, anger, love, and intentions, don’t go viral
Especially if you have a letter addressed to the makers and advertisers of skin
whitening and fairness products.

But you see, all I had were polite questions as cliché as – how do you sleep at
nights? Sincere doubts like – who gave you the right to correlate confidence with
glowing skin?
Fair points like – the last thing that matters in a marriage is the colour of my skin.
All I wanted to share was the memory of that hollow look with which my mother
started switching channels every time a bright and pink fairness cream ad
interrupted her favourite shows.

“The doctor says I have LPP,” she told us one afternoon. It’s a disease that leads to
skin darkening when UV rays penetrate into the dermis.
Or was it the hypodermis? I don’t remember the layer but I remember
her trembling lips and her smile when she said –
“They don’t know how to treat it yet.”

LPP – Lichen pla… Lichen planus pig… Lichen planus pigmentosus.
I could never pronounce the full name.
But those three tiny letters occupied every waking thought of a woman whose
smile used to reach her eyes, who loves bright yellow sarees, who adores gold
Starting with a dark spot on one arm, the letters spread to her neck and face like
the shadow of a mountain on a village when the sun sets behind it.
Growing with every passing second.

Open letters might not be things that sell anymore, but how do I tell them that my
mother cringes every time chirpy girls talk about magical formulas that wipe away
dark spots?
How do I show them her sarcastic giggles when they promise results in six weeks?
How do I introduce them to a woman who loves sunny beaches, collects bright,
shiny nail paints, and whose laughter used to reach her skin, her lungs, her heart!

“The new doctor says he can prescribe just vitamins,” my mom told us one
The next one promised that an expensive treatment package was the way.
The next one gave more vitamins with a lotion to apply twice every day.
“I will be honest, the last one said, it will take a long time.
The spots will lighten and be less distinct. But you will never get your original
colour back. I can still write more vitamins if you wish.”

My sister and I saw our mother shying away from mirrors and cameras.
We watched amazed as she collected hope in the loose end of her saree only to
mistakenly scatter it all on the floor every time someone asked, “What happened
to your face?”
Flipping through old photo albums, we knew all she would see was how different
she used to look.

We protested every time she said no to her favourite colours because they won’t
suit her new skin.
We recognised exactly when she was trying to figure out if a spot was darker or
lighter than the previous week.
We were furious every time a known stranger reminded her of LPP – as if the
letters weren’t dancing enough in the mirror.

We saw our mother walk bravely through a battlefield marred with sorrow, spite,
unsolicited advice.
She dodged arrows of pitiful comments that shouldn’t have left their crossbows in
the first place.
She protected herself with a shield of uncaring attitude and dismissive shrugs. She
attacked back with constant self-reminders: “I have made peace with this.”

Back home, she cleaned her wounds with tears and a blanket of faith. Prepared
herself for the next morning with smiles reaching her eyes again.

“Where does mom get her bag of courage from?” I remember thinking five years
ago when six dogs chased me and I fell face-first on a rugged street.
I broke my glasses. My right cheek was the size of a giant tomato, a mini eggplant
and finally
a rotten potato.
It was just for a few days but I learned to fear the mirror. I caught myself
constantly thinking about my face.

Open letters might be passé, but I have to tell the makers of those advertisements
– my mother is a warrior.
She does not need rosy and bubbly jingles to cross this battlefield of judgements
and discrimination.
Her skin tone is even now – no patches. But she has a new colour.
One that defines victory like those scars every soldier is proud to flaunt.
Lichen pla… Lichen planus pig… Lichen planus pigmentosus. I could never
pronounce the full name.
And my mother? She never planned to.

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