The streets of Dhaka being what they are, one has time to just look around and observe things from the car while waiting at traffic lights or while stuck in jams: hugely battered buses driven by what look like twelve-year old boys high on cough syrup; cheap cars; costly cars; and people going about their daily business.
The people draw my attention the most. The men are unremarkable, but the girls are interesting. With their big dark eyes, long glossy hair, and slender figures, Bengali girls are striking.
A beggar woman on the pavement undoes her bun and shakes out her hair, and it is as long and black as that of any queen. The women walking along the streets have thick plaits, or rich silken curtains of hair, while the ones inside cars, offices, and shopping centres, dressed in their colourful outfits, are always a charming sight.
Almost all the women, with some exceptions, have golden skin in all its variations: copper, honey, amber, café au lait, and so on. To some, skin tone is quite important, even in today's modern society it is as relevant as a high paying job, a master's degree, a rich father, or a beautiful face.
It is so much a part of the old mindset, in fact, that the colours of the complexion have been clearly classified in Bengali as 'sham-borno', 'ujjol sham-borno', 'shamla', 'kaalo', and 'forsha'.
Even today, 'forsha' is often equated with beauty. Kaalo is often thought to be undesirable, even if it comes with what is usually considered a perfect face and body. Sham-borno, which is the average, can get by with some help from lipstick and a great deal of optimism.
It is not very different in other Asian countries. Fair skin is equated with underlying implications of class and racial superiority, as well as beauty.
We too, in Bangladesh, have the same Asian preoccupation with colour, race, and class. In consequence, there is a huge market for fairness creams, skin lightening foundations, and all the other aids to the achievement of idealised beauty. As an aside, miscalculating the measures can be part of the hazards of beautification, to the extent that some unfortunate ladies have been taught to apply products so thickly that they are indistinguishable one from the other, while without their makeup they are literally unrecognisable.
Fortunately, the passion for fairness creams has managed to lure only half of the female society. The rest believe that there is beauty in being natural. These women know that golden skins can wear all colours. They can look ravishing in red, demure and cool in blue, and radiant in pink or almost any other colour.
Times have changed and skin colour now matters much less. These days girls at many levels of society have jobs. They are educated, confident, and career minded and have begun to take their rightful place in society. Today, few families would dare mention that they want only fair-skinned brides, when the girls' families could respond by asking what the complexion of the bridegroom is, and what advantages he has to offer, other than the fact of him simply being male.