I peek in through the glass door of the neighbourhood chemist shop. A neighbour is inside. Maybe I can come back after eating some panipuris, I think, but she's still there 10 minutes later – in fact, there are two more now. This is going to take another visit. Next time is better. The coast is clear. I walk in and am about to place my order when a neighbour walks in. I buy Vicks lozenges and leave, crushed. It is only after a smoke and a shot of vodka that the man in my soul perks up. There is a job to be done, he says, and great sacrifices will have to be made. Chin set, I march into the chemist shop and ask for a tube of ‘Fair and Handsome’.
Of course the fellow didn’t have it that day four weeks ago when the Editor of Brunch asked me to sacrifice myself to the cause of science. My brief was to use the recently launched fairness cream for men, and write about the effects. Any hope of getting off the hook due to non-availability of the product was shattered a day later when the Editor herself handed me a tube.
The experimentation began. I was to use the cream twice a day for the following four weeks. Experiment design was an issue. How was anyone to judge whether the cream worked or not? Since I have only one face, the idea of applying the fairness cream to half the face didn’t appeal too much to me. It’s difficult enough finding a date anyway; who will go out with a guy with one fair cheek? Our Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi came up with the solution: use it on one hand.
Day one: I’ve read everything that’s written on the tube a few times. This is going to “penetrate my tough male epidermis to regulate melanin production”. It will also “create a natural sunscreen to protect against UV rays”. No problems there, but what would father think? He might start wondering why I haven’t married yet. Gravely, I apply a dab on my face and left hand, and survey the consequences.
Day two: I think I’m looking fairer already. This thing works instantly! And I’ve seen the ad too, the one where a giggle of girls drape themselves around the model after he starts using ‘Fair and Handsome’. Maybe I should go to a well-lit pub today; someone might drape herself all over me saying ‘Hi handsome’.
Day seven: The double strength peptide complex for tough male skin doesn’t last too long. I forgot to use it for a day and am back to being myself again. Well, at least I know now that the experiment is reversible.
Day 12: I have to be careful about this thing. Today a woman landed a peck on my cheek and then looked at me very queerly indeed. It must be the smell – this cream has a sweet, feminine smell to it.
Day 13: Wonder how double strength peptide interacts with aftershave? There’s only one way to find out. If I end up mottled pink, say on my epitaph: “For your tomorrow, he gave his today. Now use Fair and Handsome without aftershave”.
Day 13: I’m still all one colour, thank God, and white as a sheet - from fear and peptide. But at least I smell straight.
Day 22: No limousine, no mansion, no little boys yet. I’ve been expecting to wake up as Michael Jackson, but from the available evidence it seems I’m still me.
Day 24: Today a colleague asked if I was using the cream. She couldn’t say if I was, though. Maybe I was always this fair. And handsome, of course.
Day 28: Eureka! Archimedes! Whatever. Today I subjected myself to intense non-medical examination by the Health Editor. I asked her to say which hand was fairer. She chose one, then the other, and finally plonked for the wrong one. Looks like I’m not dappled like a horse. On the other hand…now the girls won’t drape themselves all over me, will they?