“May we take a picture with you?”

The question is innocuous enough, but the phenomenon is intriguing.

At almost all of the tourist sites we’ve visited in India we’ve been asked to pose for a shot with the family. Obligingly, we smile and stand. This has happened everywhere: in Kolkata, UP, Delhi, Agra, etc.

At first, I thought it was because we were foreigners, but then I began to notice which foreigners we’re being chosen for the family photo album. And after six weeks in India I can say with a fair degree of confidence – only the white ones.

There are plenty of East Asian tourists in India – of every age and level of attractiveness, but I have never seen a single one asked to pose for a photo as we, and other white tourists, continually are.

There’s something bizarre going on here. I don’t pretend to understand how fair skin relates to caste, class and sect in India, but I have seen how much it is prized here. How many of the media outlets comment on the fairness of this Bollywood actress or actor. There is even a brand of skin lightening cream, “Fair and Lovely,” that promises to lighten your skin by two shades in only two weeks. The advertisements show a woman removing darker layers of skin as if they were a mask to reveal her truer, fairer self.

I don’t know why fairness is so prized here; i do know, however, that I have never been so conscious of my skin color, and never thought of myself as so white.