***Written by Alicia Hatton***
Conversations on happiness and beauty come up often with our artisans. First read this folktale, then I'll chat about how this affects me and our artisans every day in India....
A crow lived in the forest and was absolutely satisfied in life. But one day he saw a swan. “This swan is so white, and I am so black. This swan must be the happiest bird in the world,” he thought.
He shared his thoughts to the swan. “Actually,” the swan replied, “I was feeling that I was the happiest bird until I saw a parrot, which has two colors. Now I think the parrot is the happiest bird in creation.” The crow then approached the parrot. The parrot explained, “I lived a very happy life until I saw a peacock. I have only two colors, but the peacock has multiple colors.”
The crow then visited a peacock in the zoo and saw that hundreds of people had gathered to see him. After the people had left, the crow approached the peacock. “Dear peacock,” the crow said, “you are so beautiful. Every day thousands of people come to see you. When people see me, they immediately shoo me away. I think you are the happiest bird on the planet.”
The peacock replied, “I always thought that I was the most beautiful and happy bird on the planet. But because of my beauty, I am trapped in this zoo. I have examined the zoo very carefully, and I have realized that the crow is the only bird not kept in a cage. You, my friend, must be the happiest bird in the world, because you are free".
Our artisans often admire us for our light skin. The lightening cream industry is big business in India. Some of the most famous Bollywood stars promote lightening creams. 48% of people in Indian matrimonial ads are described as 'fair' and 22% as 'wheatish' (Little India, Achal Mehra, 2/1010). The majority of young ladies in our city will cover their faces and arms with mask and gloves because they do not want to get darker. Many people in India equate fairer skin with beauty and better marriage prospects.
Does fair skin equal happiness?
Our artisans often ask Dekko production manager Jane about her marital status. They feel strongly that she needs to get married (even offering to help her find a groom!). Our artisans ask me when I am going to have another child. They say I would be secure and happy if I had more than one child.
Does being married and having sons equal happiness?
Money, power, status, material possessions, vacations, hobbies. How do these things factor into the equation of happiness?
The first time I read the folktale above, it really struck me with the utter importance of freedom. Every time I see a caged parrot, I am overcome with sadness. Maybe it's the American in me, the "Give me liberty or give me death" attitude that I can't escape.
Freedom seems like a basic human right to me, and empowerment is the road to freedom. Women especially are denied this basic human right, which makes the vision and outworking of women empowerment all the more crucial. As we work with artisans who are often uneducated, the process of empowerment can be slow and arduous. However, I see the fruit of freedom growing in our artisan families. The spark of dignity and hope in their eyes.
Happiness isn't about fair skin, fast cars, or a hundred sons. Happiness starts with freedom.
Photo credit: Sylvia King
***Written by Alicia Hatton***