A young woman born to Indian parents with red hair, white skin and freckles have spent her life being shunned and bullied because people think she’s diseased.
Pooja Ganatra, 24, who was born in Mumbai, has flaming ginger hair, deep emerald eyes and white skin – like that of a stereotypical Gaelic woman.
But the proud Indian was actually born to ‘typically Indian’ parents who thought her freckles were a birth defect – and have no idea where her unusual looks come from.
Miss Ganatra’s appearance, believed to stem from her ancestors, has made her feel like a foreigner in her own country – with Indians staring and asking for pictures.
It could be her appearance was triggered by an ‘evolutionary throwback’, called atavism, to genes that had been passed down from her ancestors after laying dormant for years.
Because of her complexion, strangers are often shocked to discover she speaks Hindi and try to charge her tourist prices because they think she is a backpacker.
Her unusual appearance also saw her rushed to hospital as a child over fears she had a skin disease.
Her insecurities were intensified as a teenager by the overwhelming pressure to conform to ‘impossible’ Indian standards of beauty.
Miss Ganatra said: ‘I’d love to get a DNA test one day to discover more about my ancestry because I don’t know anything about it.
‘I have no idea why I look the way that I do but a test into my genes could explain a lot.’
Miss Ganatra, who runs her own clothes manufacturing business, said: ‘When I was born, my family had never seen anyone who looked like me before because they all have brown skin, black hair and brown eyes, like most Indians.
‘When my freckles started appearing everywhere when I was three because none of my relatives had ever gotten freckles before they didn’t know what they were.
‘I was rushed to the doctors because everyone thought it was a birth defect or skin disease. I was always the odd-one-out at school, and was routinely bullied.
‘People would always come up and ask “what are those spots on your face? Why do you have so many marks?”. It was a real mental challenge.
‘Even in my first year of university, I was pulled aside and told not to wear sleeveless shirts because they were “too eye-catching” with my white skin.
‘There was no rule against sleeveless clothing and every other girl dressed like me, yet I was singled out.’
‘Relax, I’m Indian too’
Miss Ganatra added: ‘Indians love to pose for photos with different-looking people from overseas, so I often get people coming up to me asking for pictures.
‘It’s happened more than 100 times in my life – I have to tell them, “relax, I’m Indian too”.
‘When I get into taxis cab drivers start speaking to me in English and are shocked when I answer them in Hindi.
‘The funniest one is when I’m charged the foreigner price for public attractions because they think I’m a backpacker, so I have to prove I’m Indian.
‘When I was in America people wouldn’t believe me when I told them I’m Indian. Even the customs officer at the airport had to look twice at my passport and asked me if I’m really from India.’
After Miss Ganatra was born, her parents decided not to have any more children in case her strange looks were a sign she needed medical treatment and they wanted to be able to afford this.
While her father Rajesh, 51, has darker skin and looks ‘typically Indian’, her mother Hemaxi, 46, also has slightly lighter than average skin and a few freckles, although none on her face.
But it is a complete mystery to Miss Ganatra and her family why she looks the way she does.
Could be it down to her ancestors?
Considering India was colonized by different countries and ruled by the British for over 100 years, she said there is definitely a possibility her ancestors were from the UK.
Miss Ganatra said her unique appearance made it extremely difficult to fit in at school and that she would often be singled out and bullied by her classmates when she was a child.
And as a teenager, the redhead’s insecurities were intensified by the overwhelming pressure to conform to ‘impossible’ Indian standards of beauty.
She feared she would never have a boyfriend because no one would ever find her attractive.
Now, with her typically Caucasian features, she said Indian people stare at her and often mistake her for a foreigner, but are gobsmacked when they discover she is ‘one of them’.
After feeling like an outcast all her life, it wasn’t until Miss Ganatra traveled overseas to Europe and America that she realized there were people out there who looked like her and she was in fact ‘normal’.
‘My grandmother died when my mum was very young, so I was never able to ask her about it but I’m very curious.
‘I always felt like such an oddity until I went overseas and saw all these people who looked exactly like me and it felt amazing.
‘Indians are obsessed with pale skin but it has to be clear – any pimples, blackheads or blemishes of any kind are considered really ugly.
‘So, while people were in awe of my white skin, they kept telling me that I’d look better if I just got rid of my freckles. They were perceived as this huge flaw.’
Freckles in the Mumbai sun
She continued: ‘Freckles worsen in the sun and in Mumbai it’s always incredibly hot, so my freckles have just kept appearing.
‘I’ve tried different skin creams and medications to get rid of them, but nothing ever worked.
‘It was even told to try extreme laser treatment or to have cosmetic surgery, but I never wanted to go down that road.’
Miss Ganatra was recently snapped by prominent Mumbai photographer Karishma Mehtha for her popular ‘Humans of Bombay’ Facebook page.
And now as an adult, she fully embraces her unique looks and feels much happier in her own skin.
Natural beauty is ‘gorgeous’
She said: ‘After a while, I just got sick of trying to change myself and eventually I just decided to accept it.
‘People tell me to wear foundation and powders to cover my freckles but I’m just not that type of person and I feel beautiful the way I am.
‘Natural beauty is the most gorgeous thing a woman can wear.
‘It took a while to learn how to love myself but now that I do, I always dress my best and bring out my biggest smile for anyone who stares at me.
‘I don’t care anymore if people stare at me or judge me because of how I look. I’m too busy loving myself to notice.’
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