Tuesday, April 21, 2009 

Slaying Them Softly

Everywhere, it stares out at you.

Earlier, I reacted in different ways. For the longest while, I would avoid any contact in that sphere, and if chance did throw me in harm's way, I would fidget and keep away from eye contact. If forced to make conversation, I would be as brief and polite as possible. 

There was a brief spell of devil may care rudeness, when I decided to make others pay for my awkwardness by being a prig, by pushing them into zones of discomfort.

I am clean and reasonably groomed. My clothes are ironed, even if I mix and match according to what the dhobi has deigned to deliver lately rather than appropriate schemes of colour or pattern. My shoes are mostly shined, unless you have caught me at the end of an impromptu long walk. Or if I'm planning on ending the meeting with one, in which case I'll wear walking shoes a bit worse for the wear. I can speak a decent line or two in English without obvious mistakes. I even watch a movie or two in English now and then, and can discuss with some substance books and music.

But I am never comfortable with representatives of what I call the Manicured Life. The one that jumps at you out of every serial, ad, magazine. Pastel shades, immaculate houses, perfectly white teeth, nattily casual men with superbly coiffed women. The men are not necessarily handsome, merely shiny and rich. The women who are not beautiful make do with being sexy. If they were merely confined to the ads, one could glance away. But when I meet them in real life, all the minor details start kicking in. 

For example, the casual elegance with which they handle the lower classes : drivers, waiters, and such. None of my easy familiarity that so often embarasses. Nor the rigid hauteur which is caricatured in movies. Just that masterful dash of geniality that garnishes the evident command.

I'm now older, if not wiser, and mostly, I do not have issues with The Manicured Life. My own polishing has been more in the nature of a grind, and that leaves its mark. I know that remnants of my awkwardness will always ensure, for example, that I fidget. Past practice will change the usually modulated tone into a harsh desi twang when I speak. I will always end up wearing the shirt just a little bit crumpled, the tie a tad askew. 

Ah well.They live as they should, and I live as I can, and who's to say which of us is living as we want, says I. 

I recently read a lady who had been Photoshopped by a popular woman's mag into a fairer, slimmer avatar, while profiling her as a "woman of substance" (which she most emphatically is, I might add). She wrote about how the media is foisting the illusion of a generic plastic beauty across a diversity of cultures and what it does to a generation of youngsters trying to conform to it. I nodded, reminded of my own angst at not fitting into the shiny lives of people that I thought were "cool". And then, in the course of a restless wandering of a sleepless night, I chanced upon an article in the Guardian, and clicked the youtube link simultaneously. The piece is laced with enjoyable invective against Simon Cowell ("buffed to the sheen of an ornamental pebble") and Amanda Holden ("a woman most notable for playing a psychotic hairdresser" and a "flat-packed, hair-ironed, over-plucked monstrous fool" : ) ). 

But it was the video that got me. You've sung "Cry Me A River", and "Killing Me Softly", friend. And that is enough to make most of us who go for the mush keel over. But when you hit the high notes so effortlessly in a song that was written for a posterchild of misfortune in one of the strongest emotional dramas ever, I stood up and cheered. 

Perhaps some of your miracle was manufactured. Perhaps they'll lift you and may eventually trash you. They'll make you over or keep you as an icon of their tolerance. The future is unknown, Susan Boyle : but today, from a member of the League for Extras and Ordinary Gentlemen, a salute.

Saturday, April 11, 2009 

Up Close and Impersonate

(From the archives, or rather, a temporarily loaned USB drive : )).

I had a momentary qualm, pausing outside the door. Then I shrugged and went in. The room’s cheery décor, more suited to a bright summer morning than the slate grey winter sky that was framed by the enamel windows, did little to quell the twinges inside. She was solicitous, speaking easily, while I was slightly awkward. It had been a while, after all.

She gestured vaguely. I loosened my tie and went to lie down while she adjusted herself. I looked up at her sitting by me, into those eyes, and she smiled a bit sadly. “You could have come earlier, even last year”, she said, cupping my chin in her hands. I didn’t reply. She ran a loose hand over my forehead, asking me when I’d shifted jobs, and I realized she was trying to put me at ease. I consciously relaxed then, willing away the tension, feeling the tightness in the back give way as the muscles uncoiled. She bent her face to me, and I could see the thin spots of red on her cheeks. The cold, I thought, or perhaps just that touch of rouge. She was almost tender as she lifted my face toward her. As I shut my eyes, I could smell the citrus on her breath, and thought that I much preferred the carbolic acid smell of disinfectant that was more common in clinics.

  One has none of the usual fears of dentistry. In my experience, they are the people one goes to on a yearly basis and talk politely of how long it has been and don’t you wish we’d meet oftener. Some talk of parietal cavities and whatnots may cause an eyebrow to rise considering the mixed company, but these are modern times after all. This particular visit, however, coming after a while and in the thick of the winter, has left me shaken. The first week after the procedure was blinding pain, and it was after the second sitting that I realized she had been lying when she said that things were going to get better. The alternative, of course, was to pop a painkiller or two. Painkillers have the effect of dropping me down dead until woken up by pain a couple of hours later. Since they expect me to be awake, if not contribute, at the job, one rather avoids the drooping gently bit. Which means 10 hours of pure agony the whole long day. In addition to idiot colleagues asking me if I’ve brushed up on a file or two. Hahaha, in case I didn’t get it, brush, file, hahaha. Even the boss, asking me if I was able to work through and telling me to take it easy. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew, hehehehheh”, he says, exploding in his own mirth like a demented Sidhu.

In other news, have been speaking in tongues. Not really, in other voices, in an attempt to find my own. The success of the originals has been mostly in their inimitable style. But one tries. Thank you, originals, for the inspiration. Here are the results (1,2,3).  (I recommend saving the links before viewing them so you can zoom and scroll easily).

(Update : Added below as some issue@links).