(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 22nd August, 2009)
You know it’s one of ‘them’ as soon as you see its mobile phone. This creature’s display screen always has a studiedly candid picture of itself. It belongs to the Sorority of Self-Admirers. They have the most nondescript faces in India, but believe themselves to fall into the ‘hot’ category. They usually get the biggest pout out of their thin lips.
You know they’ve had a date every Valentine’s Day, who has faithfully bought them a heart-shaped card and a pink teddy bear. You know they’ve had their hair rebonded if it was curly, and permed if it was straight, and coloured at least once, either which way. You know they’ve never said “cute” when they could have said “cuuuuuuuuuuuuute!” and “how sweet!” when they could have said, “awwww, cho chweeeeeeeeeeeeet!” You also know they make and receive ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ calls from the immemorable men they date, and fall in love with each of those immemorabilia.
They’re crazy about whichever world cup is going on, and make conversation to other members of the Sorority about which footballer/ cricketer is “cuuuuuuuuuuuuute!” They whine about the micro-inches of flesh they’ve put on in the most discreet parts of the anatomy, and will display it to ask your opinion on the extra grams.
What really gets to one, though, is to be assumed a member of the Sorority. I had the misfortune of meeting one of its leading lights. I had the bigger misfortune of being the only other Indian in the group she hung out with, and was therefore bound by the ties of patriotic sisterhood. Now, it so happened she fancied a man, who didn’t seem to reciprocate.
“Can I talk to you?” she said, grasping my hand and looking at me through tears.
Her room had the regulation five portraits – three ‘candid’ photographs, obviously clicked by the Self-Admirer herself, one seven-pound sketch from an artist at Leicester Square, and one grainy print-out of some other picture of hers. It also had two diyas at the door and enough dupattas to make the room look artistically Indian.
“Why do you think he doesn’t like me?” she said, staring at her bed.
“Uh...maybe you should ask him,” I ventured.
“I can’t take the humiliation,” she said, with a melodramatic sniffle, “does he think he’s not good enough for me?” And she flung her face up to look me in the eye, “because...you know, I don’t mind at all.”
“Maybe he has a girlfriend already?”
“Do you think his girlfriend is prettier than me?” she looked at me with what she assumed was the damsel-in-distress look that can melt even the hearts of genetically unsympathetic women.
“I’ve never seen her,” I said, honestly.
She looked at the mirror, in utter disbelief that any face could outdo the tear-stained one staring back at her.
“Maybe he’s gay,” I suggested, desperately. Those are the only three words I unfailingly remember from the chickflicks I occasionally watch.
The Self-Admirer looked up with momentarily bright eyes – it could have been the effect of the light on the tears, though – and said, “you think?”
“No,” I said, honestly again, and then bit my tongue.
With a scream and a moan that could have put Raj Kapoor’s yesteryear heroines to shame, she threw herself on the bed, and allowed her body to be racked by sobs.That was when I decided to, quite literally, call for help, and soon enough, my best friend – incidentally considered the best-looker at our university – was there.
“You know,” the Self-Admirer looked up at both of us, “it’s not a good thing to be beautiful at all...it’s hard.”
“Yes,” my friend said, “but you know how wonderful it is to be ugly!”