On the Anvil


Saturday, March 29, 2008


The human saga has veritably been a relentless Q&A session. A game show hosted by nature, produced by time, directed by destiny in a wonderful studio, the Cosmos. And heavens, how could I forget – it’s $ponsored by… life.
Big Bang onwards, nature has been firing questions and we have been answering them. From the Stone Age, the Ice age and into now, the really cutting edge Bond age (clue: agent 007), we have in a manner, come of age. We have successfully managed to answer our way past most of nature’s probes. A few questions we have fortuitously guesstimated – the fire, the wheel, penicillin. Remember the ‘Dimaag ki batti jala de’ sequence from the Mentos ad. For some others, we have seriously summoned our grey matter – achieving the escape velocity. As per the mandates of any game show there have been some questions which have been, quite honest to admit, giveaways – antifreeze for cars in sub-zero conditions. At the other end, nature has thrust on us gauntlets; questions that have been encrypted in nature’s strange ways – Ideologies, Religion, Identities, Nationhood, Disease & Mortality. We are still working hard to unravel these puzzles and decode the scripts. But the gauntlet with the most intriguing encryption is the one concerning Beauty. The bait has been cast and we have been lured. Beauty comes encrypted in the skin. It really is Skin deep or so. It’s Skincrypted and here’s an effort to arrive at a key to decrypt it. To do that we need to journey across the various levels of the skincryption. Let’s commence here:

Just look at him. This is the customary welcome accorded to infants on touching home base – their birth. The qualifying word, to reiterate is - look. Wonder why none of us say listen to him. Or maybe smell him. As humans, right from birth senses have been granted their levels of importance. And the first mover’s advantage clearly is with the looks. Thus, looks have been attached congenital significance by us. Come boyhood and its time for diet-supplementary beverages; each beverage company trying to best their rivals by tweaking the Olympic motto feeding on the audience’s fancy – a kid who is faster, taller and stronger than anybody else. Their dream offer – a kid who has the brains to look down upon Einstein and the height to look down upon a growing giraffe. Teenage is looks gaining steam and youth is well, looks being crowned. Middle age is the time to go plastic. Finally it takes senility with its withering reality to restore parity in helping us smile at the cutaneous adventure we’ve put ourselves through – an infancy of innocence, a childhood loaded with nutrition, a teenage heavy on beauty add-ons, a youth anchored around the mirror and a botox compliant middle age. This is just one facet, the biology of beauty, of being skincrypted.There’s evolution, religion, literature, history and the current social realities still to come.

Sometime between our cross over from the Australo pithecus to the Homo sapiens was the first foray made by nature to skincrypt. We were primarily hunters by the day and the quarry by the night. Night always filled us with a morbid dread. For that was when the scary nocturnal creatures that had us as a choice item on their menu, went about their rounds. So darkness came to be associated with fear, the most primal of our instincts. And fear with its associate, vulnerability, is the ultimate triggering for a myriad other human emotions – loathe, repulsion and scorn. On the same count, we liked the day as that was when we felt secure. Between the unease of the dark and the comfort of the day, we obviously preferred the latter. Later, this preference would rub off on every field of human activity across time as you will soon discover.

If evolution mandated intellectual activism, it also, given the sheer odds stacked against our survival, mandated the emergence of religion on two fronts – thunder and wonder. Thunder herein implying the necessity to appease the powers that controlled the forces over which we simply hadn’t gained control or even had a faint idea about. For example – the thunderstorms, quakes etc. Wonder herein implying the sheer beauty that our ancestors were able to drink in in terms of natural flora and fauna and not to forget the beauty of the celestial skies. Picture here a rainbow on the back drop of a concrete-less world and you have traced the spring of human poetry and fine arts. Across the world, our earliest predecessors faced this common condition - this wonderful juggle between the fear of the unknown and the sheer beauty of the known. And religion became the perfect medium to balance the scales. If there was disease and disasters, it was the time to set a call with the Higher-Up - to beseech, to supplicate. If it was a wonderful day, it was yet another call, but to praise and to exhort. Given this condition, nature proceeded to skincrypt and we gladly obliged with our preference yet again. We beatified the daylight and demonized the darkness. Across religions, myths and cultures the devils came in dark and the deities in surf-excel white.

At some lucky juncture in time we arrived at the happy station of all our basic needs being addressed at least to a reasonable level. As our species gained the ability to cultivate, clothe and defend we derived a valuable gift Рleisure. A gift whose conferment marked the acceleration of the human growth story. It clearly accentuated our new found status of being the fittest among the survived. Leisure provided us the time to observe but with a sense of security. Just what the doctor prescribed to unleash human curiosity and creativity. The progeny of course here being Science and Arts. Again, a careful study of the sports, literature, crafts, paintings and sculptures of the various civilizations point to a common thread Рthe segregation between the good and the evil on the platform of color. Dark colors sought to be avoided or were meted step-motherly treatment. Can you imagine a Taj Mahal in granite black? Even if that occurred, would it have then qualified as one of the seven wonders? It may have been chance or deliberate, but which color is granted pride of a first move in the ancient game of chess? As pass̩ it may seem in noting, the color of the night came to be the palanquin carrying the devil with the bearers being subterfuge, stealth, skulduggery and sinisterness. Yet again we had been skincrypted.

Time, the manager of the toll gates between the past and the present and the present and the future also seemed benign as a permit official. Much as inter-state government buses ply un-interrupted at the toll-gates, this palanquin bearing the devil was allowed an un-interrupted trip across time. But just as vehicle numbers are logged at such spots, time too has chronicled the same. History’s records are replete with innumerable instances of such tragic cross-overs – Colonialism and Slavery. Add to that a new term……..Hitlerism. A quest to assert the seeming Aryan supremacy……nipped in part, real time……thank you Jesse Owens. Nature skincrypting yet again.
And now to our times - this Harry Potter age which dreads the Dark lord Voldemort or this Lord of the Rings era which keeps a tab over the dark forces of Sauron on the insistence of Gandalf. We have indubitably been nature’s most skincrypt friendly generation. And not without reason. True, we have a Naomi Campbell as a Supermodel or Indian women ruling the beauty paegants. But lets play catch up with reality.Pick up any matrimonial and the word fair is inescapable. Watch the TV and one significant observation marches to the fore – the ads hinting at beauty (i.e.…skin et al) outnumbering commercials featuring any other category. Again, the word fair dominates screen space. Fair and Lovely. Fair and Handsome. Fair Forever. You wonder - do you need to be fair to look lovely or is fairness the prerequisite to someone looking handsome? Now to break the monotony here’s a question – what’s impossible for Badshah Khan, Megastar Chiru and Superstar Rajni? Yes, you read that right, impossible even for Rajni sir. Well, they will never be able to covet night-skinned ladies. That will be cinematic kamikaze. Their onscreen counter-hearts (read: heroines) have to be daylit skinned fair-ies.
Why? Director’s decrees. Again why? The masses want it that way, the directors' invariable reply. But why?

Notes, noted social demographer Dr.Soma Das – “The desire to look good is a universal trait across humanity.” Agreed. But this compulsion to consider fair as good? Concedes Dr.Das – “Yes, we have become a looks-obsessed race. Thanks to the PR blitz we are subjected to these days.” But how exactly you ask and the details are spilt in three steps. “First, there’s indoctrination. The sheer media deluge manages this, often harping around the theme of a miraculous Midas touch. Then, there’s habit formation. Early adopters try out and slowly there’s build up of peer pressure. Finally, there’s attitude change. When the critical mass is achieved, the trend gets established as the norm.” And thus we notice that the beauty industry keeps flooding us with newer and newer terms (ex: Metrosexuals) to serve the same fare - instant fixes guaranteeing ethereal beauty all aiming at enticing the opposite gender. Fuelling their efforts are the undercurrents of globalization in the context of a liberalized, fast track nation. The hot and high end international brands once outside the aspirations of the working lot are becoming accessible and more importantly to a mark, affordable. Gone the ‘best foot’ forward generation. Say hello to the ‘best face’ forward generation which is more expressive and experimentative with respect to looks. A clear symptom of being skincrypted.

So what is this Skincryption all about? Wait a second. Remember the game show and its host, Nature, posing the question:
What is beauty?
Skin-cryption is allowing nature to wrong-foot us by answering the above question in terms of two prime stereotypes.
Stereotype # 1: Color of skin
Fallout being racialism. Be it sports (ex: cricket) or reality shows (ex: Big Brother), or nations (ex: blacks in US)
Stereotype # 2: Over-indulgence in skin
Fallout being, over pampering of one’s physicality.

So how do we decrypt this question? On Nature’s show, nature is kind and has offered us two lifelines, one each to decrypt each of the two stereotypes. Well, here the concept of life line or helpline needs a slight elaboration. On nature’s show we can’t make calls but only receive them. The clock is furiously ticking.

The first call is Martin Luther King. He says in soothing timbre:
“When ebony
And ivory
Are in harmony
In my piano key
Why not we………”
Nature presses the buzzer and the neon shines green. Stereotype 1 has been decrypted. WOW!!!

Basha……….Basha……..goes the next tone.
I am over-the-moon, its superstar Rajni sir. He styles:
“Kanna, its all jujubeee.
Doordarshan’s motto is your answer.

Before I can ask Rajni Sir, he has read my thoughts. A quick thrust of his palm and golden dust arrange themselves on the………..air.
“Truth, Goodness,Beauty.
Truly, Goodness is real beauty.”
Nature’s buzzer shines green. The second stereotype has just been decrypted. Rajni sir does a goggle twist act and thunders:
Kanna, beauty is not just about looking fair but being fair to one another.
iddhu yeppidi irruku?”
Now that surely seems a fair deal.

1 comment:

jvsk said...

Hi Subbu,

Nice article. It is very interesting to know things in the real light and puts things into a different perspective. Keep up the good work