The mysterious woman

I often see people staring blankly ‘in’ the face of a beautiful person…  Sometimes the gaze makes you wonder, are they really ‘leching’?  Not to condone such behavior, but it makes you wonder, what is going through these people’s heads?

They aren’t even conscientious of their act. It is as if they are not there. Their vacant gaze seem to come from the wall behind,  as if they have merged in the background and they are nothing but a pair of eyes, the only connection between here and a world inside their heads. uncanny.

Why does a person fly away momentarily out of the real world when their gaze land on the face of a beautiful person? It is as if their gaze is always in search of a portal to their inner world. And it gets unlocked only by the sight of a beautiful face. Why else does one compulsively checkout faces of others in a crowded subway? We are forever in search of the key to our flight.
An average face in the  sea of variety.  A plateau in the hills. A smoothed pebble in the real world of rocks and sponges. and so on.
My theory is,
A face with conventional beauty is beautiful because the others can project their perspectives on such faces without jarring the reality.  The average face very well may be of an average person. But given such a  canvas we can’t help but paint it with mystery and possibilities.
We welcome people with beautiful faces in our conversations or smiles because their face is the ultimate screen for our fantasies to play out. The welcome is an appeal to authority. In a manner of speaking, through these screens, we try to communicate with a higher power. We perceive the audience to be bigger than it is, wondering who else behind the screen might listen to what we have to say. We want them to remain mysterious, so we listen less and talk more or see without listing.
And that’s why ‘dumb blonde’ was born.  Dumbness is quite democratic.  Dumb people exist among all races,  all genders,  all cultures and so on.  But dumb utterance by a person with beautiful appearance is jarring. It crashes you back from a reverie to the real world with a certain unpleasant thud.
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Stop bitching. Start acting.

Exhibit A

Have you seen posts like these on FB lately?

What are they about?
A person witnesses some ‘wrong’ act. He/ She promptly takes a picture of the wrong act. He/she hurries to upload it to social media in an effort to shame the person in question.
Earlier, a photograph of a car’s number plate did the rounds online. apparently, the guy driving the car had spit on the road. and so on… all misdemeanors that should ideally be sorted in ‘real world’ of flesh and bones through polite conversations.

Exhibit A-
Here, a grey haired gentleman opened a door to a cafe for two other gentlemen. The other two gentlemen supposedly did not say ‘thank you’. Were they too busy? Were they in a serious discussion, the sort where you forget the world altogether? Do we know anything about them at all? No. We don’t.
All we have is this one photo that the indignant-FB-guy (IFG) took without asking the two people in question.

and look at the reaction – It ranges from ridiculing these two strangers to turning this non-incident into a symbol of all that is wrong with India.

“whn ppl do that to me I say ‘You’re Welcome’ loudly.
.OMG ##### the man has the biggest HORNS on his head……..what did you expect…..Cattle class !!”

As an Indian, I always wondered if its the sheer number of bodies perpetually jostling around us, which make us immune to so many civil and civic sensibilities… but then I think of Japan, which is even more congested than us, bowing their butts off..”

Lovrd this. The so called educated forget basic courtesy and need to be publicly shamed

I know them. They share the same name: “Most Indians” “

What does it tell you about how these online people see themselves? 
They are ridiculing strangers for a misdemeanour that they did not know for certain if it happened or not. But one serious breach of manners and ethics went unnoticed.
No one is asking IFG, if it was right of him to take a picture of stranger without their permission. Is it good manners? Is it ethical to invade privacy like this?

Secondly, see how quick we distance ourselves.
me who knows better v/s most Indians, the cattle class. 

On social media, even I am a theorist and intellectual. So obviously, there are a few ones who dissect the incident, albeit in a congratulatory tone. 

Its like an online group of bullies, trying to bully someone who is smaller than them, not present at all!

Everybody relishes in this online distance – I can safely be a voyeur and a judge! I am omnipotent and always right!

What do you think should be a pre-digital, pre-cowardice reaction to the incident? Wouldn’t it be easier to go over and ask for that ‘thank you’ that you think was a right response?
It’s quite certain that IFG wanted to ‘teach a lesson’. Everybody online feels that way, so I don’t blame him. But why not teach a lesson there and then. Wouldn’t it be more effective?
Or was IFG too scared of a possible altercation afterward? Or did he think that he would receive more satisfaction if he posts it online.

Why am I bothering to write about this at all?
I don’t mean to disrespect IFG or commentators. But I am worried about a growing trend of voyeurism and cowardice. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we would rather take their picture from safe distance and post it publicly, than go and talk with them and try to understand them. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we are becoming less and less human-like.

Why is it a worrisome trend?
Do you remember reactions of people who were passing by naked limp bodies on the street that fateful morning in Delhi’s winter?
Do you remember the incident in UK where a person was busy taking picture while he could have saved a man’s life?
and there are so many other such stories.. it just fills me with hopelessness. and it feels even worse when I resort to blogging about it.
And there is really only one thing we need to do to change things. To react at all time. question the wrong. Talk. Help. Prod. Call someone. tap on the shoulder and say thank you/sorry. whatever.
But we must REACT as and when a reaction is due. A delayed online reaction for self-gratification will be the doom of our civilization. I am not exaggerating here.

In real life, often we have immediate costs and uncertain gain. We chose online because it gives you immediate satisfaction with seemingly no cost.
If we converse with a stranger in real life, there is a risk of having to waste hours if the stranger turns out to be a bore/ danger of a psychopath… versus the possibility of pleasure in conversation and learning new things. We are increasingly choosing to converse online since you can shut out anytime online, but if the conversation is pleasant, one can take it forward.
Similarly, even about social consciousness – India is starved of volunteers who do actual work, but there is no dearth of online campaigners.

and worse of all, in times of distress. Honestly ask yourself: The last time you saw someone in distress, what did you do? Did you help the person? or did you walk away after telling yourself some comforting fiction? (‘There might be someone else who is helping her/him’, ‘there are already people there, what is the need for me?’, ‘I really shouldn’t get involved in things like these. It might be dangerous’)

Long term scenario
Imagine our dependence on law and authority that this kind of behavior will necessitate. Imagine the sheer terror as people relinquish reactions and stop even acting in self preservation. We are becoming so fragile and wary of danger. We are increasingly less alive.

Answer to all current questions
Questions like – increasing safety concerns for women, increasing feeling of purposelessness, increasing distances in relationships and even the prevalence of bad manners…
Answer to all these question is in a shift of our behavior.
We have to consciously make an effort to react with action, thought and empathy right when it is due. 
If you see someone throwing trash where he shouldn’t. Help him be better.
If you see someone trying to harm someone else. raise an alarm/ call police/ use your brain.
If you see someone in distress. You better help him/her. If you don’t, you are just as responsible for his/her plight.
If you see someone who doesn’t appreciate your good manners, tell him what you think of it. Don’t worry, no one’s going to bite you. most of us are quite decent folks. (scared and with different world view, but decent nevertheless).

If your action is to only post about it online, it really is an exercise in narcissism. It is not a benevolent act. It is a selfish act where a person could have been helped, instead you chose to victimize him and derive pleasure out of this public shaming.

Here’s a little chant that you could memorise and tell yourself at all times – ‘React! React! React! React! React!… 108/42/786 times (depending on your religious inclination) and repeat.
If we all react when it is due, the world would surely be a much more safer, kinder, confident place.

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Originally published here.

Imagination and all its sisters

 

What makes one cling to fantasies so dearly? I can understand the impulse to run away from your life. But what color is your courage that pushes you beyond the limits of truth? To suspend reality and recede in thoughts. To forget and to belong.

I just saw a docudrama ‘catfish‘. The movie chronicles online exchanges that is just about to evolve into a  relationship which takes a new turn due to uncovering of a deception. While I suspect that it might be scripted itself, it certainly strikes you with its reality. Our reality, that is only defined by the deceptions around us.

How fragile are we? To need to run away from reality so often? So your partner vice is the cigarette, his’ is grass (respect!), her’s is booze, but everyone’s hooked onto the internet the most.

Kids slip deep under the blanket to escape reality. But when someone takes away the blanket, the kid has to face the real world. Game over. Grown ups shut down the world around and populate the world inside with assumptions and make-believe stories. (Stuff fanatics are made of) Their blanket takes some work to be taken away. The blanket that is readily available these days to us, young and old, is quite alluring for its potency in anonymity and versatility in creating make-believe world – the internet.

I was wondering by giving us this individual escape towards togetherness, we are allowing us to slide to a more fragile world. Imagination has been the hallmark of human existence but it often was a collaborative act in search of strength. So the evening ritual of song and dance of our ancestors perhaps created enough noise and energy to frighten away possible predators (and more potent mythical fears) and give the group some courage.

Quick fix courage = Forgetting + imagination 
Forgetting real world; imagining a new one.

But the nature of imagination has now changed.
Imagination is no more a collaboration in real proximity in space and spirit. Digital world fragmented the act of imagination. Now the act of seeking courage is inverted. The demons of everyday boredom do not get tamed very easily. The inversion has to be fantastic. So now the courage is sought digitally not along with fellow tribesmen but tested against other men/women, and wholly supported by one’s own imagination. Cruel pressures of individuality. Its the entrance fee to enter this generation.
Its like the digital world is a tub filled with bubbles of imagination floating around, waiting to hit and hurt each other, until you find one that gets merged without question.

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Originally published at Imagination and all its sisters.