As part of my work, I’ve been roped in to contribute a dot to a large canvas of research that’s expected to revamp the public health system in the country. I received an email yesterday, asking for a short bio and a photograph to be uploaded to the collaboration’s website. As thrilled as I was about being featured in such a space, having to produce a picture bugged me. I didn’t have any.
Well, I have tons of pictures with friends. In a group, I’m a hoot. I look amazing when there are people around me whose energy I can feed off of. I love being with friends, and that shows in the photographs. You can almost hear the laughter.
So it’s not so much that I hate having my picture taken; I hate having my picture taken when I’m the only one in it and am aware of the fact. There is nothing that discomforts me more than posing for single shots. I get extremely nervous and self-conscious and my smile gets all creepy and fake. Hate it, hate it. Needless to say, photographers had a fairly horrible time at my wedding. I never click selfies either. Of the 10,000 odd photographs in my gallery, there are less than a dozen photographs where I’m the sole object of attention.
It’s quite funny too because I am quite the narcissist. I stare at the mirror and have more than the required level of appreciation for the woman in it. I don’t think I’m ugly; I think photos of me are ugly. And this has been the case for as long as I can remember.
There is a passport size picture of me at 7 or 8 years, long well-oiled hair tied back in the typical Malayali fashion, eyes darkened with kohl, with just the barest of smiles at the corner of my lips. I remember hating that picture, because I always hated my oily long hair. Looking at the black-and-white picture now, I think she looks adorable.
There is another photograph from a couple of years later. I am wearing a red checked sleeveless frock with a white tee-shirt inside, the sole modern outfit among all the dresses I owned at the time. My hair was cut shorter, and I was smiling just a bit more, because I was proud of my dress. When I finally got the print, I remember the dismay that struck me – I had forgotten to hide inside the tee shirt the ritual black thread that I was made to wear around my neck for good fortune. So much for a modern photograph. Now though, I don’t mind the thread so much. I love the innocence in her smile.
The last monochrome passport size picture is from when I was in the 10th grade. I’m in my school uniform, and my hair is braided on either side. I was never very good at braiding, and it always happened that the one on the right would twist 90 degrees once I was done, and no matter what I tried, it would never look symmetrical. My big ears stood out conspicuously. I remember being conscious of the hair and the ears, and wishing I looked more like another classmate, whose picture showed off her silky hair and casual flawless smile. I hold the picture in my hand and struggle to recognise the pale, youthful, fifteen-year-old, and wonder at how small and vulnerable she seemed.
There is a photo of standing against a rock on one of our trips from college. Another picture marred by the skewed stark black thread seen against the clavicles. I was always so fixated on the thread that I never noticed how sweet she looked. On the verge of 20, much too young and innocent.
I look through the gallery and finally find one recent picture that seemed to be fit for submission. I have the institite’s identity tag around my neck. It was taken towards the end of the day by a colleague; my open hair is in a little disarray, and the eyeliner that makes up for my droopy eyes has all but vanished. There is a big toothy smile on my face. My skin looks dark and oily. I put in a subtle filter to make myself look a little better before uploading it.
A few years down the line, I’m sure, I wouldn’t notice my hair or my skin or my bare eyes – all my focus is sure to be on the bright big smile.