Sunday, August 9, 2009

Revelations & Resolutions

The uninspiredness is still out in full force. I have a thousand things in mind but couldn't type a meaningful sentence out of it. So here is an article I wrote for the Hyderabad Mizo Association's magazine Virthlileng, which was released last year.

I don’t know if it is possible to be underdressed for a plane ride, or if airlines have a small hidden clause that said “The price of every piece of clothing worn by the passenger must be greater than or equal to the price of the ticket”, but underdressed is exactly how I felt when I boarded the Aizawl bound Air Deccan flight at Kolkatta last Christmas. As soon as I entered the terminal I was bombarded with the sight of some young Mizo people and some not-so-young-but-unwilling-to-admit-so specimens; all of them beautifully coiffed, clothed and shod. Not to mention the fake designer bags. And the obviously expensive latest model cell phones. I reached inside my tattered jute bag and switched off my ancient Motorola, afraid it might suddenly ring and I would have to take it out and answer it. I’d rather walk on coals, hot burning coals. Looking at those co-passengers-to-be I felt dowdy, frumpy, outdated and extremely unfashionable, not unlike how a village bumpkin might feel when accidentally stumbling in at a Fashion Week in a big city, mistaking the venue for some farmers’ convention. I made a mental note to upgrade myself a bit in the fashion department. Hike myself up a few rungs and generally up my style quotient a few notches.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I saw one of my friends from Hyderabad, when upon seeing her I must have exhaled rather loudly that made her ask if I’d been running. She was just underdressed as I was, in her old brown cardigan, jeans and old sneakers. I wasn’t exactly the epitome of fashion either, in my old kolhapuris and my local made kurta. We gratefully sat down together, gawking and gaping and elbowing each other every other minute to point out one girl’s jacket, another’s shoes, a boy’s hairstyle, and so on. A few minutes later our plane took off.

When I thought she wasn’t looking I stole a glance at a rather thin but otherwise pretty girl. She was fashionably dressed in knee length boots, skinny jeans tucked right in, an expensive looking coat and an equally expensive looking bag. And sunglasses. Yes you heard me right, at ten thousand feet above the ground, inside a closed airplane, in the middle of December. I looked around to see if anyone else was wearing one, but sadly all eyes were dangerously exposed to the harmful ultra violet rays. Considering how high we were flying, literally, how much closer we were to the sun than when we were on the ground, I thought if she wasn’t the only sensible one among all of us passengers and crew. I mean, you don’t know if the UV rays are not lurking outside airplanes, looking for every opportunity to somehow wriggle themselves through the windows and strike you blind. I made another mental note to buy myself a decent pair of sunglasses, never mind that I wear spectacles and would be half blind wearing sunglasses; I must think of those deadly rays.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.

After resting at home for a couple of days, I went shopping. Christmas, after all, means squeezing yourself between thousands of armpits so you can buy the perfect pair of shoes, the most beautiful jacket, and the Christmas decorations to show off on D-day. And also let your neighbours know, oh ever so subtly, that you don’t mind if everything is overpriced, you can afford it. And because you have to wear what everyone else is wearing (you don’t want to look odd, do you?) Forget about originality, following the crowd is in. It really doesn’t matter if I and my girlfriends and the whole city are all dressed alike, it’s the fashion of the season and nobody wants to be the crow among all the peacocks.

One day I went to buy shoes, and I saw the most beautiful pair. But there was one small hitch- It was extremely expensive, way way beyond my budget. I tried bargaining but was quickly shot down by the merchant, a middle aged woman who informed me in no uncertain terms that if I wasn’t willing to dish out the price she asked for then maybe we shouldn’t do business. After all, there were thousands who were perfectly ready to buy those shoes regardless of the cost. She also narrated how her merchandise was brought from Bangkok, emphasizing on the high cost of travel, hinting that maybe I was out of my league there hobnobbing with her. I was flabbergasted; whatever happened to good old customer service? Customer is king? It seemed like the customer had been dethroned and demoted to serf. I did a quick mental calculation and concluded that with the same amount of money I could buy two or three decent not-so-expensive pairs. And that’s exactly what I did.

I made many shopping expeditions before and after Christmas, and I saw a lot of “celebrities”. That is, my companions pointed them out to me. Being the old fashioned unaware ignoramus that I was I didn’t recognize any of them unless told. The place was packed with Idols and Icons and Super Models and Pop Kings and Queens and Rappers and Rock Stars and People Who Got Caught On Video In Compromising Situations. Every locality has its own celebrity, and everyone is related to or knows at least one personally. It’s almost a crime not to know any celebrity, and I of course was as guilty as Cain. I couldn’t be assumed innocent because frankly I wasn’t. I didn’t have friends who were friends of celebrities which meant I couldn’t shamelessly drop names. I didn’t even have relatives who have friends who were friends of celebrities, that’s how out of touch I was. I made yet another mental note to know more celebrities.

And even though the streets were teeming with said celebrities, nobody paid them any attention. No screaming fans followed them, nobody asked them for autographs and took pictures with them, and they didn’t have to surround themselves with beefy bodyguards or disguise themselves to venture out in public. They didn’t have to get the law to issue restraining orders to stalkers and crazy fans. They just wore their expensive shoes and strolled along with the multitude without anyone paying them any particular attention. It must be rather disappointing, to be a celebrity and nobody noticing you.

The Christmas celebration itself was another circus. On Christmas day we all dressed alike and went to church, and after the service gorged on Christmas Tea and Cake. There were a lot of handshakes, hellos, how are yous, and Merry Christmases. Then we all went home where we did nothing the rest of the day except hang about the house watching TV. The day after Christmas, or Boxing Day, was the day of the traditional community feast. I don’t know what other people did, but I was sick and was in bed the whole day. My friends came to my house in the evening and dragged me to the feast where I witnessed another fashion show. I almost got a crick on my neck from turning and twisting my head every two seconds to see who is wearing what and who is coming with whom. The Christmas spirit of cheer and goodwill never entered our minds.

And so Christmas was over.

The New Year celebration was pretty much the same. The same food, the same crowd, the same circus. A couple of overenthusiastic men donated some money so the feasting could go on another day. I didn’t know where their money came from, but I guessed it sure wasn’t from their salary paid by the government. I simply assumed they must have some goldmine somewhere. Many people were quite skeptical about the unnecessary feasting when our brothers in the villages were starving because of the imminent Mautam. And many localities instead of feasting gave the money to those villages, which was indeed a noble and generous act. I wondered how to get a goldmine, and figured a job in the Mizoram government could be the first step to get one. Isn’t it a known fact that our officers and ministers often “reward” themselves for the excellent work they do in serving the people? Never mind that they reward themselves in private without anyone’s knowledge, which I guess is because they all are modest, humble souls who don’t want all the drama associated with public felicitations. Here is a lesson to be learnt in modesty and humility, I reminded myself yet again.

The holiday season over, it was time for me to head back to Hyderabad and to the humdrum of everyday life. As our plane took off from Lengpui Airport I looked out of my window and my breath caught in my throat. The view was simply amazing. Miles and miles of greenery, with a few patches here and there cleared for farming. The towns were just a cluster of houses in a sea of green, like a tiny star in the dark night sky, and the winding rivers looked like curvy silver threads. A line from a song popped into my head - “Take me down to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty.” The grass sure was green down there, and the girls extremely pretty. The boys too. But paradise city? I wished I could answer in the affirmative, but I just wasn’t so sure.

I leaned back on my seat, drifted in to my thoughts and contemplated all the things I experienced on my short holiday. My eyes were opened to many things, and as new years go I felt I had to make some resolutions, which were:

• Subscribe to some fashion magazines.
• Watch more Fashion TV
• Visit the nearest optical showroom
• Learn the different manifestations/facets/aspects of customer service
• Know more celebrities
• Make new friends who know some celebrities
• Get a job in the Mizoram government
• Learn to be modest and humble

But now half of the year is already gone and I haven’t achieved anything. As resolutions go, I’m afraid as the year progressed I may end up not keeping them.


  1. What a fabulously rollicking write! It makes you think and laugh and lament, all in one stroke. And i'm sooo in love with your quirky wry humour.

  2. mesjay - I'm glad you thought and laughed and lamented, but most of all I'm glad you liked it.

  3. [grin] nice. i'm woefully incapable of any humorous writing, and really like yours. very prickly in a nice-nice way. i'm quite shocked you managed to look up/around from the christmas feast, though. seems a little sacrilegious to get distracted from the food...

  4. Actually, the head-turning exercise was executed while I was standing in line, inching my way closer to the buffet table, and it sure beat staring at the back of the neck of the person in front of you. People get all dressed up just to come and eat. I'm not saying come in your pyjamas, but there really is no need to dress up as if you're going to dine in some fancy five star hotel. We just need an excuse, an occasion to show off our expensive clothes, is my not-so-humble opinion.

  5. Hi ambs, long time no see. Its just one of those days. This summary of your holidays seems boring. You should have contacted me :), though i dont know any celebrities.
    Blog poh ka update theilo, rilru ah eng dang a leng love tunlai chu, buai hi a ni mai. College website te kan siam ve e kan ti a, hna pangai nen. Naupangho internet hman theihna tur room te kan siam bawk a, college ah. College website hi lo tlawh ve la, "Hmanlai" nen chuan in ang tawhlo maithei. Address chu tih a ni e

  6. Never thought anyone could put it so rightly.. Loved reading the post, right from the airport to the Xmas and New year celebrations..
    We once arrived at Kolkata airport directly from the train station cos' the it had been delayed and there was no time to change.. all I was wearing was a polar jacket (it was dec.), track pants, dirty sneakers and ruffled hair, smelling of TRAIN... so yes, I've been there.. :P

  7. Vana – nia i reh vang vang khawp mai. Buai zualpui a reh tawh chuan i blog te pawh lo update ve tawh la, thil thar te pawh hriat a chakawm alawm. College website chu ka lo en chhin ange.

    blackestred - Straight from the train to the airport! I can imagine how you all must look and how your well-dressed fellow Mizo passengers must think of you. We really need to let go of this mindset, of judging someone by the clothes they wear.

  8. wooow...i really enjoyed reading this...tad bit like my old masi vacations when I wud be constantly picked for my fashion sense or rather the lack of it..after all a guy can go home carrying just a backpack and 2 change of clothing

    And yes...we do overdress for flying, i've noticed too...which is kind of amusing cos Lengpui and the next few kms to Zawlkhawpui hardly need dressing up for IMHO

    I got my first pair od shades last year and i got them powered glasses from the opticians fastrack..really cool..u can ask them to make powered shades

  9. Yes, we overdress for flying, for shopping, for going to college/work, for just about any occasion. And then we eat paan and smoke and imbibe tobacco in its myriad forms and spit on the streets. And we wear our expensive five-thousand-rupee shoes and walk on roads that are muddy and broken and we drive around in bikes/cars bought with our parents’ money and then we go home to our parents and ask them for money. Even if we buy stuff with our own money we cannot afford them most of the time and hence pay in “installments”. If a friend/neighbour/colleague has a new phone/bike/scooty we have to have it because we don’t want to be “behind the times”. And we live and dress as if we are living in London/Paris/New York. Look around you, look at the city you're living in, look at your monthly payslip, look at your bank balance, can we really afford to keep up with this so-called lifestyle of ours?

  10. You got it right, Aduh. A visit to the Millenium Centre is quite a mindboggling experience. Starting price seems to be 1500 for shoes, and some are even a hefty 3 grand. And you step out of the mall still reeling from shock and you see loads of people wearing the same shoes/clothes. Friends call me 'inren' because I haven't adjusted to the price range here in Aizawl :D

  11. diary - yes we spend thousands of rupees buying stuff so that we can look like everybody else. It's quite pointless, isn't it? And about being called "inren", I think it's because we just don't know the concept of saving.