Monday, October 23, 2006

A face to remember

I have a very forgettable face. A little like the kind you see in badly drawn cartoons. Typically, this is what happens when I meet someone for the first time:As I approach him, he will see my face and feel completely unaffected. He will then try to take a moment to register my face in his mind, and fail miserably. So, he looks up at me a second time. Then a confused, third glance, even as I flash an awkward smile and say, "Hi, I'm Rajesh". He tries to succeed where probably hundreds have failed before. Absent-mindedly, almost apologetically, he will figure he hasn't introduced himself, and proceed to finish the avoidable formality. Avoidable, because after all, he is never going to recognize me if we do meet again - even if he runs into me again in the next few minutes.

It's another forgetful day of my life today. If only I could forget how easily people forget my face. I get up from the table where I was pretending to read Einstein's relativity. I walk a few steps to the mirror and look straight into my face. There's nothing missing: a large nose flanked by two blank eyes wide open on either side. A thin upper lip overlooking two pairs of teeth protruding above a bulging brownish lower lip. A few pimples dotting a greyish stubble, and two perfectly normal ears. Now, I begin to think, the fact that there's nothing missing on my face makes it so regular, so much of the ordinary and the average that there is nothing of it that one could remember, much less recollect.

Satisfied with this explanation, I walk over to the balcony lazily. As I stare into the evening sky, I see a few birds fly across right in front of the perfect circle of the orange sun. In that instant I also see a face: a bird with wings spread wide makes the shape of a nose on the face of the sun, two birds for the eyes, two more for the lips, and the rest of the flock for hairlocks. A face at once so beautiful in its natural formation that I captured its startling beauty in my mind to remember it for ages to come. The bird that formed the nose of the face was probably a millionth of the radius of the sun. Yet in my mind, it wasn't. Relativity, I told myself. Life's lessons come to us not when we are poring over tomes, but when we allow ourselves to get lost in utter admiration of what the world has to offer.

Back in the toilet, I wash my face, and for the first time I observe that my left eye actually is the right eye of the face in the mirror! It was shocking at first, sort of phantasmagoric. After closing my eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath, I look back and run the index finger on my left hand slowly over my left eyebrow, and watch the face in the mirror trace the movement just the same, only with his right hand on the right eyebrow. I'm sweating now, oh God! The face that I see in the mirror could not be the face that people see when they meet me. A terribly simple realization. I walk out slowly as if in a daze and hear some music playing from my brother's room. I push the door and see him sleeping on the floor. As I turn around to go, I see a small hologram on a sticker on the closet door that reads: Use your illusion.

Is the mirror an illusion? I wonder. I walk into the kitchen to drink a glass of water. The small stainless cup feels oddly cold against my nervous fingers as I fill water into it from the water filter. I would have most certainly gulped it down with my eyes closed as I always do, but no!, today, I wouldn't. I see grotesque forms of my face approach me menacingly as I bring the cup closer to my mouth. And a string of rumbles and a final glug later, I am no longer thirsty, still every bit as confused.

I try to rub it all off! Mom and Dad must be coming back home in half an hour, I realize. A cursory look at the clock tells me I have about twenty minutes to play cricket and get back home before them. And the next thing I know, I am running down the stairs. Three leaps to a flight. Four flights to the ground floor. Nineteen minutes and five friends to play with. Thirty runs, two wickets and a diving catch in twenty-eight minutes sure sounds like an all-rounder to me. Need to rush home now. I sprint out of the park and just as I run around the corner, I quickly glance back a moment to see if my parents are anywhere in sight. Thud! And I am lying on the ground, and so is a small girl. I ran straight into her. I get up, dust my elbows and knees and get up to see if she is allright. She is not crying, only a grimace on her face. I lift her up, and say sorry. She looks beautiful, I think, but she is not looking at me. She says an involuntary "Thanks" and bends down to the ground groping. "I'm sorry", she says, grabbing a small stick in her hand. That's when I see she is blind. I'm in a shock. She quietly taps the stick on the ground firmer now, and walks on smiling. I stand there in disbelief. Not because I ran into another person who will not remember my face. Maybe because I realized the beauty in her face would stay with me forever, and yet she could never realize how beautiful she was. Or perhaps because, she finally taught me how to forget the fact that I had a forgettable face.

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