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Forever Young

Why are we so obsessed with looking young? From Oscar Wilde’s iconic story – ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ to the botox treatments and the nose jobs that our actresses routinely have, it has become fashionable to cheat on nature and interfere with the inevitable ageing process. And why we are so mortified with the lines that appear around the edges of our lips and eyes over time? They used to be called laugh lines, but nobody laughs when they first spot them in the mirror. It’s as if we are trying to model ourselves on a completely unnatural ideal – staying in the youth zone forever. Like Dev Anand, who still professes to play the youthful lover, even though he’s now well into his 70s, we want to turn the clock back and stay frozen at the point where we look our very best. One assumes that it is ok for actors and actresses to stretch this line as much as they can. Their bodies, after all, are their money generating asset, so they are terrified of losing out. All those extra hours at the gym, the cosmetics, the diets all go into preserving the form in its most pristine state. Yet, the battle is lost wrinkle by wrinkle

But when does it cross the line?. In an insightful piece, Dominique Browning writing in the New York Times makes a valid observation – We’ve reached a stage where cosmetic surgery is so readily available that in certain circles it is expected of women and men to avail themselves of these age-deniers. (You cannot call them youth enhancers when you are no longer young.) If you choose not to partake of the benefits of needle and knife, you are judged to be making a statement. You are taking a position against the current standards of beauty.

People no longer accept their wrinkles. They want them abolished. In the latest Pond’s Age Miracle ad, there’s another twist – a case is being made for using it early. The only way age can be kept at bay is to tuck away the wrinkles, which affect our expressions. News anchors are meant to be unemotional but they are now turning plastic – incapable of expression because the skin has been pulled too tight. And Botox? It’s strange that a toxin is injected so that it paralyses the muscles and keeps the skin around the eyes taut. This is now widely accepted. How long can breasts be held up? Or noses remodelled? And why don’t we accept that it is our imperfections that give our faces and our bodies character? No wonder it has become difficult to differentiate one plastic made-up face from another one. In the futile bid for perfection, we are turning into caricatures.

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Twitter’s new face

Twitter has been experimenting with several features on its home page, but the latest one does a good job of highlighting the Twitterati who are active across topics. This is certainly better than trying to get attention by highlighting just a few tweets on trending topics. It gives a good idea of the kind of tweets to expect and helps determine whether they are worth following. The only hassle is that this view disappears the moment you sign in and the only way to access it again is by signing out altogether. So, you’re stuck in the normal ‘discovery’ mode, which is not a great way to check new profiles. Yes, I know there are lists and interests and there’s even a ‘social newspaper‘ but it would help to have a ‘profile stream’ like the one on the homepage so that you can sample before you follow.

While Twitter has made the leap from idle narcissism to real-time news breaker, it still remains on the fringes of daily interest. You may check out Twitter every day if you are a heavy user and see if your following has increased but I suspect it acts more as a public bookmark for people who tweet links and photos. The gurus on Twitter have made the point that Twitter is more a broadcasting platform than a social one and I suspect they are right. Which also explains why people are not as heavily involved with Twitter as they are on Facebook. You may tune into the people who you follow but Guy Kawasaki was disarmingly frank when he said he never reads a single tweet, except the ones that are marked privately to him. On Twitter, he has an unending stream of automated tweets, all driving traffic to his news site Alltop.

So, how can Twitter make money when it is a new age broadcaster with millions of personal ‘stations’ or channels? It’s hard to be really engaged with the site. If it is simply about people posting interesting links, there are several other eye-catching ways to trawl the net. Of the thousands of tweets that came out from Egypt at the height of the ‘revolution’, there was more media frenzy than actual involvement. Twitter has had big time stars talking about it and media fawning over the tweets but it has not resulted in any real money flow, even with the so-called sponsored tweets. And it still has a valuation in billions of dollars. I wonder what the parameters are.

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Pitch Black

A lot of people find absolute darkness terrifying – but it has been proven to be beneficial for deep sleep and better health. Waking up in the middle of a night in a remote location in Kerala, I found that I could not see my fingers in front of my eyes even though they were wide open. Looking all around did not help either – there was no light source close by. The only option was a torch and sweeping my hand gingerly on the floor, I found the torch and switched it on. The bright rays pierced the darkness with an intensity that was disconcerting, throwing sharp shadows and wall textures into sharp focus. We’ve grown so used to ambient light in cities that it’s hard to imagine what life is like in complete darkness. And we take a lot of trouble to ensure that light is always at hand, the moment we are awake. We don’t turn off the lights, we merely reduce the intensity. Driving through a jungle road late at night, and focusing on the road behind – not lit by the headlights was an army of fireflies. Flickering brightly like hundreds of points of brilliance created an effect that cannot be captured by cameras but needs to be experienced in person.

And the sky looks like it really has a million stars. They form an endless carpet you can gaze at for hours out in the open. In our cities, we see just a few of them with the profusion of lights that transform night into artificial day. It’s only in the absence of light and sound that sharpens the appreciation of the elements. Campfires are great generators of an atmosphere. The light is never constant – it brightens and fades in irregular patterns casting faces into expressions and colours that soften features and give people a glow that stays in memories for years on end.

Discussing a fairness cream brief long ago, the conversation turned to why people are so fixated on fair skin. And there were no easy explanations – unless one went back into light and darkness as positive and negative forces. We are taught from early childhood that light dispels darkness – as if it is something to be feared and mistrusted. Even though the natural rhythm is equally split between day and night, especially in the tropics. Light by itself it not good and darkness is not evil But somehow, the myths have evolved that way.  So we never think of darkness as a calming influence – as a way of connecting with our inner self. The best time to meditate, the best time to think is often the early hours just before sunrise, when it is the darkest. Pitch black is not necessarily a bad thing.