The Martian posts on Instagram
- Young children sometimes feel they were born in the wrong time
- Sometimes you are lucky enough to be visible but only to your own micro-generation
My friend has the best Throwback Thursday score. If you have ever encountered #TBT on social media, you will know it provides great satisfaction with its nostalgic images. And this friend’s pictures from the 1990s and early noughties provide maximum satisfaction. The clothes, the jewellery, the glasses, her pout of concentration as she cooked lunch. Everything about her sizzles. I think of the various men and women who shot her and (inaccurately) imagine them developing their photographs in a darkroom like Fred Astaire carefully over-exposing his photograph of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.
My friend has mixed feelings though. She often remarks that in those years she only thought of herself as plain. Every few weeks on Thursdays, when we cover her Instagram feed with hearts, she is half-resigned, half-annoyed about what she calls her “retrospective hotness".
Young children sometimes feel they were born in the wrong time. Sometimes they know they were born in the wrong body. On dull summer afternoons, they see their reflections and know that in another place, in another time, they would be too swashbuckling to be contained by the mundane day. If only someone else could see it.
Sometimes you are lucky enough to be visible but only to your own micro-generation. Your halo is bright in their eyes, but older people could just not see it. A friend recently told me, clutching her head, that her father used to call the hot, frequently naked male model sexpot of her teens ugly. “He couldn’t understand what a man with that face, with that skin colour, was doing on billboards and in ads. But all of us girls felt like God had made that face and that body for us." Vindicating that generation’s choices, the man has stayed that way, still causing our hearts to flutter.
Much has been made of the defamiliarizing eye of the traveller from another place or time in books and movies. Often, the gaze is non-comprehending, often unflattering, and played for comedy. And that’s why “apna time aayega (my time will come)" is not always enough consolation. Do you really want to be seen through the filter of nostalgia, to be the subject of admiring comments from much younger people who assume no one before them posed with a heated gaze and cocked hip for a crush? “Imagine! She was like that in those days" ages you more rapidly than any Korean skincare regime can hope to battle. No one wants their lives to be just fodder for the nostalgia machine, to be just a setting for Captain Marvel to land in and fight bad guys.
Very occasionally, as in Craig Raine’s iconic poem A Martian Sends A Postcard Home, the alien sees everything with a poet’s eye. Here is the alien writing about human sleep: “At night, when all the colours die, they hide in pairs and read about themselves—in colour, with their eyelids shut." And this eye that gilds us in loving light—this is what we dream of when we feel out of place, out of step with the marching band.
Sometimes, someone can see your real, glorious self without the irrevocable passage of time. At a recent weekend during Bengaluru’s Gender Bender festival, I could not stop looking at the queer artist Sandeep T.K.’s project Declaration Of Empathy. For this project, Sandeep asked transgender people in Kerala what they would have liked to do if they had been able to get the education they wanted, the life that had been denied to them. And then Sandeep photographed them in the glamorous, full-colour, beautifully lit professions of their dreams. Nurse, priest, lawyer and more. In these loving portraits, they are the stars in the movies about their lives.
We are far away from the witchcraft and alchemy of photographers’ darkrooms, where we could “develop" in someone else’s hands. New research in the Journal Of Research In Personality says that others judge us as narcissists or imagine we are very lonely if we post a lot of selfies. But the same judgement does not apply if we post a lot of “posies", aka photographs, of us taken by others. Nevertheless, every day we turn our phones towards ourselves, angling it just so we don’t have to wait for a genius photographer or astute lover. Even in desolate cities, we take off our helmets and pose against a flower-covered wall to claim the beauty of our present. With our selfies, we hope to be seen in our own times, as we are. And sometimes, if you are lucky, that photograph will float back into your life later. You will see with your eyes, not just your past self but also a world that has changed enough to see your beauty, not just an old photo. Behold!
Cheap Thrills is a fortnightly column about millennials, obsessions and secrets. Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger.
Twitter - @chasingiamb
FIRST PUBLISHED31.08.2019 | 11:20 AM IST