The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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What does this body feel like?

It feels like a silken quilt, the kind that you can throw over yourself in early spring, that provides the perfect amount of warmth and softness. It feels tender, especially near the nape, neck, top of the chest, clavicle, and inner arms. It feels like a little pillow of mounded flesh, soft and rounded. It is satin-smooth in places, hard and bony in others. It is lean, sometimes dry and anxious. There are cuts in tender places, scars and birthmarks, remnants of an incision from an appendectomy, vaccination and chickenpox memories. It has stretch marks that don’t owe themselves to childbirth. It has dark-light patches and vacant spaces, hollowed out. There are small curves, stable enough to rest the palms. There are lines on smooth surfaces. There is roughness, abrasions, abrasiveness, and a silhouette that hides easily.

This body feels like a good friend.

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It was a local organizing event. A young man walked up to the podium to speak. He was running for election. His experience was impressive. He had worked in government, and he had experience running his own company. He looked like a solid candidate. Did I mention how handsome he looked? He was tall and slender, his body like that of a long-distance runner. He had large, gray eyes. Soulful, I thought… A face that a poet or an artist would fall in love with. He had light brown hair, soft and wavy. He looked heart-breakingly young.

It was a few years ago that I got the chance to meet C. She was an Indian American student, a volunteer with a cultural/religious organization. The objective of our meeting was to discuss projects that we could collaborate on. She walked into the coffee shop. We spoke for thirty minutes or so. I had a tough time sticking to script because… she was so beautiful that I lost my nerve. She had lovely eyebrows, dark and arched. Her nose was narrow and angular, a tiny diamond shining on the left nostril. Her hair was messily tied up, and she looked like she had just got out of class. To me, this girl radiated effortless beauty. I felt nervous, lacking in confidence. I hardly remember what we spoke that day.

My sister had a classmate. Let’s call her M. M was tall, like basketball-player-tall. She looked like your typical Indian fashion model — lanky frame, narrow features, confident. People often remarked to her, “M, you should be a model!” Those were the days when everyone was so proud of Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Lara Dutta and their ilk. We owned those gorgeous, intelligent ladies. However, M didn’t have fashion model aspirations. I think she had plans to study computer science.

As a young person, I was naive enough to think that beautiful people had it easier. They commanded attention effortlessly. They turned heads wherever they went. They had presence.

I am a little wiser now. For one, presence is its own thing, and beauty has scant to do with it. I have met some insipid beautiful people. They lack… something vital, essential. They have perfect features but there is no air in there. It feels stifled.

The other thing about beauty is that it can be so darned distracting. I was so dazzled by C’s effortless beauty that I could hardly focus on what she was saying, or construct a solid sentence myself. People had a hard time imagining that lovely and statuesque M, fashion model in the making, could ever be inclined towards the sciences. Our young politician had great experience, but his dashing good looks were the first thing you saw and possibly the last thing you remembered about him.

It is a little bit like having money. Money can mess with your perspective because it gives you apparent power. It makes you act in unnatural ways, and it makes others around you act unnatural, sometimes. However, you can make an attempt to hide the fact that you are a moneyed person. How do you hide your looks? How do you prevent them from becoming a distraction? Or getting in your way? Unless of course, your looks ARE paving your way.

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