Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eye Of The Beholder

I will be honest. I have always held myself in low esteem as far as physical beauty is concerned. Relatively of course. I have been akin to marvelling at beauty in everyone I have come across. Even people who I haven’t met personally, random people across the street, I have stopped and exclaimed, commenting about something beautiful I noticed in him/her. I have managed to observe and extract at least one beautiful feature in a seemingly plain looker, in his/her facial features, hair, demeanour, gait...whatever has caught my eye. But I have given myself no such benefit. This has mostly been caused by the popular opinion that Twinky is extremely “cute” but never “conventionally beautiful”. And I have been content with that. I have been content with being “cute as a button”, cuddly, warm and affectionate, beautiful human being, possessing a thousand watt smile, twinkly eyes,...but somewhere inside I think I have always felt deprived of the “beautiful woman” feeling. Obviously it didn’t get better when I actually started morphing into a woman...till April 2009, when a singularly wonderful incident made an indelible impression on me and changed my perspective of my own beauty...for the better.
Being a steel correspondent, I have to travel quite a bit, but my business trips usually take me to India. However this April, my company assigned me to a trip to Shanghai, where my company’s main Asia office is located (the smaller one being located in Singapore where I work). I had to accompany an Indian government official who was to speak at a conference we had organized there.
I was a little apprehensive about going to China, this being my first international trip alone (normally I always travel with my husband) and a business trip to add to that. To top it all, I was worried about the food (I had heard horror stories about lack of vegetarian food there) and the language barrier was the icing on the cake. But I soon found out the error of my pre conceived notions. I received such a warm welcome from the Chinese people as well as my colleagues in the Shanghai office, I was overwhelmed. They took care of my food, shopping and other accessory needs. They even took me on an outing to a beautiful Chinese country side and the Tai hu lake on the outskirts of a town called Wuxi, which lies a few train stations away from Shanghai. In fact Wuxi is where I met my beauty nemesis and slayed it.
We were to visit a pipe mill in Wuxi , so we boarded a train from Shanghai and got to Wuxi in about an hour’s time. My visits to the Tai Hu lake with my friends and the beautiful countryside warrant a whole other travelogue and for now I will not venture into details of that trip. As we got off the train and out of the station, we searched for a taxi stand but unbelievably, not a single one was in sight and the incoming ones refused to stop. There was no way we could walk all the way to the pipe mill, since it is a good half hour’s driving distance away from the Wuxi station. So in an attempt to hail taxis, we started walking and must have walked for about 15 minutes, arms flailing trying to stop any available cab, when one signalled to us to cross the road and get in.
I have had some very bitter experiences with disgruntled taxi drivers in Singapore and as such, have been wary of entering into any conversation with them. I had no need to extend the same paranoia to Chinese cab drivers, but with all my human failings, I did just that. Not knowing the language made silence easier. I got into the cab, strapped myself in and got down to chewing my apple, while my Chinese colleagues began chatting with the driver.
In spite of my reluctance to talk to the driver, I did make a few observations about her though. She must have been about 35-40 years of age although it is difficult to tell with the Mongolian race...they always look much younger than they are. Like most Chinese women, she had a smallish frame, curly unkempt hair unlike the shiny straight hair so characteristic to the Chinese and noticeably shiny cheeks. She wore bright pink lipstick which seemed to accentuate the shine on her ruddy cheeks and her enthusiastic smile seemed to light up her small eyes. Instinctively my brain took in her pretty features and outputted some 7-8 “beautiful” things about her. Then I sighed to myself...wishing I had fairer skin, daintier frame etc etc etc.
By this time, my friends were intensely discussing a variety of topics with her, including her work routine, inflation, high cost of living, traffic rules, and road directions. Before we knew it, we were at the designated pipe mill, where a mill official (who was equally ruddy) was waiting to escort us inside.
We asked the lady to wait for us while we finished our mill visit, and invited her to join us for lunch later before she drove us to Tai Hu lake. She readily agreed and as we disembarked, she animatedly said something to my friend who immediately smiled broadly. While we walked inside I asked her, “what was all that about?” Knowingly my friend said, “She asked me to tell you something.”
Me??? Someone who didn’t even acknowledge her?? Who sat quietly through the whole ride?? Me??
“What?” I asked trying my hand at nonchalance and failing miserably.
“She wanted me to tell you that she thinks you are a very beautiful woman. Especially your eyes...she says you have beautifully large expressive eyes and wishes she had eyes like your’s,” my friend said, smiled and walked off.
In disbelief I turned around and saw the lady smiling at me. It was all I could do to raise my hand at her in acknowledgement and whisper ‘Thank you’.
The rest of the trip was a blur. I saw the pipes being rolled out of the hot rolled coils, I listened to my friend translate the sales manager’s woes about bad market conditions, I learnt about the various technologies used to make welded and seamless pipes...but all the while the woman’s words echoed in my head.
The trip to Tai Hu was an added bonus...the beauty and serenity of the vast water body and the beautifully manicured gardens and antiques filled me with a joy I had not felt since my trip to Hawaii with my husband. But the joy was multiplied manifold by the knowledge that I was indeed a beautiful woman. That I was no longer just a pretty girl, cute and cuddly. I was a beautiful woman. It’s funny how much easier it was to have pictures taken of me since then. The camera was not my enemy. My own perception of myself was.
What baffled me most was that it took a simple person from another part of the world to point it out to me...But that very same simplicity and the genuine honesty with which she complimented what I was always underwhelmed with proved the point...Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder...and when I behold myself as beautiful no one in the world can make me feel otherwise.
.....wonderfully beautiful,

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