Friday, April 17, 2015

Coming to Terms with being perceived Average Looking

There are lot of fancy terms for such things, how to deal with "negative body image" and how to promote "healthy real role models". All these are polite terms that basically say how to deal with being told you look average.

Personally, I thought outer beauty would never bother me. I had ranted about the utter waste of the cosmetic industry when I was 19. When I left school, I was a supremely confident girl, bordering on arrogance.

However, college truly tested me in this regard. While for most of my part, I was not bothered and was concentrating on maintaining my academic rank, there were some statements that would prick me. Guys rating girls on a numerical scale would leave me repugnant. A part of my soul rankled as to how can some people who would themselves score poorly if they were assessed in a similar manner, judge others.

It took me some time to realise while this an issue that seems more relevant to women, is actually gender-neutral. The stigma of being dark, fat and other perceived unattractiveness is prevalent in both and is swept under the rug by both.

Outer beauty is celebrated, what with best looking girl awards, likes on Facebook, what not. And I failed miserably in all these parameters. Being dark, oily skinned, curly haired isn't exactly the recipe for extravagant looks. When I started shopping for make up, I ended up choosing costly ones because the cheap ones don't even come in my skin tone. Those experiences made me feel like, even make up can't help me.

All this did not matter when I had high self esteem. But when a few setbacks lowered my self esteem, looking average hurt. This was something I cannot change no matter how hard I work or practise, I am born with this face and body and I am in love with it. At the core of my soul, I don't want to change it. Yet, to say that I did not wish for some recognition in this department would be a blatant lie. Sometimes I even wondered perhaps the reason I had not experienced a single case of harassment thank God, was not because I was lucky but perhaps because I am not worth looking.

I slowly built my confidence back again. Yes, I messed up the silk saree I wore for my symposium, but people didn't forget the voice when I compeered. Yes, I have got average likes for my profile photos when I was in college but nearly all of my friends liked the status where I described I am doing a PhD at IIT.

When I showed my mother my farewell photos, she was downright indignant I didn't get a prize for looks. And she went on to compare me with every single girl in my class and described in which exact feature I looked better. That was when I truly understood that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. My mother's love for me made it impossible for her to see me as anything but beautiful. It also made me realize I should not need for somebody else to validate my looks, I only need to love myself and the person I see in the mirror will transform into someone beautiful. But to put this knowledge into practice, it nearly took me two years and even now I do succumb to the weakness of expecting praise. Today I get twice the number of likes I used to get, partly because statistically I have more friends and partly because I really feel beautiful on the inside and it shows :)

Part of this pressure to look stunning all the time is due to the media for unrealistic standards. I'd be happy to see a female actor who decides to be simple like Rajnikanth and decides to come to an award show sans make up. And my humble request, please don't openly talk of giving points for beauty like the infamous Kareena Kapoor in K3G. You have no idea how detrimental it may be for a person's confidence.

Lastly, if you have at any point delved into self-doubt about your looks, remember that every birth on this planet is for a reason. It really does not matter, find what makes you beautiful and strive towards that.

Because in the end, the 19 year old me had much better common sense. Girl, with your smile, you are beautiful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Tale of the Rhinoceros

Today morning I was disturbed by the news of the extinction of the West African Black Rhinoceros. Maybe it was because of Captain Planet, maybe it was just basic human decency but the way we abuse our Earth is something that has troubled me since I could comprehend it. I remember I made a huge speech on the possible extinction of the rhino when I was 9, that is in 2000. In 2011, one subspecies has disappeared from the face of the Earth for good.

Rhinoceroses are hunted for their horns. Their horn is made up of the exact same material as our nails. Even though their horns can be removed painlessly, it is far easier to kill the animal than persuade a one-tonne short sighted herbivore to give up it's horn. Besides, its slow speed and weight will make it vulnerable without its horn that it is as good as killing the rhino.

The demand is from Asian countries who believe powdered rhino horn have medicinal properties. The belief is so strong, that the material costs as much as gold supposedly. With both demand and big money, poachers are always increasing.

Back in our country, we have an indigenous species, the Indian Rhinoceros which is one-horned unlike the African counterpart. Fearing what its state of preservation is, I was searching for information on it. Luckily, it is not critically endangered due to the Kaziranga National park in Assam.

I was pleasantly surprised to know that this park was established by Mary Curzon, the wife of Lord Curzon. Lord Curzon was a champion of divide-and-conquer politics and split Bengal into religious halves - East and West Bengal. Which is why we will always have West Bengal to the East of our country. For once, I'm happy to see his name. Mary Curzon's initial effort no doubt helped make it an important site for government investment. She realized the declining numbers even when they were wildly roaming across Asia.

Though we can momentarily relax as far as the Indian rhinoceros is concerned, I wonder what will happen when the demand becomes too high. There are only two solutions that appeal to me - cut the demand and fund anti-poaching.

I do not know how to cut the demand, all I can conjecture is to spread awareness and hopefully it will finally reach the consumers. There are films being made I heard. I know this blog post is not going to be of any actual concrete use. But I wanted to rant about. People share their two cents on everything that disturbs them and we as a nation love registering when we are offended. I am offended by this senseless killing. I understand we are surviving because we are the fittest but that freedom should come with some responsibility. Species are inevitable going to disappear due to the expansion of human population and our consumerist tendencies that is trashing the planet. When we have destroyed so much, it really makes no sense to kill animals to extinction.

To fund anti-poaching, visit here. There are similar sites in India as well but I have to verify the authenticity of the sites.

And if you really want to be consumerist about it, get a few save the rhino T-Shirts :P

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Yesterday I saw the blood red moon in a lunar eclipse. An eclipse is a phenomenon that puzzled people for centuries. From demons feasting on the moon to jaguars making it bleed, the stories across cultures are abundant. As a beautiful scientific phenomenon, today I decided to write about what causes a lunar eclipse.

Of course, you can just Google this :P

To fully understand how a lunar eclipse occurs, one needs to see how the phases of the moon are formed.

So if you see this image carefully, you'll notice that as the moon revolves around the Earth, one half is in light and the other half in darkness much like how we experience day and night. However, only a portion of the lit surface is visible to us and that portion is the particular phase. To emphasize, the phases of the moon are not caused by the Earth's shadow on the moon, they are simply the portion of a moon's side that is experiencing day.

Now coming to a lunar eclipse, which on the other hand is caused by the Earth's shadow. Hence, the only possible position where it can occur is on a full moon day. Instead of being completely lit and white, it is in the Earth's shadow. Hence, the sun, the Earth and the moon are in a straight line.

Why does the moon appear red?

Even though the moon is completely in the Earth's shadow, the Earth's atmosphere refracts light. While lower wavelengths get scattered and absorbed, red passes unencumbered onto the moon. I actually saw an orange moon. The conditions vary according to the present composition of dust and clouds and such.

Why isn't every full moon an eclipse?

The circular orbit of the moon around the Earth is only a convenient approximation. In reality, the plane of revolution is inclined at 5 degrees. Also, the Earth is revolving in an elliptical inclined plane to the sun. So, if there is a full moon at the place where these two planes meet, there will be a lunar eclipse.

It seems downright magical that huge bodies of matter are in constant motion driven by gravitational force with predictable precision. Our ancient calendars predicting eclipses were possible only because of the mathematical repeatability of patterns. To witness something different from the ordinary and just look at the stars, you'll forget your worries and dreams for a moment and become one with the cosmos. I hope I could inspire some of the wonder I have for the skies and stars beyond.