The following was published in Pashchimi's annual magazine, Anjali.
Image courtesy: Feminism India
Hey! Hey you - yes you.. Psst! Listen - I have some good advice for you.
What do you mean... how do I know it's good advice? Of course it is… it’s come from a Bengali intellectual middle-aged man. It is the absolute pinnacle of brilliance! Anyway - it’s not about me: it’s about you. Just hear me out. Before we begin, though, I must warn you that there are always two ways you can interpret this advice. If one of them offends you, I meant the other one.
Let’s just start by admitting that you are fat. Yep, you heard me: I called you
fat more overweight than usual. Now, now… drop that angry frown. Just admit to yourself: it is not the fault of the camera you look like this. The sooner you accept this reality for yourself, the faster you will find happiness. It is not the camera, it is not the dress, it is not the photographer - it is you. Your crash diet hasn’t worked (as the bathroom scales probably scream every day. And no: paleo diets only work for white women who are already size one - it doesn’t work for the বঙ্গললনা-s who have been stuffing themselves with লুচি আর আলুর দম. So instead of fixing things yourself, how can you fix the pic instead? Listen on.
First of all, the best way to look pretty in your peer group is to change your peer group. It’s ok to PNPC with your regular folks. But when you are lining up for the picture, find the ugly crowd. Get front and center of the grotesque crowd, and you will be the belle of the ball. Even if you cannot change the whole group, find the ugly duckling in your friends’ circle and hug her like there’s no tomorrow. People see you, people see the beast. It’s the beauty, and the beast. You can thank me later.
Next, you can always change the photographer. See, your husband might be carrying the thickest and longest camera lens around, but we all know it’s not the size that matters. Find the handsome new guy walking around. He might be married, but you can always ask him to take a picture - touching the phone is totally cool with his wife. Go for the photo with the slick & shiny Google Pixel phone, or maybe the Samsung if you’re feeling adventurous. What about your trusted iPhone? Well, honey, if it was that good, would you be reading this advice?
Here’s one more: make a list of a few compliments to give to other women. Ideally, keep it handy on a note on your phone. As soon as you get home from the Puja right after all the pictures have been taken, start commenting on other women’s photos on Facebook (even if they look vaguely familiar). I’ll get you started on the list: সুন্দরী, কী মিষ্টি লাগছে, gorgeous, etc. Bonus points for using words like “gurl”, “hottz”, or “xoxo”. When you have spread the joy around, it is inevitable that they would also come back and leave pretty much the same comment on your photo. See - it’s simple, right?!
Ok, real talk? It is also about the angle and the lighting. As in, how to angle and elbow your way into a group of women who’ve already lined up for a pic. You have to be lightning quick! Find the exact spot where you can be out of the shadows but not in too much of a harsh light. The trick is to find the poor soul who you might consider dispensable, and just eliminate the competition. Get in front of them, step on their toes, make sure their eyes are closed when it’s clicked. And you don’t have to hold in your tummy for the whole thing: just that split second before the photographer says “Ready… set… <click>”, you tuck it in and poke the woman next to you. Like I said above, you get the thin waistline in the pic, and she gets whatever she deserved anyway.
What should you avoid, you ask? Why that’s simple - avoid your kids! They demand too much time and attention, and they will inevitably be the reason why you miss the perfect moment. Listen: it’s very simple. Getting the perfect picture means being at the right place at the right time. But since you don’t know when the right time is: you should just hang around at the right place and wait for the right time to come by. I guarantee you, the right place is not near those tiny human beings.
Who should you get photographed with? Find the “in” crowd! Yeah, yeah… I know that the so-called celebrities here wouldn’t even get a second look in Kolkata; because as we all know that’s where all the geniuses live. But unfortunately for you, because you have US citizenship, you must enjoy the puja here in the SF bay area. So as unpalatable as it might seem, you have to go up and say nice things to the young upstarts running cultural shows, the self-important nobody who seems to know the whole crowd personally, and then get into their photo albums or at least the same pics as them. If that picture gets 250 likes on Facebook, it is your credit, of course! That is the perfect pujo pic: you’re surrounded by all the beautiful “কালচারাল” people of the bay area, and you have the perfect angle, the perfect saree, and the perfect smile. All because you listened to my advice.