Sunday, 29 May 2011


Somerset Maugham, the great novelist I used to read in my school and college days, could never understand the brouhaha about Beauty. According to him a glass of beer on a hot summer day was beautiful.  Beauty is an ecstasy” he wrote, “It is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all”.

Rabinder Nath Tagore, on the other hand, felt that real beauty is to be felt and not just seen, because:

Eyes can see only dust and earth,
    But feel it with your heart, it is pure joy.
    The flowers of delight blossom on all sides, in every form,
        But where is your heart's thread to weave them in a garland?”

So, then, how does Beauty elevate from ‘something to satiate hunger’ to feeling of ‘pure joy’? The answer was provided by the Hindi films lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri writing for Badshaah (Monarch), a 1954 movie:

“Tu maang kaa sinduur tuu aankhon kaa hai kaajal
Le baandh le haathon ke kinaare se ye aanchal
Saamane baithe raho shringaar ham karen
Aa niile gagan tale pyaar ham Karen”
((My Love,) you are the vermillion in my hair, the kohl in my eyes,
Come, claim me as your own,
(to lead me around the holy fire of betrothal)
Your sitting in front of me completes my make-up
Come, lets love under the blue sky.

Real Beauty, therefore, according to me, involves at least two people: the object and the beholder. It doesn’t exist in the absence of either.

Real Beauty also has a certain degree of innocence attached to it. William Wordsworth brought out in the lyrical ballad ‘Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower’:

“The Stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face”.

Does this mean that Real Beauty is just an abstract for me, a dream or fantasy, an ideal to reach; but untouchable, unreachable? Nay, quite the opposite. I feel that Real Beauty is actually found in seemingly most ordinary things and people and animals. Indeed, if I were to come across an exquisite object or being that looked remote and isolated, like a ‘twinkle-twinkle-little-star- how-I-wonder-what-you-are’, I may be fascinated by it; but, I’d hesitate to call it beautiful. Real Beauty to me is like a gentle rain: it has to touch me, drench me, change me, want me to walk in it. Real Beauty, I believe, makes all beings and things more beautiful by its touch, by its presence.

Unless you revel in misery or forlornness, Real Beauty must also make you smile. At what? No, not at anything or anyone but simply smile, acknowledging the beauty of God’s creation.

In our recent life, in our family, our yellow Labrador Roger was the most beautiful being in our lives. He looked at you with such pleading, beautiful and innocent eyes that one had no choice to hug him, fuss him, kiss him. Unobtrusively, he made such a place for himself at home and in our hearts that we couldn’t imagine life without him.

Recently, when he died at the age of twelve, and we cremated him, for quite some time the entire family sat on a cement bench in front of the crematorium. A few days later my elder son Arjun rang me up and said, “Papa, so many of our beautiful memories are connected with Roger that even the period when he was not with us appears to have his presence”.

That one sentence, I would think, describes Real Beauty better than an essay. Real Beauty transcends Time.

Real Beauty also must have a degree of tenderness; a vulnerability that anyone would want to protect it against. As Ben Johnson said, ‘It is Not Growing Like a Tree’ that makes a plant beautiful:

“A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night—
It was the plant and flower of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be”.

If it is Real Beauty in a being, the feature that I’d look for the foremost is the Eyes. Eyes are windows to a being’s world. Since there is a saying that beauty like ugliness is skin-deep, I feel eyes bring to fore the inner beauty of a person. If that not be so, why is it that many blind women have the most beautiful eyes? They say when a woman is pregnant her eyes become beautiful. It is a fact that what she imagines her child to be gets reflected in her eyes. Who could have said it better than Byron:

“She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes,”

A beautiful person, hence, must have beautiful imagination and deeds. These are what gets reflected in the person’s eyes. Was Mother Teresa beautiful?  Indeed, she was. She imparted beauty to everything that she touched. At beauty pageants, for example, every girl wanting to win the title, has a quote from Mother Teresa.

Being the romantic sailor that I am, Real Beauty must also hold a certain enigma for me; connecting me to yonder, to life and beyond. As Robert Browning said in Cristina:

What? To fix me thus meant nothing?
But I can't tell (there's my weakness)
What her look said!---no vile cant, sure,
About ``need to strew the bleakness
``Of some lone shore with its pearl-seed.
``That the sea feels “---no strange yearning
``That such souls have, most to lavish
``Where there's chance of least returning.”

And lastly, one beautiful look can enslave you for the rest of your life. You just see her standing there and like Beatles you are hooked:

“Now I'll never dance with another
Since I saw her standing there.”

You carry that beautiful image with you wherever you go.

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