Summer is here with sharp teeth and talons bared. It’s ironic that I am writing on living light when most of my time is spent courting darkness. Chiks are down, hats are on, faces are veiled and shadows entice.
Louis Armstrong clearly didn’t have New Delhi in May in mind when he sang “Life can be so sweet/On the sunny side of the street”. Neither did Ella Fitzgerald when she crooned Summertime. Life, Louis, is sweeter by far in the shade and Ella, what with the duststorms and airborne infections, the living is queasy.
But help is at hand. Fear not the cancerous rays of our nearest star for age cannot wither nor a desert wind stale the infinite variety of cosmetics arrayed before you. In antiseptic laboratories peopled with serious-faced sexy librarian types in white coats, dermatological warriors are burning the midnight oil in search of ever-whiter, ever- brighter lotions and potions to create a breed of new, improved, light-reflecting humans, glowing like pearls, sheathed in our protective shields of pollutant- and age-repellent skin creams. Volleyball players fall ka-thunk! at our feet, dazzled by our radiant faces. Friends turn a light shade of green at our spectacular complexions as we lift our chins defiantly to the scorching sky and let forth a tinkling laugh from our alabaster throats.
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Has nobody noticed that we have been invaded by a race of semi-transparent glowing she-aliens who waft across our TV screens pretending to be us? They are lit with an inner light—possibly kryptonite. Their cheeks are dusted with diamonds. Though silky soft and blacker than deep space, their hair can slice through reinforced steel.
Their pearly-white smiles can poleaxe admirers as efficiently as Medusa’s glance. Through a mystical regeneration process, they defy the signs of ageing. They embody flawless fairness and use Urban Decay’s rhinestone-studded pina colada- flavoured body powder to achieve an intoxicating, tantalizing glow. They feed on tubes of Garnier Light roll-on under-eye brightening gel with caffeine and cast about with scary bright eyes.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
They speak like humans. They look humanoid. But are they? Or are they our future? If we are all descended from Australopithecus, are we destined to become Homo Cosmeticus, unable to function without an armoury of blushers, concealers, tints and conditioners? Perhaps our subcutaneous cells will begin to manufacture their own moisturizers? Perhaps in response to years of waxing, shaving and exfoliation, the hair follicles on our legs will simply shrivel up and die. Pre-select the skin shade and flavour (why not?) of your newborn: peach melba, strawberry crush, ocean breeze.
Ours is the age of living light. Artificial is “natural”. “Light” is in. “Less” is more. We want to cut down—to be slim, decluttered, simplified, fit, radiant. To leave as small an imprint on earth as we can. Everyone agrees that in order to sustain current levels of consumption, we’ll need the resources of at least two more earths. But we merrily walk around with our heads in the clouds, breathing in the gas and vapour of advertising promises, leaving our footprints—heavy, hard and deep—on the valiant planet.
Oh dear, I’d started off on a light-hearted note and look where it got me. Time to blast off, I think. Space on the ship, anyone?
The author is a New Delhi-based writer.