I was detected with bad eyesight at an early age. I must have been 10 or 11. There were discussions in the family network how this came to pass since there was no concept of screen time back then (even television watching was a virtual no-no — it was only allowed in very limited windows) and I was not considered a diligent student; it was ultimately surmised it was because I read a great many storybooks in bad light.
Anyway, the bottom line was I was given glasses to wear “at all times”. Really hideous, oversized brown-framed ones.
I was 10 or 11, like I said, but I was precociously vain. I didn’t want to be seen with glasses at school. So, I would leave the house with glasses firmly perched on my nose, and yank them off at the bus stand. Through school, I would squint at the blackboard, not caring that I was setting myself up for potential damage. When I reached home — in the school bus — I’d put my glasses on before ringing the doorbell. Once, a neighbour spotted me (from the window) putting them on while standing at the door. A few days later, she asked someone in the family — my mother or my aunt, I forget who — why I was putting on glasses. “Does she have bad eyesight already?”
But the subtext had been scored easily; everyone now knew that I didn’t wear my glasses at school, where I’d be under public scrutiny. There was a big lecture given to me: other than doing something dangerous for my eyes, how it’s unbecoming, at my age, to be this “look-ist”. “It’s all because she watches Hindi movies!” someone pronounced unkindly (even though the supposition was partly true).
Word of my misbehaviour spread far and wide. And that’s when a smart-Alecky uncle — from my mother’s side — said, “Oh, maybe she’s heard the phrase ‘Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses’!”
There was pin-drop silence among all gathered, while I wanted to know what “making passes” meant. Smart-Alecky uncle was shushed up, and I was dragged away from the scene.
From then on, I had to wear glasses, lending myself to sniggers from classmates. “How weird you look — like those ‘good girls’ with noses buried in textbooks,” I was told.
But over the next few years, I got used to them, despite their hideousness.
Alongside, in Indian cinema, I’d always find that a pair of glasses was a pointer to the heroine’s age: those movies where Rekha and Jeetendra would meet 20 years after breaking up in the flush of youth, Rekha’s middle-aged credentials used to be a severe-looking, black-rimmed pair, whereas Jeetendra would have a cane as a walking aid.
Going forward, in high school, I was presented contact lenses on my birthday, the semi-soft ones that lasted a long a time. I never looked back since — acquiring the easy-to-wear ‘soft lenses’ the moment I started working, and almost dispensing off with glasses. But once, during my college days, when I was trying to gain access into a movie theatre showing an ‘adult’ film, I was advised to wear spectacles because they would immediately make me look grown up. I did. And the ploy worked like magic.
It was only later (at least in India) that glasses became a style statement. Friends who didn’t have bad eyesight would wear zero-power glasses because they felt they looked “chic” and “sophisticated”; one said she wears ‘corporate glasses’ when she has a boardroom meeting.
Today, my 12-year-old niece doesn’t take off her glasses for even a minute — and she wears a natty pair, one that hugs her face in a seemly manner. For her, it’s a fashion accessory.
Over the weekend, I chanced upon a friend’s pair of reading glasses — a designer brand — and fiddled with it. “Put it on,” she urged me, “I think they’ll look nice on you.” They actually did. So, I took a selfie “wearing glasses” — possibly my first bespectacled one.
Now I want to buy the exact same frame, and have been looking it up online in the hope that I’ll chance upon a discount somewhere. If I do manage to snag it at a decent price, I may just give up contact lenses and go back to wearing glasses.
Life, you see, comes a full circle.