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  • Sruti Mohapatra

Beauty and Ugliness

During a friendly conversation, our theme drifted to beauty and ugliness. We were all browsing through National Geographic and there was this section on ‘Ugly animals.’ Most of us kept saying ‘aww’ on seeing the pictures of red-lipped batfish, the aye-aye and jumping spider. And we kept hearing a solitary voice - magnificent red and brown shade, lovely flashing red eyes, the blue blobs and the perfect O eye, captivating.


‘Why do you do this? Turn around the ugliest to look the most beautiful’. We all jumped on the odd commentator. ‘There is no ugliest ever. Beauty is all around. Just one needs to look intently’! Was the quick reply. And then the topic moved towards the series of popular Indian television adverts for skin lightening cream featuring leading Bollywood stars. It seemed fairly logical that in India where the Sun is at the peak always – a tan is but unavoidable. And how can skin fairness decide a person’s qualification for a job or a marriage?


And that set me thinking. Is there an underlying reason why some things are beautiful to us and some are not? Or is it all just cultural conditioning? Is there any such a thing as a sense of beauty?


I find Bhubaneswar hot, humid, and dirty. I crib over the congested roads and unruly commuters. Foreign tourists delight in the bright sun-filled days, joyously ride the crowded auto-rickshaws and enjoy walking the tropical climate. There is beauty in all. There are no limits to the perception of it, except for the limits imposed by the self and/or cultural upbringing.


What is really beautiful and what ugly? Probably that which we judge as ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’ tend to be formal notions which do not go beyond the surface of what we see, and also tend often to be received ideas, never our own. As we begin our sojourn in this world we learn from people around us. A smile is beautiful, a cry is ugly. Light is beautiful, darkness ugly. Soft words beautiful, yelling ugly. And thus when we make judgments about ‘beauty’ and ‘ugliness’, we tend to do so on the basis of what we have learnt. A well-dressed woman is beautiful; someone fair-skinned is beautiful. The beggar on the street is ugly and so is a pock parked or dark-skinned woman. It is always the external manifestation, the apparent beauty of what we see in front of us, and not what is behind it that defines our concept of beauty and ugliness. So much so, indeed, that we are always blinded by appearances.


But now trying to discover beauty in ugliness I find it fascinating. The elegance of ugliness or the beauty of ugliness. It is an intrigue.


Beauty and ugliness keep changing hues as the object passes from one frame to the other. For we each have our own set of guidelines to define things. A beautiful flower may be ugly for another as the person looking at it defines a beautiful flower as one with fragrance, not vibrant petals! And the ugliest child is the world’s most beautiful for its mother.


Then how do we define beauty? And ugliness? I would define beauty as that which lights up the soul and ugliness as anything that causes pain. There are moments in life when we see more beauty in ugliness, which often penetrates our soul and the ugliness reflects a sort of eagerness of hope, though vague, of reshaping. Such a hope itself is a virtue therefore beauty. And thus ugliness is already redeemed of half its ugliness. I have often heard people saying ‘How could he marry her or how could she marry him, he/she is so ugly and she/he so beautiful’? To say that one is interested in ugliness is ironical, the truth is that the person sees clearly a beauty in the other, beauty that leads him to happiness, peace, certainty, and eternity.


I observe the clouds, trees, stars, mountains, birds and streams, which blend with each other to complete a song of natural harmony. They all know their own place, they never trespass but respect the others, and in song and action do their best. The crow’s cawing is harsh as is the roar of the thunder. But the crow flies majestically. You have to look at its flapping wings in the backdrop of a blue sky. Thunder is scary but the drops of rain, the fragrance of earth and the cool breeze make us yearn for more. Nature’s beauty is enhanced even by the ugly notes, which mingle harmoniously in the larger picture.


Beauty is that which is pleasurable to any individual, whether is it visual, auditory as in

harmonious sounds, perhaps music, the inner beauty of a person's character, or an experience that would create everlasting memories of happiness. Beauty depends perhaps on perception. My experience with Collete is one such example. I had met her in a rehab centre. She was more deformed than anyone I had ever seen. She had shrunk into her wheelchair for all I could notice were a pair of bright red shorts and an equally bright T-shirt. Next were two flexed hands with curled fingers and a pair of bent legs. And then the face! The eyes held profound warmth and the smile overrode all her physical anomalies. Indeed everything is beautiful in its own way.


One has only to see a mother kissing a severely disfigured child, an angelic child holding on to a severely repulsive father, a student looking up at her unsightly teacher with reverence that one understands that life's vitality stems from the beauty that is refined through ugliness and then one realizes ugliness is not ugliness at all. As Manoj said ‘ Real beauty is FACELESS. IT is internal and from WITHIN’.

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