This is a story about sunglasses, and their high profile life in the Indian society.
Sunglasses have a very high importance in India. They are regarded as the ultimate level of machismo in Indian circles. At least that’s what I have figured. I will attempt to present my point with some events, during the course of which I may refer to some anonymous faces, which may be recognizable by at least a few people reading this. I will not tell the names here.
I have owned sunglasses for quite some time, but rarely used them in India because of two reasons primarily, the more important one of which I will talk about later. The lesser of the reasons is that I started wearing contact lens only 2 years back, while I have worn glasses since my 4th. I thought of it as rather a nuisance to carry two pair of glasses, and switching back and forth whenever I was outside or inside a building.
A few weeks after I came to NCSU for my studies, a friend told me, “Every Tom, Dick and Harry wears a sunglass here”. I mean, what’s the big deal? Why does someone wearing a sunglass stand out in the eyes of an Indian? I am at a loss to answer why. But I think I know how.
I consider sunglasses more as a convenience than a style statement. The vast majority of Indians think exactly the other way around. What they don’t understand, is the very fact that it is an useful item. I wear sunglasses when it is sunny, because that’s what sunglasses are for. I wear sunglasses when it is snowing, because studies have shown that a great deal of UV is reflected off the snow, and it is always a good idea to wear sunglasses.
A friend of mine once asked whether I was wearing sunglasses to show off.
When I gave my reasoning, he mocked me in the typical style only a Malayalee can talk in, “As if you wore sunglasses your whole life. You didn’t bother about UV and dust and other stuff while you were in India. You started wearing only after coming to US.” Most Malayalees have this bad habit of making fun of people who break convention. I remember another guy asking me to pick up littered newspapers on the road after I wrote this. Being a Malayalee myself, it is sad to see that most are a bunch of hypocritical 2 year olds who refuse to grow up.
Coming back to the case of sunglasses, the answer for that is the bigger, more important reason. It is better explained by the fact that even in US, when I freely wear sunglasses whenever it is bright outside, any known Indian face I meet on the way will make a comment about my sunglasses. “Bada cool dikh raha hai yaar”
Why don’t they leave my poor sunglasses alone? They are a pair of dilapidated old glasses, which have been mutilated more than once, including me sitting on a bag with them inside, and then having to bend the frame back to its normal shape. It is not worth $5 in craigslist. I don’t wear them because I want to look cool. I wear them because I don’t want to squint. I would have worn it in India too, if not for the reason that there would be 100 Indians instead of 10 that I would meet in the course of a day. It once even went to the point that a girl who was introduced to me one evening identified me. She said, “I saw you today morning, wearing sunglasses and all.” Believe me, at the very second, I was like “Why am I even talking to her?”, not because she made fun of me, but because of the hint that I was being pompous.
Now, imagine the horror of wearing sunglasses in India, if this was the case with a handful of Indian diaspora in US. You will have a hundred eyes thrust upon you wherever you go. And hundred is not an exaggeration because India is so populous, it is not difficult to find hundred people in a course of 1 mile.
My thesis that most Indians wear sunglasses only when they have to show off is cemented by a fact which you can notice if you are an Indian. I have seen countless Indians take out their precious Ray Ban from the closet, and polish them spick-and-span, whenever they are going on a vacation. In short, for them, they are meant to be worn only when you are going on a holiday. This has happened in my trip with my friends in US last summer too. I have never seen them wear sunglasses otherwise. Heck, I have even seen one photo in Facebook, where there was a guy who put his normal glasses on his head, then put on a pair of sunglasses on his eyes.. all just to pose for a holiday photo. (Deductive reasoning.. The fact that there are two glasses on his head suggests that it was an impromptu decision.)
To conclude, I will mention a funny incident that Kunal told us. He was talking about the accent of some people in Delhi. You will be standing by the roadside. They come with leather jacket and expensive aviator sunglasses. Then they ask in unrefined Hindi, “Bhaisaab. Tame kya hua?” (Sir, what’s the time? And he *does* say “tame” for “time”) You will literally be shocked if you weren’t from Delhi. That is because seeing the sunglasses, you would not have expected crass language from him. That’s how stereotyped sunglasses are.
The fact is that if you wear sunglasses, it will attract the attention of every single Indian in sight, whether you want it or not. Whether it is a constructive one or a destructive one, is completely out of your hands. The only choice you have is whether to be a robot or an alien.
It is one of the idiosyncrasies of an Indian.
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