Seven Questions on Beauty : Mridula Koshy, Writer

While I was on an unofficial blogging break, I came upon a comment by Mridula Koshy on a post, urging me to try the mitti attar in a shop called Gulabchand in Old Delhi.  I was grateful for this information as I am always on the look out for such places in India. Subsequently, I stumbled upon her blog via Persolaise’s blog and discovered that in addition to being a perfume lover, Mridula is also a published author. I am looking forward to reading her novel , ‘Not only the things that have happened‘, published in 2012. She has also written a collection of short stories titled ‘If it sweet‘ which asks the question: what is it people see when they see one another?

Mridula

Here are Mridula’s thoughts on beauty:

1) What do you mean when you call something beautiful? Do you have different definitions when you talk of different things like faces, art, landscape? Or is everything you find beautiful characterized by something similar?

I can’t offer a definition of beauty, but I can tell you what I find beautiful and why.  Above all, I find people beautiful. By that I mean groups, crowds, gatherings of people. On buses, on the street, glimpsed through open doorways, in homes, in workplaces. People going about their lives. The endless variety of these faces, the unknown histories and possibilities figured there is beautiful to me. And just as people’s faces are beautiful for each one being distinct from the other, so also each face is beautiful for its changeability from one moment to the next. I am often halted by the expressions and emotions people wear on their faces  especially when the person is not conscious of what their face is saying about them – uncontrolled joy, grief, anger, shame. I suppose what is beautiful about infinite changeability is the suggestion of plenitude. And then how else is the eye to quicken, and in turn intelligence quicken, other than by encountering change and variety. This variability and diversity extends to more than the human face; it is found everywhere in nature – no tree like another, no leaf resembling another, nor resembling itself from one hour to the next. But I must say people grip me with their beauty as nothing else in nature does.

2) Is there something that you find beautiful that is an exception to the above definition or which lacks the above characteristic/s?

Not an exception, but rather as an added note I have to mention mutuality of seeing. I am embarrassed by how much I tend to stare at people. But, I am also rewarded because every so often someone stares right back. This can pretty much flip my stomach, suck the oxygen from my blood. It is beautiful, but also more than beautiful to be seen while seeing. I find this an important and powerful experience so I have gone out of my way to cultivate it in the same way that someone else may train themselves to appreciate and create other experiences of beauty. Mutuality in relationship is hard to sustain. At least some of the time even the best relationships are a mess, The glimpse into a stranger returned by the stranger as a glimpse into myself is a feedback loop, beautiful because of the pleasure it affords. And to add to the added note: trees aren’t the least bit mutual.

3) Do you make a distinction between aesthetically pleasing (or appealing to the senses) and beautiful? Can you call something one without it being the other? Is something that is aesthetically pleasing to you also defined by the characteristics described above?

What is aesthetically pleasing is not necessarily beautiful, so the two are indeed quite different in my eyes. Aesthetically pleasing faces, for example, may be round or square or what have you but typically possess symmetrical features:  arrestingly symmetrical eyes, cheekbones, brows, lips etc. An aesthetically pleasing face is often arrestingly unchangeable, especially when it has been captured on the page or screen where it is necessarily frozen. There is an Indian actress famously described as the most beautiful woman in the world. Her symmetrical features are aesthetically pleasing to me but her unchangeable expression is far from beautiful. Perhaps in her personal life she is less dramatically still. Rarely are we stopped in our tracks by such faces and indeed to stop is to be bored and as boredom is far from beautiful, we hurry on and flip the page of our magazine.

 4) Do you have physical reactions to beauty? (e.g. eyes opening wide, tears etc)

 5) Could you list examples of ‘things’ you find beautiful under the following categories

 a) Painting/Sculpture 

I just don’t have the training or even exposure to answer this.

b) Perfume

Frederic Malle’s Portrait of Lady. This scent is so perilously balanced I wear it with my heart in my mouth for fear a single molecule shifting will send this beauty plummeting. I love the tension.

c) Smell

All my olfactory memories are precious to me. The smell of my mother’s cooking (she stopped cooking more than a decade ago) is one of those precious memories. I love that olfactory memories come unbidden. I am never sure what triggers them. They seem less associational than other forms of memories, arriving as they do incongruously, sometimes in the middle of conversations, sometimes in the middle of the night..

d) Male Face

There are too many, including of course that of my partner, my two sons. I have never actually seen these faces. Not properly. Yes, of course love makes it impossible to see properly, and that’s as it should be.

e) Female Face

My mother, my daughter, my sister, my fifth grade teacher, Ms Leone, Meena Kumari 

Meena_Kumari

f) Music from your own country

The soundtrack to the film Pakeezah.

I listened to the album on the family’s record player when I was three and four and I believe a post mortem exam will find it grooved into my brain. The beauty of the music and lyrics though objectively great is nothing in the face of the pleasure these songs afford me when they return me to what must have been one of my first inklings of the notion of beauty.

g) Music from a foreign country

New Year’s Day 2005, we were dancing in a circle at the home of a friend and the sound we listened to: Fela Kuti. The music was of course beautiful. But there was certainly beauty in our ability to come together and relate to one another, to mark the occasion with celebration. I am certain we were more beautiful dancing together that night than any of us would have been apart from one another.

h) Landscape

The half kilometre path to my grand uncle’s home was planted with day lilies. They glowed in clumps of coral pink, a small attempt to light the dark forest all around. Outside the back door in place of the forest grew rubber trees he planted on a terraced hill slippery with dry leaves and littered with ten and twenty foot boulders. He blasted one group of boulders to reveal an underground spring. When it rained, he scrambled to collect water in buckets. When it rained, the land simply soaked it up. My granduncle and the land were locked in a battle of which they were both at once the victor. My grand uncle is no more and the land has been sold; I don’t know what look the land wears now, whether of victory or defeat. It is unlikely the land battles another equally matched foe.

6)*  Is there a piece of art (or ‘thing’ or face) that you find particularly beautiful even though you are in the clear minority in that opinion? If so, could you discuss it and explain why it appeals to you?

I am not sure how many other people might practice my particular variation on the rule for dressing which suggests removing one item after getting fully dressed. When fully dressed, especially if I am dressed in something beautiful, perhaps in a beautiful old saree, I make sure to wear at least one ugly item. The ugly item is not so much to offset the beautiful, to provide a contrast, to underline the beautiful. No, I do it because I want to express how unsure I am of what is beautiful and what is ugly.

7) Is there something that is renowned to be beautiful that either doesn’t appeal to you or that you don’t find beautiful? Could you explain why?

So much of what we are told is beautiful is quite suspect. If marketing is in the mix, we must suspect. I am suspicious of beauty queens, botox, Versace, boob jobs, focus groups, easy truths, hype and much more. I am suspicious of anything that that persuades me beauty is easily grasped.

I loved many of Mridula’s answers especially the bits about observing people and the beauty in seeing while being seen. But I was very intrigued by her particular rule while dressing. It is an interesting way to express oneself isn’t it?

* Question 6 was suggested by Suzanne from Perfume Journal

Picture Credits

Pictures of Mridula Koshy via Mridula taken by Dr. Nanda
Picture of Meena Kumari via Wikipedia

 

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6 comments

  1. Tara

    I agree with Natalie, there is so much food for thought here. I love the way Mridula stays true to her own views, without being swayed by the massive pressure society/media puts on us to conform with its idea of beauty. I wish I was so steadfast. Sustaining eye contact with strangers was so fascinating. Living in London, I – like most others – go out of my way to avoid even brief eye contact with others on public transport etc. I also really appreciated the view that there is beauty in changeability. I have such a painful adversity to change that it is quite liberating to think there can be beauty in it.

    Mridula’s writes so beautifully I bet her book is wonderful.

    • That’s interesting about avoiding eye contact with others on public transport. I have found that after coming to the U.S I have actually increased making eye contact with people, because people here, especially in smaller towns, seem to greet one another/smile even when they are strangers.

      On a daily basis, I have to admit, I am rather resistant to change too though movement/change is something I do associate with beauty. I like that you thought of change in the context of things that affect us- I don’t always think of beauty in change/movement in those terms- Thanks! 🙂

  2. I think I read Mridula’s response to the first two questions at least three times. Her thoughts are so uniquely and thoughtfully stated (so compelling that I must read more of her and will do so at nearest opportunity). That idea of the beauty inherent in the exchange of two people looking at each other and really, truly seeing and being seen at the same time … that is a breathtaking thought that I believe to be true. It’s a hard thing for me to do, except in writing, when I enjoy observing and really seeing someone, trying to express who they are. But in real life, as Tara stated above, I’ve been conditioned to look away. So now I’m going to try this week to cultivate the meaningful stare in the way that Mridula does (wish me luck with that!).

    Thanks for introducing Mridula to us, Lavanya.

    • I was very moved by her first two answers too. And felt like consciously incorporating the ‘seeing’ routine into my life. I probably do it but not as ‘consciously’. Being so acutely aware of this process seems quite wonderful.
      Good Luck with the meaningful stare dearest! 🙂

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