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The face does not always reveal all

I don’t smile at will. So, many label me a morose, dull, uninteresting, party-pooper

“That’s him,” they would exclaim, after just a casual glance, while pointing at me in a group photograph. Now, I do not have a striking personality or a photogenic face that would stand out in a crowd. So what is it that would make people, even nodding acquaintances, readily find me amid hordes of cheerful, smiling faces? Well, I would be the odd one out. Actually, when the photographer would shout “say cheese”, and everyone grins ear to ear, I would continue to have a poker face, looking sternly at the lens, as if daring the lensman to make me fall in line. So, you see, you need not even know me to pick me out, whether in real life or in pictures. My strict demeanour would give me away.

During childhood when the first signs of indiscipline appeared in my incisors, my parents took me to a dentist. There, people were half sprawled on the hydraulic dental chairs, mouths wide open and in varying degrees of distress and pain. Of course I was too young then to come to the conclusion that death may be the great leveller, but in life perhaps there can be no better leveller than the orthodontist’s chamber, with the doctor and his team peering into, and working on, their patients’ gaping caverns.

The polite and friendly dentist, after impressing my parents with some complex medical terms, suggested a simple brace for me. Cosmetic and aesthetic dentistry were unheard-of then. Having no option I agreed, though unwillingly, as the thought of being ridiculed by my friends came to me. The dental brace was made and worn. But fate had other designs. A month or two later, the wire broke. Consequently, the front elevation stayed merrily where it was.

Always open to suggestions on ways to improve my face value, I remember my first lessons in oral hygiene. During my school days a renowned dentist of the area visited our school and addressed the morning assembly. He demonstrated the right manner of brushing teeth, stressing the importance of sparkling teeth for an irresistible smile. I took his lessons to heart, despite being acutely aware of my protruding incisors.

The next morning I brushed my teeth both clockwise and anti-clockwise in slow motion, not paying any heed to the ticking of the clock. I followed it with gargling — umpteen times, exactly as he had wanted. Finally when I emerged from the washroom, I felt momentarily confident to dazzle the world with my “whites”. Unfortunately, the world had moved on, leaving me behind. I had missed my school bus.

I have since grown up into a stern-looking man. At best you can get a faint smile from me even when the occasion demands loud, uninhibited laughter. Sometimes a suppressed smile would appear like a smirk, offending others. Instead of understanding my predicament, people think I give myself the airs. There are others who label me as morose, dull, uninteresting, a party-pooper and what not.

On the flip side, my unwillingness to smile has contributed to my being termed a “no-nonsense” teacher by my students, and this image has indeed helped me bring under control even the rowdies among them. However, to be honest, I also want to smile and possess a “pleasing visage”.

Of course, I know about the technological advancements now and the smile-enhancing techniques. But then, I’ve just completed explaining to my students Ogden Nash’s poem, “This is going to hurt just a little bit”. Consequently, my childhood fears have again been stirred.

So, by the time I gather courage and get a “cultivated” smile, please bear with me, if I do not effortlessly burst into a smile at your jokes. It definitely doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them.

veejay.pant@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 12:18:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-face-does-not-always-reveal-all/article8381927.ece

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