Inside view Society

Picture imperfect

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar  

Photographs on identity cards seldom resemble the hapless owner of the card

These are days of great convenience when booking train tickets doesn’t mean standing in long queues for hours with a book and a packed lunch handy, maybe even a small pillow for a quick afternoon snooze if you expect to spend the better part of the day creeping towards the ticket counter at a speed that would send the snail sniggering into its shell. The option of online booking has taken care of all that but, mind you, it’s not always smooth sailing.

The first time I travelled with the details of my train ticket on my mobile, I was pretty apprehensive. When the booking was made I wanted a printout of the ticket but was told it wasn’t necessary; nothing would go wrong as long as I had my ID card with me. But first time jitters continued. What if my temperamental phone decided to stop working? What if its battery went dead? What if the message with the details disappeared? All these ‘what if’s kept troubling me and I almost greeted the TTE like a long lost friend when he came to my coach half an hour into the journey. Once he checked the ticket, I could relax.

The phone didn’t let me down. I located the message and held the mobile under the TTE’s nose. He nodded and asked for my ID proof. He took one look at my Voter ID card and turned pale, as if he had seen a ghost. He almost had, only it wasn’t as much a ghost as a ghoul that glared fiendishly at him from the photo on the card. He jumped back, looking at me with fearful respect. ‘That’s ...your... picture?’ He stammered. “Yes,” I said, sorely tempted to snarl and imitate my photographic alter ego.

I got my Voter ID card years back when the procedure involved going to the polling booth on the date designated to complete the formalities of identification, address proof and other details and get your photograph taken. Now the process is much simpler and easier on the eye too, since you provide the passport size photo. But those who got the cards through the earlier method know that the photos on them, clicked carelessly in a nanosecond, are in a league of their own. They could all jostle for space in the rogues’ gallery, and no questions asked.

I was appalled when I got my card. Dark, irregular blotches on my cheeks were complemented by light patches in innovative designs on my chin and forehead. My lips were curved in a snarl while my eyes bulged out like a bull frog’s, except that they were fixed in an intense glare. And I had no neck.

The only photos to beat the Voter ID specimens are the Aadhaar pictures. When we went to the Aadhaar enrolment centre we heard someone ask if the photos would be as dreadful as those on the Voter ID cards. The lady in charge was indignant. ‘Never,’ she snorted. ‘This equipment is much more sophisticated. And we take greater care.’

When the cards were delivered home, my husband’s card was on top. The greatest care had definitely been taken. One glance at his reinvented mug shot, and my son Amar and I doubled with laughter while my husband stared in horror at his menacing spectacled gaze with his lips curled like a villain’s. But Amar stopped with a gasp when his Aadhaar special face popped up from the next card while my husband joined in. Amar’s bearded image wore the mother of all frowns while his lips were set incongruously in a pout, ‘quite like Marilyn Monroe’s’, commented my husband while I wiped tears of mirth from my eyes.

The others hollered and I gulped when it was the turn of my card. For the photographer had reserved his best for me. He had decided that a patchwork complexion suited me most; I had a squint in one eye and a glazed look in the other, like a fish on a slab. My nose, never noticeable at the best of times, was practically missing while my mouth resembled a vampire’s. And I still had no neck. Whatever people might have said about Aadhaar, there is no denying that its photos have provided much merriment throughout the country. There is no photoshopping here, only photoshocking.

When the TTE almost tossed my Voter ID card back and turned away with a shudder, I wished I had brought my Aadhaar card along. Who knows, he might have seen the funny side.

(khyrubutter@yahoo.com)

[A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series]

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 6:53:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/Picture-imperfect/article15637246.ece

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