Artificially yours

We are surrounded by objects and material that try to look like something else.

We are surrounded by objects and material that try to look like something else.  

IT SHOULD have been a balmy evening, but it wasn't. There were no dark clouds, nor even the suspicion of a breeze. Suddenly, rain fell. It was exactly as though a bathroom shower had been turned on, on the sets of an ancient black-and-white movie. Someone muttered "cloud-seeding" and I silently agreed. This rain was factory-made.

Our lives are so imbued with artifice that we no longer notice it unless, on occasion, it springs up and delivers a sock in the eye. I'm still nursing a black eye from looking at a fake coconut tree. Haven't you seen the coconut tree that glows in the dark? I counted two of them but there could be more, so beware. It is a life-size, fluorescent, bile-green, plastic horror that looks even more repulsive by day than by night. Ask not why it exists. It simply is.

Another object that revels in its state of pure being is the rotating cone on the traffic island at the foot of Brigade Road. The first time I saw it was over a year ago. I came to a dead halt. I examined it from all angles. I waited to see if it would do something spectacular, like shoot up into the air and spray scented water on me every 30 seconds. Nothing happened. It was just a silently rotating, pinkish black, metal cone.

But I digress. We're discussing fakery, and the cone isn't artificial — just meaningless. We are surrounded by objects and materials that try to look like something else: plastic imitating glass, metal imitating wood, metal imitating metal. Synthetic flowers and stainless-steel mango leaves are washable and everlasting; bulbs that simulate fire need no oil to keep them burning. And large fibreglass rocks — well, I don't know in what way they're superior to real ones, but I'm sure there's an excellent reason why hotels should pay large sums of money to station them on their lawns.

Passing by an interior d�cor showroom I saw a flame on a pedestal looking a bit like an Olympic torch. I must say I was almost fooled by its convincing blue, red, and yellow hues as it fluttered rhythmically in a non-existent wind. Part of the enchantment of the artificial is that although it looks real, it isn't. It's the same sort of admiration that we have for the skill of a con man (a con "artist" we call him) who has bamboozled us. Look at the way people patronise a certain art shop here that sells reproductions of famous paintings. They would rather pay for a fake in tens of thousands than spend less on the original work of a local artist. Cashing in on the same psychology are roadside hawkers of clothes and accessories with duplicate labels. Cheap imitations are everywhere.

I remember those innocent days when you could practise a bit of harmless hocus pocus with a bowl of wax fruit. You could actually hoodwink an adult into trying to peel a mock orange that today would not convince even a two-year-old, for fakery was not as prevalent nor as highly evolved as it is in these times. For instance, who would have thought living humans could possess artificial bodies? From hair colouring to cosmetic surgery, a dizzying range of devices has been designed to cheat the viewer into believing that you are what you're not. And meanwhile, if you've noticed, mannequins are getting more life-like. What you see ain't always what you get, particularly when it comes to food. That ice-cream you're licking is no ice-cream for it's not made of milk, which is why it's called a frozen dessert. Whipped cream squeezed out of a plastic bottle has never seen the inside of an udder.

Perhaps the pampered child is the most vulnerable; tempting him is a colourful array of packaged sweets and bottled drinks dripping with artificial flavours. Shocking statistics from a national survey in the UK reveal that on an average, a child there drinks only four glasses of water in a whole week! The rest of the time he presumably guzzles sugary fizzy drinks, which, instead of refreshing him, serve to increase his thirst.

The inescapable presence of preservatives and chemical additives in the urban diet makes some buyers seek out natural and organic products. But "natural" is a tag that only the urban rich can afford. Tiled roofs, stone walls, wooden furniture, brass pots, and cotton clothes bespeak ethnic chic and not a rural home. The poor have long adopted plastic.

So let's face it — we creatures of the city lead a synthetic lifestyle: artificial vitamins, toxic vegetables, poisoned water, noxious air. Chemicals are in what we eat, use, and wear. We consume advertising, we drink in TV (that prime mover of fake bodies and fake emotions). Well, as the local phrase goes: "Happened is happened." No point moaning about it. No use pining for an imaginary pristine way of life. Never mind if we sometimes cannot tell apart what's genuine from what's not.

Look at those blue gladioli. Guess what? They're real.


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