A (hopefully) charming story about a pair of glasses


I would grant you that there is certain vanity to this picture. An older me holding up a picture of a younger me and taking a picture of that on my webcam and then publishing it here are all signs of flagrant self-absorption.

However, that is just a small part of it and, in any case, I do not see this as vanity at all. I see it as a mere illustration accompanying a little story about the glasses in the photograph. I could have simply scanned the picture of my younger days rather than holding it up and injecting myself in the frame. I think the contrast between the two makes it a more compelling visual. Don’t look at it as my picture but just any other picture and you would be able to tolerate its vanity.

Since I will be away to downtown Chicago this morning for the sentencing of key Mumbai terror plotter David Coleman Headley, I thought it might be more convenient to write this post last night.

I had been thinking about this frame of my glasses for the past few days. In the nearly four decades of having worn glasses this frame remains my all time favorite. I chanced upon it one afternoon in 1988 while walking to a news conference from my office in Fountain to the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba, Bombay. There used be a Parsi optician in Kala Ghoda across the Jehangir Art Gallery. The decrepitude of the store and the building that housed it suggested that both were once charming places.

This particular frame was casually consigned to one corner of a dusty showcase in the storefront. I wasted no time at all in deciding to buy it right away. I vividly remember how the entire interior of the store had a natural sepia tone to it and seemed to have been part of a yellowing photo album. It looked as if it had been staged for a nostalgic picture.

The store owner, an elderly Parsi gentleman, greeted me saying, “Sahebji” and asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for. I pointed out the frame in the showcase. “That!” he exclaimed. “But why that? It is just a piece of junk. I did not even remember it until now.”

I said I had been looking for a frame like that for a very long time and could not pass up on it. He did a quick eye examination and finalized the prescription. The spectacles were ready in two days. As I began wearing them I did cause some unexpected mirth among family and friends. For a 27-year-old to sport an early 20th century design was an oddity that became a topic of conversation.

I remember when a young waiter named Janardan, working for a restaurant where I was a regular customer, saw me in this frame he laughed out loud and said, “You look like you are 50 years old.” I am 52 now and look like the man on the right in the picture above.

In a way the glasses became my signature for about five years or so until one day, on a visit to Bombay in 1993 (I had shifted to New Delhi in 1989) I left the pair in a taxi right outside the optician’s store.

So, so like that.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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