I Now Know Why Celebrities Crack

23 Mar

University students, Aurangabad.

One of my first jobs was to be a costumed cartoon character at fairs and tradeshows. I’d come ready for a long, athletic day – walk behind a curtain or into a back room, and emerge a full, fuzzy, loveable cartoon: plush suit, fuzzy shoes, big mask with huge ears and googly eyes.

Checking out their photo, Varanasi.

I had a repertoire of characters, but the most striking memory for me was the instant celebrity status that the costumes brought. The moment I put that oversized smiling mask on, I could go anywhere, get free anything – all eyes were on me. Sometimes it was good: adorable small children wanting to be held and hugged and hold hands and high-five. Sometimes it was terrible: teenaged boys wanting to hit me on the head and pull my tail, sticky cotton candy stuck in my fake fur. Cameras clicked, crowds waved, doors opened.

However, as soon as I once again dipped behind those closed doors and removed that magical mask, the difference was startling – I could walk completely unnoticed anywhere. The anonymity was so calm, so relaxing, so quiet.

Charming Punjabi ladies, Varanasi. Betcha can’t spot me. . .

I always likened the experience to what it must feel like to be an A-list celebrity: that constant spotlight, that constant scrutiny of being recognizable. I had the luxury of being able to transform back into my unremarkable self – that is, until I came to India.

Even more so than in Africa, I can’t escape my foreign-ness here (at least I’m not blonde!). What is it exactly that’s so head-turning? I’m not entirely sure. I mean, there’s plenty of western media. I guess it’s curiousity. It’s the unknown. It’s the exotic. (Imagine that! In a sea of multi-colored saris and sparkling forehead bindis, my wrinkled jeans are exotic?) Maybe it’s the years of indoor fluorescent lighting that have left my arms and legs a delicate shade of nuclear-winter-white. It’s the novelty of seeing several western women – gasp – drinking beer outside.

University students, Shimla.

It’s been an assault of attention on this trip. Oh sure, the usual vendors and taxi drivers and snake charmers trying to convince you to choose their guides and services, an onslaught of men wanting to “practice their English” or beg or offer prayers of good fortune or lack of bad fortune by giving them rupees or offering casting in Bollywood films.

But I also encountered a fair amount of harmless attention I wasn’t expecting: school children and university students, newlyweds, army recruits, random people hanging out of windows snapping photos on their cell phones, men unabashedly staring from 3 feet away, security guards, and just plain average Indian tourists stopping to say hello and ask our names and where we were from and if they could take a photo with us.

Seriously? This is going in your honeymoon album? Shimla.

Now, why any newlywed couple would want a photo of my disheveled, travel-weary self in their honeymoon album is completely beyond me – but I guess I’m happy to oblige. And fortunately, unlike a real A-list celebrity, my notoriety is short-lived: I can remove my celebrity status at the end of the trip.

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One Response to “I Now Know Why Celebrities Crack”

  1. Zoe, shrouse of the west March 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    I love social relativism :)
    “Truth is One, though the sages know it variously.”
    (Ékam sat vipra bahudā vadanti)
    – The Rig Veda

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