“Hullo! Why are you here?” I ask, shocked. I am in a mall, outside the trial room for ladies. The Owl is hiding behind a pile of garments, his eyes focussed on getting a peek into the women’s changing room.
“Ssh, quiet. Don’t ruin it for me,” he says.
“Ew, a Peeping Tom,” I accuse.
“It’s an old pastime of mine”, he says, hopping from the spot to follow me around.
“What is the thrill behind peeping into key holes?” I ask.
“Oh, stop this moral outrage of yours! There’s a voyeur in all of us”, he says, lingering at the women’s lingerie section.
“This is downright creepy”, I say.
“Myth has it that Nandi, the bull, was privy to the sacred sounds of lovemaking from the chamber of God Siva and his consort Parvati during their cosmic union, as he was their gatekeeper. Nandi is said to have conveyed the beauty of the original conjugal bliss to the world. He, was the original Peeping Tom”, says the Owl.
“Blasphemy!” I cry.
“There’s more to it than what is sensory. Vatsayayana was the first Indian voyeur. He is said to have frequented brothels and wandered around, peeping through windows and chamber doorways, to note the various activities within. He ended up with a seminal tome, the Kamasutra after all that voyeurism,” he says.
“Really?” I ask, halting by the ladies’ footwear section. An attendant measures my foot and slips on a red pointy heel.
“Wicked”, he says. I end up buying a brown pair of summer flats.
“In the past we didn’t have hidden cameras, phone cameras, CCTV. We knew only words to record the images our eyes saw and wrote about the images or drew pictures”, he explains.
“And, now?” I ask.
“We no longer see with our eyes unless it’s through the eyes of the camera. It’s a familiar sight around honeymoon destinations in India to spot newly married couples cavort on the greens to the sound track of local film music with a cameraman chasing them around the rose bush,” he says.
“Whatever for?” I ask.
“It’s a trend among some couples to record their ‘romance’ in the form of honeymoon videos for keepsake”, he says, shrugging. “Imagine the kind of video films they are recording of themselves inside their rooms”, he says, winking.
“Gauche”, I shudder.
“It’s what the times are all about. Technology is turning most of us into mini- filmmakers. Since the internet exploded we are never without any of these gizmos. We put up our photos on social networking sites and see ourselves through the eyes of others and their approval. Adolescent school kids want to record their first sexual acts…”
“…for the sheer thrill of it?” I finish, following him past the store and up the escalator.
“Also, for the vicarious pleasure of watching our acts played out in a micro film and other images. We are inundated by images, be they pictures in magazines, or moving images in films, video or internet”, he says, stopping outside a cinema.
“We are a generation that has stopped seeing truly with our eyes. Our pleasures explode only when we have a couple of photos of our latest holiday; mini videos of our children’s birthday parties uploaded on You Tube; record inane events like bumping into a celebrity or an event with our phone cameras.Mindless photographing is for those who don’t make the effort to remember ”, I rattle.
“These are fantastic inventions though. Disasters, events, people are all materials for archives as many of us record at the spur of the moment. We have turned into librarians of our lives by recording such images,” he says.
He buys a couple of tickets and leads me by the hand to the popcorn vendor.
“However, in popular and regular usage it’s used for personal pleasure and whim, for perverse blackmail and tools of revenge and popularity”, he says.
“I’ve begun to hate the TV just for this”, I say, glaring at a huge flat screen that is beaming pictures of a handsome Union Minister and his botoxed squeeze.
“Not for long. You’ll end up being a recluse if you keep away. Besides it is titillation to watch people collapse in unceremonious ways ”, he says.
“Whatever happened to the magic of the mind’s eye?” I ask.
“Yup, you never had a camera for the first kiss, the birthing of a child, the beauty of the first travel destination, the moments of laughter, the privacy of personal agony”, he says.
“But now you do. You can record all of it”, I say wearily. “What’s this film called?”
“LSD”, he says ushering me to our seats. “It’s violence and crude commodification of people that are the offshoots of these new age techno eyes and how we end up cheating ourselves by believing in the power of these images”, he says.
“Did you read the news about airport staff at a London airport ogling a colleague who had accidentally walked past the cameras for a whole body image?”I ask outraged. “I not going near an airport again”.
“There’s nowhere to run, honey. There’s an eye watching you”, he says with a low laugh. His round eyes turn bigger in the dark as he fixes his gaze on me, way too close for comfort. The film rolls.