Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Life of Stanley Vacant

There is this character in my mind that is yearning to see the light of day in a book. Sadly for him, all spaces are currently occupied and he will have to wait his turn. But the problem doesn’t end there. I wish it would. While I might be his creator in every sense of the word, he also is a resident of the over active world that is my mind. And hence he is a part of me, a part of my being. And he wants to share his adventures, his crusades with the rest of the world.

First I though a brief cameo in my book would be sufficient for him. But then I realized that it would be an absolute waste of a terrific character, which he is, a very likable character who deserves to be the protagonist of his own book. So here is another solution: the blog. From now on Stanley Vacant, who is a middle aged voice artist (provides the background voice for ads and supplies the voice characterizations for over half a dozen animated characters) would make regular appearances on my blog and would hopefully stop bothering me.

It is my firm belief that fitness and health and good looks are overrated. These days everyone seems to be running after a good physique. Every man wants to be like Brad Pitt and every woman wants to be like the latest cover of Cosmopolitan (not like the cover but like the women on the cover). I believe our capitalists have once again succeeded in making absolute fools out of us. First they cut us up into little pieces and then they recommend ten different ways to stitch us back.

While growing up you are coaxed to eat tons of junk food. As a teenage boy you have to hang out at the cool places and eat the cool food or you become an outcast. TV commercials tell you where all the chicks are hanging out. So you go there and what do you do? You eat and eat and eat. And before you know it you are 30 years old and weigh 250 pounds. Even if you are not 250 pounds your wife would constantly nag you about the love handles that you have developed. People will constantly crack jokes at your expense and make your life miserable.

You go in for magnetic radiation therapy which according to Jim from the shopping network helps you lose an astonishing fifteen pounds in just a few hours. You end up buying and hoarding exercise machines which promise to give you chiselled abs and good looks. But nothing works. Out of frustration you just eat more.

On the other hand are girls. Women in our society grow up looking at anorexic super models vouching for the latest fashion products. You see sixteen year old girls dieting and trying out the latest health products from television shopping networks and ending up in the hospital because they haven’t eaten anything in the past one week. Face creams, face packs, fairness creams, oil-free soaps, extra moisturizing soaps, grime removing soaps, dandruff free shampoos, revitalizing shampoos, extra conditioning shampoos and much more can be found in the bathroom cabinet of an average sixteen year old girl.

Women are constantly conscious of their weight. They will not eat that extra piece of cake even if every cell in their body is crying out for it. Sitcoms joke about how every chocolate you eat ends up going to your butt. So you try very hard to retain that knockout figure. It doesn’t work and again out of frustration you eat.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who are naturally thin. Any amount of junk food, chocolate pastries and ice creams has no effect on them. They simply don’t put on any weight. But this doesn’t mean they are happy. Quite the contrary, even they are yearning for those chiselled abs and well toned muscles.

So we live in a society where majority of people are either overweight or underweight or are simply not happy with the way they look. The remaining 0.1% appear on television and in films and make us feel bad about ourselves. We are simply not happy about our appearance and spend both precious time and money in improving it.

Luckily I am very happy with the way I look. Or at least I was happy till a few days back. Tricia and I were watching a film sitting in my nice cosy apartment when she turned towards me and said, “Why don’t you join the gym and put on some muscle?” The question caught me off guard. But I made a quick come back in my smooth Baritone Bunny voice, “Say babe, you not happy with the looks of your lover.” “No”, came the reply and silenced me. I could not think up of a reply in my hundred or more different voices. The voice which enthralled millions of people on television every week was silenced by a very pointed “No”. I got up saying, “… it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” Tolkien would have been so proud.

But the truth was that her remark really did hurt. I have an average height and an average weight. I never played any physical sports or did anything adventurous. I had average grades in school and was not the most popular guy either. But people liked me. They still do. My voice impersonation of Mrs. Higgins, our seventh grade mathematics teacher, is still the stuff of legend. Nobody ever cared about how I looked. But they loved my voice because it could make them laugh. My voice for the ghost in Hamlet back in college is still considered by many to be a benchmark in voice quality. Every week I make kids laugh with ‘Baritone Bunny and Friends’. I have given the background voice for more than two hundred commercials and have the distinction for providing twenty one different voice characterizations for a single Disney animation. Critics have even compared me to Mel Blanc. How foolish of them. Nobody could be like Mel Blanc. He is a legend and can never be matched.

But something needed to be done. I like Tricia and see a future for the two of us. She is not demanding and makes me very happy. She has a great sense of humour and makes excellent pan cakes. But now she wanted me to be someone I was not. She wanted me to take care of my health, join a gym and build muscles. She had never asked for anything before this so I decided to do this as a gift to her. So here I am standing in my local gym after having taken an annual membership. With all my negative views on people’s obsession with their own looks, I am standing here inside a monument dedicated to commercialism and the victory of capitalism.

Stanley Vacant © Anshumani Ruddra 2004

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