The ‘Miss Universe’ Beauty Pageant

Fashion and global cultures come together to demonstrate ‘beauties can have brains too’

The Miss Universe contest undoubtedly is the grandest beauty pageant in the world. Each year contestants from pretty much around the globe compete and showcase their talent, their country’s culture and what, over the years, I have come to regard the beauty pageant to be a celebration of: ‘beauties can have brains too’. It’s really been a mixed bag of winners for the American beauty pageant but, overwhelmingly, they have been from countries whose cultures I have always loved to immerse myself in.

I think when the big question of diversity is thrown into the picture for a beauty pageant originating in the West, I feel that the greatest example of diversity is always demonstrated by a plethora of winners from South America and India. I know it’s been demonstrated by three African countries previously, as well: Angola (in 2011), Namibia (in 1992) and Botswana (in 1999), which was an interesting display of African culture for the international beauty pageant, especially with Botswana because the year it won was also the first time the country had entered itself in the beauty pageant.

But when it comes to exotic favourites, I have always liked to see India win. In 1994, Sushmita Sen became the first Indian woman to be crowned Miss Universe, and it was a magnificent moment – India’s always been a hot favourite with me for the country’s ability to break through societal and cultural barriers for the Miss Universe contest and demonstrate that beauty can be diversified and be equally compelling.

Private Tuition and the State of Schools

One of the most challenging aspects of school is attaining high grades. But it gets so much more challenging when fellow students break the system and go to private tuition en masse to survive school because apparently adequate support isn’t provided to them in school. I went to an English medium school, where the medium of instruction + learning was entirely in the English Language. All we kids ever did was speak English in school, during school hours – in fact, if I remember correctly, communicating in Bengali in school premises was expressively not allowed. I think this system with private tuition that England fosters is highly unfair. I know even all my mates survived it, with sheer difficulty – it certainly was no piece of cake.

I still managed to put in my best effort and did things so many kids couldn’t – like getting conditional offers for Mechanical Engineering from six top UK universities, in the face of stiff local/global competition. There are only a couple of seats in each university for each subject, and thousands of children around the world, who annually strive to make it to top British universities – so, if I do the math, my head freezes over how I managed to do it.

Back in school, though, I found it impossible to cope with private tuition, post six hours of schooling, five days a week, because I also needed the weekend and school after hours to be just a kid and spend doing things more than just simply learning. Going to private tuition for me was the rarest episode because I would learn in the traditional method of going to school and coming back and working on my homework and spending plenty of hours learning for weekly tests for various subjects, as well.

I studied in one of the highest learning systems in the world, for schools, because it was an English system – naturally, if I always went to English medium schools, one after another, that’s what it would always be like. I would even get private tuition because I needed ‘extra help’ with some subjects in school, since I couldn’t understand one word of what a few of the teachers would teach in a few of the subjects, and there was no end in sight for it, after surviving school five years (from ‘Year I’ onwards), in the natural method.

I have the worst memories of having to incorporate learning in the afternoons and evening, as well. I just couldn’t mould myself the way so many others had because after five years of following the traditional learning method of ‘go to school and come back home and spend afternoons sleeping + evenings studying’, I was under the impression that, that was school was all about. And it really is: it’s the correct idea of schooling in England, and because I went to an English medium school, naturally my school was no different (at all) – everything was just the same. How could I expect anything else from what a school is and what it’s supposed to be?

I don’t understand how a kid who gets private tuition for each and every subject in school still manages to fit in time for playing, sleeping appropriately, spending time with friends or even watching the television regularly. As a kid, I know, it can do things to your morale – I know I felt it, when I saw en masse, so many kids come out with tonnes of A grades (metaphorically, speaking – they would top each year, as in come out first etc.) after practically spending all their after school hours studying in the unregulated system of ‘private tuition’. How a person wants to rise in the education system at university and not opt to drop out, following that experience, is something I will never understand because when I was in school, England sure didn’t care about the state of schools.

The Miracle with Helen Keller

The Hollywood film, ‘The Miracle Worker’ portrays the difficulty Keller experienced in learning a language, when she was just a child, and it’s synonymous with the mystery surrounding Keller because she learned how to converse, despite being both deaf and blind; Keller might have had a late start in life with language, but that didn’t deter her from having her own special voice

Hellen Keller was an American deaf-blind person, who found international stardom in her life for her penmanship, activism and for being the first deaf-blind person to earn a university degree. Helen was inflicted with a rare illness, in my point of view, which makes  it impossible for her to learn Braille – the language that blind people use to read and write, or learn sign language – the language that deaf people use to communicate, because she is both deaf and blind. Keller can neither learn Braille to express herself because she’s unable to hear (and feel through touch) and associate a word with an object, like blind people do when they have learnt Braille, nor is she able to see and learn sign language and then also associate a sign with an object, like deaf people do when they have learnt sign language.

It’s an extraordinarily different kind of illness and this sets Keller apart from people with disabilities just like her: those who are deaf or those who are blind, but never both together – millions of people around the world are sadly blind, or deaf. And yet Helen, who is doubly more disabled than a blind or deaf person, miraculously overcomes her personal barriers to become just like any woman in the world. The reason behind this is Helen’s teacher: Anne Sullivan, who’s blind herself and astoundingly lacking in reading/writing abilities; Anne eventually became Helen’s governess and even earned her companionship – the two had a forty-nine-year-long relationship, despite what’s portrayed in the movie The Miracle Worker (1962), which was based on Helen’s autobiography.

The Miracle Worker (1962)

In the movie, Helen Keller (Patty Duke) constantly has violent and uncontrollable outbursts because given that Keller’s both blind and deaf since birth, Keller is unable to converse or express herself. Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) then turns things around for Keller when she teaches her to associate an object with a sign, which describes it. Both Braille and sign language had long been invented since Keller’s birth in the 1880s but despite being from a relatively well-to-do family (Keller’s from an army background, which runs really deep), Helen is unable to use either to express herself because of her disease.

Born in 1880 at a homestead in Alabama, Helen Keller initially had no defects in eyesight or hearing. But when she was only a little over a year old, Keller was inflicted with either scarlet fever or meningitis – both her brain and stomach was in a congested state; it’s a medical condition, which can be described as both her organs were blocked up because it’s filled with something too much; this medical condition, in the end, made Keller both deaf and blind.

Before Sullivan entered her life, Helen was able to communicate with the home cook’s daughter using signs and her vocabulary eventually expanded to include sixty signs, which had certain similarities to both sign and spoken languages and she would use this to converse with her family. This means that Helen could construct simple sentences and also words and they they are kind of similar to each other even though each sign is isolated from another.

It’s extraordinary that Helen even had a vocabulary of her own, or learned to communicate in the end because she almost evolved into a wild child, brought up in isolation and these kinds of deaf children mostly don’t exhibit signs of any knowledge over language – they have extreme difficulty with the learning of a language. Helen had already taught herself how to live with her disabilities but when Kate Adams (Helen’s mother) learned from Charles Dickens’ American Notes of the education of another deaf-blind woman (Laura Bridgman), Adams made Keller visit a physician specialized in eye, ear, nose and throat, who referred her to Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone), who in turn suggested Kate drop by the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where Bridgman had been taught.

Anne Sullivan was approached for Helen Keller when she was only twenty-years-old, and Anne was a former student at Perkins. In March 1887, Sullivan and Keller begin their association. At first, it’s not an easy one because Keller is frustrated she cannot grasp that every object is associated with a word, which describes what it is. In one shocking episode: when Anne attempts to teach Keller the word for ‘mug’, Keller’s frustration leads her to break the mug. The following month, Keller finally gets her big break in expressing herself: her teacher runs cool water over Keller’s one palm, and makes motions on Keller’s other palm – this makes Keller identify what water is, but with symbols, instead of words.

Eating Out

What to wear? That’s one of the biggest questions when preparing for a meal out. I prefer to keep it casual enough: a mini skirt, a jumper and ballerina flats – the fashion ensemble spells fun and relaxed, so they are my go-to options. I feel it’s important to look good for something special. I’ve got be wise – given the prices of meals in posh places, eating out can’t be a weekly episode for me so it’s more of a special episode and something worth dressing up a little bit for. I do aspire to make eating out a regular thing, however – maybe when I get organized more I’ll get myself there.

My preferred places to eat out are normally restaurants but fast food eating spaces are good options too.

I like to dine out on my own. It’s what I like to do most of the time and the only company I would probably truly enjoy is perhaps a good book, or a well-trained pet of my own, like a Pomeranian dog, by my side. It’s good when you can manage to get a seat, with a view, if the dining space offers one because it’s nice to be alone with great food, my thoughts and a view of what seems like eternal grey skies – how perfect.

I have never been to a restaurant (or a fast food shop) that isn’t packed. It’s almost like the natural environment in these places. With that, comes the annoying thought of getting interrupted in a packed environment. I hate to be interrupted when I am eating out on my own: the thought of someone coming over and asking if they could borrow the empty chair opposite to mine because they need another one at their table but are unable to find any empty (because the place is so packed) is not a happy thought – it’s so impolite, for one thing. I could never entertain the idea of parting with my dining arrangement of two seats, and a table, even when one of the chairs is meant for nothing but my handbag. Oh! I despise moments of interruption like anything.

But sometimes they do come my way and I fast (and I must admit, rather rudely) cut whatever they are saying off by not giving them what they want, and just get back to enjoying my meal. I want to have the same dining experience as all the packed tables at a restaurant, without having to worry about any interruption. I don’t understand why on some days people who like to interrupt even come to eat at my favourite food haunts – in my mind, they don’t have the class to belong there.

Cuisine-wise, I am a sucker for fried food. Fried chicken. French fries. They are also convenient dishes to order whilst eating out – they are served very fast and I feel you get the best kinds in a fast food shop. Normally, at a restaurant, after I have ordered my food, the waiting period preceding my food being served at my table, is like almost an hour. It’s still worth it though: even if I skipped lunch, because I’ve got eating like a pig, scheduled for evening-time. In those moments, it’s just sipping my bubbly lemonade, and looking at the interiors before I dig into seriously delicious fried prawns.

Indie Music

Indie music is a pretty significant music market. I find it so even though the list of indie artists I listen to is very slim. I like to listen to music put forward by prominent commercial record labels instead, so imagine artists like Oasis, Britney Spears, Boyzone and Santana – these are music artists I have grown up listening to. Indie music, like anything ‘indie’ or independent, be it art, literature or design, is an independent venture and these music artists (and their music) is independent from big music labels, such as Sony Music and Universal Music Group. Artists, such as Adele started off by signing with an independent record label.

What I liked about independent record labels is that they basically help with combing through talent worth listening to for music lovers, like me, from vibrant indie music quarters. They do not have the financial means to distribute or promote their music artists as much as major music labels do but this mini-industry of sorts still exists today. Despite the obvious drawback, which music artists signed with independent record labels experience in getting their music heard, indie music offers artists more freedom to craft music as they would like. Because indie music is independent from that kind of music direction offered by big record labels, the music may arguably be termed as more authentic, although I wouldn’t classify indie music as anything of that sorts, myself, having been a fan of mainstream and popular music, my whole life.

Two indie music artists I really like to listen to often include Mumford and Sons and Goldfrapp.

Whenever I see music artists I do not recognize, unlike Whitney Houston, perhaps on gig lists, in the media, etc. I tend to think of them as part of the indie music crowd because the fact that they aren’t instantly recognizable would probably mean they aren’t really part of the whole mainstream/popular music culture. One thing that does concern me over indie music though is how if too many people choose to create records from scratch and contribute to the indie music market, it might make the industry appear largely valueless from the outside. But I would still comb through indie music to find songs more suitable to my taste because despite my burgeoning digital music collection, I feel that great music is always rare and precious.

Curating Music

Finding a good song to listen to is always such a challenge: growing up, it was pretty straightforward because curating my music collection involved turning on MTV and picking what I love. Given the glamour associated with the music channel, there would be a lot for me to choose from this big ocean of music videos, and even till today they are what I like to call ‘the classics’. Nowadays, I like to do something I have always wanted to but watching MTV kept getting in the way: listen to the Billboard charts. It’s where I like to usually get my music from because the hottest singles and the hottest albums chart there every week.

I have to admit there is always a whole lot of deep ***t on Billboard that I have to regularly wade through to find music I like, and my music collection, even though enormous, is really completely peppered with my personal taste. I think that the music industry is so huge, it’s tough to even know where to begin to look for music I would like on some days: music magazines, such as NME are no good because it is littered with the ugliest kind of music you can think of – it’s all such an eyesore; except for NME’s very rare curations here and there like the best albums of the year, it’s not even worth looking at.

In the middle of all these bad sounds being flung all around, there is me and my love for music and my hunger for more of it, more of new sounds. I am still not really sure what genre of music I would like to call my favourite though but I like to keep my interests diverse: pop, rap, r&b, rock, OSTs, and classical songs – I love it all, so long as the sounds of the songs are good. Speaking of diversity, I don’t remember which ones were my firsts but I remember finding Latin music (sometimes in Spanish) quite addictive. I also went and broadened my horizons in music and began listening to Swedish music, K-pop and music from anime I love. Because of all that diversity in my music tastes, sometimes, even though it’s such a rare occurrence, I listen to Hindi music, from India, as well.

I know, I mostly like Hindi songs, which has some English in the lyrics, or really melodic tunes, or contemporary Indian pop songs – I think it is good to throw in a little bit of exoticism to all that diversity in my predominantly Western music tastes. In India, contemporary Indian pop is a rare thing so I think it would be safe to call it a ‘developing area’ because the best and largest music really come from Bollywood soundtracks, which is a shame because pop music is so good. As a music lover, I feel that the most important thing to do when curating a personal music selection is to plaster my music tastes all over it – no matter what, always be true to yourself and what you love.

A GoodBye To Alexandra Shulman

Sometimes, when I wonder about the changes that will befall on British Vogue later this year, with Shulman’s departure, I can’t think any longer

Having been an avid reader of British Vogue for years, Alexandra Shulman’s latest decision to resign from her position as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue came as a bit of a surprise. As the editor of one of the foremost fashion magazines in the United Kingdom, Shulman took it from one strength to another. What I had personally enjoyed as a reader, were the stories that the magazine would regularly print. It’s not exactly like catching the daily news or something like that on the BBC, as much as it is about keeping up with trends, looking at the latest fashion adverts in the press, and following Shulman’s tastes around.

It sounds like a massive waste of time on paper but sometimes gaining a wider set of knowledge helps me to calm down about the deadlines: I know it makes no sense whatsoever. Why would learning about some random designers (not my regulars – the ones’ whose designs I almost always adore) that are supposed to be important or artsy people who think they are something worth learning about despite their obvious lack of fashion taste, help me calm down? In fact, if anything I should be feeling lost in a world of total randomness and yearning to get back to my comfortable place of LFW but maybe it has something to do with how all of that is supposed to be Shulman’s world, not mine. I am just gladly on the outside of it all, peering over the plastic-veneer into some other person’s vision and taste. Or, it could also be that I read anything and absolutely everything.

Under Shulman’s editorship, the fashion magazine increased it’s circulation figures and also gained a wider footing. Shulman in the past had also been the editor of the men’s magazine, GQ (the British edition), and previously had worked at Tatler and The Sunday Telegraph, as well. Criticized for her disinterest in keeping up appearances as an editor, she had presided over important magazine volumes by British Vogue, such as the the 1997 cover of Princess Diana (in memoriam). As an editor, Shulman shockingly decided to never work with cosmetic surgery, diets on the pages of British Vogue, she chose to never dictate fashion to readers and she also said a firm no to celebrities on the cover, who desire approval for pictures.

Recently Anna Wintour remembered her longtime friend Sozzani, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia. I have happily never known Sozzani – I think her melancholia drains the energy out of people, but unlike the Sphinx, Wintour knew Sozzani to be good with keeping her secrets. This very nature of the friendship reminds me of how British Vogue, for a very long time has been a fashion publication I use to regularly look forward to reading, and Shulman had played her part in my keenness in anticipating what’s the next cover going to be about, so it would only be natural to assume that Shulman had done a pretty brilliant job as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue. Shulman is going to leave British Vogue in June and maybe with all the time she will be having on her hands, she can find herself immersed (and enjoying) on the other side of the world, for a change, as a fashion onlooker.