- Looking at white privilege, carbon footprint, China, Amazon and the joys and horrors of hyperacuity.
I’ve had perfect 20-20 vision my entire life. I was one of those annoying people who could read the smallest font of the menu board from the entrance of the restaurant. I remember going to an optometrist, and as he looked at my eyes through the opthalmoscope, he asked me if I was vegetarian. “Yes,” I replied. He was pleasantly surprised. Apparently, non-vegetarians develop a plaque around their cornea, of which I had none. That’s how amazing my eyes were.
Almost like clockwork, I turned 39, and I started losing that perfect vision. A slight variation in my vision makes me feel like I’m going blind. It is not acceptable to me that I can no longer identify which airplane is flying 1 mile high in the sky above me.
I finally made it to Lens Crafters, and found out that I needed reading glasses for far sightedness, and another pair of glasses for astigmatism, for nighttime driving and such. There was no way I was spending money on two pairs of glasses. Besides, I didn’t even know how much I’d really wear them.
I surprised myself there — I loved my $200 Dolce & Gabana framed glasses. I couldn’t believe that I had allowed myself to suffer from such poor, impaired 19-20 vision for the whole last year. It was repeated moments of pure joy, each time I pulled out my glasses and suddenly saw the words in front of me the way they had been in my whole life before.
As is expected for a first time glasses owner, I lost my glasses. I told myself I was lucky that they lasted the 7 months. Months later, I realized that I most likely left them at the AirBnb where I stayed on my last work trip (my only work trip of the year). Sheer laziness deterred me from contacting the AirBnb owner — I would just buy a new pair.
Well, then Covid19 hit, and buying glasses became very low on the priority list. I’ll skip right ahead, 10 months into the pandemic, and I was sick of feeling blind all the time (again). A cousin suggested that I buy a pack of glasses from Amazon, and place them in various places around the house. A brilliant suggestion, no doubt.
The hardest part of this purchase was getting the prescription from Lens Crafters. Due to patient confidentiality laws, they couldn’t tell me what my prescription was. “We can fax it to you.” Who the hell has a fax machine in 2021?! The store is literally around the corner from my home, so I finally walked in one day, and they handed me the magic number I was looking for: +1.00.
Now, this is where I finally segue into the point of my story. I consider myself a socially conscientious citizen of the world — at least I try to be. My biggest concern and worry in every day life is the state of our beloved planet earth, and how each and every action I take (or don’t take), is further destroying our planet. In the event that I forget to bring my own reusable bag at the grocery story, I minimize my shopping so that I can carry all the goods back in my bare arms. The decision of “paper or plastic,” is too hard for me to make. “Neither,” is what the answer needs to be.
Going against all my principles (including supporting local brick and mortar stores) I caved in, and bought the glasses from Amazon. $20 got me five — that’s right — not one, but five pairs of glasses, each with a matching cloth carrying case, and a cleaning microfiber. It was delivered within 48 hours of me clicking on my phone as I sat at the dinner table one night.
I didn’t need to see the sticker to know where this product came from. “China zindabad,” I murmured, as I deliberated which color of frames to wear first — marveling at the convenience, simplicity, and luxury it afforded me.
Now here I am, ridden with the guilt of the carbon footprint my glasses have taken on the planet. One could argue that they had already been made, so I’m not really adding to destruction of the planet. But that argument is easily flawed — the more that we use, the more they will make. And I’m not even getting into the humanitarian atrocities of the working conditions of the factories, or how old those workers were.
I’ve grown up vegetarian, and the idea of nonviolence is something that suits my temperament. But in today’s day and age, there is no way to live a nonviolent life. Everything you do is hurting our planet. I once read an article that said that the shit we produce (literally) will leave a longer impact in the years to come than any of the actual ‘work’ we do.
As I continue to ponder my role in ruining the planet, I am reminded that it is not only my generation that has caused this. I was reading a historical account of the 17th century Mughal Emperor Jahangir of India. He proclaimed with pride, the hunting conquests in his lifetime: 86 tigers, 889 nilgais, 1,372 deer, 36 wild buffaloes, 90 wild boars, 23 hares, 10,349 pigeons, 3,276 crows, 156 waterfowl, 41 sparrows, and 10 crocodiles — totaling 28,532 animals. This was one man, four hundred years ago. The looting and pillaging of our planet began well before my time. It is just now that it has exponentially grown, and the take-off point of the destruction of our planet has begun. Fires, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, virus pandemics — abhi to party shuru hui hai (the party’s just begun).
It’s a bit like the guilt of the white man, in some ways. ‘white privilege’ is nothing new — it has been around for generations. And I use quotes around ‘white privilege’ not like the folks at Fox Channel who find it to be a fictitious, facetious concept. Quite the opposite, I have recently learned that this privilege is not limited to just white people. As a South Asian from a well-educated family living in Silicon Valley, I have been given so many privileges. Additionally, because I can easily throw myself in the BIPOC group, I don’t identify with the guilt of the white man. In a way, our community is worse, because we don’t even know that we’re exercising privilege, and straddling both sides as per our convenience.
And so, our world continues its path into self-destruction — climate change, loss of ecosystems, racial inequalities, the poor becoming poorer, the rich becoming richer — eventually leading to more inequality and disruption in our day-to-day existence. Until then, I continue to harbor my love-hate relationship with China. To make myself feel better, I will not lose these glasses, and make sure they last me as long as my eyes remain at +1.00.
Antara Bhardwaj is a Kathak artist and filmmaker based in Mountain View, California, where she lives with her husband and son. She runs a dance company and school by the name of Antara Asthaayi Dance. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.