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     Volume 6 Issue 15 | April 20, 2007 |

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Syed Badrul Ahsan

Susan Sontag

The reason why Susan Sontag meant a whole lot to me was of course the intellectual energy that always coursed through her. But I will not tie you down to any tedious descriptions of all that now, for there is another all-consuming reason why I will miss Sontag. She was a beautiful woman. Yes, that is again why I have been missing her, thinking of the way she talked and looked, since she died a few years ago at the age of seventy one. There was something in her that constantly added to her physical charms. She was a long-legged woman, and anyone who has any comprehension of the charms of women knows only too well just how devastating such women can be. Sontag was one such woman. As she passed from youth to middle age, a fine streak of white came naturally to her hair. It soon became a trademark, one with which people identified her, and still identify her. In the last years of her life, she turned even more beautiful, with her hair going silver before going grey. By the time she succumbed to leukaemia, she had turned into a feminine being with whom good, aesthetically inclined men were ready to fall in love.

The passing of Susan Sontag, then, is essentially the end of beauty of the sort she always epitomised --- seductive, purposeful and layered over with huge dolops of intelligence. Beauty in a woman ought to be of such a hue. Think of the clear seductive power in Germaine Greer. Well into her mid sixties, the author of the Female Eunuch gives you reason anew to place your faith in the power of charisma and the female form to bring out the best in yourself. Greer was ravishing in youth; in her advancing years, she has mellowed into a different being, something of a lioness which refuses to go to sleep in autumn. There are no embers from the old fires in her. What she possesses is a fresh dose of fiery substance informing her corporeal being. Her comments are still radical and it is when she presses a point that her face glows brighter than before. Yes, there are the lines and wrinkles which have appeared on the cheeks and the swan-like neck. But they are signs of a middle age when women burst forth into an energy you know is capable of achieving wonders. Has it ever occurred to you that the actress Helen Mirren radiates, as she passes through the burning tyres of time, an increasingly greater degree of sexuality? She appeared nude in Calendar Girls, and those who saw her could not but remark on the perfection in which she has kept her body.

There are precious few people in the world as tempting in looks and voice as Meryl Streep. She grows in beauty as she grows in the charms she can cause to come into that mouth. You have to agree that a particular sign of a woman's beauty is the shape of her mouth. Streep has as wonderful a mouth as the one on the face of Germaine Greer. You might now think back on Elizabeth Taylor, but the difficulty with Taylor is that the lips are too full, which means that they convey little of the mysterious about them. A woman's mouth ought to be an instrument of discovery, one that can explore the depths. In women like Sophia Loren, there are the thick, pouting lips which, put to good use in demonstrations of passion bring forth the sexual energy in the person. Madhubala had sexuality aplenty, a characteristic which was manifest on her nose and in the crooked smile she put up as she talked or danced her way through a movie. Jharna Basak, has been ageing gracefully, quietly, in all the time since she came back from Pakistan. And yet she has not aged at all, for there is that old singsong quality in her voice and the beauty which electrified movie enthusiasts four decades ago has persisted to this day. Shabnam remains one of the rare instances of Bangali women able to hold their own in matters of a preservation of good looks. Such women only reinforce our belief in the idea of the physically alluring being a special characteristic of age in women.

The ageing process has been adding substance to Condoleezza Rice. In Indira Gandhi, the years only heightened the physical attributes and injected fresh waves of energy into her political maturity. You watch Ambika Soni and you realise how sex appeal can strengthen political power.

When, therefore, Susan Sontag died, she carried her beauty to the grave. When you reflect on all the beautiful women who have made their way to the cemetery, you only know how much poorer the world has been made by their passing. Meanwhile, we will dwell on the charms which shoot from Kristin-Scott Thomas and Emma Thompson. They have been ageing marvellously well.



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