Dear Readers, you may notice the dates of the Blog do not match the Flash Post dates which are in real time. The blog was written in 2009 and saw the light of day 6 months back when my younger daughter discovered it and decided to bring it to you here.
Say Cheese | Flash Post 407

Say Cheese | Flash Post 407

Say cheese, Button.

Why? I am not dressed properly and I’m not in any frame of mind to pose for photographs.

Is something wrong?

Seven months into this pandemic and we haven’t gone out for drives, we haven’t gone out to eat pizza. I haven’t gone cycling with my friends or eaten bhelpuri from Raju. I can’t go out for walks or go to the mall. Is this any way to live? Being homebound for months is frustrating. How much time can one spend on the phone and iPad! We’ve become prisoners in our own homes. Asking me to say cheese can’t change that.

Button, it’s okay. Feeling unhappy and disgruntled won’t change anything either. Instead of getting quarantined by the virus, let’s stuff it into a box and forget about it for the time being. Let’s begin with you telling me why we use the words “say cheese” when we take pictures.

You’re right. Let’s not talk of COVID at least in this post. What’s your question again?

Why do we ask the person who’s facing the camera to say cheese?

I know we are told to say cheese by the photographer but have never found out why.

Say the word cheese. What happens when you say it?

Oh! Like that? When I say cheese, my mouth stretches into a smile.

Exactly. And that’s the reason why we use the word when clicking photographs because a smiling face can uplift a photograph a hundred notches. A smile showing pearly white and two rows of perfectly set teeth is a sight for the gods. Songs have been composed, poems written and paeans sung in praise of the smile.

I understand what you’re saying. Each one of us looks beautiful when we smile.

With teeth or without. The smile Leonardo da Vinci captured of Mona Lisa is his most iconic painting draws thousands of visitors to the Louvre Museum every single day. All of us go to great lengths for that perfect set of pearlies so we can smile that perfect smile.

Are mine like pearls?

This starts from the day a child loses her first tooth. Mothers are extremely concerned that the tooth that replaces the one that falls out must grow back in its slot and nowhere else. Not from the front of the gums. Not from the back and definitely not leaning this way or that.

And how do they ensure this?

I remember my mother actually tying a string at the base of the lose tooth and yanking it straight out. Her take was that if the tooth came straight out, it would grow back exactly like that. Straight up. I have done the same with my girls and that explanation doesn’t hold.

Does that mean your mother was spinning a story?

Absolutely. It was because she wanted that loose tooth to be taken out instead of hanging in there. Her fear was that we’d swallow it unknowingly. Barididi and chotididi got conned by me too as I told them the same story before pulling out their milk teeth.


In childhood, we are taught to brush our teeth after every meal. We are also taught how to brush them. Both men and women go through rigorous and costly procedures to get their teeth corrected.  There are a range of braces to choose from—from ceramic braces to metal braces to coloured braces and lingual braces. People also get their teeth whitened, cleaned at regular intervals gold-capped too, besides filling cavities, doing implants and sitting through several sessions of painful root-canals.

Which means this ritual of having the perfect set of teeth for that perfect smile comes at a huge price.

But the smile we all worked on is in hiding behind different kinds of masks for the last seven months. It’s not the smile you see these days but masks. From surgical masks to the N95, homemade masks, handkerchief masks, masks that match the dress you’re wearing and of course the designer masks which come in ikat, khadi, jamdani and more. The most expensive mask was designed by an Israel-based jeweller claiming to be the most expensive and, hold your breath, cost 1.5 million USD which is 11crore in Indian rupees.

Basically, masks are overtaking smiles.

Masks can never compete with a smile. A smile can melt the hardest of hearts and charm a person off his feet. A charming smile can get the grumpiest person to return a smile. A beautiful smile can even make you fall in love. I remember a video I saw of a man on a train who looked around the compartment and noticed that everybody was sitting with a sad expression on their faces. He took it as a challenge to get everybody laughing. He giggled at first slowly getting into the rhythm of laughing louder and louder. He noticed a few of the passengers stare at him disapprovingly but continued to laugh. At first the laughter came in peels and giggles until every passenger was laughing out loud and having a great time.

Let’s pose for a group photograph, smile from one cheek to the other and say cheese.

Here’s an interesting bit of snippet for you, Button.  In the late 19th century, different aesthetic and behavioural norms required keeping the mouth small which led photographers using the words “say prune”.

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