Did you know that prisoners serving life sentence are not given a mirror because they could commit suicide with it? No, she didn’t know either. Until she read about it in a short story recently. It really got her thinking. In the house where she grew up, there was no full-length mirror until 1970. She was already 20 years old by then and had outgrown the adolescent curiosity to see herself as others saw her.
All those years ago, there was only a small square mirror that hung in a dark verandah. The mirror bounced off light from the bulb that hung across the wall thus casting a shadow on the reflection. You had to lift the square frame off the wall and hold it at an angle if you wanted to know if you’d shaved properly or if the maii in the right eye was smudged slightly. This was a trick that only residents in that rambling household knew. And visitors often asked others to check if the pottu was in the centre of the forehead or if the face powder was still a bit patchy.
Looking back, she thought it odd that she’d never wanted to see her full-length reflection. Though that’s strictly not true. She forgets that sometime in 1966 when she’d worn a saree for the first time, she removed the mirror from its hanging post, held it against knee, tipped slightly away from her body so she could see the reflection, and gradually drew it all the way up to her neck. Later she had tried to piece together all the reflections into a single collage in her head. She had even made a mention of it in her diary that night.
In the house where she now lives, there’s a few of them mirrors. But after all these years, even now, the sight of herself, especially when she’s least expecting it - like when she wakes up in the middle of the night to use the toilet – startles her. She has trouble falling asleep afterwards. For a long time she had only known her body as it appeared to her from where her eyes stood. The familiar terrain of lumps and bumps and the reassuring patch of curlies did not seem so odd when gazed down from the neck. But the two-dimensional vision of her, as seen from a distance took a lot of getting used to. Of course, she had seen photos of herself. But a live, moving likeness was something she found hard to accept.
And this is where the story will end as I have nothing more to say on this matter.