Sabina looked closely at her newly capped front tooth in the mirror and smiled to see if it’s color matched the other teeth perfectly. Satisfied she picked up a book and sat on the armchair to read. Her mother had bought the mirror from chandni chawk market after the earlier one broke.
The whole family had used the broken mirror for more than a month before she could go to the market for a new one. The broken mirror showed many images of Sabina’s face everytime she combed her hair in front of it. She focussed on the top piece image as it was bigger and showed most of her face. She noticed that at certain spots on the side of the major crack at chipped off areas, the mirror twisted her image in strange ways like making one of her eyes look bigger than the other or her nose upturned or her cheeks drawn back or her lips bigger…but she wasn’t sure if she actually saw it or imagined it because using the broken mirror irritated her to no end and seemed to be playing tricks with her mind.
The other images of the broken mirror seemed to be talking to each other in an animated way while ignoring the one she was focussing on.They seemed to be engrossed in discussing something of world importance like environment,
epidemics, politics, war, nuclear energy etc. but not making much sense as they all spoke together without listening to anyone. The moment she focused on the chattering images, they froze midway and as soon as she focussed back on the bigger image, they started chattering again.
“when will you change this broken mirror?” exasperated, Sabina asked her mother.
“when I go to the market”was the flat, prosaic reply.
Her mother, visited the market when a few other things in the household requirements had to be replenished. The cost of the transport had gone up and it was economical if in one visit she could accomplish much of her purchases.
There was another big rectangular mirror in the house. It was stuck inside the small cupboard high up on the wall containing common cosmetic stuff like everyone’s combs, talcum powder, hair oils, cold-creams etc. It was a bit out of of reach and visible only when one stretched a little far out to one’s right as a wire-mesh almirah blocked a bit of the way.
So, Sabina had to do with two main images on the major pieces of the mirror and many small twisted ones on the crack of it till the day her mother asked her to come with her to the market. She walked with her for nearly five kms to reach its main road bazaar. They would take the bus on the way back when their hands were full.
The mirror seller had set up his shop in the covered verandah of the ‘fountain chawk’ area of the market. It was on a low plastic folding bed covered with a peacock block printed green and yellow jaipuri bedsheet. He sold mirrors of all shapes and sizes.
“How much for the medium sized mirror…that one …behind the pocket mirror.” asked mummy.
“twenty rupees …the smaller one is for ten and that big one is for thirty…” said the shopkeeper. He wore a long light blue kurta over a green chequered loongi. He wore many rings of different colored stones of different sizes on his fingers. Bracelets of different colored beads dangled on his wrists.
“mummy buy the big one!”Sabina requested.
She hesitated for a little while and asked the shopkeeper, “will you give the big one for twenty five …?”
He glanced at Sabina and quietly picked up the mirror and wrapping it in an old newspaper, handed it quietly to her mother. Taking twenty five rupees from her, he touched them to the cluster of peacock feathers tied together like a long broom and reverently putting them to his forehead before transferring them to a steel cash box near a few lit incense sticks. These added sandalwood aroma to the fruity smells of the nearby fruit seller’s wares.
He looked at the mother-daughter duo walking away in a strange way as if sending a part of himself with them for a new beginning.
Sabina eyed the packet thankfully. The new mirror was a great relief. She did not like seeing herself in a cracked mirror everyday before going to school.
“it is a bad omen to use a cracked mirror…” her aunt had once told her.
“Hindus consider the mirror abode of Lakshmi- The Goddess of wealth and it is inauspicious to make her live in a broken home.”
She would have liked to have a full length mirror but there was no place in her house where it could be put up, besides being an unnecessary expenditure.
The new mirror was kept on the top of the jaali almaaree (the wiremesh almirah). Her father picked it up for shaving from there before getting ready and leaving for the Bank where he worked as a manager. He looked at it appreciatively and placed it on the central table in the first room of two roomed rented house. Then sitting on a chair in front of it covering his knees with a small towel, started the process, humming the tune of one of his favorite songs.
He did this everyday. After shaving he would rinse the brush and the razor in the small white enamel coated aluminium mug and throw the soapy water out of their house in a corner where a brass tap in a brick walled enclosure served as a source of flowing water. Then arranging the round soap box and all other things in a big tin box, originally a packaging container of a reputed brand of wool balls, he would place the mirror back at its usual place, above the jalee almirah.
Her mother combed her long thick hair and braided it, interlacing it with a paranda made of black silky cotton threads in front of the mirror. She then rolled it up and tied it in a big bun on the nape of her neck. The new mirror encouraged a slight smile of satisfaction on her otherwise serious, no nonsense face. After combing she would get back to the kitchen to complete her chores.
Sabina picked up the mirror after dressing up fully for the school and moving it up and down from head to toe, saw herself in parts, imagining her whole self by joining the parts in her mind. This one was bigger than the earlier one and showed more of her in one go. Placing it back carefully she picked up her bag to go. As she turned, she felt a strange sensation of the mirror looking at her. She turned to look back but found the mirror sitting innocently as if trying to fit in with the rest of the things in the room.
Her parents often discussed purchasing their own house. They went to different areas of Delhi looking at properties but often came back dissatisfied. The homes they liked were very expensive and the ones that were within their budget had a major flaw in construction or were not in the area they liked. There were many conditions to be considered before purchasing a house…
-its closeness to Sabina’s school.
-its closeness to her elder sister’s school where she worked as a teacher.
-its closeness to her elder brother’s college. (Sabina was a late child …youngest of the three.)
-its closeness to papa’s Bank.
-its closeness to the mandir near river Yamuna which both papa and mummy visited everyday in the morning as a routine.
“we will be visiting the ‘Baal- Bhawan’, tomorrow” Sabina announced to no one in particular. For her the only condition required for the new house was that it could support a new full length mirror.
Her parents looked in her direction briefly before continuing discussing various financial options. Sabina dozed off with their voices rising and dropping in the background as she heard mummy refusing to part with her gold to bridge the gap.
Sabina was excited as she sat in the big deluxe bus hired by her school for the visit to ‘Baal bhawan’ this year. They were taken either to the zoo or the ‘Doll museum’, every year. This year’s change of destination somehow caused a strange sense of foreboding in Sabina. She uneasily felt its connection with the new mirror in her house.
All the children lined up before entering the main gate. They made their way through various sculptures, pictures, playing areas, swings and rides and reached a special hall. It had big mirrors of different shapes and sizes placed at regular intervals against the walls. The children stood infront of them and looked at their distorted images with wonder. Some mirrors made them look very short, some very tall, some distorted in the centre, some with funny tilts and twists. The children laughed and giggled seeing them.
Sabina felt she had arrived where she was meant to be. She saw a normal full sized mirror in the corner of the hall. Nobody was interested in standing in front of it and seeing their normal image.
Sabina walked upto it and looked at herself for a long time…. admiring herself…. turning from side to side…. seeing herself in her purple school dress with white purple lined socks and black shoes. She saw her two neat plaits with black ribbons tied in a neat floral knot and the school belt in the centre of her tunic with the school emblem etched on its central brass clasp.
The noise of children laughing in the background seeing their funny shapes in other mirrors faded as Sabina soaked in the visual of her full image in the normal big mirror. She did not want to waste these precious moments seeing herself in strange ways and shapes in other mirrors. She craved to see herself, as she was…. in a full length mirror.
As Sabina peered at her full length image, she felt a little alarmed as a strange feeling crept up on her. She looked around and saw all the children of her school looking like her. Then, all of a sudden, as if on cue, they stopped still and started looking in her direction.They too seemed to be surprised to see her looking exactly like them.
They all started moving closer to her, staring, as if in disbelief. As she cringed and inched backwards towards the normal mirror, it turned into a shiny liquid surface which slowly but surely absorbed her in its fold, as her body gently came in its contact.
She felt happy and safe in the big mirror’s warm embrace. The quicksilver like silky fluid caressed her tense nerves as she floated weightlessly in it.
The children didn’t seem to notice her dissappearence at all and returned back to their normal activities. Sabina hoped that when she came out of hiding, they didn’t stare at her like that again. She also hoped that her resemblence to them ended at the appearance level and that they ‘thought’ differently. But soon it seemed to dawn on her that they thought alike too. They all had similar, if not the same worries, fears, joys, sorrows and aspirations. It was like a big blob of matter which chose to divide itself into tens of hundreds and then many thousands, millions, billions and trillions of pieces!
Sabina was scared. She could feel her heart beating hard against her chest.
A stray sound from the chatter of one of the shards of earlier broken mirror seemed to call out, “what are you afraid of? If all is one, there is nothing to fear…it is you who is calling the shots!”
“ You can manifest in any way you choose…”, said another small piece of the broken mirror.
“To be out of this strange situation….all you need to do is think of the things you like…”
“All situations are for new experiences…”
“What should I do now?” Sabina seemed to throw the question at the muttering pieces of the earlier broken mirror of her house. “I seem to be stuck…trapped inside..”
“….all you have to do is …let go! Relax and move back to the center of this situation…it’s the trying that’s alarming and tiring you.”
“Trying to escape it…the moment you stop trying….you escape it naturally.”
“ What about the other children…?”
“ Just do unto them as you would like them to do unto you…there is no ‘other’…”
Sabina recollected that her father often quoted the upnishads saying ‘tat twam asi’(you are it) and aham brahmaasmi!( I am that supereme conciousness).
“So easy! …so very easy!…simple!!...that was all there was to it.” She told herself.
She was the mirror now! …The safe, gentle, cool, shiny mirror itself!..The tall big sized mirror she had always desired.
She thought of the mirror, her mother had bought from Chandni Chawk. It felt like an oasis in midst of a vast desert …a small island in an ocean. It felt just right and sufficient to Sabina.
The mirror-seller appeared to her. He too a part of the mirror. He smiled as if he had known all along that all was one.
“ it isn’t the mirror that has trapped you…its your desire for it…you are it!”
She saw other children smiling at her as if they knew…just knew it all. They were parts of the broken mirror which came together and joined into one …and formed a full scale mirror along with her, with no sign of any cracks or chipings.
People came and peered into this normal mirror and after ensuring all was ok went away with a satisfied smile.
Once again Sabina lost it…it just slipped out of her…and she murmured, “Help!!...I am in here!...I am it!....I am the mirror!…Please stop…hold my hand and pull me out!”
She tried to shake herself out of it but no matter how hard she tried she remained still…very stilll! a part of the mirror!... along with other children!….All still and very quiet as a part of herself or the mirror. If only they could push her out, she would surface out of it and breathe.
She could see her mother move around, looking into her as if looking at her own image. She too was unable to see her or help her break out of it. “If only I could move my finger or toe nail a bit…I would be able to break free of this mirror.” thought Sabina to herself …her panic rising like loo (waves of hot winds in the northern plains of India).
But she could not move at all!
At that moment, she realised that all she could do was hum. But the humming was not audible to anyone. She tried to hum as loudly as possible but the sound just stuck to the sides of her throat releasing only a low tone in the background of all the noise and din. She felt that she just could not attract any attention of the people looking at the mirror. They did not look at it but at the image beyond it. They seemed to be seeing themselves in her.
Sabina thought to stop struggling and just focus on her breathing. With this thought, all became silent and peace descended on her as a natural byproduct.
At that moment she felt it was now or never! She hummed with all her strength.
Her father looked in her direction a little unsurely before looking away for picking up his shaving box and the mirror.
Her elder brother and sister looked at her and mockingly smiled, as if it was no big deal being a part of a mirror and that it was normal to be stuck and not be able to be reached out by anybody or rescued. Sabina’s mother stopped in her tracks and turned back towards her slowly.
Sabina hummed with renewed vigour…constantly. She realised that she could not raise the volume of her humming but if it was constant….persistant, it would definitely attract attention and possible help.
A little while later, her mother held her by her shoulders and pulled her towards herself.
Sabina woke up… sweating profusely… her heart beating hard against her chest. “I …I was stuck…like…some kind of sleep paralysis…” she blabbered.
“ You were humming in a strange guttural sound in your sleep.”
Sabina just nodded slowly.
“What happened?...a nightmare?…I keep telling you not to read those scary stories…go sleep on your bed!…you slept off on the armchair. Here’s your book… ‘the mirror’s magic’…must be a scary one for you to get nightmares like this…”
Sabina looked around her and felt gratitude like a thick warm blanket on a cold night.
She thankfully realised she had all she needed to grow, learn and manifest. Nothing was lacking in this moment. All her needs were taken care of. She already had it all! Her parents did not need not to buy a big expensive home or a full length mirror.
Sabina looked at the new mirror and thought it smiled at her.
She smiled and murmured, ‘Tat tvam asi’.