When you look at a mirror, do you see only yourself? That’s not true!
Don’t you believe me? In each one’s face, the semblance or looks of some other members of the family definitely are imprinted. While going to sleep you may think of someone and go to sleep. Some ancestor of yours might have folded his legs like you or slept on his stomach like you. Likewise, the bloodline of your family will be very evident in all your mannerisms and habits like your eating habits, your laughter, your anger, your talk and so on. Especially in case of girls, they resemble their mothers and sisters so much, when they are happy or angry.
No face is individualistic. It has the semblance of some other face. You may not know whose face it resembles with. Have you experienced travelling back to your past when, at some get-together, somebody says your eyes look exactly like those of your grandfather?
In one of Anton Chekov’s stories, a lady always holds a small ornamental mirror in her hand. Even while sleeping, she keeps the mirror under her pillow. She does not permit anybody else to look at that mirror. As she grows older, she keeps staring at the mirror engrossed in some thoughts. Her hair greys and she falls sick and gets bed ridden. Even then the mirror is always in her clasp. One day she dies in her sleep.
One of the maids of the house always had a secret desire to look at that round mirror at least once. She is shocked when she takes the mirror from the bed and looks at her reflection, because the mirror is a special kind of mirror that always reflects the youthful face of the bearer, irrespective of her age. She shows the wonder mirror to her master. He also sees only his youthful face in it. He is shocked and pained when he realises that his wife had always been looking at her youthful face only.
Though this story was written hundreds of years ago, it reflects the desire buried deep in our hearts even today.
We recollect so many known faces, as we pass by strange faces. Even some Gods resemble known faces. I found the resemblance of the tailor Ansari, who lived on our lane, on Tippu Sultan’s face! The thick side-burns of Beethoven remind me of my P.T. Master Keshavan. Isn’t it interesting that we are reminded of one face through one other face? Faces, which do not remind us of anything, are easily forgotten.
A few weeks ago, I was travelling to Madurai by train. The chap who was sitting opposite to me kept staring at me right from the beginning of the journey. His wife and a school going daughter accompanied him. I could read from his eyes that he wanted to say something to me. Normally travel friendships are short-lived with restricted exchange of insipid facts. I was not greatly interested in such friendships.
I started reading ‘The Stone Raft’ of the Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, who was totally a stranger to my co-passenger! As we neared Chenglepet, he asked me, “do you want coffee’, with a smile. I said, ‘No, thanks’ and he got off the train and kept staring at me through the window. He said something to his wife, pointing at me. The train started moving and gaining speed. As I kept aside my book and took out a biscuit packet, he said,
“Is that scar over your left eye lid due to an injury?”
“Yes”, I said hesitantly.
Immediately he started relating, “Wasn’t this due to a stone thrown at you? Wasn’t it around 20 years ago? Didn’t that happen during one afternoon while you were playing?”
I was stunned to hear a person relating an event that happened in my 12th year so much in detail. Did the guy know astrology or Samudrika Lakshan? How is he relating all this so correctly? As I kept gaping at him in awe, he smiled at me and said, “Do you remember Ravi who threw that stone at you and ran away? I am the same Ravi.”
He had many more surprises in store for me.
I could not recollect his face. I remembered how while playing football with friends at my grandmother’s village, where I had gone for a vacation, we had a small tiff and one of the guys picked up a small stone lying nearby, threw it at me and ran away. Blood gushed out of my eyes, flowed along my cheeks and neck and I fell unconscious. He ran out of the playground. I was taken to a nursing home nearby and I had four sutures. I came to know that the boy who did that was Ravi, who too had come to the village on a holiday from Chennai. After my wound healed up, I kept prying around his house to avenge but he had left for Chennai the very next day of the incident.
I was surprised to see Ravi after so many years, when I could not recollect even a bit of his face. I just had a vague figure of a boy in Kaki trousers and yellow T-shirt as Ravi, in my memory box. The person now in front of me was well dressed, with receding hairline, fat cheeks and short stature.
Why did a person who had hurt me, want to talk to me after so many years? I looked at him queerly. He introduced me to his wife and daughter.
“It was I who threw a stone at him”.
They looked at me in daze. Ravi’s daughter enquired with a surprise, “Was he studying with you dad?”
“No dear. While playing, your dad threw a stone at him”.
I kept observing his smile. He had never forgotten me. He remembers me even after this many years. Even today my face, as it was while I was a school boy has been imprinted in his memory. He may be preserving my young face without any corrosion, in his memory for a long time to come. He gave me his visiting card and invited me home very affectionately. I did not know what sort of relationship to build with him. Isn’t he my enemy? Wasn’t I keen on avenging him for so long? The insults and wounds that we experience in our childhood do not get healed very easily. Nevertheless, the person in front of me is talking so sweetly and affectionately. Then how do I respond? He asked hesitantly, “Can I feel the scar with my hands?”
I nodded my head. He moved his fingers on my scar very soothingly and enquired, “looks like it was quite a deep wound. Wasn’t it? Did it pain a lot? Did you bleed a lot?”
I was astonished. Why did he desire to touch the scar? Why did he not look straight into my eyes, as he felt my scar? What difference does it make if he feels my scar and understands the depth of my old wound? He was enquiring so much in detail as if I was hurt just a minute ago. I did not reply. He removed his hand and said, “Sorry guy”.
He looked strange to me. He has never come out of his childhood. The memory of that bloody afternoon, his escape from the scene and the admonishment that he got at home were all fresh without even a single frill, in his mind. He wants to square up a difference that he had with my childhood. Thus he is seeking my pardon after so many years. His wife peeled an orange and handed it over to him. He offered me a portion of it and said, “Erase the bitter memory from your mind. Let’s be friends.”
I started eating the orange. We seemed like school kids who make up after a fight and I started chatting with his daughter, who was looking at us. He kept talking about his job, family, designation and so many other things. He shook hands with me before he went to bed.
I lay on my bed feeling my scar. I realised one fact. Ravi was hiding within my wound. Which means someone is hiding in each of the wounds that we have on our body. When we feel the scars even after years, do we relate to the people who caused those wounds? Then, is not our body wholly ours?
My mind kept revolving around insults, wounds and scars.
I recollected a girl who studied with me in the college. She always held a handkerchief with flowers printed on it. Every two minutes, she would wipe her upper lip with it. There was a line like scar on her upper lip. While talking to people, she would suddenly leave the scene midway, as though out of shock. I have seen her sitting alone in an empty classroom on many days.
One day, I casually asked her, “Why do you often stop conversing with a shock?”
She replied with hesitation, “I used to laugh for everything in my childhood. My mother did not like that. One day she heated a spoon and branded me, in her anger. So, I have a scar on my lip. Since then, I stopped laughing because I feel the scar will look big, if I laugh. Whenever I talk with people, I always have this fear that they might observe my scar. Hence, I end the conversation abruptly.”
The scar on her lip did not look big. Even then it stopped her from laughing, like a fresh wound. She would continue to cover her lip with a printed handkerchief throughout her life.
My scar reminded me of her scar.
Ravi would have been observing any person with a scar like mine, thinking that it might be me. Is a scar so strong? It was astonishing!
My grandmother used to tell me that one could see God’s trace in the face of a sleeping infant. I have seen a sleeping kid. It looks peaceful. Even in the sleep there is a smile on the kid’s face. Thus peace and permanent smile make God! Don’t they?
I do not know whom I resemble when I am asleep. I would want to see myself sleeping. Is that possible?
Translated by Sudha Narasimachar
From the book Thunai Ezhuthu