Today is not a death anniversary neither is it a special occasion but I remember you so strongly that I couldn’t contain the urge to write about you. This is not the first time that I have thought of you neither is this the strongest I have missed you but every other time whenever I had thought of writing about you it wasn’t easy and I couldn’t get through with it.. but today is different..
There is this image that ve been coming across a lot lately.. in magazines, in a blog and also at a writers festival. Its not an unusual one or a rare one- intact Im quite sure that many of you would have come across this image somewhere sometime. This image is of a cat looking into the a mirror and what does he see? Yes his own reflection but the reflection is not that of a cat but of a lion.. big and strong and domineering peering right back at this fluffy little twitchy cat..
The message of this image is very simple.. it talks about self image and how we see ourselves.. someone who is confident and sure of themselves will see a confident and a out of proportion image whilst others who are unsure or low in self esteem either see themselves downgraded or merely many a times don’t see themselves at all… what they tend to see are their flaws and shortcomings. The message is very powerful and definitely one that sticks. It has been used time and again in motivational talks and seminars and workshops to build self confidence and self esteem. The challenge however lies in the journey of creating this self image because its not an easy one and definitely not one that is similar for people..
Moving a tad bit away from the image.. I started wondering about the mirror. The concept of a mirror and its many forms have been used in stories through generations… The classic one is the Mirror in the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where the Queen looks into the mirror and asks..”Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror replies Snow white! and thats when all the drama begins.. The thought behind this is quite simply that a reflection is not always enough till its proclaimed and acknowledged here by the mirror and in life by others…
The other story that involved a mirror was in Harry Potter.. this was the Mirror of Erised which showed the person his or her deepest desire. If you remember the story you would remember that Ron saw that he was Head Boy and Quidditch Captain finally getting all the attention and respect he missed in reality and Harry saw his parents, the only thing he only ever wanted.. Dumbledore take this mirror away as he felt that “it does not do to dwell on dreams Harry!” Interesting “Erised” is “Desire” spelt backwards! I found this rather interesting and thought provoking because we have always been told to dream.. from the time we were children we are told to have dreams and wishes and through life some of them come true and others never do.. Also we are told that we must work for our dreams.. they don’t just happen! and I think thats the truth of it all.. when we look into the mirror of desire it tells us the destination but not the journey.. its upto us to travel the path..
Another story which involved a mirror was in the tale of Beauty and the Beast.. here the Beast was given a magic mirror which was his window ti the outside world and showed him whatever and whomever he wanted to see.. this mirror was given to him by the enchantress who put a curse on him and his palace. This mirror although not as powerful was simply a mirror to reminisce with.. When we really like something or want something we love looking at it over and over again.. Sometimes we may not even want to possess it, its just about the pleasure of seeing it whenever possible.. In the story this mirror helped Beauty get back to the Beast and they lived happily ever after!
Finally the last mirror that I comes to my mind is the mirror we all have.. its basically not magical but yes it has bits of all the other magical mirrors there was.. It shows us our desires, it tells us what we love seeing again and again and finally it does answer”Who’s the fairest of them all” but the answer is not always what we like to hear.
For me personally, Ive had a love hate relationship with my mirror. There are days when I want to shatter it and days when I want to befriend it.. The puzzle is why the reflection keeps changing? The mirror in life shows us our sense of self and identity and esteem. Things that I feel are truly very very important to go through the journey. There is nothing worse than going through life and not liking yourself.. so whatever it takes and however long it takes its important that we find the magic in our mirrors to see ourselves the way we want to.
It had been a fun night so far. Firstly because it was a Saturday night and four friends from four different parts of the world had gotten together to enjoy another crisp Melbourne winter’s evening. We were all university students and had just spent the evening in the city centre watching a light display to celebrate the first day of winter. It was too cold to be outdoors for long so after about an hour we decided to go and have a hot dinner around the heaters. It was a pasta dinner and the conversations and the laughs didn’t stop. We debated about cuisine, science, research, made travel plans and discussed how unfair it was that anything good costed money! All in all a fun evening and four happy young adults walked upto the train station to begin the long haul home.
We had to wait for about 15 min to get our train and we got into a semi crowded compartment and chose a seat to ensure that we all got to sit together. The train was going to stop all stations and we couldnt help but groan about it because that was gonna make the journey a longer one. Anyway it wasnt a crowded train but there was a comfortable buzz of people talking which one mostly doesnt realise untill it has stopped. It was at one such station that the train stopped and a group of 5-6 youngsters got into the train. As soon as they got in, there was a change in the feel around the train. The buzz quientened down and was replaced by loud talking, the thump of a basket ball being bounced and a lot loud laughter. I looked up to see what has caused this stir and thats when I saw this group of people.
In the interest of this blog, I will describe the group that entered the train for I feel that if I reveal what they are commonly called the whole purpose of this writing will be lost. Like I had mentioned, this was a group of five or six young boys and one girl. They must have been between the ages of 15 and 20, not heavy built but tall. They had leather jackets on and boots. The girl has braided and coloured her hair pink and shaved one side of it. One of the guys had a basketball which he insisted on bouncing throughout the ride while the other had music blaring from his igadget. They had tiny curly dense hair. Throughout the journey they talked loudly about a certain video on YouTube made by a black. They used the word black several times in their conversation.
They got off the same stop as we did and walked across the road to the same busstop as we did to catch the bus. About six or seven more of what appeared to be their friends were waiting for them at the bus stop. This group was also dressed in the same fashion but had what I can guess native Australians as well. They got into the bus and made their way towards the back seat. Throughout the ride they were loud and shouting, often saying and doing things that made the passengers turn back.
When my friends and I got off the bus and started walking towards our accomodation, one of my friends said “I wish I could party like that”. I said that, that dint look like partying to me, just out of control behavior. She said they are kids, proabably celebrating that exams are done and that its saturday night!. The other two friends of ours lived in a different accomadation so they said good night and walked their separate direction.
Now that I was alone with my friend and since I new her for a while I felt comfortable discussing with her what I was thinking about. I asked her just one question, what stories have you heard about the people we saw on the train and the bus while you were growing up? She looked at me and said well Ive heard stories about their suffering during the wars and how Nelson Mandela fought for their rights and how they were treated unequally and as slaves. “What stories did you hear?”, she asked me. I said well I have heard the same stories like you but Ive also heard stories about how they can be violent and aggressive as well and that scares me a bit. She said oh! I’m sorry you’ve heard such stories because they make you fear them. Its really unfortunate that even in a multicultural society like ours we hear such stories that make us fear others. I said I agreed with her and it is indeed unfortunate that my story for them is one of fear.
As I walked to my room that night, I couldnt help but wonder why a story of one person who may have behaved a certain way sometime becomes the story of all of his kind and the story of a society. I wondered what stories people had heard of my heritage and whether everytime that they saw me on a train or a bus that was how they would look at me and percieved me? This one story from my friend changed my one story about the people I travelled with that night and if I hadnt heard my friends story, I may have joined the guilty by repeating my own story to many others!
The other day, I came across a video called the danger of a single story. This was a talk given by a storyteller called Chimamamanda Adichie. She spoke about how most of the times we form an opinion or a view about a person, a culture or a place and that view translates into a single story about that person,culture or place. She said that these single stories that we form or gather is dangerous as it is by no means the only story about that person, culture or place but it restricts our views and opinions about them. She gave some personal examples to illustrate her point.
Her first example was the single story of children’s books. It is true that majority of the world grows up reading children’s books by American or British writers and the characters and situations described in these books becomes a single story about what children’s books are and what children in literature do. The reality is that although American and British books are widely read, books by other authors who are from Indian or African or Asian heritage are also present in literature but unfortunately they are not widely known.
Her next example was the single story of her houseboy. She said that since all that she heard about her houseboy was that he was poor, that became his single story and to a certain extent of who is was. Other factors like his interests, his brother’s weaving talents or his families stories were missed.
Adichie gives many more examples throughout her talk about the danger of a single story and as I was listening to this video, I began to think about all the single stories that I believed in or lived with. The single story that I was living with was the story I had started to believe about myself. And to put it generally, the single story about what life should be. It is dangerous to believe in life being a certain way because when reality deviates from that single story, it creates stress, worry, anxierty and in some cases depression and loss of hope. It is indeed unfortunate how I had stopped seeing all the other stories about life because I was fixed on that one single story.
How many of us are living in a world of single stories? The single story of what education must be, of how a marraige must be, of who a partner is, about roles we play in life and most importantly about success and happiness. It is dangerous to turn a blind eye to the other stories and to other possibilities for life is not a single story but a story in progress.
This talk opened my eyes to the other stories of my life and although sometimes I do deviate into my single story, I remind myself that its time to turn the page and write a new one!