Something in me disintegrated when I understood that I had been looking at myself in broken mirrors for a very long time. The awareness did not inspire me; instead, I descended into sorrow for all the misunderstanding that had preceded it. I had seen myself through the projections of others. They held broken mirrors up to me and told me who I was, and I believed them. I had shaped my life in response, over a period of years that I cannot get back. Even when I was aware that I was being deluded, deep deep deep down, I had forgotten how to perceive myself authentically.
A broken mirror may multiply reflections. Metaphorically, this means that it forces us to create simulacra. Here is the self I created to gather the strength to survive. Here is the other self I conjured to camouflage that strength, so that I could conceal the small steps and strides I made towards freedom. Here is the tiny flame of the true self, storm-buffeted, and here is its looming shadow – the fear of true fire. These selves, so useful and so necessary, yet so difficult to discard, even when the time arises.
It is not easy to dispose of mirror shards. They cut the hands that hold them. They pierce the soles that attempt to create distance from them – showing one how far their influence has been strewn. We must seek, and then learn to trust, whole mirrors. In the shadow-work required to do this, I had to confront myself in one of those broken mirrors. Its holders had shown me, in actions and words, that I was a dumping ground for the ugliness they refused to heal in themselves, and a scapegoat onto which to project the same. Because they stood behind the mirror, they did not have to look at who they really are. But I saw myself as who they treated me as. “The trashcan self”, I called her. I felt like her, so much of the time.
One afternoon only recently, I stepped out onto the veranda of a house in the mountains, and saw on the polished wooden floor a broomstick. Beside it was a dustpan full of blossoms. Alstroemerias, pink-plumed and still fresh-stemmed. This too was rubbish, of a kind, cleared from carpets and vases. Beautiful debris. They were no less flowers, just the same.
Shortly before the pandemic began, I became mired in circumstances that diminished the daily quality of my life. Even though I had no idea then how long those circumstances would persist, I crafted myself a mnemonic to lay my eyes on often. “Bloom where you are planted” ran the words beneath the line drawing. I did. But then, uprooting myself to bloom elsewhere became harder than I imagined. When the poster, in a broken frame no less, ceased to speak to or for me, I kept it out of eye level. I noticed it today. I read the words wrong for a split second: “Bloom where you are wanted”. Blossom or broken shard, or both, what will I believe now? Perhaps this will do: that I can begin again.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in April 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.