Terse memories of faded reflections: Slice of Life in Simla of the Sixties
We, too, my elder sister and I, wanted to look beautiful like any other girl of our age. But where was the time, the space and the paraphernalia to adorn yourself in the small houses in the Lower Bazaar of the Sixties!!! And more importantly where was the looking glass, the simplest requirement, to admire our beauty a la Narsiccus, in our small world.
To beautify yourself you need to indulge in yourself and the least you desire is some mirror to gaze your face at and to admire your looks by parting hair this way or that way or making faces and poses.
There were two looking glasses in our home….one in the shaving box of Bauji which he would get out everyday, balance it on its stand, against the Sun rays peeping inside from the small window. And would put it side down, once the job was done, in the box and close the box. The poor looking glass had no luck to reflect the face of pretty damsels….who could ask it….”…who is fairest of them all?”
Though Amma would get it when she sat to adorn herself with her Tikka Bindu but would put it back in Bauji’s shaving box giving us no chance to admire our “beauty”.
There was another looking glass, much bigger in size, hanging from the wall, along with the framed pictures of gods and goddesses. This was hung inclined at 30 degree angle from the wall. This was the common mirror that we, the growing up beautiful girls had to share. But as it was hung in the common shared space so admiring our image was out of question.
Ah….looking back I rue over the fact that we were denied all to those very basic rights that today’s generation takes for granted. I see young and not-so-young females pouting lips and arching eyebrows, sniffing nostrils….all in the name of selfies and that , too, in the smartphones that they, invariably, carry with them….all the time. God bless the mobile companies to install cameras in the smartphones that make you look much prettier and younger than what you are…
But for us, the poor girls, growing up in the Lower Bazaar of the Sixties…. looking glass was a luxury. How would we be envious of a girl who would bring the Pond’s caked powder box in her school bag as it would have a small round mirror towards the inside of the lid. How I wished that Amma would buy the caked powder instead of the big Talcum powder box which she would, sometimes, take in her palms, rub it between them, and put it on her face. The Talcum powder would stick to the layer of Afgaan Snow creme giving her face a made-up look for literally no cost at all. But caked powders were costly as well as delicate and meant for fashionable women.
Coming back to the looking glass …the big one that we had access to was, perhaps, very old and the veneer of shiny material to provide clarity of image had lost its sheen. We would get a general picture of our image but the clarity would be missing. It was, though, a blessing in disguise as the image would be surreal….giving a softness to the faces. We would feel beautiful though the truth of the fact whether we were or not was hidden in the enigmatic layer of the mirror. But suffice for us to have grown up feeling so good about us.
To make up for the lack of big looking mirrors we would walk past the long show windows of the shops on the Mall and would train our eyes for a laterally to view our walking body.
My best choice was the Billiard room windows near the Telegraph office where the heavy and dark drapery on the long and big windows would provide a very clear reflection of ourselves to us….it was the only time that we could critically watch our whole body image. The body hugging shirts, the tightest of tight chooridars would be looked at in the reflection and changes, if any, to be planned. Who cared for the face as for that the mirror in Bauji’s shaving box was sufficient which we would get when Amma would not be home and Bauji would be in his office.
It was much later that we came to know about an important part of female toiletteries…a vanity box. Leaving aside our infatuation for all other Arsenal’s it had to boost image of a female, I was more interested in the small mirror it had on the back side of the lid. But Amma would say that “you get a shingardani only when you get married!” So that was end to all the dreams of owning a mirror!!! And how whole of the neighbourhood went gaga over the first dressing table that came as a dowry with a bride…. Kaku’s bhabhi…..the mirror, however, was most of the time behind a corchetted cover… We wanted so much to open its drawers while sitting on the small stool and have a look at our own image…
Looking back at life in the rear mirror I can laugh full throated at all these memories. I an vouchsafe that despite everything or lack of certain things we had such interesting life. We would ingenuously find a reflecting surface to look at our own self even managed to move window panes at proper angles to look at the clearest possible reflection. Perhaps this was a way of grand forces for preparing us to look back at life and finding every little image, howsoever, hazy it may be with clarity and objectivity. While writing it, my eyes are full of images of my life and my heart is filled with the same excitement and equanimity that I felt more than fifty years ago in Simla of the Sixties…