I thought there were many things I already knew about hostel life, may it be the terrible food we all complain about and bond over, or wardens, the human equivalent of a ‘vadayakshi’ or the size of the rooms or the friends you make or the weird conversations with your roommate post-midnight. It is with these hopes and preconceptions I had walked into the hostel of NIT Trichy earlier this year and, boy oh boy, there were so many things I still needed to learn and understand.
Also Read: Memories Of A Hostel Jeevitham
One of them, quite shockingly, was a discovery that shook me and at the same time seemed so profound, I had to sit back and think about it, let it meditate at the back of my mind before I put it into words.
Walking into my hostel room for the first time and realising there was no mirror in there scared me. The past twenty-two years of my life was defined by the constant presence of myself, a reflection and a shadow who looked back at me when I looked at the silvery surface. Suddenly, it was taken away from me, and I felt lost and suffocated as if I had had a fight with my constant companion.
While my mirrorless existence seemed absurd and rather weird, I found my fingers hesitating over my keypad as I attempted to order a mirror online. I rationalised the decision in the beginning, telling myself that it was only because I didn’t find buying a mirror feasible. Eventually, all I felt was relief at the fact that I didn’t have to look at myself anymore. I liked the version of myself who was not under my constant surveillance.
Here are a few of my thoughts on a few months of living without a mirror.
We are taught to love a mirror
If we were to dig deep behind the story of how a mirror came to be, we’ll have to go back to the tale of the Greek hunter, Narcissus, who spent all his time gazing at a puddle, at the image of himself for the rest of his life. How different are we from Narcissus?
From the time we are born, the mirror becomes an extension of who we are. We see ourselves for the first time in a mirror, make judgements about ourselves and these value judgements and opinions we make slowly become permanent and they become our self-concept. Thus, a mirror, which is clearly a piece of technology takes up an even bigger position in our daily existence.
When the mirror is not around, transformation occurs
Have you ever had that experience where you were in your room, dancing to a random playlist, entirely lost to the world around and then your eyes meet your own image in the mirror? Suddenly, the surroundings reappear, the music fades and for a second, you are so consumed by who you are, there is no turning back.
The idea of a mirror and what we look like in a mirror is romanticised in popular culture and cinema. But the moment you stop encountering a mirror, you become more aware of your presence. You also learn to detach yourself from situations. It is no longer about how you look, how you react and how you act, instead it is about how you participate, how you feel and how you respond.
Mirrors have given us access to various aspects of our own lives. I wonder, how many of these were actually meant to be monitored? Between the silvery surface of a mirror and our eyes, we learn to imagine and view the world through a filtered perspective. Remember the advice you were given when you were seven and wanted to get better at public speaking? Practise in front of a mirror!
Essentially, a mirror makes us self-aware, it does not just show us how we look, but how we want to be and how far away we are from our ideal selves. This self-awareness comes with a heavy price, one which is inevitable. Everything we do, every action you take, every word you speak, every moment you spend with someone else or even yourself is punctuated by this self-awareness, especially to the point where you cannot imagine your own existence without it. However, the moment you stop looking for approval from your reflection, you also stop looking for invisible approval from others. You are no longer the protagonist, just a bystander, watching, learning and doing.
You lose a close friend and it’s really hard
While living without a mirror seems like a fun social experiment to attempt for a few days, not many people make that choice consciously. I was forced into it by the circumstances I live in and it truly is a relief knowing that it is temporary.
Mirrors are often spaces of comfort, when nobody is around, your reflection seems as real as you are. You can speak to it, play with it and manipulate it any way you want to. You can look at a mirror and love everything you see or hate everything as well. You can cry in front of it, laugh at yourself, get angry, be mad or even maniacal. There is only so much judgement a mirror can offer and you already know what is coming. A mirror can be your best friend and worst enemy at the same time and parting from it is a hard experience, almost equal to losing an intimate relationship.
Have you thought about living in a parallel reality where mirrors were never discovered? If not, it is worth a thought, especially because we seem to take it for granted.