Mirrors and Windows

 

 

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Image courtesy : lovethispic.com

Mirrors are highly polished surfaces that reflect the sight of its viewer. A mirror shows what it sees; it cannot show beyond that or create something that doesn’t exist in its view-focus. This is the limitation that exists in the mirror. When one stands in front of it to see themselves, a mirror not only reflects what one sees but also one’s perception of oneself. This part is a trick played by the mind. The reflection is a reflection of one’s self assertion.

There has been a history of fascination with these shiny surfaces; people hoping to know more than what the mirror reveals. A popular Indian superstition believes that a mirror must not be broken. If it is, one faces bad luck. Consider the hypothesis that a mirror reflects what we think and breaking that is the equivalent of breaking away from what we know to embrace the world of possibilities. This comes in the wake of uncertainty, unreliability and breaking away from the norm. We are free to choose what we wish to believe. The superstition is making light of this, telling us that we should conform to the ideas that were conditioned into us by society rather than embrace a life freed from the shackles of convention.
Consider Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where the mirror is a metaphor for the Queen’s inferiority complex that she masks with pseudo superiority. In these tales, mirrors are cautionary- to be consulted not indulged in. It makes one wonder if they stood for something more- like the limitations we set ourselves without our own knowledge.

Folklore has been one of the most advanced tools of communicating wisdom by word of mouth. There is a popular story about Buddha during his time as Prince Siddhartha. His palace had a large polished window that was covered with a curtain on the outside- an effort by his father to never let his son see the real world. This window acted as a mirror, reflecting the opulence and grandeur of his home; an extension of his luxurious life. One stormy afternoon, the curtain fluttered widely, revealing a frame of what the outside world looked like. Astounded, the Prince stood in front of the mirror, waiting for the curtain to flicker again. He demanded the curtains to be pulled down after the storm and was shocked by the view that was in store for him. It took a storm for him to realize that there was a world outside his own.  He was amazed by reality, the muddy city beneath him in all its greatness and grime. The storm turned a mirror into a window.I wager that the storm is a metaphor for a learning experience, an education.  The word education takes its roots in the latin word ēdūcō which means ‘I raise, I lead’. Its roots are entrenched in the meaning of self-betterment; something that makes us take charge. And to this day, that meaning holds true. Any experience that broadens our worldview is an education; an understanding that instills humanity in us is an education.

A window is a way to see the world from where we stand. It is crystallized sand that stands between us and what we observe. But a window, unlike a mirror goes on and on. It shows as far as the eyes can see. The more you crane your neck, the more you see. And what you see is what you get; the window is a view into the world, our immediate surroundings. When one draws open the curtains and sees what the window has in store, they are never sure of what they see, because the window presents the reality. And reality is unpredictable. In all these ways, the window behaves in all manners that fairy tale writers wanted a mirror to act and believers of superstition wanted a mirror to not- as a means to go beyond what we know and into the realm of possibilities.

Education is like the wave of the magicians wand that takes the shimmer off the looking glass and turns it into a glass that looks upon the world. When we stand between two mirrors we see an infinite number of reflections of ourselves. Similarly, when we are caught up in our own lives, we are stuck in an infinite loop of our own limitations. We can take a dash of reality and humility as tools that impart education about life. Using that to scrub away the polish on the mirror, we are left with two windows that show us the two realities of our world. On one side are abundance, joy and light. The other side is pain, suffering, and darkness. And our own position is in the middle of them both, sometimes drawing in the light and sometimes enveloped in darkness.

 

This essay was written as a commentary on the quote

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

– Sydney J. Harris

MYSTERY AND MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY

Spoilers ahead, but the movie came out in 1993, so I don’t know if ‘spoilers’ really works in context.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is the mystery movie you want to re-watch when it’s raining outside and you have a filter coffee. It’s the movie to re-watch when you buy a new velvet bathrobe and want to lounge in it, feeling fancy. This is mostly because of the soundtrack; you have some Reinhardt and Brubeck set against stunning long-shots of Manhattan.

The movie uses the idea of mystery very cleverly, which is why I love it. On the surface you have the Carol and Larry Lipton (Diane Keaton and Woody Allen respectively), who have stumbled across a (possible) murder right across their hallway. But the movie progresses to parody murder mysteries while celebrating them at the same time. You have all these strata of discernibility, and get to pick which works for you.

There’s Carol, who is the kind of person every ‘Five find-outers and the dog’ fan will grow up to be. She sees a mystery and relentlessly pursues it. She hides under the bed when the (possible) murderer returns, only to leave her reading glasses there. Larry is constantly neurotic about it giving us alternative narratives to the murder mystery and lampooning the plausibility of it in the first place.

If this hasn’t charmed you into wearing pearls yet, the movie proceeds to make the viewer feel like they are spying on the Lipton couple spying on their neighbours. We constantly see the proceedings of their armature snooping by seeing the reflection of their actions in mirrors, rather than the action itself. When they follow someone, the camera follows them at a distance, straining at every turn to keep them in view, like we are following them at a distance. Especially during the first viewing, we’re novice detectives ourselves, critiquing every move of Carol and her ally Ted (Alan Alda).

The mysteries in MMM cannot be spoken about without mentioning the climax, where Larry Lipton has confronted (confirmed) murderer Paul House (Jerry Adler). Paul has kidnapped Carol after being made to believe these two rookies have evidence of his crime. Larry comes to free Carol and this leads to a scene where Paul is attempting to shoot Larry, at the back of his dilapidated movie theatre. Here are stacked ornate mirrors, reflecting images onto one another. The old theatre is playing the iconic final scene of The Lady from Shanghai, and the events occur in parallel to what happens in that movie. We are given a glimpse into this madness feeling like we are being persecuted as well, the mirrors reflect multiple images of Paul pointing a gun towards incoming sound (which points to the screen, obviously).

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MMM plays around with the nature of mysteries but the best of all are its use of comedy in mystery. Witty dialogue and acting aside, the mystery in itself is amusing; its premise, the conventional nature of the main characters and the fact that total common folk are committing and cracking this case, and the way they go about it makes for a very engaging mystery.

THE HUMAN IN NEELAMBARI

Nellambari is the iconic antagonist in the hit film, Padayappa (2001). She was a childhood fascination of mine, heartless and determined, with some barely –there moments of humanity. I was drawn to her determination; she spends eighteen years of her life in a room, watching the wedding video of the man she couldn’t ‘have’ (who is the ‘hero’ Padayappa). There is something admirable in someone so resolute, someone who knows what exactly they want and will stop at nothing to attain it. Ramya Krishna, who plays the role of Neelambari has done a fantastic job. This begs the question, how does one understand a character that bears a closer resemblance to a bunch of characteristics than to a fully developed character? She is all evil and still believable. She tells people not to soil her feet by crying near it, stomps on flowers she couldn’t own, asks her nephew to pretend to fall in love with a girl to set her up to public humiliation, tries to poison someone, and even tries to agitate a bull into gorging a woman to death. The one time she questions the motive behind why her brother left the woman he loved to marry another, it becomes about how the brother is selfish because he did not think of her (for some context, the woman the brother loved is Padayapaa’s sister. By cheating the sister, he’s reduced Neelambari’s chances of marrying Padayappa). She exhibits some feminist ideology right after, by chiding the girl her brother married, saying its girls like her who don’t express their wants but adhere to the demands of others, which make it hard for girls everywhere.

None of this is to say Neelambari is a caricature. Quite the contrary, she comes across as an acutely real person, who’s deeply self-aware and exists as a testament to self- acceptance.  This contradiction between who she is on paper (that is to say not believable) and who she is on screen is that the on screen person is real. Padayappa is essentially a commercial venture and Neelambari’s character exists to highlight everything Padayappa is not. But Ramya Krishna exceeds this requirement and thus creates the human in Neelambari.
She always wears an expression of indifference, and modulates her voice to convey the barely concealed haughtiness. Her smile bears a steely determination and unadulterated evil. These nuances aside, the acting itself is very convincing and inundated with familiarity. You feel you know a Neelambari, sometimes it feels like you are a Neelambari.

There is also some scope in the storyline for this, Neelambari’s parents and brother who spoilt her with no limitations, she’s rich and entitled in an agrarian proletariat surrounding, essentially privileged without accountability.

Neelambari is not both good and bad, she’s pure evil. But by juxta positioning that with her idea of love, she’s pure evil and her (idea of) love/hate for Padayappa motivates her.  With superhuman determination and rancor, she is unbridled in expressing what she wants and feels.  She is human because she is whom a person would be, were they ‘all bad’. If this were to be explained mathematically, under ideal conditions (all good or all bad) Neelambari would be one hundred percent human.