Mirrors: Reflection and Realism

The realm of fantasy has a lot of mirrors that contain wonderful worlds on the other side. These worlds are wonderful because in the blank of mirrors, beyond those reflections, only imagination exists; they remain wonderful because the ‘other side’ of mirrors can’t be accessed. Perhaps it because of our familiarity with our own side, which abates our amusement with it, that we always fantasise about these mirror worlds that look the same and yet are ‘the other’.

Reality confirms that such mirrors, containing wonderful worlds, only exist in the realm of fantasy. For a mirror is essentially blank…the blank can’t contain… the blank doesn’t have anything of its own because it is, well, blank. It just reflects everything in its plain exactness. And outside the realm of fantasy, the virtue of mirrors lies not in containing fantastical worlds, but reflecting our own in its exactness and precision.

Of all the well-known painted mirrors, one of the most important in fine arts is a round convex mirror in the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, which owes its immense fame to its precision of detail in reflection.

800px-Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait.jpg

The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait by Jan Van Eyck is a full size portrait of a newlywed couple, holding hands, standing in a room that has a huge round convex mirror on the rear wall. The mirror lies at the heart of this painting despite being in the background; the quality of a convex mirror to converge the size of reflected image while maintaining clear details is what Jan Van Eyck utilises to portray the opposite side of the room. The scene on the opposite side shows two figures just entering the room. The cold expression on the couple’s faces, otherwise unfit for a wedding portrait, can now be explained by the reflected scene as dismay over interruption by visitors. Knowledge of the scene on the opposite side changes our perception of scene on this side.

Turns out, a mirror need not contain an alternate world on the other side to inspire imagination. This mirror and the way Van Eyck used it has inspired a multitude of artists from all times, and had a major influence on artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood four centuries later. This was a group of artists who advocated realism in its extreme detail and precision, and were greatly intrigued by the mirror in the Arnolfini portrait. Mirrors are commonly featured in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, a lot of them painted in the likeness of that of the Arnolfini Portrait. Though mirrors have always been a valued tool in realist art, for the Pre-Raphaelites, mirrors were important not just for their form, but also the subject, meaning and symbolism of what they painted.

William_Holman_Hunt_-_Il_Dolce_far_Niente.jpg

In Il Dolce Far Niente by William Holman Hunt, the eyes of the lady fixedly gaze at the spectator, or the artists for whom she might be modelling. As used in the Arnolfini portrait to show the opposite side, such mirrors have been used by many artists to create double portraits in their paintings—portraying themselves in the very act of painting that painting. A closer look of the mirror on the rear wall in ‘Il Dolce Far Niente’, however, shows no one on the opposite side. Instead of gazing at a spectator, or modelling for the artist painting her, she is found to be just staring into the fireplace. The reflection in the mirror is what, in fact, gives meaning to the painting and makes good its title “the sweet pleasure of doing nothing”.

In another painting by the same artist, ‘The Awakening Conscience’, a couple are captured in the middle of what seems like a light romantic moment. Various objects in their surroundings, along with the lack of a ring on girl’s left hand, make it clear that she lives in an unhappy state of a mistress. Yet the girl looks hopeful and dreamy. A reflection in the mirror behind her, of a green and sunny world on the outside, reveals what she actually fancies—freedom away from this luxurious entrapment, not idle romance that provides for her vain pleasures.

the-awakening-conscience-1853.jpg

Hunt was one of the founding artists of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. These paintings are prime examples of how the Pre-Raphaelite concept of realism was much more extensive than its visual aspect. Here, realism does not mean photo-realistic rendering of what fits in the frame. Their paintings certainly have much more than what can fit in a frame and this realism is rather concerned with presenting the picture in its entirety and exactness—what mirrors are used for.

These mirrors, more than reflecting what we can’t view otherwise, deflect our vision from what is right in front of us, and change our perspective about what we might see so plainly and take for granted. They remind us that there need not be worlds on the other side of mirrors, the world on this side is fascinating enough if looked at from new perspectives; and while fantasising about the inaccessible ‘other side’, we often miss out on reality of our own side.

Written by Eshna Gupta

Painting by Jan Van Eyck

Image Edited by Chetanya Godara

Advertisements

A Delhi-cious Affair

I have always been a worrier, of sorts. I pride myself on being someone who organizes all of her time and work in a manner such that I don’t succumb to the, all too, familiar endless pit of worrying. Except that it didn’t work too efficiently during and after tenth grade. When you’re just a little tenth-grader, eleventh-grade seems like a prolonged bus ride during the span of which, you just happen to be motion-sick. Twelfth-grade is this laborious and knee-wrecking trek you have to take; once you step off the bus –  tired and nauseous. And College? College is scaling a mountain after you have trekked all the way and only to realize that the bus has left – without you.

I arrived in Delhi in July 2017 – fresh out of school, with a giant suitcase (the handle of which fell off the very next day) and a nervous yet excited smile – the feeling of apprehension lurked not-so-subtly about my every step. I had always talked about (i.e. shamelessly preached about, in my writing) stepping out of one’s comfort zone and here I was, literally fifteen hundred kilometers away from my safe haven. I was on a three-year adventure, with little mini-adventures and encounters around every corner of the way.

With little over four months into college and a new city, I had checked off a lot of new firsts on my list: my first bank account and first ATM withdrawal, first time on the metro alone, first time washing my own clothes, amongst other things. Not all of these firsts were restricted to daily activities though; first time watching a live play at the National School of Drama, first time witnessing the grandeur of Durga Puja out on the streets, first time bargaining fiercely at Sarojini market, first time feeling independent sans any terms and conditions. I become a little more confident every day and the feeling felt like no other. For the first time,  I felt like a newbie adult.

All of what I have described is just the paraphernalia that tags along with the whole “College Experience.” In truth, it is actually the full-fledged honours classes, internal assessments and end-semester exams that really seem to crowd my small plate made of Poor Time Management. When you’re a student of the CBSE board, every task in college just becomes twice as hard: getting used to having a 250 word limit for a ten marker question doesn’t fare well academically after twelfth-grade. Moreover, exam time implies greater vulnerability to stress. In the past few years, my parents’ physical presence has manifested itself in the form of moral support. Now, it has been reduced to good vibrations over the phone.

For me, independence was never about escaping my family – nor was it about having more freedom or being able to do things I couldn’t do otherwise – the concept of independence was, and will always be more along the lines of learning how to do things on my own; making my own decisions, discerning between what’s right and wrong without having someone tell me. It’s about setting things right after having made a mistake.

One major upside of me embracing my independence (read: not having my family around) is that I learned how to parent myself – I took care of myself and tried not to let anything harm me, be it physical or psychological; and if it did, I read manuals on how to get past it without a crutch. I constantly reminded myself to drink enough water because, all I saw when I looked at my empty Tupperware bottle was my mother asking , “Beta, how much water did you drink today?” Or when I had already eaten my two-roti meal and I was still craving  rice, I saw my father’s bobble-head in the air exclaiming , “Beta your plate is empty! Have some rice.” I learned how to balance my expenses, how to grocery shop, how to use the GPS better, how to fight peer pressure by myself as opposed to hoping that my mother’s “no” would serve as an excuse to dodge forceful invitations.

I’m halfway through my first year of college, and aside from the few bruises and scrapes I’ve earned on the climb up this mountain, it’s been quite alright. But then again, I’m only in my first year. Is it too much to ask, that you check up on me in a couple of months?

Written by Sukriti Lakhtakia

Feature Image by Joy Malsawhmlui

The Momo Life

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had been a part of an informal, yet essential initiation ceremony. Standing outside the back gate of LSR, I joined the gaggle of first years standing awkwardly in front of the thele-wala bhaiyya. We had been spoilt for choice – pasta in two different sauces, chilli chicken, kathi rolls, chilli potatoes, noodles, manchurian. But, the initiation demanded that we make one choice, a choice as old as time itself. ‘Bhaiyya, one plate momos,’ said the girl standing in front of me. And like sheep, we all followed her lead. ‘I don’t want to have it,’ I told my friend mutinously. Being my usual fastidious self, all I could think of was, whether momos could cause typhoid (one attack of the disease had made me averse to all food being sold on streets). My friend (she is my Pallas Athena, I swear) answered me with a simple question – ‘Are you not human?’

After that I made my peace with the fact that I was eating momos, come rain or hail. Finally, our turn came and we were handed that small cardboard and foil plate. And then we saw them- beautifully wrapped, pristine white and stuffed with goodness, sitting atop fiery red sauce. Not one word more was said, the hypnotic pull of the momos caused our hands to simply reach out for them and stuff them in our faces. There was silence. The kind of silence that follows the magic that food has the power to create. I broke it, my fingers still reaching out for the sauce, ‘Does he stuff these with cocaine or something?’ My wise friend looked at me, annoyed – ‘This is art, genius, not drugs.’

And that, my dear readers, made me think (I am the philosophical, ponderous type) – what really are these momos? A symbol, perhaps, of the Tibetan refugees, who have made Delhi their home, or of India’s North East. But what did the eternal momo mean to Delhi? It hit me, when I was having yet another plate of delicious momos – this time from Brown Sugar, no less. The momo symbolises the quintessential Delhiite – like the beautifully pleated, smooth cover, the Delhiite is immaculate when observed from a distance. But when you get a little closer, you are treated with a remarkably tangy and larger than life character, just like the momo filling. One bite into that soft dough cover and your taste buds are assaulted with a plethora of flavours, difficult to comprehend fully, at times. The momo did not emerge in Delhi, just like most Delhi peeps. But like the people of Delhi, it too now calls Delhi home. And of course, the red chutney – or as I like to call it ‘the Wrath of Achilles’ – is present within every single Delhiite. I am pretty sure dear reader, that this hasn’t escaped your notice. That killer glare and very loud ‘Excuse me?!’ you are treated with when you try to snatch away the last pair of Rs. 100 ripped denims in Sarojini, or the fierce bargaining done by your Delhi friend with the autowallah, are all manifestations of that red chutney. All these features of the momo are actually those aspects of Delhi that make it interesting. The glitzy facade, the wholesome interior and bits of plain old wrath combine to produce a frighteningly beguiling vortex that lures in women and men, quite like the ring of Sauron.

My momo mania has transferred onto my whole family now, and come weekends, plates of these beauties adorn our dining table. Steamed options, boiled ones, wonton soup, rice paper dumplings, wontons with egg wrappers and so on are now all tried and tested in my household. But, it is the momo, the true, thela-wala momo that keeps me going. As college proceeds and all of us go from being confused freshers to being simply confused, we can find time only for one thing – running to the outside thela, or any such shady establishment, for a plate of momos, the source of a teensy bit of joy in our swamped lives. Quite like Delhi, it would seem. Her traffic choked lanes make us want to choke the city itself, but a day away from her and we start missing the glib salespeople of Sarojini and Janpath.

So, if you want to do some deep soul searching, then I suggest go grab a plate of momos.

Written by Visakha Chowdhury

Feature Image by Devika 

UP AND ABOUT AND AROUND DHARAMSHALA-MCLEODGANJ

PEOPLE AND MOTION

1.jpg

#1
The commencement of a journey is something that each person has their own interpretation of; for some it’s the moment they start feeling the gentle goodbyes of their home, while for others it starts the moment they reach the destination, and for others the distance between two places and how it’s traversed is what counts.

2.jpg

#2
After 10 hours of being in the train, the excitement of the trip gets replaced by the need to be on a surface which doesn’t give a lurch every now and then. Also, the need for a hygienic and functional washroom tips the scales of your mood on the duller side. But on the brighter side, the mornings spent in the trains make for the best sunrises as you see the motions of the world come alive in tandem with the motion of the train itself.

PEOPLE IN PLACES

 

3.jpg

#3
Going to a hill station and not visiting its cafes seems almost blasphemous. ‘The Divine Hima’, located in the interior of one of the winding streets of Dharamshala is worth all efforts. It gives you an aesthetic overdose with its warm and inviting interiors decorated with the photos of nature in all its beauty enclosed by wooden walls, ceilings and floorings. The café, along with cookies, cakes and shakes also offers you a heavy dose of melancholy as you go deeper inside to discover a mantelpiece with a fireplace, polaroid shots taken of wilderness and a modest reading space upstairs. All in all, it’s a beautiful place for a soulful retreat.

42.jpg

#4
One of the much-hyped places to visit in Mcleodganj is the “Illiterati Café”. It has its own locational advantages, situated within the long winding chain of hills with clouds tumbling down like waves from the foggy sky. Acclaimed for its theme of a book café, it serves delicious bakery goods while displaying a modest collection of books. The place has a homely aura which accentuates the effect hills have on a person; calmness, serenity and scattered voices of a million inhabitants come together in an overpowering silence that takes over your senses.

5

#5
Continuing with the importance of places which exist in their quiet solitude, one can’t help but contemplate the idea of escape. It revolves around one’s need to find respite when the present circumstances become too overwhelming to find a way out of. One thinks of escape when the edge of the abyss of sleep seems out of reach, when one’s sense of balance fails to adapt to the situation and when one simply becomes sick of monotony. This need makes such places of retreat even more attractive, places that look far removed from the ones which make up your day to day life and bring out the hidden talent of an artist, writer or poet from within. The idea of escape pushes you towards wanderlust and that makes the prospect of existence all the more interesting.

6

#6
It’s almost as if the silence pushes you closer to your own self and allows you the luxury of studying your own reactions and movements, and take on several things to evolve as a person, as your own person. And that is perhaps why the notion of travelling solo is so popular. Sometimes, we forget to grow up while consistently surrendering to the world’s demands of behaving like an adult and trying to wrap it all in layers of lies till the cracks start showing. One often needs to move out from their usual habitats to repair those cracks into a demeanor that is more real.

PEOPLE AND NATURE

7

#7
This picture shows a particular point to the hike where Maggi costed slightly higher than it usually does. Nevertheless, the view of the setting sun and the hills coming alive with the lights of the inhabitants’ houses illuminating the hill like fireflies was worth the toil. On another level this picture highlights the concept of perspectives as well; while some choose to pleasure their naked eyes upon the sprawling beauty, others prefer to capture it through lenses, trying to make it everlasting in their archives, and the others choose to make memories of companionship.

8.jpg

#8 (sketch by- Misha Panduval)
Within people exist so many ways of living and seeing, and all of them end up finding their own place to thrive beneath the same sky and on the same earth. This picture further adds to this description of perspective because there also exist some people who look at beauty with the intention of inspiration. Capturing the wild, uncontained and unending beauty of nature in words and pencil strokes comes with the perils of putting words and labels to your emotions, both of which are simultaneously a creative mind’s challenge as well as motivation.

9.jpg

#9
This picture draws a parallel between the downward descent of people as well as the sun with its blaze of fading light behind them. Everyone fears the night and only few are brave enough to venture into its unbeknownst dwellings. But these long meandering paths lined with rocks and the wilderness of greenery witness the night, its secrets and all that it refuses to part to the light of the day.

10.jpg

#10
Goodbyes are a tricky concept while returning from a vacation or a trip; you aren’t extremely familiar to the place, yet you have had one of the best times of your life there and you are still not ready to get over it. It is the idea of relaxing and removing oneself from the pressing worries that causes makes farewells look so unappealing. So you take back all that you can, from stray flowers to press between fancy diaries, postcards to be kept beneath books, memories from the road trip where the sky changed from purple to pink to orange to the fulfilling friendship formed over the mutual awe expressed over Jasmines growing out of shady groves.

One tries to take back as much of the place as possible, trying to map the distances of heart, mind and roads through pictures, postcards and strokes of a pen, only for the meaning of it all to fade away with time, for such is the tragedy of memories.

Written and Photographed by Ananya Vasishtha

Feature Image by Ananya Vasishtha