Sunday 17 February 2019

“Books are the mirror of the soul”

 There are few things in life which can tell one about oneself as convincingly as books, if only one knows how to read correctly. When I read a book, I read more than the letters and the plots, I read a lot more about me. As I read, the words come together and form a narrative closely linked with the reality I was wishing to escape from or trying to grasp a clearer hold of. My apprehensions about my career, my fear of ending up doing nothing of value joins some hostess’s anxiety of being reduced to an organiser of an evening full of futile entertainment. Maybe she wanted to be more than a hostess, maybe she chose the flowers herself because that’s the only thing she can seek appreciation through. She wants to be more than that but how could she ever be, so she’ll be the best in what she can be. This is my review of a book I liked more than I understood. But my Mrs Dalloway is so different from the next reader that I should doubt my understanding. And I would. Had I not understood that what I see is what I wish to see. Woolf could’ve whispered in my ear that Dalloway can never be touched by my everyday anxieties and I still wouldn’t separate them. Because what’s a character that cannot tell me what I am and what I’m not? And what’s a book that doesn’t show me myself.
But do books show or tell? Or maybe Woolf is right in that books reflect, somewhat like mirrors. Mirrors are some of the most fascinating things for a child. The first sight of their own reflection is an absurd image because it moves with them, its eyes seem to be staring into the soul. The realisation slowly sets in that this image isn’t a trick of the mind but our own self. And we finally perceive what we are and how we’re seen by everyone around but us. This must be the strangest power an entity can hold – making us see our own possession. I believe books hold the same power. Like a fascinated child, we explore the lines and look for things to make sense of the absurdity someone once wrote down. Authors and their intentions stop holding meaning beyond an extent as these carefully constructed worlds are handed off to a reader who comes in either with naïve notions or high headed expectations. For people like me, reading books is usually a scavenger hunt because we locate the pieces that can fit together for our strangely preconceived interpretations to fall into place. I wonder how I know how to create this coherent meaning suitable to my worldview. Maybe Woolf is again right in pointing that the origin and source of these interpretations lie within one’s soul. Where else would that empathy come from which I felt for Lawrence’s Mrs Morel even when she suffocated her son with adulation. The never-ending battle between mother and son was inevitable but had no wrong sides for me. Sons and Lovers, for me, became the first book which showed humanity in its rawness. All characters were shades of grey and understandably so. For someone who resists absolutes and binaries with all their might, complexity is the ultimate refuge and books about Dalloways and Morels offer me just that.
But if books reflect then reflections are never perceived in the same way by two people. You may look at your face in the mirror and get fixated on that spot of skin which is still blotched from that time when you had carelessly popped the zits on your face. While your mother could stand behind you, look at the same reflection and see a child who grew up too soon to start worrying about zits. Books too are subject to similar inconsistencies of perception. There are times you can’t make yourself see what others are seeing, making you a part of unpopular opinion holders. The Kite Runner was a similar experience for me. I didn’t appreciate the book as intensely as those who suggested it to me. The book ended up teaching me that I’m a stickler for rawness and authenticity. The series of coincidences kept reminding me about the impracticality of the situations and prevented the book from becoming a favourite as I’d hoped it would be.
Just as one’s mirror image is flipped yet rooted in reality, I realise that this matter of the soul cannot always be beyond the expectations of one’s realism. But the soul isn’t ruled by the mind alone, the heart is equally compelling. And this is why books seem to exist in a plane where the yardsticks of realistic and unrealistic lose conventional meaning. Whatever hits home is realistic and whatever doesn’t fit into one’s pursuit of pleasure from reading is rejected. Books are the mirrors that reflect our souls both explicitly and from between the lines. The latter is deemed difficult, but what eludes us the most is reading what lies at the forefront. But once we learn to grasp the reflections from those pages, we end up with a knowledge which is at times inconceivable but always invaluable.

 - Asna Jamal
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