The body of a woman has never been her own, or so is the belief that the patriarchal enchantment has caused us to believe. Cursing its way out of such enchantment is “The Mirror”, a short story directed by Konkana Sen Sharma in Netflix’s Lust Stories 2.
The story, starring two female protagonists, Tillotama Shome as Isheeta and Amruta Subhash as Seema, creates a collusive blend of moralities, protesting against the hypocrisy of patriarchy while bargaining aggressively with it as it presents a unifying space for women, beyond their class and their caste.
Isheeta is a single working independent woman who lives in a luxurious apartment, puts on glamorous clothing and though economically satisfied, finds herself deeply frustrated with the monotony of her professional life. Seema, on the other hand, is Isheeta's maid who takes care of the house. Wearing a saree, she too is a strong independent woman, whose husband is a watchman in the same apartment, with two daughters whom she sends to school with her earnings. What these women are deprived of by their spaces is sexual fulfilment. And so, the story unfolds with both women discovering gaps in these spaces to find fulfilment of their desires. As Isheeta returns from her office, she finds Seema didi indulging in an act of bodily enjoyment with her husband, Kamal on her bed. Taken aback at first glance, Isheeta finds herself returning daily to view the same act through “the mirror” on her wall, as she touches her body tuned to Seema didi’s moaning. Though in the beginning, we find Isheeta's character breaking down midst an attempt of satisfying herself, we see her orgasm with pleasure as she returns to the view of a “promiscuous” act on her bed.
One of these days, Seema didi finds out that Isheeta has been watching her and her husband while indulging in self-satisfaction. Startled, but gratified, we find Seema putting up a show, feeling sexier, in turn allowing Isheeta to enjoy her guilty pleasure as well. However, on one such day, both women and forced to confront each other. As Isheeta pretends to get disgusted by their actions “nangi padi hui thi”, Seema tells her that she knows that Isheeta has been watching them. Both women shame each other, getting defensive of their activities, one slut shaming the other and one calling the other “gandi aurat” for indulging in masturbation. The confrontational scene puts both women on an equal pedestal, bargaining for power and authority caused by the "modesty code" created by the patriarchal web they find themselves entangled in.
This modesty code finds its origins engraved in history. One of its sources is the Upanishads which claim that the primordial man created the woman out of his own body to fulfil his sexual desires, help him attain immortality, preserve his virility and act as a vessel for his son. Such ancient texts that have existed since the beginning of time, yes, they embrace sexuality, but they limit it to man and his pleasures. And sadly enough, the intricate web these texts and ideas have created, very carefully has socialised generations into believing that the female body has no authority, no individuality, has no needs. The female's sexual needs, thus remain hidden behind veils of modesty and purity.
As a result, we often see, as a girl grows up to become a woman, her space and time boundaries become more restricted. Her bodily growth is analogous to a religious event, and her purity is associated with being a goddess. And so until marriage, with every passing stage, the society takes it upon itself to ensure that the female body's responsibility is passed on from her parents to her husband, but never her own, for her body, is a vessel for seed-bearing and serving the man, helping him achieve “Abhinanda” or knowledge through the climax, which she is a female has no claims over.
Konkana Sen Sharma’s, “The Mirror” transgresses every wall of restrain that years of socialisation have built to stop women of various societal sections from experiencing.
Whether Isheeta can satisfy herself or Seema didi’s vibrant embrace of her sexual desires while allowing herself to be the star of her act, “The Mirror” rebels against all those thoughts which have shamed the women, depriving them of claiming authority and power, describing and fighting for their needs and wants.
Seema who decided to run away with her husband as a teenager, is not shown in vulnerability and weakness, is not shown as a failure for breaking her code of modesty but is shown in a light of strength and power, as a woman who can voice her demands and remains unrestricted by her economic boundaries for she is a dutiful wife, mother and housemaid. Her daughter, whom Seema discovers is “chatting with many boys” though angry, is reminded that she too is a girl with needs, though needed to be kept safe, she must be allowed to experience the liberation that Seema experienced through her journey.
The story ends with both women meeting at a vegetable vendor’s stall, bargaining for vegetables as they discuss what went down between them, acknowledging what they liked, embracing it and thus, going back to working the way they used to, to satisfy their needs, as they continue to bargain with the patriarchy.
The Mirror puts two women who digress the model code and bargain for their authority in spaces they have created for themselves, as they dominate their lives, setting aside their caste and class boundaries that restrain them, finding individuality and embrace in what they want, unifying in their space of digressed sexual needs and showing a mirror to the society, of what it has to get comfortable to see. Konkana Sen Sharma's " The Mirror" is a rebellion against the deprivation and denial of female needs.
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