The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 3, 2002

Holding a mirror to life
Jaswant Kaur

One Last Mirror
A novel by Andrew Harvey. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 160. Rs 200.

One Last Mirror"HOME is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in", said Robert Frost in The Death of the Hired Man.

But what if ‘they’ do not take you in? And what if ‘they’ blame you for their sad state of affairs? Will you be able to live in peace? Is that home really a home? No, certainly not.

Home — initially, the place most yeared for — turns into hell. It becomes a place where your past chases you relentlessly where, you feel alone despite the presence of those who are your very own.

First published in 1985, One Last Mirror, is Andrew Harvey’s debut novel. It is the story of a 70-year-old Sri Lankan woman, Savitri — Savi in short — who, for her own selfish interests, neglects her family and ignores the wise advise of her mother.

"My mother", she says "wanted me to be wise.... Why should I be? Why should I end up bare and holy like my mother, patronised, suffering from everyone around her the rage imperfection feels for perfection?"


Unfortunately, what she terms bliss proves to be a mere sham. She has all the comforts of life and is one of the respected lot. So much so, no wedding or funeral is complete without her. Yet she is alone.

She hates her husband, Ranil, because he is a homosexual. She tries to hurt him in every possible manner and refuses to sleep with him. Sometimes, she leaves the house in the middle of the night. It all ends when Ranil, frustrated as he is, kills himself.

Her daughters, Prema, Savitri, Padma and Mary, do not like her. They long to punish her but cannot disown her. For, she is their only hope of love.

Disturbed, she looks back and often talks to her dead, her mother, father and even Ranil, to comfort himself. But more and more she withdraws into herself. All she wants is death which can bring an end to her agony.

Yet, in her heart of hearts, she longs for true love, "selfless love", which she finds in David, an Englishman who arrives at her home on the invitation of Padma’s friend, Helen.

At 25, David is as disturbed as Savi is, though a bit differently. Those he loved never loved him and those he admired used him in ways that suited them. As for those who loved him, he could not make them happy. Pain, fear and loneliness brings him to Colombo to seek solace in Buddhist philosophy.

Initially reluctant, Savi tries to avoid him but soon develops a liking for him. And here starts the process of introspection and search for truth, truth they had avoided for years. Through their dialogues, they come to terms with their pain and suffering, opening new vistas for themselves.

While David leaves for India, Savi tries to build a new relationship with her daughters. Never before had she felt so light, as light as "dust and air", as she remarks. The home she had once dreamt of becomes a reality.

David never returns but he is present in everything she loves. "You (David) had gone", she says "and gone forever, but you left me a presence as luminous as your absence was dark and final".

Andrew Harvey has presented, in this riveting novel, a microcosm of the world today, a world where people thrive for their own petty interests, unaware of the consequences that may follow. And once they realise the futility of their life, they run away from the truth — the last mirror — they are uncomfortable with.

Peace, however, lies in this last mirror, in accepting the truth, howsoever hearsh it may be, and mending your ways, if not changing them.