Escaping The Mirror by Farah Ghuznavi
Reviewed by Nidhi Arora
‘Escaping the mirror’ by Farah Ghuznavi is a story about a seven-year-old girl, Dia, who is accosted repeatedly by a young man employed by her family. This man, Minhas, is her father’s driver. A friendship that appears innocent at first, turns ugly as Minhas begins to make inappropriate advances. When Dia protests, he threatens to tell her family, who he claims will believe him over her. The seven-year-old girl does not find this difficult to accept. On the rare occasions when she does muster the courage to tell her parents, they fail to understand or believe her. This, more than Minhas’s fearless stalking, lies at the heart of the story.
Her parents are righteous and pious and treat their servants well. When little Dia tells them in her seven-year-old vocabulary that she doesn’t like the way Minhas looks at her, they make light of it. Instead, they pull her up for not liking him because he is a servant. Is it blind trust, naivety or plain burying their head in sand for an issue too uncomfortable to acknowledge? Whatever it is, Minhas knows it and feeds on it.
With no one to talk to, Dia comes to believe that this is happening to her because she is indeed a ‘bad person’. Left on her own to defend herself against this menace lurking everywhere in her house, she develops her own tactics. She becomes physically alert, looking over her shoulder to make sure he is not around, avoids playing in places where he might have access to her. The once exuberant girl becomes quiet and introverted. Again, no one notices, let alone trying to find out why.
Over time Minhas gives up stalking her actively, but continues to stare at her from the rear-view mirror. Dia is unable to escape his stares in the confines of the car. That Minhas does not physically abuse her and eventually goes away from her life comes as little relief.
Years later, there comes a moment when Dia tells her father what happened and he finally understands. As the realisation dawns on him, he holds his head in hands.
The very little that is said about the mother throughout the story, speaks volumes about her role in her daughter’s life. It is also, perhaps, a broader comment on women’s failure to stand up for each other in matters of personal dignity and shame.
The story is told in a simple and direct style, which helps to deliver this distressing account of a young girl’s loss of childhood and innocence in its full impact. We are not told where and when this happens, which is just as well, because it is a universal story. In light of the recent #MeToo revelations, it is a powerful reminder that abuse is often very close at home and that the loneliness of the ordeal is sometimes more painful than the ordeal itself.
Reviewer Nidhi Arora’s ‘It Is in The Eyes’ appeared in Out of Print’s September 2018 edition.