Children

Magdu and her mirror

Magdu had a question for her mirror. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, am I beautiful at all?”

The mirror stared back at her; silent, nervous, glum.

That morning at her school (Saligao Scholars), Miss Ezilda had announced that she would soon select children for this year’s play: The Beautiful Princess of Hearts. Magdu longed to be the Beautiful Princess.

But what did one actually need, to be ‘beautiful?’ She should first make sure…

Grandma was oiling her silvery hair on their balcao (porch in many Goan houses).

“Grandma, what’s ‘beautiful’?”

“O-ho, Magdu, all your questions … Hair that’s long. Thick. Shiny!”

Dressing her tresses

Magdu spotted a broom in a corner. She pulled out and tied a bunch of gleaming bristles to her hair. Ufff! Her head felt heavy.

But what if Grandma were wrong? Mama was busy at her sewing machine, singing “I’ve got a brand-new dress, I’m gonna look my best.”

“Mama, what’s beautiful?”

“Hair!” (Phew.)

“Short, bouncy hair!” declared her mother. Uh-oh!

So to be safe, Magdu cut a few bristles on her head in half. They stuck out at odd angles, the rest trailing behind.

“Beautiful, I’ve found… is small, cuddly, round,” crooned Mama.

Round? Was she round enough? She spied a bowl of mangoes. Magdu stuffed them down her belly till they filled her out. Now she had a squishy mango-ringed tummy. Ooh! They felt cold. And her tummy felt as heavy as her head. Was this beautiful enough?

Ramu had come to help his father bring down coconuts from the trees in their garden. He’d been watching, puzzled.

“Tcha. You can’t fool the mirror,” he said. What did he know?

“Ey Kaku,” she called out to Ramu’s father whose legs were hugging the tree trunk, “What’s beautiful?”

“Strong and slender!”

Oops. Round or slender? Unsure, she removed half the mangoes. Some were beginning to ooze. Yuck.

“Add colours,” advised Ramu. “Bright-bright colours.”

Magdu and her mirror

From Mama’s cupboard tumbled out pattern books and thread, buttons and ribbons. Magdu twisted ribbons down her bristly hair. Orange. Purple. Red. They tickled! One last check …

Papa was trimming his moustache. “Papa, what’s beautiful?”

“Dark and dashing.” Uhhh-Ohhh! Colourful or dark? Couldn’t people make up their minds? She kept on the ribbons, but darkened her face with Mama’s kohl stick. Her cheeks itched.

“Tall and dark, you can make your mark,” said Papa to his reflection.

Tall? Hadn’t Mama said small? Confused, Magdu clambered onto her mother’s high-heels. Ow! Her head, stomach and heels hurt…but she felt ready to ask her question.

What did she see?

She stumbled back to her room, calling “Mirror, mirror…” Then she came face to face with her bristly-feathery-mangoey- tottery reflection. “Ha-haa.” She laughed until the tummy-mangoes rolled out and she rolled on the floor with them.

“Look,” said Ramu, picking up ribbons to make a cockerel’s comb and tail. “Kukudukoooo.”

“My turn,” said Magdu, holding up a mango-nose and making her ‘funny face’. “I’m a clown.”

Coconuts and ribbons, bristles and buttons... a treasure trove of props lay strewn about. Magdu tried them out, spinning around; a new ‘face’ for the mirror with every turn. “I’m a parrot,” she said. “Can you become a pirate?”

What fun! They chuckled and squealed. Everyone came running to see what the commotion was about.

“Magdu, look!” cried Mama pointing to the mirror.

When Magdu looked, and pulled new ‘faces’, she saw she could be whoever she chose to be. Why worry about the play? She — Magdu — could act out any role in style. When everyone else looked at her reflection, here’s what they saw.

The mirror was glowing. It smiled back at Magdu. Sunny, sassy, strong. It was… “Beautiful!” they chorused.


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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 2:55:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/a-short-story-by-nandita-da-cunha-on-beauty-and-acceptance/article37800880.ece

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