The machinations had started when he was very young. At an age when the children at school were learning to live with each other, include others in their games of fancy and upstumbledown, Krishno was crafting a walking stick for himself. There were journeys to be made and they’d be easier with a stick in hand. Such an old soul, he chuckled to himself. He was probably just as old as the wood his stick was made of. Just that the others won’t know it to look at me.
His lack of years and his tiny body surprised him. Happenstance, that his age was coupled to such a slow-moving bead on his life’s abacus, one that moved only as fast as time. It was natural then that his precocity would distance itself further and further from his actual years.
As a child, Krishno had a curious empathy for everyone around him. He would watch people and feel their burdens and wonder at their helplessness. He’d force his way into people’s lives to dissolve their worries and joys into his stomach and carry them away. You didn’t need to voice it for Krishno to know how you felt. His was a keen perspicacity, and the village loved the little big boy. He’s going to be special when he grows up. Maybe he’ll move to the city, and find that the city loves him as much as we do.
The panic began to set in when he was twelve. He had been a middling student at school, but surely that was because the rigours of discipline, of demonstrated reverence to teachers and knowledge, all were pointless exercises in the grand exercise to unleash Krishno’s potential. After all, who in my class knows of the world more than I? And people... I read them like they were yesterday's news. They'll never teach this at school.
It was around then that the adulation began to settle. Younger children were born every year. Some so prodigiously untalented that it rankled with Krishno. What had they done to deserve this equal measure of attention from the villagers? All they were good for was playing in the mud. But Krishno was growing up, and his precocity was gently removed from the pedestal the villagers had placed it on, replaced by a tepid affection and a casual regard for his progress through life.
Something needed to give.
A mela visited the village when Krishno was 13. He snuck into the room of mirrors, reflections of the oddest shapes and sizes. Funny ones and scary ones, depressing ones and some that were revelatory. He walked along the narrow corridor till he came to a small bulb of a room. It was lined with flat mirrors all around, no more those bloated, dwarfed, stretched caricatures. Now it was just him. There’s an impersonality that detaches us from a reflection when we stare at it intently. The form we see is one we’ve accepted. We know the familiar pits and embarrassments, writ large in these reflections. And we forgive ourselves easily, because we’ve learnt how to look when we stare at the glass, how to use the light and distance so that the crooked nose appears straightened, or the thin lips fuller. The ego stops us from stripping ourselves.
That’s how it had worked for Krishno all these years. But then, he'd never had occasion to stand between mirrors, to see himself many times over, each image lighter than the one before. It looked so regal, this multitude of Krishnos, extending to the end of the cosmos in the mirrors. He stepped back to admire himself when, suddenly, he saw another person in the room. The flashing perception in that instant was threatening. His reflex was a sudden recoil. As the image shot up through his eyes and into his brain, he began to break down the threat. He’s my height. I can take him. He looks like he hasn’t seen me here yet..No, he’s seen me now. Fight? Absolutely. Wait…What was that again? Play it back..Where’ve I seen him before…Oh..
Krishno was surprised by this new reflection of himself. It was on a third mirror, the way someone standing off to the side would see him. He looked closely at himself, careful not to lose this new perspective. How did they see him when he wasn’t conscious of them watching, when he wasn’t performing? He saw glimpses of ugliness in this reflection. That stance. Arrogant without reason. His hair, unkempt, and so uncivilized from the side. Who’d take him seriously? …Even the illusions of being special crumbled when he looked at himself this way, when he couldn’t control the impression he was making. This couldn’t go on.. Where was that gem in the coal-dust? What was all this mediocrity doing in the reflection? No, no.. His life would be seen only as he wanted it shown.
....Hunched over Shahadat’s body, pumping his chest, Krishno couldn’t help himself. Brilliant, he whispered in his head. He couldn't bring himself to say it but it bounced around the walls of his skull, vibrating against his inner ear, forming a residue on his tongue that he just had to spit out. He would, all in due course.