The moment I saw him riding on his stead through my village, I fell in love. He was all I ever wanted–tall, handsome and regal, and a just King. I was sure he would love me too. I’m the most beautiful woman the world had ever seen. He had just lost his wife during childbirth. I could see his pain in the lines of his forehead. I wanted to smooth them out so he would be happy again.
That night, I cooked the love potion with all my heart and sent it to him in the food offering the next day. Being the King, he was obliged to accept it, which he did and after the first morsel, he sent me the marriage proposal. I was over the moon, riding the clouds, flying on the wind as I walked down the aisle and up to him where he stood holding a tiny girl in his arms, Snowdrop.
My steps faltered. She’d always be between us, reminding him of his past, never truly letting him move on. But his warm smile fell on me like sunshine. My breath was stuck in my throat. I took our marriage vows in that moment of insanity. Three days later, he woke up changed. The effect of the love potion had vaned. He was remorseful for having forgotten his first wife so soon. He wouldn’t allow me close. He drowned himself in alcohal while I waited in our bedchamber night after night for him to return. I tried creating the potion again, but failed miserably because even I could see, he’d never love me. His heart was too full of one woman to have room for another. A dead woman had bested me.
For years, I played governess to Snowdrop while he spent his days avoiding us. She reminded him of his first love. I reminded him of the failure to remember her. Everywhere I went, I heard whispers that the dead queen couldn’t hold a candle in front of me. That I was the most beautiful woman ever, yet even in her death, she has dwarfed me, forever, in love…
For years, I roamed the unending passages of this castle hiding from the pain of constant rejection, the whispering staff, the lusting courtiers and my own burning desire. He wouldn’t love me and I couldn’t love another. I was always on fire, and it consumed me until I wasn’t.
For years, I tried everything to lure him to me–sympathy, seduction, magic. I kept Snowdrop as far from him as possible, in the servant’s quarters hoping that, without the reminder, he would forget his past. But I received not a single drop of his affection, nor a child, heir to the throne and no future.
Once the king dies, which seems soon enough considering his failing health, the heir to the throne shall be the next male kin, Snowdop’s husband. I have tried to hide her in rags but she grows each day like a carnivorous flower, her alluring beauty trapping the affection of all those around her. Even at seven, the mirror calls her ‘the fairest of all’. Soon enough, princes from kingdoms around the world would line up for her hand. And with that would go my kingdom and my claim to beauty.
I have dealt with being the second-best all my life, but can I live with being a nobody?
Expensive china lay splayed on the floor, broken in tiny pieces. I shiver. It could have been me. Being made of glass, it isn’t a good idea for me to tell the truth. People don’t like truth, especially middle-age women with identity crisis. Unfortunately, like all mirrors, it’s in my nature to reflect the facts, no matter the mental state of my owner. For example, right now, you have something green stuck in between your teeth–Spinach sandwich?
What’s worse, I have been magicked with the ability to see beyond the obvious. If he could get hold of me, Einstein would have used my knowledge to prove his concept of time being the fourth dimension of space (Yes, I can see through all the four dimesions of space. How else would I know about Einstein who will be born 1423 years later?). However, my current mistress for the past twenty-two years uses it for one question alone–any guesses?
Mirror mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest of them all?
Initially, I was excited to serve a woman of unsurpassable beauty. But after answering the same question for the nth time, it got old. So, I started creating short poetry about it, a different one everyday–
Too many out there are pretty, but never saw such a beauty…
None surpass, ohh my lass!
(If you think, this is bad poetry, try writing on the same subject for twenty-two years. Well, you get the drift.)
Even that began to grate on my nerves after a few years.
When she tricked the king into marry her after the passing of his first wife, I had hoped that she would get better things to do, what with being newly wed and a queen. But it seems that being a queen requires constant vigilance on the competition. So, the question became a daily query, almost like standing guard to keep stray dogs out. If you ask me, this whole idea of fairness is rather blown out of proportion to serve the herbs and cosmetics industry, but since she is so big on it, resigning to fate, I began giving a three word answer repeatedly, “You, my lady.” That seemed to satisfy her though.
Today, her step-daughter, Snowdrop, became seven years old. Yes, it is Snowdrop and not Snow White, as some famous storytellers with moving pictures would have you believe.
Snowdrop is named so because she is rather fair looking with skin white as snow, rosy cheeks, red lips and black hair. I think the queen is rather jealous because Snowdrop looks like the first queen. So, it was her birthday and I was deep in thought about how 7-year-olds would ask different questions from 37-year-olds when the queen asked the question again. I’m not sure where the rebellion came from but I dropped the bomb.
“With hair black as raven’s feather,
and skin white as snowfall,
Snowdrop is the fairest of all.”
That’s when the bombarding began. My mistress became the fabled bull in the china shop. As things flew around in the room and several hit the wall right next to me, the dread and excitement surged into me, rendering me immobile (Not that I can go anywhere anyway.). I wondered if I’ll survive today. A distant vision came up–meeting a certain Larry Page at his dorm’s wall, becoming the earth-shattering (or was it ground-breaking?) magic behind some Go-ogle, answering millions of questions each day as millions of faces peer intently at me…I sighed at the sight.
One flying suacer of the bonechina variety can put me out of commission and take away that beautiful future from me. I’d really like to say that I’d keep my trap shut from now on so that I’d have a better chance to stay ‘alive’ for the next sixteen centuries and reach that future. But I know myself. Now that I’m finally seeing some action, I can’t go back to the You-my-lady mode again.
Anyway, you’d think that after finding out that the next generation is ready to take over, she’d ask new questions–What is the best anti-wrinkle cream? How to remove dark shadows from beneath the eyes? What’s the best hair colour? Instead, I am answering the same question thrice a day as she mixes and applies different potions to her face to remove signs of aging…
Today, I woke up to a beautiful sunny day and decided to spend a bit of time lying down in the sun. As a result, I got to see a lot of flying bird underbellies. The Indian crows look Majestic from below, considering their underbelly is all black as compared to their grey upper body. The green pigeon’s green is even more evident from below. A pied myna’s all-white belly takes away all the resemblance from its family.
It also reminded me of perspectives and how things change from the way we look at them. The same person is different in different settings–a corporate stiff-board, a vicious manager, a caring colleague, cheerful friend, a loving parent, a happy neighbour, a demanding spouse, a playful sibling and a loyal child…the same person, looked at from different angles. How many lives do we live in a day?
We are experiencing the weirdest February weather ever. Usually February are sunny and warm enough to chuck the sweater and go around in plain clothes.
But this year, we have the kind of fog that puts early January to shame. In the morning till 11 am, I can’t see the trees across the road. I wash clothes shivering in my double layer of sweaters praying for the sun. Water drips from the wet clothes in the process of hanging them on the roof. I, too, am wet. There is no hope for me getting dry here, so I walk down two floors, head hung in dejection.
Then the Sun shines and hides, shines and hides, and shines and hides. And then, once it is out at 1 pm, the roof is hot enough to turn egg into an omelette. I have to chuck all sweaters and run in the shade downstairs to avoid a heatstroke!
Not sure whether the weather is doing it on purpose. All I can say is, “Haha! Very funny!”
I always thought that birds chirping was rather peaceful, but my pint-sized neighbours were rather raucous today for no apparent reason. At around noon, the countless birds residing in the immediate area were creating enough noise to drown the traffic noise.
I wondered if their parliament was in session, and whether they were discussing budget…
It was as if all my life I had been walking towards that door. Should I let this stupid instinct override my practical brain? Or should I just turn back and keep wondering for the rest of my existence? Because whatever happens, I’ll never be able to forget it.
Usually, I am not like this. I am a straight-headed guy who puts his brain ahead of his heart. That’s the only way I survived after being dumped at an orphanage as soon as I was born. Without parents to wipe my tears and siblings to trust, I had no one to love or care for me. They say you don’t miss what you never had. I disagree.
All my life, I have worked hard to stand up on my feet. And once I could afford it with my own humble means, I have travelled across the country, stopping in places I liked, taking up odd jobs to pay for the stay. Though, not sure why, every time I felt as if something was amiss though I knew not what it was that was missing. And now that I stand in front of this door, my heart knows this is it.
But my brain warns me it is just wishful thinking. I hesitate. Honestly, this is the first time I have stepped here. I just reached the capital city of the state via bus a few hours ago. I was looking at the map for places to stay and see when I saw the name of a small village in the periphery of the city. The name caught my fancy. So, I took the next bus to visit it.
It’s a place of a fairytale—rolling green hills dotted with grazing sheep and cows, a lake with brightly coloured fishes and waterbirds, and small farmhouses. As soon as I got down at the bus stand, the fresh air hit me with full force—my breath hitched. It was surreal. The place was familiar as if I have spent all my life here and I was just returning home. Maybe, I saw it in a movie or one of the calendars in the orphanage’s office, or maybe, in my dreams when I was hoping and praying for a home. A prayer that was never answered…
Wind with a faint whiff of woodsmoke and homecooked meal pulled me on a well-beaten path. It looked familiar, like a childhood memory—there…but not really. The fields on both sides were almost ready for harvest. People worked in them as their children ran wild in muddy shoes and clothes that had seen better days. I never had that childhood but could almost picture myself in their place.
A farmhouse stands at the end of the path. The simple building is made of stone and its garden is a riot of colours. The simple door is framed with flowers…
I’m spellbound. I stand outside for an endless moment, wondering if I should knock. Deep down, I know, I must knock that door and find out who lives here, and whether I am finally ‘home’. My practical brain shouts at me to leave while I am still sane. It reminds me that I can’t find ‘home’ by knocking on random doors but my soul is tethered to this place, atleast, until I get my answer. The truth may hurt me but it will, atleast, let me leave so that I don’t spend the rest of eternity standing at a stranger’s door. So, I knock.
The door opens. An old man with kind eyes and a wide smile greets me, “Hello there, son! How can I help you?”
I hesitate, “Hi! I’m a tourist. I was just looking around and I couldn’t help coming here. You have a beautiful garden!”
His smile grows even larger until his eyes are barely visible. “Ah! My wife would be delighted to hear that. Why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea with us?”
Not waiting for my reply, he ushers me inside the simple, cozy home where an old woman with smiling eyes greets us. Probably it is the newness of it all, but their simplicity breaks through my initial reservations. As I sit sipping tea after tea with them, we talk about our lives, as if we have done it everyday—as I had dreamt of doing with my family for all these years, if I ever find them. We smile at our simple pleasures, laugh at our pain. They talk about their children and I imagine how it must have been to be raised by such wonderful people…I tell them about my own humble beginnings, laughing at the memories of bad food and caretakers who didn’t care.
They don’t offer fake sympathy. They laugh with me and offer more muffins, though they wipe their eyes secretely when they think I’m not looking.
I change the topic and talk about my traveling adventures. They talk about seasons and crops; their children who are in the city with their families, not interested in the ‘backward’ lifestyle of the village; complain about having too many rooms and no one to live in; worry about having too much estate but no one to manage in the future as they get older.
Though they don’t say it, I can sense their deep loneliness and the feeling of being discarded by their own family, and I can hear it echoing my own longing to belong…somewhere…to someone…
Sooner than I’d like, the day comes to a close. All I’ve done all day is wolf down the tea and muffins fresh from the oven, and meals twice my average meal-size, and talk to the strangers who make me feel wanted. No sight-seeing. But it feels enough, as if all my life I have travelled only to reach them. I wish I had found a connection—some relation with them, however distant—so that I had an excuse to return. Alas, no such luck. The thought of leaving makes me ache all over.
It is close to the time of the last bus to leave. Finally, I force myself to utter the words that have been weighing on my heart, “I think, I should leave now. It’s getting late.”
After an uncomfortable silence for a second, he counters, “But you never saw the place. You can’t leave until you are done sight seeing,” She joins him, “Tell you what? You stay with us for as long as you like it here. We have spare rooms. And I am baking cake tomorrow, so I’d love to have someone to share it with.”
My heart swells until it is ready to burst open but I try to tamp it down, “But I can’t impose on you. You just met me. You barely know anything about me.”
“Son, we know enough to trust you. Would you like to stay a few more days and provide company to a couple of old codgers?” His words and smile are mocking but his eyes are solemn.
Hesitating, she adds to what he said, “I know you come from the city and are used to the luxuries it offers, but maybe, you’ll like the sights and the slow pace of life here? A lot of city people are moving to villages now a days, you know. Maybe, give it a chance before you go back to live your city life?” The offers is casual but her eyes say differenly.
From the corner of my eyes, I watch him cross his fingers, and I know what I had to do. “I would love to stay longer. But be warned, I might never want to leave. Some day, you might have to throw me out forcefully,” I say jokingly while my heart thumps as if I have run a marathon, “But I have two conditions—one, you will let me work on your farm, so I can pay the rent. Two, hopefully, you’ll let me have those muffins everyday.”
He laughs out loud and claps my back while she hugs me happily.
The question is a parent’s nightmare. Most of us avoid it as long as we can and try alternate theories, like pollination by bees. 🐝
One such theory is stork bringing babies home. 🐣 I have used it successfully for the past couple of years, thanks to the inspiration and visual support by Disney cartoons. (Dumbo really nailed it.) But now, as my daughter nears her fourth birthday, the questions about logistics are becoming increasingly difficult.
How does the crane travel through a storm? 🌧
How does he track moms at hospital? 🏥
How does he deliver bird eggs without breaking them? 🐣
Why some eggs that he delivers do not have babies and are okay to eat? 🥚
How does he carry elephant babies who are too heavy for him? 🐘
How does he drop lice eggs in people’s hair without anyone seeing him? 🐜
Why we can never see the baby pouch it is holding. 👶
How does he open locked windows? 💥💫
And last week, a relative’s daughter found out about babies in mama’s stomach. I am afraid she will drop the bomb soon and I will have to deal with the corresponding questions. 🙈🙉🙊I am wondering which tactic to try if it comes to that. The simple XX Chromosome meets XY theory leads to too many uncomfortable questions about the logistics. 😰
Feign Ignorance 🤔: She would wonder if I am a competent mother. She has higher expectations.
Deny everything 🤓: It is only a matter of time until she will ask someone who confirms the theory. She is persistent.
Admit Lying 🤥: She would wonder why I lied, leading to more probing questions. Her questions can put Socrates to shame.
So, I am feeling completely clueless and incompetent as to how to deal with the impending onslaught. 😵
After one month of bed rest, I started moving around a little and visited our roof. I was immediately rewarded by the welcome sight of four Green Pigeons, who I am sure, are raising the next generation in a nearby tree.
In the same tree, I also spotted a Great Indian Hornbill.
Both the birds are rather difficult to spot among the trees because of their plumage that comprises of different shades of green and grey. So, for all I know, they could have been here all year, but I am considering them as guests since it has been one long year since I saw them.
My daughter was absolutely delighted. But when I extended an invitation to visit us for lunch/dinner (I offer rice on all occasions), my three-year-old cautioned me about bird flu. (At least, one of us has some sense. 🤣) So, I quickly took back the invitation, which made us both sad, but with COVID 19 and bird flu, we have become rather less-hospitable. I hope they don’t take offence.
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I took my morning coffee to the balcony and looked out over the swaying trees as I sat and sipped. Living in the forest was as pleasant as I had always thought it would be. Peaceful. Calming. Once you got past the fact that just last week my apartment had been in the center of an urban tangle of cement and metal.
A shiver ran through the red leaves. It wasn’t autumn. They were just angry. A lamppost on the street corner sparked and collapsed with a creak of rending metal.
The best and the brightest had put their heads together, deciding that what we needed in the age of deforestation and ozone-shrinkage was the fastest-growing, strongest, tallest, most oxygen-rich tree ever, and they were going to make it. They’d succeeded.
Sentience had been an unintended side effect.
It had been on the news as the greatest discovery of our…