A long, long time ago, in a kingdom somewhere in India, a queen sat down to say her prayers. It was an auspicious time, for the stars were all aligned to make your wishes come true. But of course, the queen did not know this. If she had, maybe she would have asked for long life. What muddle should happen at that exact moment? The maids in waiting tripped over the queen’s pallu arranged beautifully on the floor. Their pooja baskets flew to the ceiling, and decided to turn back to earth halfway through. The queen sat astonished as the red Kumkum powder rained on her jewelled white Banarasi saree, and plop fell big black juicy jamuns as if saying, “Look at me, Look at me!” The queen’s eye took in all three colours, and guess what she wished for?
“I wish my child would be as white as snow, red as blood, and black as the window frame.”
Yeah, you heard it right! You see, she had read the fairy tale ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ as a kid herself. “Your highness! Oh, your beautiful Banarasi Sari!” the maid-in-waiting’s cries brought the queen back to the present. “Don’t worry about my saree! I can get another one. I am sure I will have a beautiful baby girl,” the queen consoled her maid.
The queen’s wish was granted. She had a beautiful baby girl who was black as the night, the white of her eyes the colour of snow, and hair that glinted red as blood in the afternoon sun. Unfortunately for both mother and child, the queen died right after the baby was born.
The entire kingdom mourned the queen’s death. There was a problem, too. The queen died before the baby’s naming ceremony. But the maid-in-waiting had heard the queen make her wish, and she told the king all about it. So the king decided to name the baby Snow White in memory of his wife’s fond wish. Banarasi White didn’t sound right somehow.
There was another problem. You see, the king hadn’t read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He was clueless, and a year later, he married again. And he married a beautiful woman who was very proud of her looks! The new queen was sure that no one else could come close to her beauty. It was not just her inner voice talking. For she had a special agent who spied on everyone else in the kingdom and then gave the verdict.
Every morning, Snow White’s stepmother did her Sola Shringar…her sixteen decorations and adornments. She put on her bindi, her Kundan necklaces, matching jhumkas in ears, her nath or nose ring, jasmine flowers in the hair, a diamond neli ring on her fingers, bangles, armlets, waistbands, gold anklets, kajal, toe-rings, mehendi on her hands and feet, perfume, sandalwood paste, and the royal robes. She trusted no one but her special agent to tell her whether her shringar looked right.
So, after she was ready, the queen stood in front of a magic mirror with a challenge.
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?”
The Magic Mirror did not need anything from the queen, yet it never failed her. It answered:
“You, my Queen, are fairest of all!”
This was music to the queen’s ears.
But of course, things don’t stay the same forever, do they? Trouble was brewing silently. Kids have a habit of growing up, and it happened to Snow White as well. She grew into a beautiful young woman. Her skin glistened like black Kanjeevaram silk reflecting the light. Her eyes shone like the stars on a moonless night, and her hair flowed like molten lava in the sun’s bright light, but the queen ignored her. In her mind, Snow-White was no challenge. For goodness sake, that child was named after something that would melt in a few seconds in this hot kingdom of theirs!
Then the day came when the queen’s world shattered. She stood in front of the mirror, turning this way and that, ready to begin her daily ritual. The queen had no idea of what was to come when she opened her mouth to ask,
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?”
“You, my Queen, are fair; it is true!
But Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you!”
The queen took the punch with disbelief. “Okay, Listen to me, mirror! That girl’s eyes are snow white. The rest of her is darker than the sky on a moonless night! She cannot be the fairest of all.” So she asked again. This was the first time she had asked the mirror twice in a day. “Did you not hear me five minutes ago?” The mirror glared back. The mirror’s answer filled her with rage with envy. She heard that voice in her head every waking moment. “Yes, SHE is the greatest beauty of all! Your time is over. It’s her time now!” The queen’s body felt like it was on fire. The hatred festered until she couldn’t stand it any longer.
The queen called for her loyal huntsman and said, “Take that Snow-White Night-Sky girl to the jungle. Kill her, and bring her heart back to me.”
The huntsman was not surprised at all as he knew the queen to be a heartless woman. So he led Snow-White into the jungle. When they were deep enough, he reached for his knife. But it was not so simple after all, for Snow-White stood there boldly, hands on her hips.
Growing up, Snow White had always been curious about her name. All the other girls she knew were called Varnamala, Chandralekha, and Sulochana. Why was she named Snow White? The young girl sought out all those who knew her mother and asked for the story behind her name. Snow-White tried to find a copy herself when she heard about the fairy tale. Alas, no one knew the story! But the young princess suspected that there was something dark and sinister behind her name. So she asked her guru to teach her Kalarippayattu. And she was pretty good at it!
The huntsman took one look at her and threw his head back, laughing loudly. He pulled out his hunting knife and reached for her when his shin exploded in pain. The princess had stabbed him with a long stick lying on the jungle floor. “YOUUUUUUU, YOUUUUUU, YOUUUUUU!” Rage and pain robbed him of words. The silly fool had misjudged the princess just because she was little. She darted this way and that, and before he knew it, she held his knife in her hands.
The huntsman thought of the queen and began to cry, saying, “Oh, dear princess, let me live. I will take the heart of an animal and give it to the queen. Why don’t you go into the jungle? It is a place of wonder with gold and diamond mines. Please!”
“Oh, all right! Stop sniveling. I will keep the knife, of course,” replied Snow White. The man thought, “The wild animals will soon finish her off.”
Cheered up, the huntsman left for the palace. The queen snatched the wild boar’s heart he’d picked up on the way, put it in a glass case, and carried it to her room with a smile on her face.
To be continued…