In which Veena and her siblings solve the mystery, find the pendant and rescue Deepali, bringing a happy ending to this Indian fairy tale Sleeping Beauty!
IN SEARCH OF THE ISLAND
“Island? In the middle of a tropical forest! Where do we find an island?” I was taken aback.
Deepali looked worried. “I have looked everywhere-under the furniture, inside shelves, behind doors…I don’t know what the island is.
“But how do you know she spoke about Veena helping you find the emerald? Has no one else ever come by?” Naren asked Deepali.
“Veena! Sheela! Narendra!” Amma as awake!
“We must go now, but we’ll come back later. Okay?” We rushed out of there as Deepali disappeared into the painting.
“How are you kids not tired after wandering around all night?” Amma asked us the following morning. I wanted to sleep some more, but the other two pulled me out of bed. There wasn’t much to eat except bread and mangoes, but no one complained.
The rain had stopped, but the road was still waterlogged. “Look! There is so much water in the garden. There’s bound to be an island there.” Naren pointed out. I suppose an island is an island, even if it’s only a tiny piece of land surrounded by flood waters.
Five minutes later, the three of us waded into the cold, muddy water, a stick in hand to keep us from slipping. There was a raised piece of land in the middle of the garden. We were almost there when Sheela screamed.
“Aaaaaah! Something’s wriggling and moving around my leg …aaaaah.”
“Naren, Veena!” Appa came running. He scooped Sheela out of the water and held her high. The snake looked bewildered at the sudden change, its head dangling in the air. Appa gripped its neck in a flash, peeled it off Sheela’s leg, and flung it at the trees. We waded hurriedly back to the steps.
It was the quietest the three of us have ever been. Sheela lay on Amma’s lap. I leaned on Amma and squeezed Sheela’s hand.
“Appa…” Naren began.
“You kids have been acting strangely ever since we came here. Being stuck like this is hard, but you must be careful.” Appa was his calm self, but we knew he had also been shocked.
We hung around with our parents for the rest of the morning. But sitting around made me sleepy.
“Veena! Veena!” Naren shook me awake, worried. “Come on, let’s try to find this emerald. You sleep for more than twelve hours!” I yawned and stretched. “Come with me. I found something interesting.” I trailed behind.
Marching past the room with Deepali’s painting, we came to a spiral stairway. The chips on the steps and handrail showed their age, but we climbed it anyway. Cobwebs hung from all sides, and a row of footprints led us into a room filled with armour.
More cobwebs and dust settled over the swords and shields decorating the walls. In the middle of the room lay a large table. One end was cleared to show a relief map. Naren used a stick to clean up the rest of the table. We unearthed miniature forest-covered hills, a couple of forts, towns, and a long river.
“Is this what it looks like around the Mahal?” I wondered aloud.
“Who knows? I don’t see any buildings like this Mahal there. But look at the river, Veena!” Naren pointed.
I followed the blue path on the map until I saw what caught his attention. An Island! The river flowed down a valley and widened as it reached a town. Tiny model boats rested on the banks. At the widest point in the river lay an island.
“But how will we find the island if we don’t know where this place is?” Naren heard the dejection in my voice.
“Ptch! Don’t try to make things too complicated. I think we should look under this island because it’s right here, isn’t it?” he argued. It made sense.
Dhuk! Dhuk! Dhuk! Naren tore at the island bit by bit with a sharp curved knife he’d pulled off the wall. It was not easy. The map had lain there for who knows how long? When the hole was big enough, I excitedly pried at the island with my fingers. It was hollow. We dug harder until my hand slid in. But there was nothing inside. All that hard work, and there was nothing to show for it!
We walked back to the front of the Mahal quietly. For the first time, I felt scared. I went to our room to sleep. Deepali visited me in my dreams. She was waiting for the news of the emerald, but I had no answer for her.
“Sleeping again! Child, do some exercises. Do some work,” Amma stood before me when I opened my eyes. Sheela stood behind her, beaming and nodding.
The minute Amma left the room, Sheela hugged me. “Akka, I think I found the island.” I was too unhappy to say anything, but Naren didn’t give up.
“What is it, Sheela? Where is it?”
“Come with me,” Sheela linked her arm in ours and dragged us to the Darbar. When we got there, she climbed on a small table and lifted a picture from the wall. Placing it on the table, she tapped Naren’s hand and touched the island in the painting.
Sheela began to wriggle, just like Deepali had before she went in and out of her painting. Naren snatched his hand away in shock.There was no time to think.
“No! Hold on to her,” I cried and grabbed his other hand. The three of us shook, wobbled, and wriggled like jelly. The sound of waves crashing on the beach hit me as we passed through the painting one by one.
Smack! We landed bottom first in a pool of water. “Yes! We were on the island. You found it, Sheela!” Naren yelled triumphantly. My wet skirt clung to my legs as we sat in a small pool of water surrounded by rocks. The waves were some distance away.
I felt a glimmer of hope inside. We trod through the sand to the dry shore. Surely, we’ll find the emerald, and everything will be okay? The three of us reached the line of coconut trees. Could the emerald be camouflaged in the pile of green leaves and coconuts?
Swish, swish, swish, we got on all fours and looked for the amulet. Nothing! And I was starting to feel sleepy.
“Wait! The island was in plain sight. The emerald must be as well. It should be easily noticeable,” Naren stopped us. We had come a long way from the sandy beach. Uh-Uh! The waves were taller and closer to the shore.
“Sheela, Run! Run back to where we landed!” The weight of my wet skirt slowed me. I pulled it up to my knee. Where did the circle of rocks go? I felt the bottom of the sea with my feet as Naren held me tight. Sheela bent over, peering under the water.
A deafening roar rang around us. Naren lost his grip on me, and Sheela slid into the rising wave. The two twirled toward the crest, and then the force of the water hit me! I toppled over, my hands and legs flailing, desperately feeling for anything to steady myself. And I found it. I may be spluttering and gasping for breath, but I held on to a rock, its rough surface digging into my hands. The crashing wave dropped my brother and sister not too far. And as the water receded, a gleaming emerald winked at me! I was right back where we’d first landed, and the amulet sat, looped around one of those rocks.
I screamed over the sounds of the wind and water. Naren and Sheela ran to the rocks, my joy reflected on their faces. A wave, larger than the last one, was making its way toward us. I moved as fast as I could to snap up the emerald. But Naren and Sheela were not inside the circle of rocks when I felt the dreaded pull of water. Oh No! The wave was almost upon us. Then Sheela flew at me. I broke her fall with one arm while circling the rock and the amulet with the other. My brother jumped in, his bottom landing heavily on us. Oh, what a tangled mess of arms and legs we were! My feet dragged the seabed, and the wave opened into an umbrella over us. The chain with the emerald pendant tangled itself in my hair, and I felt the familiar wobble pass from me to my brother and sister. The wave hit the rocks just as we vanished from the island.
AAAH! AMMAAAA! OOOOY!
I popped out of the painting and collapsed on the floor. My brother and sister fell on top of me.
We began to giggle nervously and then with more enthusiasm. Until we saw our parents standing there with their mouths hanging open!
Sheela ran and hugged my mother. Dripping wet again! It was becoming a habit. “Come on, let’s go to Deepali!” Naren urged us.
“Deepali? Who? What?”
Our parents shuffled behind us, looking bewildered as we made our way to the painting.
The princess looked at us from her painting; her lips curved into a smile. She was not going to step out, not with our parents there. But she had lost her worried, faraway look. I removed the amulet with the precious stone from the tangles in my hair and hung it on the picture. The emerald rested gently under Deepali’s neck.
A lot had happened in the time we’d been away. The rain stopped, and the water receded. Appa had found someone to take a look at our van. It was time for us to leave. Deepali needed her room to finish her hundred years of slumber.
Then she’ll have her happily ever after.
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