In which the princess steps out of the picture and into the fairy tale! How are Veena and the princess connected, and what is the danger to Veena’s life?
“You did that on purpose!” I said accusingly. My heart was pounding in my ears.
“You want to know my secrets, don’t you?” she arched her eyebrows. She had a point.
“Let’s try again. Who are you? What do you mean we have a connection, and what is the danger to me?” I asked
The girl in the painting leaned against the wall and covered her face with her hands. Then as if coming to a decision, she began to pace in the room. “It must be you. Otherwise, how could you have found the Mahal?”
“Ha! That’s no big mystery! We got lost, and our van couldn’t go any further because of the rain. We’re waiting for the rain to stop to have someone check the van, and then we’ll be on our way.”
“What is a van?”
“What is a van? Uuuuh!” I pinched myself. “Why are you dressed like that? You shouldn’t be wearing all that jewellery, you know. It’s not safe.” Great, I thought. I’m just a blabbering idiot now.
The girl drew herself up. “I’m dressed like this because I am the princess of this kingdom! At least I’m not walking around dressed like you!”
Now, I was annoyed! “You know what? You are boring, all these stories about being a princess. I’m going back to bed!” I turned to make a grand exit.
It would have been a grand exit if I hadn’t walked into the wall.
“Here, let me help,” I looked blankly at the hand on my shoulder. I looked up, and my head spun.
“Slow down, slow down,” She held me firmly. “Sit here.”
We sat quietly, not wanting to break that silence. Then she spoke. “I am Princess Deepali, trapped in my time. Yes, you and I are connected.” She held up her hand. “I know, I know. It is confusing but hear me out. And yes, you are tied into this story because otherwise, you wouldn’t have come here!”
I scratched my head. “Eehh…there are no princesses in our country now. Or at least not like in the olden days of Rajahs and Ranis,” I tried to smile, but my face wouldn’t cooperate. I decided to press harder. “And even if you were a princess, why have we never heard of you? This is a nice mahal and all that, but it’s not like it is a palace or a fort, is it? Where are the Rajah and Rani anyway? And you still haven’t told me about the link between us.”
“Do you know how to listen without interrupting?”
Deepali started to wiggle. I grabbed her hand tightly.
“Let me go! I shouldn’t have trusted you! You are a spy!” she hissed.
I didn’t let her go. You see, I’d know that giggle anywhere. Instead, I walked over to the door, pulling her with me. Naren and Sheela stood there, huddled against the wall.
“You kept disappearing. So, of course, we’re going to try to find what you are hiding!” my brother went into attack mode.
“Deepali! Stop wriggling. It’s just my brother and sister.”
“Yeah! We want to know more about the danger to you!” Sheela put her hand on Deepali. Why she took a liking to my little sister, I don’t know, but that seemed to do the trick.
THE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION-A NEW FAIRY TALE
The four of us sat down. Princess Deepali began, “It is true, you know. I am a princess. I was supposed to sleep for a hundred years….”
“Hibernating and aestivating?”
“What?” She looked at me.
“I didn’t say that! It was Naren. Don’t mind him, for he’s full of hot air! Please, you go on.”
“My parents, the Rajah and Rani, had no children.”
“Then how are you here?” This time it was Sheela.
“Will you people let me speak?”
I put my hand on Sheela’s lips.
“I was born after they did many years of pujas and pilgrimage to holy sites. In their joy, my parents decided to welcome everyone in the kingdom to my Naamkaran, the naming ceremony. After the puja, there was a grand feast for all the people. Our kingdom had a council of 12 wise men and women. These folks were not only wise, but they also had special powers. One by one, they blessed with me their special power….”
“OH! CAN YOU FLY?”
“You said they gave you special powers. I thought maybe you could do some superhero stuff. Okay, okay, I’ll shut up!” Once more, I covered Sheela’s mouth.
Princess Deepali’s face clouded over. “My parents forgot to invite one cranky old man who dabbled in magic. He could have chosen to be generous, but apparently, his feelings were hurt too much! The only way he could feel better about himself was to curse a newborn baby! So, he came to the feast and put a curse on me, saying I would die from a snake bite on my sixteenth birthday. While the court stood around, not knowing what to do, the twelfth wise woman, Shubh Vani, came forward.
“The princess will not die,” she blessed me. “Tie this talisman around her neck, and she will fall into a deep sleep for a hundred years.” She handed a chain with a green emerald pendant the size of a fist.
Naturally, my parents were shocked and upset by the curse. “A hundred years?” they worried.
“Yes! I can’t cancel the curse entirely, I’m afraid. But the emerald will keep her safe!”
So, the Rajah, my father, declared that all snakes in the kingdom should be killed. He still hoped to avoid the curse. I wore the amulet all the time and grew up without any care.
A month or so before I turned sixteen, my mother wanted to come to this mahal. She was worried about something going wrong in the palace but thought she’d have more control in a smaller home.
“Smaller home? This place is as big as a cricket field.” I kicked my brother hard. “Ouch! Ooooh! Sorry! Sorry!”
Deepali continued, “I was happy because I’ve always loved the garden here. That painting I stepped out of was painted here a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday. On the morning of my birthday, I went to pick jasmine flowers with my friends. Unknown to us, there was a snake in the garden. Maybe it came in when they brought in new plants or soil. Anyway, the curse came true, for it bit me, and I fell to the ground, fast asleep.
Sheela shuffled closer to me. “You are not a ghost making all this up, right?”
Princess Deepali shook her head sadly and said, “I fell asleep for a hundred years.”
“So you are telling me you are at least a hundred and sixteen years old?”
The princess looked at him imperially; at least, I think that’s how princesses look at common folk.
“Are you awake now or not awake? Listen, listen,” I held up my hand to stop any royal rant. “You can’t tell a story and expect your listeners not to ask questions. Okay? That, too, a story with magicians, curses, and someone sleeping for hundred years.”
Deepali thought about it and seemed to accept my logic. “All I remember is a sharp bite and something long and thin slithering away. Next thing I know, I wake up in my room; the room where you are sleeping now,” she paused to look at me before continuing. “And a young man stood there, holding my amulet. The emerald stone sparkled in the light!”
“My feelings, exactly! But his words frightened me more! He said, “Oh, you beauty! My grandfather was right! You are mine!” and gave the emerald a big kiss!”
“Eeeew! That’s not how it goes.” Sheela made a face.
“That’s not how it goes? Do you mean to say that you know something about all this?” astonished, Deepali swung around to ask.
“He was supposed to kiss you. Then you’d wake up and marry him.”
Deepali broke into peals of laughter. “I’ve never heard of anything so silly!”
“Oh, go on!” Sheela, Naren, and I looked at each other and grinned secretively.
“I ordered him to give me the amulet, but the man stepped away. “Finders keepers! Sleepers losers!'” he mocked. A ball of rage grew in my stomach. I leaped from the bed, hand outstretched, but tripped on my saree. The amulet fell from the man’s hand, and a dazzling light blinded us. We covered our faces, but I peeked from between my fingers. A girl I’d never seen before held the amulet, but there was no sign of her when the light went out. The man and I both fell to the floor, looking for the emerald amulet, but the precious gem was no where to be found!
“Who are you?” I yelled at him. “My dear, haven’t you figured it out? I’m your nemesis! I don’t have the pendant now, but then, nor do you! Try to escape my grandfather’s curse, would ya? Not happening now! Tch-tch-tch!” he closed the door behind him.
I sat crouching in the corner. What did this mean? Was I going to die? Just when I felt the most miserable, the darkness lifted, and a soft light filled the room. The wise woman, Shubh Vani, who had given me the emerald amulet, appeared beside me.
She said, “The wicked old man didn’t know the true power of the emerald. Now listen carefully; his grandson could never have kept the pendant because it was meant for you. The power within the emerald sensed the danger from him and went into hiding. It looks like another girl is mixed up in your story. She must help you get the emerald pendant. Only then you’ll be able to finish your sleep, wake up with your family, and live happily ever after. Otherwise, she will fall into a long sleep, and you will be trapped alone in the painting from your birthday. So, get to it, child. I can’t do this for you.” She stood up to leave.
“How will I find her if I’m stuck in this room? Give me a clue, please!” I begged her.
Shubh Vani stared intently at the floor for a few minutes as if she saw something I couldn’t see. Then she said, “I’ll help you this much. The girl will come to you, and the emerald has something to do with an island.”
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