Snow White was now all alone in the mighty jungle. But she wasn’t afraid. Being an only child, she had learned to keep herself busy with her studies. The princess had poured over the maps of her kingdom and knew that there were caves at a half a day’s walk. “Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t give the knife back to that knave!’ she thought as she cut the vines to clear the way. Wild animals looked at her curiously but kept their distance from this girl wielding a knife.
The maps had talked about the caves but nothing about the house that stood in front of her. Snow White wasn’t sure if she should go in, but then her royal spirit emboldened her. “I am the princess, and this is a house in my kingdom, so why shouldn’t I go in?” she said to no one in particular and pushed the door open.
What a strange sight it was, as if it was a toy house, but only bigger! It was one big room. On one side, a large Parcheesi board lay on the floor, with a pair of golden dice nearby. On the other side of the big hall, seven dhurries or carpets were laid out with tiny pillows.
Snow White followed her nose to the corner that looked like a kitchen. There, on the floor, were set seven small plates with seven steel tumblers. Two pots sat on the stove, and Snow-white opened the lids. Her nose hadn’t failed her. It was daal and rice! The princess put her hand to her stomach as it rumbled loudly, but all her resolve left when she smelled fresh mango pickle. “I’m sure the children who play in this toy house will understand if I eat some. It smells too good, and I could eat an elephant right now.”
Snow White had never had to go without food. As a princess, she had always had whatever she wanted. She was not only a courageous child but a thoughtful one too. So, she ate just enough not to faint from hunger.
“Ooooh, rice always makes me sleepy,” she yawned and put her head down on the first pillow, but it was too high and the dhurrie too lumpy. One after another, she tried all the dhurries with their pillows until finally, the seventh one felt just right. And there she lay until the people of the house came home at night.
No, they were not children but dwarfs who worked to dig for diamonds in the jungle caves. In the light of their diyas, they saw that someone had been there, for things had been moved around.
The first dwarf said, “Who has been sitting on my stool?”
The second dwarf said, “Who has been eating from my plate?”
The third dwarf said, “Who has been eating my daal?”
The fourth dwarf said, “Who has been eating my rice?”
The fifth dwarf said, “Who has been licking my pickle?”
The sixth dwarf said, “Who has been eating my laddoo?”
The seventh dwarf said, “Who has been drinking from my tumbler?”
Then the first dwarf saw that the pillow was a little crooked on his dhurrie and said, “Who tried to sleep on my bed?”
The others came running up and shouted, “Someone has been lying in mine as well.“
But the seventh dwarf squeaked, “Who is this, lying on my bed?” for he found Snow-White lying there asleep. All seven dwarfs rushed to his dhurrie and peered. They raised their seven Diyas and shone the light on Snow-White. “Oh!” they gasped. “What a beautiful child, like a Murthy in a temple!”
The Dwarfs were too excited to sleep themselves, but they let the princess continue to sleep there in the bed. The seventh dwarf sat next to his bed because he felt she was his special friend.
Snow-White woke up the following day and was startled to see the dwarfs. “What is your name?” asked one of the dwarfs in a friendly voice. She relaxed a bit and answered, “Snow-White.” The dwarf’s eyebrows shot up in confusion, “I know, I know… it’s a long story, and it is confusing. Whatever you do, Just don’t call me Snowy!” She shook her head in a plea.
“How did you find our house?” the dwarfs asked her.
The princess shared her story—how the queen, her stepmother, had sent the huntsman to kill her and how Snow-white had spared his life and how she walked in search of the caves, hoping to see other people and finally ended up in their house.
The oldest of the dwarfs said, “Why don’t you stay with us and be our housekeeper, cook, washerwoman, seamstress, and maid? We’ll give you all the diamonds we find in the mine.”
“Ha! Really? Are you looking for a maid? Of course, I won’t do any of those things!” Snow-White’s eyes blazed. “I have a better idea. Even though I’m a princess, I did learn to do all those things myself. I can teach you how to keep your house tidy and organized, make your beds, wash, fold and put away your clothes neatly, and make dosa with sambar and twenty types of chutneys. You will keep quiet about my living here in this house in exchange.”
“Are you sure? Our mother did try to teach us, but she gave up,” said the youngest dwarf.
“With all my heart! I have always wanted younger brothers to boss around,” Snow White nodded.
And so, she became their teacher, friend and mentor. Slowly, the house began to change. Colour-coded checklists were hung by the bed, on the bathroom door, and the kitchen door. The dwarfs hurried around to the sounds of Alarm clocks and timers. There were reward stickers in the shapes of precious gems and different treats for three days in a row and five days in a row. Everyone had a job to do. Snow White observed the dwarfs as they did their chores and noted who was the early bird and which one was the night owl. Not everyone was good at everything. So she checked her notes and changed the names on the jobs chart. Two dwarfs were good at making the bed; two had the patience to sort the whites from the coloured clothes and remembered to dry the clothes inside out. Two others were meticulous in their cleaning. Two were natural at cooking-they knew precisely how much salt and spice to add, just by shaking the containers. The prize, of course, went to the last one who enjoyed doing the dishes! Soon, it was a well-run house, and the dwarfs quickly fell into their new routines. They went to work, digging for diamonds during the day, and split their chores in the evenings. Snow-white put her time to good use by exploring all the plants and animals in the jungle and plotting to save her father and her kingdom from the queen. She was always ready to lend a hand in the evenings, even though, technically, she was only supposed to train the others.
The good dwarfs advised her to be watchful during the day, saying, “Your stepmother is bound to find out that you are here. Be careful.”
Back at the palace, the queen hesitated to stand in front of her mirror. All that excitement from the last few weeks had given her a sleepless night. Should she talk to her mirror? Would it find someone else because the queen had dark circles under her eyes? If the mirror found someone else, she will forgive the person because it can only be for a day. Some cucumber slices over her eyes should do the trick, and she would be the most beautiful again! Mustering her courage, the queen stood before her mirror and said:
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who is the fairest of all?“
“You, my Queen, are fair; it is true!
But Snow-White, beyond the mountains
With the seven dwarfs,
Is still a thousand times fairer than you!“
Splat! The cucumber slices fell to the floor. The startled queen stepped on one, slipped, and landed on her bottom. “The mirror does not lie!!!” she screamed into the empty room. “The huntsman has deceived me. Never mind, I’ll do the job myself.”
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