Now that the Prince has crossed twenty, marriage proposals started pouring in from home and abroad.The match-maker said, ‘The daughter of the King of Bahlika is a beauty unparalleled, she shines like the shower of white rose petals.’
The Prince turned his face aside, and did not reply.
The messenger came and said, ‘Loveliness bursts forth from the figure of the daughter of the King of Gandhar, like the grapes that hang in clusters from the vines.’
Yet, the Prince went away to the forest on the pretext of hunting. Days went by, weeks passed, but still he failed to return.
The messenger came again and said, ‘I have just been to visit the Princess of Kamboj, her eye-lashes are arched like the curved horizon at dawn, softened with dew, glistening in the new light.’
The Prince diligently continued studying the poetry of Bhartrihari, and never for once raised his eyes from the pages of the text.
Exasperated, the King asked, ‘What might be the reason behind all this? Send for the Minister’s son.’
The Minister’s son came. The King said, ‘I hear that you are a friend of my son, then tell me honestly, why has he no interest in marriage?’
The Minister’s son replied, ‘King, from the moment your son heard the tales of the beautiful Paristhan, the land of the fairies, his sole wish has been to marry only a fairy.’
The King gave orders, the location of Paristhan had to be ascertained without delay.
Many wise and renowned pundits were summoned, who opened every available book and searched all existing manuscripts. Finally, they gravely nodded their heads in unison and opined, ‘There are absolutely no clues as to the existence of a Paristhan in the pages of any text anywhere.’
Then the saudagars, the wealthy businessmen, received urgent summons from the royal court. They said, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact we do often travel to many distant islands across the seas—the exotic cardamom islands, the spicy pepper islands, and the faraway land of the clove vines. We have traveled to the far off Malay islands to bring sandalwood, for deer musk we have searched through the Deodar forests in the Kailash mountains. Yet, nowhere have we come across the whereabouts of a Paristhan.’
The King said, ‘Call the Minister’s son.’
The Minister’s son arrived again. The King asked him, ‘From whom has the Prince heard the stories about Paristhan.’
The Minister’s son said, ‘There is one Nabin, the madcap, he roams from forest to forest with a flute in his hand. The Prince listens to the tales of Paristhan from him when he goes hunting.’
The King said, ‘Very well, let us summon him then.’
The madman Nabin offered the King a handful of wild flowers and stood obediently in front of him. The King asked him, ‘Where did you get to know about Paristhan.’
He replied, ‘Oh, I go there all the time.’
The King inquired, ‘Where is this place?’
The madman said, ‘Beyond the borders of your kingdom, at the foot of the Chitragiri mountains, by the side of the Kamyak-sarovar.
The King queried, ‘Can the fairies be seen there?’
The madman replied, ‘They can be seen, but not known. They roam about in disguise. Sometimes when they go away they leave behind their identity, then there is no way to catch them, ever.
The King asked, ‘How do you know them then.’
The madman said, ‘Sometimes simply by hearing a tune, or at other times by seeing a streak of light.’
The King got irritated and said, ‘Whatever he says is total madness, get rid of him right now.’
The madman’s words struck an emotive chord somewhere in the Prince’s heart.
It was the month of Phalgun, and the Sal flowers jostled on branches of the trees, and the fringes of the forest trembled with the Sirish flowers.
The Prince went alone to Chitragiri.
Everyone asked, ‘Oh, where do you go?’
He did not reply.
A stream flowed down through the remote caves, which goes on straight to meet the Kamyak sarovar; the people of the village call it Udasjhora, the pensive spring. The Prince made his shelter in a dilapidated temple at the foot of the spring.
A month went by. The tender new leaves that had sprouted in the trees in spring, their colors darkened, and the forest paths lay strewn with wild flowers newly fallen from the trees.
Just then, one day in his dawn-dreams, the strains of a flute reached the ears of the Prince.
As he awoke, the Prince said, ‘I shall certainly get to see her today.’
Straight away he rode on his horse along the banks of the cascading stream, and reached the Kamyak Sarovar. There he saw a girl of the hill people, sitting by the Lotus grove. Her pitcher was filled, brimming with water, yet she failed to get up from the quay. The dark girl wore a Sirish flower to adorn her black hair, as if the first star at twilight.
The Prince got down from his steed and said to her, ‘The Sirish flower that dangles from your ear, would you gift that to me?’
The doe that knows no fear, perhaps she was that doe. Turning her head she gazed up at the Prince once. Then a dense shadow, strange and unknown, descended darkly over her black eyes—as dreams descend on slumber, as the first monsoon of Shravana darkens the horizon.
The girl took the flower from behind her ear, placed it in the Prince’s hands and said, ‘Here, please take it.’
The Prince inquired, ‘Which fairy are you, tell me truly.’
Hearing this a look of amazement dawned on her face, and a moment later laughter upon laughter suffused her like the sudden showers of Ashwin clouds, such peals of laughter that knew no bounds.
The Prince thought to himself, ‘Perchance my dreams are coming true - the tunes of this laughter matched the strains of the flute.’
The Prince got up on his steed, stretched forth his arms and invited, ‘Come on.’
She took his hand and mounted his horse, not even hesitating for a moment. Her water filled pitcher lay abandoned on the quay.
The cuckoo sang out Ku hu Ku hu Ku hu Ku hu from the branches of the Sirish tree.
The Prince whispered softly in the girl’s ears, ‘What is your name.’
She replied, ‘My name is Kajari.’
The two of them headed for the dilapidated temple by the side of the Udasjhora. The Prince said, ‘Take off your disguise now.’
She said, ‘We are the daughters of the forest. We know of no disguise.’
The Prince replied, ‘But I wish to see your fairy image.’
My fairy image! Again that laughter, peals of laughter on laughter. The Prince thought, ‘The strains of her laughter matches the melody of these cascading falls, she is surely the fairy of this falls.’
The King heard the news, the Prince had married the fairy. From the royal palace came horses, elephants came, and the chaturdola arrived too with its four bearers.
Kajari asked in wonder, ‘Why all this!’
The Prince replied, ‘You have to go to the royal palace.’
Then her eyes clouded with tears. In her mind she suddenly recalled that her pitcher lay abandoned by the waterside; it came to her mind that she had spread out grass seeds on her courtyard to dry; she remembered that her father and brother had gone hunting, the time had come for their return; she recalled that her mother had set up the tant under the tree to weave a dress for her wedding, as part of her trousseau, and while she wove how she always hummed a song.
She replied, ‘No, I won’t go.’
But the great drums started beating, brass cymbals clanged, flutes played, the damama, the war-drum, sounded with fanfare - and her words simply drowned and could not be heard over the din.
When Kajari alighted from the chaturdola in front of the royal palace, the queen struck her forehead and said, ‘What kind of a fairy is she?’
The King’s daughter rejoined, ‘Fie, what shame.’
The Queen’s maid said, ‘What strange dress is the fairy wearing.’
The Prince retorted, ‘Shut up all of you, the fairy has come to your home in disguise.’
Days on days passed. The Prince customarily woke up in bed on moonlit nights to see if some bits of Kajari’s disguise had somehow fallen off. But he only saw how the long black hair of the dark girl lay stretched out in the moonlit night, and how her body looked like an idol as if sculpted with perfect precision from a black stone. The Prince sat silent and wondered, ‘Where has the fairy hidden herself away, just like the dawn that hides itself behind the darkness of the late night.’
The Prince grew ashamed in front of his family members. One day he even felt a bit of anger in his heart. When Kajari tried to get up and leave the bed early in the morning, the Prince caught hold of her hand tightly and said, ‘I will not let you go today - reveal your true form, bring it to light, let me see it.’
The laughter that had once tinkled in the forest with the very same words, never sounded again.
Soon her two eyes brimmed with tears.
The Prince said, ‘Would you elude me forever like this.’
She replied, ‘No, not anymore.’
The Prince answered, ‘Then on this full moon night of autumn, on this Kartiki Purnima, let them all see the fairy.’
The full moon of the Kartiki Purnima had finally reached the top of the sky. In the Nahabat playing in the royal palace, the midnight strains flowed on jhimi jhimi in somber tunes.
The Prince entered his mahal, his princely suite, wearing the wedding attire, and holding a baranmala, a flower garland to welcome his bride. Tonight will be his auspicious Shubhodristi, the rite of meeting of the eyes with his wife.
In the bedchamber, a white cover was spread on the bed. On it lay white kunda flowers in heaps, and the rays of the moonlight through the window bathed it all.
She was nowhere to be seen.
A clock chimed, marking the third prahar. The moon had already declined westwards. One by one the family members gathered in the room.
But where’s the fairy!
The Prince replied, ‘By going away the fairy always leaves the mark of her identity, then she can be found no more.’
Published in Parabaas August, 2013.