Volume 2 Issue 26 | February 02, 2008 |


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From the Galpoghor Series:

Once upon a time in Hindustan there lived a perfume seller who had a lovely daughter named Dorani. This maiden could sing and dance so beautifully that she was chosen to appear before Indira, the Queen of Fairland. And the queen rewarded her with the most glorious hair in the entire world.

So lovely was Dorani's coal-black hair that it shone like burnished ebony and had the fragrance of roses in full bloom. One day, for amusement, she cut off a lock of her hair, wrapped it in a broad magnolia leaf and cast it to the stream that flowed beneath her window.

The leaf floated on and on until it passed close by a prince who had come to the stream to drink. Attracted by the perfume of roses, he plucked up the leaf and, on opening it, was surprised to find a strand of silken hair.

When the prince came home, his father saw at once that he was ill, so pale and downcast did he look. "What ails you, my son?' his father asked.

Showing him the scented lock of hair, the young prince said, “Sire, I have fallen in love with the owner of this strand of hair. I fear I shall die unless I find its mistress and wed her.”

So the king sent heralds throughout the realm to find the maiden with rose-scented hair that shone like burnished ebony. And in the passing of time Dorani came to hear about the royal mission; she told her father wistfully, “If it is the prince's wish to marry me, so be it, but tell him this: I will be his bride only if he lets me spend each night alone.”

The perfume seller went gladly to the palace and, on being shown before the king, told him of his daughter's wish. The king considered the condition strange, but eventually agreed, since his son was so ill.

All was soon arranged and the wedding took place amid the usual celebrations. At first, the prince was so happy just to have Dorani by him that he said nothing of the unusual pact. Yet as the days went by his joy turned to despair. For his wife sat silent all through the day, her head buried in her hands. She would not utter a single word. and at night she vanished, as if swallowed up by the dusky gloom.

One afternoon, as the prince was wandering in the place ground, he came upon the royal gardener; the old man had served long years and had learnt all about the power of herbs.

On asking of the flowers, the rains and the good sail, the prince then shared his burden with the loyal sage, “How miserable I am, old friend, that I have wed a wife as radiant as the stars, yet cannot win her love. She sits silent all through the day just like a marble statue; she utters not a sound, nor will she gaze at me. At night she disappears I know not where.”

The old man handed the prince some powder ground from the roots of certain herbs. “Tonight, when your wife is about to leave you,” said the sage, “sprinkle this power upon your head and you will be invisible. Then you can follow her wherever she goes and thus unlock the mystery.”

The prince thanked the man and concealed the powder in his turban.

That night, as Dorani went to leave the palace, the prince quickly sprinkled the magic powder on his head and hurried after his lovely bride. Just as the old man had said, he was unseen by all as he followed his wife into the streets and through the town. Heavily veiled, she wandered down unfamiliar lanes until she came to a lofty mansion.

At the gates she removed one veil; and then, as she reached the entrance hall, she removed another veil. She climbed some stairs and at a door she unveiled for the third time, thus revealing her lovely face. Once inside the room she sat down before two bowls: one full of rose petals, one of milk. Maidservants rubbed and washed her with petals dipped in milk, then brought her sweetmeats to eat and sherbet to slake her thirst.

They dressed her in a shimmering sari, wound strings of pearls about her neck, bangles and beads around her arms and ankles, then crowned her shining hair with roses. Her watching husband had never seen her look so lovely.

When she was dressed, she sat down on a stool within a canopy of silken curtains, out of the prince's sight. At that moment, Indira the Fairy Queen appeared and sat cross-legged upon a velvet throne; before her lay a magic lute that, at a signal from the Queen, began to play the most bewitching music.

The moment the lilting notes rang out, Dorani lifted up her voice to sing so sweetly that lute and voice blended as one. Since the prince had never heard her speak, not seen her part her lips in song, he greatly wondered at the sound. And moving one curtain slightly, he watched entranced as Dorani sang throughout the night.

Just before the dawn, Indira gave a signal for the lute to stop, and Dorani ceased her song. Then the queen asked sternly, “Why was the curtain drawn aside tonight? Did you tell your husband anything?”

Dorani vowed she had not breathed a word. Perhaps she had failed to draw the curtains tightly. She would certainly make sure she did the following night. With that she retraced her steps to her husband's home, donning the three veils on the way. The prince meanwhile walked invisible behind her and only took his normal form when safely inside the palace walls. And there he found Dorani, sad and silent, her head buried in her hands.

For a while the prince said nothing, then presently he spoke, “I dreamed a most peculiar dream last night, Dorani.”

And he described in detail all that had happened.

Dorani seemed not to heed his words, yet when he came to praise her singing, she looked up with a start. His voice was trembling and his eyes were shining as he tried to paint a picture of her song.

“Was it really a dream?” she wondered. “How could he know all that passed last night? Why does he single out my song?”

Only that one time did she glance up; then, as usual, she kept her head bowed the whole day through. As night descended, she left once more with the unseen prince close by. All went as it had the night before: the veils and bowls, the saris and the pearls. But this time she sang even more sweetly than the night before. In the morning the prince told his wife of what he'd seen, enfolding it all within a dream.

Once he had finished, she looked at him and softly asked, “Tell me, O prince, was it a dream? Or were you really there?”

The prince loved his wife and could not lie. “I followed you,” he sighed.

“But why?” she asked.

“It is quite simple,” the prince declared. “I love you very much.”

Dorani blushed and said no more. She sat silent the rest of the day. However, just before dusk as she rose to go, she told the prince, “If truly you love me as you say, then remain here tonight; that will test your love.”

The prince did precisely as she had asked.

That night Dorani sang so well that by dawn the Fairy Queen was even more enthralled and offered the maid any gift her heart desired.

At first she was silent, but when asked again, she quietly replied, “Give me the magic lute.”

Indira was cross with herself for being so rash; but a promise had to be kept. So she thrust the lute into Dorani's hands. “You will not come here again,” she gruffly said, “Since no other gift I may offer will enchant you as much. Take the lute and be free.”

In silence Dorani bore her gift away, never to return. When she came home she at once asked the prince what dreams he had the night before. He smiled with joy: for of her own free will, she had spoken to him first.

“No dreams have I had in the night just passed, though a dream appears to me now. Not of what was, but is to come, what might be now that you are free.”

Throughout that day Dorani sat quietly by, though she talked softly when spoken to and she looked up at the prince now and then. As evening fell and the hour drew on, the time came for her to go. Yet she lingered on and made no move to leave.

With hope in his eyes, the prince dared to ask, “Will you stay with me tonight?”

At that she rose and ran to his arms, kissing him and holding him close. “Yes, yes, my lord. Never again will I leave your side.”

Thus the prince won his bride from the Fairy Queen, for human love proved stronger than the fairy's spell.

The End

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