A true fairy
The prince is now twenty; word comes from near and far from kings who wish to form alliances with him
The matchmaker says, ‘The daughter of the king of the Bahlikas is truly beautiful, like a cascade of snow white roses.’
The prince turned his face away and did not say a thing.
The messenger brings word, ‘The daughter of the King of Gandhara is a paragon of beauty, like a bunch of luscious grapes on the vine.’
The prince went away to the forest saying he was on a hunt. Days became weeks but he would not return.
Another messenger says, ‘I have come back from Camboj; their princess has lashes as curved as the horizon at dawn, dew washed, brightened by light.’
The prince kept his nose buried in a book of classical poems and would not even look up.
The king asked, ‘What is the reason for this? Send for the Minister’s son.’
The Minister’s son came. The king said to him, ‘You are my son’s friend; tell me truthfully, why does he not wish to get married?’
The Minister’s son answered, ‘King, it has been your son’s wish to marry a fairy ever since the day he heard about their land.’
The king ordered all his men to find out about the land of the fairies.
Great scholars were summoned and they studied all the books they could find. They then shook their heads and said, ‘There is nothing about a land peopled by fairies in any of these books.’
Then all the traders were sent for to come to the court. They said, ‘We have visited so many islands dotted across the seas – the Cardamom Isles, the Pepper Isles and even the islands where the clove vines grow. We have been to the Malay isles to bring sandal wood and to the cedar forests of Kailash to find musk from the musk deer. But not once did we hear of a land populated by fairies.’
The king said, ‘Summon the Minister’s son.’
When he came, the king asked him, ‘Where did the prince hear of this land of fairies? Who told him of this?’
The Minister’s son said, ‘You have seen Nabin the mad, the one who wanders through the forests with a flute in hand; the prince meets him when he goes to hunt and listens to tales of the land of fairies.’
The king said, ‘Well, then let us call for him.
The mad man came with a fist full of flowers picked in the forest and gave them to the king as a gift. The king asked, ‘Where did you hear of the land of fairies?’
He answered, ‘I go there all the time!’
The king asked, ‘Where is that place?’
The mad man answered, ‘It is by the side of the Kamyak lake, over there where your kingdom ends.’
The king asked, ‘Can one see fairies there?’
The mad man answered, ‘One can see them but not know them. Sometimes they give themselves away as they are leaving but they can no longer be caught at that point.’
The king then asked, ‘How come you know them?’
The mad man answered, ‘Sometimes from tunes I hear, at other times from a little glimmer of light.’
The king was very annoyed by these answers and said, ‘This is nothing but gibberish. Drive him away!’
The treatment of the mad man touched the prince deeply.
Saal flowers filled the branches in the month of spring and Shirish flowers seemed to glow through the entire forest. The prince went to Chitra Giri on his own.
Everyone asked, ‘Where are you going?’
He did not answer any of their questions.
There was a stream that flowed out of the cave and into the Kamyak Lake. It was called Udas Jhora by the villagers. He took refuge in an old temple by the side of that stream.
A month passed. The new young leaves that had appeared in the trees darkened gradually and the forest paths became covered in fallen flowers. One day at dawn, the prince heard a flute play a tune in his dream. As soon as he woke he said, ‘Today I will see her!’
He rode his horse by the stream and reached the edge of the lake. There he found a daughter of the hill folk sitting by its lotus covered surface. Her pitcher was filled but she did not leave to go home. A bright red Shirish flower glowed in the jet hair of the dusky maiden, like the first star at twilight.
The prince dismounted and said to her, ‘Will you give me that flower from your hair?’
The girl was like a deer that knew no fear. She turned and looked him straight in the eye. Something darkened the dark pupils of her eyes even more – like a dream descending upon sleep, like the first rain clouds on the distant horizon.
She plucked the flower from her ear and gave it to him saying, ‘Here, take it.’
The prince asked, ‘Tell me the truth, which fairy are you?’
She heard this and her face filled with wonder. Then like a sudden rain storm in autumn she began laughing, she could not stop.
The prince thought, ‘My dream must be coming true – this laugh sounds like that flute.’
He stretched his arms out and said, ‘Come.’
She held his arm and climbed atop the horse without pausing to think. Her water filled pitcher stayed on the banks of the river.
A cuckoo called out from the branches of the Shirish – Coo! Coo!
The prince whispered in her ear, ‘What is your name?’
She answered, ‘My name is Kajari.’
They went to the old temple by the side of Udas Jhora. The prince asked, ‘Now take your disguise off!’
The girl answered, ‘We are forest folk, we hardly know how to disguise ourselves.’
The prince insisted, ‘But I want to see you as a fairy.’
‘As a fairy?’ The peals of laughter rang out again. The prince thought, ‘this laugh sounds like the ring of these waters, this must be the fairy of the water fall.’
The kind heard that the prince had married a fairy. Horses were sent from the palace; elephants too, and litters.
Kajari asked, ‘Why are these here?’
The prince answered, ‘You must go to the palace.’
Her eyes glittered with tears. She remembered her pitcher, still by the water fall; she remembered the grass seed that was drying in her courtyard; she remembered that her father had taken her brother on a hunt and that it was time for them to return. She remembered that her mother was sitting under a tree weaving a trousseau for her as she sang to herself.
She said, ‘No, I will not go.’
But the drums rang out, along with flutes, cymbals, and bigger drums that drowned out what she said.
When she got out of the litter at the palace, the queen wept and asked, ‘What kind of fairy is this!’
The princess said, ‘Shame!’
The queen’s maid said, ‘What kind of clothes are these for someone said to be a fairy?’
The prince hushed them all and said, ‘Quiet! The fairy is in disguise.’
Days passed. The prince woke on moonlit nights to check if Kajari’s disguise had slipped a little. He would see the dark tresses on her dusky head and the perfection of her body at rest like a black stone goddess. He would sit and think quietly, ‘Where did the fairy hide like the sun behind darkness at dawn.’
The prince was ashamed to face his own people. He grew quite angry one day. As Kajari was about to leave the bed he grabbed her hand and said, ‘Today I will not let you go without showing your true self, I wish to see you!’
The peals of laughter that had once filled the forest air could be heard no longer. Instead, her eyes filled with tears.
The prince asked, ‘Will you trick me forever?’
She said, ‘No, never again.’
The prince said, ‘Then let everyone see you on the full moon night in autumn.’
The full moon was now exactly in the middle of the heavens. The flutes were playing faster and faster.
The prince came in all ready to get married; soon he would be looking into the eyes of his fairy bride.
There were white sheets on the bed and white scented flowers heaped on the white sheets; the silvery moonlight shone down on them all.
She was nowhere to be seen.
The third hour was rung out. The moon moved to the western sky. The house filled up with relatives.
Where was the fairy?
The prince answered, ‘The fairies show themselves by leaving us; one can never find them again after that.’