Payal, the Greedy Kong and the Two Lost Pearls

I know the title seems as if it’s going to be a complex story. Don’t worry I’ll make sure I don’t lose you. You see I can’t recount this story without involving Payal, the Greedy King, Sujan Obi Nas and the two younger Pearls Desiree and Sheeba. Don’t forget Pearls were the first ever Odissi dancers.

I had better tell you a little about Sujan Obi Nas; gosh even his name is too long. His parents had named him Obi but in his early teens he declared as he was a prince his name needed to stand out from those around him. The court officials, the King and the Queen had all looked at each other and knew then things had gone too far; but did nothing to change the situation. Obi had been a beautiful baby boy and a long awaited one; he had six older sisters. From a very early age he had been thoroughly spoilt; by his parents, his sisters, his personal servants and his tutors. He never played nicely with the other court children, he didn’t understand the concept of sharing. He refused to play with his sisters, “they are just girls”! He would burn with rage if he saw anyone else with something he didn’t have; he wanted it. He was also lazy, he didn’t need to move or try; everything came to him. So as the years passed it was easier for all concerned to let the prince be in a private part of the palace. This was to be the future King. We all know that this isn’t looking positive. How could a young man without empathy or social skills be able to rule Shala? He was very clever though and a great mathematician and by the time he was eighteen his tutors were at a loss as to what else they could teach him.

Obi was now quite big. He loved his food and because he didn’t move much this was inevitable. The tailors would have to come and measure him again and again for new silk robes. Some of you must have started feeling sorry for him by now. Me too. His sisters had all married and left the palace.He had sat at the six weddings quietly , seething as to why no one was paying him any attention. The crowds would all coo over his sisters and their husbands and all seemed to be very happy. He was glad when they left and puzzled over why his mother was in tears each time. He did not feel the emptiness that the whole palace felt. The princesses had filled the household with noise, laughter, energy and love. Other than his parents no one really had paid him any genuine attention. He didn’t care , he was happy in his own company. Poor Obi he really didn’t know the value of family, friendship and love; or do you think he hadn’t been shown ?

On his twenty fourth birthday Sujan Obi Nas was crowned King. His father now unable to leave his sickbed had declared it should be so , but with a heavy heavy heart. It was a grand but very sombre affair. A sort of silence descended on the palace over the following days. The officials just kept on doing what they did, the cooks in the kitchen kept on cooking what they used to, the gardens stayed the same, the army got older, there were no royal visits and things were generally miserable. Obi was getting bored and when he got bored he got mean. He took away land from the farmers , he ruled in favour of the guilty parties at court and laughed whilst doing so. Oh, the list is endless and I really didn’t like this Obi at all. No one was able to stop his disgraceful and unreasonable behaviour. The Queen retreated into her private quarters and garden and was riddled with guilt and shame. She would only ever leave to visit the King who was slowly dieing.

Obi had heard about the Odissi dancers and some silly princess who had joined them. He wanted them to come and perform for him and see what was so special about them! He heard back from the dancers also known as Pearls. They were busy – you can imagine his reaction. “Just go and get them”,he shouted to whoever cared to listen. Days passed and then one day there was a commotion in the court. There were trumpets and then “the Odissi Pearls” your highness. Hmmm he thought. I thought there were three or even four of them. The two young dancers were clinging onto each other and holding back tears. It was Desiree and Sheeba. “Put them in the guesthouse”, he ordered. The girls were escorted to the beautiful part of the palace at the back of the lush gardens, surrounded by fountains and they could also see a couple of peacocks sauntering about. What were they to do? They had never been without Parvati. But because they were so tired they both fell asleep.

The two girls awoke the following morning so very hungry. But as they sat up in their beds they could smell yumminess coming from the other room. They jumped out of bed, grabbed each other’s hands and ventured towards the food. Peering out slowly they could see trays of delicious cakes, fruit, nuts, savoury pancakes, dishes they couldn’t recognize and jugs of various drinks. They assumed the white one was milk.They smiled at each other and walked out nervously, turning their heads from side to side to check for intruders. Just them they realised. The girls ate happily and quietly. Now what. Whilst the rooms were beautiful, the beds so comfortable and the food delicious this was not home and they were starting to get jittery again. They had not chosen to be here.

And as if someone had read their thoughts there was a knock at the door. Then there was another, a little louder this time .They didn’t say anything but simply stared at each other. The visitor was waiting to be invited in. After a few moments they knocked again and said gently, “ may I come in?” It was a woman’s voice, gentle but firm. Desiree walked to the door and let the lady in. She was obviously not a servant but neither was she someone royal. She introduced herself as Rukul, senior maid to Queen Leera, the King’s mother. She wore a long dark skirt with a red blouse with gold trim. Her grey streaked hair was tied up into a severe bun. She wore little jewellery, just some simple hooped gold earrings and an ornate heavy looking bracelet, probably silver. The Queen was distressed when she had heard that her son had effectively kidnapped these young women and wanted to reassure them that no harm would come to them and she would personally organise their journey home. She had requested that the girls come to her quarters with Rukul. Both Desiree and Sheeba smiled so hard that Rukul could not help giving them a hug and saying, “you will be fine”.

The three walked along dark corridors with crumbly walls and unpolished floors. This was so different from the guest quarters. Then through some iron gates and onto a path within an overgrown garden, which was still beautiful. Butterflies, bees and brightly coloured birds were all around. And in the corner there was a fountain sheltered by fruit trees and the high brick wall. This was the Queen’s garden but once she lost her husband she stopped tending to it, it was her second love after her family. She also didn’t want anyone else touching it, although many had offered and also suggested outside gardeners.She could not bear to see anything beautiful and her son’s behaviour had saddened and embarrassed her into being a recluse. As they entered an archway, two big doors were opened by two old guards. The girls had never seen such old guards, how would they be able to protect the Queen. Anyway, it was none of their business. They just wanted to go home as quickly as possible.

She was sat in a beautiful emerald green velvet chair and was reading a book and put it away carefully as the three entered. This room was very formal ; less furniture than the guest quarters but with a higher ceiling, dark stone flooring inlaid with what looked like jewels, two large windows on either side dressed with heavy curtains that were held back now allowing the sun to shine through. There were piles of books everywhere – the girls had never seen so many. When did she read so many?The Queen beckoned the girls to sit near her, there were stools for them in the matching green and a small table with fruit. “Don’t be too angry at Obi”, she said gently. She spoke with a sweet ,calm and lilting sort of voice. Desiree and Sheeba sat transfixed as she told them about Obi and her daughters; how the latter never visited because of former. She missed them so much but Obi almost forbade her to leave the palace. She said she was happy to see new faces, especially young people. She missed conversation; she used to hold big groups allowing women to share their views on any subject they chose. These ranged from family, food , friendship, politics to clothes and their country. She loved Obi despite his behaviour and did not quite know how to fix the situation but she could help these two young women escape. More time passed and the huddle of four finally came up for air and seemed satisfied.

Rukul took the two dancers back to their room and disappeared. They waited until they had been served with supper; ate heartily as the Queen has advised.

Sheeba and Desiree then opened the door and stepped out into the darkness and tip toed the same route they had taken earlier. Rukul was waiting for them at the Queen’s garden and smiled. She gave them both a bag with some water and snacks. The two old guards were watching and smiling and willing them on. The older woman snaked through the paths towards the well; the girls followed. Around the fruit trees onto a narrower walkway which was hemmed in by tall woody stems; they had to use their hands to pull through. Rukul then stopped and scraped back some overgrown plant , took out a key and found the hidden door and lock. The two girls looked shocked ; although they knew it was there.

The small mossy creaky door was being shut behind them. They knew what they had to do. Walk alongside the wall until the big trees were in sight inside the palace grounds and then straight head out and eventually they would end up on the track to the next village . That seemed like a great plan but in the dark, snd even with this small lantern they could only see about six feet ahead and above. Desiree let out a small shriek,”something’s on my foot”. With the lantern now shining down the girls saw what looked like the end of a tail swishing past. It had only been a few moments since they were alone and they were already scared. They had assumed it was going to be straightforward escape ; I think the queen and Rukul had read far too many adventure books !! The land behind the palace was overgrown, a mini jungle if you like.Who knew what creatures lived here? The most sensible thing would have been to walk back through the door. There was absolutely no chance of that either now;where was it? It was so well hidden in the overgrowth.

The girls stayed brave and kept walking and struggling through the jungle; they were sure it was supposed to be wildernesses garden ! Neither wanted to let the other down so stayed focused on her steps although both were exhausted and jumpy.

They finally stopped after a few hours and admitted they were lost. They had also unfortunately not made it out of Obi’s land. The girls were observant but brave ; what a strange comment you may be thinking. Well this jungle was filled with giant plants and if it was filled with giant plants surely the animals would also be huge !! Desiree wanted to scream but just gulped. Sheeba also wanted to scream but just wished for Parvati. Both girls descended into deep sleep, but were sure they hadn’t sat down or even laid down. If they could see that one was being held by a giant flower and the other by a snake I’m sure they certainly would not be asleep. The flower swayed gently and whispered to the snake to take Desiree ; she would be more comfortable with her.

The girls slept oblivious of the situation.

Back in another land not so far away Payal sensed there was something wrong and could feel the call of the pearls. She took her leave from the court and headed towards Shala on her chariot. Payal arrived at Obi’s palace just as everyone was getting ready for the day ahead. She no longer got angry. She asked for an audience with the King.She thought she’d give him a chance. Obi agreed to see Payal. He had never seen such a beautiful lady and she didn’t cower in his presence; that too was unusual. Payal introduced herself and then asked for the return of the Pearls. Obi was a little surprised as no one had ever challenged him. He was also not a great orator so answered with , “no, they are my guests.” Payal stayed smiling,” dear king, if you do not let them go home immediately I will be forced to take them. I am sure you do not want your reputation ruined further. And if you do want to see them dance , you can do it anywhere.The energy and pleasure from watching with others is unrivalled. You should try it.”

Obi could feel his face burning with rage.This woman, how dare she speak to him in this way. She was a Princess and he was a King; he didn’t care that she was older. Poor Obi really had not learnt any manners; respecting your elders was a given. Poor poor Obi was going to lose this battle and he didn’t have a clue. He tried to stand but needed the help of two advisors. His right arm, hand and index finger pointing at Payal shouting at her to leave his court and country. This exhausted him and he slumped back down. Payal stood still, wondering whether she should give him another chance to repent or simply get the girls from the garden. Oh, I did not say Desiree and Sheeba were in the Queen’s secret garden filled with the strange and spectacular. It was their way of keeping the dancers safe; Payal had helped plant the garden many years ago. In hindsight the girls were safe, Obi would not really have harmed them. Anyway back to teaching Obi a lesson. Payal stood still and simply smiled. There was a hazy aura about her and I’m sure there was a hint of jasmine.

Obi sat there and was at a loss. No one was rushing to help him or follow his instructions. In truth they all looked at him in pity and disdain; I know that two are contradictory but sometimes your emotions get jumbled. Obi was also confused : he was tired of being disliked. In reality he missed his sisters and mother but just didn’t know how to express it. He was envious when he saw people talking and being lost in each other’s company. He noticed they would stop if they spotted him. He was bored in the palace; there was never any noise or laughter. He couldn’t remember when he last went out of the palace to view his nearby orchards and farms. This self examination seemed to go on and on and suddenly there was hush, a quieter than imaginable silence in the court. Someone was sobbing. It was Obi. Years of anger, pain and hurt were leaving his body. The old advisors gazed towards each other and shrugged. They were all wondering what magic spell this visitor had wielded.

No one knew what to do. Not often that a King starts crying in front of his people. Payal watched and slowly walked towards Obi and helped him up and hugged him;he thought of his mother. He finally stopped crying and sat down again. He asked everyone to leave and him Payal alone. They talked for hours. He spoke of his loneliness, the expectations, the pressure and all from a very early age. His sisters would tease him saying, “this will be all yours one day”. They meant no harm, they were children themselves.The advisors would say, “Prince you need to know all these protocols’”. His father would say, “son, the people are looking to you to guide them”. But his mother would say,” play with your friends;I love you;come sit with me.” He had forgotten her kindness and love. Payal listened and wiped away his tears, again and again. He was distraught and inconsolable. Her message to him was that it was never too late to make amends. He didn’t understand her powers and laughed. Who would listen to him now? Would they trust him? He had hurt so many with his actions. So Payal spoke again and told him how to navigate out of his plight.

In the garden the girls stirred out of their sleep to find themselves wrapped in a giant snake. What to do? Scream ? Wriggle? All pointless they thought, so they just went rigid and weren’t able to even speak. The snake, Hani, just smiled. She was only keeping them warm, but how were they to know that. These humans needed to be more open she thought. As the sun rose she eased the girls out of her grasp and slid away. Bemused they smiled at each other and finally got a sense of their surroundings. It was a garden ; but for a giant ? Too much to deal with on an empty stomach. They both sat in the shade of a bright pink petal and opened the bags Rukul had given them. Yummy fruit and pastries and a pouch that was filled with water. After eating they were debating what they should do next. Sheeba wanted to try and find the gate and go back into the palace. Desiree, feeling braver wanted to push ahead but not knowing into which direction. They could hear little bells , yes definitely little bells coming towards them. Payal was walking towards them with Rukul behind. She hugged the two girls and simply said, “time to go home”. No explanations, no “are you ok?”, no “good to see you”. That was enough for Desiree and Sheeba.

So this story was less about the dancers but more about Obi…. I didn’t know that was going to happen? Payal took the girls back to their village, they never did dance at Obi’s palace. They did get a chance to say farewell to the Queen, she winked at them as they left. They did not want to face Obi. He really had frightened them. It would take some time to forgive him, which they would do.

Epilogue

Obi vowed to be good. He even promised to think about marrying and visiting all his sisters. He even went to watch the Odissi dancers in another palace. Most importantly he spent every afternoon with his mother tending the garden she loved dearly and spoke of his father who he learnt to know and love again.

Parvati was cross but very happy to have Desiree and Sheeba back home. She would need to talk to them again about personal safety.

Payal went back home to Paanivar knowing she would not be there long.

Week 2: Routine and Cooking and Baking is the answer …..

So week two has come and gone. Are we all closer to our families and more in touch with ourselves or are you tearing your hair out? Either way, the answer remains the same – stay home and stay safe.

Well, it’s been a steady sort of week at chez Bhogaita- Grantham. I have finished my first four day week. How very strange to have finally got what I asked for some 21 years ago 🤷🏽‍♀ Please don’t misunderstand, it was with an old employer and my daughter was three. Anyway, enough of the past, although this quarantine period has forced me to slow down and given me more thinking time.

Here we go then with some of my observations and adventures (well perhaps not quite, but it’s a new world!) from my week.

The technology takeover is well underway. My phone told me that my screen 📺 time was up 20%; and your point is?!! The emails are fewer as colleagues across the industry deal with their own personal situations. I’ve zoomed too much and got bored of Houseparty. The husband is well and truly entrenched in his Man Cave and can be heard on numerous zoom calls. The student continues to live within a different time zone and her laptop, phone and headphones are her new gang.

Domesticity with a capital D has entered the house and refuses to leave. The urge to dust and organise comes in waves that I try and push aside in favour of cooking and baking. I confess to vacuuming the sofa this weekend. I think you could actually eat off our floor; we won’t though! Don’t get me wrong, I’m house proud but this is getting out of hand and it’s only week 2. But the student’s room reassured me that some things have not changed. 🤔

Those who know me know I love shopping; in particular for shoes and clothes. Now I am food shopping for three lots of elders: two couples and a lady on her own. The latter has provided me with some of the highlights of my week . Who knew there was a Jade Melon? Perhaps I heard incorrectly? Iodised salt; did you know that all salt is iodised? And then being a vegetarian, I was asked to buy lamb!! From a safe distance in Sainsbury’s me shouting, “Excuse me, do you eat meat?” No, I’m really not some Vegetarian campaigner come to attack you. “Could you just tell me what lamb do I need to buy for an old lady; she wants to make stew”? 🤷🏽‍♀ Then there was the request for “Cheer me up stuff, dear”. And upon asking what those were, I found out to my delight it was a chocolate cake & tulips. Then I then had sweats about the prospect of being stopped by the police to empty my shopping bag of essentials!! Cake and flowers…honest, officer, it’s not for me! It’s nothing much but at least I feel I’m helping in a teeny tiny way. Has anyone else had the 2m shuffle with strangers? It could be in a shop or even on a walk. There’s no laws against a smile or even a nod.

The urge to plan activities and utilise our time effectively is important. Amazon is ruling the waves and delivering whatever we need. The hubby has a new tool box … just for the bike bits you understand! And I got it wrong with the whiteboard … as a friend who manages the Amazon account said, “check the dimensions”. The correct board was to help meal plans, a new concept for us all. It has arrived and been hijacked as you can see for more important activities. The garden Centre is still delivering, so of course we were on board with a group order with the rest of the street. That was Sunday sorted.

My regular check in with my Dad in India continued. Quote of the week, “You don’t need to explain what furlough is, used to happen to us regularly in the Air Force”. That’s me told. Keeping upto date can have its limitations. How are you ?

What are you doing ? I’m waiting for him to say “what do you think I’m doing”? It’s lockdown there too.

Onto my favourite subject .. food.

I found some flour – well some of it’s out of date 🤷🏽‍♀ and then at the end of the week, found some more in Sainsbury’s. Hallelujah! Cooking rota seems to be working if I accept that I have the larger share; so lucky. We’ve had Thai, Indian and Italian this week. We’ve eaten a cake made with out of date flour and sugar from the last century. We are learning to plan. We are eating together. My phone has been banned from the table.

The house is calm. We are lucky to have the space. Think of those here in the UK and around the world who neither have the luxury of space or money or extra food.

See you next week and I will introduce you to my attempts at getting to grips with a regular early morning yoga practice.

🙏🏽

Seema

(Hurtling towards obsessing about meal planning )

NB: Thoughts remain with those who are looking after us all and those who have lost loved ones.💕

Three’s a crowd and the Art of Zooming: Week 1

Hope this will make you smile and perhaps resonate with you.

It’s been a while since my small family has all been together for so much time. We do love each other, honestly! Let me introduce ourselves. My hubby who normally works away during the week, my daughter, the final year university student and me, who has ants in her pants and is rarely home for more than four nights during any week. It was going to be an interesting few days…

The first thing that happened was staking one’s claim. Like all communities of days gone by, we all wanted our territories and the benefits that they offered. The hubby took the study; serious and no disturbances,please. The daughter wants the dining table as “I can spread out and there’s lots of natural light”. Or maybe it’s because it’s near the food? And I get the lovely lounge, comfortable with the tv for company in downtime. We’ve fallen into a routine that allows for minimal contact during the day and we congregate in the evening. The adults up at normal time and “keeping calm and carrying on”. The student living under student rules where lunchtime becomes breakfast and bedtime moves to… ?

I have a regular date with hubby at lunchtime now – short and sweet. Updating each other with our morning stories. I may also see him arriving with a cuppa in the afternoon. Yes, those who know me, he is allowed to make my tea!

I’ve used Skype, Facebook Portal, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Whatsapp group video call, Houseparty and, not forgetting, the good old telephone. We have mobiles, iPad and laptops on the go. Jeez, who knew there were so many ways to get connected; my phone may need to be surgically removed from my palm after all this. And saying “get off your phone” seems rather pointless now and our WiFi is the new Queen!

So who’s been on their meetings and ensured hair & makeup is done? Not me! Well, I gave into some makeup. Not that it makes any difference when you are one of 12 squares on a screen. Zoom and Teams etiquette being learnt quickly. Three hour normal meetings suddenly reduced to 1 hour. Ensuring that no secrets of your home are given away easily. Work lives may never be the same again. And all those disparaging, often said in jest, remarks about working from home I’ve heard for the last 22 years may need to be re-calibrated. There’s an art to working from home, and when you embrace it, the results are awesome. But in the end, we all crave human contact and let’s not forget that.

Now let’s move onto food, my favourite subject. Three proper meals every day now. Dear God, another increase in dress size! So much home cooked food. I can’t seem to stop. We seem to be sharing the rota, however the student needs to increase her participation – although she’s great for ideas!! My Indian house is never short of rice, flour, potatoes, onions , lentils and spices 😂 But can I find flour for baking – hell no! I want cake. Now we are all baking and cooking again instead of just watching others do it on glossy tv shows. And sharing our ideas on groups and FB – or is that just me ? We are lucky, I know, to be able to indulge in our food choices. All this may in the long term help the Housewares Industry; I truly pray for that. We all need more gadgets and pans and bakeware and storage in our lives (did I cover everyone? 🧐).

My dining room, kitchen cupboards and shoe cupboard have all been attacked. Need to spread the “to do” list. Can you imagine if you ran out of jobs by week four and had to revert to just work, eating and tv?! The back garden has been made spring ready by the hubby. He’s thinking of getting a new tool box! God help us. The student, well, she’s spreading her work and is currently working on a virtual pub quiz.

Then there is the new industry of making the indoors more fun and active. The two that have stood out so far for me are Joe Wickes and Oti Mabusi – although am not partaking because of one dodgy ankle. Good time to rest, I do get some things right! Think both Joe and Oti have captured the imagination of both the kids and adults. There are numerous virtual opportunities to get involved – you may not have enough time! Don’t forget the online quizzes, book club meetings and just chats. Having taken so many social events out of my diary, I am now scheduling zoom calls with different groups. Is it a girl thing?

Who would have thought that I would choose to be up 5.30am to join in with yoga on FB live? And then on alternate days at 7pm. No more trash tv for me 😂 Only box sets and the BBC news measure up these days, oh and some Miranda and Montalbano and, not to forget, Radio 4 Extra.

Luckily I don’t have to home school any children – hats off to all those parents who are doing this whilst worrying about meals/work/staying safe and managing their Houseparty schedules. So much wine to be drunk.

On a serious note we are doing our best.

Lucky to be part of a community that is supporting those who need help.

What defines you in the end is how you deal with what is served up. Grateful to those key workers who are keeping the country on its feet while we deal with basic shit.

🙏🏽

Seema (the ex control freak but now a budding wannabe cook)

Payal, the Greedy King and the Two Lost Pearls

(Illustration by the wonderful Desiree Bashi)

I know the title seems as if it’s going to be a complex story. Don’t worry I’ll make sure I don’t lose you. You see I can’t recount this story without involving Payal, the Greedy King, Sujan Obi Nas and the two younger Pearls Desiree and Sheeba. Don’t forget, Pearls were the first ever Odissi dancers.

I had better tell you a little about Sujan Obi Nas; gosh, even his name is too long! His parents had named him Obi but in his early teens he declared his name needed to stand out from those around him, as he was a prince. The court officials, the King and the Queen had all looked at each other and knew then things had gone too far; but did nothing to change the situation. Obi had been a beautiful baby boy and a long awaited one; he had six older sisters. From a very early age, he had been thoroughly spoilt by his parents, his sisters, his personal servants and his tutors. He never played nicely with the other court children as he didn’t understand the concept of sharing. He refused to play with his sisters, “they are just girls”! He would burn with rage if he saw anyone else with something he didn’t have; he wanted it. He was also lazy, he didn’t need to move or try as everything came to him.

So as the years passed it was easier for all concerned to let the prince be in a private part of the palace. This was the future King. We all know that this isn’t looking positive. How could a young man without empathy or social skills be able to rule Shala? He was very clever, though, and a great mathematician and by the time he was eighteen his tutors were at a loss as to what else they could teach him.

Obi was now quite big. This was inevitable – he loved his food and didn’t move much. The tailors would have to come and measure him again and again for new silk robes. Some of you must have started feeling sorry for him by now. Me too. His sisters had all married and left the palace. He had sat at the six weddings quietly, inwardly seething, as no one was paying him any attention. The crowds would all coo over his sisters and their husbands and all seemed to be very happy. He was glad when they left and puzzled over why his mother was in tears each time. He did not feel the emptiness that the whole palace felt. The princesses had filled the household with noise, laughter, energy and love. Other than his parents, no one really had paid him any genuine attention. He didn’t care, he was happy in his own company. Poor Obi! He really didn’t know the value of family, friendship and love; or do you think he hadn’t been shown?

On his twenty fourth birthday Sujan Obi Nas was crowned King. His father now unable to leave his sickbed had declared it should be so, but did so with a heavy heavy heart. It was a grand but very sombre affair. A sombre silence descended on the palace over the following days. The officials just kept on doing what they did, the cooks in the kitchen kept on cooking what they used to, the gardens stayed the same, the army got older, there were no royal visits and things were generally miserable. Obi was getting bored and when he got bored, he got mean. He took away land from the farmers, he ruled in favour of the guilty parties at court and laughed whilst doing so. Oh, the list is endless and I really didn’t like this Obi at all. No one was able to stop his disgraceful and unreasonable behaviour. The Queen retreated into her private quarters and garden and was riddled with guilt and shame. She would only ever leave to visit the King who was slowly fading away.

One day, Obi heard about the Odissi dancers and some silly princess who had joined them. He wanted them to come and perform for him and see what was so special about them. He heard back from the dancers also known as Pearls. They were busy, they said. You can just imagine his reaction! “Just go and get them”, he shouted to whoever cared to listen. Days passed and then one day there was a commotion in the court. There were trumpets and then “the Odissi Pearls, your Highness”. Hmmm, he thought. I thought there were three or even four of them. The two young dancers were clinging onto each other and holding back tears. It was Desiree and Sheeba. “Put them in the guesthouse”, he ordered. The girls were escorted to the beautiful part of the palace at the back of the lush gardens, surrounded by fountains. They could also see a couple of peacocks sauntering about. What were they to do? They had never been without Parvati. But because they were so tired, they both fell asleep.

The two girls awoke the following morning so very hungry. But as they sat up in their beds they could smell yumminess coming from the other room. They jumped out of bed, grabbed each other’s hand and ventured towards the food. Peering out slowly, they could see trays of delicious cakes, fruit, nuts, savoury pancakes, dishes they couldn’t recognize and jugs of various drinks. They assumed the white one was milk. They smiled at each other and walked out, nervously checking for intruders. Just them, they realised. The girls ate happily and quietly. Now what? Whilst the rooms were beautiful, the beds comfortable and the food delicious, this was not home and they were starting to get jittery again. They had not chosen to be here.

And as if someone had read their thoughts there was a knock at the door, followed by another, a little louder this time. They didn’t say anything but simply stared at each other. The visitor was waiting to be invited in. After a few moments there was another knock and a voice said gently, “May I come in?” It was a woman’s voice, gentle but firm. Desiree walked to the door and let the lady in. She was obviously not a servant but neither was she someone royal. She introduced herself as Rukul, senior maid to Queen Leera, the King’s mother. She wore a long dark skirt with a red blouse with gold trim. Her grey streaked hair was pulled back into a severe bun. She wore little jewellery, just some simple hooped gold earrings and a heavy, ornate bracelet, probably silver. The Queen was distressed when she had heard that her son had effectively kidnapped these young women and wanted to reassure them that no harm would come to them and she would personally organise their journey home. She had requested that the girls come to her quarters with Rukul. Both Desiree and Sheeba smiled so hard that Rukul could not help giving them a hug and saying, “You will be fine”.

The three walked along dark corridors with crumbly walls and unpolished floors. This was so different from the guest quarters. Then through some iron gates and onto a path within an overgrown garden, which was still beautiful. Butterflies, bees and brightly coloured birds were all around. And in the corner there was a fountain sheltered by fruit trees and the high brick wall. This was the Queen’s garden but once she lost her husband she stopped tending to it. This was her second love after her family. She also didn’t want anyone else touching it, although many had offered and also suggested outside gardeners. She could not bear to ruin anything beautiful and her son’s behaviour had saddened and embarrassed her into being a recluse. As they entered an archway, two big doors were opened by two old guards. The girls had never seen such old guards and wondered how they would be able to protect the Queen. Anyway, it was none of their business. They just wanted to go home as quickly as possible.

She was sat in a beautiful emerald green velvet chair and was reading a book and put it away carefully as the three entered. This room was very formal; less furniture than the guest quarters but with a higher ceiling, dark stone flooring inlaid with what looked like jewels, two large windows on either side dressed with heavy curtains that were held back allowing the sun to shine through. There were piles of books everywhere – the girls had never seen so many. When did she read so many?The Queen beckoned the girls to sit near her, there were stools for them in the matching green and a small table with fruit. “Don’t be too angry at Obi”, she said gently. She spoke with a sweet, calm and lilting sort of voice. Desiree and Sheeba sat transfixed as she told them about Obi and her daughters; how the latter never visited because of former. She missed them so much but Obi almost forbade her to leave the palace. She said she was happy to see new faces, especially young people. She missed conversation; she used to hold big groups allowing women to share their views on any subject they chose. These ranged from family, food , friendship, politics to clothes and their country. She loved Obi despite his behaviour and did not quite know how to fix the situation but she could help these two young women escape. More time passed and the huddle of four finally came up for air and seemed satisfied.

Rukul took the two dancers back to their room and disappeared. They waited until supper was served and ate heartily as the Queen has advised.

Sheeba and Desiree then opened the door and stepped out into the darkness and tip toed the same route they had taken earlier. Rukul was waiting for them at the Queen’s garden and smiled. She gave them both a bag with some water and snacks. The two old guards were watching and smiling and willing them on. The older woman snaked through the paths towards the well and the two girls followed. The path took them around the fruit trees onto a narrower walkway which was hemmed in by tall woody stems where they had to use their hands to pull through. Rukul then stopped and scraped back an overgrown plant, took out a key and found the hidden door and lock. The two girls looked shocked although they knew it was there.

The small mossy creaky door was being shut behind them. They knew what they had to do. Walk alongside the wall until the big trees were in sight inside the palace grounds and then head straight out; eventually they would end up on the track to the next village. That seemed like a great plan but in the dark with this small lantern, they could only see about six feet ahead and above. Desiree let out a small shriek, ”Something’s on my foot”. With the lantern now shining down the girls saw what looked like the end of a tail swishing past. It had only been a few moments since they were alone and they were already scared. They had assumed it was going to be straightforward escape. I think the queen and Rukul had read far too many adventure books! The land behind the palace was overgrown, a mini jungle if you like. Who knew what creatures lurked here? The most sensible thing would have been to walk back through the door. There was absolutely no chance of that either now; where was it? It was so well hidden in the overgrowth.

The girls stayed brave and kept walking and struggling through the jungle; they were sure it was supposed to be wildernesses garden! Neither wanted to let the other down so stayed focused on her steps although both were exhausted and jumpy.

They finally stopped after a few hours and admitted they were lost. They had also unfortunately not made it out of Obi’s land. The girls were observant but brave – what a strange comment you may be thinking. Well, this jungle was filled with giant plants and if it was filled with giant plants surely the animals would also be huge!! Desiree wanted to scream but just gulped. Sheeba also wanted to scream but just wished for Parvati. Both girls descended into deep sleep, but were sure they hadn’t sat down or even laid down. If they could see that one was being held by a giant flower and the other by a snake I’m sure they wouldn’t have fallen asleep. The flower swayed gently and whispered to the snake to take Desiree; she would be more comfortable with her.
The girls slept on, oblivious of the situation.

Back in another land not so far away, Payal sensed there was something wrong and could feel the call of the Pearls. She took her leave from the court and headed towards Shala on her chariot. Payal arrived at Obi’s palace just as everyone was getting ready for the day ahead. She no longer got angry. She asked for an audience with the King.She thought she’d give him a chance. Obi agreed to see Payal. He had never seen such a beautiful lady and she didn’t cower in his presence; that too was unusual. Payal introduced herself and then asked for the return of the Pearls. Obi was a little surprised as no one had ever challenged him. He was also not a great orator so answered abruptly, “No, they are my guests.” Payal stayed smiling, “Dear King, if you do not let them go home immediately, I will be forced to take them. I am sure you do not want your reputation ruined further. And if you do want to see them dance, you can do so anywhere. The energy and pleasure from watching with others is unrivalled. You should try it.”

Obi could feel his face burning with rage. This woman, how dare she speak to him in this way! She was only a Princess and he was a King; he didn’t care that she was older. Poor Obi really had not learnt any manners; respecting your elders was a given. Poor poor Obi was going to lose this battle and he didn’t have a clue. He tried to stand but needed the help of two advisors. His right arm, hand and index finger pointing at Payal shouting at her to leave his court and country. This exhausted him and he slumped back down. Payal stood still, wondering whether she should give him another chance to repent or simply get the girls from the garden. Oh, I did not say Desiree and Sheeba were in the Queen’s secret garden filled with the strange and spectacular. It was their way of keeping the dancers safe; Payal had helped plant the garden many years ago. In hindsight, the girls were safe, Obi would not really have harmed them. Anyway back to teaching Obi a lesson. Payal stood still and simply smiled. There was a hazy aura about her and I’m sure there was a hint of jasmine.

Obi sat there and was at a loss. No one was rushing to help him or follow his instructions. In truth they all looked at him in pity and disdain; I know that two are contradictory but sometimes your emotions get jumbled. Obi was also confused. He was tired of being disliked. In reality, he missed his sisters and mother but just didn’t know how to express this! He was envious when he saw people talking and being comfortable in each other’s company. He noticed they would stop if they spotted him. He was bored in the palace; there was never any noise or laughter. He couldn’t remember when he last went out of the palace to view his nearby orchards and farms. This self examination seemed to go on and on and suddenly there was hush, a quieter than imaginable silence in the court. Someone was sobbing. It was Obi. Years of anger, pain and hurt were leaving his body. The old advisors gazed at each other and shrugged. They were all wondering what magic spell this visitor had wielded.

No one knew what to do. Not often does a King starts crying in front of his people. Payal watched and slowly walked towards Obi and helped him up and hugged him; he thought of his mother. He finally stopped crying and sat down again. He asked everyone to leave him Payal alone. They talked for hours. He spoke of his loneliness, the expectations, the pressure and all from a very early age. His sisters would tease him saying, “This will be all yours one day”. They meant no harm, they were children themselves. The advisors would say, “Prince you need to know all these protocols’”. His father would say, “Son, the people are looking to you to guide them”. But his mother would say, “Play with your friends. I love you. Come sit with me.” He had forgotten her kindness and love. Payal listened and wiped away his tears, again and again. He was distraught and inconsolable. Her message to him was that it was never too late to make amends. He didn’t understand her powers and laughed. Who would listen to him now? Would they trust him? He had hurt so many with his actions. So Payal spoke again and told him how to navigate out of his plight.

In the garden, fthe girls stirred out of their sleep to find themselves wrapped in a giant snake. What to do? Scream? Wriggle? All pointless, they thought, so they just went rigid and weren’t able to even speak. The snake, Hani, just smiled. She was only keeping them warm, but how were they to know that. These humans needed to be more open, she thought. As the sun rose she eased the girls out of her grasp and slid away. Bemused, they smiled at each other and finally got a sense of their surroundings. It was a garden ; but for a giant ? Too much to deal with on an empty stomach. They both sat in the shade of a bright pink petal and opened the bags Rukul had given them. Yummy fruit and pastries and a pouch that was filled with water. After eating they were debating what they should do next. Sheeba wanted to try and find the gate and go back into the palace. Desiree, feeling braver, wanted to push ahead but not knowing into which direction. They could hear little bells, yes, definitely little bells coming towards them. Payal was walking towards them with Rukul behind. She hugged the two girls and simply said, “time to go home”. No explanations, no “are you ok?”, no “good to see you”. That was enough for Desiree and Sheeba.

So this story was less about the dancers but more about Obi…. I didn’t know that was going to happen! Payal took the girls back to their village, they never did dance at Obi’s palace. They did get a chance to say farewell to the Queen, who winked at them as they left. They did not want to face Obi. He really had frightened them. It would take some time to forgive him, which they would eventually do.

Epilogue:
Obi vowed to be good. He even promised to think about marrying and visiting all his sisters. He went to watch the Odissi dancers in another palace. Most importantly, he spent every afternoon with his mother tending the garden she loved dearly and spoke of his father who he learnt to know and love again.
Parvati was cross about the situation, but very happy to have Desiree and Sheeba back home. She would need to talk to them again about personal safety.

Payal went back home to Paanivar knowing she would not be there long.

Payal’s story – the early years

(Illustration by Desiree Bashi)

The first sound Payal could remember hearing was that of her Baba (father) and of the nearby waves. The waves were never harsh , they were always soothing and gentle on her ears. At night it seemed to her that the waves swaddled her body and rocked her to sleep where she dreamt such beautiful and happy dreams. Baba was always the same ; kind and gentle and encouraging her in everything she did as she grew.

She wasn’t certain at what point she realised that she didn’t have a Maa. It must have been during one of the festivals when all the little girls and their mothers were invited to the palace. The king and queen used to organise prayers and give offerings to the gods to keep the land safe and the people happy. It was a grand ceremony with many priests and wise men, the palace was decorated with torches, fresh flowers and silk cloths draped over walls. All the servants were in newly made garments of white and yellow cloth with large silver buttons. They looked smart. Yellow and white is such a fresh combination don’t you think?

Afterwards the guests would be fed a delicious meal followed by mouthwatering sweets and a drink of honey and almond milk. The girls would all sit in a line with their mothers sitting opposite them. Baba had insisted that Payal go. You know how persuasive fathers can be. I think Payal must have been eight years of age and decided that it was easier to go than upset Baba. The women of the village had helped get Payal ready.. The clothes were not a problem; a long sarong type skirt in green with a bright orange blouse for that first year. It was her long hair that Baba struggled with. He would try and plait it and as soon as he held one strand another would fall out. This carried on for ages until most of her waist length silky black hair was loose and a small plait was left in his hands. Payal and Baba looked at each other and burst out laughing. He gave up finally and took her along to where the other girls and their mothers were gathering. A couple of the women took Payal to one side and plaited her hair and did some wizardry to bring it all together in a loose bun. One of them with a satisfied smile then placed a flower in the gathered masterpiece.

So here she was in this grand hall sitting on the floor along with her friends all chattering away. The women were opposite the girls. I’ve never been able to work out why they did it this way. Perhaps to stop the girls getting bored. Some women even had two or three girls. How was that even possible she thought. She looked opposite her and there was an empty space. I think it is unfair but Payal never complained but did occasionally wonder why she was the only one without a Maa. The Queen used to look forward to this event. She had two sons and yearned for a daughter. She hardly saw the boys as they were with their tutors during the day and after their evening meal would fall asleep too quickly with her. She thought a daughter could remain with her at all times. She hadn’t really thought this through.

The Queen wondered amongst the seated guests and happened to see Payal. She wasn’t a pretty girl but was very striking. Such long her , big oval eyes with long lashes that curled over. A sweet smile. She looked over to see her mother and saw the empty space. Her heart sank for the girl. She looked at her again and did not witness any sorrow. Infact she seemed perfectly happy. How very strange!

Then the queen did a most extraordinary thing. Can you guess? Yes. She sat down opposite Payal. The entire hall fell silent and was pretending not to stare. The king and the two princes were smiling as they watched. So typical of her. She was such a rebel. You now know where Madhvi got that wild streak from. This was her grandmother and the older prince who was only ten at the time would later become the king and her father. I wouldn’t want you to say that I didn’t keep you informed. Anyway back to Payal.

Payal became of everyone’s eyes upon her. She raised her own eyes away from her food and looked ahead and nearly choked upon see the queen in front of her. Ok, she thought what does one do faces with a queen. She really hadn’t given this situation much thought in her young life. She seems nice enough and was smiling at her and seemed to be genuinely wanting to speak to her. Oh well here it goes she thought. “Hello your highness” she said in her politest voice. The Queen perked up and replied “hello child, what is your name?”. Everyone knew Payal’s name so this question came as a bit of a surprise. “It’s Payal” she replied without adding “what a silly question”. The Queen sat amongst them throughout the meal asking Payal questions about where she lived, who she lived with, what she enjoyed doing, names of her friends and then asked the killer question about her missing Maa. Payal gave her a puzzled look. No one had ever asked her so many questions, even the teacher at the village school. She thought about it and said simply, “I just don’t have one”. Tears started flowing from Queen’s eyes and Payal thought she had done something very wrong to make the Queen cry. The girls and the women near them looked at her reassuringly and mouthed don’t worry. The queen stood up and bent over Payal and told her that it had been lovely to meet her and she was a very brave girl. And then she did another extraordinary thing. I bet you can’t guess this time. Well let me tell you. She took off her pearl necklace and placed it over Payal’s head. Payal was a little overwhelmed and murmured a thankyou and bowed her head. The Queen then left the hall. Before long the noise levels were up again and music could be heard from the courtyard. Everyone went out to watch the dancers and listen to the musicians before heading home.

Payal’s friends were so happy for her and recounted the evening’s events to her Baba when they finally reached home. Jealousy had not emerged amongst these people. Baba looked at her daughter and the pearl necklace which seemed to give her an added glow. But how could they accept such a gift. It had to be returned. He would discuss it with Payal the following day. That night as Payal slept with her hair flowing around her she could once again hear the sounds of the waves. She fell into a deep sleep and the pearl necklace clung onto its new owner. Payal was swimming in deep waters, actually under the water. She was smiling and her eyes were wide open. She was confused .. I am supposed to be asleep. She was far from that. Fishes of all sizes and colours swam with her and they chatted away; about what I am not so sure. Bigger creatures kept their distance as they did not want to frighten the princess who came to visit them daily. She reminded them of her mother…..

Payal’s mother, Aakavi had been a sea queen. In those times there was no difference between the land and the sea people. I am assuming her father was a nobleman but I am not certain as he died before her birth. Aakavi fell ill with grief before giving birth to the baby Payal and instructed her court advisors to find a good man in the nearby village. He would raise her child. She knew her life would be ending soon. But Aakavi was not sad. This was the way things passed and they would meet each other again because true and pure love never dies or separates.

I have a confession to make. I lied to you. I didn’t want people to think badly of Aakavi. Payal’s real father is actually Baba (his name is Kusham), who was a poor but very gentle and handsome fisherman. One day I’ll tell you their tragic love story; but it did create the wonderful creature called Payal. I know it sounds very common and it keeps happening over and over again. A princess falling in love with a poor man or vice versa. It must be the danger element don’t you think or the forbidden fruit nonsense.

As Aakavi was taking her last breath she came and presented Kusham with his daughter and then she simply melted away in the water. The tears of her people and the creatures of the sea caused a surge in the seas for days ; waves crashed and there seem to be no end to it. The villagers were unable to travel or fish and were beginning to think their homes too would soon be washed away. Kusham sat with his baby daughter and looked at her in wonder. She simply slept in his arms and did not make a sound. She didn’t cry, she didn’t fuss, she slept and didn’t make any demands on him in those early days.

People in the village were not even aware that there was a baby in his house otherwise they would have come with gifts and sung songs of welcome. He frowned and thought how would he explain her presence? It kept him awake for many nights. But to his surprise after he had prepared a long convulated history and presented her no one seemed to be listening to him but were just transfixed by the smiling Payal. I can’t tell you exactly why he chose this name but it I like it. Later the same day he took Payal towards the ocean and cried out to Aakavi’s spirit that he loved his daughter and would protect and nurture her. Everyone in the ocean heard his voice booming out to sea and from that moment the waves retreated and the water’s greyness disappeared and it returned to a shimmering turquoise; warm and welcoming.

So Payal grew strong and tall under Baba’s guidance. She was a real tomboy but one with ridiculously long hair ! And in those days there was no way it would be cut. Payal often wondered how much her hair weighed and if her head was really strong as a result of carrying it. So now I’ve bought you upto speed with Payal and Baba (I prefer to call him by this name) let’s return to the issue of the pearl necklace and its return. Payal woke up as normal and reached to touch the silky beads. She hadn’t imagined it after all. She knew why the queen had given her the necklace; she had felt sorry for her. That had been obvious even to the young girl. She had never owned any proper jewellery. There was no reason for her to as she was only eight years old. She looked down at it , played with it, twisted it all the way around her neck. It was the same throughout; pea shaped creamy white pearls that were held together with a gold thread. She wondered if she should take it off ? But thought better of it, what if she lost it.

Baba walked in and paced around Payal. He had planned to reason with Payal and explain why they should return the necklace to the queen. Unfortunately it came out as “we need to go to the palace now and give the necklace back immediately”. Payal tried hard not to show any emotions but she was sad. If Baba wanted to give this back, it would have to go back. After having some breakfast of fruit and coconut milk they started on the walk to the palace . It would take at least an hour on the path that ran along the edge of the forest. Baba hadn’t quite worked out what he was going to say. Payal just skipped alongside him trying not to think about giving away the necklace.

They saw the palace in the distant and they both stood and looked; how could four people need such a big house ? They turned towards each other and shrugged and carried onto the path that curved its way to the gate made of flowers and jewels. Baba knocked and gave his name and asked for an audience with the Queen. The small door to the side opened and a young man beckoned them in. They walked behind him, Payal gripping Baba’s hand, more for his benefit. He knew it too. The Queen ( gosh I’ve forgotten to tell you her name , it’s Vedi. ) was sitting with an older woman at one end of the garden. They weren’t busy with anything in particular. Whilst I’m imparting basic information I had better tell you the names of the whole family. The King was Rivam and their sons Tali and Irap. Tali was the same age as Payal and Irap was two years older.

Vedi looked up and saw the girl from the previous night. She was delighted to see that she was wearing the necklace. Then she moved her gaze to the handsome man with her. She wondered if it was her father although she could see no resemblance. He looked very nervous and Vedi spoke earlier than she would do normally to put him at ease. He smiled and explained who he was and thanked her for the generous gift but they would not be able to keep it. It was too precious and what would his daughter do with a pearl necklace anyway. At that point Payal wished her Baba would dream beyond the village and their bit of the ocean. Why couldn’t she wear such a necklace? Vedi requested that they sit and listen to her idea. I wonder what she has in mind.

Payal sat there dumbstruck. The entire conversation concerned her but they didn’t consult her once. She wasn’t unhappy about the plans but she wanted to declare her presence and shout “I am here, right here, look!” The drawback of being an eight year old girl. Then there was silence and Baba looked down at her and said,”what do you think Payal, could you handle this change?” Ahh finally you think it’s important to check she grumbles to herself. “I would love it Baba, who wouldn’t. I get to be with you, see my friends and get to spend time in this beautiful place.” She thought she was whispering but Vedi could hear the excitement in Payal’s voice.

So it was decided that the young Payal would come to the palace every other day and spend time with the Queen. She would help her with her education and would be allowed to play with the princes. And when she was old enough, probably fourteen or so she would come to work as one of the Queen’s maids. The discussion over the necklace; now did it actually take place ? Payal and Baba went home in a daze whilst the necklace still hung around the girl’s neck. I am not convinced that Vedi was totally honest. I think there is some history with the pearl necklace; why for example did she have it with her on the night of the festivities, it was not her normal jewellery. Why was she drawn to Payal and why would she allow a village girl to play with the princes?

Payal would make the journey to and from the palace accompanied by a guard. He would be there outside the house when she awoke and ensure she was home before dark. Baba would wave her off with a great big bear hug. The guard and Payal walked in complete silence and although the she tried in the early days to engage him in conversation but to no avail. The man would look down at her and smile when she wasn’t looking. He wanted dearly to talk with her but it just wasn’t the done thing and he took his job for the Queen very seriously. Payal would occasionally skip or sing to pass the time.Then there were also periods when she would work through all the names of people she had to learn about, gone by kings and queens and important ministers and court officials. How could it take so many people to look after our land? King Rivam had so many men (no women and perhaps that was the problem, well you were all thinking it). She was sure she could do better.

At the other end her friends would always repeat the same comments. “You’re so lucky”. “Tell us what is new there?” “What are they like?” “Do you really play with the princes?” It was an endless list and over the years I am certain she would have answered them truthfully. She shared her experiences with great honesty, openness and as if she were hearing the questions for the first time. She would tell them how kind the Queen was, how funny the King was, how loving Irap could be and how studious Tali was. Payal would watch them with wonder when they were together; each being a part of the whole. She also noticed how Queen Vedi had introduced her into this exclusive club. Over the years Payal had started to sit with the princes during their studies. And she was by far the brightest and wise beyond her years. The princes were never upset by this but used to tease her and say that she would one day rule the kingdom (I will come back to this point as it will be the game changer for all concerned in this story). They all missed her on the days she wasn’t there and Baba missed her on the days she was away from him. Payal was equally happy at both places but knew that her Baba needed her more. At the palace she was never asked to do any manual work. At home she was responsible for cooking and cleaning and fetching the water. She was what you would call an all-rounder. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t love her or didn’t wish her well.

She was about to turn fourteen and Baba knew that soon she would be living at the palace. She would visit him but he wasn’t able to come to terms with her not being at home, he was losing Payal but also Aakavi. Payal was also concerned and resolved to find a solution. She discussed the problem with the Queen. The Queen mentioned it to her husband. Payal also spoke with the princes. It didn’t take long for the answer to appear. They were all trying to take credit for it but they all secretly knew it was Payal’s idea that had been weaved into their thoughts. Baba could help run the Royal fleet.He could live near the palace and would still be close to the ocean. Baba would never leave his beloved water. He needed to touch it every day and listen to the waves. Ofcourse Baba was sad to leave the little house and the community he had spent so many years with but he belonged near Payal, she was still a child. Just past her fourteenth birthday Payal was settled into the women’s quarters and Baba in a shelter a short distance from the palace.

Life was moving on.I think she became more beautiful and graceful as she grew older. She continued to have magical dreams and swam with the people and creatures of the ocean. She remembered more and more of her visions and contemplated ways to make sense of them. She decided to go to the ocean’s edge on the night before her 18th birthday. The water was still and a faint humming could be heard from below the surface. Payal walked into a warm silky ocean and found herself in her dream state. Above the water just a few yards away Baba watched as his daughter went to her mother’s world. Payal swam, met people, talked about her world and listened to stories going back years of Aakavi and her adventures. It was soon time to go back to the palace so she simply raised her arms and gently spun her way to the top. It mirrored her dreams precisely. As she strode away from the water she was dry and felt renewed. Baba was still there but had fallen asleep, Payal woke him and smiled at him and told him all was well.

Later that day the Queen held a private celebration for Payal’s birthday. The King and the princes were there along with a very uncomfortable Baba. He had never got used to the pomp and luxury even after all these years. Although Payal and he still lived in quite simple quarters they were constantly surrounded by the excess of the palace. Even the garden seemed to have more than it’s fair share of flowers. Although Vedi and Rivam were not the showy type they could not escape some of the grandeur needed. Don’t feel too sorry for them. Today there was just a simple spread of nuts, fruits and sweets for them to enjoy along with water flavoured with rose petals and honey. The Queen seemed to be anxious to speak. She looked excited and impatient. Payal knew what she wanted to tell her. Vedi had not guessed that Payal had been going to the ocean all her life and had become aware of the old friendship between the two Queens. The pearl necklace was a gift from Aakavi to Vedi when they were young girls. Vedi had seen Payal long before the first night they had met. She had guessed that she was Aakavi’s child but it’s not a thing you just drop into everyday conversation. Especially to a girl such as Payal.

Rivam looked at his wife and said,”come on Vedi please tell us all what you are bursting to reveal.” That was just the cue she needed and about an hour later the audience which had sat in complete silence remained speechless. Baba and Payal hugged each other. Rivam and the princes bowed and all welcomed Princess Payal, “ we are honoured that you are amongst us”. Rivam winked at her. Irap dug his elbow in her ribs whilst Tali gave her hair a quick tug. So, nothing really changed other than Payal was moved to the royal block and proclamations of her new status were sent out. She was also given the grand title of Advisor to the Princes.She sensed that the existing supporters of the king were not especially happy with this news. However, she ensured she involved them in any decisions relating to the princes. In addition she started disappearing for long periods of time and reports of her adventures would reach them long after her return. Helping poor farmers, rescuing ill treated women, resolving feuds and anything else good you can muster. She never forgot her village friends and would visit them regularly even if it was just to deliver some fuel or food or to simply chat; she always seemed to appear when they needed her the most.

So this is how Payal became the fairy godmother like figure in the land. She had a magical presence. And if you are wondering, she didn’t marry either of the princes. Life isn’t that simple or predictable

Perhaps I will get the opportunity to share some more of her adventures another time. The first one will be surely be about the day her pearl necklace broke and it is said that the Pearl Girls or Odissi Dancers as they became to be known were created from these very pearls …

…………………….the end for now………………

The Princess 👑 and The Odissi Dancers

The gorgeous and talented Desiree Bashi created this beautiful image and prompted me to try and write the story behind it. I hope you like it 🙏🏽

Princess Madhvi – it’s such a wonderful name, isn’t it. So pretty and graceful. You will probably be imagining a beautiful Indian princess dressed in an ornate extravagant jewelled gown. Perhaps in pink or blue or emerald green. Ok, so she was really very pretty; well actually the prettiest in the land! I know that’s such a predictable start to a story but I don’t want to lie to you all.

But that’s where the good stuff ends. I’m sorry to disappoint…but in reality she was a nightmare child! Well when I say a child she was actually 17!! And her 18th birthday was fast approaching.

Madhvi’s parents were very generous with their time and love for their people. Everyone seemed to live happily in this enchanted idyllic land. The only time that they weren’t smiling and dancing was when they came anywhere near Madhvi.

She could do everything and did it well; she could paint, she could ride, she could sing, she could run fast, she could write well. In fact, all the other children were in awe of her but no one really wanted to be her friend because she never seemed happy and if she wasn’t happy she made sure those around her were miserable. She just couldn’t help it.

No one could understand why she was not content with her life and all the pleasures that came with being a princess. I know you’re all rolling your eyes wondering what is wrong with this young woman. So let me tell you: Madhvi just couldn’t dance! No rhythm at all. Could not coordinate arms and legs, looked like a broken puppet. Not a big deal is it, you’re thinking. But if you’re a princess, you are expected to dance and be graceful and be twirled around by handsome princes at grand balls. And when does that start? You’ve guessed it! At her 18th birthday party. Like all princesses she would need to find a prince. Sorry to be peddling stereotypes.

It had been two years of planning by the king, queen and numerous minions up and down the land getting the best of everything. In the meantime in a private room somewhere in the palace Madhvi was watching different dancers and after each performance she would, with their encouragement, join them. What can I say?! it was a disaster. They would politely reassure her that this wasn’t her dance but the next one surely would be just her “thing”. Well let me tell you, that never happened and Madhvi became more irritable and, in addition, very sad. She even stopped looking beautiful.

At this point I think we need some magic to help out our princess. No fairies or magic slippers or even unicorns but a fish! And a tiny fish at that. No, I don’t know her name. But for the sake of this story let’s call her Payal.

Payal’s job was to bring the last remaining form of dance that the princes had not seen or tried to the court, Odissi. It was a dance that came from a distant land and had been made famous by Parvati, Sheeba and Desiree. When the dancers heard of the princess’s plight, they wanted to help. The three dancers set sail in a round boat that had no sail. Although very frightened they knew they would be fine as Payal appeared ahead of them and sparkled, set the route and seemed to pull them along…

The friends were at sea for many weeks but in our story it was just a few days. Delicious fruits, cheeses, bread and fresh water appeared during the night. The girls ate, drank, sang and enjoyed their time at sea. But they were starting to miss their dancing and were worried they would disappoint the king and queen. They were very proud of their Odissi dance and spent many hours practicing and preparing their vibrant costumes and jewellery. They were always immaculate and prepared. Professionals, you might say.

Payal shone and shimmered. She would swim ahead, dart back and then swim around the boat. She would smile at the girls and they would wave back enthusiastically. On day eight the dancers awoke to see that Payal was no longer in sight and their boat was now amongst others all in a row, but theirs was the only small round one!! And the only one without sails. Not a particularly cool way to arrive to a new country, they thought. They whispered amongst each other as to what they should do next. Both Desiree and Sheeba looked towards Parvati for some guidance; after all, she was the oldest and wisest. They loved and respected her.

Parvati stepped out of the boat and helped her friends out. As they stepped forward they noticed a tall beautiful woman with long flowing black hair wearing with a long silver dress. She had a very familiar smile and as they stared at her she gave them a wink. Good grief, they thought! And all of a sudden there were crowds around them creating a path behind the woman. Parvati encouraged the other two to follow…what else could they do? Payal had disappeared and their boat was trapped between these fancy ships.

You’ve guessed it! They were soon at the palace gates which were adorned with flowers and jewels. They had never seen anything so special and beautiful (I know this word is being overused but there is no other way of saying it). I really wish you could see it. The tall woman with no name knocked ever so gently that the three friends wondered who would actually hear them. However within seconds the gates swung open and they carried on in. It was your typical palace but there seemed to be an abundance of beautiful flowers, many of which the dancers had never seen before.

Once in the dance room Parvati, Sheeba and Desiree were left all alone, oh except for the musicians who sat at one end. It had been a long time since they had been in such a wonderful space that the friends started working together and danced. All were moving to the music and telling stories of the Gods, watching each other, switching places and continuing the dance. They did not notice the three people spying on them from above; all were entranced and smiling at each other with knowing and approving looks.

Guess who the three were ? The King. The Queen. The third one was the tall beautiful woman named Payal – I am sure you’ve all guessed this already. She was not your normal fairy godmother!

The plan was made. Madhvi would be initially allowed to watch the three Odissi dancers and would slowly, under Parvati’s tutelage, begin learning the basics. Over the weeks and months, Madhvi seemed to develop an aura about her. She looked even more radiant and beautiful but now she also spoke sweetly and was kind and generous – a younger version of the Queen herself.

And the other extraordinary revelation I have for you is that she was a natural and gifted Odissi dancer. I would never have guessed that part. The three soon became four. They would perform for the court and anyone else amongst the fragrant gardens. And from Odissi Madhvi learnt the connection between her body and music; she was graceful and captivating.

The eighteenth birthday celebrations were approaching and Madhvi had learnt all the rules for the day – they were endless! How to dress. How to address people. How to receive the Princes and their gifts. When to sit and stand at the party (she did wonder if this was really what a party was). With whom she could and should dance. What a bore this was going to be, she thought, and felt ashamed about feeling ungrateful. She really had changed.

The night of the party arrived. The three dancers put on a special show for Madhvi. The princess was watching intently but she longed to be with them. She mingled gracefully amongst the guests as planned. Then it was time for her to receive the good wishes and possible marriage proposals from the Princes arriving from far off lands. This seemed to take forever and she was getting visibly bored. The king was looking at his daughter encouraging her to smile. She could not. There was not one handsome man amongst this lot. I just wanted to clear up that no handsome prince was about to sweep her off! And anyway that’s not what she was unhappy about. She was sad that the dancers were leaving that evening. They had admirably completed their task and had come to love Madhvi in the process.

All of a sudden there was a gasp, then ‘oh my’s, followed by some claps. The line of Princes stood speechless and could only watch as Madhvi shouted, “I’m too young to worry about this and anyway I am going to take a gap year for dancing”. Didn’t I say she was also very bright and had a place at university? Princesses do normal things, too!

She ran bare feet alongside the sea in her ridiculously heavy embroidered and jewelled gown gown and hoped that her new friends and teachers were still there. They were waiting for her. The four friends, that included Madhvi now, ate, drank water (no alcohol as it’s a children’s story), slept and talked of nothing but their beloved Odissi and where they would dance next.

Payal sparkled and shone and was now guiding four friends across the ocean. For a tiny fish she never seemed to tire….and knew exactly where she was taking them.

To be continued I am sure …..

There was & There were & There will be 💕

There was a lifetime of normal.

There was a lifetime of being independent.

There was a lifetime of being strong.

There was a lifetime of being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunty.

There were two children – one of each.

There was a lifetime a lifetime ago.

There were many hours at the mandir.

There were countless steps along the Broadway.

There were yards and yards of sarees.

There were never ending supply of shoes.

There were countless people fed, my cooking was in demand.

There were the strokes, they were drawn to me.

There was the dementia, when did it arrive ?

There were the months of being incomplete.

There were the piles of dosset boxes.

There were the glorious months back home in India.

There were the endless adaptations to make life easy for me.

There were the wheelchair walks to the park.

There were the attempts at frame walking, I was an unwilling participant.

There were the fun days with family.

There were the visits from the grandchildren;Nanimum and Daadiji.

There were the times I couldn’t stop talking.

There were the days I made life bleak for those around me – they didn’t seem to mind! They pretended…

There were the flowers that Guddi always bought.

There was the smile that Simon bought.

There was the love that Sam showered me with.

There were yet more ambulance rides.

There were the worried looks on faces.

There were many hospitals and many wards.

There was the garden where I soaked up the sun, the amazing tilt & space wheelchair.

There were the ups and downs of the hoist machine, some escape from the bed.

There was June who shouted all the time but she didn’t know why?

There was the lady who was beside me for many weeks and then wasn’t.

There was the young girl who lied and made lots of noise.

But she couldn’t help it, I saw the cuts.

There was the young woman who moaned all the time. She wanted a hotel experience.

There were the women who had no visitors, my heart breaks for them.

There were the nurses who called me Aunty.

There were the nurses who cared.

There were the young doctors who seemed too scared to speak.

There was the giving consultant.

There was the “get the bed emptied” consultant.

There were the relentless needles, hunt the vein.

There were the unforgivable hospital meals that Ramesh fed me.

There was the nasty thickener in everything, even the tea.

There is this room, with Sky TV no less

There is Zee, Sony and religious programmes, I want my soaps.

There is Gayatri Mantra every time Guddi is about.

There is the missing tea.

There are flowers, photos and a little temple – this is my new home.

There are the people standing over me, wanting me to acknowledge them.

This is Meadowhouse Hospice , this is my last stop.

There was my family.

There was the love.

There was the worry.

There were the tears.

There was hope.

There will be a future for all.

There will be someone watching closely.

There will be light again.

💕💕💕💕💕

My mummy

Shashi Bala Sharma

10th July 1946 – 11th October 2019