Once upon a time, deep in the woods…. “Hansal, get in, this instant!” Grandma summoned me.
I dropped my makeshift sword and walked back home. Muttering under my breath, I wondered why Grandma kept me and my sister captive in her house.
Grandma smiled, as she saw my muddy footsteps making way to the washroom. “Come quick. I am making PuranPoli…”
Geeta was waiting, her plate loaded with goodies. “We must fatten him, somehow”, Grandma winked at her wickedly.
I walked into the kitchen, a tiny stool in tow. I hopped onto the stool to reach the kitchen counter. Grandma handed me a ball of dough. Filling in the stuffing, licking my fingers, I expertly rolled it out. She slapped it onto the hot tawa.
The heavenly aroma of ghee wafted through the kitchen. Grandma enthralled us with stories, cajoling us into eating more.
The moment we finished helping Grandma clean up the dishes, we hopped excitedly, “Now can we go upstairs and play?”
“Alright!” Grandma consented.
Sprawled on the sofa, I listlessly combed my doll’s hair. “This is boring! Why doesn’t Grandma let us go out to play? Mom has already started going to work, why don’t we have school?”
“Because there is a deadly virus all around,” my eleven year old sibling explained.
“Come here, my little Prince in distress, for I, your knight in shining armour, have come to rescue you.”
I turned in surprise, to see Geeta wearing a cape, posing like a warrior riding a dragon.
“Hurry you must, Prince, for your friends, the fairies, are in danger.”
I scrambled behind her, as the dragon took flight, flapping its expansive wings. We soared high up, the buildings diminished to tiny specks on the ground.
White clouds with their silver cotton candy beards and knoblike noses cheered us, as the dragon jaunted about their colony.
“Who are they?”I enquired.
“They are Grandclouds. They sprinkled us with petrichor perfume for good luck.” Geeta pulled at the harness, and the dragon soared.
Moments later, a sudden gush of wind tumbled our dragon, like a capsized ship.
“Surumi! Floater wings out!” Geeta commanded. The dragon dove precipitously into the whirlwind, opening a second set of broad circular wings, which formed a ring around us. The gale now rotated this ring and propelled us high above the level of turbulence.
“Turbulences are frequent these days, thanks to global warming!” Geeta muttered.
Again, we dipped, but this time, Surumi went straight for the ground. Fetid showers lashed at us.
“Acid rains! Shut your eyes!” Geeta hollered, even as Surumi raised the ring of wings over us, like an umbrella.
We landed with a surprisingly gentle plop. As we alighted, the dragon groaned.
“ Whattagirl!” Geeta patted the dragon, as they bumped noses affectionately.
“Girl?” I inspected majestic black creature, wide eyed.
“ Ofcourse! And a very brave one at that.” Geeta raved, as Surumi retired behind the bushes.
“She hasn’t been feeling well today,” informed Geeta, pointing at a sticky bluish fluid at the spot Surumi had been standing a moment ago. “She feels weak and her body hurts. She also loses her temper quite readily for those few days, each month. But she tries her best and never fails in her duty. We must let her rest a little longer. Let’s halt here tonight, and chalk out a plan.”
“Where are we?” I glanced around. We were deep in the woods, surrounded with thick trees. But, something was off.
Gauging the question in my eyes, Geeta motioned, “The indomitable trees have survived. But the flora and fauna is gone.” I looked up closely…and sure enough there were no birds chirping, no squirrels frolicking, no moss carpeting the stones, no ants scurrying around. There were neither mushrooms standing stoically nor bees buzzing about.
“Survived what?” I asked.
“The catastrophe….Global warming. The beginning of the end.” My knight replied ominously.
I stared at her in confusion. She walked up briskly to a little clearing in the thicket, I followed. With a swish of her hand she conjured up a screen in thin air.
Surprised, I shrieked, “Did you just do magic?”
“Certainly, I did. And so can you.” She said, gesturing toward my hands. I stared at my bare appendages in horror.
The screen came alive. I could see the exact spot where we now stood. But the ground was covered in emerald grass. The cacophony of birds collided with the distant trumpets of elephants. There were deer chewing on the tender blades. Butterflies flitted across the screen……
A second later, the picture changed into an appalling one. There were bulldozers raging, trees falling to the ground, thick smoke emanating from concrete jungles. There were dead tigers and elephants, their poached carcasses being lifted into trucks, to be shipped away to hideouts.
The screen blinked again. We now witnessed the sea, covered with a thick layer of oil. Purple fumes emanating from gigantic chimneys condensed into distorted clouds, with claws and cruel eyes. They punched the Grandclouds, mercilessly pulling at their beards, till the terrified old fellows retreated to distant skies, huddled together. Those demonic clouds encroached upon the troposphere, engulfing the turquoise planet. The smoggy shield thickened by the hour, till finally no stars were visible, the sun was but a pallid figment of its original self.
The Earth was now visibly darker during daytime, shrubs etiolated; insects died, animals starved.
The picture switched again. This time I could see several wolves marching on two feet, in heeled leather boots, using the smog as a scaffold. They laid out logs of wood all around the globe, as if building a million funeral pyres.
A deafening howl ricocheted through the stratosphere. The wolves clicked their heels in unison, howling as they lit the pyres, engulfing the globe in a flaming annulus. The heat generated thus, was converted into electricity, which whizzed across a maze of wires across the globe, lighting up devices of all kinds, from air conditioners to stadium lights, from cars to gigantic machines in industrial plants.
The screen zoomed into the centre of the globe. We dove deep into the sea, which was gunmetal gray and visibly deeper, thanks to the melting ice. It was fearfully quiet, with none of its mammalian, piscean or crustacean inhabitants visible. The corals dissolved into fizz, their effervescence smothering the plankton to death.
The screen flipped yet again. We were now under the sea bed, at the core of the earth, inside a small room crowded with Victorian furniture. A rather hairy old lady, wearing a lace gown and a bonnet, barked orders to wolves in clicking heels. She peered with her large eyes, through awkwardly balanced spectacles that kept slipping over her long, long nose. Oh wait! That was not an old lady; that was the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood!
Geeta nodded in agreement. “That is a werewolf, the head of the pack.”
Fragments now seemed to be falling into place, and I shuddered at the emerging horrendous picture. So this werewolf was hungry for power, from all sources. And creatures bitten by him turned into power-hungry werewolves themselves.. They blindly followed their leader, biting other fellow earthlings to expand their tribe. With aid from these ever increasing recruits, the wolf dug exaggeratedly deep bore-wells, hunting greedily for groundwater. Around his chamber at the core of the earth, oil wells, volcanoes, radioactive furnaces and the like were smothering the planet.
My eyes darted back to the screen. It projected an animated picture of the Earth, burning as much in the core, as on the surface, with those lit pyres hungrily lapping up trees.
“They are frying us from inside out.” Geeta sighed.
“Like donuts.”I rejoined.
“Would you pray put the food aside?” She asked rhetorically.
“Why don’t we just tell the elders?” I countered.
She replied impetuously, “Trust me, we did try. They refuse to see the problem.”
“What could I do? And what about the fairies?” I was very confused.
“They have held the fairies captive, waiting for the night of the full moon, to bite them and turn them into one of their own.”The reply was brief, and disturbing.
Geeta looked into my eyes with a pride I failed to comprehend, “We got you here, because of the Prophecy.”
I opened my mouth in shock, but she silenced me with her palm.
“Ask no more. You shall have your answers tomorrow. Get some rest for now.”
Needless to say sleep evaded me, and I waited for the crack of dawn.
“Are you upstairs? The kids are here already!” The plump elderly lady called out to her husband.
I looked around the cozy cottage. Fragrant vapours emanated from the incense stick in an alcove. There were porcelain fairy-dolls all around, in vibrant colours. I finally snapped out of the melancholy engulfing me, as I tried identifying them… SnowWhite, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Thumbelina….
“He must be drying out his collection of socks, again. He has hundreds of those.” Rolling her eyes, she snapped her fingers. A decadent cake appeared. “Why don’t you help yourselves, while I get him?”
Geeta spoke immediately after. “That’s Tinker Bell.”
My mouth gaped wide enough to drop the piece of cake I had just shoved in.
“Tinker as in Peter Pan?” I exclaimed. “Now that does ring a bell.” Geeta glowered at me, just as the couple walked in, hand in hand.
“But that’s Dobby, the Elf!” I shot up.
“And you are the Prince, the One.” Dobby took my hand in his heavily wrinkled one.
“Let’s get to work right away.” He abruptly turned his back to us, as he snapped his fingers towards the alcove.
A voice in a rich baritone stemmed from the alcove..
“He, who is barely four feet over the ground,
He, who knows nothing of his power,
He, who seeks answers and blessings in his food,
He, who can see the silver lining through the smoggy demons.”
I gulped hard. The prophecy raised more questions than it did answer. But Dobby put his arms on my shoulders in complete faith. “You have a mighty task. But you shall have help.”
Tinker sprinkled some pixie dust over the dolls, and they came to life. The room suddenly seemed crowded, with so many fairies that seemed to have walked right out of my books.
They spoke all at once, creating a deafening chatter.
With one swipe of his hand, Dobby silenced them all. “Ladies, introduce yourselves and reveal your plan of action, one at a time.”
The tiniest of the lot walked up to me, flying close to my ear.
“I am Thumbellina.” She fluttered her dainty wings, and raised her thumb. “I have a green thumb. I can plant trees that multiply at the speed of light. I shall take charge of reforestation.”
“Rapunzel.” The lady had a no-nonsense air about herself, her jet black hair pulled into a tight bun. Opening her knapsack, she pointed to thick braids rolled neatly into loops. “They are self supporting, infallible and auto reparable. These will help us get to the core, to the Werewolf’s inner chamber, as well as tie up those menacing wolves into a bunch, for ease of disposal.”
Cinderella spoke next. “I can morph anyone into any form. I learnt it from my fairy godmother. And I would do absolutely everything in my power to get her back…” I sensed the anger in her voice. The fairies were in captivity, I recalled.
A girl with a bronze complexion spoke next. “And I am Snow White.” I looked at her perplexed. “And no, I am not white, never was. But I can wipe clean anything, without a trace.”Her demeanour was calm.
I looked at Dobby for an explanation. He elucidated, “Erase any thing. Industrial chimneys, fires, automobiles, radioactive hazards, electromagnetic transmission towers, the carbon footprint…and memories.”
There was a collective sigh of disbelief. Dobby continued, “That is a superpower, dangerous if it falls in wrong hands. She was given the gift because of..”
“She is the fairest of them all.” An antique mirror on the wall interrupted.
“And we are the seven dwarfs! We can change a heart with a hug.”
With motherly affection, SnowWhite patted each one on the head, naming them, “Empathy, Faith, Patience, Love, Kind, Content and Funny.”
“I am Beauty and the beast.” A breathtakingly stunning woman stood up.
“Where is the beast?” I fumbled as she towered above.
“I turn into one, if need be.” She tilted her head to either side menacingly.
“And she is my friend, the Sleeping beauty.” Tinker pointed to a frail old lady, with a Spindle in her hand. “She is an insomniac, and pricks people into a deep slumber.”
Overwhelmed as I was with such illustrious aides, I walked up to Dobby and susurrated, “I am only six years old.
Dobby muttered pensively, “You only have to think big. And remember every word of the Prophecy.”
He then dug his hands deep into his pockets and handed us a sock each. “I shall stay in touch with each one of you. Just keep the sock close.”
“Aren’t you folks coming?” Geeta’s eyes widened with fear.
“Who do you think will care for the little ones?” retorted Tinker. She looked at me and continued, “Quite a few of your warriors are working mothers, including Surumi.”
Surumi snorted in approval.
As we were about to leave, a thickly accented voice called out, “Hi! I am Olaf, and I like warm hugs.”The familiar snowman made his way through the bunch of little women. “I can restore the melted snow. I got my own personal flurry, remember?” He pointed to the top of his head.
“Let’s go.” Geeta harkened.
At our hideout in the woods, the girls chatted well into the night, waiting for dawn to break. I sat with Olaf, eavesdropping on their conversation.
Snow White found true love in a doctor, who treated her of cyanide poisoning from an apple
Cinderella chattered, “But I never really danced at the ball that night, because I have two left feet. “ She lifted her skirt slightly, to reveal two actual left feet. “The prince had my right shoe, but he kept trying to fit it on the left foot. He never really got it right. And I never tried too hard to fit in either.”
Rapunzel said in an icy tone, “That prince thought my hair was cursed and insisted I keep it short; which I did. I mean, our courtship…”she grinned.
For some reason, I saw Olaf melt a little. But he adjusted the flurry on his head. All seemed well again.
Geeta sat stroking her dragon, both sipping coffee from their mugs. She promulgated, “There is a copy of the plan, the customised modus operandi for each member in their respective socks.”
She continued, “The chamber of the Werewolf is dynamic, gyrating about the earth’s axis at alternating frequencies.” I gasped.
“Little Red Riding Hood is our Head of Secret Intelligence. Her grandmother has been planted into one of the Victorian cupboards in the chamber for a long time. She keeps us abreast of her shifting coordinates at all times.”Geeta whispered.
Never for a second did I feel like ‘the chosen one’; especially after stumbling thrice in those annoying heels. We were sliding down, right into the inner chamber of the werewolf, all camouflaged as wolves.
The moment we dropped into Grandma’s cupboard, I let go of Rapunzel’s braids.
I imagined Dobby standing on the roof of his chalet, waving his hands like an orchestra conductor, as he synergized our efforts.
SnowWhite first turned Sleeping beauty to a mosquito. Then we waited for what seemed like eternity, till our spindle wielding mosquito had bitten every single wolf in the chamber, putting them into deep slumber.
We slid out of the huge cupboard, dragging away the snoring wolves by their bushy tails, into a heap. With their leader in his bonnet, right at the bottom of the pile, we tied them up.
The key under the werewolf’s pillow opened a door to a winding passage. We left Snow White incharge of wiping out every bit of notorious machinery down there. The dwarfs stayed too, transforming the sleeping werewolves, one hug at a time.
Dobby’s voice boomed from all our socks, “Hurry! There is a lot to do above!”
Beauty sprinted right to the fore, motioning us to leave. “I alone will suffice for a hundred,” she reassured us tilting her head.
I mulled on our climb above, “This seemed too easy.”
“That wouldn’t be.” Dobby warned from the sock, ‘’There are battles within battles, and a few are concealed.”
We clamoured on to the ground to be greeted by a centrifugally expanding labyrinth of trees, embracing the earth. Thumbellina worked feverishly at its nidus.
The obese wolverines lay scattered, a spindle armed mosquito buzzing across the globe. Mechanically, we began bundling the stuporous canines, waiting for the dwarfs to embrace them.
A single fiery droplet on my cheek startled me. Trees attract rains, I reasoned. The next moment, rain lashed mercilessly upon us, the demonic clouds purging acidic revenge into each droplet. While the canopy of trees did diffuse their scalding impact, the wolves started stirring in their sleep.
“But there is still plenty to be done!” Geeta yelled.
“So there is.” Snow White was placid as ever, as she transformed the mosquito back to her beautiful self.
“And we must adapt.” Sleeping beauty stroked the spindle till the most calming melody eluded from it. “I can buy you time.” The wolves were still again.
Dobby mumbled from my sock, “The Prince must fight the demons.”
As Surumi ascended higher, the corrosive demons transformed into a thickening amorphous mass, impenetrable to light.
Despaired, I shut my eyes tight to shield from the stinging droplets; and there it was, the silver lining! The realisation came naturally; and the answer followed. I had to split the demonic cloud through the silver lining! But how? I was not the regular hero with the coveted sword.
The Prophecy played in my mind. He who seeks answers and blessings in his food.
I drifted into my Grandma’s kitchen looking fervently for the right weapon. Oil simmered along the sides of the ochre Dosa, as Grandma inserted the iron spatula from its edge, flipping the Dosa upside down.
I heard a jingle from the sock. I instinctively reached into it, to unleash a humble iron Spatula!
I hollered, as Surumi propelled us close to those acerbic demons. With my eyes shut, I slid the spatula beneath the silver lining, wiggled for good measure under the smog and with a flick of my wrist, I flipped a single diabolic cloud!
There was sonorous applause from earthlings below, as the demons toppled like dominoes, one after the other, into the sea. I flipped vehemently, scraping the skies clean.
The raptures were suddenly pierced with the resounding howl from the chamber. The wolves stirred again. As the full moon gleamed through the clear sky, I collapsed at the sight of imminent defeat.
Suddenly, all went dark again. I looked up to see Grandclouds engulfing the moon in a warm embrace , clasping hands so tight, moonlight could not escape from any crevice. And they stayed that way, snugly fit, till the sun shone, evaporating every remnant of the demolished smog.
The Grandclouds above smiled benevolently at my teammates. The rescued fairies sang praises of Beauty, who had tapped into her beastly aspect to fight a humungous monster.
“She faught and thought,
His tail she caught; and
Deftly opened the lock….”
Back at the South Pole, Olaf leapt with joy. The icebergs, displayed their saviour snowman, missing a nose, at kaleidoscopic angles. Rapunzel walked up to him, and pushed the carrot back in position, between his eyes.
Olaf, very evidently melting, turned to me and blabbered, “She noticed!” Rapunzel walked back to her friends, grinning. Cordate snowflakes fell softly.
It was twilight when we reached Dobby’s cottage. While everyone jostled about cheerfully, my heart was heavy. “It’s incomplete. The werewolves have not entirely transformed, the pollution is yet to be wiped out, and those trees could be chopped again…”
Dobby put his wizened hand on my shoulder, “There are battles to be fought after winning the war. That’s why we call them Fairytails.”He waved as the girls turned back to dolls; each had grown a tiny tail indeed.
“Now you must laboriously and patiently tie up the loose ends, till the tails recede.”
“Are you kids coming down? Mother’s voice beckoned us. We rushed downstairs to hug her.
As she fed me a morsel of crisp golden Dosa, she remarked, “I thought you enjoyed making your own dosa!”
Grandma chuckled, “Oh, he can make one with his eyes shut. But today, he was busy cooking up a storm!”
It struck me then; Grandma looked a lot like Tinker Bell.
Puran poli : a type of Indian flatbread, with sweet stuffing
Tawa: Pan used to roast flatbread
Dosa : Indian crepe made from fermented batter of lentils and rice
Characters from Hansel and Gretel, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Snowwhite and seven Dwarfs,
Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Thumbellina, Beauty and the beast, Little Red Riding hood
and Frozen- the Disney movie, have been used in this fairytale retelling.
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