The Story of a Doe-eyed Jinn

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Thousands of years ago, when mankind was still young and believed in magic, there was a tiny green island peopled by simple, god-fearing fisher folk. In the little village by the seaside, there lived a beautiful girl with pale white skin, pomegranate red lips, jet-black hair. She flit from home to home through the day, bringing happiness with her good nature and helpful attitude. She would play with the children and do little tricks that kept their tears at bay. She would climb tall trees and pluck fruit for the little ones. She would help mothers and wives with household chores and she would listen to the old folks’ tales of glory till they were filled with blessings for her kind heart. She was a winsome little soul and everyone agreed that the man who won her heart would be a lucky one.

One day, a great magician came to the village in a fabulous flying carpet made of gold and silver. He glowed with a magical aura and no one could touch him. He wore a strange robe made of glistening orange and black. He had a long beard and long hair and spoke in a deep, drowning voice. He was like a king from heaven. No one in the village had seen anyone like him. No one knew why he had come to their village and no one asked. He went to the village elder and demanded shelter. The village elder fell under his spell and gave him what he wanted without any questions. In fact, the whole village fell under his spell.

They were stunned by the magic he performed for them. He could stop the rain from wetting the village. It would fall all around but not into the village. It seemed like he had built a dome to keep off the thunder and lightening. He could extend night and day for the village.

The young doe-eyed girl watched him with fascination. The magician saw her from the corner of his eyes and followed her with interest. It would be nice for him to have someone like her around, he thought to himself. In any case, he was tiring off the village and the time had come for him to move on…

The magician came from beyond the stars and the moon. He had travelled around the world in quest of a special magic that would make him more powerful than the men who ruled his home. He wanted to be a king. He was a man who loved power and lived for only his own needs. This young girl could ward away his loneliness and help him find the magic. The magician approached the village elder and asked for the girl’s hand. The village elder was totally under the magician’s mind spell. He would do whatever the magician asked. He agreed. The young girl agreed. Only her mother worried. But the magician put a spell on her mouth so that she could not utter her protests.

The girl went off with the magician on his flying carpet…

For the first few days, the girl lived as if in a dream. They soared among the stars and the moon. From the carpet, which turned invisible and became like a big home, she could see the aurora borealis, fabulous sunrises and sunsets, even the whole Earth as she flew further towards the moon with her magician. Oh! How the girl loved the magician as she saw the wonders of the universe soar past her…the fabulous nebulae, the distant suns, the stars with their swirls of gas and fire…oh! She was fascinated!

At last, they landed on the snowbound ice-cap of the polar region. The magician said, “Now, I will train you and then will begin our real work.”

First, he created a home for them under a warm glowing dome where the temperature was as warm as that of the doe-eyed damsel’s island. It was like a little oasis of warmth in the cold desert of ice and snow. There, he started training her. Sometimes, they would step out into the cold and create a fire with a powder. Sometimes, they would create illusory landscapes, like a volcano or a flower garden. The magician taught the maiden how to keep her body temperature constant in cold and warm weather. He taught her to change into a bird and soar the skies. He taught her how to control her and others’ minds, how to move objects from a distance. She learned fast.

After six months of intensive training, the magician told her it was time to start work…to look for a new magic…

They set sail on the magic carpet and soared the world, visiting deep caverns, river and sea-beds for ancient magic. And the doe-eyed winsome girl became an expert magician. She could turn to dust a predator lurking in the deeps of the sea, swim like a mermaid into underwater caverns, create light and darkness…just like her magician. In addition she had a pure heart, a necessity that the bearded magician for all his charm lacked. It was with the echoes of her heart that she would be able to feel the pure magic. Unfortunately for the magician, his heart was tainted by personal ambition and greed. It could not sense the echoes of magic that needed a pure heart. He had searched everywhere on Earth for the magic but it was lost to him.

Another six months passed. The magic was still concealed from them. Then, one day as they delved deep into a dark cave on a mountainside, they found the magic in a rock. It echoed in the doe eyed girl’s heart. She heard the echoes and told her magician. The magician took out a ring and put a halo around the rock. It floated up, became tiny and swept into an empty socket of the ring. It was strange magic. The magician was very happy. He said, “I know this is the right magic because it responded to the call of the ring.” That day they went to a nearby village and partied with the villagers. They had visited the village earlier and the villagers knew them as a devoted couple. They had fireworks and fancy food. They sang and danced late into he night.

That night they all went to bed late.

The sun caressed the doe-eyed damsel with its morning rays. The doe-eyed damsel woke up to an empty bed. Her magician had left with the ancient magic, ring and carpet. He left a note bidding her farewell forever. The doe-eyed damsel wept till her eyes were swollen and red.

When the villagers heard of her plight, they condemned her as an abandoned woman. Her husband left her because she was flawed, they said. The doe-eyed girl cried and cried and then decided to return home. She took to the skies like a swallow, alighted at her village and returned to her original form. When she returned without the magician and wept out her tale, people turned their faces away. Her mother hung her head in shame for an abandoned wife was considered a valueless and shameless commodity in the world of men. Her mother could not take in the shame and died of a broken heart. The doe-eyed one no longer brought smiles to the villagers but, in their opinion, only bad luck.

She lived in the outskirts of the village and perfected her magic. One day, embittered by a sense of rejection, she took the form of a black crane and flew all the way to the desert sands. There she haunted caravanserais for a few years hoping her magician would return at some point and find her. When the bearded one did not return and men jeered at her and wounded her self-respect, she started turning them into lizards and cockroaches. People began to regard her as a woman with a black heart. Only the wicked came to her for magical help and she obliged. She was a woman who had lost her senses in a battle to survive with honour.

Sometimes, she would turn herself into a whirlwind and baffle men who had jeered at her. Sometimes, she descended like black smoke on unsuspecting wayfarers and frightened them with ugly faces.

One day when she descended on a group of travellers as a whirlwind and started making frightening faces at them, a clever trader outwitted her. He said, he did not believe that she was a powerful magician. The doe-eyed one wanted to convince him. She asked, “What can I do to convince you? Should I turn you into a worm?”

He replied,“ I will believe you are a really powerful magician if you can get into this tiny jar” and he waved an empty wine bottle under her nose.

“Oh that is easy,” she replied and turned into black smoke and entered the jar. The trader promptly closed the jar. However much she shouted, he would not let her out. He took the jar to the next caravanserai and threw it among all the empty bottles that littered the garbage area.

The doe-eyed one waited patiently for someone to open the bottle. She turned herself invisible and made a home in the old wine jar, waiting for more than ten centuries to be let out…

 

 

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Book of the Week

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Title: Rip Van Winkle and other stories
Author: Washington Irving

First published in 1819, Rip Van Winkle is a story about a man who fell asleep for many years and woke up to find the world had changed. The other stories in this collection, like the title story, are characterised by a tongue-in-cheek humour and a touch of the macabre. They are all stories of migrants from different cultures to a land that gave them a new home.

Rip Van Winkle is a story of a man who helped everyone except himself. To avoid his wife’s haranguing, he escaped to the Catskill mountains (New York), fell asleep under the effect of some moonshine made by Dutch faerie folk playing ninepins (bowling)and woke up after a couple of decades to find a changed world, where his wife had died, his son had replaced him as the village lounger and the American war of independence had been fought. He finds shelter in his married daughter’s home.

The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow is the story of Ichabod Crane, the tall, lanky crane-like village school master, with a strong belief in the supernatural. He disappears in the Sleepy Hollow while returning home from a party where his proposal had been rejected by his sweetheart. The New England village folk believed that he has been killed by the headless horseman who is supposed to haunt that area. The horseman, who carried his own head under his arm , threw it at the school teacher. The next day they find a broken pumpkin where Crane had disappeared with all his effects. In the epilogue, the author says Crane’s rival married his sweetheart and could not help smiling everytime anyone spoke of Crane. A suggestion has also been made that Crane left the village and became a lawyer!

The Spectre Bridegroom is set in Germany where a bridegroom is killed on the way to his wedding. His friend, who tries to tell the bride’s party of his friend’s death, is mistaken for a ghost of his friend! It is a comedy of errors and the friend carries away the bride at the end.

The Pride of the Village is story set in a small English village, the story of a girl disappointed in love. Like in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles, the affair starts with the girl being the may queen. She does not suffer as much as Tess. When she is dying is the arms of her parents, her loved one comes back to her.

The last story, Mountjoy, seems to be a comment on private education where learning is unmonitored and sometimes aimless. This is again set in New England and talks of a family that lived in France. Though three of the five stories are set in America, by the banks of the Hudson river, the current day New York, they capture the hope of the multi-cultural migrant community that created a new world in America.

I found the first three stories very gripping. It reminded me of some of Roald Dahl’s stories in a collection called Kiss Kiss, only the horror is less horrific. The stories have a macabre humour and a tongue in cheek suggestion in the epilogue to rationalise the legends.

Irving’s description of the characters are sketched with few words and incidents which leave a strong imprint in ones mind. His characterisation of Crane with his lanky appearance, green eyes, belief in ghosts and spirits and fondness of food and women’s company is very realistic as are his other characters. You can almost hear his thin voice and laugh at his housewifish outlook. He wants to propose to a girl not only over her own worth but on the worth of her father who has a prosperous farm and a good spread at the table.

The flavour of the times are well captured by Irving. When Rip returns to his village, he is still a loyal subject of the King of England but the people he encounters have lived through the American revolution! Rip changes his world view to suit the needs of the times as he had never had strong political affiliations and lives out his life as a well-loved legendary figure.

Irving has woven Red Indian lore into his stories too to add authenticity to his legends. Catskill mountain. Historically, Catskill mountain was named after either Dutch or Mohican traditions or persons. It is not very clear. Irving has played with these legends to create a misty aura around the story. There is a statue of Rip Van Winkle in a park in New York. Irving did create a legend!

These are stories about common people anywhere in the world. You can see multicultural values built into these legends. They absorbed traditions of cross-continental cultures and created a new myth from them. That many Americans, unless they were native Indians, emigrated with their own cultures to find acceptance in the wilds of America is borne out by the multi-cultural flavour of the legends created by Irving.

I enjoyed these stories very much and would say they make an excellent weekend read with their one world outlook. After all, they have created new legends.