A fairy tale in search of its happy ending

  • Pathikrit Sen Gupta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 21, 2015 13:13 IST
Aerial view of Connaught Place in New Delhi. (Virendra Singh Gosain/ HT Photo)

Once upon a time there was this handsome young feller (let’s call him “I”). I lived in the nation’s Capital… umm, Delhi (anyone who says it’s New Delhi shall receive ten lashes, from the dazzling eyes of that fair maiden yonder).

The parents were honest, hardworking folks, neither rich nor poor -– in short the kind of people who did not matter in the larger scheme of things.

I adored everything exquisite about the metropolis -- the gorgeous greenery of Lodi Estate and The Ridge, the awe-inspiring architecture of Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb, the atypical aroma of Delhi 6 and Paharganj, the magnificent marts of Connaught Place and Sarojini Nagar, as well as the flamboyant flavours at Khan Market and Dilli Haat. It was truly a magical place. This was the city where fortunes were told, made and snuffed out every second, and every dreamer had an alarm clock.

This was the city that grew on you, and then cut you down to size. Here sleeping dogs lied through their teeth, and people involved in funny business went laughing all the way to the bank. Yes, I loved this city.

But, most of all, I was smitten with the men and women of Delhi (well, not so much the men). Intense, intrepid, hospitable, resourceful, engaging and resplendent -- they were uncommon people. They got a kick out of a bit of bling, and were always up for an airy fling. The indigenes had a sweeping vocabulary and didn’t like holding back. Here, everyone who’s anyone was a player, and the world was his stage.

Yet, as I grew (much like neighbour Jack’s beanstalk), horror stories of monsters lurking in the mainstream became more and more customary. The trouble was these perverse creatures mostly traipsed around in human form -- there was no way to tell them apart from ordinary Delhiites. They only revealed their true, despicable selves in the presence of the prey, a defenceless dame or a cherubic child. The royal guards, designated as La Ggards (pardon my French), were too swamped shielding the aristocracy to keep safe the masses. With each passing episode, the citizens became increasingly restive. They began taking to the streets, armed with torches and pitchforks. Hollers for ‘justice’ reached a crescendo, compelling the marquee marquises to apply their minds.

“Off with their (the monsters’, presumably) heads,” advocated one.

“Off with their di**s,” cried another, to roars of approval.

“Attack the mainspring. Lock up all the women,” declared the wisest among them, to a stunned silence of admiration.

As reassuring as all this was, I remained irresolute. A solution was needed, but it had to be the right one. Discontented and powerless, I decided it was time to move on. There was another great city across the sea -- Bombay. Err, too explosive a name? OK, Mumbai (much more understated). But how to get there? Of course! There was a way.

“You called?” uttered the luminescent nebula, slowly assuming a more familiar frame.

“Yes Fairy Godmother. I require wings to fly to the island of Mumbai. It’ll be my new home,” said I.

“And wings you shall have,” soothed the daintily-dressed marvel (after all she had been a Delhi gal her entire enchanted life), and then produced a petite, glistening canister out of thin air.

“Consume the potion inside and your wish will be fulfilled,” she instructed, with a note of caution, “I’d advise against drinking too much; you may acquire insomnia.”

It worked. I landed in Mumbai a short while later. The megalopolis was a glorious terrain, where thousands of stars had descended from the sky to share their warmth and, in most instances, limited histrionic skills with the earthlings. The air seemed more invigorating and the natives more genial. The womenfolk struck one as being abundant in aplomb, faring even better than the opposite sex, and imperturbable. Or was I hallucinating from the brew?

Nonetheless, I went from sourpuss to Cheshire Cat in a matter of days. The promenades along the beach were rejuvenating, and every so often you came across a shooting star or two. Just gazing at the boundless expanse of the sea helped consign to oblivion petty personal sorrows. Being an abstinent (except a swig or two of some magic potion once in a while), I had no interest in the spirit of Mumbai, but the sight of the salt water always stimulated sweet memories.

But even the briny deep couldn’t preclude the invasion of the monsters. Eerie tales began to emerge, and a predictable response from the denizens followed. The hoi polloi of the country wanted a new crowned head. The incumbent, they insisted, was a puppet, with someone pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Many viewed Oratorio – a seasoned satrap from the western parts – as their deliverer. “Now he’s a true-blue native Indian,” they gushed.

As I flew back to Delhi, Oratorio took the country’s throne, surfing a wave of popular support and promising “safety and security of the mothers and sisters”. Then there was The Wizard, who rode his magic broom to power in the nation’s capital. With his off-the-cough statements and unconventional ideas to fight evil, he was like a riddle, wrapped in a muffler, inside an enigma.

However, the monsters were not going to help them keep their promises. They kept rearing their ugly heads – again, and again. The situation was growing desperate, and I now had nowhere to run. What was needed was a bit of wizardry.

“I want a potion to stop these monsters changing back from human form,” I entreated.

The ethereal Fairy Godmother looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry,” she murmured, “I can’t help you. I’m a magician, not a miracle worker. Some battles you always fight in the real world. Goodbye.”

There was a blinding flash of light, followed by complete darkness. I was alone again.

(The writer, who has lived in both Delhi and Mumbai, is distressed by the mounting instances of sexual violence against women and children in the megacities. The article is a cross-genre satire and is not meant to offend anyone. )

The author tweets by the handle @pathikrit2sen . The views expressed are personal.

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