Part 1 of a fictional ‘real’ story: two princesses leave their desert town for an adventure (or two)
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, in a middling-poor town, in the middle of a vast desert, two little Princesses were born, not entirely by mistake, into a very poor family. In fact, their mother was a Queen and their father a King, but all were under an enchantment and did not know that they were Royal. So the father toiled for little money, walking miles to his work each day, and the mother went nearly mad with worry for her seven children.
One day a visitor came to the little house in its small and unkempt garden – an old friend of the King’s, from his brief university days. The friend had been to far-off, marvellous lands, and he had brought with him a magic box in which he put small representations of scenes from these lands; which were then broadcast by means of a lamp behind, onto the dingy wall.
So all the family gathered and watched, openmouthed, while the wall came alive with strange and marvellous things – bullock carts, and a red castle, and thick jungle coming down to the sea – this was in a place called ‘India’. And high mountain meadows, and a million flowers, and cows with bells, and wooden houses with peaked roofs and intricately carved decorations. This place was called ‘Switzerland’.
And the youngest Princess said, all to herself, inside her little tummy – “I am going to India!” And the older Princess said to herself inside, “And I am going to Switzerland!”
The Princesses grew up lithe and graceful, and they danced all the time; until one day, holding hands, they danced right out of that desert town and left forever. Their mother, the Queen who did not know she was a Queen, helped them to catch a ride in a carriage, making sure the driver was not one of the dangerous maniacs so prevalent in that land. They went to seek their fortunes, and to find a better place to be…and to follow those tugging sensations in their bellies which told them in which direction to go. They were seventeen and fifteen, and they were very brave.
Now it must be remembered that this was a strange and marvellous time in the history of the world—a brief time but well-remembered—called ‘the Sixties’. As if the decade itself were the Pied Piper, it led millions of children out of their houses into the streets to dance and play. A kind of madness had overtaken the young people of the land – divine madness – and they were frolicking in the meadows, decking each other with flowers; playing music, wandering the roads of that large and various country. And everywhere they went they hailed each other as if they were old friends.
After many adventures, including a perilous climb up a wild mountain called ‘Storm King’ in a vast range called ‘the Rocky Mountains’ (They stood at the top at evening, and the rain began to come; they ran down the back of the peak, leaping from boulder to house-sized boulder, as if in a tumbled, tilted landscape of the moon – and found their tarpaulin by its plastic shine in the dark, and crouched there ‘til dawn) – they came upon a curious sight.
In a wide plain of waving yellow grasses under the lee of mountains, in a place called ‘Colorado’, a large wooden stage had been constructed, and upon it a man with very black skin, and lips like soft black bananas, was singing. Young girls they get weary – ooh they do get weary – wearing that same old worn-out dress… he sang. The little Princesses looked around, and then looked at each other. All about them young people flitted like so many multicolored butterflies, in tie-dye gauzes, velvet skirts with handkerchief hems, embroidered headbands. The hair on each and every one of them was big and dramatic – fluffed, crinkled, brushed out from their heads and dotted with flowers. They had haughty looks on their faces, as the glorious often do.
The little Princesses could not help but notice that they themselves were wearing only old trousers, much stained with travel, and boots for hiking; and a little thin blouse without sleeves called a ‘tank top’, each. For that is all the clothes they had in the world, save for one change each in their rucksacks. So they hastily ducked behind a bush and changed their clothes. The elder Princess put on a white lace dress which the old lady who’d sold it to them for a pittance at a rummage sale had told them was 100 years old; the younger wore a long gown they had made from a patterned bedspread, from that faraway place called ‘India’. Their long hair had been braided in dozens of little braids to keep it out of their way while travelling; they now unbraided it and combed it out, and lo! – it stood out around their heads as glorious and manelike as any ‘hippie’s’ from San Francisco – for such were the people of this caravan they had encountered.
As they walked out of the bush a curious thing happened.
A man was walking towards them. He looked exactly like Prince Valiant, except that he was older – and had somewhat lighter hair and rather a different face – and he had a wild light in his eye. He wore only a pair of chamois trousers with wide, belled bottoms in the fashion of the day; and no shirt. He came straight up to the elder sister and, looking her in the eyes said in a purring voice with foreign intonations, “You arrrre a devil! And an angel! And a devil! And an angel!”
For he was flying in some inner stratosphere, peopled by his own deities and devils, in the thrall of a certain mushroom the people ate in those days when they could find it.
Well, what with one thing and another, while on the wooden stage the music continued, with skirling violins and famous singers of ballads and thin young men with white faces grinding their nether regions about in the air – the fates of the two young Princesses moved towards their inevitable directions. They were destined to part for three long years…and to meet again in a far-off miraculous land.
These two Princesses – how shocked and sad they were to say good-bye when they had been each other’s sole support for all their journey! But the elder had been invited by the Chamois Prince to join the travelling show…where music, made and danced to, was recorded on flat little strips of stuff made from boiled trees, and preserved so that it could be shone large again, with a light behind, in theaters for people to watch. The younger Princess, he said, was too young to go. So she, tearful and fledgling, was left in the care of a group of friendly people called ‘The Hog Farm’, which was about as elegant, perhaps, as it sounds – their spokesperson, called ‘Wavy Gravy’, did speak very eloquently though; and I hope that they were kind. And quite soon, the Princess’ mother, the Queen who did not know she was one, hitched rides in many carriages to go and take her to a vast city called ‘New York’, where the young Princess took work as a governess, and continued to study dance.
The elder Princess felt very sad about leaving her sister, and guilty, too, for deserting her. Perhaps both Princesses were a little bit in shock. But the opportunity to travel and see strange lands was more temptation than she could resist.
The band of wandering minstrels slept in teepees tie-dyed in many colors; they travelled in large yellow painted vehicles which had been formerly used to take children to school; they dressed themselves very fancily, and read picture-books all day, about a cat named ‘Fat Freddy’s Cat’; they ate mushrooms and cactus buds which gave them strange visions, and they were seldom without their hand-rolled, strange-smelling cigarettes; they looked a bit sleepy all day, and spoke a strange language which has now passed, largely, into history. All this the elder Princess absorbed whilst she rode with the Chamois Prince; who treated her very nicely and with respect for the most part, though when he ate the cactus buttons he behaved a little oddly.
The men who were recording the scene onto the thin flat strips of boiled trees were entirely foreign. They too began to eat of the mushrooms and cactus buttons, and then for hours they would direct their cameras (for that was the name of the strange devices they used to imprint the pictures on the stuff ) at the sky, and murmur to themselves, Très bien, très bien! Très, très, très bien! This caused the Chamois Prince, who spoke their tongue, to snicker and guffaw.
One day the group, perhaps a hundred of them, reached a vast and dangerous city, at the very edge of the continent; they slept in a large, unfinished hostel there, and many members of the group were accosted by thieves; and one evening while a red sun went down through the poisonous fumes which blew about the city, the Chamois Prince (who had been wont to twirl a rodent’s skull about on a leather thong while intoxicated, and the like) took the elder Princess – and she was just seventeen, eighteen the next day – up to the room they shared and took out from a small leather case a little, braided whip, like a tiny rattlesnake.
“I weel not hurrrrt you,” he reassured her, and, commanding her to lie down, raised her dress up and began to stroke the whip over her young backside. He did not hurt her, as he had promised; but she was very much confused. In fact, she was confused mightily, almost all of the time. (The only time she didn’t feel confused was when she had risen early one morning, in a place called ‘Iowa,’ and crept out in the dawn and gathered field-flowers, an armload, and strewed them in the bed so that the Chamois Prince saw them when he awoke; that was a thing she knew about, though she did not know how… perhaps in the century she came from, these things were done.)
That same evening she discovered that the Chamois Prince was far more than twice her age, and she was shocked. Being so unused to the world, she had not been able to see it.
Next day they all flew in the belly of a big silver bird to an island kingdom across a great water. The Princess was agog and could barely eat the lunch brought her by smiling attendants.
In the island kingdom she felt even more strange, for though the people spoke her language, it was not really the same at all, and so many things were different that she felt off-balance and very stupid. And she was cold. Oh, she was so cold! Her few clothes, left over from the desert, were thin, and she was always shivering.
The Chamois Prince had friends in this land, and he compelled her to do such things as sleep in a wide bed with another man – like himself, a university professor – and his wife; the wife turned grumpily away while the two men quickly had their way with the little Princess. The little Princess did not enjoy this at all, and felt deeply embarrassed and ashamed; but, she thought, she herself did not understand the ways of things, and grown men must. So she submitted, not to have them feel that she was not – a high accolade of the day – “groovy.”
Soon the Chamois Prince had to leave that land, and he left the Princess there, at her own request. For she was determined to continue on her travels. There was one last minstrel show, with lights streaming from the stage while trees blew in the wind, and the Princess’ boy scout hat flew off her head to disappear forever into the crowd; the musicians were called ‘Pink Floyd,’ and the mushrooms the Princess had been fed caused her to see an endless procession of twining lovers in the trees and clouds.
Read Part 2 here shortly…
Text and illustrations by Madhuri and Sarita