The Prince journeys beyond the borders of his own country, crossing the kingdoms of the seven kings, to a land where no king can claim any kingdoms.
This tale is of a time that has no beginning, nor any end.
In the towns and villages all the others trade in markets, raise families and homes, or quarrel among themselves; only the eternal Prince among us, he continually journeys on, carelessly leaving behind kingdoms to travel through the unknown world.
Why does he go?
The water of a well stays content in the well, the waters of the canals and ponds remain quietly stored within the pools and canals. But, the water from the mountain peaks can never be amicably contained in the peaks alone, the water contained in the clouds revolts against the limiting constraint of the clouds.
Who can confine the Prince within the small boundary of his kingdom? He never turns back once he reaches the boundless horizon of the tepantar fields, he traverses beyond to the seven seas and thirteen rivers of yore.
Forever and always, as a child takes birth in the human world, he listens anew to this age old tale, enchanted again and again.
The flicker of the evening lamp remains steady, the young boys, enamoured with the tale, sit silently, their palms supporting their cheeks, and marvel in awe-struck amazement, ‘We are those Princes.’
Even if the extensive wilderness of the desolate tepantar fields ultimately ends somewhere, there is always the beckoning, limitless ocean that lies beyond. The island stands unapproachable in the middle of the ocean, and there, in the impenetrable giant’s castle, the Princess lies a prisoner.
All others in this world search for wealth, for fame or for a little leisure, and yet, time after time, he, who is our Prince, embarks on an adventure to rescue the forlorn Princess from the giant’s castle. The ocean tosses and turns in a thunderous tempest, no boat comes to his rescue, to ferry him across to safety, yet he ceaselessly goes on, searching for a way out of danger.
It is this that forms the basis as well as the essence of all fairytales in all human communities. Those who are born anew in this world, they acquire the eternal intelligence through their grandmothers that, the Princess lies imprisoned, the ocean is insurmountable, the giant unvanquished; and the small child stands alone and pledges, ‘I’ll rescue the captive Princess.’ Outside, in the darkness of the forest, rain drizzles, the crickets cry out in incessant symphony, and the little boy, touching his palm to his cheek, swears in silent wonder, ‘It is for me to brave the danger. My mission is to venture out to the giant’s castle.’
The boundless ocean, like a blue slumber in which dreams surge in waves, stands insuperable before him. There the Prince steps down from his steed.
But, as soon as his feet touch the ground, all of a sudden a miracle happens. Oh, what magic is this, of what wizard!
The scene transforms into a city. Tramcars tinkle on. The streets remain difficult to navigate, congested with the unruly crowds of office-going cars. The palm-leaf-flute-seller puts his flute to his lips, breathes magical tunes into them, tempting the naked urchins playing and jostling by the side of the lane.
And, what strange dress does the Prince wear. Oh, what stranger gait. An open-button shirt on his body, the dhoti he wears is neither spotless nor white, his pair of shoes worn out. A boy hailing from a remote village, he is forced to live in the city to pursue his studies, and he gives tuitions to pay for his rent and earn his living.
And where is the Princess.
In the house just beside his.
She does not boast of a complexion as golden as the champak flowers, nor do rubies sparkle at her smile. She can never be compared with the stars in the sky, her comparison can be found only in the nameless flower that blossoms hidden amidst the newly sprouted monsoon grass.
The mother-less daughter was once beloved of her father. The father was poor, he did not wish to marry his daughter off to any unsuitable groom; the years grew on the girl, and there was censure all around.
The father died, now the girl came to seek shelter at her uncle’s home.
A groom was found. He had heaps of money, loads of years, and the number of his grandchildren too was not very few. There was no limit, it seemed, to his overbearing authority.
The uncle declared, ‘The girl is blessed with an excellent fate’.
Just then, on the day of the gaye halud, the ritual turmeric bath just before marriage, the girl could not be found, and that boy next door had vanished too.
The news came, they had married secretly. Their castes did not match, the only match they had was in the feelings of their heart. Again everyone blamed them.
The millionaire promised a gold throne to his deity and pompously retorted, ‘Now, let’s see who dares to save this boy.’
Putting the boy in the courtroom dock, the wise and wealthy lawyers and wizened old witnesses, by the blessings of the Almighty, turned the clear light of day into a ghoulish night—the fair into foul, the foul into fair. It was all so stupendously astounding.
On that day a pair of goats was sacrificed to the deity, ceremonial drums reverberated amidst the celebratory feast, and everyone went home happy. Smugly, they said, ‘It might be the infernal Kalikaal, yet, Dharma still wakes vigilant. Even in such a sinful age righteous morality reigns supreme.’
Thereafter many tales still remain untold. The boy returned from jail. But, the long road never seemed to end for him. It was more lonely and far-off than even the endless wilderness, the boundless unreachable extension of the tepantar fields. Countless times he has had to hear the familiar cannibalistic chant, ‘Haunmaunkhaun, we smell the scrumptious scent of a human.’ Oh the age-old insatiable lust for human flesh all around.
The road has no limit yet a journey always has an end. One day he reached that ultimate end of his quest and finally regained a calm, all passions spent.
No one was left to look after him that day. Only one divine being, perpetually kind and loving, stood awake, watching over his head in his eternal slumber. He was Yama, the God of Death.
The moment Yama’s golden wand touched him, surprisingly a strange miracle happened again. The city simply vanished into thin air, the charmed dream was shattered.
And just that instant, the Prince came into view once more. The regal mark of eternal time adorned his forehead. He is determined to tear down the remote gates of the giant’s castle, he vows to break open the fetters that bind the Princess.
Across the ages, sitting secure on the laps of their mothers, the children, sense the truth—how that restive homeless man wanders evermore in search of unknown lands across the boundless eternity of tepantar. The unruly waves of seven seas roar ceaselessly in front of him.
In history he has acquired myriad faces through time; in the world beyond history, he has only one everlasting embodiment, he is the Prince.
Published in Parabaas August, 2013.
The original story by Rabindranath Tagore, Rajputtur (রাজপুত্তুর) was collected in Lipika published in 1922 (BE 1329; লিপিকা, ১৩২৯).
Illustrated by Sanchari Mukherjee. Sanchari is in the second year studying Accountancy in the South City College, Kolkata.