A Castle For My Princess

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

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(Arts Illustrated Contest Winner. The story in based on the image of the above painting that was given)

‘It is said that this painting took a staggering 20 years to make. Is that true? Or is it just popular belief..? I mean…a myth…’ The interviewer asked the grey-haired woman in front of her, with an inconclusive pause. The open disbelief in her eyes was eclipsed by a child-like curiosity in her voice.

The 20 year claim deserved to be questioned, of course. Because it was an incredibly long period for a piece of art to come alive. The facts had to be fathomed and laid bare.

‘Are you asking me if it was a hype that I created for cheap popularity?’ The grey-haired woman asked with a derisive laugh and turned to stare at the painting that stoically sat on an easel, loving and hating it simultaneously. And then, sobering her eyes, she gazed at the young woman’s face in front of her and held her in her gaze for a while. The familiarity of the interviewer’s features first distracted her, and then it disrupted her faculties.

Distraction is different from disruption. The former merely makes one’s mind wander. The latter crumples it beyond recognition. And she was at that point.

Her name was Jacinta, with no surname. It was believed that she had a different desi name before she gained the present reputation. It was rumoured by her peers who envied her popularity that part of her fame came with the name, although they had no clear reasoning for the odd presumption.

The cameras zoomed in on Jacinta and waited for her to respond to the question about the painting’s long gestation. But in the silence that ensued, she began to zone out, slowly getting sucked into the vortex of a distorted impression from the past. As she scrutinized the interviewer’s face from her seat, an old memory flashed in her mind for a moment and died. A déjà vu flickered.

Those eyes, she thought, as she read the interviewer’s face. They were of the same colour – soft, succulent and brown like honey, fringed by long, curling eyelashes. And when the young girl batted them incredulously, like a child who couldn’t wait to hear a fairy tale, her heart leaped at the striking similarity. And the hair – the same frizzy curls that fell loose on her shoulders. Only the smile was different, and that too chiefly because the young girl didn’t wear braces like Anju did back in the time.

Behind her scrambled thoughts, Jacinta heard the interviewer repeat her question. ‘Can you tell us more about the painting and its genesis? I am curious and so are our viewers. What makes it so unique?’ she asked, quickly flicking a few curls away from her forehead.

‘Ah…that…!’ exclaimed Jacinta, more as a reaction to the endearing curl-tossing act that Anju so often used to do.

In a rapid second, she saw Anju sitting in front of her. She was convinced that her daughter had miraculously emerged from wherever she had vanished years ago and was now urging her to recount the story behind the blue castle that was auctioned at a record breaking price the previous week.

“I didn’t draw it. I built it for you,’ she said, slowly. The cameras that were focussed on her must have let out a silent gasp. ‘I put window after window in your memory over the years you have been away from me, Anju. Remember that day when you asked me how much I loved you and I said I would one day build a castle for you, that’s how much? And you said, ‘only princesses can have castles to live in. Not ordinary girls like me. I don’t even have a new dress for my birthday.’ A shadow of dismay crossed your little face then and I was crestfallen. What you probably meant was it was impossible that your mother who couldn’t buy you a birthday dress could build a castle for you. I know. I was single. I had a job that provided for us just enough. You saw through my incapability. It made me feel inadequate and useless as a mother. I felt failed in your eyes. It ripped my heart. That night as I tucked you in bed, I said, ‘You are my pretty little princess, and I will build a castle for you, no matter what it takes. Don’t you believe your mother?’ You merely nodded. Your smile was unconvincing, yet you held me close as we both dreamed of a castle that night. You in brick and mortar, and I, in pastels. It was the night before you went missing on your way back from school.’

Jacinta suddenly grabbed the hand of the young interviewer and said, ‘Look, I kept my promise. I made this castle for you, my princess, in your favourite colour. Building window after window, through which I peered every day, hoping to find your trace somewhere within its tall walls.’

The young girl froze. She had heard that Jacinta was a maverick artist who was fast losing her bearings in the recent years, but this was unexpected. She considered wrenching her hands off, but was too intrigued by the narrative to snap it mid-way.

‘When they couldn’t find you for several days after you disappeared,’ Jacinta continued, ‘people said weird things. Kidnapped. Trafficked. Sold. Even dead. But I was steadfast. I knew you had escaped our mundane, unprivileged existence to go and live in the castle that I was building for you on the canvas. It was just that I couldn’t spot you inside it with my inept eyes. So I made new windows through which I could let light fall in the dark corners and searched for you. And I wasn’t wrong. Look, I found you after all.’

The cameras were still rolling, the people behind it too wonderstruck to stop them from capturing the bizarre story. The blue canvas in front of them wasn’t just a random picture; it was a deranged artist’s fractured reality.

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