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The Bewildered Giant
by Manoj Das
An Original Fairy Tale

Lovely was the moonlit night and, no wonder, the forest looked enchanted as much as the glade and the silver brook running across it, bubbling sweetly all the while. The forlorn princess stood leaning against a Chompuc tree teeming with golden flowers that flooded and delighted the region with their exotic fragrance. All of a sudden a huge shadow fell across the glade, and the princess saw a giant regarding her with what appeared to be the very height of curiosity.

She heaved a sigh of despair.

“Why did you sigh?” asked the giant, coming closer with hesitant steps.

“Speaking frankly, I never expected a giant at such a wonderful hour,” said the princess. And, after yet another sigh, added, “In fact I was expecting the Prince of Horizon.”

“The Prince of Horizon? Doesn’t that sound rather familiar to me? Woe to my awful memory, but, if you don’t mind, who is he?” queried the giant.

“A brave and charming prince, of course. He appeared to me in a vision one night as delightfully moonlit as this and told me that he would come to our rescue. But now everything seems to be lost!” lamented the princess as she sighed again.

The giant, who listened to her with attention oozing out of his ears and eyes, also looked sad. “I’m sorry - and no less surprised that you did not swoon away at the sight of a giant like me,” he observed, but without a bout of lusty laughter as giants are expected to do.

“Do you consider yourself quite frightful? Only if you knew the kind of giant we had to face earlier! Why do you think we are in a forest? A terrible giant destroyed our nice little city. He devoured many, though many more escaped into unknown destinations. He had a fancy for the blue blood. That is why we - my parents and I - had to flee our castle,” explained the princess.

“How familiar your story sounds! Isn’t that strange? I feel rather bewildered. But goodness me, I’m hungry, as hungry as a giant!”

“No wonder, for you’re a giant proper,” the princess reminded him.

“I am, alas. But do you by any chance know the menu for a giant’s dinner? Some thing queer has happened inside my head. I feel a hollow where there should be what you call knowledge of things,” informed the giant regretfully.

“I never knew that a giant could crack a joke. Well, I know very well, as do you that I cannot escape. Eat me up if you must. But please promise me that you’ll go away appeased; you’ll spare my noble but hapless parents,” said the princess, trying to speak between her sobs.

“Eat you?” shouted the giant. “Eat you?” he shrieked this time. Then he screamed repeating the words. “Eat you — the most b — beau-beautiful, the most s —sw —sweet princess I had ever known?” he reached the highest pitch before breaking into tears.

The princess stood astounded and undone. “Strange! Whoever heard of a weeping giant? At least not I. Nor have I read about it in any book,” she murmured in a soliloquy.

But something much more strange was happening right before her very eyes. As the giant wept, he seemed to be getting smaller and smaller.

“Stop weeping, please! I’ve already started believing you. Well, I suppose you don’t mean to dine on me, after all. Nevertheless, you do have to eat something. Wait, my parents have gone to sleep. It should be easy for me to fetch my share of the dinner for you.”

The princess darted off and returned with some fruits and a cupful of milk.

“Would you believe? The trees around our hut lean over us so that we can pluck their fruits easily. A wild cow appears before our hut and continues to low until we have milked her. Such is the air of love that prevails in this wooded valley. No wonder that even a giant - you are a gentleman giant, I’m sure - would feel inspired to spare me!” observed the princess.
The giant had already gulped down the milk and was busy munching the fruits, blinking at the princess all this while, as if trying very hard to understand whatever she said.

But as soon as he finished eating, he broke into a fairly loud wail - and began to get even smaller.

“What a nasty giant I am! I wolfed down your entire dinner!” he cried.

“I know that people grow pale and lean with excessive weeping. But I never knew that by simply shedding tears one could diminish in size, just like a melting snowball,” observed the princess.

“Don’t believe that I am not bewildered myself!” said the giant, who couldn’t stop weeping and shrank even faster. Soon he was no bigger than a toy.

“It is time you stopped weeping altogether. Otherwise hardly anything of you would remain,” cautioned the princess.

“Really?” the giant not only stopped weeping, but also sported a smile. And to the great surprise of the princess, he soon began to laugh.

And now that he was a wee toy of a giant, his laughter sounded like the twangs of a sitar.

“Was the prospect of your shrinking to a vanishing point very funny?” asked the princess, who stood absolutely confused.

“Why? Don’t you see the point? If I vanish I won’t have to gobble up your food! You won’t have to starve on my account!” replied the giant and he laughed even more uncontrollably, his laughter now sounding like the lilting strains of a remote flute.

He frolicked and romped around like a squirrel. Then, before the eyes of the amazed princess, a strange change came over the tiny giant. He turned into a bird.

“Now I understand,” he whistled. “When a giant weeps, he diminishes. When he laughs, he changes into a bird.”

“You can’t imagine how sweet you look,” said the princess, dancing and clapping delightedly. “I would like you to remain with me forever. I will feed you with only the tastiest of fruits.”

“Only a little piece would do, sweet princess, and I would no doubt love to remain with you. But I can’t help feeling a bit bewildered…”

“You will sing to me, sweet bird, and I too will sing to you,” said the princess warmly.

“Will you? Please do, sweet princess. Maybe I’ll have some respite from my bizarre bewilderment listening to your song!”

So the princess began to sing. It was a song all about the tranquil night and the twinkling stars, about an ever-smiling moon and a little cloud which had lost its way…

As she sang, she forgot herself and kept gazing into the sky. When her song ended, she remained perfectly still, engrossed in thought.

Suddenly a voice broke in:

“Look here, sweet Princess, I’m no longer bewildered!”

The voice sounded entirely human - surely the best possible kind of it.

The princess turned to look and, lo and behold! What should she find but a charming young man smiling upon her.

“Don’t tell me that a giant turns into a young man when he listens to a song!” said the princess. And she observed to her great thrill that the young man’s appearance matched the vision she had had of the Prince of the Horizon down to the last detail.

“He does, O Princess, if he was originally a young man who had changed into a giant,” the young man explained with a gentle bow and said further, “I am the Prince of Horizon. I had to accept a spell and grow into a giant myself so that I could destroy the real giant that wrought havoc on your kingdom. I put an end to that menace at last - and I must hasten to inform you that your land and your castle have been restored to you - but then I forgot who I really was. It is you who restored me to my true self!”

The prince bowed in gratitude.

“But is it not you who destroyed the giant and restored our kingdom?” murmured the princess as she, in turn, bowed in gratitude.

Somehow they found so much to talk about that they quite forgot time. As the king and the queen were out in search of their daughter as soon as the day broke, they discovered them looking deep into each other’s eyes, hand in hand.

And after they had been married, they paid a visit to the forest one moonlit night and it so happened that both of them muttered simultaneously, “I feel a bit bewildered!”

And it so happened that, looking equally amused, both simultaneously asked, “Why?”

And it so happened that both replied simultaneously, “I wonder if I deserved you!”

(From A Bride inside a Casket and other stories, originally published by Times Books International, Singapore, subsequently by W.H. Allen, London and later by National Book Trust India.)

About the Author
Manoj Das really needs no introduction. A poet, novelist, short story writer, columnist, travel writer, children's writer and philosopher, he is a wizard of words who has mesmerized generations of readers with the sheer genius of his writing. In his writing career spanning more than half a century he has bagged almost every major literary award including the Central Sahitya Akademi Award, the Sarala Puraskar and the Saraswati Samman. Manoj Das is one of the few writers to have achieved equal success writing in two languages. He has straddled the world of English and Oriya literature with a felicity that is rare. The lyrical style, imagery, simplicity and the magical charm of his writing has won him admirers in every generation and across all countries and continent.

1-Jan-2006
 
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