Fairies and memories of childhood

By B.J. Perera

Though I was never considered talented I learnt to read and enjoy books quite early in life. By the age of six, I was devouring books, a book seller used to visit our home and I bought all the A.L. Bright Readers he had with him. The A.L.Bright Readers were a large graded series of story books for children and began with fairy stories like Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and Jack the Giant Killer and ended up with an abridged versions of Ivanhoe, Kidnapped and Oliver Twist

To me at the age of five and six these fairies and ogres, dwarfs and giants and witches were as real as King George and Queen Mary whose pictures adorned the covers of our school exercise books at a time when books were imported from England. Having a very fertile imagination I not only read these books but also lived them.

As one grows older there are few memories that will stand out more than others about one’s childhood. For me it begins with a late evening and a book. The story was about a king who had a beautiful daughter. A witch casts a spell over the King’s daughter turning her into a cow. The spell could be broken only if she heard the words, “ I love you". And as fairy tales would have it – the words were spoken by her prince charming and the princess returns to her true form and they lived happily ever after. What I recall was the idea that was taking shape in my mind after I read the story.

We had a very old cow at home, long past its milk producing age. It was a very gentle creature and the whole household was fond of her. Could it not be a beautiful princess I thought who had been bewitched into a cow?. Around my home there were many toothless old women who cast baleful looks at me whenever they saw me. Anyone of them could have changed a pretty princess into a cow. I had only to say the magic words, “I love you" to the cow and I would be the proud owner of a castle and troops with gleaming swords and spears.

But I still recall that moment of pure innocence nagging at me to say those words in the belief that I would become a prince and own a castle. With the first light of dawn I made a bee line to the cowshed where the cow was munching hay . With a throbbing heart and soaring hopes, I said in one breath, “ I love you”. Nothing happened. Perhaps, I thought I had said the words too quickly. So I repeated the words slowly and emphatically - "I love you". Still no result. It was a rude realization that the cow had been born a cow and would remain so.

I still recall that innocence of being disappointed. My inactive nature prompted my mother to place the palm of her hand on my forehead to make sure that I was not running a temperature. That simple experience helped me to face disappointments of different kinds in later years. But the first disappointment will always remain a fond memory.

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