The Prima Donna

Sukhi Pateeha female tiger Bandhavgarh, by Santosh Saligram
Thus stood the prima donna, enlightening the soul.

I had heard a lot about her from Old Hag.


But it was the instant the prima donna broke into reality from the dreamworld of the thicket with quicksilver dazzle, like an exquisite flower had dropped from a mystical tree, that I fell in love with her.

Indeed she had the serenity of white marble but the quality of a blooming tabebuia – big but delicate, bright yet subtle, unsullied and suffused with cheer. Popping out of life with stunning elegance, she charged my purlieus with a whimsical current, and made me worshipful of her broadside view.

Her sight was alchemical but she held the promise of a great sound, the allure of having many a song for which my heart longed. Expecting her to uncork the Caribbean trumpet and issue, from the stage she graced, a mesmeric tune like a lakeside breeze on a moonlit night, I stood rapt to melt in a heavenly eruption of the melody that appeared imminent.

I could envisage her booming baritone rising in a billow like the fragrant vapour of a great incense-stick. It’d swirl around the thirsty trees, causing them to sway spiritedly to the intoxicating tune and sweep the sky with their leaves from which clouds would drift languidly, while birds paused to listen. I’d swoon over the track, losing myself in the throes of the effects well-wrought by this fanciful scene, levitate steadily, and soar on a magic carpet to the sphere of the celestial with a moronic smile.

Yet, in a few seconds she was gone in reticence, evanesced with the wind as a whiff of smoke, to shelter her secrets in quarters unknown.

Heartbroken, I turned to the heavens and took my lament to Old Hag. “Alas, unrequited has been the cri de coeur,” I cried.

Quip came the response, like the swing of a whip, as Old Hag spoke in her antiquated and feeble electronic voice that always sounded like a radio being tuned to an obscure frequency.

“Hear not through thy ears, o dullard,” she thundered, in her usual way of paying me compliments over my intelligence. “Listen, instead, through thy heart.”

Paying heed to the succinct advice, I sat in silence ready, but not expecting, to receive a benediction; like parched land awaits the monsoon shower.

And not a moment too late, it came. Through the cracks in the barren wall of thirst behind which I had earlier dwelled in misplaced wistfulness. It had bypassed the ears and pierced the heart.

The prima donna had crooned in silence, and to her soulful music now not only did I melt and the trees sway, but so did the whole universe dance in triumphant unison.

“It’s not the music that touches the soul,” declared Old Hag. “But the pauses amidst it that do.”

In those pauses I realised that silence was the hallmark of the enlightened. And that the ability to do nothing and yet make a song flower in another heart was the mark of this prima donna.


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