Thursday, 19 August 2021

Write...Edit...Publish... August 2021: Freedom of Speech



 

Changes are afoot...exciting ones...at Write...Edit...Publish...click on the link to find out more. 

My offering for this month's prompt is another retelling of a well known tale...please note that all characters and events in this flash are totally imaginary and any resemblance to any leaders  oops, I mean persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental!

I'm tad over the word limit, but I'm hoping you all will forgive me when I tell you I've whittled this baby down from an initial draft of over 2200, phew! 

  

A Fine Yarn

 

The truth, they said, will set you free. In this case, it did just the opposite. Abu’s fate was sealed the moment the truth was uttered - he was 7 at the time, not old enough to realise the benefits of lying.

 

The Books of Wisdom, the Fabulists, the Clan Elders, the Keepers of the Lore - they tell you only half the story, half the truth.  They truncate beginnings to hook the listener. Fob him off with a neat ending where poetic justice is seen to be served. The whole truth never makes a good tale, it’s too boring, too inconvenient, doesn’t deliver the critical mass of dramatic punch.

 

You probably know that the ruler carried on without batting an eyelid. Have you never wondered what happened to the boy? Hasn’t it ever occurred to you to do so?

 

***

 

The ruler had come at a tumultuous time. The two main communities that had lived amicably for centuries in this town were at each other’s throats. The landed Bhumiputra had somehow been convinced that the Musafireen, a minority, were out to ruin the larger community.

 

Into this tinderbox had stepped this tiny Purvi man. He went to the Bhumiputra and said – my home is in the east, I have no interest in your lands. Choose me and I’ll lead you back to the glory days when seven nations bowed to us and our ships knitted up the coastlines of the seven seas. To the Musafireen he said – I’m a traveller like you, a stranger among the settled. Who will understand your sufferings better? Choose me and I’ll make sure your rights and freedoms are safeguarded. And so the communities, both the Bhumiputra as well as the Musafireen said yes, you shall be our ruler.

 

But once he was seated, he brought in councilmen from his own hometown. Neither the Bhumiputra nor the Musafireen were prioritised. When a few of them went to air their legitimate grievances, the Purvi snapped – be patient! - it takes time to rectify the huge blunders of an ancient past. When their leader persisted, he had the young man placed under arrest for obstruction of peace. More delegations – newspapermen,  entrepreneurs, historians – met with the same fate. The jails became standing room only.

 

***

 

A great procession was planned for the 100th National Day. A new boulevard was to be made, complete with exotic landscaping and impressive public buildings. Street parties would span a week, with an explosion of food and fireworks, mountains of merchandise and memorabilia.

 

Kavista and Shopnek strode into the town on the crest of the announcement. They claimed they spun thread and wove fabric so fine, so pure, that only the virtuous could tolerate its dazzling lightness upon their person. Only the sinless could admire its exquisite weave.

 

The Purvi forthwith ordered a magnificent suit. Rumours soon circulated about yarns of gold more valuable than rubies and the ruler’s name worked into the pattern in fancy calligraphy, as if he were not an ordinary mortal but the Almighty Himself.

 

Kavista and Shopnek set up their workshop on the outskirts. Massive advances were given, but they bought nothing locally. The looms could be heard early in the morning and in the darkness beyond sunset. However, when the curious went in, all they saw was great looms empty of either yarns or fabric. Questions were discouraged.

 

***

 

The 100th National Day dawned bright and clear. Abu rose early, peeked out of the small window and called to his father. You promised! The father sighed.

 

Abu’s father was a master tailor with a workshop of 20 assistants. When the festivities had been announced he had hoped for orders. Even after the grand commission was given to total strangers he was unperturbed. After all, there were the councilmen to dress too, and their families, the rich and famous. But as time ticked on no commissions came his way, not even a bunting.

 

***

 

A hundred white horses, caparisoned in red and gold, came first - the clip-clop of their hooves perfectly harmonised, the sun glinting off the metal of their riders’ weapons.  Ten guards marched on both sides of the special chariot, the flawlessly matched black stallions moving at a slow trot. The ruler stood and waved to the crowds with both hands alternately, like he was semaphoring some message. About twenty feet behind four pageboys followed, their hands all at the same level holding onto something that appeared to have spilled over from the chariot - Abu screwed up his eyes but couldn’t see clearly, was it a cape? a train?  Whichever way he tried, he couldn’t make out the pattern, or the colour, or anything else.

 

When the horses drew closer,  Abu saw that the pageboys’ hands were clutching thin air. Father, look, there’s nothing, he’s not wearing a stitch! I can see everything!

 

The father said hush! Too late. The crowd around them had heard,  had already split into two.

 

One group shouted yes, there’s nothing, this is the biggest con that ever was!

 

The other shouted back louder, swearing the ruler was wearing the most exquisitely worked fabrics. The boy’s a liar and a troublemaker! - stirring things up on behalf of disgruntled adults. Clearly, what else could you expect? The father’s a tailor, isn’t he? Come to vent, what else?

 

It soon spiralled into a full-fledged brawl. Abu stood bewildered as hefty men descended on his father and pummelled the poor man. The melee spilled over onto the boulevard, just in front of the ruler’s vehicle.

 

The ruler stood impassive through it all. The guards had the crowd under control in a while. The Purvi went on, his tiny frame held very straight, his face as inscrutable as before, his arms rising and falling in his strange semaphore-like waving. Abu still couldn’t see any kind of clothes on him.

 

Four horsemen from behind the chariot fell away onto the grassy verge. Where’s the young lad? Where’s he? they called. The crowds quickly pointed to Abu and his roughed-up father.

 

You’re under arrest, the uniformed men said. Abu’s father said, he’s only 7 huzoor, just a boy! So they said no, it was the tailor they were arresting. For obstructing the National Day celebrations, jeopardising the ruler’s security. The boy would go to a juvenile home.

 

***

 

So the tailor rotted in prison for the next umpteen years as an undertrial. Abu was sent to a remedial home, let out only after 18. The ruler was still seated, the town was still edgy and polarised, no-one would give Abu an honest job for fear of giving offence.  He took to crime and fetched up in prison like his father, on solidly real charges this time. The truth never did set him free. The more he stuck to it, the deeper he worked himself into a trap.

 

And what of Kavista and Shopnek? They got  the Mumtaz Designer Award and were appointed the official clothiers to the ruler. You can still hear their looms going in the workshop on the outskirts of the town.


~*~*~


WC - 1181

FCA


Bhumiputra - from Sanskrit, bhumi = land, putra = son(s)

Musafireen - from Arabic, safar = journey, musafir = traveller, pl musafireen 

Purvi - from Sanskrit, Purva = East, Purvi = from the East, Easterner

huzoor = sir


I have omitted inverted commas/quotation marks for the dialogues above, so as to 'age' the narrative and blur the exact setting. I'd value your feedback on it. Did it work for you? Did you find it irritating? Did it achieve its purpose? Thank you as always for reading and critiquing.


Read the other entries here.


 





38 comments:

  1. I liked this tale inspired by The Emperor's New Clothes, within a different cultural context, and with a more pessimistic ending. I tend to believe your ending would be more realistic than what Hans Christian Andersen visualized in his retelling of this tale. So yes, it worked for me.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! There's not much scope for optimism right now, but I remain positive. The world will find its balance in the long term.

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  2. Wonderfully done, Nila. You descriptions are exquisite. Poor Abu and his father. The truth didn't help at all.
    Questions were discouraged = my favourite line. It says so much!

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    1. Questions are being discouraged in so many different societies right now. Thanks, Jemi.

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  3. Oh yes. It worked. The more things change...
    And sadly it toooo often is all of the Abu's and their fathers who pay the price.

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    1. Thank you. It's always the ones who are least able to afford it that are made to pay, sadly.

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  4. Great story, Nila. Telling the truth could be a perilous endeavor. Especially in totalitarian societies, but not only in them. Democracies too suffer from this malady. Sometimes it seems that the Freedom of Speech maxim only applies to those who speak with the majority. If you dare to open your mouth and express the unpopular or 'politically incorrect' opinions, you can be sure of unpleasant repercussions. Safer to keep your mouth shut.

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    1. Lots of flawed democracies around where freedoms and rights are lip service only. Thanks, Olga.

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  5. You have a beautiful writing style. I love your imagery--fresh and captivating.

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  6. Hari OM
    I read this not with WEP eyes, but as an adopted Indian... and greatly appreciated the reframing of this old tale to relate the current travesty. Also I offer up a prayer that it is not years before all can see the naked truth. YAM xx

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    1. Travesty is right. Thank you Yamini, for your prayers. We really need them. <3

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  7. So many 'big lies' and too many more who spout them, support, and sadly die for them. Great retelling!

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    1. Far too many! Misinformation has become the fifth horseman..

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  8. Hi Nila - an interesting take on the old fairy tale - yours probably came before ... but like the clothes there's nothing to see ... except the way humans work selfishly ... one day I hope the people will learn to think for themselves and overcome, without blood being spilt.

    Nila - I always enjoy reading your thoughts and stories ... so much for us to think about from your words ... all the best - Hilary

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    1. Thank you, Hilary. Glad you enjoyed the story. I too hope we will learn our lesson from this time of hardship - think for ourselves and make a better future.

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  9. Hi,
    I have to admit this story is so sad, I could have cried. My heart went out to Abu and his father.
    Shalom aleichem

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    1. It is tragic, the erosion of freedoms and the rising levels of injustice in the world.

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  10. Indeed an excellent re-telling with your clever way with words. You spun a tale that we COULD see about lies and untruths - the big con. Well done, with an old world flavor.

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  11. Hi Nilanjana. A very clever take and pretty relevant to our times. Who wants to hear the truth and well, who likes to be questioned. Nobody, really!

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    1. See no truth, hear no truth, speak no truth seems to be the general philosophy of a certain segment of society.

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  12. Poor Abu and his father. At times you very subtly point out that the truth didn't help at all. Isn't that the way in totalitarian societies, but not just those. There seems to be a disease creep in most societies. Sadly. Questions are discouraged...of course. Great retelling. I love your retellings. And your style is exquisite as always.

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    1. I don't know how many thousands are imprisoned simply because they disagree with their rulers. It's outrageous and heartbreaking at the same time.

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  13. What a great take on an old story Nila. Beautifully written and with a pathos!... Very sad and totally believable. Well done.
    Carole

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  14. A tale spun with great style, a steady flow, and vivid imagery. Well done, Nilanjana.

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  15. You truly are a master story teller. I wish I could say such an outcome is unbelievable, but it truly isn't. It's amazing how many people are willing to cling to an obvious lie, so much so that they begin to believe it themselves.

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    1. It's scary mind boggling how a huge number of people let themselves be conned into believing a lie and being so easily manipulated.

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  16. Thanks Nilanjana for this lovely short fiction. I was completely taken by the atmosphere and ‘aging’ technique….however I find that dialogue in punctuated form does lighten the rhythm of a story and makes it more immediate and engaging. Sadly, speaking up is sometimes contentious….and more and more in these troubled times…we will soon be back in the Middle Ages at this rate.

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    1. Yes, that's what it looks like - regressing back to the middle ages. Thank you for the specific feedback re the quote marks, appreciate it.

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  17. Follow or be silenced. Great use of the prompt in a way all readers who know the tale can agree with. Well written.

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    1. The clamp down on dissent has been relentless, rights being steadily eroded. An explosion of undemocratic practices have become routine. Disturbing. Thanks for the feedback.

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  18. Cleverly wrought Nilanjana. It did work for me. I loved it. The absence of inverted commas did have the effect of ageing the setting. I loved all your half hidden references to a certain leader. Superb.

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    1. Thank you, Kalpana for the specific feedback re inv commas. Much appreciated. Glad you enjoyed the flash! and that the references worked as well :)

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  19. Too young to know the benefits of lying...
    It's funny how the "right" thing tends to be more obvious to children.

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    1. Sometimes, the right thing is easier to get to with a straight forward, uncomplicated, baggage free brain of a child than the convoluted thinking of adults.

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