The contemporary version of a classic Western fairy tale would go like this:
The urban princess met the man of her dreams (who was, thankfully, emotionally available and financially stable), got the job of her dreams (for now), at the money she asked for. And they lived…drum roll please…happily ever after in a wonderful apartment (with a low EMI and a swanky bar) along with their cat Olga, who was happy for ever after too, with the surplus of mice in the neighbourhood.
Now, I would tell any reader (especially a young, eager, susceptible female one), that this was just one of the happily-ever-after scenarios that were possible for the urban princess. And the variations and probabilities to the story above are limitless. The urban princess may not have married the man of her dreams at all, and lived much happier for it. Or she could have travelled into the distant horizon, with or without the man of her dreams, ended up in a kibbutz and lived ever so happily. She might just as well have hooked up with the woman of her dreams and lived ecstatically. It is also likely that she built a business empire, invented or painted or wrote, rejected the idea of ‘one man of her dreams’, had several instead, and lived happy and free. Or the urban princess gave up all her possessions, tramped through the mountains and lived blissfully ever after. Alternatively, she may not gone anywhere or done anything significant, and still lived happily ever after.
The thing to remember about the mechanics of happy endings is that they come in infinite shapes and sizes. There are as many happily-ever-afters as there are characters, plots and perspectives, and they are usually custom-made to fit your story. Getting stuck in someone else’s version of a happy life can leave you feeling like a fraudulent musician, lip-syncing to someone else’s song.
Plus, the ever-after bit is clearly a stretch. Every time a happily ever after is foiled, falls through or happens to come true even, a whole new ‘once upon a time’ begins. Famous mythologist Joseph Campbell proposed that each of us is a hero in hiding. And the experiences of our lives are really a quest, meant to transform us from seemingly regular people into the heroines that we really are. Undertaking this mighty adventure is supposed to crown us with the most authentic happy endings.
But it would be silly to judge an entire journey, with all its epic twists and ridiculous turns, by its outcome alone. Endings may be a key element of the plot, but it’s the run-up to a much anticipated happily ever after that is probably the most interesting part of the book. The real juice of a story lies, not in how things ended, but who you became.
The treasure, the ever-filling pot of gold and the eternal happiness that is promised at the end of the world’s best myths and fairy tales is the gift of discovering your true power, your real self – your special brand of muchness. The freedom to be-you, in all its weird and wonderful glory, is quite simply the best happily ever after that any urban princess (or renegade) can plot her way to.
A Russian fairy tale would have the princess swigging mead and eating dumplings in merry company at the close of the tale. Or she would be as happy as could be, for the moment, till the old witch Baba Yaga showed up to shake things up a bit. I think I much prefer my fairy tale endings, Russian.
PS: Many folktales from around the world choose to stay away from the all-too-pat refrain of “and they lived happily ever”. Here are some interesting variants:
And now the story is yours.
And they ate and drank, and were merry and of good cheer.
Whether it was false or true, the tale spread far and near, because the tale was fun to hear.
And that was just the beginning.
is a scribe who is drawn to the quiet, cosy glow of life as well as its dark, witching depths. When she isn’t spouting words, you will most likely find her rattling in an auto through Bangalore’s lively, chaotic streets.