Once Upon a Time – Baisali Dutt

This is how my father always begins
his bedtime story:

I was playing Beethoven
when my mother decided
                                                       to drown herself.
We were on a holiday
and the resort had a piano
which they let me play
because I was
                           a prodigy.
I was seven years old
and I never touched the keys again.
I don’t listen to Beethoven
anymore either
but my mother does visit me
whenever I visit the seashore.
She comes to me as a mermaid,
dressed in shells and smelling of fish.
She’s prettier now than when she was alive.
My childhood was the price she paid
to keep eternal beauty.

My mother’s bedtime story
is sadder still:

When I was a little girl,
I made friends with an angel.
He was thin, beautiful
and sang songs
I’d secretly listen to
                                       on the radio.
He gifted me white lilies
and took me for a ride in the sky.
Mid-flight, my smile dropped into the ocean
and the night ate up my angel’s wings,
gave him horns instead.
Back on the ground,
when I went home,
my lilies had turned orange.

These are the stories
I will tell my children
of sleeping beauties who become mermaids
and children seduced by wolves.
I will also tell them stories
of linen shrugs, pink carnations
and red popsicles on hot, summer nights.

Baisali DuttBaisali Chatterjee Dutis a former columnist and agony aunt for Mother & Baby magazine and contributor to Parent & Baby. She has compiled and edited two volumes for the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series, authoured “Sharbari Datta: The Design Diva”, a biography on one of Calcutta’s leading luminaries in the fashion world and also co-authored “My Frozen Embryo” along with Bali D. Sanghvi and Ipshita Bhandary, a real life account of Bali’s battle with infertility. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and magazines, print as well as online, such as ‘’Femina’, ‘The Asian Age’, ‘The Blue Spider Press’, ‘The Algebra of Owls’ and ‘Veils, Halos and Shackles’, to name a few.