The Venus Flytrap: In Defense Of The 13th Fairy

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Some time ago, I’d been travelling in a rather boring but reasonably picturesque small town which thanks to its appearance in a few films had started to gain the attention of honeymooners. Labouring under the impression that someone who had broken the heart of one of my loved ones had taken his parentally-ordained bride to this town, I spent my time there quite pleased that it had little to offer (unless you have very special company, in which case every place is Paris anyway). Taking in the relative lack of charm, I looked forward to presenting proof of the heartbreaker’s ambivalence towards his own honeymoon.

Imagine my shock when I returned from that trip to find this loved one was getting re-engaged, to a person she’d been unceremoniously dis-engaged from once already. As for the unimaginative honeymooner – in one of those juicy jinxed nuptial details, he came along with his spouse to the re-engagement function, held recently. Oh, and it turned out they hadn’t even been to that cinema-friendly location. That was a mishearing repeated to me. They’d been somewhere much lovelier, with a name that was almost a homonym. Oh, whatever – I’d quite liked that dull little town in the end.

I wasn’t introduced to the heartbreaker at the re-engagement, but I should have been, given that I was once again playing my esteemed role of “always the 13th fairy and never the bride”. As a fellow disruptor, he could have been my sidekick. If I could resist kicking him, that is.

In fairy tales, the 13th fairy is the one who, deeply miffed that she hasn’t been asked to attend the naming ceremony, coronation or wedding, shows up anyway (wearing brocade and bright burgundy lips, naturally) and pronounces a delicious curse that sets the ball rolling for the rest of the story. Drama! She might be the black sheep of the family or the goddess Eris of the golden apple, but if it wasn’t for her there’d be no one to blame but poor decisions and basic incompatibility. Oops.

No one crashed the event. We’d all been politely, obligatorily and cordially invited. But trust me not to bite my tongue. Before, after (and in what might have been whispers if those in earshot hadn’t laughed – during).

See, I think the 13th fairy gets a bad rep. What’s the backstory? Was she not invited because she knew the bride embezzled money from her friend’s start-up to pay for her dowry, or because she knew the dowry-guzzling groom was still seeing his ex? Because the families involved were too busy trying to sabotage each other to be concerned with etiquette? Because there was a hierarchy involved and she was all about subverting the dominant paradigm? Or maybe because she was the only one who – engine running on the getaway car – would look her betrothed loved one in the eye and ask, “Are you truly sure you want this?”

That’s not a curse – that’s compassion. Fairytales conveniently end on the wedding, remember? Given the state of the institution of marriage, historically and in modernity, I don’t mind being the 13th fairy. Somebody’s got to be.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on June 7th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

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