Little Guddu was very fond of listening to stories, especially fairy tales. Every night at bedtime her Mom had to tell her a fairy tale, or else she refused to sleep. Normally, storytelling to a little girl of six shouldn't be a difficult task at all. But such was not the case for Guddu. Being a curious and inquisitive child, she often asked questions which were too matured for her six years. Her Mom, who felt proud of her daughter's quick wit and intelligence, tried to answer her queries with reasonable patience. But mostly her replies failed to satisfy Guddu. Sometimes the little girl herself came up with such practical and reasonable answers that Mom wondered how a six-year-old could think with such clarity.
That night Mom was telling the story of Cinderella. Guddu was listening to it for the first time. Mom began her narration, while Guddu interfered in between to ask questions or express her observations on the story.
"Once upon a time there lived a little girl named Ella. Poor Ella lost her mom at a very small age."
"How sad!" said Guddu. "Why did her mom die?"
"She was suffering from a bad disease."
"Didn't she take medicines?"
"Yes, she did. But probably she forgot to take them regularly. Anyway, soon her father married again. Ella's step mom was a very heartless and wicked woman."
"Then why did Ella's father marry her?"
"When he married her, he was unaware of her evil nature. The woman had two daughters from her previous marriage who were equally bad. The three of them made little Ella do all the household chores. She had to do cooking, washing, scrubbing and cleaning. Her life became miserable. They gave her breadcrumbs to eat and made her sleep on the floor of the kitchen. On cold nights she would move near the hot cinders to derive some warmth. Next morning she'd wake up with cinders smudged in her hair and face. Her step mom and step sisters made fun of her dirty face and nicknamed her 'Cinderella'."
"How mean! Why didn't Ella's Dad protest or punish them? Wasn't Ella his only daughter? Didn't he love her?"
"Of course he did. But he... Well, you see, the step mom was such a nasty and bossy woman that Ella's Dad failed to control her. So he became heartbroken and died a few years later."
"Very sad! He shouldn't have married that bad woman in the first place."
"True. But when he realised his mistake it was too late. Shall we continue with the story now?"
"Yes, yes, please continue."
"Cinderella grew up to be a very beautiful young woman. But her step sisters were not pretty at all. In fact they were quite ugly."
"It serves them right. They must have been jealous of Ella?"
"Sure they were. And also very rude to her. Poor Cinderella never owned a new or pretty dress. Her step mom made her wear old, shabby clothes, while she and her ugly daughters wore new, fashionable dresses."
"Excuse me Mom, but her name was Ella. Why do you copy her wicked step mom and step sisters and call her Cinderella?"
"Because everybody called her Cinderella. Moreover the title of the story is also 'Cinderella', isn't it?"
"That's true. But I think Ella is a better name. Anyway, what happened next?"
"One day there came an announcement that the king's son, Prince Charming, was about to get married. A huge ball dance party would be held in the palace on the following Sunday. All the young maidens of the kingdom had been invited to attend the ball. The Prince would choose his bride from among them."
"But Mom, isn't a prince supposed to marry a princess only?"
"That depends on his wish. Prince Charming wished to marry a girl from his own kingdom."
"I see. Okay, pray continue."
"The royal announcement created huge enthusiasm among the young girls. All of them wanted to be the Prince's bride. They bought pretty, new dresses for the royal ball and worked hard to look their best on that day.
Cinderella's step mom too bought expensive new dresses for her two daughters. She hoped that the Prince would choose one of them as his bride. On the day of the ball, Cinderella helped her step sisters and step mom get ready. She had never been to a palace and wished she could also go with them.
'May I come with you Mom?' she asked in a timid voice. 'I have never seen a palace.'
'Of course not!' snapped her step mom. 'Complete your chores and guard the house until we return.'
Her step sisters made fun of her unkempt appearance and old, soiled clothes.
'The palace guards will mistake you for a beggar and throw you out,' they laughed.
Cinderella felt miserable, but said nothing. After her step mom and step sisters left, she went to the kitchen and cried."
"But Mom, Ella could have gone to the palace on her own after those wicked women had left, couldn't she?"
"Of course she could, but she was too afraid to disobey her step mom's command."
"Ella should have been more courageous. Anyway, what happened next?"
"Suddenly she heard a soft, sweet voice calling her name.
'Dear Cinderella, please do not cry.'
Cinderella looked up and saw a small, beautiful fairy fluttering her wings in front of her.
'Who are you?' asked Cinderella.
'I'm your Fairy Godmother,' replied the fairy. 'I've come to fulfill your wish of going to the palace.'
'Really?' Cinderella asked, feeling happy.
'Yes,' said Fairy Godmother. 'But first you must bring me a few things.'
The Fairy Godmother asked for a pumpkin, six mice and two lizards. Cinderella brought a big pumpkin from the garden, a mouse trap with six mice inside it and two lizards from the house."
"Oh my God! How did Ella get the fearsome lizards? Don't tell me that she caught them with her bare hands?"
"Maybe she caught them with a piece of cloth."
"She must have needed a lot of courage to do that. What did Fairy Godmother do with these things?"
"The Fairy Godmother touched these things with her magic wand and lo! The pumpkin turned into a beautiful carriage and the six mice became six big horses to pull it. One of the two lizards became a driver and the other a coachman. Then her magic wand touched Cinderella's body. Instantly her old, soiled frock changed into a gorgeous pink gown. It was accessorized by matching ornaments and a pair of pretty glass slippers. When she looked at the mirror, she found herself staring at the most beautiful girl she'd ever seen.
'Now you are ready go to the royal ball, Cinderella,' said Fairy Godmother. 'But remember, you must return home before the clock strikes twelve. The impact of my magic wand will stay till midnight. After that all the things will return to their original forms.'
'Thank you so much Fairy Godmother,' said Cinderella happily. 'I promise to return home before midnight.'
Cinderella boarded the carriage and went to the palace. She had a great time there. Everybody was charmed by her beauty and elegance. They thought she was a princess from a foreign land. Even her step mom and step sisters failed to recognize her. Prince Charming was absolutely smitten by Cinderella's beauty and charm. He danced with her only and no one else. So engrossed was she in her new found happiness that she forgot all about Fairy Godmother's warning. When she remembered it was almost too late. The huge grandfather clock had already begun to strike twelve!
A petrified Cinderella mumbled a hasty good bye to the Prince and hurriedly left the ball room. While she was running down the stairs, one of her glass slippers came off her foot and landed on the staircase. But she had no time to pick it up. So she left it there and continued to run. As she came out of the palace gate the clock completed striking twelve. She found herself standing alone on the street, wearing her old, soiled clothes and torn slippers. In place of the grand carriage a pumpkin rolled on the road with six mice and two lizards running around it. She sadly sighed and started walking towards her home.
Prince Charming was extremely surprised at the suddenness with which Cinderella left the palace. He didn't even get the time to ask her name or know where she lived. But he was sure about one thing. He had fallen in love with this girl and wanted her as his bride.
When Cinderella ran out of the ball room, the Prince followed her. But he was too late. Instead of her he found her glass slipper on the staircase. He ordered his messengers to visit every house and ask every young maiden to try out the slipper. The girl whose foot would fit into it would become the Prince's bride."
"Wait a minute, Mom. This is so confusing! How can the Prince possibly find Ella's glass slipper? Didn't all the magical things turn back into their original forms after midnight? In that case the Prince should have found Ella's original torn slipper and not the magical glass one."
"Well...er...you see, the glass slipper somehow didn't change its form. I mean..."
"But why? If all the magical things returned to their original forms, then why shouldn't the same happen to the glass slipper as well? It makes no sense at all!"
"Well, you do have a point there."
"Why did the Prince promise to marry any girl whose foot would fit into the glass slipper? Wan't that silly of him? What if, instead of Ella, some other girl's foot fitted into that slipper? Would he marry her then?"
"Okay, Mom surrenders. Now tell me, if you were the Prince, how would you try to find Cinderella?"
"If I was the Prince, I wouldn't try to find Ella at all!"
"What! Wouldn't you try to find the girl you love?"
"Why should I love a stranger? The Prince met Ella only once and didn't even know her name, right?"
"But still he danced with her only."
"That's because she was prettier than the other girls. He just liked her."
"Oh my God! Who would say you're just six years old! Okay, so who would you marry then?"
"I don't know. If I found Ella maybe I would marry her. Otherwise I would find someone else."
"But fairy tales must have a happy ending."
"But Mom, 'The Little Matchstick Girl' didn't have a happy ending. Anyway, I think the Prince could always find another pretty girl and get married to her."
"What about Cinderella? Would she forever live in misery?"
"Of course not. She too should find a nice guy and marry him."
"That's not really a fairy tale, my dear."
"Why not? Can't Ella marry an ordinary man and be happy with him?"
"Of course she can."
"Then why does she have to marry the Prince at all?"
"Okay then, let's make her marry the neighbour's young son who silently admired her from her childhood days. On Valentine's Day he proposed to her with a box of chocolates and a bunch of red roses. She happily accepted the gifts, and his proposal as well. Soon they got married and happily lived ever after. How's that?"
"Not bad at all. As for the Prince, let's make him marry the palace physician's cute daughter who secretly loved him and nursed him during his illness. I'm sure he'll be happy with her."
"Of course they'll be very happy."
"Don't you think that the story has a better ending now?"
"I'm sure it has, my love. But now it's high time for you to sleep. Good night Guddu baby."
"Good night Mom dear."
Soon Guddu fell asleep. Her Mom lightly kissed her on the forehead and tiptoed out of the room. She remembered how, during her own childhood days, she had often wondered how Cinderella's glass slipper managed to retain its magical effect. Her Ma never cared to clarify about it as she found fairy tales to be utterly absurd. Today her little girl not only answered her query but also gave an interesting twist to the story. She smiled as she walked towards the dining room.