Maria and her Little Prince

Updated: Jun 30, 2020, 07:07 IST | C Y Gopinath | Mumbai

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince has been a recurring theme in my life. And the last time it popped up was the spookiest yet.

Cover of The Little Prince. Pic/Amazon.in
Cover of The Little Prince. Pic/Amazon.in

C Y GopinathIf you examine your life, sometimes you'll find themes that inexplicably repeat themselves without logic. In my life, for example, I have noticed that the five people I regarded as my mentors at different times, were all of age 52 when I met them. Another: four times in my life, I have found myself wholly responsible for single-handedly arranging the funerals of people who I had not known at all while they'd lived.

One of these recurring themes has been a little book about a prince who lived on an asteroid.

In the annals of publishing, The Little Prince has been a perennial best-seller, selling over 140 million copies since it was first published in 1943. It has been translated widely, taken to stage, twice made into a movie, and produced as a ballet, a cartoon and an opera.

The story, by the French aristocrat, aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, tells of the travels of a prince living on an asteroid who visits various other asteroids before reaching Earth. The book is slim and printed in large type with lots of illustrations, so you might dismiss it as a children's book, but The Little Prince's fans are adults. They are moved and left wet-eyed by the way in which the book tenderly touches themes of innocence, loneliness, friendship, hypocrisy, love and loss.

I read it first when I was in high school, and cried at the end. I read it again just to be moved again. In my thirties, I converted it into a script for a theatre musical, writing 18 songs for it.

The book keeps surfacing in my life in odd ways. In 2012, for example, work took me to Geneva, not that far from France. I took advantage of a weekend to travel to Lyons, whose airport is named after Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and reverently placed flowers on the grave of the man himself.

In 2014 The Little Prince popped up in my life again in the spookiest possible way. I run a writers guild in Bangkok, mainly for published authors, and from time to time get requests to join. A young woman called Maria Jacobovich (not her real name), 23, applied one day, saying she had never written but wanted to do something for children.

This caught my attention so I started a conversation with her on Google Chat to find out what she had in mind for children. I mentioned The Little Prince as a profound book about the innocence of a child's eye view. Some days later, I invited her to drop by at my United Nations office to chat more over a Starbucks coffee.

She was a tall, cheerful lass of 23, with the face of a farmer's daughter, the only child of a Canadian mother and a Russian father, both long since divorced. Not very fond of her mother and too far from her father, she lived by herself. I noticed that her broad, happy smile never left her face. It was slightly disconcerting; I wondered why she was so happy.

Maria, it emerged, regularly consulted a quadriplegic online oracle for direction in life. A few years earlier, the oracle had told her to find her way to Seoul and work there for some time. After a year, she was instructed to move to Chiangmai, Thailand.

There, she told me, she had met her soul mate, a Thai girl called Jazz. But soon it was time to move again. This time the oracle wanted her to go to Bangkok and find a writers group.

She'd found me, and through me, The Little Prince. Which she'd bought and read by now.

That night, she'd asked the oracle why this book mattered in her life. "Because," the oracle had replied, "you were its writer in your previous life. You were Antoine de Saint-Exupéry himself."

And what role did I play in her life? Maria asked. Gopinath, the oracle told her, had been Consuelo, Antoine's wife, in his previous avatar.

I had apparently been this 23-year-old's wife in my last life. Suddenly I was struck speechless. And Maria's broad smiles began making sense.

Googling madly under the table, I found a counter-argument. "I couldn't have been your wife," I said. "Consuela was alive in 1952 when I was born."

But that night the oracle dismissed this as ignorance. "Past, present and future all exist together," she told Maria.

Luckily for me, the oracle soon told Maria it was time to move again, this time to Vancouver. I met her just once more before she left. I still have the copy of The Little Prince she gifted me. Inscribed within are the words, For Consuelo, My dear wife. Forgive me. Forever grateful to you for everything. Tonio.

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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