In Rajesh Talwar’s new novel, a beautiful mermaid in Indian Ocean falls in love with a merman who wants to be a journalist
Star-Crossed Lovers in the Blue is the story of Utir, a mermaid and Arj, a merman who reside in the Newada Sea. They meet by chance, fall in love, and begin loving each other deeply and passionately, until Utir, the mermaid, ends up having an arranged marriage.
The two lovers lead separate lives, beset with heartbreak, hardships, and trouble, for many years before they encounter each other again. And, then a corona-like epidemic raises its head.
The Mysterious Community of Merfolk
Once, in a part of the Indian Ocean, somewhere to the north of the Andaman Islands, in a region known as the Newada Sea, there lived a community of mermaids and mermen, collectively known as merpersons, or simply merfolk. It is true that the mermaid is half-human and half-fish in her appearance, just like her male counterpart, the merman. The upper part of a merperson’s body resembles that of the human being – although the teeth are much sharper! The lower part of the anatomy resembles that of the fish. It is said by some, that these wonderful beings are more fish than human, for their hands and arms are webbed and resemble fins somewhat. They also breathe through their gills, like most fish. On the other hand, it can be argued that these graceful underwater travellers are more like humans for their minds and hearts are just the same as that of humans.
Merfolk have lived underwater in the world’s seas and oceans for thousands of years, but there are a couple of things that humans have got wrong about them.
For instance, the idea that mermaids fantasize about becoming human is just nonsense. A young man may fantasize that a beautiful mermaid may fall in love with him, ignoring all the mermen who live in her community, but this is a pipe dream and and completely unrealistic.
Ask yourself this simple question: how would the community of merfolk survive and thrive if mermaids kept falling in love with humans and running away to live on land?
The second fallacy is the assumption that this wonderful species approximates to the human size, roughly speaking, whereas the truth of the matter is that merfolk are tiny beings which is the reason that humans encounter them so rarely.
Our story here, in the main, concerns the lives of two underwater lovers called Arj and Utir, who, as you will see, travelled quite a bit in the world’s oceans.
The First Encounter
The section of the Indian ocean where the merfolk lived was a large area. In this region known as the Newada Sea, which was part of the ocean, there also lived alongside the merfolk, various marine animals such as dolphins, angelfish, sea horses, porpoises, crabs, turtles and so many other creatures found in the sea and ocean.
Now, in this part of the ocean the most powerful living being were the merfolk. This was the case despite their small size relative to large fishes and many sea creatures because they were exceedingly intelligent. Merfolk had found a way to fashion the pebbles and rocks that lay at the bottom of the ocean into hammers, sickles and all kinds of useful implements. The pebbles were the raw material from which these implements were fashioned, and the merfolk had organised small factories to make useful products from them. Merfolk cities had sprung up across the world’s seas and oceans. A certain kind of black pebble or stone, known as the kanker, was even the global currency used in the ocean by all the water creatures. Merfolks were on good terms with the rest of the world’s underwater community; and would often invite fishes and other underwater denizens to their important functions. They were highly regarded and respected by other underwater creatures from the smallest fish to the largest whale.
A young merman called Arj lived in an area of the ocean that was not far from the Indian subcontinent and was known as Runwa, mapped out by the town planners into different sections. There was, for instance, section 37 of Runwa, an upmarket area inhabited mostly by retired army officers, which was where the young Arj lived with his family. Not far away, in section 29 – another posh area – lived a beautiful young mermaid called Utir.
As a result of this proximity, it was inevitable that Utir and Arj should encounter each other at some point in time. One day it so happened that Arj was swimming in a part of the ocean that bordered a small island, studying the green weeds that grew there, when he decided to swim up to the surface of the water and have a look at Outer Space. Arj had an adventurous soul, and one of his favourite and secret pastimes was to pop up to the surface of the water and have a look at the world outside just for a short while. All merfolk were severely discouraged by their governments from attempting these kinds of experiments.
‘Believe you me,’ said a fat merman politician, while addressing the press. ‘I have absolutely reliable information that some of our merfolks have been caught by a strange, gigantic beast that lives above the waters!’
‘Can you tell us more?’ asked a mermaid reporter, scribbling on her pad furiously. ‘What does this beast look like?’
‘I understand from my sources,’ said the politician, ‘that it has two large stumps poking out of its stomach instead of gills on the side and a tail.’
‘How ghastly!’ said a mermaid socialite, seated in the front row.
An excited murmur went through the gathering. Several of the merfolk nudged each other with their fins.
‘Just imagine! No tail!’ A young student merman whispered excitedly to the mermaid sitting beside him.
‘That’s all you think of the entire day,’ she scoffed.
A hoary old merman who had seen a lot of life raised a fin to ask a question.
‘It is true,’ he said, upon getting permission to speak, ‘that the beast has the ability to change its colour. I have heard this from my buddies over the years.’
‘You are perfectly right,’ said the politico. ‘In some parts of the ocean it has been reported to have a brown skin, in other sightings it had appeared with pink, black or even yellowish skin.’
Once again, a murmur went through the gathering. Merfolk across the world’s oceans were all extremely fair and light skinned as far as their upper human half was concerned having received practically no sun in their lives. It was true at the same time that their lower fish like body was often a riot of colour.
In Arj’s case, his curiosity generally won over his fear. On that particular occasion, his curiosity was more than rewarded for not only did he get a glimpse of the sky but, as he turned his gaze, he saw Utir nestling in the shallow portion of the ocean just near the edge, also looking into Outer Space. So, there were even brave mermaids who dared to venture near Outer Space as he did! He saw that Utir’s body was almost, but not quite, out of the water. He, too, made sure that his gills remained immersed, for gills are the breathing apparatus of merfolk to draw out oxygen from the water. For all her feminine ways, Utir also had a bold and adventurous spirit and longed to explore Outer Space. Often, she would come up to the surface of the water to take a tiny peep at the outside world. This was primarily to look at the sky and the sun, which the merforlk talked about but few dared to see.
Arj had found a kindred spirit at last. Not only was he impressed with her courage and swimming skills, but on that day when he saw her, he thought he had seen a phenomenon even more stunning and radiant than the sun that he had gone up to look at. It was a vision of shining loveliness that set his heart pounding. Utir didn't want to get blinded by the sun, so with her feminine wisdom she had fashioned a pair of blue goggles out of some leaves taken from the underwater plants. When Arj saw her for the first time she was wearing these shades while enjoying her view of the sun. He thought that she was the coolest mermaid he had ever seen in his life.
In those days, following a survey carried out by the Runwa Times, all the merfolk that lived in the region had come to the conclusion that section 37 was one of the best places to live in on account of its underground vegetation, clean water and a host of other qualities. The younger crowd interpreted this to mean the ‘coolest’ people lived in section 37 of the ocean. On that day, however, Arj was convinced that no mermaid from anywhere else in the whole of Runwa was a patch on Utir, as she lay face up in the shallows, wearing her blue leaf goggles and gazing at the sun.
He couldn’t see her expression, of course, because her eyes were hidden behind the goggles, but if he could have seen he would have been surprised. Just as he was awestruck looking at her, she was staring at him unabashedly, in a most unfeminine fashion, secure in the knowledge that he would never know.
While Utir lay on her back she moved her gills back and forth, sometimes tilting to one side and sometimes to the other, in order to let the sun’s rays caress her whole body.
Her swaying movements mesmerised Arj, for it is not easy for mermaids to remain afloat and sway in that fashion. He thought it was a pretty neat trick, and it was one that he had never seen before. Utir had actually been taught that particular movement and dozens of others by her father, Mr Yogi, who was knowledgeable about yoga. Mr Yogi made sure his only daughter swam with him and did some yoga every morning, even though it was beyond his powers to convince his wife, Mrs Yogi, to take part in this daily exercise ritual.
When Utir stared at Arj she had her mouth open in astonishment. Mermaids often have their mouths open, even when there is nothing very surprising around them, so he did not think it to be of any particular significance (although he did admire her mouth very much). What she was staring at was actually the little beard that grew just below his chin. Arj came from a large family, where the mermen often joined the army and it was a tradition for them to wear a beard.
Arj’s father, Colonel Wara, was a retired army officer, and he had often tried to convince Arj to join the army. However, our hero had no interest in following in his father’s swimming path, as the expression went.
‘There are hardly any wars these days, father,’ he had protested, during a discussion on the subject, ‘and it would just be a waste of my talents.’
Colonel Wara pursed his lips angrily, and would have said something sharp to his son about courage had not Pushpaji, Arj’s mother, intervened.
‘Oh, do let him be. I’m sure he plans on becoming a great journalist – don’t you, Arj? That’s why you’re studying literature, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, indeed, mother,’ Arj responded, though he wasn’t quite sure that a career in journalism was what he wanted, at least as far as traditional journalism was concerned.
Colonel Wara was not very happy with this decision, but he did not want to pressurise his son any further. But he could not stop himself from remarking in an annoyed tone, ‘Well, if you want to be a pen pusher, I won’t stop you,’ for journalists were not thought of very highly in military circles. Then he fell silent and hoped, internally, that it was not cowardice that influenced his son’s decision not to join the army.
To return to the first encounter between Arj and Utir, when Utir saw him, she thought that his little beard was the cutest thing she had ever seen. To see it swaying in the ocean currents set her heart all aflutter, and while she pretended to look at the sun, she actually tilted her eyes sideways to gaze at Arj. For his part, when he withdrew his attention, momentarily, from the spectacle of the blue goggles that so suited Utir, his eyes were struck by the luminous quality of her skin. While most mermaids have glowing skin – both the human upper half and the lower fish half – hers was of a very special kind. It shone so brightly that it could be seen a mile away.
And so they saw each other and liked each other, but they didn’t speak a word to each other. It was not for want of wanting to do so, but because they were both too overcome by emotion and didn’t know what stupid things they might say that might offend the other.
When Arj dived back into the water that day, it was with the realisation that he had seen the mermaid with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. He decided to somehow begin a conversation with Utir the next time he came across her while swimming underwater.
It was difficult not to tell anyone about the new love in his life, but he was a very private merman. He did, however, confide in Popa, a mermaid who studied literature with him at College. Popa and he were very good friends. She was the daughter of the Proprietor of the Runwa Times, the largest selling newspaper in the region. By now Arj had decided that he would become a journalist, although he had little interest in politics – his interests lay, instead, in exploring faraway regions of the world and seeing how different merfolk culture was in those other places.
For the next few days, Arj bunked off college and waited behind the underwater plants near the junction between section 37 and section 29, but he couldn’t spot Utir anywhere. He waited for her every evening, until finally – after what seemed like ages – he did not have to wait anymore.
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