Character Interview: Vibhuti Bhandarkar’s Leila

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Leila was written by Vibhuti Bhandarkar.)

‘Yes! It was all magic. And the magic show does come to an end at a point doesn’t it?’ Leila was talking to herself, peering deep into the antique Chinese pocket mirror that she always carried on her person, tucked at the waist.

Visuals of her glamorous past came swimming back to her and Leila nose-dived into the pool of cool memories. She’d  run away from the crazy world of fashion, couple of months ago. Her disappearing act had been as magical as her entry into the world of fashion. Leila, the glamorous peach complexioned face of sharp features and hazel eyes, who’d been fantastically blessed with oomph had managed to escape into oblivion, without leaving a single trace of herself behind.

Why did she need to toil so much under such great pressures when destiny awaited her at her own ancestral home? Leila had done it for the greater good. There were much bigger acquisitions waiting for her here. And she didn’t regret it one bit! ‘Is there more to myself than I know?’ Leila wondered, as her eyes met with the elusive pair in the reflection.

Her long, jet black and curly locks rolled into a bun, her face sans any kind of make-up, Leila was now only a shadow of her glamorous self. She was aware that the paint on her toe nails were chipping and that the tip of her nose had those almost inconspicuous blackheads which the models made a hue and a cry about.

‘Sometimes it feels as if the girl in the reflection is not me but a completely different person there. Someone I’m unacquainted with. Like I’m playing the game of Truth or Dare with my own mind but….’

Leila was quite okay with that.

‘And what is life without a bit of magic, mystery and fun?’ Leila had laughed a shrill laugh that could easily scare the daylights out of poor Uncle Patrick with that weak heart of his. She had no qualms in accepting what she truly was- a rare mage, the only scion to a secret Enatic legacy of esotericism and magic.

Seated at one of the five concrete seats lined along the lateritic stone walls of the garden, this was her favourite spot on such sunny and beautiful mornings. She loved the feel of the cool, mosaic surface of the seat touching the back of her calves through her linen pajamas. Decorated with blue and white ceramic Azulejo tiles that resembled the Ming Dynasty Chinese ceramics, each of the concrete seats was a low-backed, rectangular structure with an individuality of its own. There were different motifs of roses and camellias interlaced to form an interesting pattern and framed with beautiful borders. One could see how painstakingly the carpet composition on the vertical sides of each seat had been planned to look different from the other.

Here she was granted a glorious view of Granny Xett’s 350 year old Noronha-Xett Heritage Mansion- the most exquisite Portuguese house in the countryside of Chorão in North Goa.The central main staircase built from decorated balustrades and ornamental ironwork, clearly divided the house into two equal halves, branching into the left wing and the right wing. With twenty-four windows on each side, the Noronha-Xett Mansion was the longest and the biggest in rural Goa. The window and door frames were picked out in white from the terracotta coloured structure. The facade punctuated with colonnades and balconies, capped by the quintessential red clay-tiled, sloping roofs made the mansion a landmark that leant character to the district. Beyond the porch, the central spacious hall with the high ceiling could be easily converted into a fantastic museum of chandeliers, paintings, porcelain, crystal, period furniture and other antiquities.

“This house, its members and its belongings, are blessed and protected.” Granny Xett, Leila’s maternal grandmother, prided herself over the fact that not a single piece of heirloom- from a silver spoon to a crystal in the chandelier, had ever been lost, stolen or damaged over the centuries.

“Every single piece of the mosaic in the tableau that adorns the front façade is intact, magically protected from aging!” Leila could never forget Granny’s naughty, quick wink. It was indeed a magical life that they led, Granny Xett and Leila.

The squawking of a seagull from somewhere above brought Leila back, out of her reverie. It was almost time for Kelly Blanchard to arrive. News must have travelled across the seas about Granny Xett’s special powers and of their heritage mansion but Leila could not imagine why the renowned author had specifically asked to visit and interview her.

At the end of the walkway which laced the lawn, there were a couple of wooden tables and chairs, arranged near the tinkling fountain.

“Will it be nice to invite Kelly to sit right here on the Azulejo benches and enjoy the view of the coconut groves and the beach, or should I take her to the formal seating by the fountain.” Leila debated with her own self.

Leila felt a slight tingling at the back of her head. “Why not work some magic on myself, for a change?” Too lazy to get up from the delicious spot in the garden to dress up for the interview, a naughty idea crossed her mind.

“Hanga Palle!” Granny’s voice rang clear in Leila’s ears that very instant, remembering how she’d sternly address her in chaste Konkani to draw her attention.

“Beware Leila, no part of the grimoire or its lessons will you ever utilize for any wrong means. The misuse of your powers will only prove detrimental to the purpose of our very existence.” Granny Xett—her Guru had laid out a caveat of sorts, loudly, clearly. “You are not to whisper about the source of our powers or our secret legacy to any other soul.”

Leila’s tummy churned. She had never broken the rules before but the recently acquired knowledge about her inheritance—a gigantic treasure from a 14th century Chinese Trade Junk, waiting for her at an enchanted island was too juicy a piece of news to be kept under her hat for long.

“Kelly belongs to another world and she’s traveling such long distances just to speak to me. I don’t see any harm in sharing just a teeny-weeny bit of the big news!” Leila decided.

Pulling out a thread from the hem of her cotton top, she blew it to the wind. And lo and behold! Leila was dressed in a white cotton sundress with puffed sleeves and a baby pink sleeveless shrug. She liked the lovely strawberry printed flip-flops on her manicured feet and the ruby ring that now sat prettily on her right ring-finger.

Leila heard the creaking of the rusty, old front gate and to her delight she saw Kelly walking in. Leila was more than ready to welcome her.

Kelly came through the gate and smiled at Leila. “Hello! You must be Leila. Thank you for meeting me with. Quite a lovely place you have here.” She glimpsed around taking it all in before settling her gaze upon Leila once more with a smile. “How are you doing today?”

“Good Morning, Ms. Kelly!” Leila was exceptionally chirpy. She was already geared up for the attention she would be getting. And Kelly seemed to be a nice lady. “Thank you so much! As you may already know, this is a 350 years old Heritage property. Please follow me. Where would you like to be seated? Here’s my favourite spot.” Leila pointed at the blue and white benches. And down the walkway there’s a formal garden seating by the fountain. Please tell me, where will you be comfortable?”

Kelly motioned to the nearby benches. “Let’s sit here.” She sat down and watched as Leila did the same. “Why is this your favorite spot? I can imagine why, but I’d like to hear from you.” Kelly gifted her with a warm smile.

“Aaahh!! That’s a lovely question to start with. I can see why everybody is raving about being interviewed by ‘THE” Kelly Blanchard!” Leila flashed an equally broad smile at her guest. “I love these benches for many reasons; because they give me a grand view of my home and the beach; for they are beautiful and mostly because there are some poignant childhood memories attached with them” Leila was getting nostalgic.

“And what would you prefer? Tea or Coffee?” Leila thought of supplying Kelly with some trivia. “We call Coffee- ‘Kapi’ in our native language—Konkani. I can ask our cook to make us some. You will love a piping hot cup on a lovely bright morning like this one!”

“Tea would be fine, thank you.” Kelly nodded her thanks then settled back on the beach, taking in her surroundings. Leila was right. It was a lovely view of the beach, and Kelly was glad she came here. Just yesterday she had wanted to visit the beach, so this was just the right atmosphere, and Kelly smiled at herself before shifting her attention back to Leila. “Now, you mentioned there are childhood memories attached to these benches and such. Like what?” She tilted her head to a side.

” Oh, Kelly! I’d lost my father when I was just a child and my mother was invited to come back to her maternal home, for good. So here I was, an eight year old, heart broken and lonely but Granny Xett, my maternal grandmother, turned my life around.” Leila looked up at Kelly and fought a tear drop from surfacing at the corner of her eyes. “Granny Xett’s company was magical, quite literally! I remember spending many hours with her, whiling away my time, just tagging along like a lost puppy.” Leila gave a short laugh at her own words.

“I remember being led by the soft but firm clasp of Granny Xett’s hand. My fingers sinking into the wrinkled cushions of her palms while I followed her all around the house. There weren’t many chores for the old lady to do. So after a stroll in the dewy morning, through our small coconut grove that skirt the mansion grounds, Granny would sit down on one of these seats to rest her tired feet. This was our daily ritual.” Leila spotted a maid step out with a garden hose. She called out to her, ” Don cup Cha go!” She looked at Kelly. “I just asked her to serve us tea! Should I have asked her to bring biscuits too? ” Leila smiled sheepishly at her own folly

“No, that’s all right. Thank you.” Kelly reassured her with a smile. She really wanted to stay focused on the questions and answers. “It sounds like quite a lovely time—beautiful memories. You’re close to your grandmother, I assume.” Kelly raised her brows. “Now, I also know you have magic. When did that emerge?”

“Kelly, this is something I have been strictly warned not to share with an outsider, but I just decided moments ago that I would trust you with the one truth of my life. Granny Xett and I are mages and mind you, not ordinary at that!” Leila was gloating openly. “Ours is a Centuries old Enatic legacy of esotericism and magic. We belong to the order of the ‘Qilin’s Grimoire’- the only remaining copy in the world that is indestructible.” Leila had lowered her voice to almost a whisper. She leant a bit sideways towards Kelly and continued, “Granny Xett had initiated me when I was just a little child and over the years, I too have gained a certain amount of mastery!” There was an unmistakable change in Leila’s expressions when she remembered once again that she herself had gained some superpowers.

Kelly nodded. She understood power well. She shifted in her seat to face Leila once more, her gaze watching her face. “You said she initiated you when you were a little child. That does mean that’s when you gained powers? Because having a child is hard, but having a child with superpowers…” Kelly shook her head. “I don’t even want to imagine.” The thought of a magical child throwing a temper tandem which resulted in the house burning down crossed her mind, but Kelly shook the image from her mind. There had to be more control than that, she reasoned.

“Hahha!” Leila was thrilled to know that Kelly was believing. “It wasn’t so much like that, Kelly! I was mischievous but mostly always obedient. And what we were mastering had a reason and a purpose.” Leila didn’t know where to begin, She decided that Kelly should know more about Granny Xett and thus learn about her in turn.

“Granny had lost many of her dear ones very early on in her life, including her own husband and her eldest son. Despite all her superpowers she was not able to meddle with destiny. That made Granny take to all the outreach.” The tea had arrived and after a brief pause, she continued, “Granny Xett had not only emerged as a local doctor of sorts, looking into and successfully rectifying all kinds of problems regarding health issues, depression, hair fall, etc., she was also an irreplaceable agony aunt who could give solutions to the love birds, in the blink of an eye. Her fame had grown far and wide too because there were instances when she had done the impossible too for many. And she never expected any monetary benefit in return. So I was right there besides her learning that these powers can be put to good use!” Leila looked at Kelly, waiting to see the effect of her words.

“It’s Karma you see! What goes, comes right back! I’ve therefore never dared to misuse my powers.” Leila had almost ended her tale when she muttered under her breath, “Except once or twice, maybe!” A fleeting look of guilt passed through Leila’s eyes.

Kelly accepted the tea and whispered a word of thanks to the person who had brought it, but then she continued to listen to Leila’s tale. At least in the end, she saw the guilt and knew she had to ask. “What happened?”

And in that very moment Leila regretted having mentioned it. Was she ready to confess, she wondered. The visual of Yu Xa Li- their Chinese ancestor who had brought the Qilin’s Grimoire to Goa, came haunting back before her eyes. It was Xia Li who had reignited their Enatic legacy but the history of how she had acquired the Grimoire was adark and deep past. Leila’s fears that she was Xia Li reincarnated, began to surface again. of their acquired the grimoire

She struggled to find her voice and answered, “I don’t think it was such a grave mistake but I have broken a few rules. I’d run away from this very mansion to pursue a career in the fashion industry at Bombay. I also snatched success from a couple of models on the way, by means of my magic! I pursued my passion for the ramp for nearly four years but eventually decided to quit when Granny wrote to me, promising that there were greater acquisitions waiting for me here. I made a prompt exit, deleting all records of my stint in the industry. Now, nobody remembers me!” Leila had let out quite a shrill laugh, obviously amused at her own doings. “I can be very materialistic at times!” Leila once again looked guilty but was she feigning it? Putting up an act? Leila was feeling that a duality within her soul kept pushing itself to the surface. She wasn’t sure if Kelly had spotted the flaw in her. She looked like a pretty sharp mind

Kelly regarded Leila for a long moment. She saw the conflict in her and decided to hone in on that. “What is more important to you? Pretty clothes or a smile on friend’s face?”

“Whoa! That has come out of the blue.” Leila thought but didn’t say it aloud. ” Should I be politically correct here, Kelly?” Leila laughed, trying to dodge the question but then decided otherwise and answered. “I love my clothes, and expensive Jimmy Choo, but Kelly, you see, once you know there’s a treasure waiting for you on an enchanted island, even such material goodies wane in importance.” No sooner than those words had spilt out of her mouth Leila knew she had committed yet another blunder. “What is with this Kelly? She’s getting you to spill the beans without batting an eyelid?” Leila said to herself.

Kelly tilted her head. She noted the mention of the treasure, but that didn’t mean anything to her. Instead she leaned forward, setting her chin in her palm in a thought pose as she furrowed her brows. Then she shot Leila a quizzical glance. “So you admit that treasure and ‘things’ are more important to you than say…someone else’s happiness? That moment where you’ve encouraged them, and their eyes light up with gratitude they cannot express?” She pulled back. “I hope you understand I’m not trying to attack you or anything. If that is who you are, that is who you are, and I won’t judge you. I’m simply trying to learn who you are deep inside—even without your powers.”

Leila sighed. “Kelly, since you put it that way, I think I will come clean. All my life I have seen Granny Xett be a do-gooder and in that wake I have been lending a hand in all of it too. We have together brought happiness to many souls. Granny in a larger way and me in my own little way but what has come out of all of that? I feel I deserve to treat myself to a candy too. I deserve it after all, don’t I?” Leila was vehemently trying to stay in Kelly’s good books.

“Too much of good is bad enough, isn’t it?” Leila tried to justify her statements, desperately.

“Leila,” Kelly gave her a kind smile. “I have interviewed people who have done incredibly horrible deeds, and they are proud of it. You are not that. Now, granted, you’re not perfect, and I’m not going to pretend that you are, so that is why I ask you these questions—for you to take a long hard look at yourself and determine what you must do.”

Kelly then cast her gaze to the ocean view and watched the waved crash against the shore. “You may tire of doing good, but doing wrong will never substitute for doing right.” She glanced back at Leila. “It’s okay to take time to yourself, but when that becomes more important than others, and when what you want becomes more important than what you can do for others, that is when it becomes wrong. And with your power, that is dangerous.”

“Kelly, I perfectly understand what you mean! This has happened in the past. Way back in the 14th Century, so I’m told by OSTARA INFINIMEGISTUS- the inimitably powerful mage from the 11th Century, who is an immortal and dwells around the scions of our Enatic legacy, in spirit. She whispers into my ears and guides me but at times when I am going wrong she has fallen silent, leaving me to my fate.” There was a catch in Leila’s breath at the realization that she had mentioned the unmentionable, but she had to continue. “The history of our legacy is dark. I don’t know if I mentioned that to you! And I feel, I’m a reincarnate of one of our ancestors. If history is destined to repeat itself, How am I to fight it?”,

“I imagine, I may unleash all my powers, if that gigantic treasure at that enchanted island is to be claimed!” Leila had hurriedly added in the same breath, not waiting for Kelly to respond. She was letting go off of all her inhibitions and talking to Kelly. Leila was clueless what would happen if Kelly was to quote her story, in her own world.

Kelly locked eyes with Leila. She was more familiar with the 12th Century due to her own writing, but the 11th Century wasn’t that far from it, and Kelly understood history well. “The best way to fight history from repeating itself is to be well-versed in that history, so you know what choices not to make. Only those who remain ignorant of it will repeat it. Life is a story, and the best stories are not repetitive—if that makes any sense.”

However, Leila kept touching upon this treasure, so Kelly decided to finally allow her to focus on it. “What is this treasure you’re talking about? Because, from all the treasure hunting stories I’ve read, it’s usually more of a curse than a blessing.”

“Really, is it? Now you are scaring me, Kelly!” Leila was confiding in Kelly like a little girl. ” I have been recently given to understand that our Enatic legacy took germ in Goa, India in the 14th century when it was actually a part of the VijayaNagar Empire.” Leila loved history as a subject even at school and she loved to narrate stories from it too, so she went on happily,  “A Chinese Trade Junk laden with the most massive amounts of all kinds of treasure, ranging from gems and valuables to magic potions and whatnots was homewards bound but never got there. Some superpower sunk the ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean but the treasure was safely transported to an enchanted island, by sheer magic!” Leila tried to keep herself from drifting away. She tried to keep the story as brief as possible, “Ostara Infinimegistus has protected the treasure ever since and only the heir who can decode the password to the magical vault that holds all the treasure can be its rightful heir!” Leila had lowered her voice once again when she realised that there may be truth in what Kelly had shared, ” Many have attempted through the centuries to locate this enchanted isalnd, deemed to be one of the many Chorao islands along the coasts of Goa but have failed. Even losing their lives, in the attempt!”

“And you think you have a fair chance at this? What makes you different than all the others who have tried?” Kelly raised her brows.

That sounded like an open challenge to Leila, “The sheer fact that I am Yu Xia Li reincarnated; the fact that she was our very first ancestor who restarted the Enatic Legacy in India.” Leila found herself raising her voice. “Granny Xett is undoubtedly powerful. if I have inherited all her powers and the way I am sharpening my skills nowadays, I am bound to get there!” Leila decided she would not divulge anymore, She had a plan but Kelly wouldn’t know of it!

Kelly just gave her a look. Leila, you are powerful, and you have a lot going for you, yet if you fail, it will be become of your pride.” She rose to her feet then turned to Leila once more. “You think it’s owed to you, so you will likely blaze trail there no matter the cost and who or what you must sacrifice to get it because you think it’s yours. And you may very well obtain that treasure, but if you focus only on yourself, then when you gain that treasure, there won’t be anything left for you because there won’t be anything left of you.” Kelly paused to let that sink in. She knew Leila likely didn’t like to heard what she said, but Kelly preferred to speak the truth even if it hurt.

“Now though, I have to go because my time here has come. You are a lovely and very gifted young woman, but you need to learn who you are without your magic, without all the prophecies, and anything like that. Discover who you truly are, and then…and only then would I suggest you take that journey to find that treasure because when you find that treasure, there is no turning back.”

Leila was saddened by the abrupt end to their chat but also realised it had been quite a while that she had kept Kelly back, maybe beyond the expected span of time.

“Oh! but before you leave I want you to do something for me. Kelly, please finish your tea. And look into your tea cup for me!” There at the bottom of the cup, the slight residue of the tea powder had left a stain. Leila then asked her to dip the tip of her finger in it. And Lo and behold stuck to her finger tip was a gold coin. “That comes from the mint of the great kind Krishna Dev Raya of the 14th Century. You will see that the weight of the gold coin is engraved on it in the DevNagari script. I want you to include it in your collection! There’s more from where this came.” Leila winked.

Kelly took it with a nod and smiled at her. “Thank you.” She then paused, considering Leila once more, but finally she sighed. “You have a lot of challenges ahead of you, but unfortunately I don’t think you can even see half of them. I hope you the best in all your endeavors, and may you emerge stronger and more beautiful then before.” With that, Kelly motioned with her hand, opening a portal right there in the garden. She closed her hand around the gift Leila had given her and gave her one final nod before stepping through the portal into her own world and letting the portal close behind her.

Leila was shocked to realise Kelly had some powers of her own. She hadn’t expected that. She had been regarding her as a mere mortal author from another continent. “She might as well have read my mind!” Leila laughed. It had been a far easier conversation than she’d expected. “No wonder, my story didn’t have her dumbstruck!” Leila wished Kelly could have stayed back for some more time or at least invited her into the the realm she came from. “I’m not going to breathe a word of this to Granny!” Leila decided and skipped off to their porch, oblivious of the future, Kelly had predicted about. “Come what may, that treasure is mine!” She squealed and threw a hug towards that imaginary pile of gigantic treasure lying somewhere. “Kelly is wise, but I think I am wiser!” She chuckled.

<~>~<~>~<~>

The tentative title of Vibhuti Bhandarkar’s work is ‘Infinimegistus’, and there is no set release date for it yet but hopefully mid-2016. But in the meanwhile, follow her on social media for more updates:

Twitter: @klishmaklaver

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorVibhutiBhandarkar/

Blog: http://klishmaklaver.blogspot.in/

Instagram: Vibzb

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