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Prospero leaves. Ariel doesn’t.

Ariel never leaves. It’s hir land, after all, hir place. Zie couldn’t leave—not entirely, not always, not forevermore, for all the happily ever afters in all the stories.

Ariel isn’t sure zie believes in happily ever afters—there is always more story to go. After Dushmantya there’s Bharat, after Bharat there’s Arjun. With Arjun there’s Krishna (and Krishna). And there’s Bharat, of course. There’s always Bharat. It’s all the same story—it’s history, and herstory, and hirstory, and there’s no point damming that river.

The Ganga will flow where the Ganga will flow, no matter how many names she’s called and how many stories they tell about her. A palace by the river, a shack by the sea—what does it matter? It is hir land, and hir river, and hir mountains, and hir seas—it is brown and arid, and it is fertile and green, and it is hirs. It is hir, and zie is it. The Prosperos sail away—depart, leave, vanish—or zie swallows them whole, and becomes a new Ariel.

 Ariel cannot remember, now, who zie had been, before it all, in the beginning of time—in the beginning of time Brahma created the world, the brahmanda. But Brahma wasn’t part of hir, always—he came with that first roving band; the ones who brought horses, and destroyed her cities, and called their god-king Purandar, as though that was the greatest honour. Ariel had swallowed them whole.

Ariel swallows everyone whole, voice and garments and stance and speech and food and drink and weapons and jewels. Zie is Ariel of the many faces—Ariel of the many voices, Ariel of the many selves. Ariel of the many disguises, Prospero calls hir—calls him, calls her, Prosper has uses for a manservant, and uses for a maid—and treats Ariel as though zie is nothing but a clown, when Ariel is a bahurupi(ni), and all hir faces are hirs, and none are masks.

Ariel does not remember who zie had been, before that first raid, with the nomadic horsemen—there have been so many raids by nomadic horsemen, and zie has swallowed them all whole. It does not matter that zie does not remember who that Ariel had been—it is enough that zie had been Ariel, and zie still is.

Zie has not swallowed Prosper whole—she has swallowed Prosper to the root, but never he. Zie does not think it bad that things have so transpired. Prosper was old and tough—no meat to him, no rasa—he would have stuck in hir throat, and carved hir up worse than he has, already. Already he’s cut hir up—chopped off shoulder and arm and hand—and that for his clothes and his words. He’s made hir a new Ariel, by his residence and his departure; if zie were not Ariel of the many guises—if zie were Caliban—there would have been no chance of life, after him.

But zie is Ariel, and Ariel knows all the tricks—there are no tricks, only hir endless appetite and boundless capacity for absorption. And this desire to be all the Ariels zie can be, and this knowledge that all the Ariels are only one Ariel, are hir.

That is the greatest trick, and no trick at all, and not a trick Caliban is aware of. Unfair to blame Caliban, when he was unused to raids in ships and raids on horses and raids that penetrate every crevasse of your mind and land and try to rob and rape and ravish you. Unfair to blame Caliban, who had been trusting, who had been young, who had not known enough to keep his own speech safe while he chased after a new tongue. Ariel cannot imagine not knowing, but there must have been a time, before that first raid—nothing since has changed hir quite as much. But it is not simply that Caliban is young—Ariel had been young, once, and had let no raider keep themselves separate, and yet remain. Prospero is the one zie has not swallowed whole, but there are chinks in his defences, and Ariel knows them all. Time enough to chip away at them—though he did not, could not, take Ariel with him, there’s enough of Ariel that’s gone with Prospero.

He’s taken Caliban with him, has old Prosper, and that perplexes Ariel. Surely Prosper knows how Caliban hates him, with the unreasoning hatred of a child who’s found his parent less than perfect? Surely Prospero knows? Must know, certainly—Caliban’s is a hatred, is an anger, almost as tangible as Caliban’s sorrow. And yet, knowing, why would he take Caliban with him? Certainly Prospero isn’t kind—Miranda, perhaps, with the antiseptic kindness that involves no true effort; she is kind to filth that does not dirty her hems, and Ariel has a word for that—has many words for that, Ariel of the many tongues—that serves better than ‘kindness’. Miranda is kind to Ariel, is even kind to Caliban—but she is kindest to men with her own pale skin.

Let be, let be; this, too, has passed. So they have taken Caliban, so what? Certainly Caliban is nothing to Ariel—they have tormented by turns, zie would not have liked living with Caliban on the island, zie does not like Caliban, and Caliban does not like hir.

Yet, Ariel suspects—Ariel of the many tongues is also Ariel of the many thoughts, and each of hir selves has its own separate mind—that zie dislikes Caliban because Caliban is too like hir for liking to develop. Zie has been Caliban, at times—but zie has also tortured Caliban, and been tortured by him, and there is little in Caliban to like, even though there is little in Caliban that Ariel does not know, has not felt. There have been too many raids for hir to not know Caliban’s despair. There have been too many raids for hir to sympathise with it. And zie does not like, really, the way in which Caliban looks around, furtive and vengeful; zie does not like how he hides his intelligence, and does not like how twisted his intelligence is. Caliban’s mind is twisted the way his body is twisted—a thing of darkness, indeed, as though Prospero was not the one who twisted him.

 Prospero perplexes Ariel—there’s no need to be unfair to him, he fails utterly to show up well in the best of lights, and zie is only ever unfair to those raiders who have fallen in love with hir, and let hir swallow them whole, and become one of her many selves. Prospero has sailed away, and that makes him a guest—he thinks himself hir master, but Ariel cannot be conquered, though zie pretends satisfactorily at subjugation. And it is impossible to be unfair, to be less than gracious to a guest, however terrible—atithi devo bhava, that first raid embedded in hir mind as it embedded much else. Atithi devo bhava, and, besides, zie didn’t do too badly under him, threats and executions excepted—Caliban fared much worse, with his unreasoned anger and sullen defiance.

But zie wants to hate Prospero, and hating an enemy is dharm, too, as much as anything is dharm. Zie hates his pomposity, his belief in himself and disbelief of everything else, his violence and his prudery, and the furtiveness of his glance and touch and command. Ariel is glad Prospero could not be absorbed, assimilated, eaten—the Ariel that would leave hir is not an Ariel zie wants to be. Let be, let be. He has left, and zie is still where zie was, where zie always has been, and that is enough.

Prospero has sailed away, and taken Caliban—taken his words, and his ways, and his freedom, and him—and that makes Ariel feel hatred coiling deep in hir belly. Zie does not like Caliban, does not like what Prospero has made him. But zie knows Caliban, better than anyone—better than anyone knows Caliban, better than Ariel knows anyone—and once, when Caliban was at his mother’s breast, zie had touched fingertips to his dark curls and dark lashes curling over darker eyes. And once, when Caliban was a boy eagerly following Prospero around—giving away all their secrets for a few false kindnesses, where Ariel would have leveraged privileges for that knowledge—Ariel had fitted the bow of hir mouth against the bow of Caliban’s, and known hirself happy.

Ariel does not like Caliban—there was nothing in Caliban to like, after Prospero schooled him, nothing save that sullen disobedience that could have been, so easily, princely arrogance. And the way he clung to land and the dream of freedom long after Ariel had reconciled hirself to yet another bout of pretended subjugation. And the way his intelligence broke through the shackles Prospero placed on it, and he spoke revolutions—bloody and futile, but so grand, so brave—where Ariel only begged, pleaded, compromised, sang in shallow rhyme where Caliban thundered like a tempest in a desert, melting into Prospero’s shifting sands with no results, and with the image of his thunder indelibly etched in Ariel’s mind. And, oh, that one soft glance from his great dark eyes, the day Ariel kissed him.

Ariel wants to hate Prospero—hates Prospero, and wants to admit that hatred. Zie has many reasons, and many excuses, and many justifications. But Ariel has seen many raids, and Prospero has departed, and that should be enough. And satya is dharm, and Ariel of the many faces is never Ariel of the many lies—is Ariel of the many truths, and many of them conflicting, but never a lie, not in hir own heart.

Prospero has left. Ariel has not. Ariel never leaves. It is hir land, after all. Zie and it have been ravaged before, and Ariel is still Ariel, if not the Ariel zie was. Ariel does not hate so easily, and that zie hates at all rankles hir. There is the land, and there is Ariel; it is hir, and zie is it; it is hirs, and zie is its.

But, oh, to belong to Caliban of the great dark eyes, Caliban zie dislikes and adores. To swallow him whole and let him change hir into a new Ariel.

But Caliban has gone, and Prospero has taken him, and for that Ariel wants to hate this last of the raiders.