My 12-year-old mind often wages a silent war against scores of questions that relentlessly keep knocking on my heart. All the more now, when India is in the throes of a migrant exigency, infamously hailed as one of the nation’s biggest humanitarian crises. The magnitude of the migrants’ plight has been such that sometimes I have felt my heart cave in. Why does social inequality exist, why are the migrants undertaking the arduous journey of getting back to their roots even at the cost of their lives? The adults around me had no real answers. I was left wondering if children and their inquiries are burdensome for adults or if they fail to recollect that similar capricious ideas had once confounded them?
I found the answers where I was least expecting them to be – French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s memoir, ‘The Little Prince’, penned way back in 1943 during World War 2. The times then must have been as uncertain and bleak as now. Perhaps that is what makes it a timeless tale.
Interestingly, the book also tells us that grown-ups can certainly be strange! Right at the onset, the author implies that grown-ups fail to see the true meaning; they look at the surface and forget to probe further.
It begins when a technical snag forces an aviator to be marooned on the barren Sahara sands. To his astonishment, he meets a wee little boy. No one ordinary but the prince of another planet! The narrative unfolds as the little prince shares several encounters he has had over the course of his interplanetary journey – meeting a king who yearns for discipline but has no subjects; a conceited individual who seeks nothing but flattery; a drunkard who drinks to forget how ashamed he is of drinking; a businessman obsessed with meaningless numbers et al.
Their newfangled conduct both amuses and perturbs the little prince but what depresses him most is a rose garden. It reminds him of the enchanting, coquettish flower on his planet who had endlessly tormented him with her “demanding vanity” while claiming to be unique. Simultaneously vain and naïve, she confesses her love for the prince too late to persuade him to abandon his travel plans. Throughout the story, she occupies the prince’s thoughts. He then meets a fox who teaches him that “one can only see clearly with the heart, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” He asks him to look at the rose garden again. For, this time he will witness something new. He tells, “an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you….But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered;…because it is she that I have listened to when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.” It is immensely gratifying to view how the prince “learns to love” as he realizes what makes the rose unique is not her physical appearance but what they have together. Perhaps the book conveys that we may detest several things in life but we must learn to love them.
In my opinion, the sole purpose of the narrative is to represent the various stages of human life. It acts as an allegory. Each word signifies something, carries power and meaning. One must pause to probe what the author endeavored to convey indirectly. For instance, in one of the intriguing statements, he says, “What makes the desert beautiful is that it might contain a well.” The way I perceive it, the author attempted to show that happiness can never be bereft of pain.
The book is remarkably poetic, every page like a verse, captivating the reader to observe bits that they would have otherwise missed. The ending albeit is slightly abrupt. The prince, yearning to return home, is bitten by a snake. He falls and his body vanishes —whether in death or on his way home we will never know. The prince and the narrator return to their respective planets, muddled in ambivalent feelings – wondering, loving, reminiscing.
The book is indisputably a page-turner. What makes the book unique is the fact that it offers innumerable perspectives. Each reader may view it contrastingly and perhaps the same reader may have a completely different take-away on re-reading the book. The least it does is bring out the child in each one of us and teach us the art of believing.
About the Reviewer: Asmi Ghosh is 12, was born in the US, but feels more at home in Hyderabad . Thanks to her mother, she started reading and writing while still in her diapers – and considers Agatha Christie, Newberry and Satyajit Ray amongst her favorites. Outside of reading and trying her hand at occasional writing, she loves sports, music, and Netflix, though not necessarily in that order.