A MUSE’S TALE • by Rohini Gupta

It’s not easy being a muse.

I have six charges and only one is worth my time.

I hardly bother with the first two. The first writes greeting cards and his mind is like sludge, dark and thick. Giving him an idea is like drilling a hole. The second is a musician who sings and panics. The slightest new idea makes her shiver and close down.

My third wants to write children’s books and he is very easy. I have given him a small idea, like giving a bone to a dog, and he’s happy, gnawing at it for years. He may never need another.

I lost my fourth a few years ago. He took to drink and now he only listens to the mischievous urgings of the bottle imps and never to me.

My fifth is a playwright who does not write. He sits by the window shouting at startled passer-by’s, scolds his grandchildren, reads the newspaper, dozes in a rocker all day and paces sleepless, mumbling, all night.

The sixth one writes novels and yes, she has some promise, just a little.

It’s the seventh one I love. He is a poet and his mind is an open field for me. Ideas flow like oil, like silk. The other muses envy me his velvet mind, which is so rare, especially in humans.

Most muses are barely aware of humans. They work with rivers or trees, songbirds or fields, creating new fragrances, colours and the great art of nature. The important muses work with the tectonic plates of the earth, shifting them to create a great symphony, or with thunderclouds, cyclones, volcanoes or mountain ranges.

My mother was a muse before me and her ancestors before her. My great grandmother created the divine parijaat flower, an achievement few can hope to emulate.

I am the youngest daughter so I need a niche and I find it in humans. The senior muses won’t work with humans. They are too stressful. You have to be around every moment. You can’t take breaks at all. Neglect them for a mere few decades and they are in their dotage or dead. Muses like long centuries of creativity, not this indecent haste.

Still, my favourite, the poet, makes it worthwhile.

Every night I dance for him. It is glorious. It is intoxicating. I am rain, I am thunder, I am lightning. Night after night I fill his mind with my very best ideas. I pour words into him like a river in flood.

I want genius for him. I want a shining talent such as the world has rarely seen. I want to do what few muses have done before. I give him my very best.  I fill him with sublime poetry. When he flags, I push him. When he sleeps I wake him. Long after dawn I keep his mind burning with ideas.

More, more, I urge.

Write, write, keep writing.

He struggles to keep up. He breaks pens and tears the pages, trying to get the poems down before they vanish.

Then, one night, he just stops writing.

Come on, I urge him, this is no time to rest.

I make his fingers pick up the pen but he just drops it and sits there, blank. After a while he falls asleep. Imagine that, asleep, while I am there, hovering above him, bursting with ideas.

He never writes again, despite my best efforts. He sleeps all night, his slumber like a barrier keeping him from me. I can’t wake him. I can’t inspire him. I mourn. For a while it has been magnificent. I wait, but it is over and finally I accept that. These humans are so pitiful.

My sisters say I broke him.

They are wrong. I could have made him the greatest of them all. He was just too weak to accept it.

I have one charge left — the one who writes novels. I turn my energies to her.

It is not the same and at first I do not like it. Her mind is not silk, it is iron. I give her ideas and she takes them and then her fierce concentration closes her mind to me.

I am unable to get through. I hover, undecided. Then I start to read over her shoulder. She puts a new twist on my ideas. The story takes shape on the screen. It’s new even to me. What is happening?

Something unique. I am interested as I have never been. My interest connects me and sometimes I don’t know which idea is hers and which is mine. Ideas flow, the story appears.

It is strange and exhilarating in its own way. We write and write and the words pour out effortlessly. It does not even need much of a rewrite.

I celebrate the day the novel is completed and mailed to the publisher.

Then, the surprise.

In the acknowledgements she writes, to my muse.

It is not quite thunder, but it will do. A human has acknowledged me. She has heard me and known me. Yes, it will do.

My sisters are awed. Humans do not recognise muses. You have done the extraordinary, they say. Muses will always remember you for this. You have made your family proud. I dance, ecstatic.


She has started another novel but I have decided to move on. It’s been fun but far too tiring. I give the charge to an eager, young muse and she asks me how best to guide this human. I just laugh.

Let her guide you, I say.

She does not understand. She will find out the hard way, as I have, that it is not easy to be a muse to these fragile and limited humans, but even they have something to teach.

Enough. I am glad to leave and I’m moving on to an easier and higher life form — flowers.

Rohini Gupta is a writer who lives by the sea in Mumbai, India. Rohini says: “I have published nonfiction and poetry books and am now writing fiction. Flash fiction is keeping me happy while writing longer stories.” Rohini’s blog is at wordskies.wordpress.com.

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