In the alleys of Montparnasse, my footsteps traced the legacy of dreams sculpted under its twinkling stars. Each cobblestone whispered a different secret, each corner turned, unveiled a new act in the drama of creation.

La Rotonde wasn’t just a café; it was a proscenium where the past performed its most enchanting scenes. Starving artists could occupy a table all evening for a few centimes. If they fell asleep, the waiters were instructed not to wake them. Arguments were common, some fueled by intellect, others by alcohol, and if there were fights (and there often were) the police were never summoned. If you could not pay your bill, La Rotonde’s proprietor would often accept a drawing.

I wandered into this tableau, not as an observer but as a character newly written into its lore. My breath mingled with Simone de Beauvoir’s in the cool Parisian air. The ghosts of yore – those maestros of color, word, and thought – convened in a spectral celebration of Girls Bazaar, the French reincarnation of my tale, I Kick and I Fly.

I found myself seated at a table that felt like a crossroads of epochs. The air was thick with the scent of oil paint and worn leather, mingled with the faint aroma of tobacco and the echoes of debates, laughter, creation, and dissent. And then, they spoke – not with words, but with the force of their collective will, their message clear and resounding.

Marc Chagall hovered slightly above, a smile playing on his lips: “Tell me, what inspired you to paint Heera’s journey in such vivid hues?”

Jean-Paul Sartre asked: “How do you perceive freedom through Heera’s eyes?”

Simone de Beauvoir smiled softly, her eyes alight with the fire of intellectual fervour and answered for both of us. “A narrative not just of emancipation from the physical chains but a philosophical awakening. You’ve woven a tale not just of survival but of existential triumph.”

Ernest Hemingway raised an ethereal glass in salute. “Heera's story, it resonates with the raw truth of existence. What's her greatest strength, in your eyes?”

The conversation shifted as Dorothy Parker leaned in, her voice sharp yet not without warmth. “Does your heroine find the strength to laugh in the face of despair?”

Leon Trotsky leaned forward, his intensity not dimmed by the passage of time or the ethereal form he now occupied. “Revolution is not just a change of government; it’s a transformation of the very soul of society. Heera’s fight against the chains that bind her – does it not mirror the broader struggle for justice and equality?”

Vladimir Lenin chimed in, his voice firm, carrying the echoes of a thousand speeches. “Your narrative highlights that individual liberation cannot be divorced from the collective struggle for freedom.”

Then, from a corner shrouded in whispers of avant-garde wisdom, Gertrude Stein offered her unique perspective, her words a tapestry of rhythmic complexity. “A story is a story is a story, yet not all stories tell the tale of fighting back, of carving a niche in the world’s vast canvas. Heera’s tale – how does it transcend, transcende and transcend?”

As the conversation ebbed and flowed around the table, a figure approached, suffused with the same ethereal quality that marked all the inhabitants of this timeless café. Victor Libion, the storied proprietor addressed me, “In this haven of thought and expression, we've always known that the currency of creativity far outweighs that of mere francs. My walls, adorned with the art of those who could not pay, bear testimony to the richness that poverty can disguise. Tell me, does your Heera find wealth in her spirit, in defiance of her material lacks?”

I was touched by the inclusivity of his query, recognising the parallel in Heera’s story. “Indeed, she does. Much like the artists who found refuge in your café, Heera discovers her true value not in wealth but in her resolve, her creativity, and her unyielding spirit. It’s a wealth that transcends material boundaries, enriching all who come into contact with it.”

Victor Libion nodded, a smile of deep understanding and shared secrets lighting up his features. “Ah, then she truly belongs to the spirit of Montparnasse. Just as we’ve always welcomed those who dared to dream, to create, regardless of their worldly possessions, so too does Heera embody the essence of what we hold dear – resilience, creativity, and the courage to redefine one’s destiny.”

And now, as Girls Bazaar finds its voice among the echoes of Montparnasse, I ponder, where do we, the heirs of such rich legacies, migrate to find our canvas of humanity and freedom? The answer, perhaps, lies not in the geography of our wanderings but in the courage to continually seek, to question, and to redefine the boundaries of our creative and moral landscapes.

Marc Chagall once said: “I aspired to see with my own eyes what I had heard of from so far away: this revolution of the eye, this rotation of colours, which spontaneously and astutely merge with one another in a flow of conceived lines. That could not be seen in my town. The sun of Art then shone only on Paris.”

In Montparnasse’s embrace, I a daughter of Kolkata, find the courage to dream of new Montparnasses, new realms of freedom and creativity, where the next generation of artists, thinkers, and fighters for justice, like Heera, can forge their destinies, unbound by the confines of the past, yet deeply rooted in its lessonsMontparnasse, with its ghosts and legends, serves as the very fabric of our collective narrative.

Ruchira Gupta is the author I Kick and Fly, published by Rock the Boat in 2023.

Ruchira Gupta with "Girls Bazaar" in Paris.