Nikhil's Story XII
I LEARNT from my master that Sandip had joined forces with Harish Kundu, and there was to be a grand celebration of the worship of the demon-destroying Goddess. Harish Kundu was extorting the expenses from his tenantry. Pandits Kaviratna and Vidyavagish had been commissioned to compose a hymn with a double meaning.
My master has just had a passage at arms with Sandip over this. "Evolution is at work amongst the gods as well," says Sandip. "The grandson has to remodel the gods created by the grandfather to suit his own taste, or else he is left an atheist. It is my mission to modernize the ancient deities. I am born the saviour of the gods, to emancipate them from the thraldom of the past."
I have seen from our boyhood what a juggler with ideas is Sandip. He has no interest in discovering truth, but to make a quizzical display of it rejoices his heart. Had he been born in the wilds of Africa he would have spent a glorious time inventing argument after argument to prove that cannibalism is the best means of promoting true communion between man and man. But those who deal in delusion end by deluding themselves, and I fully believe that, each time Sandip creates a new fallacy, he persuades himself that he has found the truth, however contradictory his creations may be to one another.
However, I shall not give a helping hand to establish a liquor distillery in my country. The young men, who are ready to offer their services for their country's cause, must not fall into this habit of getting intoxicated. The people who want to exact work by drugging methods set more value on the excitement than on the minds they intoxicate.
I had to tell Sandip, in Bimala's presence, that he must go. Perhaps both will impute to me the wrong motive. But I must free myself also from all fear of being misunderstood. Let even Bimala misunderstand me ...
A number of Mahomedan preachers are being sent over from Dacca. The Mussulmans in my territory had come to have almost as much of an aversion to the killing of cows as the Hindus. But now cases of cow-killing are cropping up here and there. I had the news first from some of my Mussulman tenants with expressions of their disapproval. Here was a situation which I could see would be difficult to meet. At the bottom was a pretence of fanaticism, which would cease to be a pretence if obstructed. That is just where the ingenuity of the move came in!
I sent for some of my principal Hindu tenants and tried to get them to see the matter in its proper light. "We can be staunch in our own convictions," I said, "but we have no control over those of others. For all that many of us are Vaishnavas, those of us who are Shaktas go on with their animal sacrifices just the same. That cannot be helped. We must, in the same way, let the Mussulmans do as they think best. So please refrain from all disturbance."
"Maharaja," they replied, "these outrages have been unknown for so long."
"That was so," I said, "because such was their spontaneous desire. Let us behave in such a way that the same may become true, over again. But a breach of the peace is not the way to bring this about."
"No, Maharaja," they insisted, "those good old days are gone. This will never stop unless you put it down with a strong hand."
"Oppression," I replied, "will not only not prevent cow-killing, it may lead to the killing of men as well."
One of them had had an English education. He had learnt to repeat the phrases of the day. "It is not only a question of orthodoxy," he argued. "Our country is mainly agricultural, and cows are ..."
"Buffaloes in this country," I interrupted, "likewise give milk and are used for ploughing. And therefore, so long as we dance frantic dances on our temple pavements, smeared with their blood, their severed heads carried on our shoulders, religion will only laugh at us if we quarrel with Mussulmans in her name, and nothing but the quarrel itself will remain true. If the cow alone is to be held sacred from slaughter, and not the buffalo, then that is bigotry, not religion."
"But are you not aware, sir, of what is behind all this?" pursued the English-knowing tenant. "This has only become possible because the Mussulman is assured of safety, even if he breaks the law. Have you not heard of the Pachur case?"
"Why is it possible," I asked, "to use the Mussulmans thus, as tools against us? Is it not because we have fashioned them into such with our own intolerance? That is how Providence punishes us. Our accumulated sins are being visited on our own heads."
"Oh, well, if that be so, let them be visited on us. But we shall have our revenge. We have undermined what was the greatest strength of the authorities, their devotion to their own laws. Once they were truly kings, dispensing justice; now they themselves will become law-breakers, and so no better than robbers. This may not go down to history, but we shall carry it in our hearts for all time ..."
The evil reports about me which are spreading from paper to paper are making me notorious. News comes that my effigy has been burnt at the river-side burning-ground of the Chakravartis, with due ceremony and enthusiasm; and other insults are in contemplation. The trouble was that they had come to ask me to take shares in a Cotton Mill they wanted to start. I had to tell them that I did not so much mind the loss of my own money, but I would not be a party to causing a loss to so many poor shareholders.
"Are we to understand, Maharaja," said my visitors, "that the prosperity of the country does not interest you?"
"Industry may lead to the country's prosperity," I explained, "but a mere desire for its prosperity will not make for success in industry. Even when our heads were cool, our industries did not flourish. Why should we suppose that they will do so just because we have become frantic?"
"Why not say plainly that you will not risk your money?"
"I will put in my money when I see that it is industry which prompts you. But, because you have lighted a fire, it does not follow that you have the food to cook over it."XIII
What is this? Our Chakua sub-treasury looted! A remittance of seven thousand five hundred rupees was due from there to headquarters. The local cashier had changed the cash at the Government Treasury into small currency notes for convenience in carrying, and had kept them ready in bundles. In the middle of the night an armed band had raided the room, and wounded Kasim, the man on guard. The curious part of it was that they had taken only six thousand rupees and left the rest scattered on the floor, though it would have been as easy to carry that away also. Anyhow, the raid of the dacoits was over; now the police raid would begin. Peace was out of the question.
When I went inside, I found the news had travelled before me. "What a terrible thing, brother," exclaimed the Bara Rani. "Whatever shall we do?"
I made light of the matter to reassure her. "We still have something left," I said with a smile. "We shall manage to get along somehow."
"Don't joke about it, brother dear. Why are they all so angry with you? Can't you humour them? Why put everybody out?"
"I cannot let the country go to rack and ruin, even if that would please everybody."
"That was a shocking thing they did at the burning-grounds. It's a horrid shame to treat you so. The Chota Rani has got rid of all her fears by dint of the Englishwoman's teaching, but as for me, I had to send for the priest to avert the omen before I could get any peace of mind. For my sake, dear, do get away to Calcutta. I tremble to think what they may do, if you stay on here."
My sister-in-law's genuine anxiety touched me deeply.
"And, brother," she went on, "did I not warn you, it was not well to keep so much money in your room? They might get wind of it any day. It is not the money--but who knows..."
To calm her I promised to remove the money to the treasury at once, and then get it away to Calcutta with the first escort going. We went together to my bedroom. The dressing-room door was shut. When I knocked, Bimala called out: "I am dressing."
"I wonder at the Chota Rani," exclaimed my sister-in-law, "dressing so early in the day! One of their Bande Mataram meetings, I suppose. Robber Queen!" she called out in jest to Bimala. "Are you counting your spoils inside?"
"I will attend to the money a little later," I said, as I came away to my office room outside.
I found the Police Inspector waiting for me. "Any trace of the dacoits?" I asked.
"I have my suspicions."
"Kasim, the guard."
"Kasim? But was he not wounded?"
"A mere nothing. A flesh wound on the leg. Probably self- inflicted."
"But I cannot bring myself to believe it. He is such a trusted servant."
"You may have trusted him, but that does not prevent his being a thief. Have I not seen men trusted for twenty years together, suddenly developing..."
"Even if it were so, I could not send him to gaol. But why should he have left the rest of the money lying about?"
"To put us off the scent. Whatever you may say, Maharaja, he must be an old hand at the game. He mounts guard during his watch, right enough, but I feel sure he has a finger in all the dacoities going on in the neighbourhood."
With this the Inspector proceeded to recount the various methods by which it was possible to be concerned in a dacoity twenty or thirty miles away, and yet be back in time for duty.
"Have you brought Kasim here?" I asked.
"No," was the reply, "he is in the lock-up. The Magistrate is due for the investigation."
"I want to see him," I said.
When I went to his cell he fell at my feet, weeping. "In God's name," he said, "I swear I did not do this thing."
"I do not doubt you, Kasim," I assured him. "Fear nothing. They can do nothing to you, if you are innocent."
Kasim, however, was unable to give a coherent account of the incident. He was obviously exaggerating. Four or five hundred men, big guns, numberless swords, figured in his narrative. It must have been either his disturbed state of mind or a desire to account for his easy defeat. He would have it that this was Harish Kundu's doing; he was even sure he had heard the voice of Ekram, the head retainer of the Kundus.
"Look here, Kasim," I had to warn him, "don't you be dragging other people in with your stories. You are not called upon to make out a case against Harish Kundu, or anybody else."XIV
On returning home I asked my master to come over. He shook his head gravely. "I see no good in this," said he--"this setting aside of conscience and putting the country in its place. All the sins of the country will now break out, hideous and unashamed."
"Who do you think could have ..."
"Don't ask me. But sin is rampant. Send them all away, right away from here."
"I have given them one more day. They will be leaving the day after tomorrow."
"And another thing. Take Bimala away to Calcutta. She is getting too narrow a view of the outside world from here, she cannot see men and things in their true proportions. Let her see the world--men and their work--give her abroad vision."
"That is exactly what I was thinking."
"Well, don't make any delay about it. I tell you, Nikhil, man's history has to be built by the united effort of all the races in the world, and therefore this selling of conscience for political reasons--this making a fetish of one's country, won't do. I know that Europe does not at heart admit this, but there she has not the right to pose as our teacher. Men who die for the truth become immortal: and, if a whole people can die for the truth, it will also achieve immortality in the history of humanity. Here, in this land of India, amid the mocking laughter of Satan piercing the sky, may the feeling for this truth become real! What a terrible epidemic of sin has been brought into our country from foreign lands..."
The whole day passed in the turmoil of investigation. I was tired out when I retired for the night. I left over sending my sister-in-law's money to the treasury till next morning.
I woke up from my sleep at dead of night. The room was dark. I thought I heard a moaning somewhere. Somebody must have been crying. Sounds of sobbing came heavy with tears like fitful gusts of wind in the rainy night. It seemed to me that the cry rose from the heart of my room itself. I was alone. For some days Bimala had her bed in another room adjoining mine. I rose up and when I went out I found her in the balcony lying prone upon her face on the bare floor.
This is something that cannot be written in words. He only knows it who sits in the bosom of the world and receives all its pangs in His own heart. The sky is dumb, the stars are mute, the night is still, and in the midst of it all that one sleepless cry!
We give these sufferings names, bad or good, according to the classifications of the books, but this agony which is welling up from a torn heart, pouring into the fathomless dark, has it any name? When in that midnight, standing under the silent stars, I looked upon that figure, my mind was struck with awe, and I said to myself: "Who am Ito judge her?" O life, O death, O God of the infinite existence, I bow my head in silence to the mystery which is in you.
Once I thought I should turn back. But I could not. I sat down on the ground near Bimala and placed my hand on her head. At the first touch her whole body seemed to stiffen, but the next moment the hardness gave way, and the tears burst out. I gently passed my fingers over her forehead. Suddenly her hands groping for my feet grasped them and drew them to herself, pressing them against her breast with such force that I thought her heart would break.Bimala's Story XVIII
Amulya is due to return from Calcutta this morning. I told the servants to let me know as soon as he arrived, but could not keep still. At last I went outside to await him in the sitting-room.
When I sent him off to sell the jewels I must have been thinking only of myself. It never even crossed my mind that so young a boy, trying to sell such valuable jewellery, would at once be suspected. So helpless are we women, we needs must place on others the burden of our danger. When we go to our death we drag down those who are about us.
I had said with pride that I would save Amulya--as if she who was drowning could save others. But instead of saving him, I have sent him to his doom. My little brother, such a sister have I been to you that Death must have smiled on that Brothers' Day when I gave you my blessing--I, who wander distracted with the burden of my own evil-doing.
I feel today that man is at times attacked with evil as with the plague. Some germ finds its way in from somewhere, and then in the space of one night Death stalks in. Why cannot the stricken one be kept far away from the rest of the world? I, at least, have realized how terrible is the contagion--like a fiery torch which burns that it may set the world on fire.
It struck nine. I could not get rid of the idea that Amulya was in trouble, that he had fallen into the clutches of the police. There must be great excitement in the Police Office--whose are the jewels?--where did he get them? And in the end I shall have to furnish the answer, in public, before all the world.
What is that answer to be? Your day has come at last, Bara Rani, you whom I have so long despised. You, in the shape of the public, the world, will have your revenge. O God, save me this time, and I will cast all my pride at my sister-in-law's feet.
I could bear it no longer. I went straight to the Bara Rani. She was in the verandah, spicing her betel leaves, Thako at her side. The sight of Thako made me shrink back for a moment, but I overcame all hesitation, and making a low obeisance I took the dust of my elder sister-in-law's feet.
"Bless my soul, Chota Rani," she exclaimed, "what has come upon you? Why this sudden reverence?"
"It is my birthday, sister," said I. "I have caused you pain. Give me your blessing today that I may never do so again. My mind is so small." I repeated my obeisance and left her hurriedly, but she called me back.
"You never before told me that this was your birthday, Chotie darling! Be sure to come and have lunch with me this afternoon. You positively must."
O God, let it really be my birthday today. Can I not be born over again? Cleanse me, my God, and purify me and give me one more trial!
I went again to the sitting-room to find Sandip there. A feeling of disgust seemed to poison my very blood. The face of his, which I saw in the morning light, had nothing of the magic radiance of genius.
"Will you leave the room," I blurted out.
Sandip smiled. "Since Amulya is not here," he remarked, "I should think my turn had come for a special talk."
My fate was coming back upon me. How was Ito take away the right I myself had given. "I would be alone," I repeated.
"Queen," he said, "the presence of another person does not prevent your being alone. Do not mistake me for one of the crowd. I, Sandip, am always alone, even when surrounded by thousands."
"Please come some other time. This morning I am ..."
"Waiting for Amulya?"
I turned to leave the room for sheer vexation, when Sandip drew out from the folds of his cloak that jewel-casket of mine and banged it down on the marble table. I was thoroughly startled. "Has not Amulya gone, then?" I exclaimed.
"No," chuckled Sandip.
Ah, then my blessing had come true, in spite of all. He was saved. Let God's punishment fall on me, the thief, if only Amulya be safe.
The change in my countenance roused Sandip's scorn. "So pleased, Queen!" sneered he. "Are these jewels so very precious? How then did you bring yourself to offer them to the Goddess? Your gift was actually made. Would you now take it back?"
Pride dies hard and raises its fangs to the last. It was clear to me I must show Sandip I did not care a rap about these jewels. "If they have excited your greed," I said, "you may have them."
"My greed today embraces the wealth of all Bengal," replied Sandip. "Is there a greater force than greed? It is the steed of the great ones of the earth, as is the elephant, Airauat, the steed of Indra. So then these jewels are mine?"
As Sandip took up and replaced the casket under his cloak, Amulya rushed in. There were dark rings under his eyes, his lips were dry, his hair tumbled: the freshness of his youth seemed to have withered in a single day. Pangs gripped my heart as I looked on him.
"My box!" he cried, as he went straight up to Sandip without a glance at me. "Have you taken that jewel-box from my trunk?"
"Your jewel-box?" mocked Sandip.
"It was my trunk!" Sandip burst out into a laugh. "Your distinctions between mine and yours are getting rather thin, Amulya," he cried. "You will die a religious preacher yet, I see."
Amulya sank on a chair with his face in his hands. I went up to him and placing my hand on his head asked him: "What is your trouble, Amulya?"
He stood straight up as he replied: "I had set my heart, Sister Rani, on returning your jewels to you with my own hand. Sandip Babu knew this, but he forestalled me."
"What do I care for my jewels?" I said. "Let them go. No harm is done.
"Go? Where?" asked the mystified boy.
"The jewels are mine," said Sandip. "Insignia bestowed on me by my Queen!"
"No, no, no," broke out Amulya wildly. "Never, Sister Rani! I brought them back for you. You shall not give them away to anybody else."
"I accept your gift, my little brother," said I. "But let him, who hankers after them, satisfy his greed."
Amulya glared at Sandip like a beast of prey, as he growled: "Look here, Sandip Babu, you know that even hanging has no terrors for me. If you dare take away that box of jewels ..."
With an attempt at a sarcastic laugh Sandip said: "You also ought to know by this time, Amulya, that I am not the man to be afraid of you."
"Queen Bee," he went on, turning to me, "I did not come here today to take these jewels, I came to give them to you. You would have done wrong to take my gift at Amulya's hands. In order to prevent it, I had first to make them clearly mine. Now these my jewels are my gift to you. Here they are! Patch up any understanding with this boy you like. I must go. You have been at your special talks all these days together, leaving me out of them. If special happenings now come to pass, don't blame me.
"Amulya," he continued, "I have sent on your trunks and things to your lodgings. Don't you be keeping any belongings of yours in my room any longer." With this parting shot, Sandip flung out of the room.XIX
"I have had no peace of mind, Amulya," I said to him, "ever since I sent you off to sell my jewels."
"Why, Sister Rani?"
"I was afraid lest you should get into trouble with them, lest they should suspect you for a thief. I would rather go without that six thousand. You must now do another thing for me--go home at once, home to your mother."
Amulya produced a small bundle and said: "But, sister, I have got the six thousand."
"I tried hard to get gold," he went on, without replying to my question, "but could not. So I had to bring it in notes."
"Tell me truly, Amulya, swear by me, where did you get this money?"
"That I will not tell you."
Everything seemed to grow dark before my eyes. "What terrible thing have you done, Amulya?" I cried. "Is it then ..."
"I know you will say I got this money wrongly. Very well, I admit it. But I have paid the full price for my wrong-doing. So now the money is mine."
I no longer had any desire to learn more about it. My very blood-vessels contracted, making my whole body shrink within itself.
"Take it away, Amulya," I implored. "Put it back where you got it from."
"That would be hard indeed!"
"It is not hard, brother dear. It was an evil moment when you first came to me. Even Sandip has not been able to harm you as I have done."
Sandip's name seemed to stab him.
"Sandip!" he cried. "It was you alone who made me come to know that man for what he is. Do you know, sister, he has not spent a pice out of those sovereigns he took from you? He shut himself into his room, after he left you, and gloated over the gold, pouring it out in a heap on the floor. 'This is not money,' he exclaimed, 'but the petals of the divine lotus of power; crystallized strains of music from the pipes that play in the paradise of wealth! I cannot find it in my heart to change them, for they seem longing to fulfil their destiny of adorning the neck of Beauty. Amulya, my boy, don't you look at these with your fleshly eye, they are Lakshmi's smile, the gracious radiance of Indra's queen. No, no, I can't give them up to that boor of a manager. I am sure, Amulya, he was telling us lies. The police haven't traced the man who sank that boat. It's the manager who wants to make something out of it. We must get those letters back from him.'
"I asked him how we were to do this; he told me to use force or threats. I offered to do so if he would return the gold. That, he said, we could consider later. I will not trouble you, sister, with all I did to frighten the man into giving up those letters and burn them--it is a long story. That very night I came to Sandip and said: 'We are now safe. Let me have the sovereigns to return them tomorrow to my sister, the Maharani.' But he cried, 'What infatuation is this of yours? Your precious sister's skirt bids fair to hide the whole country from you. Say Bande Mataram and exorcize the evil spirit.'
"You know, Sister Rani, the power of Sandip's magic. The gold remained with him. And I spent the whole dark night on the bathing-steps of the lake muttering Bande Mataram.
"Then when you gave me your jewels to sell, I went again to Sandip. I could see he was angry with me. But he tried not to show it. 'If I still have them hoarded up in any box of mine you may take them,' said he, as he flung me his keys. They were nowhere to be seen. 'Tell me where they are,' I said. 'I will do so,' he replied, 'when I find your infatuation has left you. Not now.'
"When I found I could not move him, I had to employ other methods. Then I tried to get the sovereigns from him in exchange for my currency notes for six thousand rupees. 'You shall have them,' he said, and disappeared into his bedroom, leaving me waiting outside. There he broke open my trunk and came straight to you with your casket through some other passage. He would not let me bring it, and now he dares call it his gift. How can I tell how much he has deprived me of? I shall never forgive him.
"But, oh sister, his power over me has been utterly broken. And it is you who have broken it!"
"Brother dear," said I, "if that is so, then my life is justified. But more remains to be done, Amulya. It is not enough that the spell has been destroyed. Its stains must be washed away. Don't delay any longer, go at once and put back the money where you took it from. Can you not do it, dear?"
"With your blessing everything is possible, Sister Rani."
"Remember, it will not be your expiation alone, but mine also. I am a woman; the outside world is closed to me, else I would have gone myself. My hardest punishment is that I must put on you the burden of my sin."
"Don't say that, sister. The path I was treading was not your path. It attracted me because of its dangers and difficulties. Now that your path calls me, let it be a thousand times more difficult and dangerous, the dust of your feet will help me to win through. Is it then your command that this money be replaced?"
"Not my command, brother mine, but a command from above."
"Of that I know nothing. It is enough for me that this command from above comes from your lips. And, sister, I thought I had an invitation here. I must not lose that. You must give me your prasadbefore I go. Then, if I can possibly manage it, I will finish my duty in the evening."
Tears came to my eyes when I tried to smile as I said: "So be it."