An Unfinished Song

by Swarnakumari Ghosal

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Chapter VIII

I received a letter in due time, a letter that breathed love and humility. It melted my heart and made me still more repentant. Needless to say the letter was written in English. That the love letters of a Bengali youth, whose whole life is one great imitation, should be written in his native tongue,—this preposterous idea would not occur to any one.

Of course, I began to write the reply in English. I was reputed to be well grounded in that language. I had received my education at one of the best English schools in Calcutta. My correspondence was conducted almost entirely in English; the letter to my father and to my aunt were the only ones written in Bengali. I seldom even spoke in my mother tongue with my girl friends, and as to the English poems and novels that I had read, their number was legion. To tell the truth I was a little vain of the command I had acquired over the English language, yet, however hard I might try, I could not make this letter a success. It was the first time in my life that I had attempted a letter of the kind. I positively found myself perspiring under the strain of this enormous task, and became terribly confused in the selection of synonyms and floundered about among adjectives and prepositions until I was half mad. I could not count the letters I wrote and destroyed immediately after. If the sentiment was fairly well expressed the language was not to my liking, and vice-versa, when the language was well chosen, the sentiment was not expressed as it should have been. Once or twice it really seemed as if language and sentiment agreed, but then it occurred to me that the thing read something like a novel, and I discarded it again. I became so morbid that a simple "in" or "to" upset me, and soon the poor letter lay again in shreds on the floor. Now could any one under the sun finish a letter at this rate? For the first time in my life I perceived the dignity and beauty of my mother tongue.

I had studied Bengali until my eleventh or twelfth year. Then I went to a girls' school, conducted by Catholic sisters who followed the Western system of education. So my knowledge of my native tongue had to a great extent been acquired by conversation. I had indeed read some poems and novels in Bengali, but of the higher classics written in this beautiful language I knew nothing. Nevertheless if I had had the good sense to write this letter in Bengali I should not have had to tax my brain so much about grammar and syntax. Strange as it may seem, we Bengalis do not mind an incorrect expression in our own language, but the slightest mistake in English causes us the greatest embarrassment. There is a saying that God is remembered only through difficulties. I realised this truth when I wrote that English letter. If we would bestow half the care on our own language that we do on an alien tongue we might carry its literary merit to the highest perfection.

Perhaps it was not the language alone that was at fault. There was that in my mental condition that was not conducive to calmness; when we have really nothing to say we can speak volumes, but when it comes to a matter in which our heart is involved, particularly when the affair is a complicated one, it is often difficult to find words to express our feelings. I wonder to this day when I think over the strange fate of this oft written and as often destroyed letter, whether it would have reached its destination if it had been written in Bengali instead of English. Who knows?

The week that marked his absence was approaching its end, the day was near when he would return—and not a solitary letter had I written, although I had wasted a quire of paper in the attempt. I had at last abandoned my forlorn hope, consoling myself with the thought that I should soon see him again and that after all letters were a mere superfluity. It would be much better for me to tell him what I felt, I could never express all my feelings on paper. He would, of course, gladly forgive me when he heard of the tragic fate of the many letters I had written through the week, and so I rested at ease.

The week of his absence lengthened into a fortnight, and there was no news of his return.

But there was gossip, my sister heard of that at a dinner-party one evening. I saw her the next morning looking worried, and she asked me rather abruptly whether I had received any letter from him. I feared she would reprove me if she found I had not written. I therefore tried to evade her question.

"Did you have any music last evening?"

"No," she replied, "there was no good singer, Kusum and her people are still at Mymensing. Chanchal was there, she sang, but not well. I too made an attempt, but I was so worried I could not sing either."

"Why should you be worried at a dinner-party?"

"Do you know what the gossip is? People say that the engagement between you and Romanath has fallen through, and that he is to be married to Kusum. He is said to be stopping with them at Mymensing."

"Don't be depressed over a mere report," I said. "People have nothing better to do and so they gossip. Valmiki had finished the Ramayana before ever Ram was born. People have not all the genius of a Valmiki to write of great deeds, so they prattle about other people's affairs and tell stories which are seldom true."

"The report does not seem to be mere gossip. I heard it from Chanchal's mother. She told me Kusum is to receive fifty thousand rupees as a dowry."

Chanchal's mother was Kusum's aunt, and the two sisters-in-law were not on friendly terms. They could not see each other's better qualities, and each found a considerable amount of satisfaction in finding fault with the other. This fact being known to me, I doubted the story.

"If she said it, you may rest assured there is not much truth in it."

"But I hear Romanath returned to town the day before yesterday. Why then has he not yet come to the house? If all were well, why should he act as he does?"

I had even then full faith in him; even then his last piteous appeal rang in my ears; I recalled the tender touch of his hand and the affectionate tone of his letter. My faith was not to be shaken by gossip or a day's delay on his part to come and see me. I spoke to my sister with gentle reproach.

"Didi, I am surprised at you. If he could not come yesterday he may come to-day. Why do you worry so much? Only a few days ago you had such deep faith in him, and now you have lost it all through mere gossip. If his love is genuine this report cannot be true, and if it is not, then we have been saved from a dishonest man. I really do not see why we should grieve."

My sister said no more. But I received that moment as much comfort from my faith in his love as the devotee does from his faith in love Divine. It is an invaluable treasure, this faith. It awakens the heart to a greater bliss. It is because of the absence of faith that love is not always lasting, and often leaves the heart disconsolate.


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