Skip to content
Permalink
master
Switch branches/tags

Name already in use

A tag already exists with the provided branch name. Many Git commands accept both tag and branch names, so creating this branch may cause unexpected behavior. Are you sure you want to create this branch?
Go to file
 
 
Cannot retrieve contributors at this time
The Home and the World
Rabindranath Tagore
[1861-1941]
Translated [from Bengali to English]
by Surendranath Tagore
London: Macmillan, 1919
[published in India, 1915, 1916]
Chapter One
Bimala's Story
I
MOTHER, today there comes back to mind the vermilion mark [1] at
the parting of your hair, the __sari__ [2] which you used to
wear, with its wide red border, and those wonderful eyes of
yours, full of depth and peace. They came at the start of my
life's journey, like the first streak of dawn, giving me golden
provision to carry me on my way.
The sky which gives light is blue, and my mother's face was dark,
but she had the radiance of holiness, and her beauty would put to
shame all the vanity of the beautiful.
Everyone says that I resemble my mother. In my childhood I used
to resent this. It made me angry with my mirror. I thought that
it was God's unfairness which was wrapped round my limbs--that my
dark features were not my due, but had come to me by some
misunderstanding. All that remained for me to ask of my God in
reparation was, that I might grow up to be a model of what woman
should be, as one reads it in some epic poem.
When the proposal came for my marriage, an astrologer was sent,
who consulted my palm and said, "This girl has good signs. She
will become an ideal wife."
And all the women who heard it said: "No wonder, for she
resembles her mother."
I was married into a Rajah's house. When I was a child, I was
quite familiar with the description of the Prince of the fairy
story. But my husband's face was not of a kind that one's
imagination would place in fairyland. It was dark, even as mine
was. The feeling of shrinking, which I had about my own lack of
physical beauty, was lifted a little; at the same time a touch of
regret was left lingering in my heart.
But when the physical appearance evades the scrutiny of our
senses and enters the sanctuary of our hearts, then it can forget
itself. I know, from my childhood's experience, how devotion is
beauty itself, in its inner aspect. When my mother arranged the
different fruits, carefully peeled by her own loving hands, on
the white stone plate, and gently waved her fan to drive away the
flies while my father sat down to his meals, her service would
lose itself in a beauty which passed beyond outward forms. Even
in my infancy I could feel its power. It transcended all
debates, or doubts, or calculations: it was pure music.
I distinctly remember after my marriage, when, early in the
morning, I would cautiously and silently get up and take the dust
[3] of my husband's feet without waking him, how at such moments
I could feel the vermilion mark upon my forehead shining out like
the morning star.
One day, he happened to awake, and smiled as he asked me: "What
is that, Bimala? What __are__ you doing?"
I can never forget the shame of being detected by him. He might
possibly have thought that I was trying to earn merit secretly.
But no, no! That had nothing to do with merit. It was my
woman's heart, which must worship in order to love.
My father-in-law's house was old in dignity from the days of the
__Badshahs__. Some of its manners were of the Moguls and
Pathans, some of its customs of Manu and Parashar. But my
husband was absolutely modern. He was the first of the house to
go through a college course and take his M.A. degree. His elder
brother had died young, of drink, and had left no children. My
husband did not drink and was not given to dissipation. So
foreign to the family was this abstinence, that to many it hardly
seemed decent! Purity, they imagined, was only becoming in those
on whom fortune had not smiled. It is the moon which has room
for stains, not the stars.
My husband's parents had died long ago, and his old grandmother
was mistress of the house. My husband was the apple of her eye,
the jewel on her bosom. And so he never met with much difficulty
in overstepping any of the ancient usages. When he brought in
Miss Gilby, to teach me and be my companion, he stuck to his
resolve in spite of the poison secreted by all the wagging
tongues at home and outside.
My husband had then just got through his B.A. examination and
was reading for his M.A. degree; so he had to stay in Calcutta
to attend college. He used to write to me almost every day, a
few lines only, and simple words, but his bold, round handwriting
would look up into my face, oh, so tenderly! I kept his letters
in a sandalwood box and covered them every day with the flowers I
gathered in the garden.
At that time the Prince of the fairy tale had faded, like the
moon in the morning light. I had the Prince of my real world
enthroned in my heart. I was his queen. I had my seat by his
side. But my real joy was, that my true place was at his feet.
Since then, I have been educated, and introduced to the modern
age in its own language, and therefore these words that I write
seem to blush with shame in their prose setting. Except for my
acquaintance with this modern standard of life, I should know,
quite naturally, that just as my being born a woman was not in my
own hands, so the element of devotion in woman's love is not like
a hackneyed passage quoted from a romantic poem to be piously
written down in round hand in a school-girl's copy-book.
But my husband would not give me any opportunity for worship.
That was his greatness. They are cowards who claim absolute
devotion from their wives as their right; that is a humiliation
for both.
His love for me seemed to overflow my limits by its flood of
wealth and service. But my necessity was more for giving than
for receiving; for love is a vagabond, who can make his flowers
bloom in the wayside dust, better than in the crystal jars kept
in the drawing-room.
My husband could not break completely with the old-time
traditions which prevailed in our family. It was difficult,
therefore, for us to meet at any hour of the day we pleased. [4]
I knew exactly the time that he could come to me, and therefore
our meeting had all the care of loving preparation. It was like
the rhyming of a poem; it had to come through the path of the
metre.
After finishing the day's work and taking my afternoon bath, I
would do up my hair and renew my vermilion mark and put on my
__sari__, carefully crinkled; and then, bringing back my body
and mind from all distractions of household duties, I would
dedicate it at this special hour, with special ceremonies, to one
individual. That time, each day, with him was short; but it was
infinite.
My husband used to say, that man and wife are equal in love
because of their equal claim on each other. I never argued the
point with him, but my heart said that devotion never stands in
the way of true equality; it only raises the level of the ground
of meeting. Therefore the joy of the higher equality remains
permanent; it never slides down to the vulgar level of triviality.
My beloved, it was worthy of you that you never expected worship
from me. But if you had accepted it, you would have done me a
real service. You showed your love by decorating me, by
educating me, by giving me what I asked for, and what I did not.
I have seen what depth of love there was in your eyes when you
gazed at me. I have known the secret sigh of pain you suppressed
in your love for me. You loved my body as if it were a flower of
paradise. You loved my whole nature as if it had been given you
by some rare providence.
Such lavish devotion made me proud to think that the wealth was
all my own which drove you to my gate. But vanity such as this
only checks the flow of free surrender in a woman's love. When I
sit on the queen's throne and claim homage, then the claim only
goes on magnifying itself; it is never satisfied. Can there be
any real happiness for a woman in merely feeling that she has
power over a man? To surrender one's pride in devotion is
woman's only salvation.
It comes back to me today how, in the days of our happiness, the
fires of envy sprung up all around us. That was only natural,
for had I not stepped into my good fortune by a mere chance, and
without deserving it? But providence does not allow a run of
luck to last for ever, unless its debt of honour be fully paid,
day by day, through many a long day, and thus made secure. God
may grant us gifts, but the merit of being able to take and hold
them must be our own. Alas for the boons that slip through
unworthy hands!
My husband's grandmother and mother were both renowned for their
beauty. And my widowed sister-in-law was also of a beauty rarely
to be seen. When, in turn, fate left them desolate, the
grandmother vowed she would not insist on having beauty for her
remaining grandson when he married. Only the auspicious marks
with which I was endowed gained me an entry into this family--
otherwise, I had no claim to be here.
In this house of luxury, but few of its ladies had received their
meed of respect. They had, however, got used to the ways of the
family, and managed to keep their heads above water, buoyed up by
their dignity as __Ranis__ of an ancient house, in spite of
their daily tears being drowned in the foam of wine, and by the
tinkle of the "dancing girls" anklets. Was the credit due to me
that my husband did not touch liquor, nor squander his manhood in
the markets of woman's flesh? What charm did I know to soothe
the wild and wandering mind of men? It was my good luck, nothing
else. For fate proved utterly callous to my sister-in-law. Her
festivity died out, while yet the evening was early, leaving the
light of her beauty shining in vain over empty halls--burning and
burning, with no accompanying music!
His sister-in-law affected a contempt for my husband's modern
notions. How absurd to keep the family ship, laden with all the
weight of its time-honoured glory, sailing under the colours of
his slip of a girl-wife alone! Often have I felt the lash of
scorn. "A thief who had stolen a husband's love!" "A sham
hidden in the shamelessness of her new-fangled finery!" The
many-coloured garments of modern fashion with which my husband
loved to adorn me roused jealous wrath. "Is not she ashamed to
make a show-window of herself--and with her looks, too!"
My husband was aware of all this, but his gentleness knew no
bounds. He used to implore me to forgive her.
I remember I once told him: "Women's minds are so petty, so
crooked!" "Like the feet of Chinese women," he replied. "Has
not the pressure of society cramped them into pettiness and
crookedness? They are but pawns of the fate which gambles with
them. What responsibility have they of their own?"
My sister-in-law never failed to get from my husband whatever she
wanted. He did not stop to consider whether her requests were
right or reasonable. But what exasperated me most was that she
was not grateful for this. I had promised my husband that I
would not talk back at her, but this set me raging all the more,
inwardly. I used to feel that goodness has a limit, which, if
passed, somehow seems to make men cowardly. Shall I tell the
whole truth? I have often wished that my husband had the
manliness to be a little less good.
My sister-in-law, the Bara Rani, [5] was still young and had no
pretensions to saintliness. Rather, her talk and jest and laugh
inclined to be forward. The young maids with whom she surrounded
herself were also impudent to a degree. But there was none to
gainsay her--for was not this the custom of the house? It seemed
to me that my good fortune in having a stainless husband was a
special eyesore to her. He, however, felt more the sorrow of her
lot than the defects of her character.
------
1. The mark of Hindu wifehood and the symbol of all the devotion
that it implies.
2. The __sari__ is the dress of the Hindu woman.
3. Taking the dust of the feet is a formal offering of reverence
and is done by lightly touching the feet of the revered one and
then one's own head with the same hand. The wife does not
ordinarily do this to the husband.
4. It would not be reckoned good form for the husband to be
continually going into the zenana, except at particular hours for
meals or rest.
5. __Bara__ = Senior; __Chota__ = Junior. In joint
families of rank, though the widows remain entitled only to a
life-interest in their husbands' share, their rank remains to
them according to seniority, and the titles "Senior" and "Junior"
continue to distinguish the elder and younger branches, even
though the junior branch be the one in power.
II
My husband was very eager to take me out of __purdah__. [6]
One day I said to him: "What do I want with the outside world?"
"The outside world may want you," he replied.
"If the outside world has got on so long without me, it may go on
for some time longer. It need not pine to death for want of me."
"Let it perish, for all I care! That is not troubling me. I am
thinking about myself."
"Oh, indeed. Tell me what about yourself?"
My husband was silent, with a smile.
I knew his way, and protested at once: "No, no, you are not going
to run away from me like that! I want to have this out with
you."
"Can one ever finish a subject with words?"
"Do stop speaking in riddles. Tell me..."
"What I want is, that I should have you, and you should have me,
more fully in the outside world. That is where we are still in
debt to each other."
"Is anything wanting, then, in the love we have here at home?"
"Here you are wrapped up in me. You know neither what you have,
nor what you want."
"I cannot bear to hear you talk like this."
"I would have you come into the heart of the outer world and meet
reality. Merely going on with your household duties, living all
your life in the world of household conventions and the drudgery
of household tasks--you were not made for that! If we meet, and
recognize each other, in the real world, then only will our love
be true."
"If there be any drawback here to our full recognition of each
other, then I have nothing to say. But as for myself, I feel no
want."
"Well, even if the drawback is only on my side, why shouldn't you
help to remove it?"
Such discussions repeatedly occurred. One day he said: "The
greedy man who is fond of his fish stew has no compunction in
cutting up the fish according to his need. But the man who loves
the fish wants to enjoy it in the water; and if that is
impossible he waits on the bank; and even if he comes back home
without a sight of it he has the consolation of knowing that the
fish is all right. Perfect gain is the best of all; but if that
is impossible, then the next best gain is perfect losing."
I never liked the way my husband had of talking on this subject,
but that is not the reason why I refused to leave the zenana.
His grandmother was still alive. My husband had filled more than
a hundred and twenty per cent of the house with the twentieth
century, against her taste; but she had borne it uncomplaining.
She would have borne it, likewise, if the daughter-in-law [7] of
the Rajah's house had left its seclusion. She was even prepared
for this happening. But I did not consider it important enough
to give her the pain of it. I have read in books that we are
called "caged birds". I cannot speak for others, but I had so
much in this cage of mine that there was not room for it in the
universe--at least that is what I then felt.
The grandmother, in her old age, was very fond of me. At the
bottom of her fondness was the thought that, with the conspiracy
of favourable stars which attended me, I had been able to attract
my husband's love. Were not men naturally inclined to plunge
downwards? None of the others, for all their beauty, had been
able to prevent their husbands going headlong into the burning
depths which consumed and destroyed them. She believed that I
had been the means of extinguishing this fire, so deadly to the
men of the family. So she kept me in the shelter of her bosom,
and trembled if I was in the least bit unwell.
His grandmother did not like the dresses and ornaments my husband
brought from European shops to deck me with. But she reflected:
"Men will have some absurd hobby or other, which is sure to be
expensive. It is no use trying to check their extravagance; one
is glad enough if they stop short of ruin. If my Nikhil had not
been busy dressing up his wife there is no knowing whom else he
might have spent his money on!" So whenever any new dress of
mine arrived she used to send for my husband and make merry over
it.
Thus it came about that it was her taste which changed. The
influence of the modern age fell so strongly upon her, that her
evenings refused to pass if I did not tell her stories out of
English books.
After his grandmother's death, my husband wanted me to go and
live with him in Calcutta. But I could not bring myself to do
that. Was not this our House, which she had kept under her
sheltering care through all her trials and troubles? Would not a
curse come upon me if I deserted it and went off to town? This
was the thought that kept me back, as her empty seat
reproachfully looked up at me. That noble lady had come into
this house at the age of eight, and had died in her seventy-ninth
year. She had not spent a happy life. Fate had hurled shaft
after shaft at her breast, only to draw out more and more the
imperishable spirit within. This great house was hallowed with
her tears. What should I do in the dust of Calcutta, away from
it?
My husband's idea was that this would be a good opportunity for
leaving to my sister-in-law the consolation of ruling over the
household, giving our life, at the same time, more room to branch
out in Calcutta. That is just where my difficulty came in. She
had worried my life out, she ill brooked my husband's happiness,
and for this she was to be rewarded! And what of the day when we
should have to come back here? Should I then get back my seat at
the head?
"What do you want with that seat?" my husband would say. "Are
there not more precious things in life?"
Men never understand these things. They have their nests in the
outside world; they little know the whole of what the household
stands for. In these matters they ought to follow womanly
guidance. Such were my thoughts at that time.
I felt the real point was, that one ought to stand up for one's
rights. To go away, and leave everything in the hands of the
enemy, would be nothing short of owning defeat.
But why did not my husband compel me to go with him to Calcutta?
I know the reason. He did not use his power, just because he had
it.
------
6. The seclusion of the zenana, and all the customs peculiar to
it, are designated by the general term "Purdah", which means
Screen.
7. The prestige of the daughter-in-law is of the first importance
in a Hindu household of rank [Trans.].
III
IF one had to fill in, little by little, the gap between day and
night, it would take an eternity to do it. But the sun rises and
the darkness is dispelled--a moment is sufficient to overcome an
infinite distance.
One day there came the new era of __Swadeshi__ [8] in Bengal;
but as to how it happened, we had no distinct vision. There was
no gradual slope connecting the past with the present. For that
reason, I imagine, the new epoch came in like a flood, breaking
down the dykes and sweeping all our prudence and fear before it.
We had no time even to think about, or understand, what had
happened, or what was about to happen.
My sight and my mind, my hopes and my desires, became red with
the passion of this new age. Though, up to this time, the walls
of the home--which was the ultimate world to my mind--remained
unbroken, yet I stood looking over into the distance, and I heard
a voice from the far horizon, whose meaning was not perfectly
clear to me, but whose call went straight to my heart.
From the time my husband had been a college student he had been
trying to get the things required by our people produced in our
own country. There are plenty of date trees in our district. He
tried to invent an apparatus for extracting the juice and boiling
it into sugar and treacle. I heard that it was a great success,
only it extracted more money than juice. After a while he came
to the conclusion that our attempts at reviving our industries
were not succeeding for want of a bank of our own. He was, at
the time, trying to teach me political economy. This alone would
not have done much harm, but he also took it into his head to
teach his countrymen ideas of thrift, so as to pave the way for a
bank; and then he actually started a small bank. Its high rate
of interest, which made the villagers flock so enthusiastically
to put in their money, ended by swamping the bank altogether.
The old officers of the estate felt troubled and frightened.
There was jubilation in the enemy's camp. Of all the family,
only my husband's grandmother remained unmoved. She would scold
me, saying: "Why are you all plaguing him so? Is it the fate of
the estate that is worrying you? How many times have I seen this
estate in the hands of the court receiver! Are men like women?
Men are born spendthrifts and only know how to waste. Look here,
child, count yourself fortunate that your husband is not wasting
himself as well!"
My husband's list of charities was a long one. He would assist
to the bitter end of utter failure anyone who wanted to invent a
new loom or rice-husking machine. But what annoyed me most was
the way that Sandip Babu [9] used to fleece him on the pretext of
__Swadeshi__ work. Whenever he wanted to start a newspaper,
or travel about preaching the Cause, or take a change of air by
the advice of his doctor, my husband would unquestioningly supply
him with the money. This was over and above the regular living
allowance which Sandip Babu also received from him. The
strangest part of it was that my husband and Sandip Babu did not
agree in their opinions.
As soon as the __Swadeshi__ storm reached my blood, I said to
my husband: "I must burn all my foreign clothes."
"Why burn them?" said he. "You need not wear them as long as
you please."
"As long as I please! Not in this life ..."
"Very well, do not wear them for the rest of your life, then.
But why this bonfire business?"
"Would you thwart me in my resolve?"
"What I want to say is this: Why not try to build up something?
You should not waste even a tenth part of your energies in this
destructive excitement."
"Such excitement will give us the energy to build."
"That is as much as to say, that you cannot light the house
unless you set fire to it."
Then there came another trouble. When Miss Gilby first came to
our house there was a great flutter, which afterwards calmed down
when they got used to her. Now the whole thing was stirred up
afresh. I had never bothered myself before as to whether Miss
Gilby was European or Indian, but I began to do so now. I said
to my husband: "We must get rid of Miss Gilby."
He kept silent.
I talked to him wildly, and he went away sad at heart.
After a fit of weeping, I felt in a more reasonable mood when we
met at night. "I cannot," my husband said, "look upon Miss Gilby
through a mist of abstraction, just because she is English.
Cannot you get over the barrier of her name after such a long
acquaintance? Cannot you realize that she loves you?"
I felt a little ashamed and replied with some sharpness: "Let her
remain. I am not over anxious to send her away." And Miss Gilby
remained.
But one day I was told that she had been insulted by a young
fellow on her way to church. This was a boy whom we were
supporting. My husband turned him out of the house. There was
not a single soul, that day, who could forgive my husband for
that act--not even I. This time Miss Gilby left of her own
accord. She shed tears when she came to say good-bye, but my
mood would not melt. To slander the poor boy so--and such a fine
boy, too, who would forget his daily bath and food in his
enthusiasm for __Swadeshi__.
My husband escorted Miss Gilby to the railway station in his own
carriage. I was sure he was going too far. When exaggerated
accounts of the incident gave rise to a public scandal, which
found its way to the newspapers, I felt he had been rightly
served.
I had often become anxious at my husband's doings, but had never
before been ashamed; yet now I had to blush for him! I did not
know exactly, nor did I care, what wrong poor Noren might, or
might not, have done to Miss Gilby, but the idea of sitting in
judgement on such a matter at such a time! I should have refused
to damp the spirit which prompted young Noren to defy the
Englishwoman. I could not but look upon it as a sign of
cowardice in my husband, that he should fail to understand this
simple thing. And so I blushed for him.
And yet it was not that my husband refused to support
__Swadeshi__, or was in any way against the Cause. Only he
had not been able whole-heartedly to accept the spirit of
__Bande Mataram__. [10]
"I am willing," he said, "to serve my country; but my worship I
reserve for Right which is far greater than my country. To
worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it."
------
8. The Nationalist movement, which began more as an economic than
a political one, having as its main object the encouragement of
indigenous industries [Trans.].
9. "Babu" is a term of respect, like "Father" or "Mister," but
has also meant in colonial days a person who understands some
English. [on-line ed.]
10. Lit.: "Hail Mother"; the opening words of a song by Bankim
Chatterjee, the famous Bengali novelist. The song has now become
the national anthem, and __Bande Mataram__ the national cry,
since the days of the __Swadeshi__ movement [Trans.].
Chapter Two
Bimala's Story
IV
THIS was the time when Sandip Babu with his followers came to our
neighbourhood to preach __Swadeshi__.
There is to be a big meeting in our temple pavilion. We women
are sitting there, on one side, behind a screen. Triumphant
shouts of __Bande Mataram__ come nearer: and to them I am
thrilling through and through. Suddenly a stream of barefooted
youths in turbans, clad in ascetic ochre, rushes into the
quadrangle, like a silt-reddened freshet into a dry river-bed at
the first burst of the rains. The whole place is filled with an
immense crowd, through which Sandip Babu is borne, seated in a
big chair hoisted on the shoulders of ten or twelve of the
youths.
__Bande Mataram! Bande Mataram! Bande Mataram__! It seems
as though the skies would be rent and scattered into a thousand
fragments.
I had seen Sandip Babu's photograph before. There was something
in his features which I did not quite like. Not that he was bad-
looking--far from it: he had a splendidly handsome face. Yet, I
know not why, it seemed to me, in spite of all its brilliance,
that too much of base alloy had gone into its making. The light
in his eyes somehow did not shine true. That was why I did not
like it when my husband unquestioningly gave in to all his
demands. I could bear the waste of money; but it vexed me to
think that he was imposing on my husband, taking advantage of
friendship. His bearing was not that of an ascetic, nor even of
a person of moderate means, but foppish all over. Love of
comfort seemed to ... any number of such reflections come back
to me today, but let them be.
When, however, Sandip Babu began to speak that afternoon, and the
hearts of the crowd swayed and surged to his words, as though
they would break all bounds, I saw him wonderfully transformed.
Especially when his features were suddenly lit up by a shaft of
light from the slowly setting sun, as it sunk below the roof-line
of the pavilion, he seemed to me to be marked out by the gods as
their messenger to mortal men and women.
From beginning to end of his speech, each one of his utterances
was a stormy outburst. There was no limit to the confidence of
his assurance. I do not know how it happened, but I found I had
impatiently pushed away the screen from before me and had fixed
my gaze upon him. Yet there was none in that crowd who paid any
heed to my doings. Only once, I noticed, his eyes, like stars in
fateful Orion, flashed full on my face.
I was utterly unconscious of myself. I was no longer the lady of
the Rajah's house, but the sole representative of Bengal's
womanhood. And he was the champion of Bengal. As the sky had
shed its light over him, so he must receive the consecration of a
woman's benediction ...
It seemed clear to me that, since he had caught sight of me, the
fire in his words had flamed up more fiercely. Indra's [11]
steed refused to be reined in, and there came the roar of thunder
and the flash of lightning. I said within myself that his
language had caught fire from my eyes; for we women are not only
the deities of the household fire, but the flame of the soul
itself.
I returned home that evening radiant with a new pride and joy.
The storm within me had shifted my whole being from one centre to
another. Like the Greek maidens of old, I fain would cut off my
long, resplendent tresses to make a bowstring for my hero. Had
my outward ornaments been connected with my inner feelings, then
my necklet, my armlets, my bracelets, would all have burst their
bonds and flung themselves over that assembly like a shower of
meteors. Only some personal sacrifice, I felt, could help me to
bear the tumult of my exaltation.
When my husband came home later, I was trembling lest he should
utter a sound out of tune with the triumphant paean which was
still ringing in my ears, lest his fanaticism for truth should
lead him to express disapproval of anything that had been said
that afternoon. For then I should have openly defied and
humiliated him. But he did not say a word ... which I did not
like either.
He should have said: "Sandip has brought me to my senses. I now
realize how mistaken I have been all this time."
I somehow felt that he was spitefully silent, that he obstinately
refused to be enthusiastic. I asked how long Sandip Babu was
going to be with us.
"He is off to Rangpur early tomorrow morning," said my husband.
"Must it be tomorrow?"
"Yes, he is already engaged to speak there."
I was silent for a while and then asked again: "Could he not
possibly stay a day longer?"
"That may hardly be possible, but why?"
"I want to invite him to dinner and attend on him myself."
My husband was surprised. He had often entreated me to be
present when he had particular friends to dinner, but I had never
let myself be persuaded. He gazed at me curiously, in silence,
with a look I did not quite understand.
I was suddenly overcome with a sense of shame. "No, no," I
exclaimed, "that would never do!"
"Why not!" said he. "I will ask him myself, and if it is at all
possible he will surely stay on for tomorrow."
It turned out to be quite possible.
I will tell the exact truth. That day I reproached my Creator
because he had not made me surpassingly beautiful--not to steal
any heart away, but because beauty is glory. In this great day
the men of the country should realize its goddess in its
womanhood. But, alas, the eyes of men fail to discern the
goddess, if outward beauty be lacking. Would Sandip Babu find
the __Shakti__ of the Motherland manifest in me? Or would he
simply take me to be an ordinary, domestic woman?
That morning I scented my flowing hair and tied it in a loose
knot, bound by a cunningly intertwined red silk ribbon. Dinner,
you see, was to be served at midday, and there was no time to dry
my hair after my bath and do it up plaited in the ordinary way.
I put on a gold-bordered white __sari__, and my short-sleeve
muslin jacket was also gold-bordered.
I felt that there was a certain restraint about my costume and
that nothing could well have been simpler. But my sister-in-law,
who happened to be passing by, stopped dead before me, surveyed
me from head to foot and with compressed lips smiled a meaning
smile. When I asked her the reason, "I am admiring your get-up!"
she said.
"What is there so entertaining about it?" I enquired,
considerably annoyed.
"It's superb," she said. "I was only thinking that one of those
low-necked English bodices would have made it perfect." Not only
her mouth and eyes, but her whole body seemed to ripple with
suppressed laughter as she left the room.
I was very, very angry, and wanted to change everything and put
on my everyday clothes. But I cannot tell exactly why I could
not carry out my impulse. Women are the ornaments of society--
thus I reasoned with myself--and my husband would never like it,
if I appeared before Sandip Babu unworthily clad.
My idea had been to make my appearance after they had sat down to
dinner. In the bustle of looking after the serving the first
awkwardness would have passed off. But dinner was not ready in
time, and it was getting late. Meanwhile my husband had sent for
me to introduce the guest.
I was feeling horribly shy about looking Sandip Babu in the face.
However, I managed to recover myself enough to say: "I am so
sorry dinner is getting late."
He boldly came and sat right beside me as he replied: "I get a
dinner of some kind every day, but the Goddess of Plenty keeps
behind the scenes. Now that the goddess herself has appeared, it
matters little if the dinner lags behind."
He was just as emphatic in his manners as he was in his public
speaking. He had no hesitation and seemed to be accustomed to
occupy, unchallenged, his chosen seat. He claimed the right to
intimacy so confidently, that the blame would seem to belong to
those who should dispute it.
I was in terror lest Sandip Babu should take me for a shrinking,
old-fashioned bundle of inanity. But, for the life of me, I
could not sparkle in repartees such as might charm or dazzle him.
What could have possessed me, I angrily wondered, to appear
before him in such an absurd way?
I was about to retire when dinner was over, but Sandip Babu, as
bold as ever, placed himself in my way.
"You must not," he said, "think me greedy. It was not the dinner
that kept me staying on, it was your invitation. If you were to
run away now, that would not be playing fair with your guest."
If he had not said these words with a careless ease, they would
have been out of tune. But, after all, he was such a great
friend of my husband that I was like his sister.
While I was struggling to climb up this high wave of intimacy, my
husband came to the rescue, saying: "Why not come back to us
after you have taken your dinner?"
"But you must give your word," said Sandip Babu, "before we let
you off."
"I will come," said I, with a slight smile.
"Let me tell you," continued Sandip Babu, "why I cannot trust
you. Nikhil has been married these nine years, and all this
while you have eluded me. If you do this again for another nine
years, we shall never meet again."
I took up the spirit of his remark as I dropped my voice to
reply: "Why even then should we not meet?"
"My horoscope tells me I am to die early. None of my forefathers
have survived their thirtieth year. I am now twenty-seven."
He knew this would go home. This time there must have been a
shade of concern in my low voice as I said: "The blessings of the
whole country are sure to avert the evil influence of the stars."
"Then the blessings of the country must be voiced by its goddess.
This is the reason for my anxiety that you should return, so that
my talisman may begin to work from today."
Sandip Babu had such a way of taking things by storm that I got
no opportunity of resenting what I never should have permitted in
another.
"So," he concluded with a laugh, "I am going to hold this husband
of yours as a hostage till you come back."
As I was coming away, he exclaimed: "May I trouble you for a
trifle?"
I started and turned round.
"Don't be alarmed," he said. "It's merely a glass of water. You
might have noticed that I did not drink any water with my dinner.
I take it a little later."
Upon this I had to make a show of interest and ask him the
reason. He began to give the history of his dyspepsia. I was
told how he had been a martyr to it for seven months, and how,
after the usual course of nuisances, which included different
allopathic and homoeopathic misadventures, he had obtained the
most wonderful results by indigenous methods.
"Do you know," he added, with a smile, "God has built even my
infirmities in such a manner that they yield only under the
bombardment of __Swadeshi__ pills."
My husband, at this, broke his silence. "You must confess," said
he, "that you have as immense an attraction for foreign medicine
as the earth has for meteors. You have three shelves in your
sitting-room full of..."
Sandip Babu broke in: "Do you know what they are? They are the
punitive police. They come, not because they are wanted, but
because they are imposed on us by the rule of this modern age,
exacting fines and-inflicting injuries."
My husband could not bear exaggerations, and I could see he
disliked this. But all ornaments are exaggerations. They are
not made by God, but by man. Once I remember in defence of some
untruth of mine I said to my husband: "Only the trees and beasts
and birds tell unmitigated truths, because these poor things have
not the power to invent. In this men show their superiority to
the lower creatures, and women beat even men. Neither is a
profusion of ornament unbecoming for a woman, nor a profusion of
untruth."
As I came out into the passage leading to the zenana I found my
sister-in-law, standing near a window overlooking the reception
rooms, peeping through the venetian shutter.
"You here?" I asked in surprise.
"Eavesdropping!" she replied.
------
11. The Jupiter Pluvius of Hindu mythology.
V
When I returned, Sandip Babu was tenderly apologetic. "I am
afraid we have spoilt your appetite," he said.
I felt greatly ashamed. Indeed, I had been too indecently quick
over my dinner. With a little calculation, it would become quite
evident that my non-eating had surpassed the eating. But I had
no idea that anyone could have been deliberately calculating.
I suppose Sandip Babu detected my feeling of shame, which only
augmented it. "I was sure," he said, "that you had the impulse
of the wild deer to run away, but it is a great boon that you
took the trouble to keep your promise with me."
I could not think of any suitable reply and so I sat down,
blushing and uncomfortable, at one end of the sofa. The vision
that I had of myself, as the __Shakti__ of Womanhood,
incarnate, crowning Sandip Babu simply with my presence, majestic
and unashamed, failed me altogether.
Sandip Babu deliberately started a discussion with my husband.
He knew that his keen wit flashed to the best effect in an
argument. I have often since observed, that he never lost an
opportunity for a passage at arms whenever I happened to be
present.
He was familiar with my husband's views on the cult of __Bande
Mataram__, and began in a provoking way: "So you do not allow
that there is room for an appeal to the imagination in patriotic
work?"
"It has its place, Sandip, I admit, but I do not believe in
giving it the whole place. I would know my country in its frank
reality, and for this I am both afraid and ashamed to make use of
hypnotic texts of patriotism."
"What you call hypnotic texts I call truth. I truly believe my
country to be my God. I worship Humanity. God manifests Himself
both in man and in his country."
"If that is what you really believe, there should be no
difference for you between man and man, and so between country
and country."
"Quite true. But my powers are limited, so my worship of
Humanity is continued in the worship of my country."
"I have nothing against your worship as such, but how is it you
propose to conduct your worship of God by hating other countries
in which He is equally manifest?"
"Hate is also an adjunct of worship. Arjuna won Mahadeva's
favour by wrestling with him. God will be with us in the end, if
we are prepared to give Him battle."
"If that be so, then those who are serving and those who are
harming the country are both His devotees. Why, then, trouble to
preach patriotism?"
"In the case of one's own country, it is different. There the
heart clearly demands worship."
"If you push the same argument further you can say that since God
is manifested in us, our __self__ has to be worshipped before
all else; because our natural instinct claims it."
"Look here, Nikhil, this is all merely dry logic. Can't you
recognize that there is such a thing as feeling?"
"I tell you the truth, Sandip," my husband replied. "It is my
feelings that are outraged, whenever you try to pass off
injustice as a duty, and unrighteousness as a moral ideal. The
fact, that I am incapable of stealing, is not due to my
possessing logical faculties, but to my having some feeling of
respect for myself and love for ideals."
I was raging inwardly. At last I could keep silent no longer.
"Is not the history of every country," I cried, "whether England,
France, Germany, or Russia, the history of stealing for the sake
of one's own country?"
"They have to answer for these thefts; they are doing so even
now; their history is not yet ended."
"At any rate," interposed Sandip Babu, "why should we not follow
suit? Let us first fill our country's coffers with stolen goods
and then take centuries, like these other countries, to answer
for them, if we must. But, I ask you, where do you find this
'answering' in history?"
"When Rome was answering for her sin no one knew it. All that
time, there was apparently no limit to her prosperity. But do
you not see one thing: how these political bags of theirs are
bursting with lies and treacheries, breaking their backs under
their weight?"
Never before had I had any opportunity of being present at a
discussion between my husband and his men friends. Whenever he
argued with me I could feel his reluctance to push me into a
corner. This arose out of the very love he bore me. Today for
the first time I saw his fencer's skill in debate.
Nevertheless, my heart refused to accept my husband's position.
I was struggling to find some answer, but it would not come.
When the word "righteousness" comes into an argument, it sounds
ugly to say that a thing can be too good to be useful.
All of a sudden Sandip Babu turned to me with the question: "What
do __you__ say to this?"
"I do not care about fine distinctions," I broke out. "I will
tell you broadly what I feel. I am only human. I am covetous.
I would have good things for my country. If I am obliged, I
would snatch them and filch them. I have anger. I would be
angry for my country's sake. If necessary, I would smite and
slay to avenge her insults. I have my desire to be fascinated,
and fascination must be supplied to me in bodily shape by my
country. She must have some visible symbol casting its spell
upon my mind. I would make my country a Person, and call her
Mother, Goddess, Durga--for whom I would redden the earth with
sacrificial offerings. I am human, not divine."
Sandip Babu leapt to his feet with uplifted arms and shouted
"Hurrah!"--The next moment he corrected himself and cried:
"__Bande Mataram__."
A shadow of pain passed over the face of my husband. He said to
me in a very gentle voice: "Neither am I divine: I am human. And
therefore I dare not permit the evil which is in me to be
exaggerated into an image of my country--never, never!"
Sandip Babu cried out: "See, Nikhil, how in the heart of a woman
Truth takes flesh and blood. Woman knows how to be cruel: her
virulence is like a blind storm. It is beautifully fearful. In
man it is ugly, because it harbours in its centre the gnawing
worms of reason and thought. I tell you, Nikhil, it is our women
who will save the country. This is not the time for nice
scruples. We must be unswervingly, unreasoningly brutal. We
must sin. We must give our women red sandal paste with which to
anoint and enthrone our sin. Don't you remember what the poet
says:
/*
Come, Sin, O beautiful Sin,
Let thy stinging red kisses pour down fiery red wine into our
blood.
Sound the trumpet of imperious evil
And cross our forehead with the wreath of exulting lawlessness,
O Deity of Desecration,
Smear our breasts with the blackest mud of disrepute,
unashamed.
*/
Down with that righteousness, which cannot smilingly bring rack
and ruin."
When Sandip Babu, standing with his head high, insulted at a
moment's impulse all that men have cherished as their highest, in
all countries and in all times, a shiver went right through my
body.
But, with a stamp of his foot, he continued his declamation: "I
can see that you are that beautiful spirit of fire, which burns
the home to ashes and lights up the larger world with its flame.
Give to us the indomitable courage to go to the bottom of Ruin
itself. Impart grace to all that is baneful."
It was not clear to whom Sandip Babu addressed his last appeal.
It might have been She whom he worshipped with his __Bande
Mataram__. It might have been the Womanhood of his country.
Or it might have been its representative, the woman before him.
He would have gone further in the same strain, but my husband
suddenly rose from his seat and touched him lightly on the
shoulder saying: "Sandip, Chandranath Babu is here."
I started and turned round, to find an aged gentleman at the
door, calm and dignified, in doubt as to whether he should come
in or retire. His face was touched with a gentle light like that
of the setting sun.
My husband came up to me and whispered: "This is my master, of
whom I have so often told you. Make your obeisance to him."
I bent reverently and took the dust of his feet. He gave me his
blessing saying: "May God protect you always, my little mother."
I was sorely in need of such a blessing at that moment.
Nikhil's Story
I
One day I had the faith to believe that I should be able to bear
whatever came from my God. I never had the trial. Now I think
it has come.
I used to test my strength of mind by imagining all kinds of evil
which might happen to me--poverty, imprisonment, dishonour,
death--even Bimala's. And when I said to myself that I should be
able to receive these with firmness, I am sure I did not
exaggerate. Only I could never even imagine one thing, and today
it is that of which I am thinking, and wondering whether I can
really bear it. There is a thorn somewhere pricking in my heart,
constantly giving me pain while I am about my daily work. It
seems to persist even when I am asleep. The very moment I wake
up in the morning, I find that the bloom has gone from the face
of the sky. What is it? What has happened?
My mind has become so sensitive, that even my past life, which
came to me in the disguise of happiness, seems to wring my very
heart with its falsehood; and the shame and sorrow which are
coming close to me are losing their cover of privacy, all the
more because they try to veil their faces. My heart has become
all eyes. The things that should not be seen, the things I do
not want to see--these I must see.
The day has come at last when my ill-starred life has to reveal
its destitution in a long-drawn series of exposures. This
penury, all unexpected, has taken its seat in the heart where
plenitude seemed to reign. The fees which I paid to delusion for
just nine years of my youth have now to be returned with interest
to Truth till the end of my days.
What is the use of straining to keep up my pride? What harm if I
confess that I have something lacking in me? Possibly it is that
unreasoning forcefulness which women love to find in men. But is
strength mere display of muscularity? Must strength have no
scruples in treading the weak underfoot?
But why all these arguments? Worthiness cannot be earned merely
by disputing about it. And I am unworthy, unworthy, unworthy.
What if I am unworthy? The true value of love is this, that it
can ever bless the unworthy with its own prodigality. For the
worthy there are many rewards on God's earth, but God has
specially reserved love for the unworthy.
Up till now Bimala was my home-made Bimala, the product of the
confined space and the daily routine of small duties. Did the
love which I received from her, I asked myself, come from the
deep spring of her heart, or was it merely like the daily
provision of pipe water pumped up by the municipal steam-engine
of society?
I longed to find Bimala blossoming fully in all her truth and
power. But the thing I forgot to calculate was, that one must
give up all claims based on conventional rights, if one would
find a person freely revealed in truth.
Why did I fail to think of this? Was it because of the husband's
pride of possession over his wife? No. It was because I placed
the fullest trust upon love. I was vain enough to think that I
had the power in me to bear the sight of truth in its awful
nakedness. It was tempting Providence, but still I clung to my
proud determination to come out victorious in the trial.
Bimala had failed to understand me in one thing. She could not
fully realize that I held as weakness all imposition of force.
Only the weak dare not be just. They shirk their responsibility
of fairness and try quickly to get at results through the short-
cuts of injustice. Bimala has no patience with patience. She
loves to find in men the turbulent, the angry, the unjust. Her
respect must have its element of fear.
I had hoped that when Bimala found herself free in the outer
world she would be rescued from her infatuation for tyranny. But
now I feel sure that this infatuation is deep down in her nature.
Her love is for the boisterous. From the tip of her tongue to
the pit of her stomach she must tingle with red pepper in order
to enjoy the simple fare of life. But my determination was,
never to do my duty with frantic impetuosity, helped on by the
fiery liquor of excitement. I know Bimala finds it difficult to
respect me for this, taking my scruples for feebleness--and she
is quite angry with me because I am not running amuck crying
__Bande Mataram__.
For the matter of that, I have become unpopular with all my
countrymen because I have not joined them in their carousals.
They are certain that either I have a longing for some title, or
else that I am afraid of the police. The police on their side
suspect me of harbouring some hidden design and protesting too
much in my mildness.
What I really feel is this, that those who cannot find food for
their enthusiasm in a knowledge of their country as it actually
is, or those who cannot love men just because they are men--who
needs must shout and deify their country in order to keep up
their excitement--these love excitement more than their country.
To try to give our infatuation a higher place than Truth is a
sign of inherent slavishness. Where our minds are free we find
ourselves lost. Our moribund vitality must have for its rider
either some fantasy, or someone in authority, or a sanction from
the pundits, in order to make it move. So long as we are
impervious to truth and have to be moved by some hypnotic
stimulus, we must know that we lack the capacity for self-
government. Whatever may be our condition, we shall either need
some imaginary ghost or some actual medicine-man to terrorize
over us.
The other day when Sandip accused me of lack of imagination,
saying that this prevented me from realizing my country in a
visible image, Bimala agreed with him. I did not say anything in
my defence, because to win in argument does not lead to
happiness. Her difference of opinion is not due to any
inequality of intelligence, but rather to dissimilarity of
nature.
They accuse me of being unimaginative--that is, according to
them, I may have oil in my lamp, but no flame. Now this is
exactly the accusation which I bring against them. I would say
to them: "You are dark, even as the flints are. You must come to
violent conflicts and make a noise in order to produce your
sparks. But their disconnected flashes merely assist your pride,
and not your clear vision."
I have been noticing for some time that there is a gross cupidity
about Sandip. His fleshly feelings make him harbour delusions
about his religion and impel him into a tyrannical attitude in
his patriotism. His intellect is keen, but his nature is coarse,
and so he glorifies his selfish lusts under high-sounding names.
The cheap consolations of hatred are as urgently necessary for
him as the satisfaction of his appetites. Bimala has often
warned me, in the old days, of his hankering after money. I
understood this, but I could not bring myself to haggle with
Sandip. I felt ashamed even to own to myself that he was trying
to take advantage of me.
It will, however, be difficult to explain to Bimala today that
Sandip's love of country is but a different phase of his covetous
self-love. Bimala's hero-worship of Sandip makes me hesitate all
the more to talk to her about him, lest some touch of jealousy
may lead me unwittingly into exaggeration. It may be that the
pain at my heart is already making me see a distorted picture of
Sandip. And yet it is better perhaps to speak out than to keep
my feelings gnawing within me.
II
I have known my master these thirty years. Neither calumny, nor
disaster, nor death itself has any terrors for him. Nothing
could have saved me, born as I was into the traditions of this
family of ours, but that he has established his own life in the
centre of mine, with its peace and truth and spiritual vision,
thus making it possible for me to realize goodness in its truth.
My master came to me that day and said: "Is it necessary to
detain Sandip here any longer?"
His nature was so sensitive to all omens of evil that he had at
once understood. He was not easily moved, but that day he felt
the dark shadow of trouble ahead. Do I not know how well he
loves me?
At tea-time I said to Sandip: "I have just had a letter from
Rangpur. They are complaining that I am selfishly detaining you.
When will you be going there?"
Bimala was pouring out the tea. Her face fell at once. She
threw just one enquiring glance at Sandip.
"I have been thinking," said Sandip, "that this wandering up and
down means a tremendous waste of energy. I feel that if I could
work from a centre I could achieve more permanent results."
With this he looked up at Bimala and asked: "Do you not think so
too?"
Bimala hesitated for a reply and then said: "Both ways seem good
--to do the work from a centre, as well as by travelling about.
That in which you find greater satisfaction is the way for you."
"Then let me speak out my mind," said Sandip. "I have never yet
found any one source of inspiration suffice me for good. That is
why I have been constantly moving about, rousing enthusiasm in
the people, from which in turn I draw my own store of energy.
Today you have given me the message of my country. Such fire I
have never beheld in any man. I shall be able to spread the fire
of enthusiasm in my country by borrowing it from you. No, do not
be ashamed. You are far above all modesty and diffidence. You
are the Queen Bee of our hive, and we the workers shall rally
around you. You shall be our centre, our inspiration."
Bimala flushed all over with bashful pride and her hand shook as
she went on pouring out the tea.
Another day my master came to me and said: "Why don't you two go
up to Darjeeling for a change? You are not looking well. Have
you been getting enough sleep?"
I asked Bimala in the evening whether she would care to have a
trip to the Hills. I knew she had a great longing to see the
Himalayas. But she refused ... The country's Cause, I suppose!
I must not lose my faith: I shall wait. The passage from the
narrow to the larger world is stormy. When she is familiar with
this freedom, then I shall know where my place is. If I discover
that I do not fit in with the arrangement of the outer world,
then I shall not quarrel with my fate, but silently take my leave
... Use force? But for what? Can force prevail against Truth?
Sandip's Story
I
The impotent man says: "That which has come to my share is mine."
And the weak man assents. But the lesson of the whole world is:
"That is really mine which I can snatch away." My country does
not become mine simply because it is the country of my birth. It
becomes mine on the day when I am able to win it by force.
Every man has a natural right to possess, and therefore greed is
natural. It is not in the wisdom of nature that we should be
content to be deprived. What my mind covets, my surroundings
must supply. This is the only true understanding between our
inner and outer nature in this world. Let moral ideals remain
merely for those poor anaemic creatures of starved desire whose
grasp is weak. Those who can desire with all their soul and
enjoy with all their heart, those who have no hesitation or
scruple, it is they who are the anointed of Providence. Nature
spreads out her riches and loveliest treasures for their benefit.
They swim across streams, leap over walls, kick open doors, to
help themselves to whatever is worth taking. In such a getting
one can rejoice; such wresting as this gives value to the thing
taken.
Nature surrenders herself, but only to the robber. For she
delights in this forceful desire, this forceful abduction. And
so she does not put the garland of her acceptance round the lean,
scraggy neck of the ascetic. The music of the wedding march is
struck. The time of the wedding I must not let pass. My heart
therefore is eager. For, who is the bridegroom? It is I. The
bridegroom's place belongs to him who, torch in hand, can come in
time. The bridegroom in Nature's wedding hall comes unexpected
and uninvited.
Ashamed? No, I am never ashamed! I ask for whatever I want, and
I do not always wait to ask before I take it. Those who are
deprived by their own diffidence dignify their privation by the
name of modesty. The world into which we are born is the world
of reality. When a man goes away from the market of real things
with empty hands and empty stomach, merely filling his bag with
big sounding words, I wonder why he ever came into this hard
world at all. Did these men get their appointment from the
epicures of the religious world, to play set tunes on sweet,
pious texts in that pleasure garden where blossom airy nothings?
I neither affect those tunes nor do I find any sustenance in
those blossoms.
What I desire, I desire positively, superlatively. I want to
knead it with both my hands and both my feet; I want to smear it
all over my body; I want to gorge myself with it to the full.
The scrannel pipes of those who have worn themselves out by their
moral fastings, till they have become flat and pale like starved
vermin infesting a long-deserted bed, will never reach my ear.
I would conceal nothing, because that would be cowardly. But if
I cannot bring myself to conceal when concealment is needful,
that also is cowardly. Because you have your greed, you build
your walls. Because I have my greed, I break through them. You
use your power: I use my craft. These are the realities of life.
On these depend kingdoms and empires and all the great
enterprises of men.
As for those __avatars__ who come down from their paradise to
talk to us in some holy jargon--their words are not real.
Therefore, in spite of all the applause they get, these sayings
of theirs only find a place in the hiding corners of the weak.
They are despised by those who are strong, the rulers of the
world. Those who have had the courage to see this have won
success, while those poor wretches who are dragged one way by
nature and the other way by these ava tars, they set one foot in
the boat of the real and the other in the boat of the unreal, and
thus are in a pitiable plight, able neither to advance nor to
keep their place.
There are many men who seem to have been born only with an
obsession to die. Possibly there is a beauty, like that of a
sunset, in this lingering death in life which seems to fascinate
them. Nikhil lives this kind of life, if life it may be called.
Years ago, I had a great argument with him on this point.
"It is true," he said, "that you cannot get anything except by
force. But then what is this force? And then also, what is this
getting? The strength I believe in is the strength of
renouncing."
"So you," I exclaimed, "are infatuated with the glory of
bankruptcy."
"Just as desperately as the chick is infatuated about the
bankruptcy of its shell," he replied. "The shell is real enough,
yet it is given up in exchange for intangible light and air. A
sorry exchange, I suppose you would call it?"
When once Nikhil gets on to metaphor, there is no hope of making
him see that he is merely dealing with words, not with realities.
Well, well, let him be happy with his metaphors. We are the
flesh-eaters of the world; we have teeth and nails; we pursue and
grab and tear. We are not satisfied with chewing in the evening
the cud of the grass we have eaten in the morning. Anyhow, we
cannot allow your metaphor-mongers to bar the door to our
sustenance. In that case we shall simply steal or rob, for we
must live.
People will say that I am starting some novel theory just because
those who are moving in this world are in the habit of talking
differently though they are really acting up to it all the time.
Therefore they fail to understand, as I do, that this is the only
working moral principle. In point of fact, I know that my idea
is not an empty theory at all, for it has been proved in
practical life. I have found that my way always wins over the
hearts of women, who are creatures of this world of reality and
do not roam about in cloud-land, as men do, in idea-filled
balloons.
Women find in my features, my manner, my gait, my speech, a
masterful passion--not a passion dried thin with the heat of
asceticism, not a passion with its face turned back at every step
in doubt and debate, but a full-blooded passion. It roars and
rolls on, like a flood, with the cry: "I want, I want, I want."
Women feel, in their own heart of hearts, that this indomitable
passion is the lifeblood of the world, acknowledging no law but
itself, and therefore victorious. For this reason they have so
often abandoned themselves to be swept away on the flood-tide of
my passion, recking naught as to whether it takes them to life or
to death. This power which wins these women is the power of
mighty men, the power which wins the world of reality.
Those who imagine the greater desirability of another world
merely shift their desires from the earth to the skies. It
remains to be seen how high their gushing fountain will play, and
for how long. But this much is certain: women were not created
for these pale creatures--these lotus-eaters of idealism.
"Affinity!" When it suited my need, I have often said that God
has created special pairs of men and women, and that the union of
such is the only legitimate union, higher than all unions made by
law. The reason of it is, that though man wants to follow
nature, he can find no pleasure in it unless he screens himself
with some phrase--and that is why this world is so overflowing
with lies.
"Affinity!" Why should there be only one? There may be affinity
with thousands. It was never in my agreement with nature that I
should overlook all my innumerable affinities for the sake of
only one. I have discovered many in my own life up to now, yet
that has not closed the door to one more--and that one is clearly
visible to my eyes. She has also discovered her own affinity to
me.
And then?
Then, if I do not win I am a coward.
Chapter Three
Bimala's Story
VI
I WONDER what could have happened to my feeling of shame. The
fact is, I had no time to think about myself. My days and nights
were passing in a whirl, like an eddy with myself in the centre.
No gap was left for hesitation or delicacy to enter.
One day my sister-in-law remarked to my husband: "Up to now the
women of this house have been kept weeping. Here comes the men's
turn.
"We must see that they do not miss it," she continued, turning to
me. "I see you are out for the fray, Chota [12] Rani! Hurl your
shafts straight at their hearts."
Her keen eyes looked me up and down. Not one of the colours into
which my toilet, my dress, my manners, my speech, had blossomed
out had escaped her. I am ashamed to speak of it today, but I
felt no shame then. Something within me was at work of which I
was not even conscious. I used to overdress, it is true, but
more like an automaton, with no particular design. No doubt I
knew which effort of mine would prove specially pleasing to
Sandip Babu, but that required no intuition, for he would discuss
it openly before all of them.
One day he said to my husband: "Do you know, Nikhil, when I first
saw our Queen Bee, she was sitting there so demurely in her gold-
bordered __sari__. Her eyes were gazing inquiringly into
space, like stars which had lost their way, just as if she had
been for ages standing on the edge of some darkness, looking out
for something unknown. But when I saw her, I felt a quiver run
through me. It seemed to me that the gold border of her
__sari__ was her own inner fire flaming out and twining round
her. That is the flame we want, visible fire! Look here, Queen
Bee, you really must do us the favour of dressing once more as a
living flame."
So long I had been like a small river at the border of a village.
My rhythm and my language were different from what they are now.
But the tide came up from the sea, and my breast heaved; my banks
gave way and the great drumbeats of the sea waves echoed in my
mad current. I could not understand the meaning of that sound in
my blood. Where was that former self of mine? Whence came
foaming into me this surging flood of glory? Sandip's hungry
eyes burnt like the lamps of worship before my shrine. All his
gaze proclaimed that I was a wonder in beauty and power; and the
loudness of his praise, spoken and unspoken, drowned all other
voices in my world. Had the Creator created me afresh, I
wondered? Did he wish to make up now for neglecting me so long?
I who before was plain had become suddenly beautiful. I who
before had been of no account now felt in myself all the
splendour of Bengal itself.
For Sandip Babu was not a mere individual. In him was the
confluence of millions of minds of the country. When he called
me the Queen Bee of the hive, I was acclaimed with a chorus of
praise by all our patriot workers. After that, the loud jests of
my sister-in-law could not touch me any longer. My relations
with all the world underwent a change. Sandip Babu made it clear
how all the country was in need of me. I had no difficulty in
believing this at the time, for I felt that I had the power to do
everything. Divine strength had come to me. It was something
which I had never felt before, which was beyond myself. I had no
time to question it to find out what was its nature. It seemed
to belong to me, and yet to transcend me. It comprehended the
whole of Bengal.
Sandip Babu would consult me about every little thing touching
the Cause. At first I felt very awkward and would hang back, but
that soon wore off. Whatever I suggested seemed to astonish him.
He would go into raptures and say: "Men can only think. You
women have a way of understanding without thinking. Woman was
created out of God's own fancy. Man, He had to hammer into
shape."
Letters used to come to Sandip Babu from all parts of the country
which were submitted to me for my opinion. Occasionally he
disagreed with me. But I would not argue with him. Then after a
day or two--as if a new light had suddenly dawned upon him--he
would send for me and say: "It was my mistake. Your suggestion
was the correct one." He would often confess to me that wherever
he had taken steps contrary to my advice he had gone wrong. Thus
I gradually came to be convinced that behind whatever was taking
place was Sandip Babu, and behind Sandip Babu was the plain
common sense of a woman. The glory of a great responsibility
filled my being.
My husband had no place in our counsels. Sandip Babu treated him
as a younger brother, of whom personally one may be very fond and
yet have no use for his business advice. He would tenderly and
smilingly talk about my husband's childlike innocence, saying
that his curious doctrine and perversities of mind had a flavour
of humour which made them all the more lovable. It was seemingly
this very affection for Nikhil which led Sandip Babu to forbear
from troubling him with the burden of the country.
Nature has many anodynes in her pharmacy, which she secretly
administers when vital relations are being insidiously severed,
so that none may know of the operation, till at last one awakes
to know what a great rent has been made. When the knife was busy
with my life's most intimate tie, my mind was so clouded with
fumes of intoxicating gas that I was not in the least aware of
what a cruel thing was happening. Possibly this is woman's
nature. When her passion is roused she loses her sensibility for
all that is outside it. When, like the river, we women keep to
our banks, we give nourishment with all that we have: when we
overflow them we destroy with all that we are.
------
12. Bimala. the younger brother's wife, was the __Chota__ or
Junior Rani.
Sandip's Story
II
I can see that something has gone wrong. I got an inkling of it
the other day.
Ever since my arrival, Nikhil's sitting-room had become a thing
amphibious--half women's apartment, half men's: Bimala had access
to it from the zenana, it was not barred to me from the outer
side. If we had only gone slow, and made use of our privileges
with some restraint, we might not have fallen foul of other
people. But we went ahead so vehemently that we could not think
of the consequences.
Whenever Bee comes into Nikhil's room, I somehow get to know of
it from mine. There are the tinkle of bangles and other little
sounds; the door is perhaps shut with a shade of unnecessary
vehemence; the bookcase is a trifle stiff and creaks if jerked
open. When I enter I find Bee, with her back to the door, ever
so busy selecting a book from the shelves. And as I offer to
assist her in this difficult task she starts and protests; and
then we naturally get on to other topics.
The other day, on an inauspicious [13] Thursday afternoon, I
sallied forth from my room at the call of these same sounds.
There was a man on guard in the passage. I walked on without so
much as glancing at him, but as I approached the door he put
himself in my way saying: "Not that way, sir."
"Not that way! Why?"
"The Rani Mother is there."
"Oh, very well. Tell your Rani Mother that Sandip Babu wants to
see her."
"That cannot be, sir. It is against orders."
I felt highly indignant. "I order you!" I said in a raised
voice.
"Go and announce me."
The fellow was somewhat taken aback at my attitude. In the
meantime I had neared the door. I was on the point of reaching
it, when he followed after me and took me by the arm saying: "No,
sir, you must not."
What! To be touched by a flunkey! I snatched away my arm and
gave the man a sounding blow. At this moment Bee came out of the
room to find the man about to insult me.
I shall never forget the picture of her wrath! That Bee is
beautiful is a discovery of my own. Most of our people would see
nothing in her. Her tall, slim figure these boors would call
"lanky". But it is just this lithesomeness of hers that I
admire--like an up-leaping fountain of life, coming direct out of
the depths of the Creator's heart. Her complexion is dark, but
it is the lustrous darkness of a sword-blade, keen and
scintillating.
"Nanku!" she commanded, as she stood in the doorway, pointing
with her finger, "leave us."
"Do not be angry with him," said I. "If it is against orders, it
is I who should retire."
Bee's voice was still trembling as she replied: "You must not go.
Come in."
It was not a request, but again a command! I followed her in,
and taking a chair fanned myself with a fan which was on the
table. Bee scribbled something with a pencil on a sheet of paper
and, summoning a servant, handed it to him saying: "Take this to
the Maharaja."
"Forgive me," I resumed. "I was unable to control myself, and
hit that man of yours.
"You served him right," said Bee.
"But it was not the poor fellow's fault, after all. He was only
obeying his orders."
Here Nikhil came in, and as he did so I left my seat with a rapid
movement and went and stood near the window with my back to the
room.
"Nanku, the guard, has insulted Sandip Babu," said Bee to Nikhil.
Nikhil seemed to be so genuinely surprised that I had to turn
round and stare at him. Even an outrageously good man fails in
keeping up his pride of truthfulness before his wife--if she be
the proper kind of woman.
"He insolently stood in the way when Sandip Babu was coming in
here," continued Bee. "He said he had orders ..."
"Whose orders?" asked Nikhil.
"How am I to know?" exclaimed Bee impatiently, her eyes brimming
over with mortification.
Nikhil sent for the man and questioned him. "It was not my
fault," Nanku repeated sullenly. "I had my orders."
"Who gave you the order?"
"The Bara Rani Mother."
We were all silent for a while. After the man had left, Bee
said: "Nanku must go!"
Nikhil remained silent. I could see that his sense of justice
would not allow this. There was no end to his qualms. But this
time he was up against a tough problem. Bee was not the woman to
take things lying down. She would have to get even with her
sister-in-law by punishing this fellow. And as Nikhil remained
silent, her eyes flashed fire. She knew not how to pour her
scorn upon her husband's feebleness of spirit. Nikhil left the
room after a while without another word.
The next day Nanku was not to be seen. On inquiry, I learnt that
he had been sent off to some other part of the estates, and that
his wages had not suffered by such transfer.
I could catch glimpses of the ravages of the storm raging over
this, behind the scenes. All I can say is, that Nikhil is a
curious creature, quite out of the common.
The upshot was, that after this Bee began to send for me to the
sitting-room, for a chat, without any contrivance, or pretence of
its being an accident. Thus from bare suggestion we came to
broad hint: the implied came to be expressed. The daughter-in-
law of a princely house lives in a starry region so remote from
the ordinary outsider that there is not even a regular road for
his approach. What a triumphal progress of Truth was this which,
gradually but persistently, thrust aside veil after veil of
obscuring custom, till at length Nature herself was laid bare.
Truth? Of course it was the truth! The attraction of man and
woman for each other is fundamental. The whole world of matter,
from the speck of dust upwards, is ranged on its side. And yet
men would keep it hidden away out of sight, behind a tissue of
words; and with home-made sanctions and prohibitions make of it a
domestic utensil. Why, it's as absurd as melting down the solar
system to make a watch-chain for one's son-in-law! [14]
When, in spite of all, reality awakes at the call of what is but
naked truth, what a gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts is
there! But can one carry on a quarrel with a storm? It never
takes the trouble to reply, it only gives a shaking.
I am enjoying the sight of this truth, as it gradually reveals
itself. These tremblings of steps, these turnings of the face,
are sweet to me: and sweet are the deceptions which deceive not
only others, but also Bee herself. When Reality has to meet the
unreal, deception is its principal weapon; for its enemies always
try to shame Reality by calling it gross, and so it needs must
hide itself, or else put on some disguise. The circumstances are
such that it dare not frankly avow: "Yes, I am gross, because I
am true. I am flesh. I am passion. I am hunger, unashamed and
cruel."
All is now clear to me. The curtain flaps, and through it I can
see the preparations for the catastrophe. The little red ribbon,
which peeps through the luxuriant masses of her hair, with its
flush of secret longing, it is the lolling tongue of the red
storm cloud. I feel the warmth of each turn of her __sari__,
each suggestion of her raiment, of which even the wearer may not
be fully conscious.
Bee was not conscious, because she was ashamed of the reality; to
which men have given a bad name, calling it Satan; and so it has
to steal into the garden of paradise in the guise of a snake, and
whisper secrets into the ears of man's chosen consort and make
her rebellious; then farewell to all ease; and after that comes
death!
My poor little Queen Bee is living in a dream. She knows not
which way she is treading. It would not be safe to awaken her
before the time. It is best for me to pretend to be equally
unconscious.
The other day, at dinner, she was gazing at me in a curious sort
of way, little realizing what such glances mean! As my eyes met
hers, she turned away with a flush. "You are surprised at my
appetite," I remarked. "I can hide everything, except that I am
greedy! Anyhow, why trouble to blush for me, since I am
shameless?"
This only made her colour more furiously, as she stammered: "No,
no, I was only..."
"I know," I interrupted. "Women have a weakness for greedy men;
for it is this greed of ours which gives them the upper hand.
The indulgence which I have always received at their hands has
made me all the more shameless. I do not mind your watching the
good things disappear, not one bit. I mean to enjoy every one of
them."
The other day I was reading an English book in which sex-problems
were treated in an audaciously realistic manner. I had left it
lying in the sitting-room. As I went there the next afternoon,
for something or other, I found Bee seated with this book in her
hand. When she heard my footsteps she hurriedly put it down and
placed another book over it--a volume of Mrs Hemans's poems.
"I have never been able to make out," I began, "why women are so
shy about being caught reading poetry. We men--lawyers,
mechanics, or what not--may well feel ashamed. If we must read
poetry, it should be at dead of night, within closed doors. But
you women are so akin to poesy. The Creator Himself is a lyric
poet, and Jayadeva [15] must have practised the divine art seated
at His feet."
Bee made no reply, but only blushed uncomfortably. She made as
if she would leave the room. Whereupon I protested: "No, no,
pray read on. I will just take a book I left here, and run
away." With which I took up my book from the table. "Lucky you
did not think of glancing over its pages," I continued, "or you
would have wanted to chastise me."
"Indeed! Why?" asked Bee.
"Because it is not poetry," said I. "Only blunt things, bluntly
put, without any finicking niceness. I wish Nikhil would read
it."
Bee frowned a little as she murmured: "What makes you wish that?"
"He is a man, you see, one of us. My only quarrel with him is
that he delights in a misty vision of this world. Have you not
observed how this trait of his makes him look on __Swadeshi__
as if it was some poem of which the metre must be kept correct at
every step? We, with the clubs of our prose, are the iconoclasts
of metre."
"What has your book to do with __Swadeshi__?"
"You would know if you only read it. Nikhil wants to go by made-
up maxims, in __Swadeshi__ as in everything else; so he knocks
up against human nature at every turn, and then falls to abusing
it. He never will realize that human nature was created long
before phrases were, and will survive them too."
Bee was silent for a while and then gravely said: "Is it not a
part of human nature to try and rise superior to itself?"
I smiled inwardly. "These are not your words", I thought to
myself. "You have learnt them from Nikhil. You are a healthy
human being. Your flesh and blood have responded to the call of
reality. You are burning in every vein with life-fire--do I not
know it? How long should they keep you cool with the wet towel
of moral precepts?"
"The weak are in the majority," I said aloud. "They are
continually poisoning the ears of men by repeating these
shibboleths. Nature has denied them strength--it is thus that
they try to enfeeble others."
"We women are weak," replied Bimala. "So I suppose we must join
in the conspiracy of the weak."
"Women weak!" I exclaimed with a laugh. "Men belaud you as
delicate and fragile, so as to delude you into thinking
yourselves weak. But it is you women who are strong. Men make a
great outward show of their so-called freedom, but those who know
their inner minds are aware of their bondage. They have
manufactured scriptures with their own hands to bind themselves;
with their very idealism they have made golden fetters of women
to wind round their body and mind. If men had not that
extraordinary faculty of entangling themselves in meshes of their
own contriving, nothing could have kept them bound. But as for
you women, you have desired to conceive reality with body and
soul. You have given birth to reality. You have suckled reality
at your breasts."
Bee was well read for a woman, and would not easily give in to my
arguments. "If that were true," she objected, "men would not
have found women attractive."
"Women realize the danger," I replied. "They know that men love
delusions, so they give them full measure by borrowing their own
phrases. They know that man, the drunkard, values intoxication
more than food, and so they try to pass themselves off as an
intoxicant. As a matter of fact, but for the sake of man, woman
has no need for any make-believe."
"Why, then, are you troubling to destroy the illusion?"
"For freedom. I want the country to be free. I want human
relations to be free."
------
13. According to the Hindu calendar [Trans.].
14. The son-in-law is the pet of a Hindu household.
15. A Vaishnava poet (Sanskrit) whose lyrics of the adoration of
the Divinity serve as well to express all shades of human passion
[Trans.].
III
I was aware that it is unsafe suddenly to awake a sleep-walker.
But I am so impetuous by nature, a halting gait does not suit me.
I knew I was overbold that day. I knew that the first shock of
such ideas is apt to be almost intolerable. But with women it is
always audacity that wins.
Just as we were getting on nicely, who should walk in but
Nikhil's old tutor Chandranath Babu. The world would have been
not half a bad place to live in but for these schoolmasters, who
make one want to quit in disgust. The Nikhil type wants to keep
the world always a school. This incarnation of a school turned
up that afternoon at the psychological moment.
We all remain schoolboys in some corner of our hearts, and I,
even I, felt somewhat pulled up. As for poor Bee, she at once
took her place solemnly, like the topmost girl of the class on
the front bench. All of a sudden she seemed to remember that she
had to face her examination.
Some people are so like eternal pointsmen lying in wait by the
line, to shunt one's train of thought from one rail to another.
Chandranath Babu had no sooner come in than he cast about for
some excuse to retire, mumbling: "I beg your pardon, I..."
Before he could finish, Bee went up to him and made a profound
obeisance, saying: "Pray do not leave us, sir. Will you not take
a seat?" She looked like a drowning person clutching at him for
support--the little coward!
But possibly I was mistaken. It is quite likely that there was a
touch of womanly wile in it. She wanted, perhaps, to raise her
value in my eyes. She might have been pointedly saying to me:
"Please don't imagine for a moment that I am entirely overcome by
you. My respect for Chandranath Babu is even greater."
Well, indulge in your respect by all means! Schoolmasters thrive
on it. But not being one of them, I have no use for that empty
compliment.
Chandranath Babu began to talk about __Swadeshi__. I thought
I would let him go on with his monologues. There is nothing like
letting an old man talk himself out. It makes him feel that he
is winding up the world, forgetting all the while how far away
the real world is from his wagging tongue.
But even my worst enemy would not accuse me of patience. And
when Chandranath Babu went on to say: "If we expect to gather
fruit where we have sown no seed, then we ..." I had to
interrupt him.
"Who wants fruit?" I cried. "We go by the Author of the Gita
who says that we are concerned only with the doing, not with the
fruit of our deeds."
"What is it then that you do want?" asked Chandranath Babu.
"Thorns!" I exclaimed, "which cost nothing to plant."
"Thorns do not obstruct others only," he replied. "They have a
way of hurting one's own feet."
"That is all right for a copy-book," I retorted. "But the real
thing is that we have this burning at heart. Now we have only to
cultivate thorns for other's soles; afterwards when they hurt us
we shall find leisure to repent. But why be frightened even of
that? When at last we have to die it will be time enough to get
cold. While we are on fire let us seethe and boil."
Chandranath Babu smiled. "Seethe by all means," he said, "but do
not mistake it for work, or heroism. Nations which have got on
in the world have done so by action, not by ebullition. Those
who have always lain in dread of work, when with a start they
awake to their sorry plight, they look to short-cuts and scamping
for their deliverance."
I was girding up my loins to deliver a crushing reply, when
Nikhil came back. Chandranath Babu rose, and looking towards
Bee, said: "Let me go now, my little mother, I have some work to
attend to."
As he left, I showed Nikhil the book in my hand. "I was telling
Queen Bee about this book," I said.
Ninety-nine per cent of people have to be deluded with lies, but
it is easier to delude this perpetual pupil of the schoolmaster
with the truth. He is best cheated openly. So, in playing with
him, the simplest course was to lay my cards on the table.
Nikhil read the title on the cover, but said nothing. "These
writers," I continued, "are busy with their brooms, sweeping away
the dust of epithets with which men have covered up this world of
ours. So, as I was saying, I wish you would read it."
"I have read it," said Nikhil.
"Well, what do you say?"
"It is all very well for those who really care to think, but
poison for those who shirk thought."
"What do you mean?"
"Those who preach 'Equal Rights of Property' should not be
thieves. For, if they are, they would be preaching lies. When
passion is in the ascendant, this kind of book is not rightly
understood."
"Passion," I replied, "is the street lamp which guides us. To
call it untrue is as hopeless as to expect to see better by
plucking out our natural eyes."
Nikhil was visibly growing excited. "I accept the truth of
passion," he said, "only when I recognize the truth of restraint.
By pressing what we want to see right into our eyes we only
injure them: we do not see. So does the violence of passion,
which would leave no space between the mind and its object,
defeat its purpose."
"It is simply your intellectual foppery," I replied, "which makes
you indulge in moral delicacy, ignoring the savage side of truth.
This merely helps you to mystify things, and so you fail to do
your work with any degree of strength."
"The intrusion of strength," said Nikhil impatiently, "where
strength is out of place, does not help you in your work ... But
why are we arguing about these things? Vain arguments only brush
off the fresh bloom of truth."
I wanted Bee to join in the discussion, but she had not said a
word up to now. Could I have given her too rude a shock, leaving
her assailed with doubts and wanting to learn her lesson afresh
from the schoolmaster? Still, a thorough shaking-up is
essential. One must begin by realizing that things supposed to
be unshakeable can be shaken.
"I am glad I had this talk with you," I said to Nikhil, "for I
was on the point of lending this book to Queen Bee to read."
"What harm?" said Nikhil. "If I could read the book, why not
Bimala too? All I want to say is, that in Europe people look at
everything from the viewpoint of science. But man is neither
mere physiology, nor biology, nor psychology, nor even sociology.
For God's sake don't forget that. Man is infinitely more than
the natural science of himself. You laugh at me, calling me the
schoolmaster's pupil, but that is what you are, not I. You want
to find the truth of man from your science teachers, and not from
your own inner being."
"But why all this excitement?" I mocked.
"Because I see you are bent on insulting man and making him
petty."
"Where on earth do you see all that?"
"In the air, in my outraged feelings. You would go on wounding
the great, the unselfish, the beautiful in man."
"What mad idea is this of yours?"
Nikhil suddenly stood up. "I tell you plainly, Sandip," he said,
"man may be wounded unto death, but he will not die. This is the
reason why I am ready to suffer all, knowing all, with eyes
open."
With these words he hurriedly left the room.
I was staring blankly at his retreating figure, when the sound of
a book, falling from the table, made me turn to find Bee
following him with quick, nervous steps, making a detour to avoid
passing too near me.
A curious creature, that Nikhil! He feels the danger threatening
his home, and yet why does he not turn me out? I know, he is
waiting for Bimal to give him the cue. If Bimal tells him that
their mating has been a misfit, he will bow his head and admit
that it may have been a blunder! He has not the strength of mind
to understand that to acknowledge a mistake is the greatest of
all mistakes. He is a typical example of how ideas make for
weakness. I have not seen another like him--so whimsical a
product of nature! He would hardly do as a character in a novel
or drama, to say nothing of real life.
And Bee? I am afraid her dream-life is over from today. She has
at length understood the nature of the current which is bearing
her along. Now she must either advance or retreat, open-eyed.
The chances are she will now advance a step, and then retreat a
step. But that does not disturb me. When one is on fire, this
rushing to and fro makes the blaze all the fiercer. The fright
she has got will only fan her passion.
Perhaps I had better not say much to her, but simply select some
modern books for her to read. Let her gradually come to the
conviction that to acknowledge and respect passion as the supreme
reality, is to be modern--not to be ashamed of it, not to glorify
restraint. If she finds shelter in some such word as "modern",
she will find strength.
Be that as it may, I must see this out to the end of the Fifth
Act. I cannot, unfortunately, boast of being merely a spectator,
seated in the royal box, applauding now and again. There is a
wrench at my heart, a pang in every nerve. When I have put out
the light and am in my bed, little touches, little glances,
little words flit about and fill the darkness. When I get up in
the morning, I thrill with lively anticipations, my blood seems
to course through me to the strains of music ...
There was a double photo-frame on the table with Bee's photograph
by the side of Nikhil's. I had taken out hers. Yesterday I
showed Bee the empty side and said: "Theft becomes necessary only
because of miserliness, so its sin must be divided between the
miser and the thief. Do you not think so?"
"It was not a good one," observed Bee simply, with a little
smile.
"What is to be done?" said I. "A portrait cannot be better than
a portrait. I must be content with it, such as it is."
Bee took up a book and began to turn over the pages. "If you are
annoyed," I went on, "I must make a shift to fill up the
vacancy."
Today I have filled it up. This photograph of mine was taken in
my early youth. My face was then fresher, and so was my mind.
Then I still cherished some illusions about this world and the
next. Faith deceives men, but it has one great merit: it imparts
a radiance to the features.
My portrait now reposes next to Nikhil's, for are not the two of
us old friends?
Chapter Four
Nikhil's Story
III
I WAS never self-conscious. But nowadays I often try to take an
outside view--to see myself as Bimal sees me. What a dismally
solemn picture it makes, my habit of taking things too seriously!
Better, surely, to laugh away the world than flood it with tears.
That is, in fact, how the world gets on. We relish our food and
rest, only because we can dismiss, as so many empty shadows, the
sorrows scattered everywhere, both in the home and in the outer
world. If we took them as true, even for a moment, where would
be our appetite, our sleep?
But I cannot dismiss myself as one of these shadows, and so the
load of my sorrow lies eternally heavy on the heart of my world.
Why not stand out aloof in the highway of the universe, and feel
yourself to be part of the all? In the midst of the immense,
age-long concourse of humanity, what is Bimal to you? Your wife?
What is a wife? A bubble of a name blown big with your own
breath, so carefully guarded night and day, yet ready to burst at
any pin-prick from outside.
My wife--and so, forsooth, my very own! If she says: "No, I am
myself"--am I to reply: "How can that be? Are you not mine?"
"My wife"--Does that amount to an argument, much less the truth?
Can one imprison a whole personality within that name?
My wife!--Have I not cherished in this little world all that is
purest and sweetest in my life, never for a moment letting it
down from my bosom to the dust? What incense of worship, what
music of passion, what flowers of my spring and of my autumn,
have I not offered up at its shrine? If, like a toy paper-boat,
she be swept along into the muddy waters of the gutter--would I
not also... ?
There it is again, my incorrigible solemnity! Why "muddy"? What
"gutter" names, called in a fit of jealousy, do not change the
facts of the world. If Bimal is not mine, she is not; and no
fuming, or fretting, or arguing will serve to prove that she is.
If my heart is breaking--let it break! That will not make the
world bankrupt--nor even me; for man is so much greater than the
things he loses in this life. The very ocean of tears has its
other shore, else none would have ever wept.
But then there is Society to be considered ... which let Society
consider! If I weep it is for myself, not for Society. If Bimal
should say she is not mine, what care I where my Society wife may
be?
Suffering there must be; but I must save myself, by any means in
my power, from one form of self-torture: I must never think that
my life loses its value because of any neglect it may suffer.
The full value of my life does not all go to buy my narrow
domestic world; its great commerce does not stand or fall with
some petty success or failure in the bartering of my personal
joys and sorrows.
The time has come when I must divest Bimala of all the ideal
decorations with which I decked her. It was owing to my own
weakness that I indulged in such idolatry. I was too greedy. I
created an angel of Bimala, in order to exaggerate my own
enjoyment. But Bimala is what she is. It is preposterous to
expect that she should assume the rôle of an angel for my
pleasure. The Creator is under no obligation to supply me with
angels, just because I have an avidity for imaginary perfection.
I must acknowledge that I have merely been an accident in
Bimala's life. Her nature, perhaps, can only find true union
with one like Sandip. At the same time, I must not, in false
modesty, accept my rejection as my desert. Sandip certainly has
attractive qualities, which had their sway also upon myself; but
yet, I feel sure, he is not a greater man than I. If the wreath
of victory falls to his lot today, and I am overlooked, then the
dispenser of the wreath will be called to judgement.
I say this in no spirit of boasting. Sheer necessity has driven
me to the pass, that to secure myself from utter desolation I
must recognize all the value that I truly possess. Therefore,
through the, terrible experience of suffering let there come upon
me the joy of deliverance--deliverance from self-distrust.
I have come to distinguish what is really in me from what I
foolishly imagined to be there. The profit and loss account has
been settled, and that which remains is myself--not a crippled
self, dressed in rags and tatters, not a sick self to be nursed
on invalid diet, but a spirit which has gone through the worst,
and has survived.
My master passed through my room a moment ago and said with his
hand on my shoulder. "Get away to bed, Nikhil, the night is far
advanced."
The fact is, it has become so difficult for me to go to bed till
late--till Bimal is fast asleep. In the day-time we meet, and
even converse, but what am I to say when we are alone together,
in the silence of the night?--so ashamed do I feel in mind and
body.
"How is it, sir, you have not yet retired?" I asked in my turn.
My master smiled a little, as he left me, saying: "My sleeping
days are over. I have now attained the waking age."
I had written thus far, and was about to rise to go off bedwards
when, through the window before me, I saw the heavy pall of July
cloud suddenly part a little, and a big star shine through. It
seemed to say to me: "Dreamland ties are made, and dreamland ties
are broken, but I am here for ever--the everlasting lamp of the
bridal night."
All at once my heart was full with the thought that my Eternal
Love was steadfastly waiting for me through the ages, behind the
veil of material things. Through many a life, in many a mirror,
have I seen her image--broken mirrors, crooked mirrors, dusty
mirrors. Whenever I have sought to make the mirror my very own,
and shut it up within my box, I have lost sight of the image.
But what of that. What have I to do with the mirror, or even the
image?
My beloved, your smile shall never fade, and every dawn there
shall appear fresh for me the vermilion mark on your forehead!
"What childish cajolery of self-deception," mocks some devil from
his dark corner--"silly prattle to make children quiet!"
That may be. But millions and millions of children, with their
million cries, have to be kept quiet. Can it be that all this
multitude is quieted with only a lie? No, my Eternal Love cannot
deceive me, for she is true!
She is true; that is why I have seen her and shall see her so
often, even in my mistakes, even through the thickest mist of
tears. I have seen her and lost her in the crowd of life's
market-place, and found her again; and I shall find her once more
when I have escaped through the loophole of death.
Ah, cruel one, play with me no longer! If I have failed to track
you by the marks of your footsteps on the way, by the scent of
your tresses lingering in the air, make me not weep for that for
ever. The unveiled star tells me not to fear. That which is
eternal must always be there.
Now let me go and see my Bimala. She must have spread her tired
limbs on the bed, limp after her struggles, and be asleep. I
will leave a kiss on her forehead without waking her--that shall
be the flower-offering of my worship. I believe I could forget
everything after death--all my mistakes, all my sufferings--but
some vibration of the memory of that kiss would remain; for the
wreath which is being woven out of the kisses of many a
successive birth is to crown the Eternal Beloved.
As the gong of the watch rang out, sounding the hour of two, my
sister-in-law came into the room. "Whatever are you doing,
brother dear?" [16] she cried. "For pity's sake go to bed and
stop worrying so. I cannot bear to look on that awful shadow of
pain on your face." Tears welled up in her eyes and overflowed
as she entreated me thus.
I could not utter a word, but took the dust of her feet, as I
went off to bed.
------
16. When a relationship is established by marriage, or by mutual
understanding arising out of special friendship or affection, the
persons so related call each other in terms of such relationship,
and not by name. [Trans.].
Bimala's Story
VII
At first I suspected nothing, feared nothing; I simply felt
dedicated to my country. What a stupendous joy there was in this
unquestioning surrender. Verily had I realized how, in
thoroughness of self-destruction, man can find supreme bliss.
For aught I know, this frenzy of mine might have come to a
gradual, natural end. But Sandip Babu would not have it so, he
would insist on revealing himself. The tone of his voice became
as intimate as a touch, every look flung itself on its knees in
beggary. And, through it all, there burned a passion which in
its violence made as though it would tear me up by the roots, and
drag me along by the hair.
I will not shirk the truth. This cataclysmal desire drew me by
day and by night. It seemed desperately alluring--this making
havoc of myself. What a shame it seemed, how terrible, and yet
how sweet! Then there was my overpowering curiosity, to which
there seemed no limit. He of whom I knew but little, who never
could assuredly be mine, whose youth flared so vigorously in a
hundred points of flame--oh, the mystery of his seething
passions, so immense, so tumultuous!
I began with a feeling of worship, but that soon passed away. I
ceased even to respect Sandip; on the contrary, I began to look
down upon him. Nevertheless this flesh-and-blood lute of mine,
fashioned with my feeling and fancy, found in him a master-
player. What though I shrank from his touch, and even came to
loathe the lute itself; its music was conjured up all the same.
I must confess there was something in me which ... what shall I
say? ... which makes me wish I could have died!
Chandranath Babu, when he finds leisure, comes to me. He has the
power to lift my mind up to an eminence from where I can see in a
moment the boundary of my life extended on all sides and so
realize that the lines, which I took from my bounds, were merely
imaginary.
But what is the use of it all? Do I really desire emancipation?
Let suffering come to our house; let the best in me shrivel up
and become black; but let this infatuation not leave me--such
seems to be my prayer.
When, before my marriage, I used to see a brother-in-law of mine,
now dead, mad with drink--beating his wife in his frenzy, and
then sobbing and howling in maudlin repentance, vowing never to
touch liquor again, and yet, the very same evening, sitting down
to drink and drink--it would fill me with disgust. But my
intoxication today is still more fearful. The stuff has not to
be procured or poured out: it springs within my veins, and I know
not how to resist it.
Must this continue to the end of my days? Now and again I start
and look upon myself, and think my life to be a nightmare which
will vanish all of a sudden with all its untruth. It has become
so frightfully incongruous. It has no connection with its past.
What it is, how it could have come to this pass, I cannot
understand.
One day my sister-in-law remarked with a cutting laugh: "What a
wonderfully hospitable Chota Rani we have! Her guest absolutely
will not budge. In our time there used to be guests, too; but
they had not such lavish looking after--we were so absurdly taken
up with our husbands. Poor brother Nikhil is paying the penalty
of being born too modern. He should have come as a guest if he
wanted to stay on. Now it looks as if it were time for him to
quit ... O you little demon, do your glances never fall, by
chance, on his agonized face?"
This sarcasm did not touch me; for I knew that these women had it
not in them to understand the nature of the cause of my devotion.
I was then wrapped in the protecting armour of the exaltation of
sacrifice, through which such shafts were powerless to reach and
shame me.
VIII
For some time all talk of the country's cause has been dropped.
Our conversation nowadays has become full of modern sex-problems,
and various other matters, with a sprinkling of poetry, both old
Vaishnava and modern English, accompanied by a running undertone
of melody, low down in the bass, such as I have never in my life
heard before, which seems to me to sound the true manly note, the
note of power.
The day had come when all cover was gone. There was no longer
even the pretence of a reason why Sandip Babu should linger on,
or why I should have confidential talks with him every now and
then. I felt thoroughly vexed with myself, with my sister-in-
law, with the ways of the world, and I vowed I would never again
go to the outer apartments, not if I were to die for it.
For two whole days I did not stir out. Then, for the first time,
I discovered how far I had travelled. My life felt utterly
tasteless. Whatever I touched I wanted to thrust away. I felt
myself waiting--from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes
--waiting for something, somebody; my blood kept tingling with
some expectation.
I tried busying myself with extra work. The bedroom floor was
clean enough but I insisted on its being scrubbed over again
under my eyes. Things were arranged in the cabinets in one kind
of order; I pulled them all out and rearranged them in a
different way. I found no time that afternoon even to do up my
hair; I hurriedly tied it into a loose knot, and went and worried
everybody, fussing about the store-room. The stores seemed
short, and pilfering must have been going on of late, but I could
not muster up the courage to take any particular person to task--
for might not the thought have crossed somebody's mind: "Where
were your eyes all these days!"
In short, I behaved that day as one possessed. The next day I
tried to do some reading. What I read I have no idea, but after
a spell of absentmindedness I found I had wandered away, book in
hand, along the passage leading towards the outer apartments, and
was standing by a window looking out upon the verandah running
along the row of rooms on the opposite side of the quadrangle.
One of these rooms, I felt, had crossed over to another shore,
and the ferry had ceased to ply. I felt like the ghost of myself
of two days ago, doomed to remain where I was, and yet not really
there, blankly looking out for ever.
As I stood there, I saw Sandip come out of his room into the
verandah, a newspaper in his hand. I could see that he looked
extraordinarily disturbed. The courtyard, the railings, in
front, seemed to rouse his wrath. He flung away his newspaper
with a gesture which seemed to want to rend the space before him.
I felt I could no longer keep my vow. I was about to move on
towards the sitting-room, when I found my sister-in-law behind
me. "O Lord, this beats everything!" she ejaculated, as she
glided away. I could not proceed to the outer apartments.
The next morning when my maid came calling, "Rani Mother, it is
getting late for giving out the stores," I flung the keys to her,
saying, "Tell Harimati to see to it," and went on with some
embroidery of English pattern on which I was engaged, seated near
the window.
Then came a servant with a letter. "From Sandip Babu," said he.
What unbounded boldness! What must the messenger have thought?
There was a tremor within my breast as I opened the envelope.
There was no address on the letter, only the words: __An urgent
matter--touching the Cause. Sandip__.
I flung aside the embroidery. I was up on my feet in a moment,
giving a touch or two to my hair by the mirror. I kept the
__sari__ I had on, changing only my jacket--for one of my
jackets had its associations.
I had to pass through one of the verandahs, where my sister-in-
law used to sit in the morning slicing betel-nut. I refused to
feel awkward. "Whither away, Chota Rani?" she cried.
"To the sitting-room outside."
"So early! A matinée, eh?"
And, as I passed on without further reply, she hummed after me a
flippant song.
IX
When I was about to enter the sitting-room, I saw Sandip immersed
in an illustrated catalogue of British Academy pictures, with his
back to the door. He has a great notion of himself as an expert
in matters of Art.
One day my husband said to him: "If the artists ever want a
teacher, they need never lack for one so long as you are there."
It had not been my husband's habit to speak cuttingly, but
latterly there has been a change and he never spares Sandip.
"What makes you suppose that artists need no teachers?" Sandip
retorted.
"Art is a creation," my husband replied. "So we should humbly be
content to receive our lessons about Art from the work of the
artist."
Sandip laughed at this modesty, saying: "You think that meekness
is a kind of capital which increases your wealth the more you use
it. It is my conviction that those who lack pride only float
about like water reeds which have no roots in the soil."
My mind used to be full of contradictions when they talked thus.
On the one hand I was eager that my husband should win in
argument and that Sandip's pride should be shamed. Yet, on the
other, it was Sandip's unabashed pride which attracted me so. It
shone like a precious diamond, which knows no diffidence, and
sparkles in the face of the sun itself.
I entered the room. I knew Sandip could hear my footsteps as I
went forward, but he pretended not to, and kept his eyes on the
book.
I dreaded his Art talks, for I could not overcome my delicacy
about the pictures he talked of, and the things he said, and had
much ado in putting on an air of overdone insensibility to hide
my qualms. So, I was almost on the point of retracing my steps,
when, with a deep sigh, Sandip raised his eyes, and affected to
be startled at the sight of me. "Ah, you have come!" he said.
In his words, in his tone, in his eyes, there was a world of
suppressed reproach, as if the claims he had acquired over me
made my absence, even for these two or three days, a grievous
wrong. I knew this attitude was an insult to me, but, alas, I
had not the power to resent it.
I made no reply, but though I was looking another way, I could
not help feeling that Sandip's plaintive gaze had planted itself
right on my face, and would take no denial. I did so wish he
would say something, so that I could shelter myself behind his
words. I cannot tell how long this went on, but at last I could
stand it no longer. "What is this matter," I asked, "you are
wanting to tell me about?"
Sandip again affected surprise as he said: "Must there always be
some matter? Is friendship by itself a crime? Oh, Queen Bee, to
think that you should make so light of the greatest thing on
earth! Is the heart's worship to be shut out like a stray cur?"
There was again that tremor within me. I could feel the crisis
coming, too importunate to be put off. Joy and fear struggled
for the mastery. Would my shoulders, I wondered, be broad enough
to stand its shock, or would it not leave me overthrown, with my
face in the dust?
I was trembling all over. Steadying myself with an effort I
repeated: "You summoned me for something touching the Cause, so I
have left my household duties to attend to it."
"That is just what I was trying to explain," he said, with a dry
laugh. "Do you not know that I come to worship? Have I not told
you that, in you, I visualize the __Shakti__ of our country?
The Geography of a country is not the whole truth. No one can
give up his life for a map! When I see you before me, then only
do I realize how lovely my country is. When you have anointed me
with your own hands, then shall I know I have the sanction of my
country; and if, with that in my heart, I fall fighting, it shall
not be on the dust of some map-made land, but on a lovingly
spread skirt--do you know what kind of skirt?--like that of the
earthen-red __sari__ you wore the other day, with a broad
blood-red border. Can I ever forget it? Such are the visions
which give vigour to life, and joy to death!"
Sandip's eyes took fire as he went on, but whether it was the
fire of worship, or of passion, I could not tell. I was reminded
of the day on which I first heard him speak, when I could not be
sure whether he was a person, or just a living flame.
I had not the power to utter a word. You cannot take shelter
behind the walls of decorum when in a moment the fire leaps up
and, with the flash of its sword and the roar of its laughter,
destroys all the miser's stores. I was in terror lest he should
forget himself and take me by the hand. For he shook like a
quivering tongue of fire; his eyes showered scorching sparks on
me.
"Are you for ever determined," he cried after a pause, "to make
gods of your petty household duties--you who have it in you to
send us to life or to death? Is this power of yours to be kept
veiled in a zenana? Cast away all false shame, I pray you; snap
your fingers at the whispering around. Take your plunge today
into the freedom of the outer world."
When, in Sandip's appeals, his worship of the country gets to be
subtly interwoven with his worship of me, then does my blood
dance, indeed, and the barriers of my hesitation totter. His
talks about Art and Sex, his distinctions between Real and
Unreal, had but clogged my attempts at response with some
revolting nastiness. This, however, now burst again into a glow
before which my repugnance faded away. I felt that my
resplendent womanhood made me indeed a goddess. Why should not
its glory flash from my forehead with visible brilliance? Why
does not my voice find a word, some audible cry, which would be
like a sacred spell to my country for its fire initiation?
All of a sudden my maid Khema rushed into the room, dishevelled.
"Give me my wages and let me go," she screamed. "Never in all my
life have I been so ..." The rest of her speech was drowned in
sobs.
"What is the matter?"
Thako, the Bara Rani's maid, it appeared, had for no rhyme or
reason reviled her in unmeasured terms. She was in such a state,
it was no manner of use trying to pacify her by saying I would
look into the matter afterwards.
The slime of domestic life that lay beneath the lotus bank of
womanhood came to the surface. Rather than allow Sandip a
prolonged vision of it, I had to hurry back within.
X
My sister-in-law was absorbed in her betel-nuts, the suspicion of
a smile playing about her lips, as if nothing untoward had
happened. She was still humming the same song.
"Why has your Thako been calling poor Khema names?" I burst out.
"Indeed? The wretch! I will have her broomed out of the house.
What a shame to spoil your morning out like this! As for Khema,
where are the hussy's manners to go and disturb you when you are
engaged? Anyhow, Chota Rani, don't you worry yourself with these
domestic squabbles. Leave them to me, and return to your
friend."
How suddenly the wind in the sails of our mind veers round! This
going to meet Sandip outside seemed, in the light of the zenana
code, such an extraordinarily out-of-the-way thing to do that I
went off to my own room, at a loss for a reply. I knew this was
my sister-in-law's doing and that she had egged her maid on to
contrive this scene. But I had brought myself to such an
unstable poise that I dared not have my fling.
Why, it was only the other day that I found I could not keep up
to the last the unbending hauteur with which I had demanded from
my husband the dismissal of the man Nanku. I felt suddenly
abashed when the Bara Rani came up and said: "It is really all my
fault, brother dear. We are old-fashioned folk, and I did not
quite like the ways of your Sandip Babu, so I only told the guard
... but how was I to know that our Chota Rani would take this as
an insult?--I thought it would be the other way about! Just my
incorrigible silliness!"
The thing which seems so glorious when viewed from the heights of
the country's cause, looks so muddy when seen from the bottom.
One begins by getting angry, and then feels disgusted.
I shut myself into my room, sitting by the window, thinking how
easy life would be if only one could keep in harmony with one's
surroundings. How simply the senior Rani sits in her verandah
with her betel-nuts and how inaccessible to me has become my
natural seat beside my daily duties! Where will it all end, I
asked myself? Shall I ever recover, as from a delirium, and
forget it all; or am I to be dragged to depths from which there
can be no escape in this life? How on earth did I manage to let
my good fortune escape me, and spoil my life so? Every wall of
this bedroom of mine, which I first entered nine years ago as a
bride, stares at me in dismay.
When my husband came home, after his M.A. examination, he
brought for me this orchid belonging to some far-away land beyond
the seas. From beneath these few little leaves sprang such a
cascade of blossoms, it looked as if they were pouring forth from
some overturned urn of Beauty. We decided, together, to hang it
here, over this window. It flowered only that once, but we have
always been in hope of its doing so once more. Curiously enough
I have kept on watering it these days, from force of habit, and
it is still green.
It is now four years since I framed a photograph of my husband in
ivory and put it in the niche over there. If I happen to look
that way I have to lower my eyes. Up to last week I used
regularly to put there the flowers of my worship, every morning
after my bath. My husband has often chided me over this.
"It shames me to see you place me on a height to which I do not
belong," he said one day.
"What nonsense!"
"I am not only ashamed, but also jealous!"
"Just hear him! Jealous of whom, pray?"
"Of that false me. It only shows that I am too petty for you,
that you want some extraordinary man who can overpower you with
his superiority, and so you needs must take refuge in making for
yourself another 'me'."
"This kind of talk only makes me angry," said I.
"What is the use of being angry with me?" he replied. "Blame
your fate which allowed you no choice, but made you take me
blindfold. This keeps you trying to retrieve its blunder by
making me out a paragon."
I felt so hurt at the bare idea that tears started to my eyes
that day. And whenever I think of that now, I cannot raise my
eyes to the niche.
For now there is another photograph in my jewel case. The other
day, when arranging the sitting-room, I brought away that double
photo frame, the one in which Sandip's portrait was next to my
husband's. To this portrait I have no flowers of worship to
offer, but it remains hidden away under my gems. It has all the
greater fascination because kept secret. I look at it now and
then with doors closed. At night I turn up the lamp, and sit
with it in my hand, gazing and gazing. And every night I think
of burning it in the flame of the lamp, to be done with it for
ever; but every night I heave a sigh and smother it again in my
pearls and diamonds.
Ah, wretched woman! What a wealth of love was twined round each
one of those jewels! Oh, why am I not dead?
Sandip had impressed it on me that hesitation is not in the
nature of woman. For her, neither right nor left has any
existence--she only moves forward. When the women of our country
wake up, he repeatedly insisted, their voice will be unmistakably
confident in its utterance of the cry: "I want."
"I want!" Sandip went on one day--this was the primal word at
the root of all creation. It had no maxim to guide it, but it
became fire and wrought itself into suns and stars. Its
partiality is terrible. Because it had a desire for man, it
ruthlessly sacrificed millions of beasts for millions of years to
achieve that desire. That terrible word "I want" has taken flesh
in woman, and therefore men, who are cowards, try with all their
might to keep back this primeval flood With their earthen dykes.
They are afraid lest, laughing and dancing as it goes, it should
wash away all the hedges and props of their pumpkin field. Men,
in every age, flatter themselves that they have secured this
force within the bounds of their convenience, but it gathers and
grows. Now it is calm and deep like a lake, but gradually its
pressure will increase, the dykes will give way, and the force
which has so long been dumb will rush forward with the roar: "I
want!"
These words of Sandip echo in my heart-beats like a war-drum.
They shame into silence all my conflicts with myself. What do I
care what people may think of me? Of what value are that orchid
and that niche in my bedroom? What power have they to belittle
me, to put me to shame? The primal fire of creation burns in me.
I felt a strong desire to snatch down the orchid and fling it out
of the window, to denude the niche of its picture, to lay bare
and naked the unashamed spirit of destruction that raged within
me. My arm was raised to do it, but a sudden pang passed through
my breast, tears started to my eyes. I threw myself down and
sobbed: "What is the end of all this, what is the end?"
Sandip's Story
IV
When I read these pages of the story of my life I seriously
question myself: Is this Sandip? Am I made of words? Am I
merely a book with a covering of flesh and blood?
The earth is not a dead thing like the moon. She breathes. Her
rivers and oceans send up vapours in which she is clothed. She
is covered with a mantle of her own dust which flies about the
air. The onlooker, gazing upon the earth from the outside, can
see only the light reflected from this vapour and this dust. The
tracks of the mighty continents are not distinctly visible.
The man, who is alive as this earth is, is likewise always
enveloped in the mist of the ideas which he is breathing out.
His real land and water remain hidden, and he appears to be made
of only lights and shadows.
It seems to me, in this story of my life, that, like a living
plant, I am displaying the picture of an ideal world. But I am
not merely what I want, what I think--I am also what I do not
love, what I do not wish to be. My creation had begun before I
was born. I had no choice in regard to my surroundings and so
must make the best of such material as comes to my hand.
My theory of life makes me certain that the Great is cruel To be
just is for ordinary men--it is reserved for the great to be
unjust. The surface of the earth was even. The volcano butted
it with its fiery horn and found its own eminence--its justice
was not towards its obstacle, but towards itself. Successful
injustice and genuine cruelty have been the only forces by which
individual or nation has become millionaire or monarch.
That is why I preach the great discipline of Injustice. I say to
everyone: Deliverance is based upon injustice. Injustice is the
fire which must keep on burning something in order to save itself
from becoming ashes. Whenever an individual or nation becomes
incapable of perpetrating injustice it is swept into the dust-bin
of the world.
As yet this is only my idea--it is not completely myself. There
are rifts in the armour through which something peeps out which
is extremely soft and sensitive. Because, as I say, the best
part of myself was created before I came to this stage of
existence.
From time to time I try my followers in their lesson of cruelty.
One day we went on a picnic. A goat was grazing by. I asked
them: "Who is there among you that can cut off a leg of that
goat, alive, with this knife, and bring it to me?" While they
all hesitated, I went myself and did it. One of them fainted at
the sight. But when they saw me unmoved they took the dust of my
feet, saying that I was above all human weaknesses. That is to
say, they saw that day the vaporous envelope which was my idea,
but failed to perceive the inner me, which by a curious freak of
fate has been created tender and merciful.
In the present chapter of my life, which is growing in interest
every day round Bimala and Nikhil, there is also much that
remains hidden underneath. This malady of ideas which afflicts
me is shaping my life within: nevertheless a great part of my
life remains outside its influence; and so there is set up a
discrepancy between my outward life and its inner design which I
try my best to keep concealed even from myself; otherwise it may
wreck not only my plans, but my very life.
Life is indefinite--a bundle of contradictions. We men, with our
ideas, strive to give it a particular shape by melting it into a
particular mould--into the definiteness of success. All the
world-conquerors, from Alexander down to the American
millionaires, mould themselves into a sword or a mint, and thus
find that distinct image of themselves which is the source of
their success.
The chief controversy between Nikhil and myself arises from this:
that though I say "know thyself", and Nikhil also says "know
thyself", his interpretation makes this "knowing" tantamount to
"not knowing".
"Winning your kind of success," Nikhil once objected, "is success
gained at the cost of the soul: but the soul is greater than
success."
I simply said in answer: "Your words are too vague."
"That I cannot help," Nikhil replied. "A machine is distinct
enough, but not so life. If to gain distinctness you try to know
life as a machine, then such mere distinctness cannot stand for
truth. The soul is not as distinct as success, and so you only
lose your soul if you seek it in your success."
"Where, then, is this wonderful soul?"
"Where it knows itself in the infinite and transcends its
success."
"But how does all this apply to our work for the country?"
"It is the same thing. Where our country makes itself the final
object, it gains success at the cost of the soul. Where it
recognizes the Greatest as greater than all, there it may miss
success, but gains its soul."
"Is there any example of this in history?"
"Man is so great that he can despise not only the success, but
also the example. Possibly example is lacking, just as there is
no example of the flower in the seed. But there is the urgence
of the flower in the seed all the same."
It is not that I do not at all understand Nikhil's point of view;
that is rather where my danger lies. I was born in India and the
poison of its spirituality runs in my blood. However loudly I
may proclaim the madness of walking in the path of self-
abnegation, I cannot avoid it altogether.
This is exactly how such curious anomalies happen nowadays in our
country. We must have our religion and also our nationalism; our
__Bhagavadgita__ and also our __Bande Mataram__. The result is that
both of them suffer. It is like performing with an English military
band, side by side with our Indian festive pipes. I must make it
the purpose of my life to put an end to this hideous confusion.
I want the western military style to prevail, not the Indian.
We shall then not be ashamed of the flag of our passion, which
mother Nature has sent with us as our standard into the
battlefield of life. Passion is beautiful and pure--pure as the
lily that comes out of the slimy soil. It rises superior to its
defilement and needs no Pears' soap to wash it clean.
V
A question has been worrying me the last few days. Why am I
allowing my life to become entangled with Bimala's? Am I a
drifting log to be caught up at any and every obstacle?
Not that I have any false shame at Bimala becoming an object of
my desire. It is only too clear how she wants me, and so I look
on her as quite legitimately mine. The fruit hangs on the branch
by the stem, but that is no reason why the claim of the stem
should be eternal. Ripe fruit cannot for ever swear by its
slackening stem-hold. All its sweetness has been accumulated for
me; to surrender itself to my hand is the reason of its
existence, its very nature, its true morality. So I must pluck
it, for it becomes me not to make it futile.
But what is teasing me is that I am getting entangled. Am I not
born to rule?--to bestride my proper steed, the crowd, and drive
it as I will; the reins in my hand, the destination known only to
me, and for it the thorns, the mire, on the road? This steed now
awaits me at the door, pawing and champing its bit, its neighing
filling the skies. But where am I, and what am I about, letting
day after day of golden opportunity slip by?
I used to think I was like a storm--that the torn flowers with
which I strewed my path would not impede my progress. But I am
only wandering round and round a flower like a bee--not a storm.
So, as I was saying, the colouring of ideas which man gives
himself is only superficial. The inner man remains as ordinary
as ever. If someone, who could see right into me, were to write
my biography, he would make me out to be no different from that
lout of a Panchu, or even from Nikhil!
Last night I was turning over the pages of my old diary ... I
had just graduated, and my brain was bursting with philosophy.
Even so early I had vowed not to harbour any illusions, whether
of my own or other's imagining, but to build my life on a solid
basis of reality. But what has since been its actual story?
Where is its solidity? It has rather been a network, where,
though the thread be continuous, more space is taken up by the
holes. Fight as I may, these will not own defeat. Just as I was
congratulating myself on steadily following the thread, here I am
badly caught in a hole! For I have become susceptible to
compunctions.
"I want it; it is here; let me take it"--This is a clear-cut,
straightforward policy. Those who can pursue its course with
vigour needs must win through in the end. But the gods would not
have it that such journey should be easy, so they have deputed
the siren Sympathy to distract the wayfarer, to dim his vision
with her tearful mist.
I can see that poor Bimala is struggling like a snared deer.
What a piteous alarm there is in her eyes! How she is torn with
straining at her bonds! This sight, of course, should gladden
the heart of a true hunter. And so do I rejoice; but, then, I am
also touched; and therefore I dally, and standing on the brink I
am hesitating to pull the noose fast.
There have been moments, I know, when I could have bounded up to
her, clasped her hands and folded her to my breast, unresisting.
Had I done so, she would not have said one word. She was aware
that some crisis was impending, which in a moment would change
the meaning of the whole world. Standing before that cavern of
the incalculable but yet expected, her face went pale and her
eyes glowed with a fearful ecstasy. Within that moment, when it
arrives, an eternity will take shape, which our destiny awaits,
holding its breath.
But I have let this moment slip by. I did not, with
uncompromising strength, press the almost certain into the
absolutely assured. I now see clearly that some hidden elements
in my nature have openly ranged themselves as obstacles in my
path.
That is exactly how Ravana, whom I look upon as the real hero of
the __Ramayana__, met with his doom. He kept Sita in his
Asoka garden, awaiting her pleasure, instead of taking her
straight into his harem. This weak spot in his otherwise grand
character made the whole of the abduction episode futile.
Another such touch of compunction made him disregard, and be
lenient to, his traitorous brother Bibhisan, only to get himself
killed for his pains.
Thus does the tragic in life come by its own. In the beginning
it lies, a little thing, in some dark under-vault, and ends by
overthrowing the whole superstructure. The real tragedy is, that
man does not know himself for what he really is.
VI
Then again there is Nikhil. Crank though he be, laugh at him as
I may, I cannot get rid of the idea that he is my friend. At
first I gave no thought to his point of view, but of late it has
begun to shame and hurt me. Therefore I have been trying to talk
and argue with him in the same enthusiastic way as of old, but it
does not ring true. It is even leading me at times into such a
length of unnaturalness as to pretend to agree with him. But
such hypocrisy is not in my nature, nor in that of Nikhil either.
This, at least, is something we have in common. That is why,
nowadays, I would rather not come across him, and have taken to
fighting shy of his presence.
All these are signs of weakness. No sooner is the possibility of
a wrong admitted than it becomes actual, and clutches you by the
throat, however you may then try to shake off all belief in it.
What I should like to be able to tell Nikhil frankly is, that
happenings such as these must be looked in the face--as great
Realities--and that which is the Truth should not be allowed to
stand between true friends.
There is no denying that I have really weakened. It was not this
weakness which won over Bimala; she burnt her wings in the blaze
of the full strength of my unhesitating manliness. Whenever
smoke obscures its lustre she also becomes confused, and draws
back. Then comes a thorough revulsion of feeling, and she fain
would take back the garland she has put round my neck, but
cannot; and so she only closes her eyes, to shut it out of sight.
But all the same I must not swerve from the path I have chalked
out. It would never do to abandon the cause of the country,
especially at the present time. I shall simply make Bimala one
with my country. The turbulent west wind which has swept away
the country's veil of conscience, will sweep away the veil of the
wife from Bimala's face, and in that uncovering there will be no
shame. The ship will rock as it bears the crowd across the
ocean, flying the pennant of __Bande Mataram__, and it will
serve as the cradle to my power, as well as to my love.
Bimala will see such a majestic vision of deliverance, that her
bonds will slip from about her, without shame, without her even
being aware of it. Fascinated by the beauty of this terrible
wrecking power, she will not hesitate a moment to be cruel. I
have seen in Bimala's nature the cruelty which is the inherent
force of existence--the cruelty which with its unrelenting might
keeps the world beautiful.
If only women could be set free from the artificial fetters put
round them by men, we could see on earth the living image of
Kali, the shameless, pitiless goddess. I am a worshipper of
Kali, and one day I shall truly worship her, setting Bimala on
her altar of Destruction. For this let me get ready.
The way of retreat is absolutely closed for both of us. We shall
despoil each other: get to hate each other: but never more be
free.
Chapter Five
Nikhil's Story
IV
EVERYTHING is rippling and waving with the flood of August. The
young shoots of rice have the sheen of an infant's limbs. The
water has invaded the garden next to our house. The morning
light, like the love of the blue sky, is lavished upon the earth
... Why cannot I sing? The water of the distant river is
shimmering with light; the leaves are glistening; the rice-
fields, with their fitful shivers, break into gleams of gold; and
in this symphony of Autumn, only I remain voiceless. The
sunshine of the world strikes my heart, but is not reflected
back.
When I realize the lack of expressiveness in myself, I know why I
am deprived. Who could bear my company day and night without a
break? Bimala is full of the energy of life, and so she has
never become stale to me for a moment, in all these nine years of
our wedded life.
My life has only its dumb depths; but no murmuring rush. I can
only receive: not impart movement. And therefore my company is
like fasting. I recognize clearly today that Bimala has been
languishing because of a famine of companionship.
Then whom shall I blame? Like Vidyapati I can only lament:
/*
It is August, the sky breaks into a passionate rain;
Alas, empty is my house.
*/
My house, I now see, was built to remain empty, because its doors
cannot open. But I never knew till now that its divinity had
been sitting outside. I had fondly believed that she had
accepted my sacrifice, and granted in return her boon. But,
alas, my house has all along been empty.
Every year, about this time, it was our practice to go in a
house-boat over the broads of Samalda. I used to tell Bimala
that a song must come back to its refrain over and over again.
The original refrain of every song is in Nature, where the rain-
laden wind passes over the rippling stream, where the green
earth, drawing its shadow-veil over its face, keeps its ear close
to the speaking water. There, at the beginning of time, a man
and a woman first met--not within walls. And therefore we two
must come back to Nature, at least once a year, to tune our love
anew to the first pure note of the meeting of hearts.
The first two anniversaries of our married life I spent in
Calcutta, where I went through my examinations. But from the
next year onwards, for seven years without a break, we have
celebrated our union among the blossoming water-lilies. Now
begins the next octave of my life.
It was difficult for me to ignore the fact that the same month of
August had come round again this year. Does Bimala remember it,
I wonder?--she has given me no reminder. Everything is mute
about me.
/*
It is August, the sky breaks into a passionate rain;
Alas, empty is my house.
*/
The house which becomes empty through the parting of lovers,
still has music left in the heart of its emptiness. But the
house that is empty because hearts are asunder, is awful in its
silence. Even the cry of pain is out of place there.
This cry of pain must be silenced in me. So long as I continue
to suffer, Bimala will never have true freedom. I must free her
completely, otherwise I shall never gain my freedom from untruth
...
I think I have come to the verge of understanding one thing. Man
has so fanned the flame of the loves of men and women, as to make
it overpass its rightful domain, and now, even in the name of
humanity itself, he cannot bring it back under control. Man's
worship has idolized his passion. But there must be no more
human sacrifices at its shrine ...
I went into my bedroom this morning, to fetch a book. It is long
since I have been there in the day-time. A pang passed through
me as I looked round it today, in the morning light. On the
clothes rack was hanging a __sari__ of Bimala's, crinkled
ready for wear. On the dressing-table were her perfumes, her
comb, her hair-pins, and with them, still, her vermilion box!
Underneath were her tiny gold-embroidered slippers.
Once, in the old days, when Bimala had not yet overcome her
objections to shoes, I had got these out from Lucknow, to tempt
her. The first time she was ready to drop for very shame, to go
in them even from the room to the verandah. Since then she has
worn out many shoes, but has treasured up this pair. When first
showing her the slippers, I chaffed her over a curious practice
of hers; "I have caught you taking the dust of my feet, thinking
me asleep! These are the offerings of my worship to ward the
dust off the feet of my wakeful divinity." "You must not say
such things," she protested, "or I will never wear your shoes!"
This bedroom of mine--it has a subtle atmosphere which goes
straight to my heart. I was never aware, as I am today, how my
thirsting heart has been sending out its roots to cling round
each and every familiar object. The severing of the main root, I
see, is not enough to set life free. Even these little slippers
serve to hold one back.
My wandering eyes fall on the niche. My portrait there is
looking the same as ever, in spite of the flowers scattered round
it having been withered black! Of all the things in the room
their greeting strikes me as sincere. They are still here simply
because it was not felt worth while even to remove them. Never
mind; let me welcome truth, albeit in such sere and sorry garb,
and look forward to the time when I shall be able to do so
unmoved, as does my photograph.
As I stood there, Bimal came in from behind. I hastily turned my
eyes from the niche to the shelves as I muttered: "I came to get
Amiel's Journal." What need had Ito volunteer an explanation? I
felt like a wrong-doer, a trespasser, prying into a secret not
meant for me. I could not look Bimal in the face, but hurried
away.
V
I had just made the discovery that it was useless to keep up a
pretence of reading in my room outside, and also that it was
equally beyond me to busy myself attending to anything at all--so
that all the days of my future bid fair to congeal into one solid
mass and settle heavily on my breast for good--when Panchu, the
tenant of a neighbouring __zamindar__, came up to me with a
basketful of cocoa-nuts and greeted me with a profound obeisance.
"Well, Panchu," said I. "What is all this for?"
I had got to know Panchu through my master. He was extremely
poor, nor was I in a position to do anything for him; so I
supposed this present was intended to procure a tip to help the
poor fellow to make both ends meet. I took some money from my
purse and held it out towards him, but with folded hands he
protested: "I cannot take that, sir!"
"Why, what is the matter?"
"Let me make a clean breast of it, sir. Once, when I was hard
pressed, I stole some cocoa-nuts from the garden here. I am
getting old, and may die any day, so I have come to pay them
back."
Amiel's Journal could not have done me any good that day. But
these words of Panchu lightened my heart. There are more things
in life than the union or separation of man and woman. The great
world stretches far beyond, and one can truly measure one's joys
and sorrows when standing in its midst.
Panchu was devoted to my master. I know well enough how he
manages to eke out a livelihood. He is up before dawn every day,
and with a basket of __pan__ leaves, twists of tobacco,
coloured cotton yarn, little combs, looking-glasses, and other
trinkets beloved of the village women, he wades through the knee-
deep water of the marsh and goes over to the Namasudra quarters.
There he barters his goods for rice, which fetches him a little
more than their price in money. If he can get back soon enough
he goes out again, after a hurried meal, to the sweetmeat
seller's, where he assists in beating sugar for wafers. As soon
as he comes home he sits at his shell-bangle making, plodding on
often till midnight. All this cruel toil does not earn, for
himself and his family, a bare two meals a day during much more
than half the year. His method of eating is to begin with a good
filling draught of water, and his staple food is the cheapest
kind of seedy banana. And yet the family has to go with only one
meal a day for the rest of the year.
At one time I had an idea of making him a charity allowance,
"But," said my master, "your gift may destroy the man, it cannot
destroy the hardship of his lot. Mother Bengal has not only this
one Panchu. If the milk in her breasts has run dry, that cannot
be supplied from the outside."
These are thoughts which give one pause, and I decided to devote
myself to working it out. That very day I said to Bimal: "Let us
dedicate our lives to removing the root of this sorrow in our
country."
"You are my Prince Siddharta, [17] I see," she replied with a
smile. "But do not let the torrent of your feelings end by
sweeping me away also!"
"Siddharta took his vows alone. I want ours to be a joint
arrangement."
The idea passed away in talk. The fact is, Bimala is at heart
what is called a "lady". Though her own people are not well off,
she was born a Rani. She has no doubts in her mind that there is
a lower unit of measure for the trials and troubles of the "lower
classes". Want is, of course, a permanent feature of their
lives, but does not necessarily mean "want" to them. Their very
smallness protects them, as the banks protect the pool; by
widening bounds only the slime is exposed.
The real fact is that Bimala has only come into my home, not into
my life. I had magnified her so, leaving her such a large place,
that when I lost her, my whole way of life became narrow and
confined. I had thrust aside all other objects into a corner to
make room for Bimala--taken up as I was with decorating her and
dressing her and educating her and moving round her day and
night; forgetting how great is humanity and how nobly precious is
man's life. When the actualities of everyday things get the
better of the man, then is Truth lost sight of and freedom
missed. So painfully important did Bimala make the mere
actualities, that the truth remained concealed from me. That is
why I find no gap in my misery, and spread this minute point of
my emptiness over all the world. And so, for hours on this
Autumn morning, the refrain has been humming in my ears:
/*
It is the month of August, and the sky breaks into a passionate
rain;
Alas, my house is empty.
*/
------
17. The name by which Buddha was known when a Prince, before
renouncing the world.
Bimala's Story
XI
The change which had, in a moment, come over the mind of Bengal
was tremendous. It was as if the Ganges had touched the ashes of
the sixty thousand sons of Sagar [18] which no fire could
enkindle, no other water knead again into living clay. The ashes
of lifeless Bengal suddenly spoke up: "Here am I."
I have read somewhere that in ancient Greece a sculptor had the
good fortune to impart life to the image made by his own hand.
Even in that miracle, however, there was the process of form
preceding life. But where was the unity in this heap of barren
ashes? Had they been hard like stone, we might have had hopes of
some form emerging, even as Ahalya, though turned to stone, at
last won back her humanity. But these scattered ashes must have
dropped to the dust through gaps in the Creator's fingers, to be
blown hither and thither by the wind. They had become heaped up,
but were never before united. Yet in this day which had come to
Bengal, even this collection of looseness had taken shape, and
proclaimed in a thundering voice, at our very door: "Here I am."
How could we help thinking that it was all supernatural? This
moment of our history seemed to have dropped into our hand like a
jewel from the crown of some drunken god. It had no resemblance
to our past; and so we were led to hope that all our wants and
miseries would disappear by the spell of some magic charm, that
for us there was no longer any boundary line between the possible
and the impossible. Everything seemed to be saying to us: "It is
coming; it has come!"
Thus we came to cherish the belief that our history needed no
steed, but that like heaven's chariot it would move with its own
inherent power--At least no wages would have to be paid to the
charioteer; only his wine cup would have to be filled again and
again. And then in some impossible paradise the goal of our
hopes would be reached.
My husband was not altogether unmoved, but through all our
excitement it was the strain of sadness in him which deepened and
deepened. He seemed to have a vision of something beyond the
surging present.
I remember one day, in the course of the arguments he continually
had with Sandip, he said: "Good fortune comes to our gate and
announces itself, only to prove that we have not the power to
receive it--that we have not kept things ready to be able to
invite it into our house."
"No," was Sandip's answer. "You talk like an atheist because you
do not believe in our gods. To us it has been made quite visible
that the Goddess has come with her boon, yet you distrust