The Hungry Stones And Other Stories
Part 2 out of 3
her eyes with both hands, and shrank back quivering with an inward
tumult of joy.
And the Prince passed the whole day alone, walking by the side of the
surging sea. He carried in his mind that startled look, that shrinking
gesture of the Queen, and his heart beat high with hope.
That night the serried, gaily-dressed ranks of young men and maidens
waited with smiling faces at the Palace Gates. The Palace Hall was
lighted with fairy lamps and festooned with the flowers of spring.
Slowly the Queen of Hearts entered, and the whole assembly rose to greet
her. With a jasmine garland in her hand, she stood before the Prince
with downcast eyes. In her lowly bashfulness she could hardly raise the
garland to the neck of the Mate she had chosen. But the Prince bowed
his head, and the garland slipped to its place. The assembly of youths
and maidens had waited her choice with eager, expectant hush. And when
the choice was made, the whole vast concourse rocked and swayed with a
tumult of wild delight. And the sound of their shouts was heard in
every part of the island, and by ships far out at sea. Never had such a
shout been raised in the Kingdom of Cards before.
And they carried the Prince and his Bride, and seated them on the
throne, and crowned them then and there in the Ancient Island of Cards.
And the sorrowing Mother Queen, on the 'far-off island shore on the
other side of the sea, came sailing to her son's new kingdom in a ship
adorned with gold.
And the citizens are no longer regulated according to the Rules, but are
good or bad, or both, according to their Ichcha.
At a time, when my unpopularity with a part of my readers had reached
the nadir of its glory, and my name had become the central orb of the
journals, to be attended through space with a perpetual rotation of
revilement, I felt the necessity to retire to some quiet place and
endeavour to forget my own existence.
I have a house in the country some miles away from Calcutta, where I can
remain unknown and unmolested. The villagers there have not, as yet,
come to any conclusion about me. They know I am no mere holiday-maker
or pleasure-seeker; for I never outrage the silence of the village
nights with the riotous noises of the city. Nor do they regard me as
ascetic, because the little acquaintance they have of me carries the
savour of comfort about it. I am not, to them, a traveller; for, though
I am a vagabond by nature, my wandering through the village fields is
aimless. They are hardly even quite certain whether I am married or
single; for they have never seen me with my children. So, not being
able to classify me in any animal or vegetable kingdom that they know,
they have long since given me up and left me stolidly alone.
But quite lately I have come to know that there is one person in the
village who is deeply interested in me. Our acquaintance began on a
sultry afternoon in July. There had been rain all the morning, and the
air was still wet and heavy with mist, like eyelids when weeping is
I sat lazily watching a dappled cow grazing on the high bank of the
river. The afternoon sun was playing on her glossy hide. The simple
beauty of this dress of light made me wonder idly at man's deliberate
waste of money in setting up tailors' shops to deprive his own skin of
its natural clothing.
While I was thus watching and lazily musing, a woman of middle age came
and prostrated herself before me, touching the ground with her forehead.
She carried in her robe some bunches of flowers, one of which she
offered to me with folded hands. She said to me, as she offered it:
"This is an offering to my God."
She went away. I was so taken aback as she uttered these words, that I
could hardly catch a glimpse of her before she was gone. The whole
incident was entirely simple, but it left a deep impression on my mind;
and as I turned back once more to look at the cattle in the field, the
zest of life in the cow, who was munching the lush grass with deep
breaths, while she whisked off the flies, appeared to me fraught with
mystery. My readers may laugh at my foolishness, but my heart was full
of adoration. I offered my worship to the pure joy of living, which is
God's own life. Then, plucking a tender shoot from the mango tree, I
fed the cow with it from my own hand, and as I did this I had the
satisfaction of having pleased my God.
The next year when I returned to the village it was February. The cold
season still lingered on. The morning sun came into my room, and I was
grateful for its warmth. I was writing, when the servant came to tell
me that a devotee, of the Vishnu cult, wanted to see me. I told him, in
an absent way, to bring her upstairs, and went on with my writing. The
Devotee came in, and bowed to me, touching my feet. I found that she
was the same woman whom I had met, for a brief moment, a year ago.
I was able now to examine her more closely. She was past that age when
one asks the question whether a woman is beautiful or not. Her stature
was above the ordinary height, and she was strongly built; but
her body was slightly bent owing to her constant attitude of veneration.
Her manner had nothing shrinking about it. The most remarkable of her
features were her two eyes. They seemed to have a penetrating power
which could make distance near.
With those two large eyes of hers, she seemed to push me as she entered.
"What is this?" she asked. "Why have you brought me here before your
throne, my God? I used to see you among the trees; and that was much
better. That was the true place to meet you."
She must have seen me walking in the garden without my seeing her. For
the last few clays, however, I had suffered from a cold, and had been
prevented from going out. I had, perforce, to stay indoors and pay my
homage to the evening sky from my terrace. After a silent pause the
Devotee said to me: "O my God, give me some words of good."
I was quite unprepared for this abrupt request, and answered her on the
spur of the moment: "Good words I neither give nor receive. I simply
open my eyes and keep silence, and then I can at once both hear and see,
even when no sound is uttered. Now, while I am looking at you, it is as
good as listening to your voice."
The Devotee became quite excited as I spoke, and exclaimed: "God speaks
to me, not only with His mouth, but with His whole body."
I said to her: "When I am silent I can listen with my whole body. I
have come away from Calcutta here to listen to that sound."
The Devotee said: "Yes, I know that, and therefore 1 have come here to
sit by you."
Before taking her leave, she again bowed to me, and touched my feet. I
could see that she was distressed, because my feet were covered. She
wished them to be bare.
Early next morning I came out, and sat on my terrace on the roof.
Beyond the line of trees southward I could see the open country chill
and desolate. I could watch the sun rising over the sugar-cane in
the East, beyond the clump of trees at the side of the village. Out of
the deep shadow of those dark trees the village road suddenly appeared.
It stretched forward, winding its way to some distant villages on the
horizon, till it was lost in the grey of the mist.
That morning it was difficult to say whether the sun had risen or not.
A white fog was still clinging to the tops of the trees. I saw the
Devotee walking through the blurred dawn, like a mist-wraith of the
morning twilight. She was singing her chant to God, and sounding her
The thick haze lifted at last; and the sun, like the kindly grandsire of
the village, took his seat amid all the work that was going on in home
When I had just settled down at my writing-table, to appease the hungry
appetite of my editor in Calcutta, there came a sound of footsteps on
the stair, and the Devotee, humming a tune to herself, entered, and
bowed before me. I lifted my head from my papers.
She said to me: "My God, yesterday I took as sacred food what was left
over from your meal."
I was startled, and asked her how she could do that.
"Oh," she said, "I waited at your door in the evening, while you were at
dinner, and took some food from your plate when it was carried out."
This was a surprise to me, for every one in the village knew that I had
been to Europe, and had eaten with Europeans. I was a vegetarian, no
doubt, but the sanctity of my cook would not bear investigation, and the
orthodox regarded my food as polluted.
The Devotee, noticing my sign of surprise, said: "My God, why should I
come to you at all, if I could not take your food? "
I asked her what her own caste people would say. She told me she had
already spread the news far and wide all over the village. The caste
people had shaken their heads, but agreed that she must go her own way.
I found out that the Devotee came from a good family in the country, and
that her mother was well to-do, and desired to keep her daughter. But
she preferred to be a mendicant. I asked her how she made her living.
She told me that her followers had given her a piece of land, and that
she begged her food from door to door. She said to me: "The food which
I get by begging is divine."
After I had thought over what she said, I understood her meaning. When
we get our food precariously as alms, we remember God the giver. But
when we receive our food regularly at home, as a matter of course, we
are apt to regard it as ours by right.
I had a great desire to ask her about her husband. But as she never
mentioned him even indirectly, I did not question her.
I found out very soon that the Devotee had no respect at all for that
part of the village where the people of the higher castes lived.
"They never give," she said, "a single farthing to God's service; and
yet they have the largest share of God's glebe. But the poor worship
I asked her why she did not go and live among these godless people, and
help them towards a better life. "That," I said with some unction,
"would be the highest form of divine worship."
I had heard sermons of this kind from time to time, and I am rather fond
of copying them myself for the public benefit, when the chance comes.
But the Devotee was not at all impressed. She raised her big round
eyes, and looked straight into mine, and said:
"You mean to say that because God is with the sinners, therefore when
you do them any service you do it to God? Is that so?"
"Yes," I replied, "that is my meaning."
"Of course," she answered almost impatiently, "of course, God is with
them: otherwise, how could they go on living at all? But what is that
to me? My God is not there. My God cannot be worshipped among them;
because I do not find Him there. I seek Him where I can find Him."
As she spoke, she made obeisance to me. What she meant to say was
really this. A mere doctrine of God's omnipresence does not help us.
That God is all-pervading,--this truth may be a mere intangible
abstraction, and therefore unreal to ourselves. Where I can see Him,
there is His
reality in my soul.
I need not explain that all the while she showered her devotion on me
she did it to me not as an individual. I was simply a vehicle of her
divine worship. It was not for me either to receive it or to refuse it:
for it was not mine, but God's.
When the Devotee came again, she found me once more engaged with my
books and papers.
"What have you been doing," she said, with evident vexation, "that my
God should make you undertake such drudgery? Whenever I come, I find
you reading and writing."
"God keeps his useless people busy," I answered; "otherwise they would
be bound to get into mischief. They have to do all the least necessary
things in life. It keeps them out of trouble."
The Devotee told me that she could not bear the encumbrances, with
which, day by day, I was surrounded. If she wanted to see me, she was
not allowed by the servants to come straight upstairs. If she wanted to
touch my feet in worship, there were my socks always in the way. And
when she wanted to have a simple talk with me, she found my mind lost in
a wilderness of letters.
This time, before she left me, she folded her hands, and said: "My God!
I felt your feet in my breast this morning. Oh, how cool! And they
were bare, not covered. I held them upon my head for a long time in
worship. That filled my very being. Then, after that, pray what was
the use of my coming to you yourself? Why did I come? My Lord, tell me
truly,--wasn't it a mere infatuation?"
There were some flowers in my vase on the table. While she was there,
the gardener brought some new flowers to put in their place. The
Devotee saw him changing them.
"Is that all? " she exclaimed. "Have you done with the flowers? Then
give them to me."
She held the flowers tenderly in the cup of her hands, and began to gaze
at them with bent head. After a few moments' silence she raised her
again, and said to me: "You never look at these flowers; therefore they
become stale to you. If you would only look into them, then your
reading and writing would go to the winds."
She tied the flowers together in the end of her robe, and placed them,
in an attitude of worship, on the top of her head, saying reverently:
"Let me carry my God with me."
While she did this, I felt that flowers in our rooms do not receive
their due meed of loving care at our hands. When we stick them in
vases, they are more like a row of naughty schoolboys standing on a form
to be punished.
The Devotee came again the same evening, and sat by my feet on the
terrace of the roof.
"I gave away those flowers," she said, "as I went from house to house
this morning, singing God's name. Beni, the head man of our village,
laughed at me for my devotion, and said: `Why do you waste all this
devotion on Him? Don't you know He is reviled up and down the
countryside?' Is that true, my God? Is it true that they are hard
For a moment I shrank into myself. It was a shock to find that the
stains of printers' ink could reach so far.
The Devotee went on: "Beni imagined that he could blow out the flame of
my devotion at one breath! But this is no mere tiny flame: it is a
burning fire. Why do they abuse you, my God?"
I said: "Because I deserved it. I suppose in my greed I was loitering
about to steal people's hearts in secret."
The Devotee said: "Now you see for yourself how little their hearts are
worth. They are full of poison, and this will cure you of your greed."
"When a man," I answered, "has greed in his heart, he is always on the
verge of being beaten. The greed itself supplies his enemies with
"Our merciful God," she replied, "beats us with His own hand, and drives
away all the poison. He who endures God's beating to the end is saved."
That evening the Devotee told me the story of her life. The stars of
evening rose and set behind the trees, as she went on to the end of her
"My husband is very simple. Some people think that he is a simpleton;
but I know that those who understand simply, understand truly. In
business and household management he was able to hold his own. Because
his needs were small, and his wants few, he could manage carefully on
what we had. He would never meddle in other matters, nor try to
"Both my husband's parents died before we had been married long, and we
were left alone. But my husband always needed some one to be over him.
I am ashamed to confess that he had a sort of reverence for me, and
looked upon me as his superior. But I am sure that he could understand
things better than I, though I had greater powers of talking.
"Of all the people in the world he held his Guru Thakur (spiritual
master) in the highest veneration. Indeed it was not veneration merely
but love; and such love as his is rare.
"Guru Thakur was younger than my husband. Oh! how beautiful he was!
"My husband had played games with him when he was a boy; and from that
time forward he had dedicated his heart and soul to this friend of his
early days. Thakur knew how simple my husband was, and used to tease
"He and his comrades would play jokes upon him for their own amusement;
but he would bear them all with longsuffering.
"When I married into this family, Guru Thakur was studying at Benares.
My husband used to pay all his expenses. I was eighteen years old when
he returned home to our village.
"At the age of fifteen I had my child. I was so young I did not know
how to take care of him. I was fond of gossip, and liked to be with my
village friends for hours together. I used to get quite cross with my
boy when I was compelled to stay at home and nurse him. Alas! my
child-God came into my life, but His playthings were not ready for Him.
He came to the mother's heart, but the mother's heart lagged behind. He
left me in anger; and ever since I have been searching for Him up and
down the world.
"The boy was the joy of his father's life. My careless neglect used to
pain my husband. But his was a mute soul. He has never been able to
give expression to his pain.
"The wonderful thing was this, that in spite of my neglect the child
used to love me more than any one else. He seemed to have the dread
that I would one day go away and leave him. So even when I was with
him, he would watch me with a restless look in his eyes. He had me very
little to himself, and therefore his desire to be with me was always
painfully eager. When I went each day to the river, he used to fret and
out his little arms to be taken with me. But the bathing ghal was my
place for meeting my friends, and I did not care to burden myself with
"It was an early morning in August. Fold after fold of grey clouds had
wrapped the mid-day round with a wet clinging robe. I asked the maid to
take care of the boy, while I went down to the river. The child cried
after me as I went away.
"There was no one there at the bathing ghat when I arrived. As a
swimmer, I was the best among all the village women. The river was
quite full with the rains. I swam out into the middle of the stream
some distance from the shore.
"Then I heard a cry from the bank, 'Mother!' I turned my head and saw
my boy coming down the steps, calling me as he came. I shouted to him
to stop, but he went on, laughing and calling. My feet and hands became
cramped with fear. I shut my eyes, afraid to see. When I opened
them, there, at the slippery stairs, my boy's ripple of laughter had
disappeared for ever.
"I got back to the shore. I raised him from the water. I took him in
my arms, my boy, my darling, who had begged so often in vain for me to
take him. I took him now, but he no more looked in my eyes and called `
"My child-God had come. I had ever neglected Him. I had ever made Him
cry. And now all that neglect began to beat against my own heart, blow
upon blow, blow upon blow. When my boy was with me, I had left him
alone. I had refused to take him with me. And now, when he is dead,
his memory clings to me and never leaves me.
"God alone knows all that my husband suffered. If he had only punished
me for my sin, it would have been better for us both. But be knew only
how to endure in silence, not how to speak.
"When I was almost mad with grief, Guru Thakur came back. In earlier
days, the relation between him and my husband had been that of boyish
friendship. Now, my husband's reverence for his sanctity and learning
was unbounded. He could hardly speak in his presence, his awe of him
was so great.
"My husband asked his Guru to try to give me some consolation. Guru
Thakur began to read and explain to me the scriptures. But I do not
think they had much effect on my mind. All their value for me lay in
the voice that uttered them. God makes the draught of divine life
in the heart for man to drink, through the human voice. He has no
better vessel in His hand than that; and He Himself drinks His divine
draught out of the same vessel.
"My husband's love and veneration for his Guru filled our house, as
incense fills a temple shrine. I showed that veneration, and had peace.
I saw my God in the form of that Guru. He used to come to take his meal
at our house every morning. The first thought that would come to my
mind on waking from sleep was that of his food as a sacred gift from
God. When I prepared the things for his meal, my fingers would sing for
"When my husband saw my devotion to his Guru, his respect for me greatly
increased. He noticed his Guru's eager desire to explain the scriptures
to me. He used to think that he could never expect to earn any regard
from his Guru himself, on account of his stupidity; but his wife had
made up for it.
"Thus another five years went by happily, and my whole life would have
passed like that; but beneath the surface some stealing was going on
somewhere in secret. I could not detect it; but it was detected by the
God of my heart. Then came a day when, in a moment our whole life was
turned upside down.
"It was a morning in midsummer. I was returning home from bathing, my
clothes all wet, down a shady lane. At the bend of the road, under the
mango tree, I met my Guru Thakur. He had his towel on his shoulder and
was repeating some Sanskrit verses as he was going to take his bath.
With my wet clothes clinging all about me I was ashamed to meet him. I
tried to pass by quickly, and avoid being seen. He called me by my
"I stopped, lowering my eyes, shrinking into myself. He fixed his gaze
upon me, and said: `How beautiful is your body!'
"All the universe of birds seemed to break into song in the branches
overhead. All the bushes in the lane seemed ablaze with flowers. It
was as though the earth and sky and everything had become a riot of
"I cannot tell how I got home. I only remember that I rushed into the
room where we worship God. But the room seemed empty. Only before my
eyes those same gold spangles of light were dancing which had quivered
in front of me in that shady lane on my way back from the river.
"Guru Thakur came to take his food that day, and asked my husband where
I had gone. He searched for me, but could not find me anywhere.
"Ah! I have not the same earth now any longer. The same sunlight is
not mine. I called on my God in my dismay, and He kept His face turned
away from me.
"The day passed, I know not how. That night I had to meet my husband.
But the night is dark and silent. It is the time when my husband's mind
comes out shining, like stars at twilight. I had heard him speak things
in the dark, and I had been surprised to find how deeply he understood.
"Sometimes I am late in the evening in going to rest on account of
household work. My husband waits for me, seated on the floor, without
going to bed. Our talk at such times had often begun with something
about our Guru.
That night, when it was past midnight, I came to my room, and found my
husband sleeping on the floor. Without disturbing him I lay down on the
ground at his feet, my head towards him. Once he stretched his feet,
while sleeping, and struck me on the breast. That was his last bequest.
"Next morning, when my husband woke up from his sleep, I was already
sitting by him. Outside the window, over the thick foliage of the jack-
fruit tree, appeared the first pale red of the dawn at the fringe of the
night. It was so early that the crows had not yet begun to call.
"I bowed, and touched my husband's feet with my forehead. He sat up,
starting as if waking from a dream, and looked at my face in amazement.
"' I have made up my mind. I must leave the world. I cannot belong to
you any longer. I must leave your home.'
"Perhaps my husband thought that he was still dreaming. He said not a
Ah! do hear me l' I pleaded with infinite pain. ` Do hear me and
understand I You must marry another wife. I must take my leave.'
"My husband said: ' What is all this wild, mad talk? Who advises you to
leave the world?'
"I said: ` My Guru Thakur.'
"My husband looked bewildered. ' Guru Thakur!' he cried. ' When did he
give you this advice?'
"` In the morning,' I answered, ' yesterday, when I met him on my way
back from the river.'
"His voice trembled a little. He turned, and looked in my face, and
asked me: `Why did he give you such a behest?'
"` I do not know,' I answered. ' Ask him 1 He will tell you himself, if
"My husband said: `It is possible to leave the world, even when
continuing to live in it. You need not leave my home. I will speak to
my Guru about it.'
"` Your Guru,' I said, ` may accept your petition; but my heart will
never give its consent. I must leave your home. From henceforth, the
world is no more to me.'
"My husband remained silent, and we sat there on the floor in the dark.
When it was light, he said to me: ' Let us both came to him.'
"I folded my hands and said: ` I shall never meet him again.'
"He looked into my face. I lowered my eyes. He said no more. I knew
that, somehow, he had seen into my mind, and understood what was there.
In this world of mine, there were only two who loved me best-my boy and
my husband. That love was my God, and therefore it could brook no
falsehood. One of these two left me, and I left the other. Now I must
have truth, and truth alone."
She touched the ground at my feet, rose and bowed to me, and departed.
When I was a very young wife, I gave birth to a dead child, and came
near to death myself. I recovered strength very slowly, and my eyesight
became weaker and weaker.
My husband at this time was studying medicine. He was not altogether
sorry to have a chance of testing his medical knowledge on me. So he
began to treat my eyes himself.
My elder brother was reading for his law examination. One day he came
to see me, and was alarmed at my condition.
"What are you doing?" he said to my husband. "You are ruining Kumo's
eyes. You ought to consult a good doctor at once."
My husband said irritably: "Why! what can a good doctor do more than I
am doing? The case is quite a simple one, and the remedies are all well
Dada answered with scorn: "I suppose you think there is no difference
between you and a Professor in your own Medical College."
My husband replied angrily: "If you ever get married, and there is a
dispute about your wife's property, you won't take my advice about Law.
Why, then, do you now come advising me about Medicine?"
While they were quarrelling, I was saying to myself that it was always
the poor grass that suffered most when two kings went to war. Here was
a dispute going on between these two, and I had to bear the brunt of it.
It also seemed to me very unfair that, when my family had given me in
marriage, they should interfere afterwards. After all, my pleasure and
pain are my husband's concern, not theirs.
>From that day forward, merely over this trifling matter of my eyes, the
bond between my husband and Dada was strained.
To my surprise one afternoon, while my husband was away, Dada brought a
doctor in to see me. He examined my eyes very carefully, and looked
grave. He said that further neglect would be dangerous. He wrote out a
prescription, and Dada for the medicine at once. When the strange
doctor had gone, I implored my Dada not to interfere. I was sure that
only evil would come from the stealthy visits of a doctor.
I was surprised at myself for plucking up courage speak to my brother
like that. I had always hitherto been afraid of him. I am sure also
that Dada was surprised at my boldness. He kept silence for a while,
and then said to me: "Very well, Kumo. I won't call in the doctor any
more. But when the medicine comes you must take it."
Dada then went away. The medicine came from chemist. I took it--
bottles, powders, prescriptions and all--and threw it down the well!
My husband had been irritated by Dada's interference, and he began to
treat my eyes with greater diligence than ever. He tried all sorts of
remedies. I bandaged my eyes as he told me, I wore his coloured
glasses, I put in his drops, I took all his powders. I even drank the
cod-liver oil he gave me, though my gorge rose against it.
Each time he came back from the hospital, he would ask me anxiously how
I felt; and I would answer: "Oh! much better." Indeed I became an
expert in self-delusion. When I found that the water in my eyes was
still increasing, I would console myself with the thought that it was a
good thing to get rid of so much bad fluid; and, when the flow of water
in my eyes decreased, I was elated at my husband's skill.
But after a while the agony became unbearable. My eyesight faded away,
and I had continual headaches day and night. I saw how much alarmed my
husband was getting. I gathered from his manner that he was casting
about for a pretext to call in a doctor. So I hinted that it might be
as well to call one in.
That he was greatly relieved, I could see. He called in an English
doctor that very day. I do not know what talk they had together, but I
gathered that the Sahib had spoken very sharply to my husband.
He remained silent for some time after the doctor had gone. I took his
hands in mine, and said: "What an ill-mannered brute that was! Why
didn't you call in an Indian doctor? That would have been much better.
Do you think that man knows better than you do about my eyes?"
My husband was very silent for a moment, and then said with a broken
voice: "Kumo, your eyes must be operated on."
I pretended to be vexed with him for concealing the fact from me so
"Here you have known this all the time," said I, "and yet you have said
nothing about it! Do you think I am such a baby as to be afraid of an
At that be regained his good spirits: "There are very few men," said he,
"who are heroic enough to look forward to an operation without
I laughed at him: "Yes, that is so. Men are heroic only before their
He looked at me gravely, and said: "You are perfectly right. We men are
I laughed away his seriousness: "Are you sure you can beat us women even
in vanity? "
When Dada came, I took him aside: "Dada, that treatment your doctor
recommended would have done me a world of good; only unfortunately. I
mistook the mixture for the lotion. And since the day I made the
mistake, my eyes have grown steadily worse; and now an operation is
Dada said to me: "You were under your husband's treatment, and that is
why I gave up coming to visit you."
"No," I answered. "In reality, I was secretly treating myself in
accordance with your doctor's directions."
Oh! what lies we women have to tell! When we are mothers, we tell lies
to pacify our children; and when we are wives, we tell lies to pacify
the fathers of our children. We are never free from this necessity.
My deception had the effect of bringing about a better feeling between
my husband and Dada. Dada blamed himself for asking me to keep a secret
from my husband: and my husband regretted that he had not taken my
brother's advice at the first.
At last, with the consent of both, an English doctor came, and operated
on my left eye. That eye, however, was too weak to bear the strain; and
the last flickering glimmer of light went out. Then the other eye
gradually lost itself in darkness.
One day my husband came to my bedside. "I cannot brazen it out before
you any longer," said he, "Kumo, it is I who have ruined your eyes."
I felt that his voice was choking with tears, and so I took up his right
hand in both of mine and said: "Why! you did exactly what was right.
You have dealt only with that which was your very own. Just imagine, if
some strange doctor had come and taken away my eyesight. What
consolation should I have had then? But now I can feel that all has
happened for the best; and my great comfort is to know that it is at
your hands I have lost my eyes. When Ramchandra found one lotus too few
with which to worship God, he offered both his eyes in place of the
lotus. And I hate dedicated my eyes to my God. From now, whenever you
see something that is a joy to you, then you must describe it to me; and
I will feed upon your words as a sacred gift left over from your
I do not mean, of course, that I said all this there and then, for it is
impossible to speak these things an the spur of the moment. But I used
to think over words like these for days and days together. And when I
was very depressed, or if at any time the light of my devotion became
dim, and I pitied my evil fate, then I made my mind utter these
sentences, one by one, as a child repeats a story that is told. And so
I could breathe once more the serener air of peace and love.
At the very time of our talk together, I said enough to show my husband
what was in my heart.
"Kumo," he said to me, "the mischief I have done by my folly can never
be made good. But I can do one thing. I can ever remain by your side,
and try to make up for your want of vision as much as is in my power."
"No," said I. "That will never do. I shall not ask you to turn your
house into an hospital for the blind. There is only one thing to be
done, you must marry again."
As I tried to explain to him that this was necessary, my voice broke a
little. I coughed, and tried to hide my emotion, but he burst out
"Kumo, I know I am a fool, and a braggart, and all that, but I am not a
villain! If ever I marry again, I swear to you--I swear to you the most
solemn oath by my family god, Gopinath--may that most hated of all sins,
the sin of parricide, fall on my head!"
Ah! I should never, never have allowed him to swear that dreadful oath.
But tears were choking my voice, and I could not say a word for
insufferable joy. I hid my blind face in my pillows, and sobbed, and
sobbed again. At last, when the first flood of my tears was over, I
drew his head down to my breast.
"Ah I " said I, "why did you take such a terrible oath? Do you think I
asked you to marry again for your own sordid pleasure? No! I was
thinking of myself, for she could perform those services which were mine
to give you when I had my sight."
"Services! " said he, "services! Those can be done by servants. Do you
think I am mad enough to bring a slave into my house, and bid her share
the throne with this my Goddess?"
As he said the word "Goddess," he held up my face in his hands, and
placed a kiss between my brows. At that moment the third eye of divine
wisdom was opened, where he kissed me, and verily I had a consecration.
I said in my own mind: "It is well. I am no longer able to serve him in
the lower world of household cares. But I shall rise to a higher
region. I shall bring down blessings from above. No more lies! No
more deceptions for me! All the littlenesses and hypocrisies of my
former life shall be banished for ever!"
That day, the whole day through, I felt a conflict going on within me.
The joy of the thought, that after this solemn oath it was impossible
for my husband to marry again, fixed its roots deep in my heart, and I
could not tear them out. But the new Goddess, who had taken her new
throne in me, said: "The time might come when it would be good for your
husband to break his oath and marry again." But the woman, who was
within me, said: "That may be; but all the same an oath is an oath, and
there is no way out." The Goddess, who was within me, answered: "That
is no reason why you should exult over it." But the woman, who was
within me, replied: "What you say is quite true, no doubt; all the same
he has taken his oath." And the same story went on again and again. At
last the Goddess frowned in silence, and the darkness of a horrible fear
came down upon me.
My repentant husband would not let the servants do my work; he must do
it all himself. At first it gave me unbounded delight to be dependent
on him thus for every little thing. It was a means of keeping him by my
side, and my desire to have him with me had become intense since my
blindness. That share of his presence, which my eyes had lost, my other
senses craved. When he was absent from my side, I would feel as if I
were hanging in mid-air, and had lost my hold of all things tangible.
Formerly, when my husband came back late from the hospital, I used to
open my window and gaze at the road. That road was the link which
connected his world with mine. Now when I had lost that link through my
blindness, all my body would go out to seek him. The bridge that united
us had given way, and there was now this unsurpassable chasm. When he
left my side the gulf seemed to yawn wide open. I could only wait for
the time when he should cross back again from his own shore to mine.
But such intense longing and such utter dependence can never be good. A
wife is a burden enough to a man, in all conscience, and to add to it
the burden of this blindness was to make his life unbearable. I vowed
that I would suffer alone, and never wrap my husband round in the folds
of my all-pervading darkness.
Within an incredibly short space of time I managed to train myself to do
all my household duties by the help of touch and sound and smell. In
fact I soon found that I could get on with greater skill than before.
For sight often distracts rather than helps us. And so it came to pass
that, when these roving eyes of mine could do their work no longer, all
the other senses took up their several duties with quietude and
When I had gained experience by constant practice, I would not let my
husband do any more household duties for me. He complained bitterly at
first that I was depriving him of his penance.
This did not convince me. Whatever he might say, I could feel that he
had a real sense of relief when these household duties were over. To
serve daily a wife who is blind can never make up the life of a man.
My husband at last had finished his medical course. He went away from
Calcutta to a small town to practise as a doctor. There in the country
I felt with joy, through all my blindness, that I was restored to the
arms of my mother. I had left my village birthplace for Calcutta when I
was eight years old. Since then ten years had passed away, and in the
great city the memory of my village home had grown dim. As long as I
had eyesight, Calcutta with its busy life screened from view the memory
of my early days. But when I lost my eyesight I knew for the first time
that Calcutta allured only the eyes: it could not fill the mind. And
now, in my blindness, the scenes of my childhood shone out once more,
like stars that appear one by one in the evening sky at the end of the
It was the beginning of November when we left Calcutta for Harsingpur.
The place was new to me, but the scents and sounds of the countryside
pressed round and embraced me. The morning breeze coming fresh from the
newly ploughed land, the sweet and tender smell of the flowering
mustard, the shepherd-boy's flute sounding in the distance, even the
creaking noise of the bullock-cart, as it groaned over the broken
village road, filled my world with delight. The memory of my past life,
with all its ineffable fragrance and sound, became a living present to
me, and my blind eyes could not tell me I was wrong. I went back, and
lived over again my childhood. Only one thing was absent: my mother was
not with me.
I could see my home with the large peepul trees growing along the edge
of the village pool. I could picture in my mind's eye my old
grandmother seated on the ground with her thin wisps of hair untied,
warming her back in the sun as she made the little round lentil balls to
be dried and used for cooking. But somehow I could not recall the songs
she used to croon to herself in her weak and quavering voice. In the
evening, whenever I heard the lowing of cattle, I could almost watch the
figure of my mother going round the sheds with lighted lamp in her hand.
The smell of the wet fodder and the pungent smoke of the straw fire
would enter into my very heart. And in the distance I seemed to hear
the clanging of the temple bell wafted up by the breeze from the river
Calcutta, with all its turmoil and gossip, curdles the heart. There,
all the beautiful duties of life lose their freshness and innocence. I
remember one day, when a friend of mine came in, and said to me: "Kumo,
why don't you feel angry? If I had been treated like you by my husband,
I would never look upon his face again."
She tried to make me indignant, because he had been so long calling in a
"My blindness," said I, "was itself a sufficient evil. Why should I
make it worse by allowing hatred to grow up against my husband?"
My friend shook her head in great contempt, when she heard such old-
fashioned talk from the lips of a mere chit of a girl. She went away in
disdain. But whatever might be my answer at the time, such words as
these left their poison; and the venom was never wholly got out of the
soul, when once they had been uttered.
So you see Calcutta, with its never-ending gossip, does harden the
heart. But when I came back to the country all my earlier hopes and
faiths, all that I held true in life during childhood, became fresh and
bright once more. God came to me, and filled my heart and my world. I
bowed to Him, and said:
"It is well that Thou has taken away my eyes. Thou art with me."
Ah! But I said more than was right. It was a presumption to say: "Thou
art with me." All we can say is this: "I must be true to Thee." Even
when nothing is left for us, still we have to go on living.
We passed a few happy months together. My husband gained some
reputation in his profession as a doctor. And money came with it.
But there is a mischief in money. I cannot point to any one event; but,
because the blind have keener perceptions than other people, I could
discern the change which came over my husband along with the increase of
He had a keen sense of justice when he was younger, and had often told
me of his great desire to help the poor when once he obtained a practice
of his own. He had a noble contempt far those in his profession who
would not feel the pulse of a poor patient before collecting his fee.
But now I noticed a difference. He had become strangely hard. Once
when a poor woman came, and begged him, out of charity, to save the life
of her only child, he bluntly refused. And when I implored him myself
to help her, he did his work perfunctorily.
While we were less rich my husband disliked sharp practice in money
matters. He was scrupulously honourable in such things. But since he
had got a large account at the bank he was often closeted for hours with
some scamp of a landlord's agent, for purposes which clearly boded no
Where has he drifted? What has become of this husband of mine, --the
husband I knew before I was blind; the husband who kissed me that day
between my brows, and enshrined me on the throne of a Goddess? Those
whom a sudden gust of passion brings down to the dust can rise up
again with a new strong impulse of goodness. But those who, day by day,
become dried up in the very fibre of their moral being; those who by
some outer parasitic growth choke the inner life by slow degrees,--such
wench one day a deadness which knows no healing.
The separation caused by blindness is the merest physical trifle. But,
ah! it suffocates me to find that he is no longer with me, where he
stood with me in that hour when we both knew that I was blind. That is
a separation indeed!
I, with my love fresh and my faith unbroken, have kept to the shelter of
my heart's inner shrine. But my husband has left the cool shade of
those things that are ageless and unfading. He is fast disappearing
into the barren, waterless waste in his mad thirst for gold.
Sometimes the suspicion comes to me that things not so bad as they seem:
that perhaps I exaggerate because I am blind. It may be that, if my
eyesight were unimpaired, I should have accepted world as I found it.
This, at any rate, was the light in which my husband looked at all my
moods and fancies.
One day an old Musalman came to the house. He asked my husband to visit
his little grand-daughter. I could hear the old man say: "Baba, I am a
poor man; but come with me, and Allah will do you good." My husband
answered coldly: "What Allah will do won't help matters; I want to know
what you can do for me."
When I heard it, I wondered in my mind why God had not made me deaf as
well as blind. The old man heaved a deep sigh, and departed. I sent
my maid to fetch him to my room. I met him at the door of the inner
apartment, and put some money into his hand.
"Please take this from me," said I, "for your little grand-daughter, and
get a trustworthy doctor to look after her. And-pray for my husband."
But the whole of that day I could take no food at all. In the
afternoon, when my husband got up from sleep, he asked me: "Why do you
look so pale?"
I was about to say, as I used to do in the past: "Oh! It's nothing ";
but those days of deception were over, and I spoke to him plainly.
"I have been hesitating," I said, "for days together to tell you
something. It has been hard to think out what exactly it was I wanted
to say. Even now I may not be able to explain what I had in my mind.
But I am sure you know what has happened. Our lives have drifted
My husband laughed in a forced manner, and said: "Change is the law of
I said to him: "I know that. But there are some things that are
Then he became serious.
"There are many women," said he, "who have a real cause for sorrow.
There are some whose husbands do not earn money. There are others whose
husbands do not love them. But you are making yourself wretched about
nothing at all."
Then it became clear to me that my very blindness had conferred on me
the power of seeing a world which is beyond all change. Yes! It is
I am not like other women. And my husband will never understand me.
Our two lives went on with their dull routine for some time. Then there
was a break in the monotony. An aunt of my husband came to pay us a
The first thing she blurted out after our first greeting was this:
"Well, Krum, it's a great pity you have become blind; but why do you
impose your own affliction on your husband? You must get him to another
There was an awkward pause. If my husband had only said something in
jest, or laughed in her face, all would have been over. But he
stammered and hesitated, and said at last in a nervous, stupid way: "Do
you really think so? Really, Aunt, you shouldn't talk like that"
His aunt appealed to me. "Was I wrong, Kumo?"
I laughed a hollow laugh.
"Had not you better," said I, "consult some one more competent to
decide? The pickpocket never asks permission from the man whose pocket
he is going to pick."
"You are quite right," she replied blandly. "Abinash, my dear, let us
have our little conference in private. What do you say to that?"
After a few days my husband asked her, in my presence, if she knew of
any girl of a decent family who could come and help me in my household
work. He knew quite well that I needed no help. I kept silence.
"Oh! there are heaps of them," replied his aunt. "My cousin has a
daughter who is just of the marriageable age, and as nice a girl as you
could wish. Her people would be only too glad to secure you as a
Again there came from him that forced, hesitating laugh, and he said:
"But I never mentioned marriage."
"How could you expect," asked his aunt, "a girl of decent family to come
and live in your house without marriage? "
He had to admit that this was reasonable, and remained nervously silent.
I stood alone within the closed doors of my blindness after he had gone,
and called upon my God and prayed: "O God, save my husband."
When I was coming out of the household shrine from my morning worship a
few days later, his aunt took hold of both my hands warmly.
"Kumo, here is the girl," said she, "we were speaking about the other
day. Her name is Hemangini. She will be delighted to meet you. Hemo,
come here and be introduced to your sister."
My husband entered the room at the same moment. He feigned surprise
when he saw the strange girl, and was about to retire. But his aunt
said: "Abinash, my dear, what are you running away for? There is no
need to do that. Here is my cousin's daughter, Hemangini, come to see
you. Hemo, make your bow to him."
As if taken quite by surprise, he began to ply his aunt with questions
about the when and why and how of the new arrival.
I saw the hollowness of the whole thing, and took Hemangini by the hand
and led her to my own room. I gently stroked her face and arms and
hair, and found that she was about fifteen years old, and very
As I felt her face, she suddenly burst out laughing and said: "Why!
what are you doing? Are you hypnotising me?"
That sweet ringing laughter of hers swept away in a moment all the dark
clouds that stood between us. I threw my right arm about her neck.
"Dear one," said I, "I am trying to see you." And again I stroked her
soft face with my left hand.
"Trying to see me? " she said, with a new burst of laughter. "Am I like
a vegetable marrow, grown in your garden, that you want to feel me all
round to see how soft I am?"
I suddenly bethought me that she did not know I had lost my sight.
"Sister, I am blind," said I.
She was silent. I could feel her big young eyes, full of curiosity,
peering into my face. I knew they were full of pity. Then she grew
thoughtful and puzzled, and said, after a short pause:
"Oh! I see now. That was the reason your husband invited his aunt to
come and stay here."
"No!" I replied, "you are quite mistaken. He did not ask her to come.
She came of her own accord."
Hemangini went off into a peal of laughter. "That's just like my aunt,"
said she. "Oh I wasn't it nice of her to come without any invitation?
But now she's come, you won't get her to move for some time, I can
Then she paused, and looked puzzled.
"But why did father send me?" she asked. "Can you tell me that? "
The aunt had come into the room while we were talking. Hemangini said
to her: "When are you thinking of going back, Aunt? "
The aunt looked very much upset.
"What a question to ask!" said she, "I've never seen such a restless
body as you. We've only just come, and you ask when we're going back!"
"It is all very well for you," Hemangini said, "for this house belongs
to your near relations. But what about me? I tell you plainly I can't
stop here." And then she held my hand and said: "What do you think,
I drew her to my heart, but said nothing. The aunt was in a great
difficulty. She felt the situation was getting beyond her control; so
she proposed that she and her niece should go out together to bathe.
"No! we two will go together," said Hemangini, clinging to me. The
aunt gave in, fearing opposition if she tried to drag her away.
Going down to the river Hemangini asked me: "Why don't you have
I was startled by her question, and answered: "How can I tell? My God
has not given me any. That is the reason."
"No! That's not the reason," said Hemangini quickly. "You must have
committed some sin. Look at my aunt. She is childless. It must be
because her heart has some wickedness. But what wickedness is in your
The words hurt me. I have no solution to offer for the problem of evil.
I sighed deeply, and said in the silence of my soul: "My God! Thou
knowest the reason."
"Gracious goodness," cried Hemangini, "what are you sighing for? No one
ever takes me seriously."
And her laughter pealed across the river.
I found out after this that there were constant interruptions in my
husband's professional duties. He refused all calls from a distance,
and would hurry away from his patients, even when they were close at
Formerly it was only during the mid-day meals and at night-time that he
could come into the inner apartment. But now, with unnecessary anxiety
for his aunt's comfort, he began to visit her at all hours of the day.
I knew at once that he had come to her room, when I heard her shouting
for Hemangini to bring in a glass of water. At first the girl would do
what she was told; but later on she refused altogether.
Then the aunt would call, in an endearing voice: "Hemo! Hemo!
Hemangini." But the girl would cling to me with an impulse of pity. A
sense of dread and sadness would keep her silent. Sometimes she would
shrink towards me like a hunted thing, who scarcely knew what was
About this time my brother came down from Calcutta to visit me. I knew
how keen his powers of observation were, and what a hard judge he was.
I feared my husband would be put on his defence, and have to stand his
trial before him. So I endeavoured to hide the true situation
behind a mask of noisy cheerfulness. But I am afraid I overdid the
part: it was unnatural for me.
My husband began to fidget openly, and asked bow long my brother was
going to stay. At last his impatience became little short of insulting,
and my brother had no help for it but to leave. Before going he placed
his hand on my head, and kept it there for some time. I noticed that
his hand shook, and a tear fell from his eyes, as he silently gave me
I well remember that it was an evening in April, and a market-day.
People who had come into the town were going back home from market.
There was the feeling of an impending storm in the air; the smell of the
wet earth and the moisture in the wind were all-pervading. I never
keep a lighted lamp in my bedroom, when I am alone, lest my clothes
should catch fire, or some accident happen. I sat on the floor in my
dark room, and called upon the God of my blind world.
"O my Lord," I cried, "Thy face is hidden. I cannot see. I am blind.
I hold tight this broken rudder of a heart till my hands bleed. The
waves have become too strong for me. How long wilt thou try me, my God,
I kept my head prone upon the bedstead and began to sob. As I did so, I
felt the bedstead move a little. The next moment Hemangini was by my
side. She clung to my neck, and wiped my tears away silently. I do not
know why she had been waiting that evening in the inner room, or why
she had been lying alone there in the dusk. She asked me no question.
She said no word. She simply placed her cool hand on my forehead, and
kissed me, and departed.
The next morning Hemangini said to her aunt in my presence : "If you
want to stay on, you can. But I don't. I'm going away home with our
The aunt said there was no need for her to go alone, for she was going
away also. Then smilingly and mincingly she brought out, from a plush
case, a ring set with pearls.
"Look, Hemo," said she, "what a beautiful ring my Abinash brought for
Hemangini snatched the ring from her hand.
"Look, Aunt," she answered quickly, "just see how splendidly I aim."
And she flung the ring into the tank outside the window.
The aunt, overwhelmed with alarm, vexation, and surprise, bristled like
a hedgehog. She turned to me, and held me by the hand.
"Kumo," she repeated again and again, "don't say a word about this
childish freak to Abinash. He would be fearfully vexed."
I assured her that she need not fear. Not a word would reach him about
it from my lips.
The next day before starting for home Hemangini embraced me, and said:
"Dearest, keep me in mind; do not forget me."
I stroked her face over and over with my fingers, and said: "Sister, the
blind have long memories."
I drew her head towards me, and kissed her hair and her forehead. My
world suddenly became grey. All the beauty and laughter and tender
youth, which had nestled so close to me, vanished when Hemangini
departed. I went groping about with arms outstretched, seeking to find
out what was left in my deserted world.
My husband came in later. He affected a great relief now that they were
gone, but it was exaggerated and empty. He pretended that his aunt's
visit had kept him away from work.
Hitherto there had been only the one barrier of blindness between me and
my husband. Now another barrier was added, --this deliberate silence
about Hemangini. He feigned utter indifference, but I knew he was
having letters about her.
It was early in May. My maid entered my room one morning, and asked me:
"What is all this preparation going on at the landing on the river?
Where is Master going?"
I knew there was something impending, but I said to the maid: "I can't
The maid did not dare to ask me any more questions. She sighed, and
Late that night my husband came to me.
"I have to visit a patient in the country," said he. "I shall have to
start very early to-morrow morning, and I may have to be away for two or
I got up from my bed. I stood before him, and cried aloud: "Why are you
telling me lies?"
My husband stammered out: "What--what lies have I told you?"
I said: "You are going to get married."
He remained silent. For some moments there was no sound in the room.
Then I broke the silence:
"Answer me," I cried. "Say, yes."
He answered, "Yes," like a feeble echo.
I shouted out with a loud voice: "No! I shall never allow you. I shall
save you from this great disaster, this dreadful sin. If I fail in
this, then why am I your wife, and why did I ever worship my God?"
The room remained still as a stone. I dropped on the floor, and clung
to my husband's knees.
"What have I done?" I asked. "Where have I been lacking? Tell me
truly. Why do you want another wife?"
My husband said slowly: "I will tell you the truth. I am afraid of you.
Your blindness has enclosed you in its fortress, and I have now no
entrance. To me you are no longer a woman. You are awful as my God. I
cannot live my every day life with you. I want a woman--just an
ordinary woman--whom I can be free to chide and coax and pet and scold."
Oh, tear open my heart and see! What am I else but that, --just an
ordinary woman? I am the same girl that I was when I was newly wed, a
girl with all her need to believe, to confide, to worship.
I do not recollect exactly the words that I uttered. I only remember
that I said: "If I be a true wife, then, may God be my witness, you
shall never do this wicked deed, you shall never break your oath.
Before you commit such sacrilege, either I shall become a widow, or
Hemangini shall die."
Then I fell down on the floor in a swoon. When I came to myself, it was
still dark. The birds were silent. My husband had gone.
All that day I sat at my worship in the sanctuary at the household
shrine. In the evening a fierce storm, with thunder and lightning and
rain, swept down upon the house and shook it. As I crouched before the
shrine, I did not ask my God to save my husband from the storm, though
he must have been at that time in peril on the river. I prayed that
whatever might happen to me, my husband might be saved from this great
Night passed. The whole of the next day I kept my seat at worship.
When it was evening there was the noise of shaking and beating at the
door. When the door was broken open, they found me lying unconscious on
the ground, and carried me to my room.
When I came to myself at last, I heard some one whispering in my ear:
I found that I was lying in my room with my head on Hemangini's lap.
When my head moved, I heard her dress rustle. It was the sound of
O my God, my God! My prayer has gone unheeded! My husband has fallen!
Hemangini bent her head low, and said in a sweet whisper: "Sister,
dearest, I have come to ask your blessing on our marriage."
At first my whole body stiffened like the trunk of a tree that has been
struck by lightning. Then I sat up, and said, painfully, forcing myself
to speak the words: "Why should I not bless you? You have done no
Hemangini laughed her merry laugh.
"Wrong!" said she. "When you married it was right; and when I marry, you
call it wrong! "
I tried to smile in answer to her laughter. I said in my mind: "My
prayer is not the final thing in this world. His will is all. Let the
blows descend upon my head; but may they leave my faith and hope in God
Hemangini bowed to me, and touched my feet. "May you be happy," said I,
blessing her, "and enjoy unbroken prosperity."
Hemangini was still unsatisfied.
"Dearest sister," she said, "a blessing for me is not enough. You must
make our happiness complete. You must, with those saintly hands of
yours, accept into your home my husband also. Let me bring him to you."
I said: "Yes, bring him to me."
A few moments later I heard a familiar footstep, and the question,
"Kumo, how are you ? "
I started up, and bowed to the ground, and cried: "Dada! "
Hemangini burst out laughing.
"You still call him elder brother?" she asked. "What nonsense! Call him
younger brother now, and pull his ears and cease him, for he has married
me, your younger sister."
Then I understood. My husband had been saved from that great sin. He
had not fallen.
I knew my Dada had determined never to marry. And, since my mother had
died, there was no sacred wish of hers to implore him to wedlock. But
I, his sister, by my sore need bad brought it to pass. He had married
for my sake.
Tears of joy gushed from my eyes, and poured down my cheeks. I tried,
but I could not stop them. Dada slowly passed his fingers through my
hair. Hemangini clung to me, and went on laughing.
I was lying awake in my bed for the best part of the night, waiting with
straining anxiety for my husband's return. I could not imagine how he
would bear the shock of shame and disappointment.
When it was long past the hour of midnight, slowly my door opened. I
sat up on my bed, and listened. They were the footsteps of my husband.
My heart began to beat wildly. He came up to my bed, held my band in
"Your Dada," said he, "has saved me from destruction. I was being
dragged down and down by a moments madness. An infatuation had seized
me, from which I seemed unable to escape. God alone knows what a load I
was carrying on that day when I entered the boat. The storm came down
on river, and covered the sky. In the midst of all fears I had a secret
wish in my heart to be drowned, and so disentangle my life from the knot
which I had tied it. I reached Mathurganj. There I heard the news which
set me free. Your brother had married Hemangini. I cannot tell you
with what joy and shame I heard it. I hastened on board the boat again.
In that moment of self-revelation I knew that I could have no happiness
except with you. You are a Goddess."
I laughed and cried at the same time, and said: "No, no, no! I am not
going to be a Goddess any longer I am simply your own little wife. I am
an ordinary woman."
"Dearest," he replied, "I have also something I want to say to you.
Never again put me to shame by calling me your God."
On the next day the little town became joyous with sound of conch
shells. But nobody made any reference to that night of madness, when
all was so nearly lost.
THE BABUS OF NAYANJORE
Once upon a time the Babus of Nayanjore were famous landholders. They
were noted for their princely extravagance. They would tear off the
rough border of their Dacca muslin, because it rubbed against their
skin. They could spend many thousands of rupees over the wedding of a
kitten. On a certain grand occasion it is alleged that in order to
turn night into day they lighted numberless lamps and showered silver
threads from the sky to imitate sunlight. Those were the days before the
flood. The flood came. The line of succession among these old-world
Babus, with their lordly habits, could not continue for long. Like a
lamp with too many wicks burning, the oil flared away quickly, and the
light went out.
Kailas Babu, our neighbour, is the last relic of this extinct
magnificence. Before he grew up, his family had very nearly reached its
lowest ebb. When his father died, there was one dazzling outburst of
funeral extravagance, and then insolvency. The property was sold to
liquidate the debt. What little ready money was left over was altogether
insufficient to keep up the past ancestral splendours.
Kailas Babu left Nayanjore, and came to Calcutta. His son did not remain
long in this world of faded glory. He died, leaving behind him an only
In Calcutta we are Kailas Baba's neighbours. Curiously enough our own
family history is just the opposite to his. My father got his money by
his own exertions, and prided himself on never spending a penny more
than was needed. His clothes were those of a working man, and his hands
also. He never had any inclination to earn the title of Baba by
extravagant display, and I myself his only son, owe him gratitude for
that. He gave me the very best education, and I was able to make my way
in the world. I am not ashamed of the fact that I am a self-made man.
Crisp bank-notes in my safe are dearer to me than a long pedigree in an
empty family chest.
I believe this was why I disliked seeing Kailas Baba drawing his heavy
cheques on the public credit from the bankrupt bank of his ancient Babu
reputation I used to fancy that he looked down on me, because my father
had earned money with his own hands.
I ought to have noticed that no one showed any vexation towards Kailas
Babu except myself. Indeed it would have been difficult to find an old
man who did less harm than he. He was always ready with his kindly
little acts of courtesy in times of sorrow and joy. He would join in all
the ceremonies and religious observances of his neighbours. His familiar
smile would greet young and old alike. His politeness in asking details
about domestic affairs was untiring. The friends who met him in the
street were perforce ready to be button-holed, while a long string of
questions of this kind followed one another from his lips:
"My dear friend, I am delighted to see you. Are quite well? How is
Shashi? and Dada—is he all right? Do you know, I've only just heard that
Madhu's son has got fever. How is he? Have you heard? And Hari Charan
Babu—I've not seen him for a long time--I hope he is not ill. What's the
matter with Rakkhal? And, er--er, how are the ladies of your family?"
Kailas Balm was spotlessly neat in his dress on all occasions, though
his supply of clothes was sorely limited. Every day he used to air his
shirts and vests and coats and trousers carefully, and put them out in
the sun, along with his bed-quilt, his pillowcase, and the small carpet
on which he always sat. After airing them he would shake them, and brush
them, and put them on the rock. His little bits of furniture made his
small room decent, and hinted that there was more in reserve if needed.
Very often, for want of a servant, he would shut up his house for a
while. Then he would iron out his shirts and linen with his own hands,
and do other little menial tasks. After this he would open his door and
receive his friends again.
Though Kailas Balm, as I have said, had lost all his landed property, he
had still same family heirlooms left. There was a silver cruet for
sprinkling scented water, a filigree box for otto-of-roses, a small gold
salver, a costly ancient shawl, and the old-fashioned ceremonial dress
and ancestral turban. These he had rescued with the greatest difficulty
from the money-lenders' clutches. On every suitable occasion he would
bring them out in state, and thus try to save the world-famed
dignity of the Babus of Nayanjore. At heart the most modest of men, in
his daily speech he regarded it as a sacred duty, owed to his rank, to
give free play to his family pride. His friends would encourage this
trait in his character with kindly good-humour, and it gave them great
The neighbourhood soon learnt to call him their Thakur Dada
(Grandfather). They would flock to his house, and sit with him for hours
together. To prevent his incurring any expense, one or other of his
friends would bring him tobacco, and say: " Thakur Dada, this morning
some tobacco was sent to me from Gaya. Do take it, and see how you like
Thakur Dada would take it, and say it was excellent. He would then go on
to tell of a certain exquisite tobacco which they once smoked in the old
days at Nayanjore at the cost of a guinea an ounce.
"I wonder," he used to say, "I wonder if any one would like to try it
now. I have some left, and can get it at once"
Every one knew, that, if they asked for it, then somehow or other the
key of the cupboard would he missing; or else Ganesh, his old family
servant, had put it away somewhere.
"You never can be sure," he would add, " where things go to when
servants are about. Now, this Ganesh of mine,- I can't tell you what a
fool he is, but I haven't the heart to dismiss him."
Ganesh, for the credit of the family, was quite ready to bear all the
blame without a word.
One of the company usually said at this point: "Never mind, Thakur Dada.
Please don't trouble to look for it. This tobacco we're smoking will do
quite well. The other would be too strong."
Then Thakur Dada would be relieved, and settle down again, and the talk
would go on.
When his guests got up to go away, Thakur Dada would accompany them to
the door, and say to them on the door-step: "Oh, by the way, when are
you all coming to dine with me?"
One or other of us would answer: "Not just yet, Thakur Dada, not just
yet. We'll fix a day later."
"Quite right," he would answer. "Quite right. We had much better wait
till the rains come. It's too hot now. And a grand rich dinner such as I
should want to give you would upset us in weather like this."
But when the rains did come, every one careful not to remind him of his
promise. If the subject was brought up, some friend would suggest gently
that it was very inconvenient to get about when the rains were so
severe, that it would be much better to wait till they were over. And so
the game went on.
His poor lodging was much too small for his position, and we used to
condole with him about it. His friends would assure him they quite
understood his difficulties: it was next to impossible to get a decent
house in Calcutta. Indeed, they had all been looking out for years for a
house to suit him, but, I need hardly add, no friend had been foolish
enough to find one. Thakur Dada used to say, after a long sigh of
resignation: " Well, well, I suppose I shall have to put up with this
house after all." Then he would add with a genial smile: "But, you know,
I could never bear to he away from my friends. I must be near you. That
really compensates for everything."
Somehow I felt all this very deeply indeed. I suppose the real reason
was, that when a man is young stupidity appears to him the worst of
crimes. Kailas Babu was not really stupid. In ordinary business matters
every one was ready to consult him.
But with regard to Nayanjore his utterances were certainly void of
common sense. Because, out of amused affection for him, no one
contradicted his impossible statements, he refused to keep them in
bounds. When people recounted in his hearing the glorious history of
Nayanjore with absurd exaggerations he would accept all they said with
the utmost gravity, and never doubted, even in his dreams, that any one
could disbelieve it.
When I sit down and try to analyse the thoughts and feelings that I had
towards Kailas Babu I see that there was a still deeper reason for my
dislike. I will now explain.
Though I am the son of a rich man, and might have wasted time at
college, my industry was such that I took my M.A. degree in Calcutta
University when quite young. My moral character was flawless. In
addition, my outward appearance was so handsome, that if I were to call
myself beautiful, it might be thought a mark of self-estimation, but
could not be considered an untruth.
There could be no question that among the young men of Bengal I was
regarded by parents generally as a very eligible match. I was myself
quite clear on the point, and had determined to obtain my full value in
the marriage market. When I pictured my choice, I had before my mind's
eye a wealthy father's only daughter, extremely beautiful and highly
educated. Proposals came pouring in to me from far and near; large sums
in cash were offered. I weighed these offers with rigid impartiality, in
the delicate scales of my own estimation. But there was no one fit to be
my partner. I became convinced, with the poet Bhabavuti, that
In this worlds endless time and boundless space
One may be born at last to match my sovereign grace.
But in this puny modern age, and this contracted space of modern Bengal,
it was doubtful if the peerless creature existed as yet.
Meanwhile my praises were sung in many tunes, and in different metres,
by designing parents.
Whether I was pleased with their daughters or not, this worship which
they offered was never unpleasing. I used to regard it as my proper due,
because I was so good. We are told that when the gods withhold their
boons from mortals they still expect their worshippers to pay them
fervent honour, and are angry if it is withheld. I had that divine
expectance strongly developed in myself.
I have already mentioned that Thakur Dada had an only grand-daughter. I
had seen her many times, but had never mistaken her for beautiful. No
thought had ever entered my mind that she would be a possible partner
for myself. All the same, it seemed quite certain to me that some day
ox other Kailas Babu would offer her, with all due worship, as an
oblation at my shrine. Indeed-this was the secret of my dislike-I was
thoroughly annoyed that he had not done it already.
I heard he had told his friends that the Babus of Nayanjore never craved
a boon. Even if the girl remained unmarried, he would not break the
family tradition. It was this arrogance of his that made me angry. My
indignation smouldered for some time. But I remained perfectly silent,
and bore it with the utmost patience, because I was so good.
As lightning accompanies thunder, so in my character a flash of humour
was mingled with the mutterings of my wrath. It was, of course,
impossible for me to punish the old man merely to give vent to my rage;
and for a long time I did nothing at all. But suddenly one day such an
amusing plan came into my head, that I could not resist the temptation
of carrying it into effect.
I have already said that many of Kailas Babu's friends used to flatter
the old man's vanity to the full. One, who was a retired Government
servant, had told him that whenever he saw the Chota Lord Sahib he
always asked for the latest news about the Babus of Nayanjore, and the
Chota Lard had been heard to say that in all Bengal the only really
respectable families were those of the Maharaja of Burdwan and the Babus
of Nayanjore. When this monstrous falsehood was told to Kailas Balm he
was extremely gratified, and often repeated the story. And
wherever after that he met this Government servant in company he would
ask, along with other questions:
"Oh! er--by the way, how is the Chota Lord Sahib? Quite well, did you
say? Ah, yes, I am so delighted to hear it I And the dear Mem Sahib, is
she quite well too? Ah, yes! and the little children-are they quite well
also? Ah, yes I that's very goad news! Be sure and give them my
compliments when you see them."
Kailas Balm would constantly express his intention of going some day and
paying a visit to the Sahib.
But it may be taken for granted that many Chota Lords and Burro Lords
also would come and go, and much water would pass down the Hoogly,
before the family coach of Nayanjore would be furnished up to pay a
visit to Government House.
One day I took Kailas Babu aside, and told him in a whisper: "Thakur
Dada, I was at the Levee yesterday, and the Chota Lord happened to
mention the Babes of Nayanjore. I told him that Kailas Balm had come to
town. Do you know, he was terribly hurt because you hadn't called. He
told me he was going to put etiquette on one side, and pay you a private
visit himself this very afternoon."
Anybody else could have seen through this plot of mine in a moment. And,
if it had been directed against another person, Kailas Balm would have
understood the joke. But after all he had heard from his friend the
Government servant, and after all his own exaggerations, a visit from
the Lieutenant-Governor seemed the most natural thing in the world. He
became highly nervous and excited at my news. Each detail of the coming
visit exercised him greatly -most of all his own ignorance of English.
How on earth was that difficulty to be met? I told him
there was no difficulty at all: it was aristocratic not to know English:
and, besides, the Lieutenant-Governor always brought an interpreter with
him, and he had expressly mentioned that this visit was to be private.
About mid-day, when most of our neighbours are at work, and the rest are
asleep, a carriage and pair stopped before the lodging of Kailas Babu.
Two flunkeys in livery came up the stairs, and announced in a loud
voice, "The Chota Lord Sahib hoe arrived." Kailas Babu was ready,
waiting for him, in his old-fashioned ceremonial robes and ancestral
turban, and Ganesh was by his side, dressed in his master's best suit of
clothes for the occasion. When the Chota Lord Sahib was announced,
Kailas Balm ran panting and puffing and trembling to the door, and led
in a friend of mine, in disguise, with repeated salaams, bowing low at
each step, and walking backward as best he could. He had his old family
shawl spread over a hard wooden chair, and he asked the Lord Sahib to be
seated. He then made a high. flown speech in Urdu, the ancient Court
language of the Sahibs, and presented on the golden salver a string of
gold mohurs, the last relics of his broken fortune. The old family
servant Ganesh, with an expression of awe bordering on terror, stood
behind with the scent-sprinkler, drenching the Lord Sahib, touching him
gingerly from time to time with the otto-of-roses from the filigree box.
Kailas Babu repeatedly expressed his regret at not being able to receive
His Honour Bahadur with all the ancestral magnificence of his own family
estate at Nayanjore. There he could have welcomed him properly with due
ceremonial. But in Calcutta he was a mere stranger and sojourner-in fact
a fish out of water.
My friend, with his tall silk hat on, very gravely nodded. I need hardly
say that according to English custom the hat ought to have been removed
inside the room. But my friend did not dare to take it off for fear of
detection; and Kailas Balm and his old servant Ganesh were sublimely
unconscious of the breach of etiquette.
After a ten minutes' interview, which consisted chiefly of nodding the
head, my friend rose to his feet to depart. The two flunkeys in livery,
as had been planned beforehand, carried off in state the string of gold
mohurs, the gold salver, the old ancestral shawl, the silver scent-
sprinkler, and the otto-of-roses filigree box; they placed them
ceremoniously in the carriage. Kailas Babu regarded this as the usual
habit of Chota Lard Sahibs.
I was watching all the while from the next room. My sides were aching
with suppressed laughter. When I could hold myself in no longer, I
rushed into a further room, suddenly to discover, in a corner, a young
girl sobbing as if her heart would break. When she saw my uproarious
laughter she stood upright in passion, flashing the lightning of her big
dark eyes in mine, and said with a tear-choked voice:
"Tell me! What harm has my grandfather done to you? Why have you come
to deceive him? Why have you come here? Why--"
She could say no more. She covered her face with her hands, and broke
My laughter vanished in a moment. It had never occurred to me that there
was anything but a supremely funny joke in this act of mine, and here I
discovered that I had given the cruelest pain to this tenderest little
heart. All the ugliness of my cruelty rose up to condemn me. I slunk out
of the room in silence, like a kicked dog.
Hitherto I had only looked upon Kusum, the grand-daughter of Kailas
Babu, as a somewhat worthless commodity in the marriage market, waiting
in vain to attract a husband. But now I found, with a shock of surprise,
that in the corner of that room a human heart was beating.
The whole night through I had very little sleep. My mind was in a
tumult. On the next day, very early in the morning, I took all those
stolen goods back to Kailas Babe's lodgings, wishing to hand them over
in secret to the servant Ganesh. I waited outside the door, and, not
finding any one, went upstairs to Kailas Babu's room. I heard from the
passage Kusum asking her grandfather in the most winning voice: "Dada,
dearest, do tell me all that the Chota Lord Sahib said to you yesterday.
Don't leave out a single word. I am dying to hear it all over again."
And Dada needed no encouragement. His face beamed over with pride as he
related all manner of praises, which the Lard Sahib had been good enough
to utter concerning the ancient families of Nayanjore. The girl was
seated before him, looking up into his face, and listening with rapt
attention. She was determined, out of love for the old man, to play her
part to the full.
My heart was deeply touched, and tears came to my eyes. I stood there in
silence in the passage, while Thakur Dada finished all his
embellishments of the Chota Lord Sahib's wonderful visit. When he left
the room at last, I took the stolen goods and laid them at the feet of
the girl and came away without a word.
Later in the day I called again to see Kailas Balm himself. According to
our ugly modern custom, I had been in the habit of making no greeting at
all to this old man when I came into the room. But on this day I made a
low bow, and touched his feet. I am convinced the old man
thought that the coming of the Chota Lord Sahib to his house was the
cause of my new politeness. He was highly gratified by it, and an air of
benign severity shone from his eyes. His friends had flocked in, and he
had already begun to tell again at full length the story of the
Lieutenant-Governor's visit with still further adornments of a most
fantastic kind. The interview was already becoming an epic, both in
quality and in length.
When the other visitors had taken their leave, I made my proposal to the
old man in a humble manner. I told him that, " though I could never for
a moment hope to be worthy of marriage connection with such an
illustrious family, yet . . . etc. etc."
When I made clear my proposal of marriage, the old man embraced me, and
broke out in a tumult of joy: " I am a poor man, and could never have
expected such great good fortune."
That was the first and last time in his life that Kailas Babu confessed
to being poor. It was also the first and last time in his life that he
forgot, if only for a single moment, the ancestral dignity that belongs
to the Babus of Nayanjore.
LIVING OR DEAD?
The widow in the house of Saradasankar, the Ranihat zemindar, had no
kinsmen of her father's family. One after another all had died. Nor had
she in her husband's family any one she could call her own, neither
husband nor son. The child of her brother-in-law Saradasankar was her
darling. Far a long time after his birth, his mother had been very ill,
and the widow, his aunt Kadambini, had fostered him. If a woman fosters
another's child, her love for him is all the stronger because she has
no claim upon him-no claim of kinship, that is, but simply the claim of
love. Love cannot prove its claim by any document which society accepts,
and does not wish to prove it; it merely worships with double passion
its life's uncertain treasure. Thus all the widow's thwarted love went
out to wards this little child. One night in Sraban Kadambini died
suddenly. For some reason her heart stopped beating. Everywhere else the
world held on its course; only m this gentle little breast,
suffering with love, the watch of time stood still for ever.
Lest they should be harassed by the poike, four of the zemindar's
Brahmin servants took away the body, without ceremony, to be burned.
The burning-ground of Ranihat was very far from the village. There was
a hut beside a tank, a huge banian near it, and nothing more. Formerly
a river, now completely dried up, ran through the ground, and part of
the watercourse had been dug out to make a tank for the performance of
funeral rites. The people considered the tank as part of the river and
reverenced it as such.
Taking the body into the hut, the four men sat down to wait for the
wood. The time seemed so long that two of the four grew restless, and
went to see why it did not come. Nitai and Gurucharan being gone, Bidhu
and Banamali remained to watch over the body.
It was a dark night of Sraban. Heavy clouds hung In a starless sky.
The two men sat silent in the dark room. Their matches and lamp were
useless. The matches were damp, and would not light, for all their
efforts, and the lantern went out.
After a long silence, one said: "Brother, it would be good if we had a
bowl of tobacco. In our hurry we brought none."
The other answered: "I can run and bring all we want."
Understanding why Banarnali wanted to go (From fear of ghosts, the
burning-ground being considered haunted.), Bidhu said: "I daresay!
Meanwhile, I suppose I am to sit here alone!"
Conversation ceased again. Five minutes seemed like an hour. In their
minds they cursed the two, who had gone to fetch the wood, and they
began to suspect that they sat gossiping in some pleasant nook. There
was no sound anywhere, except the incessant noise of frogs and crickets
from the tank. Then suddenly they fancied that the bed
shook slightly, as if the dead body had turned on its side. Bidhu and
Banamali trembled, and began muttering: "Ram, Ram." A deep sigh was
heard in the room. In a moment the watchers leapt out of the hut, and
raced for the village.
After running aboat three miles, they met their colleagues coming back
with a lantern. As a matter of fact, they had gone to smoke, and knew
nothing about the wood. But they declared that a tree had been cut down,
and that, when it was split up, it would be brought along at once. Then
Bidhu and Banamali told them what had happened in the hut. Nitai and
Gurucharan scoffed at the story, and abused Bidhu and Banamali angrily
for leaving their duty.
Without delay all four returned to the hut. As they entered, they saw at
once that the body was gone; nothing but an empty bed remained. They
stared at one another. Could a jackal have taken it? But there was no
scrap of clothing anywhere. Going outside, they saw that on the mud
that had collected at the door of the but there were a woman's tiny
footprints, newly made. Saradasankar was no fool, and they could hardly
persuade him to believe in this ghost story. So after much discussion
the four decided that it would be best to say that the body had been
Towards dawn, when the men with the wood arrived they were told that,
owing to their delay, the work had been done without them; there had
been some wood in the but after all. No one was likely to question this,
since a dead body is not such a valuable property that any one
would steal it.
Every one knows that, even when there is no sign, life is often secretly
present, and may begin again in an apparently dead body. Kadambini was
not dead; only the machine of her life had for some reason suddenly
When consciousness returned, she saw dense darkness on all sides. It
occurred to her that she was not lying in her usual place. She called
out " Sister," but no answer came from the darkness. As she sat up,
terror-stricken, she remembered her death-bed, the sudden pain at her
breast, the beginning of a choking sensation. Her elder sister-in-law
was warming some milk for the child, when Kadambini became faint, and
fell on the bed, saying with a choking voice: "Sister, bring the child
here. I am worried." After that everything was black, as when an inkpot
is upset over an exercise-book. Kadambini's memory and consciousness,
all the letters of the world's book, in a moment became formless. The
widow could not remember whether the child, in the sweet voice of love,
called her " Auntie," as if for the last time, or not; she could not
remember whether, as she left the world she knew for death's endless
unknown journey, she had received a parting gift of affection, love's
passage-money for the silent land. At first, I fancy, she thought the
lonely dark place was the House of Yama, where there is nothing to see,
nothing to hear, nothing to do, only an eternal watch. But when a cold
damp wind drove through the open door, and she heard the croaking of
frogs, she remembered vividly and in a moment all the rains of her short
life, and could feel her kinship with the earth. Then came a
flash of lightning, and she saw the tank, the banian, the great plain,
the far-off trees. She remembered how at full moon she had sometimes
come to bathe in this tank, and how dreadful death had seemed when she
saw a corpse on the burning-ground.
Her first thought was to return home. But then she reflected: "I am
dead. How can I return home? That would bring disaster on them. I have
left the kingdom of the living; I am my own ghost!" If this were not so,
she reasoned, how could she have got out of Saradasankar's well-guarded
zenana, and come to this distant burningground at midnight? Also, if her
funeral rites had not been finished, where had the men gone who should
burn her? Recalling her death-moment in Saradasankar's brightly-lit
house, she now found herself alone in a distant, deserted, dark burning.
ground. Surely she was no member of earthly society! Surely she was a
creature of horror, of ill-omen, her own ghost!
At this thought, all the bonds were snapped which bound her to the
world. She felt that she had marvellous strength, endless freedom. She
could do what she liked, go where she pleased. Mad with the inspiration
of this new idea, she rushed from the but like a gust of wind, and stood
upon the burning. ground. All trace of shame or fear had left her.
But as she walked on and on, her feet grew tired, her body weak. The
plain stretched on endlessly; here and there were paddy-fields;
sometimes she found herself standing knee-deep in water.
At the first glimmer of dawn she heard one or two birds cry from the
bamboo-clumps 6y the distant houses. Then terror seized her. She could
not tell in what new relation she stood to the earth and to living folk.
So long as she had been on the plain, on the burning-ground,
covered by the dark night of Sraban, so long she had been fearless, a
denizen of her own kingdom. By daylight the homes of men filled her with
fear. Men and ghosts dread each other, for their tribes inhabit
different banks of the river of death.
Her clothes were clotted in the mud; strange thoughts and walking by
night had given her the aspect of a madwoman; truly, her apparition was
such that folk might have been afraid of her, and children might have
stoned her or run away. Luckily, the first to catch sight of her was a
traveller. He came up, and said: "Mother, you look a respectable woman.
Wherever are you going, alone and in this guise?"
Kadambini, unable to collect her thoughts, stared at him in silence. She
could not think that she was still in touch with the world, that she
looked like a respectable woman, that a traveller was asking her
Again the min said: "Come, mother, I will see you home. Tell me where
Kadambini thought. To return to her father-in-law's house would be
absurd, and she had no father's house. Then she remembered the friend of
her childhood. She had not seen Jogmaya since the days of her youth, but
from time to time they had exchanged letters. Occasionally there had
been quarrels between them, as was only right, since Kadambini wished to
make it dear that her love for Jogmaya was unbounded, while her friend
complained that Kadambini did not return a love equal to her own. They
were both sure that, if they once met, they would be inseparable.
Kadambini said to the traveller: "I will go to Sripati's house at
As he was going to Calcutta, Nisindapur, though not near, was on his
way. So he took Kadambini to Sripati s house, and the friends met again.
At first they did not recognise one another, but gradually each
recognised the features of the other's childhood.
"What luck!" said Jogmaya. "I never dreamt that I should see you again.
But how hate you come here, sister? Your father-in-law's folk surely
didn't let you go!"
Kadambini remained silent, and at last said: "Sister, do not ask about
my father-in-law. Give me a corner, and treat me as a servant: I will do
"What?" cried Jogmaya. "Keep you like a servant! Why, you are my closest
friend, you are my –" and so on and so on.
Just then Sripati came in. Kadambini stared at him for some time, and
then went out very slowly. She kept her head uncovered, and showed not
the slightest modesty or respect. Jogmaya, fearing that Sripati would be
prejudiced against her friend, began an elaborate explanation. But
Sripati, who readily agreed to anything Jogmaya said, cut short her
story, and left his wife uneasy in her mind.
Kadambini had come, but she was not at one with her friend: death was
between them. She could feel no intimacy for others so long as her
existence perplexed her and consciousness remained. Kadambini would look
at Jogmaya, and brood. She would think: " She has her husband and her
work, she lives in a world far away from mine. She shares affection and
duty with the people of the world; I am an empty shadow. She is among
the living; I am in eternity."
Jogmaya also was uneasy, but could not explain why. Women do not love
mystery, because, though uncertainty may be transmuted into poetry, into
heroism, into scholarship, it cannot be turned to account in household
work. So, when a woman cannot understand a thing, she either destroys
and forgets it, or she shapes it anew for her own use; if
she fails to deal with it in one of these ways, she loses her temper
with it. The greater Kadambini's abstraction became, the more impatient
was Jogmaya with her, wondering what trouble weighed upon her mind.
Then a new danger arose. Kadambini was afraid of herself; yet she could
not flee from herself. Those who fear ghosts fear those who are behind
them; wherever they cannot see there is fear. But Kadambini's chief
terror lay in herself, for she dreaded nothing external. At the dead of
night, when alone in her room, she screamed; in the evening, when she
saw her shadow in the lamp-light, her whole body shook. Watching her
fearfulness, the rest of the house fell into a sort of terror. The
servants and Jogmaya herself began to see ghosts.
One midnight, Kadambini came out from her bedroom weeping, and wailed at
Jogmaya's door: "Sister, sister, let me lie at your feet! Do not put me
Jogmaya's anger was no less than her fear. She would have liked to drive
Kadambini from the house that very second. The good-natured Sripati,
after much effort, succeeded in quieting their guest, and put her in the
Next day Sripati was unexpectedly summoned to his wife's apartments. She
began to upbraid him: " You, do you call yourself a man? A woman runs
away from her father-in-law, and enters your house; a month passes, and
you haven't hinted that she should go away, nor have I heard the
slightest protest from you. I should cake it as a favour if you would
explain yourself. You men are all alike."
Men, as a race, have a natural partiality for womankind in general, foe
which women themselves hold them accountable. Although Sripati was
prepared to touch Jogmaya's body, and swear that his kind feeling
towards the helpless but beautiful Kadambini was no whit greater than it
should be, he could not prove it by his behaviour. He thought that her
father-in-law's people must have treated this forlorn widow abominably,
if she could bear it no longer, and was driven to take refuge with him.
As she had neither father nor mother, how could he desert her? So
saying, he let the matter drop, far he had no mind to distress Kadambini
by asking her unpleasant questions.
His wife, then, tried other means of her sluggish lord, until at last he
saw that for the sake of peace he must send word to Kadambini's
father-in-law. The result of a letter, he thought, might not be
satisfactory; so he resolved to go to Ranihat, and act on what he
So Sripati went, and Jogmaya on her part said to Kadambini "Friend, it
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