The Hungry Stones And Other Stories
Part 3 out of 3
hardly seems proper for you to stop here any longer. What will people
Kadambini stared solemnly at Jogmaya, and said: "What have I to do with
Jogmaya was astounded. Then she said sharply: "If you have nothing to do
with people, we have. How can we explain the detention of a woman
belonging to another house?"
Kadambini said: "Where is my father-in-law's house?"
"Confound it!" thought Jogmaya. "What will the wretched woman say next?"
Very slowly Kadambini said: "What have I to do with you? Am I of the
earth? You laugh, weep, love; each grips and holds his own; I merely
look. You are human, I a shadow. I cannot understand why God has kept me
in this world of yours."
So strange were her look and speech that Jogmaya understood something of
her drift, though not all. Unable either to dismiss her, or to ask her
any more questions, she went away, oppressed with thought.
It was nearly ten o'clock at night when Sripati returned from Ranihat.
The earth was drowned in torrents of rain. It seemed that the downpour
would never stop, that the night would never end.
Jogmaya asked: "Well?"
"I've lots to say, presently."
So saying, Sripati changed his clothes, and sat down to supper; then he
lay dawn for a smoke. His mind was perplexed.
His wife stilled her curiosity for a long time; then she came to his
couch and demanded: "What did you hear?"
"That you have certainly made a mistake."
Jogmaya was nettled. Women never make mistakes, or, if they do, a
sensible man never mentions them; it is better to take them on his own
shoulders. Jogmaya snapped: "May I be permitted to hear how?"
Sripati replied: "The woman you have taken into your house is not your
Hearing this, she was greatly annoyed, especially since it was her
husband who said it. "What! I don't know my own friend? I must come to
you to recognise her! You are clever, indeed!"
Sripati explained that there was no need to quarrel about his
cleverness. He could prove what he said. There was no doubt that
Jogmaya's Kadambini was dead.
Jogmaya replied: "Listen! You've certainly made some huge mistake.
You've been to the wrong house, or are confused as to what you have
heard. Who told you to go yourself? Write a letter, and everything will
be cleared up."
Sripati was hurt by his wife's lack of faith in his executive ability;
he produced all sorts of proof, without result. Midnight found them
still asserting and contradicting. Although they were both agreed now
that Kadambini should be got out of the house, although Sripati believed
that their guest had deceived his wife all the time by a pretended
acquaintance, and Jogmaya that she was a prostitute, yet in the present
discussion neither would acknowledge defeat. By degrees their voices
became so loud that they forgot that Kadambini was sleeping in the next
The one said: "We're in a nice fix! I tell you, I heard it with my own
ears!" And the other answered angrily: "What do I care about that? I can
see with my own eyes, surely."
At length Jogmaya said: "Very well. Tell me when Kadambini died." She
thought that if she could find a discrepancy between the day of death
and the date of some letter from Kadambini, she could prove that Sripati
He told her the date of Kadambini's death, and they both saw that it
fell on the very day before she came to their house. Jogmaya's heart
trembled, even Sripati was not unmoved.
Just then the door flew open; a damp wind swept in and blew the lamp
out. The darkness rushed after it, and filled the whole house. Kadambini
stood in the room. It was nearly one o'clock, the rain was pelting
Kadambini spoke: "Friend, I am your Kadambini, but I am no longer
living. I am dead."
Jogmaya screamed with terror; Sripati could speak.
"But, save in being dead, I have done you no wrong. If I have no place
among the living, I have none among the dead. Oh! whither shall I go?"
Crying as if to wake the sleeping Creator in the dense night of rain,
she asked again: " Oh! whither shall I go? "
So saying Kadambini left her friend fainting in the dark house, and went
out into the world, seeking her own place.
It is hard to say how Kadambini reached Ranihat. At first she showed
herself to no one, but spent the whole day in a ruined temple, starving.
When the untimely afternoon of the rains was pitch-black, and people
huddled into their houses for fear of the impending storm, then
Kadambini came forth. Her heart trembled as she reached her father-in-
law's house; and when, drawing a thick veil over her face, she entered,
none of the doorkeepers objected, since they took her for a servant. And
the rain was pouring down, and the wind howled.
The mistress, Saradasankar's wife, was playing cards with her widowed
sister. A servant was in the kitchen, the sick child was sleeping in the
bedroom. Kadambini, escaping every one's notice, entered this room. I do
not know why she had come to her father-in-law's house; she herself did
not know; she felt only that she wanted to see her child again. She had
no thought where to go next, or what to do.
In the lighted room she saw the child sleeping, his fists clenched, his
body wasted with fever. At sight of him, her heart became parched and
thirsty. If only she could press that tortured body to her breast!
Immediately the thought followed: "I do not exist. Who would see it? His
mother loves company, loves gossip and cards. All the time that she left
me in charge, she was herself free from anxiety, nor was she troubled
about him in the least. Who will look after him now as I did?"
The child turned on his side, and cried, half-asleep: "Auntie, give me
water." Her darling had not yet forgotten his auntie! In a fever of
excitement, she poured out some water, and, taking him to her breast,
she gave it him.
As long as he was asleep, the child felt no strangeness in taking water
from the accustomed hand. But when Kadambini satisfied her long-starved
longing, and kissed him and began rocking him asleep again, he awoke and
embraced her. "Did you die, Auntie?" he asked.
"And you have come back? Do not die again."
Before she could answer disaster overtook her. One of the maidservants
coming in with a cup of sago dropped it, and fell down. At the crash the
mistress left her cards, and entered the room. She stood like a pillar
of wood, unable to flee or speak. Seeing all this, the child, too,
became terrified, and burst out weeping: " Go away, Auntie," he said,
Now at last Kadambini understood that she had not died. The old room,
the old things, the same child, the same love, all returned to their
living state, without change or difference between her and them. In her
friend's house she had felt that her childhood's companion was dead. In
her child's room she knew that the boy's "Auntie" was not dead at all.
In anguished tones she said: "Sister, why do you dread me? See, I am as
you knew me."
Her sister-in-law could endure no longer, and fell into a faint.
Saradasankar himself entered the zenana. With folded hands, he said
piteously: "Is this right? Satis is my only son. Why do you show
yourself to him? Are we not your own kin? Since you went, he has wasted
away daily; his fever has been incessant; day and night he cries:
`Auntie, Auntie.' You have left the world; break these bonds of maya
(Illusory affection binding a soul to the world). We will perform all
Kadambini could bear no more. She said: "Oh, I am not dead, I am not
dead. Oh, how can I persuade you that I am not dead? I am living,
living!" She lifted a brass pot from the ground and dashed it against
her forehead. The blood ran from her brow. "Look!" she cried, "I am
living!" Saradasankar stood like an image; the child screamed with fear,
the two fainting women lay still.
Then Kadambini, shouting "I am not dead, I am not dead," went down the
steps to the zenana well, and plunged in. From the upper storey
Saradasankar heard the splash.
All night the rain poured; it poured next day at dawn, was pouring still
at noon. By dying, Kadambini had given proof that she was not dead.
"WE CROWN THEE KING"
When Nabendu Sekhar was wedded to Arunlekha, the God of marriage smiled
from behind the sacrificial fire. Alas! what is sport for the gods is
not always a joke to us poor mortals.
Purnendu Sekhar, the father of Nabendu, was a man well known amongst the
English officials of the Government. In the voyage of life he had
arrived at the desert shores of Rai Bahadurship by diligently plying his
oats of salaams. He held in reserve enough for further advancement, but
at the age of fifty-five, his tender gaze still fixed on the misty peals
of Raja-hood, he suddenly found himself transported to a region where
earthly honours and decorations are naught, and his salaam-wearied neck
found everlasting repose on the funeral pyre.
According to modern science, force is not destroyed, but is merely
converted to another form, and applied to another point. So Purnendu's
salaam-force, constant handmaid of the fickle Goddess of Fortune,
descended from the shoulder of the father to that of his worthy son; and
the youthful head of Nabendu Sekhar began to move up and down, at the
doors of high-placed Englishmen, like a pumpkin swayed by the wind.
The traditions of the family into which he had married were entirely
different. Its eldest son, Pramathanath, had won for himself the love of
his kinsfolk and the regard of all who knew him. His kinsmen and his
neighbours looked up to him as their ideal in all things.
Pramathanath was a Bachelor of Arts, and in addition was gifted with
common sense. But he held no high official position; he had no handsome
salary; nor did he exert any influence with his pen. There was no one in
power to lend him a helping hand, because he desired to keep away from
Englishmen, as much as they desired to keep away from him. So it
happened that he shone only within the sphere of his family and his
friends, and excited no admiration beyond it.
Yet this Pramathanath had once sojourned in England for some three
years. The kindly treatment he received during his stay there
overpowered him so much that he forgot the sorrow and the humiliation of
his own country, and came back dressed in European clothes. This rather
grieved his brothers and his sisters at first, but after a few days they
began to think that European clothes suited nobody better, and gradually
they came to share his pride and dignity.
On his return from England, Pramathanath resolved that he would show the
world how to associate with Anglo-Indians on terms of equality. Those of
our countrymen who think that no such association is possible, unless we
bend our knees to them, showed their utter lack of self-respect, and
were also unjust to the English-so thought Pramathanath.
He brought with him letters of introduction from many distinguished
Englishmen at home, and these gave him some recognition in Anglo-Indian
society. He and his wife occasionally enjoyed English hospitality at
tea, dinner, sports and other entertainments. Such good luck intoxicated
him, and began to produce a tingling sensation in every vein of his
About this time, at the opening of a new railway line, many of the town,
proud recipients of official favour, were invited by the
Lieutenant-Governor to take the first trip. Pramathanath was among them.
On the return journey, a European Sergeant of the Police expelled some
Indian gentlemen from a railway-carriage with great insolence.
Pramathanath, dressed in his European clothes, was there. He, too, was
getting out, when the Sergeant said: " You needn't move, sir. Keep your
At first Pramathanath felt flattered at the special respect thus shown
to him. When, however, the train went on, the dull rays of the setting
sun, at the west of the fields, now ploughed up and stripped of green,
seemed in his eyes to spread a glow of shame over the whole country.
Sitting near the window of his lonely compartment, he seemed to catch a
glimpse of the down-cast eyes of his Motherland, hidden behind the
trees. As Pramathanath sat there, lost in reverie, burning tears flowed
down his cheeks, and his heart burst with indignation.
He now remembered the story of a donkey who was drawing the chariot of
an idol along the street. The wayfarers bowed down to the idol, and
touched the dusty ground with their foreheads. The foolish donkey
imagined that all this reverence was being shown to him. "The only
difference," said Pramathanath to himself, " between the donkey and
myself is this: I understand to-day that the respect I receive is not
given to me but to the burden on my back."
Arriving home, Pramathanath called together all the children of the
household, and lighting a big bonfire, threw all his European clothes
into it one by one. The children danced round and round it, and the
higher the flames shot up, the greater was their merriment. After that,
Pramathanath gave up his sip of tea and bits of toast in Anglo-Indian
houses, and once again sat inaccessible within the castle of his house,
while his insulted friends went about from the door of one Englishman to
that of another, bending their turbaned heads as before.
By an irony of fate, poor Nabendu Sekhar married the second daughter of
this house. His sisters-in-law were well educated and handsome. Nabendu
considered he had made a lucky bargain. But he lost no time in trying to
impress on the family that it was a rare bargain on their side also. As
if by mistake, he would often hand to his sisters-in-law sundry letters
that his late father had received from Europeans. And when the cherry
lips of those young ladies smiled sarcastically, and the point of a
shining dagger peeped out of its sheath of red velvet, the unfortunate
man saw his folly, and regretted it.
Labanyalekha, the eldest sister, surpassed the rest in beauty and
cleverness. Finding an auspicious day, she put on the mantel-shelf of
Nabendu's bedroom two pairs of English boots, daubed with vermilion, and
arranged flowers, sandal-paste, incense and a couple of burning candles
before them in true ceremonial fashion. When Nabendu came in, the two
sisters-in-law stood on either side of him, and said with mock
solemnity: "Bow down to your gods, and may you prosper through their
The third sister Kiranlekha spent many days in embroidering with red
silk one hundred common English names such as Jones, Smith, Brown,
Thomson, etc., on a chadar. When it was ready, she presented this
namavoli (A namavoli is a sheet of cloth printed all over with the names
of Hindu gods and goddesses and worn by pious Hindus when engaged in
devotional exercises.) to Nabendu Sekhar with great ceremony.
The fourth, Sasankalekha, of tender age and therefore of no account,
said: " I will make you a string of beads, brother, with which to tell
the names of your gods-the sahibs." Her sisters reproved her, saying:
"Run away, you saucy girl."
Feelings of shame and irritation assailed by turns the mind of Nabendu
Sekhar. Still he could not forego the company of his sisters-in-law,
especially as the eldest one was beautiful. Her honey was no less than
her gall, and Nabendu's mind tasted at once the sweetness of the one and
the bitterness of the other. The butterfly, with its bruised wings,
buzzes round the flower in blind fury, unable to depart.
The society of his sisters-in-Law so much infatuated him that at last
Nabendu began to disavow his craving for European favours. When he went
to salaam the Burra Sahib, he used to pretend that he was going to
listen to a speech by Mr. Surendranath Banerjea. When he went to the
railway station to pay respects to the Chota Sahib, returning from
Darjeeling, he would tell his sisters-in-law that he expected his
It was a sore trial to the unhappy man placed between the cross-fires of
his Sahibs and his sisters-in-law. The sisters-in-law, however, secretly
vowed that they would not rest till the Sahibs had been put to rout.
About this time it was rumoured that Nabendu's name would be included in
the forthcoming list of Birthday honours, and that he would mount the
first step of the ladder to Paradise by becoming a Rai Bahadur. The poor
fellow had not the courage to break the joyful news to his
sisters-in-law. One evening, however, when the autumn moon was flooding
the earth with its mischievous beams, Nabendu's heart was so full that
he could not contain himself any longer, and he told his wife. The next
day, Mrs. Nabendu betook herself to her eldest sister's house in a
palanquin, and in a voice choked with tears bewailed her lot.
"He isn't going to grow a tail," said Labanya, "by becoming a Rai
Bahadur, is he? Why should you feel so very humiliated? "
"Oh, no, sister dear," replied Arunlekha, "I am prepared to be
anything--but not a Rai-Baha-durni.'' The fact was that in her circle of
acquaintances there was one Bhutnath Babu, who was a Rai Bahadur, and
that explained her intense aversion to that title.
Labanya said to her sister in soothing tones: " Don't be upset about it,
dear; I will see what I can do to prevent it"
Babu Nilratan, the husband of Labanya, was a pleader at Buxar. When the
autumn was over, Nabendu received an invitation from Labanya to pay them
a visit, and he started for Buxar greatly pleased.
The early winter of the western province endowed Labanyalekha with new
health and beauty, and brought a glowing colour to her pale cheeks, She
looked like the flower-laden kasa reeds on a clear autumn day, growing
by the lonely bank of a rivulet. To Nabendu's enchanted eyes she
appeared like a malati plant in full blossom, showering dew-drops
brilliant with the morning light.
Nabendu had never felt better in his life. The exhilaration of his own
health and the genial company of his pretty sister-in-law made him think
himself light enough to tread on air. The Ganges in front of the garden
seemed to him to be flowing ceaselessly to regions unknown, as though it
gave shape to his own wild fantasies.
As he returned in the early morning from his walk on the bank of the
river, the mellow rays of the winter sun gave his whole frame that
pleasing sensation of warmth which lovers feel in each other's arms.
Coming home, he would now and then find his sister-in-Law amusing
herself by cooking some dishes. He would offer his help, and display his
want of skill and ignorance at every step. But Nabendu did not appear to
be at all anxious to improve himself by practice and attention. On the
contrary he thoroughly enjoyed the rebukes he received from his
sister-in-law. He was at great pains to prove every day that he was
inefficient and helpless as a new-born babe in mixing spices, handling
the saucepan, and regulating the heat so as to
prevent things getting burnt-and he was duly rewarded with pitiful
smiles and scoldings.
In the middle of the day he ate a great deal of the good food set before
him, incited by his keen appetite and the coaxing of his sister-in-law.
Later on, he would sit down to a game of cards--at
which he betrayed the same lack of ability. He would cheat, pry into his
adversary's hand, quarrel--but never did he win a single rubber, and
worse still, he would not acknowledge defeat. This brought him abuse
every day, and still he remained incorrigible.
There was, however, one matter in which his reform was complete. For the
time at least, he had forgotten that to win the smiles of Sahibs was the
final goal of life. He was beginning to understand how happy and worthy
we might feel by winning the affection and esteem of those near and dear
Besides, Nabendu was now moving in a new atmosphere. Labanya's husband,
Babu Nilratan, a leader of the bar, was reproached by many, because
he refused to pay his respects to European officials. To all such
reproaches Nilratan would reply: "No, thank you, --if they are not
polite enough to return my call, then the politeness I offer them is
a loss that can never be made up for. The sands of the desert may be
very white and shiny, but I would much rather sow my seeds in black
soil, where I can expect a return."
And Nabendu began to adopt similar ideas, all regardless of the future.
His chance of Rai Bahadurship throve on the soil carefully prepared by
his late father and also by himself in days gone by, nor was any fresh
watering required. Had he not at great expense laid out a splendid
race-course in a town, which was a fashionable resort of Europeans?
When the time of Congress drew near, Nilratan received a request from
head-quarters to collect subscriptions. Nabendu, free from anxiety, was
merrily engaged in a game of cards with his sister-in. law, when
Nilratan Babu came upon him with a subscription-book in his hand, and
said: "Your signature, please."
>From old habit Nabendu looked horrified. Labanya, assuming an air of
great concern and anxiety, said: "Never do that. It would ruin your
racecourse beyond repair."
Nabendu blurted out: "Do you suppose I pass sleepless nights through
fear of that?"
"We won't publish your name in the papers," said Nilratan reassuringly.
Labanya, looking grave and anxious, said: "Still, it wouldn't be safe.
Things spread so, from mouth to mouthó"
Nabendu replied with vehemence: "My name wouldn't suffer by appearing in
the newspapers." So saying, he snatched the subscription list from
Nilratan's hand, and signed away a thousand rupees. Secretly he hoped
that the papers would not publish the news.
Labanya struck her forehead with her palm and gasped out: What--have
"Nothing wrong," said Nabendu boastfully.
"Butóbut--," drawled Labanya, "the Guard sahib of Sealdah Station, the
shop-assistant at Whiteaway's, the syce-sahib of Hart Bros.--these
gentlemen might be angry with you, and decline to come to your Poojah
dinner to drink your champagne, you know. Just think, they mightn't pat
you on the back, when you meet them again!"
"It wouldn't break my heart," Nabendu snapped out.
A few days passed. One morning Nabendu was sipping his tea, and glancing
at a newspaper. Suddenly a letter signed "X" caught his eye. The writer
thanked him profusely for his donation, and declared that the increase
of strength the Congress had acquired by having such a man within its
fold, was inestimable.
Alas, father Purnendu Sekhar! Was it to increase the strength of the
Congress, that you brought this wretch into the world?
Put the cloud of misfortune had its silver lining. That he was not a
mere cypher was clear from the fact that the Anglo-Indian community on
the one side and the Congress on the other were each waiting patiently,
eager to hook him, and land him on their own side. So Nabendu, beaming
with pleasure took the paper to his sister-in-law, and showed her the
letter. Looking as though she knew nothing about it, Labanya exclaimed
in surprise: "Oh, what a pity! Everything has come out! Who bore you
such ill-will? Oh, how cruel of him, how wicked of him!"
Nabendu laughed out, saying: " Now--nowódon't call him names, Labanya. I
forgive him with all my heart, and bless him too."
A couple of days after this, an anti-Congress Anglo-Indian paper
reached Nabendu through the post. There was a letter in it, signed "One
who knows," and contradicting the above report. "Those who have the
pleasure of Babu Nabendu Sekhar's personal acquaintance," the writer
went on, "cannot for a moment believe this absurd libel to be true. For
him to turn a Congresswalla is as impossible as it is for the leopard to
change his spots. He is a man of genuine worth, and neither a
disappointed candidate for Government employ nor a briefless
barrister. He is not one of those who, after a brief sojourn in England,
return aping our dress and manners, audaciously try to thrust themselves
on Anglo-Indian society, and finally go back in dejection. So there is
absolutely no reason why Balm Nabendu Sekhar," etc., etc.
Ah, father Purnendu Sekhar! What a reputation you had made with the
Europeans before you died!
This letter also was paraded before his sister-in-law, for did it not
assert that he was no mean, contemptible scallywag, but a man of real
Labanya exclaimed again in feigned surprise: "Which of your friends
wrote it now? Oh, come--is it the Ticket Collector, or the hide
merchant, or is it the drum-major of the Fort? "
"You ought to send in a contradiction, I think," said Nilratan.
"Is it necessary?" said Nabendu loftily. Must I contradict every little
thing they choose to say against me? "
Labanya filled the room with a deluge of laughter. Nabendu felt a little
disconcerted at this, and said: "Why? What's the matter?" She went on
laughing, unable to check herself, and her youthful slender form waved
to and fro. This torrent of merriment had the effect of overthrowing
Nabendu completely, and he said in pitiable accents: "Do you imagine
that I am afraid to contradict it?"
"Oh, dear, no," said Labanya; "I was thinking that you haven't yet
ceased trying to save that race-course of yours, so full of promise.
While there is life, there is hope, you know."
"That's what I am afraid of, you think, do you? Very well, you shall
see," said Nabendu desperately, and forthwith sat down to write his
contradiction. When he had finished, Labanya and Nilratan read it
through, and said: "It isn't strong enough. We must give it them pretty
hot, mustn't we?" And they kindly undertook to revise the composition.
Thus it ran: "When one connected to us by ties of blood turns our enemy
he becomes far more dangerous than any outsider. To the Government of
India, the haughty Anglo-Indians are worse enemies than the
Russians or the frontier Pathans themselves--they are the impenetrable
barrier, forever hindering the growth of any bond of friendship between
the Government and people of the country. It is the Congress which has
opened up the royal road to a better understanding between the rulers
and the ruled, and the Anglo-Indian papers have planted themselves like
thorns across the whole breadth of that road," etc., etc.
Nabendu had an inward fear as to the mischief this letter might do, but
at the same time he felt elated at the excellence of its composition,
which he fondly imagined to be his own. It was duly published, and for
some days comments, replies, and rejoinders went on in various
newspapers, and the air was full of trumpet-notes, proclaiming the fact
that Nabendu had joined the Congress, and the amount of his
Nabendu, now grown desperate, talked as though he was a patriot of the
fiercest type. Labanya laughed inwardly, and said to herself: "Welló-
well--you have to pass through the ordeal of fire yet."
One morning when Nabendu, before his bath, had finished rubbing oil over
his chest, and was trying various devices to reach the inaccessible
portions of his back, the bearer brought in a card inscribed with the
name of the District Magistrate himself! Good heavens!--What would he
do? He could not possibly go, and receive the Magistrate Sahib, thus
oil-besmeared. He shook and twitched like a koi-fish, ready dressed for
the frying pan. He finished his bath in a great hurry, tugged on his
clothes somehow, and ran breathlessly to the outer apartments. The
bearer said that the Sahib had just left after waiting for a long time.
How much of the blame for concocting this drama of invented incidents
may be set down to Labanya, and how much to the bearer is a nice problem
for ethical mathematics to solve.
Nabendu's heart was convulsed with pain within his breast, like the tail
of a lizard just cut off. He moped like an owl all day long.
Labanya banished all traces of inward merriment from her face, and kept
on enquiring in anxious tones: "What has happened to you? You are not
ill, I hope?"
Nabendu made great efforts to smile, and find a humorous reply. "How can
there be," he managed to say, "any illness within your jurisdiction,
since you yourself are the Goddess of Health?"
But the smile soon flickered out. His thoughts were: "I subscribed to
the Congress fund to begin with, published a nasty letter in a
newspaper, and on the top of that, when the Magistrate Sahib himself did
me the honour to call on me, I kept him waiting. I wonder what he is
thinking of me."
Alas, father Purnendu Sekhar, by an irony of Fate I am made to appear
what I am not.
The next morning, Nabendu decked himself in his best clothes, wore his
watch and chain, and put a big turban on his head.
"Where are you off to?" enquired his sister-in-law.
"Urgent business," Nabendu replied. Labanya kept quiet.
Arriving at the Magistrate's gate, he took out his card-case.
"You cannot see him now," said the orderly peon icily.
Nabendu took out a couple of rupees from his pocket. The peon at once
salaamed him and said: "There are five of us, sir." Immediately Nabendu
pulled out a ten-rupee note, and handed it to him.
He was sent for by the Magistrate, who was writing in his dressing-gown
and bedroom slippers. Nabendu salaamed him. The Magistrate pointed to a
chair with his finger, and without raising his eyes from the paper
before him said: "What can I do for you, Babu?"
Fingering his watch-chain nervously, Nabendu said is shaky tones:
"Yesterday you were good enough to call at my place, siró"
The Sahib knitted his brows, and, lifting just one eye from his paper,
said: "I called at your place! Babu, what nonsense are you talking?"
"Beg your pardon, sir," faltered out Nabendu. There has been a mistake--
some confusion," and wet with perspiration, he tumbled out of the room
somehow. And that night, as he lay tossing on his bed, a distant
dream-like voice came into his ear with a recurring persistency: "Babu,
you are a howling idiot."
On his way home, Nabendu came to the conclusion that the Magistrate
denied having called, simply because he was highly offended.
So he explained to Labanya that he had been out purchasing rose-water.
No sooner had he uttered the words than half-a-dozen chuprassis wearing
the Collectorate badge made their appearance, and after salaaming
Nabendu, stood there grinning.
"Have they come to arrest you because you subscribed to the Congress
fund?" whispered Labanya with a smile.
The six peons displayed a dozen rows of teeth and said: Bakshish--
>From a side room Nilratan came out, and said in an irritated manner:
"Bakshish? What for?"
The peons, grinning as before, answered: "The Babu-Sahib went to see the
Magistrate--so we have come for bakshish"
"I didn't know," laughed out Labanya, "that the Magistrate was selling
rose-water nowadays. Coolness wasn't the special feature of his trade
Nabendu in trying to reconcile the story of his purchase with his visit
to the Magistrate, uttered some incoherent words, which nobody could
make sense of.
Nilratan spoke to the peons: "There has been no occasion for bakshish;
you shan't have it."
Nabendu said, feeling very small: "Oh, they are poor men--what's the
harm of giving them something?" And he took out a currency note.
Nilratan snatched it way from Nabendu's hand, remarking: "There are
poorer men in the world--I will give it to them for you."
Nabendu felt greatly distressed that he was not able to appease these
ghostly retainers of the angry Siva. When the peons were leaving, with
thunder in their eyes, he looked at them languishingly, as much as to
say: "You know everything, gentlemen, it is not my fault."
The Congress was to be held at Calcutta this year. Nilratan went down
thither with his wife to attend the sittings. Nabendu accompanied them.
As soon as they arrived at Calcutta, the Congress party surrounded
Nabendu, and their delight and enthusiasm knew no bounds. They cheered
him, honoured him, and extolled him up to the skies. Everybody said
that, unless leading men like Nabendu devoted themselves to the Cause,
there was no hope for the country. Nabendu was disposed to agree with
them, and emerged out of the chaos of mistake and confusion as a leader
of the country. When he entered the Congress Pavilion on the first
day, everybody stood up, and shouted " Hip, hip, hurrah," in a loud
outlandish voice, hearing which our Motherland reddened with shame to
the root of her ears.
In due time the Queen's birthday came, and Nabendu's name was not found
in the list of Rai Bahadurs.
He received an invitation from Labanya for that evening. When he arrived
there, Labanya with great pomp and ceremony presented him with a robe of
honour, and with her own hand put a mark of red sandal paste on the
middle of his forehead. Each of the other sisters threw round his neck a
garland of flowers woven by herself. Decked in a pink Sari and dazzling
jewels, his wife Arunlekha was waiting in a side room, her face lit up
with smiles and blushes. Her sisters rushed to her, and,
placing another garland in her hand, insisted that she also should come,
and do her part in the ceremony, but she would not listen to it; and
that principal garland, cherishing a desire for Nabendu's
neck, waited patiently for the still secrecy of midnight.
The sisters said to Nabendu : "To-day we crown thee King. Such honour
will not be done to any body else in Hindoostan."
Whether Nabendu derived any consolation from this, he alone can tell;
but we greatly doubt it. We believe, in fact, that he will become a Rai
Bahadur before he has done, and the Englishman and the Pioneer will
write heart-rending articles lamenting his demise at the proper time.
So, in the meanwhile, Three Cheers for Babu Purnendu Sekhar! Hip,
hip, hurrah--Hip, hip, hurrah--Hip, hip, hurrah.
It was a night of full moon early in the month of Phalgun. The youthful
spring was everywhere sending forth its breeze laden with the fragrance
of mango-blossoms. The melodious notes of an untiring papiya (One of the
sweetest songsters in Bengal. Anglo-Indian writers have nicknamed it the
"brain-fever bird," which is a sheer libel.), concealed within the thick
foliage of an old lichi tree by the side of a tank, penetrated a
sleepless bedroom of the Mukerji family. There Hemanta now restlessly
twisted a lock of his wife's hair round his finger, now beat her churl
against her wristlet until it tinkled, now pulled at the chaplet of
flowers about her head, and left it hanging over hex face. His mood was
that of as evening breeze which played about a favourite flowering
shrub, gently shaking her now this side, now that, in the hope of
rousing her to animation.
But Kusum sat motionless, looking out of the open window, with eyes
immersed in the moonlit depth of never-ending space beyond. Her
husband's caresses were lost on her.
At last Hemanta clasped both the hands of his wife, and, shaking them
gently, said: "Kusum, where are you? A patient search through a big
telescope would reveal you only as a small speck-you seem to have
receded so far away. O, do come closer to me, dear. See how beautiful
the night is."
Kusum turned her eyes from the void of space towards her husband, and
said slowly: "I know a mantra (A set of magic words.), which could in
one moment shatter this spring night and the moon into pieces."
"If you do," laughed Hemanta, "pray don't utter it. If any mantra of
yours could bring three or four Saturdays during the week, and prolong
the nights till 5 P.M. the next day, say it by all means."
Saying this, he tried to draw his wife a little closer to him. Kusum,
freeing herself from the embrace, said: "Do you know, to-night I feel a
longing to tell you what I promised to reveal only on my death-bed.
To-night I feel that I could endure whatever punishment you might
inflict on me."
Hemanta was on the point of making a jest about punishments by reciting
a verse from Jayadeva, when the sound of an angry pair of slippers was
heard approaching rapidly. They were the familiar footsteps of his
father, Haribar Mukerji, and Hemanta, not knowing what it meant, was in
a flutter of excitement.
Standing outside the door Harihar roared out: "Hemanta, turn your wife
out of the house immediately."
Hemanta looked at his wife, and detected no trace of surprise in her
features. She merely buried her face within the palms of her hands, and,
with all the strength and intensity of her soul, wished that she could
then and there melt into nothingness. It was the same papiya whose song
floated into the room with the south breeze, and no one heard it.
Endless are the beauties of the earth-but alas, how easily everything is
twisted out of shape.
Returning from without, Hemanta asked his wife: "Is it true?"
"It is," replied Kusum.
"Why didn't you tell me long ago?"
"I did try many a time, and I always failed. I am a wretched woman."
"Then tell me everything now."
Kusum gravely told her story in a firm unshaken voice. She waded
barefooted through fire, as it were, with slow unflinching steps, and
nobody knew how much she was scorched. Having heard her to the end,
Hemanta rose and walked out.
Kusum thought that her husband had gone, never to return to her again.
It did not strike her as strange. She took it as naturally as any other
incident of everyday life-so dry and apathetic had her mind become
during the last few moments. Only the world and love seemed to her as a
void and make-believe from beginning to end. Even the memory of the
protestations of love, which her husband had made to her in days past,
brought to her lips a dry, hard, joyless smile, like a sharp cruel knife
which had cut through her heart. She was thinking, perhaps, that
the love which seemed to fill so much of one's life, which brought in
its train such fondness and depth of feeling, which made even the
briefest separation so exquisitely painful and a moment's union so
intensely sweet, which seemed boundless in its extent and eternal in its
duration, the cessation of which could not be imagined even in births to
come--that this was that love! So feeble was its support! No sooner does
the priesthood touch it than your "eternal" love crumbles
into a handful of dust! Only a short while ago Hemanta had whispered to
her: "What a beautiful night!" The same night was not yet at an end, the
same yapiya was still warbling, the same south breeze still blew into
the roam, making the bed-curtain shiver; the same moonlight lay on the
bed next the open window, sleeping like a beautiful heroine exhausted
with gaiety. All this was unreal! Love was more falsely dissembling than
The next morning Hemanta, fagged after a sleepless night, and looking
like one distracted, called at the house of Peari Sankar Ghosal. "What
news, my son?" Peari Sankar greeted him.
Hemanta, flaring up like a big fire, said in a trembling voice: "You
have defiled our caste. You have brought destruction upon us. And you
will have to pay for it." He could say no more; be felt choked.
"And you have preserved my caste, presented my ostracism from the
community, and patted me on the back affectionately!" said Peari Sankar
with a slight sarcastic smile.
Hemanta wished that his Brahmin-fury could reduce Peari Sankar to ashes
in a moment, but his rage burnt only himself. Peari Sankar sat before
him unscathed, and in the best of health.
"Did I ever do you any harm?" demanded Hemanta in a broken voice.
"Let me ask you one question," said Peari Sankar. "My daughter--my only
child-what harm had she done your father? You were very young then, and
probably never heard. Listen, then. Now, don't you excite yourself.
There is much humour in what I am going to relate.
"You were quite small when my son-in-law Nabakanta ran away to England
after stealing my daughter's jewels. You might truly remember the
commotion in the village when he returned as a barrister five years
later. Or, perhaps, you were unaware of it, as you were at school in
Calcutta at the time. Your father, arrogating to himself the headship of
the community, declared that if I sent my daughter to her husband's
home, I must renounce her for good, and never again allow her to cross
my threshold. I fell at your father's feet, and implored him, saying:
'Brother, save me this once. I will make the boy swallow cow-dung, and
go through the prayaschittam ceremony. Do take him back into caste.' But
your father remained obdurate. For my part, I could not disown my only
child, and, bidding good-bye to my village and my kinsmen, I betook
myself to Calcutta. There, too, my troubles followed me. When I had made
every arrangement for my nephew's marriage, your father stirred up the
girl's people, and they broke the match off. Then I
took a solemn vow that, if there was a drop of Brahmin blood flowing in
my veins, I would avenge myself. You understand the business to some
extent now, don't you? But wait a little longer. You will enjoy it, when
I tell you the whole story; it is interesting.
"When you were attending college, one Bipradas Chatterji used to live
next door to your lodgings. The poor fellow is dead now. In his house
lived a child-widow called Kusum, the destitute orphan of a Kayestha
gentleman. The girl was very pretty, and the old Brahmin desired to
shield her from the hungry gaze of college students. But for a young
girl to throw dust in the eyes of her old guardian was not at all a
difficult task. She often went to the top of the roof, to hang her
washing out to dry, and, I believe, you found your own roof best suited
for your studies. Whether you two spoke to each other, when on your
respective roofs, I cannot tell, but the girl's behaviour excited
suspicion in the old man's mind. She made frequent mistakes in her
household duties, and, like Parbati (The wife of Shiva the Destroyer),
engaged in her devotions, began gradually to renounce food and sleep.
Some evenings she would burst into tears in the presence of the old
gentleman, without any apparent reason.
"At last he discovered that you two saw each other from the roofs pretty
frequently, and that you even went the length of absenting yourself from
college to sit on the roof at mid-day with a book in your hand, so fond
had you grown suddenly of solitary study. Bipradas came to me for
advice, and told me everything. 'Uncle,' said I to him, `for a long
while you have cherished a desire to go on a pilgrimage to Benares. You
had better do it now, and leave the girl in my charge. I will take care
"So he went. I lodged the girl in the house of Sripati Chatterji,
passing him off as her father. What happened next is known to you. I
feel a great relief to-day, having told you everything from the
beginning. It sounds like a romance, doesn't it? I think of turning it
into a book, and getting it printed. But I am not a writing-man myself.
They say my nephew has some aptitude that way--I will get him to write
it for me. But the best thing would be, if you would collaborate with
him, because the conclusion of the story is not known to me so well."
Without paying much attention to the concluding remarks of Peari Sankar,
Hemanta asked: "Did not Kusum object to this marriage?"
"Well," said Peari Sankar, "it is very difficult to guess. You know, my
boy, how women's minds are constituted. When they say 'no,' they mean
'yes.' During the first few days after her removal to the new home, she
went almost crazy at not seeing you. You, too, seemed to have discovered
her new address somehow, as you used to lose your way after starting for
college, and loiter about in front of Sripati's house. Your eyes did not
appear to be exactly in search of the Presidency College, as they were
directed towards the barred windows of a private house, through which
nothing but insects and the hearts of moon-struck young men could obtain
access. I felt very sorry for you both. I could see that your studies
were being seriously interrupted, and that the plight of the girl was
"One day I called Kusum to me, and said: 'Listen to me, my daughter. I
am an old man, and you need feel no delicacy in my presence. I know whom
you desire at heart. The young man's condition is hopeless too. I wish I
could bring about your union.' At this Kusum suddenly melted into tears,
and ran away. On several evenings after that, I visited Sripati's house,
and, calling Kusum to me, discussed with her matters relating to you,
and so I succeeded in gradually overcoming her shyness. At last, when I
said that I would try to bring about a marriage, she asked me: 'How can
it be?' 'Never mind,' I said, 'I would pass you off as a Brahmin
maiden.' After a good deal of argument, she begged me to find out
whether you would approve of it. 'What
nonsense,' replied I, 'the boy is well-nigh mad as it were, what's the
use of disclosing all these complications to him? Let the ceremony be
over smoothly and then--all's well that ends well. Especially, as there
is not the slightest risk of its ever leaking out, why go out of the way
to make a fellow miserable for life?'
"I do not know whether the plan had Kusum's assent or not. At times she
wept, and at other times she remained silent. If I said, `Let us drop it
then,' she would become very restless. When things were in this state, I
sent Sripati to you with the proposal of marriage; you consented without
a moment's hesitation. Everything was settled.
"Shortly before the day fixed, Kusum became so obstinate that I had the
greatest difficulty in bringing her round again. `Do let it drop,
uncle,' she said to me constantly. 'What do you mean, you silly child,'
I rebuked her,' how can we back out now, when everything has been
"'Spread a rumour that I am dead,' she implored. 'Send me away
"'What would happen to the young man then?' said I.' He is now in the
seventh heaven of delight, expecting that his long cherished desire
would be fulfilled to-morrow; and to-day you want me to send him the
news of your death. The result would be that to-morrow I should have to
bear the news of his death to you, and the same evening your death would
be reported to me. Do you imagine, child, that I am capable of
committing a girl-murder and a Brahmin-murder at my age?'
"Eventually the happy marriage was celebrated at the auspicious moment,
and I felt relieved of a burdensome duty which I owed to myself. What
happened afterwards you know best."
"Couldn't you stop after having done us an irreparable injury?" burst
out Hemanta after a short silence. "Why have you told the secret now?"
With the utmost composure, Peari Sankar replied: "When I saw that all
arrangements had been made for the wedding of your sister, I said to
myself: 'Well, I have fouled the caste of one Brahmin, but that was only
from a sense of duty. Here, another Brahmin's caste is imperilled, and
this time it is my plain duty to prevent it.' So I wrote to them saying
that I was in a position to prove that you bad taken the daughter of a
sudra to wife."
Controlling himself with a gigantic effort, Hemanta said: "What will
become of this girl whom I shall abandon now? Would you give her food
"I have done what was mine to do," replied Peari Sankar calmly. "It is
no part of my duty to look after the discarded wives of other people.
Anybody there? Get a glass of cocoanut milk for Hemanta Babu with ice in
it. And some pan too."
Hemanta rose, and took his departure without waiting for this luxurious
It was the fifth night of the waning of the moon--and the night was
dark. No birds were singing. The lichi tree by the tank looked like a
smudge of ink on a background a shade less deep. The south wind was
blindly roaming about in the darkness like a sleep-walker. The stars in
the sky with vigilant unblinking eyes were trying to penetrate the
darkness, in their effort to fathom some profound mystery.
No light shone in the bedroom. Hemanta was sitting on the side of the
bed next the open window, gazing at the darkness in front of him. Kusum
lay on the floor, clasping her husband's feet with both her arms, and
her face resting on them. Time stood like an ocean hushed into
stillness. On the background of eternal night, Fate seemed to have
painted this one single picture for all time--annihilation on every
side, the judge in the centre of it, and the guilty one at his feet.
The sound of slippers was heard again. Approaching the door, Harihar
Mukerji said: "You have had enough time, --I can't allow you more. Turn
the girl out of the house."
Kusum, as she heard this, embraced her husband's feet with all the
ardour of a lifetime, covered them with kisses, and touching her
forehead to them reverentially, withdrew herself.
Hemanta rose, and walking to the door, said: "Father, I won't forsake my
"What!" roared out Harihar, "would you lose your caste, sir?"
"I don't care for caste," was Hemanta's calm reply.
"Then you too I renounce."
(THE FRUITSELLER FROM CABUL)
My five years' old daughter Mini cannot live without chattering. I
really believe that in all her life she has not wasted a minute in
silence. Her mother is often vexed at this, and would stop her prattle,
but I would not. To see Mini quiet is unnatural, and I cannot bear it
long. And so my own talk with her is always lively.
One morning, for instance, when I was in the midst of the seventeenth
chapter of my new novel, my little Mini stole into the room, and putting
her hand into mine, said: "Father! Ramdayal the door-keeper calls a
crow a krow! He doesn't know anything, does he?"
Before I could explain to her the differences of language in this world,
she was embarked on the full tide of another subject. "What do you
think, Father? Bhola says there is an elephant in the clouds, blowing
water out of his trunk, and that is why it rains!"
And then, darting off anew, while I sat still making ready some reply to
this last saying, "Father! what relation is Mother to you?"
"My dear little sister in the law!" I murmured involuntarily to myself,
but with a grave face contrived to answer: "Go and play with Bhola,
Mini! I am busy!"
The window of my room overlooks the road. The child had seated herself
at my feet near my table, and was playing softly, drumming on her knees.
I was hard at work on my seventeenth chapter, where Protrap Singh, the
hero, had just caught Kanchanlata, the heroine, in his arms, and was
about to escape with her by the third story window of the
castle, when all of a sudden Mini left her play, and ran to the window,
crying, "A Cabuliwallah! a Cabuliwallah!" Sure enough in the street
below was a Cabuliwallah, passing slowly along. He wore the loose
soiled clothing of his people, with a tall turban; there was a bag on
his back, and he carried boxes of grapes in his hand.
I cannot tell what were my daughter's feelings at the sight of this man,
but she began to call him loudly. "Ah!" I thought, "he will come in,
and my seventeenth chapter will never be finished!" At which exact
moment the Cabuliwallah turned, and looked up at the child. When she
saw this, overcome by terror, she fled to her mother's protection, and
disappeared. She had a blind belief that inside the bag, which the big
man carried, there were perhaps two or three other children like
herself. The pedlar meanwhile entered my doorway, and greeted me with a
So precarious was the position of my hero and my heroine, that my first
impulse was to stop and buy something, since the man had been called. I
made some small purchases, and a conversation began about Abdurrahman,
the Russians, she English, and the Frontier Policy.
As he was about to leave, he asked: "And where is the little girl, sir?"
And I, thinking that Mini must get rid of her false fear, had her
She stood by my chair, and looked at the Cabuliwallah and his bag. He
offered her nuts and raisins, but she would not be tempted, and only
clung the closer to me, with all her doubts increased.
This was their first meeting.
One morning, however, not many days later, as I was leaving the house, I
was startled to find Mini, seated on a bench near the door, laughing and
talking, with the great Cabuliwallah at her feet. In all her life, it
appeared; my small daughter had never found so patient a listener, save
her father. And already the corner of her little sari was
stuffed with almonds and raisins, the gift of her visitor, "Why did you
give her those?" I said, and taking out an eight-anna bit, I handed it
to him. The man accepted the money without demur, and slipped it into
Alas, on my return an hour later, I found the unfortunate coin had made
twice its own worth of trouble! For the Cabuliwallah had given it to
Mini, and her mother catching sight of the bright round object, had
pounced on the child with: "Where did you get that eight-anna bit? "
"The Cabuliwallah gave it me," said Mini cheerfully.
"The Cabuliwallah gave it you!" cried her mother much shocked. "Oh,
Mini! how could you take it from him?"
I, entering at the moment, saved her from impending disaster, and
proceeded to make my own inquiries.
It was not the first or second time, I found, that the two had met. The
Cabuliwallah had overcome the child's first terror by a judicious
bribery of nuts and almonds, and the two were now great friends.
They had many quaint jokes, which afforded them much amusement. Seated
in front of him, looking down on his gigantic frame in all her tiny
dignity, Mini would ripple her face with laughter, and begin: "O
Cabuliwallah, Cabuliwallah, what have you got in your bag?"
And he would reply, in the nasal accents of the mountaineer: "An
elephant!" Not much cause for merriment, perhaps; but how they both
enjoyed the witticism! And for me, this child's talk with a grown-up
man had always in it something strangely fascinating.
Then the Cabuliwallah, not to be behindhand, would take his turn: "Well,
little one, and when are you going to the father-in-law's house?"
Now most small Bengali maidens have heard long ago about the
father-in-law's house; but we, being a little new-fangled, had kept
these things from our child, and Mini at this question must have been a
trifle bewildered. But she would not show it, and with ready tact
replied: "Are you going there?"
Amongst men of the Cabuliwallah's class, however, it is well known that
the words father-in-law's house have a double meaning. It is a
euphemism for jail, the place where we are well cared for, at no expense
to ourselves. In this sense would the sturdy pedlar take my
daughter's question. "Ah," he would say, shaking his fist at an
invisible policeman, "I will thrash my father-in-law!" Hearing this,
and picturing the poor discomfited relative, Mini would go off into
peals of laughter, in which her formidable friend would join.
These were autumn mornings, the very time of year when kings of old went
forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in
Calcutta, would let my mind wander over the whole world. At the very
name of another country, my heart would go out to it, and at the sight
of a foreigner in the streets, I would fall to weaving a network of
dreams, --the mountains, the glens, and the forests of his distant home,
with his cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of
far-away wilds. Perhaps the scenes of travel conjure themselves up
before me, and pass and repass in my imagination all the more vividly,
because I lead such a vegetable existence, that a call to travel would
fall upon me like a thunderbolt. In the presence of this Cabuliwallah,
I was immediately transported to the foot of arid
mountain peaks, with narrow little defiles twisting in and out amongst
their towering heights. I could see the string of camels bearing the
merchandise, and the company of turbaned merchants, carrying some of
their queer old firearms, and some of their spears, journeying downward
towards the plains. I could see--but at some such point Mini's mother
would intervene, imploring me to "beware of that man."
Mini's mother is unfortunately a very timid lady. Whenever she hears a
noise in the street, or sees people coming towards the house, she always
jumps to the conclusion that they are either thieves, or drunkards, or
snakes, or tigers, or malaria or cockroaches, or caterpillars, or an
English sailor. Even after all these years of experience, she is not
able to overcome her terror. So she was full of doubts about the
Cabuliwallah, and used to beg me to keep a watchful eye on him.
I tried to laugh her fear gently away, but then she would turn round on
me seriously, and ask me solemn questions.
Were children never kidnapped?
Was it, then, not true that there was slavery in Cabul?
Was it so very absurd that this big man should be able to carry off a
I urged that, though not impossible, it was highly improbable. But this
was not enough, and her dread persisted. As it was indefinite, however,
it did not seem right to forbid the man the house, and the intimacy went
Once a year in the middle of January Rahmun, the Cabuliwallah, was in
the habit of returning to his country, and as the time approached he
would be very busy, going from house to house collecting his debts.
This year, however, he could always find time to come and see Mini. It
would have seemed to an outsider that there was some conspiracy between
the two, for when he could not come in the morning, he would appear in
Even to me it was a little startling now and then, in the corner of a
dark room, suddenly to surprise this tall, loose-garmented, much
bebagged man; but when Mini would run in smiling, with her, "O!
Cabuliwallah! Cabuliwallah!" and the two friends, so far apart in age,
would subside into their old laughter and their old jokes, I felt
One morning, a few days before he had made up his mind to go, I was
correcting my proof sheets in my study. It was chilly weather. Through
the window the rays of the sun touched my feet, and the slight warmth
was very welcome. It was almost eight o'clock, and the early
pedestrians were returning home, with their heads covered. All at once,
I heard an uproar in the street, and, looking out, saw Rahmun being led
away bound between two policemen, and behind them a crowd of curious
boys. There were blood-stains on the clothes of the Cabuliwallah, and
one of the policemen carried a knife. Hurrying out, I stopped them, and
enquired what it all meant. Partly from one, partly from another, I
gathered that a certain neighbour had owed the pedlar something for a
Rampuri shawl, but had falsely denied having bought it, and that in the
course of the quarrel, Rahmun had struck him. Now in the heat of his
excitement, the prisoner began calling his enemy all sorts of names,
when suddenly in a verandah of my house appeared my little Mini, with
her usual exclamation: "O Cabuliwallah! Cabuliwallah!" Rahmun's face
lighted up as he turned to her. He had no bag under his arm today, so
she could not discuss the elephant with him. She at once therefore
proceeded to the next question: "Are you going to the father-in-law's
house?" Rahmun laughed and said: "Just where I am going, little one!"
Then seeing that the reply did not amuse the child, he held up his
fettered hands. " Ali," he said, " I would have thrashed that old
father-in-law, but my hands are bound!"
On a charge of murderous assault, Rahmun was sentenced to some years'
Time passed away, and he was not remembered. The accustomed work in the
accustomed place was ours, and the thought of the once-free mountaineer
spending his years in prison seldom or never occurred to us. Even my
light-hearted Mini, I am ashamed to say, forgot her old friend. New
companions filled her life. As she grew older, she spent more of her
time with girls. So much time indeed did she spend with them that she
came no more, as she used to do, to her father's room. I was scarcely
on speaking terms with her.
Years had passed away. It was once more autumn and we had made
arrangements for our Mini's marriage. It was to take place during the
Puja Holidays. With Durga returning to Kailas, the light of our home
also was to depart to her husband's house, and leave her father's in the
The morning was bright. After the rains, there was a sense of ablution
in the air, and the sun-rays looked like pure gold. So bright were they
that they gave a beautiful radiance even to the sordid brick walls of
our Calcutta lanes. Since early dawn to-day the wedding-pipes had been
sounding, and at each beat my own heart throbbed. The wail of the tune,
Bhairavi, seemed to intensify my pain at the approaching separation. My
Mini was to be married to-night.
>From early morning noise and bustle had pervaded the house. In the
courtyard the canopy had to be slung on its bamboo poles; the
chandeliers with their tinkling sound must be hung in each room and
verandah. There was no end of hurry and excitement. I was sitting in
my study, looking through the accounts, when some one entered, saluting
respectfully, and stood before me. It was Rahmun the Cabuliwallah. At
first I did not recognise him. He had no bag, nor the long hair, nor
the same vigour that he used to have. But he smiled, and I knew him
"When did you come, Rahmun?" I asked him.
"Last evening," he said, "I was released from jail."
The words struck harsh upon my ears. I had never before talked with one
who had wounded his fellow, and my heart shrank within itself, when I
realised this, for I felt that the day would have been better-omened had
he not turned up.
"There are ceremonies going on," I said, "and I am busy. Could you
perhaps come another day?"
At once he turned to go; but as he reached the door he hesitated, and
said: "May I not see the little one, sir, for a moment?" It was his
belief that Mini was still the same. He had pictured her running to him
as she used, calling "O Cabuliwallah! Cabuliwallah!" He had imagined
too that they would laugh and talk together, just as of old. In fact,
in memory of former days he had brought, carefully wrapped up in paper,
a few almonds and raisins and grapes, obtained somehow from a
countryman, for his own little fund was dispersed.
I said again: "There is a ceremony in the house, and you will not be
able to see any one to-day."
The man's face fell. He looked wistfully at me for a moment, said "Good
morning," and went out. I felt a little sorry, and would have called
him back, but I found he was returning of his own accord. He came close
up to me holding out his offerings and said: "I brought these few
things, sir, for the little one. Will you give them to her?"
I took them and was going to pay him, but he caught my hand and said:
"You are very kind, sir! Keep me in your recollection. Do not offer me
money!--You have a little girl, I too have one like her in my own home.
I think of her, and bring fruits to your child, not to make a profit for
Saying this, he put his hand inside his big loose robe, and brought out
a small and dirty piece of paper. With great care he unfolded this, and
smoothed it out with both hands on my table. It bore the impression of
a little band. Not a photograph. Not a drawing. The impression of an
ink-smeared hand laid flat on the paper. This touch of his own little
daughter had been always on his heart, as he had come year after year to
Calcutta, to sell his wares in the streets.
Tears came to my eyes. I forgot that he was a poor Cabuli fruit-seller,
while I was--but no, what was I more than he? He also was a father.
That impression of the hand of his little Parbati in her distant
mountain home reminded me of my own little Mini.
I sent for Mini immediately from the inner apartment. Many difficulties
were raised, but I would not listen. Clad in the red silk of her
wedding-day, with the sandal paste on her forehead, and adorned as a
young bride, Mini came, and stood bashfully before me.
The Cabuliwallah looked a little staggered at the apparition. He could
not revive their old friendship. At last he smiled and said: "Little
one, are you going to your father-in-law's house?"
But Mini now understood the meaning of the word "father-in-law," and she
could not reply to him as of old. She flushed up at the question, and
stood before him with her bride-like face turned down.
I remembered the day when the Cabuliwallah and my Mini had first met,
and I felt sad. When she had gone, Rahmun heaved a deep sigh, and sat
down on the floor. The idea had suddenly come to him that his daughter
too must have grown in this long time, and that he would have to make
friends with her anew. Assuredly he would not find her, as he used to
know her. And besides, what might not have happened to her in these
The marriage-pipes sounded, and the mild autumn sun streamed round us.
But Rahmun sat in the little Calcutta lane, and saw before him the
barren mountains of Afghanistan.
I took out a bank-note, and gave it to him, saying: "Go back to your own
daughter, Rahmun, in your own country, and may the happiness of your
meeting bring good fortune to my child!"
Having made this present, I had to curtail some of the festivities. I
could not have the electric lights I had intended, nor the military
band, and the ladies of the house were despondent at it. But to me the
wedding feast was all the brighter for the thought that in a distant
land a long-lost father met again with his only child.
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