Part 2 out of 5
"It is simply your intellectual foppery," I replied, "which makes
you indulge in moral delicacy, ignoring the savage side of truth.
This merely helps you to mystify things, and so you fail to do
your work with any degree of strength."
"The intrusion of strength," said Nikhil impatiently, "where
strength is out of place, does not help you in your work ... But
why are we arguing about these things? Vain arguments only brush
off the fresh bloom of truth."
I wanted Bee to join in the discussion, but she had not said a
word up to now. Could I have given her too rude a shock, leaving
her assailed with doubts and wanting to learn her lesson afresh
from the schoolmaster? Still, a thorough shaking-up is
essential. One must begin by realizing that things supposed to
be unshakeable can be shaken.
"I am glad I had this talk with you," I said to Nikhil, "for I
was on the point of lending this book to Queen Bee to read."
"What harm?" said Nikhil. "If I could read the book, why not
Bimala too? All I want to say is, that in Europe people look at
everything from the viewpoint of science. But man is neither
mere physiology, nor biology, nor psychology, nor even sociology.
For God's sake don't forget that. Man is infinitely more than
the natural science of himself. You laugh at me, calling me the
schoolmaster's pupil, but that is what you are, not I. You want
to find the truth of man from your science teachers, and not from
your own inner being."
"But why all this excitement?" I mocked.
"Because I see you are bent on insulting man and making him
"Where on earth do you see all that?"
"In the air, in my outraged feelings. You would go on wounding
the great, the unselfish, the beautiful in man."
"What mad idea is this of yours?"
Nikhil suddenly stood up. "I tell you plainly, Sandip," he said,
"man may be wounded unto death, but he will not die. This is the
reason why I am ready to suffer all, knowing all, with eyes
With these words he hurriedly left the room.
I was staring blankly at his retreating figure, when the sound of
a book, falling from the table, made me turn to find Bee
following him with quick, nervous steps, making a detour to avoid
passing too near me.
A curious creature, that Nikhil! He feels the danger threatening
his home, and yet why does he not turn me out? I know, he is
waiting for Bimal to give him the cue. If Bimal tells him that
their mating has been a misfit, he will bow his head and admit
that it may have been a blunder! He has not the strength of mind
to understand that to acknowledge a mistake is the greatest of
all mistakes. He is a typical example of how ideas make for
weakness. I have not seen another like him--so whimsical a
product of nature! He would hardly do as a character in a novel
or drama, to say nothing of real life.
And Bee? I am afraid her dream-life is over from today. She has
at length understood the nature of the current which is bearing
her along. Now she must either advance or retreat, open-eyed.
The chances are she will now advance a step, and then retreat a
step. But that does not disturb me. When one is on fire, this
rushing to and fro makes the blaze all the fiercer. The fright
she has got will only fan her passion.
Perhaps I had better not say much to her, but simply select some
modern books for her to read. Let her gradually come to the
conviction that to acknowledge and respect passion as the supreme
reality, is to be modern--not to be ashamed of it, not to glorify
restraint. If she finds shelter in some such word as "modern",
she will find strength.
Be that as it may, I must see this out to the end of the Fifth
Act. I cannot, unfortunately, boast of being merely a spectator,
seated in the royal box, applauding now and again. There is a
wrench at my heart, a pang in every nerve. When I have put out
the light and am in my bed, little touches, little glances,
little words flit about and fill the darkness. When I get up in
the morning, I thrill with lively anticipations, my blood seems
to course through me to the strains of music ...
There was a double photo-frame on the table with Bee's photograph
by the side of Nikhil's. I had taken out hers. Yesterday I
showed Bee the empty side and said: "Theft becomes necessary only
because of miserliness, so its sin must be divided between the
miser and the thief. Do you not think so?"
"It was not a good one," observed Bee simply, with a little
"What is to be done?" said I. "A portrait cannot be better than
a portrait. I must be content with it, such as it is."
Bee took up a book and began to turn over the pages. "If you are
annoyed," I went on, "I must make a shift to fill up the
Today I have filled it up. This photograph of mine was taken in
my early youth. My face was then fresher, and so was my mind.
Then I still cherished some illusions about this world and the
next. Faith deceives men, but it has one great merit: it imparts
a radiance to the features.
My portrait now reposes next to Nikhil's, for are not the two of
us old friends?
I WAS never self-conscious. But nowadays I often try to take an
outside view--to see myself as Bimal sees me. What a dismally
solemn picture it makes, my habit of taking things too seriously!
Better, surely, to laugh away the world than flood it with tears.
That is, in fact, how the world gets on. We relish our food and
rest, only because we can dismiss, as so many empty shadows, the
sorrows scattered everywhere, both in the home and in the outer
world. If we took them as true, even for a moment, where would
be our appetite, our sleep?
But I cannot dismiss myself as one of these shadows, and so the
load of my sorrow lies eternally heavy on the heart of my world.
Why not stand out aloof in the highway of the universe, and feel
yourself to be part of the all? In the midst of the immense,
age-long concourse of humanity, what is Bimal to you? Your wife?
What is a wife? A bubble of a name blown big with your own
breath, so carefully guarded night and day, yet ready to burst at
any pin-prick from outside.
My wife--and so, forsooth, my very own! If she says: "No, I am
myself"--am I to reply: "How can that be? Are you not mine?"
"My wife"--Does that amount to an argument, much less the truth?
Can one imprison a whole personality within that name?
My wife!--Have I not cherished in this little world all that is
purest and sweetest in my life, never for a moment letting it
down from my bosom to the dust? What incense of worship, what
music of passion, what flowers of my spring and of my autumn,
have I not offered up at its shrine? If, like a toy paper-boat,
she be swept along into the muddy waters of the gutter--would I
not also... ?
There it is again, my incorrigible solemnity! Why "muddy"? What
"gutter" names, called in a fit of jealousy, do not change the
facts of the world. If Bimal is not mine, she is not; and no
fuming, or fretting, or arguing will serve to prove that she is.
If my heart is breaking--let it break! That will not make the
world bankrupt--nor even me; for man is so much greater than the
things he loses in this life. The very ocean of tears has its
other shore, else none would have ever wept.
But then there is Society to be considered ... which let Society
consider! If I weep it is for myself, not for Society. If Bimal
should say she is not mine, what care I where my Society wife may
Suffering there must be; but I must save myself, by any means in
my power, from one form of self-torture: I must never think that
my life loses its value because of any neglect it may suffer.
The full value of my life does not all go to buy my narrow
domestic world; its great commerce does not stand or fall with
some petty success or failure in the bartering of my personal
joys and sorrows.
The time has come when I must divest Bimala of all the ideal
decorations with which I decked her. It was owing to my own
weakness that I indulged in such idolatry. I was too greedy. I
created an angel of Bimala, in order to exaggerate my own
enjoyment. But Bimala is what she is. It is preposterous to
expect that she should assume the rôle of an angel for my
pleasure. The Creator is under no obligation to supply me with
angels, just because I have an avidity for imaginary perfection.
I must acknowledge that I have merely been an accident in
Bimala's life. Her nature, perhaps, can only find true union
with one like Sandip. At the same time, I must not, in false
modesty, accept my rejection as my desert. Sandip certainly has
attractive qualities, which had their sway also upon myself; but
yet, I feel sure, he is not a greater man than I. If the wreath
of victory falls to his lot today, and I am overlooked, then the
dispenser of the wreath will be called to judgement.
I say this in no spirit of boasting. Sheer necessity has driven
me to the pass, that to secure myself from utter desolation I
must recognize all the value that I truly possess. Therefore,
through the, terrible experience of suffering let there come upon
me the joy of deliverance--deliverance from self-distrust.
I have come to distinguish what is really in me from what I
foolishly imagined to be there. The profit and loss account has
been settled, and that which remains is myself--not a crippled
self, dressed in rags and tatters, not a sick self to be nursed
on invalid diet, but a spirit which has gone through the worst,
and has survived.
My master passed through my room a moment ago and said with his
hand on my shoulder. "Get away to bed, Nikhil, the night is far
The fact is, it has become so difficult for me to go to bed till
late--till Bimal is fast asleep. In the day-time we meet, and
even converse, but what am I to say when we are alone together,
in the silence of the night?--so ashamed do I feel in mind and
"How is it, sir, you have not yet retired?" I asked in my turn.
My master smiled a little, as he left me, saying: "My sleeping
days are over. I have now attained the waking age."
I had written thus far, and was about to rise to go off bedwards
when, through the window before me, I saw the heavy pall of July
cloud suddenly part a little, and a big star shine through. It
seemed to say to me: "Dreamland ties are made, and dreamland ties
are broken, but I am here for ever--the everlasting lamp of the
All at once my heart was full with the thought that my Eternal
Love was steadfastly waiting for me through the ages, behind the
veil of material things. Through many a life, in many a mirror,
have I seen her image--broken mirrors, crooked mirrors, dusty
mirrors. Whenever I have sought to make the mirror my very own,
and shut it up within my box, I have lost sight of the image.
But what of that. What have I to do with the mirror, or even the
My beloved, your smile shall never fade, and every dawn there
shall appear fresh for me the vermilion mark on your forehead!
"What childish cajolery of self-deception," mocks some devil from
his dark corner--"silly prattle to make children quiet!"
That may be. But millions and millions of children, with their
million cries, have to be kept quiet. Can it be that all this
multitude is quieted with only a lie? No, my Eternal Love cannot
deceive me, for she is true!
She is true; that is why I have seen her and shall see her so
often, even in my mistakes, even through the thickest mist of
tears. I have seen her and lost her in the crowd of life's
market-place, and found her again; and I shall find her once more
when I have escaped through the loophole of death.
Ah, cruel one, play with me no longer! If I have failed to track
you by the marks of your footsteps on the way, by the scent of
your tresses lingering in the air, make me not weep for that for
ever. The unveiled star tells me not to fear. That which is
eternal must always be there.
Now let me go and see my Bimala. She must have spread her tired
limbs on the bed, limp after her struggles, and be asleep. I
will leave a kiss on her forehead without waking her--that shall
be the flower-offering of my worship. I believe I could forget
everything after death--all my mistakes, all my sufferings--but
some vibration of the memory of that kiss would remain; for the
wreath which is being woven out of the kisses of many a
successive birth is to crown the Eternal Beloved.
As the gong of the watch rang out, sounding the hour of two, my
sister-in-law came into the room. "Whatever are you doing,
brother dear?"  she cried. "For pity's sake go to bed and
stop worrying so. I cannot bear to look on that awful shadow of
pain on your face." Tears welled up in her eyes and overflowed
as she entreated me thus.
I could not utter a word, but took the dust of her feet, as I
went off to bed.
16. When a relationship is established by marriage, or by mutual
understanding arising out of special friendship or affection, the
persons so related call each other in terms of such relationship,
and not by name. [Trans.].
At first I suspected nothing, feared nothing; I simply felt
dedicated to my country. What a stupendous joy there was in this
unquestioning surrender. Verily had I realized how, in
thoroughness of self-destruction, man can find supreme bliss.
For aught I know, this frenzy of mine might have come to a
gradual, natural end. But Sandip Babu would not have it so, he
would insist on revealing himself. The tone of his voice became
as intimate as a touch, every look flung itself on its knees in
beggary. And, through it all, there burned a passion which in
its violence made as though it would tear me up by the roots, and
drag me along by the hair.
I will not shirk the truth. This cataclysmal desire drew me by
day and by night. It seemed desperately alluring--this making
havoc of myself. What a shame it seemed, how terrible, and yet
how sweet! Then there was my overpowering curiosity, to which
there seemed no limit. He of whom I knew but little, who never
could assuredly be mine, whose youth flared so vigorously in a
hundred points of flame--oh, the mystery of his seething
passions, so immense, so tumultuous!
I began with a feeling of worship, but that soon passed away. I
ceased even to respect Sandip; on the contrary, I began to look
down upon him. Nevertheless this flesh-and-blood lute of mine,
fashioned with my feeling and fancy, found in him a master-
player. What though I shrank from his touch, and even came to
loathe the lute itself; its music was conjured up all the same.
I must confess there was something in me which ... what shall I
say? ... which makes me wish I could have died!
Chandranath Babu, when he finds leisure, comes to me. He has the
power to lift my mind up to an eminence from where I can see in a
moment the boundary of my life extended on all sides and so
realize that the lines, which I took from my bounds, were merely
But what is the use of it all? Do I really desire emancipation?
Let suffering come to our house; let the best in me shrivel up
and become black; but let this infatuation not leave me--such
seems to be my prayer.
When, before my marriage, I used to see a brother-in-law of mine,
now dead, mad with drink--beating his wife in his frenzy, and
then sobbing and howling in maudlin repentance, vowing never to
touch liquor again, and yet, the very same evening, sitting down
to drink and drink--it would fill me with disgust. But my
intoxication today is still more fearful. The stuff has not to
be procured or poured out: it springs within my veins, and I know
not how to resist it.
Must this continue to the end of my days? Now and again I start
and look upon myself, and think my life to be a nightmare which
will vanish all of a sudden with all its untruth. It has become
so frightfully incongruous. It has no connection with its past.
What it is, how it could have come to this pass, I cannot
One day my sister-in-law remarked with a cutting laugh: "What a
wonderfully hospitable Chota Rani we have! Her guest absolutely
will not budge. In our time there used to be guests, too; but
they had not such lavish looking after--we were so absurdly taken
up with our husbands. Poor brother Nikhil is paying the penalty
of being born too modern. He should have come as a guest if he
wanted to stay on. Now it looks as if it were time for him to
quit ... O you little demon, do your glances never fall, by
chance, on his agonized face?"
This sarcasm did not touch me; for I knew that these women had it
not in them to understand the nature of the cause of my devotion.
I was then wrapped in the protecting armour of the exaltation of
sacrifice, through which such shafts were powerless to reach and
For some time all talk of the country's cause has been dropped.
Our conversation nowadays has become full of modern sex-problems,
and various other matters, with a sprinkling of poetry, both old
Vaishnava and modern English, accompanied by a running undertone
of melody, low down in the bass, such as I have never in my life
heard before, which seems to me to sound the true manly note, the
note of power.
The day had come when all cover was gone. There was no longer
even the pretence of a reason why Sandip Babu should linger on,
or why I should have confidential talks with him every now and
then. I felt thoroughly vexed with myself, with my sister-in-
law, with the ways of the world, and I vowed I would never again
go to the outer apartments, not if I were to die for it.
For two whole days I did not stir out. Then, for the first time,
I discovered how far I had travelled. My life felt utterly
tasteless. Whatever I touched I wanted to thrust away. I felt
myself waiting--from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes
--waiting for something, somebody; my blood kept tingling with
I tried busying myself with extra work. The bedroom floor was
clean enough but I insisted on its being scrubbed over again
under my eyes. Things were arranged in the cabinets in one kind
of order; I pulled them all out and rearranged them in a
different way. I found no time that afternoon even to do up my
hair; I hurriedly tied it into a loose knot, and went and worried
everybody, fussing about the store-room. The stores seemed
short, and pilfering must have been going on of late, but I could
not muster up the courage to take any particular person to task--
for might not the thought have crossed somebody's mind: "Where
were your eyes all these days!"
In short, I behaved that day as one possessed. The next day I
tried to do some reading. What I read I have no idea, but after
a spell of absentmindedness I found I had wandered away, book in
hand, along the passage leading towards the outer apartments, and
was standing by a window looking out upon the verandah running
along the row of rooms on the opposite side of the quadrangle.
One of these rooms, I felt, had crossed over to another shore,
and the ferry had ceased to ply. I felt like the ghost of myself
of two days ago, doomed to remain where I was, and yet not really
there, blankly looking out for ever.
As I stood there, I saw Sandip come out of his room into the
verandah, a newspaper in his hand. I could see that he looked
extraordinarily disturbed. The courtyard, the railings, in
front, seemed to rouse his wrath. He flung away his newspaper
with a gesture which seemed to want to rend the space before him.
I felt I could no longer keep my vow. I was about to move on
towards the sitting-room, when I found my sister-in-law behind
me. "O Lord, this beats everything!" she ejaculated, as she
glided away. I could not proceed to the outer apartments.
The next morning when my maid came calling, "Rani Mother, it is
getting late for giving out the stores," I flung the keys to her,
saying, "Tell Harimati to see to it," and went on with some
embroidery of English pattern on which I was engaged, seated near
Then came a servant with a letter. "From Sandip Babu," said he.
What unbounded boldness! What must the messenger have thought?
There was a tremor within my breast as I opened the envelope.
There was no address on the letter, only the words: __An urgent
matter--touching the Cause. Sandip__.
I flung aside the embroidery. I was up on my feet in a moment,
giving a touch or two to my hair by the mirror. I kept the
__sari__ I had on, changing only my jacket--for one of my
jackets had its associations.
I had to pass through one of the verandahs, where my sister-in-
law used to sit in the morning slicing betel-nut. I refused to
feel awkward. "Whither away, Chota Rani?" she cried.
"To the sitting-room outside."
"So early! A matinée, eh?"
And, as I passed on without further reply, she hummed after me a
When I was about to enter the sitting-room, I saw Sandip immersed
in an illustrated catalogue of British Academy pictures, with his
back to the door. He has a great notion of himself as an expert
in matters of Art.
One day my husband said to him: "If the artists ever want a
teacher, they need never lack for one so long as you are there."
It had not been my husband's habit to speak cuttingly, but
latterly there has been a change and he never spares Sandip.
"What makes you suppose that artists need no teachers?" Sandip
"Art is a creation," my husband replied. "So we should humbly be
content to receive our lessons about Art from the work of the
Sandip laughed at this modesty, saying: "You think that meekness
is a kind of capital which increases your wealth the more you use
it. It is my conviction that those who lack pride only float
about like water reeds which have no roots in the soil."
My mind used to be full of contradictions when they talked thus.
On the one hand I was eager that my husband should win in
argument and that Sandip's pride should be shamed. Yet, on the
other, it was Sandip's unabashed pride which attracted me so. It
shone like a precious diamond, which knows no diffidence, and
sparkles in the face of the sun itself.
I entered the room. I knew Sandip could hear my footsteps as I
went forward, but he pretended not to, and kept his eyes on the
I dreaded his Art talks, for I could not overcome my delicacy
about the pictures he talked of, and the things he said, and had
much ado in putting on an air of overdone insensibility to hide
my qualms. So, I was almost on the point of retracing my steps,
when, with a deep sigh, Sandip raised his eyes, and affected to
be startled at the sight of me. "Ah, you have come!" he said.
In his words, in his tone, in his eyes, there was a world of
suppressed reproach, as if the claims he had acquired over me
made my absence, even for these two or three days, a grievous
wrong. I knew this attitude was an insult to me, but, alas, I
had not the power to resent it.
I made no reply, but though I was looking another way, I could
not help feeling that Sandip's plaintive gaze had planted itself
right on my face, and would take no denial. I did so wish he
would say something, so that I could shelter myself behind his
words. I cannot tell how long this went on, but at last I could
stand it no longer. "What is this matter," I asked, "you are
wanting to tell me about?"
Sandip again affected surprise as he said: "Must there always be
some matter? Is friendship by itself a crime? Oh, Queen Bee, to
think that you should make so light of the greatest thing on
earth! Is the heart's worship to be shut out like a stray cur?"
There was again that tremor within me. I could feel the crisis
coming, too importunate to be put off. Joy and fear struggled
for the mastery. Would my shoulders, I wondered, be broad enough
to stand its shock, or would it not leave me overthrown, with my
face in the dust?
I was trembling all over. Steadying myself with an effort I
repeated: "You summoned me for something touching the Cause, so I
have left my household duties to attend to it."
"That is just what I was trying to explain," he said, with a dry
laugh. "Do you not know that I come to worship? Have I not told
you that, in you, I visualize the __Shakti__ of our country?
The Geography of a country is not the whole truth. No one can
give up his life for a map! When I see you before me, then only
do I realize how lovely my country is. When you have anointed me
with your own hands, then shall I know I have the sanction of my
country; and if, with that in my heart, I fall fighting, it shall
not be on the dust of some map-made land, but on a lovingly
spread skirt--do you know what kind of skirt?--like that of the
earthen-red __sari__ you wore the other day, with a broad
blood-red border. Can I ever forget it? Such are the visions
which give vigour to life, and joy to death!"
Sandip's eyes took fire as he went on, but whether it was the
fire of worship, or of passion, I could not tell. I was reminded
of the day on which I first heard him speak, when I could not be
sure whether he was a person, or just a living flame.
I had not the power to utter a word. You cannot take shelter
behind the walls of decorum when in a moment the fire leaps up
and, with the flash of its sword and the roar of its laughter,
destroys all the miser's stores. I was in terror lest he should
forget himself and take me by the hand. For he shook like a
quivering tongue of fire; his eyes showered scorching sparks on
"Are you for ever determined," he cried after a pause, "to make
gods of your petty household duties--you who have it in you to
send us to life or to death? Is this power of yours to be kept
veiled in a zenana? Cast away all false shame, I pray you; snap
your fingers at the whispering around. Take your plunge today
into the freedom of the outer world."
When, in Sandip's appeals, his worship of the country gets to be
subtly interwoven with his worship of me, then does my blood
dance, indeed, and the barriers of my hesitation totter. His
talks about Art and Sex, his distinctions between Real and
Unreal, had but clogged my attempts at response with some
revolting nastiness. This, however, now burst again into a glow
before which my repugnance faded away. I felt that my
resplendent womanhood made me indeed a goddess. Why should not
its glory flash from my forehead with visible brilliance? Why
does not my voice find a word, some audible cry, which would be
like a sacred spell to my country for its fire initiation?
All of a sudden my maid Khema rushed into the room, dishevelled.
"Give me my wages and let me go," she screamed. "Never in all my
life have I been so ..." The rest of her speech was drowned in
"What is the matter?"
Thako, the Bara Rani's maid, it appeared, had for no rhyme or
reason reviled her in unmeasured terms. She was in such a state,
it was no manner of use trying to pacify her by saying I would
look into the matter afterwards.
The slime of domestic life that lay beneath the lotus bank of
womanhood came to the surface. Rather than allow Sandip a
prolonged vision of it, I had to hurry back within.
My sister-in-law was absorbed in her betel-nuts, the suspicion of
a smile playing about her lips, as if nothing untoward had
happened. She was still humming the same song.
"Why has your Thako been calling poor Khema names?" I burst out.
"Indeed? The wretch! I will have her broomed out of the house.
What a shame to spoil your morning out like this! As for Khema,
where are the hussy's manners to go and disturb you when you are
engaged? Anyhow, Chota Rani, don't you worry yourself with these
domestic squabbles. Leave them to me, and return to your
How suddenly the wind in the sails of our mind veers round! This
going to meet Sandip outside seemed, in the light of the zenana
code, such an extraordinarily out-of-the-way thing to do that I
went off to my own room, at a loss for a reply. I knew this was
my sister-in-law's doing and that she had egged her maid on to
contrive this scene. But I had brought myself to such an
unstable poise that I dared not have my fling.
Why, it was only the other day that I found I could not keep up
to the last the unbending hauteur with which I had demanded from
my husband the dismissal of the man Nanku. I felt suddenly
abashed when the Bara Rani came up and said: "It is really all my
fault, brother dear. We are old-fashioned folk, and I did not
quite like the ways of your Sandip Babu, so I only told the guard
... but how was I to know that our Chota Rani would take this as
an insult?--I thought it would be the other way about! Just my
The thing which seems so glorious when viewed from the heights of
the country's cause, looks so muddy when seen from the bottom.
One begins by getting angry, and then feels disgusted.
I shut myself into my room, sitting by the window, thinking how
easy life would be if only one could keep in harmony with one's
surroundings. How simply the senior Rani sits in her verandah
with her betel-nuts and how inaccessible to me has become my
natural seat beside my daily duties! Where will it all end, I
asked myself? Shall I ever recover, as from a delirium, and
forget it all; or am I to be dragged to depths from which there
can be no escape in this life? How on earth did I manage to let
my good fortune escape me, and spoil my life so? Every wall of
this bedroom of mine, which I first entered nine years ago as a
bride, stares at me in dismay.
When my husband came home, after his M.A. examination, he
brought for me this orchid belonging to some far-away land beyond
the seas. From beneath these few little leaves sprang such a
cascade of blossoms, it looked as if they were pouring forth from
some overturned urn of Beauty. We decided, together, to hang it
here, over this window. It flowered only that once, but we have
always been in hope of its doing so once more. Curiously enough
I have kept on watering it these days, from force of habit, and
it is still green.
It is now four years since I framed a photograph of my husband in
ivory and put it in the niche over there. If I happen to look
that way I have to lower my eyes. Up to last week I used
regularly to put there the flowers of my worship, every morning
after my bath. My husband has often chided me over this.
"It shames me to see you place me on a height to which I do not
belong," he said one day.
"I am not only ashamed, but also jealous!"
"Just hear him! Jealous of whom, pray?"
"Of that false me. It only shows that I am too petty for you,
that you want some extraordinary man who can overpower you with
his superiority, and so you needs must take refuge in making for
yourself another 'me'."
"This kind of talk only makes me angry," said I.
"What is the use of being angry with me?" he replied. "Blame
your fate which allowed you no choice, but made you take me
blindfold. This keeps you trying to retrieve its blunder by
making me out a paragon."
I felt so hurt at the bare idea that tears started to my eyes
that day. And whenever I think of that now, I cannot raise my
eyes to the niche.
For now there is another photograph in my jewel case. The other
day, when arranging the sitting-room, I brought away that double
photo frame, the one in which Sandip's portrait was next to my
husband's. To this portrait I have no flowers of worship to
offer, but it remains hidden away under my gems. It has all the
greater fascination because kept secret. I look at it now and
then with doors closed. At night I turn up the lamp, and sit
with it in my hand, gazing and gazing. And every night I think
of burning it in the flame of the lamp, to be done with it for
ever; but every night I heave a sigh and smother it again in my
pearls and diamonds.
Ah, wretched woman! What a wealth of love was twined round each
one of those jewels! Oh, why am I not dead?
Sandip had impressed it on me that hesitation is not in the
nature of woman. For her, neither right nor left has any
existence--she only moves forward. When the women of our country
wake up, he repeatedly insisted, their voice will be unmistakably
confident in its utterance of the cry: "I want."
"I want!" Sandip went on one day--this was the primal word at
the root of all creation. It had no maxim to guide it, but it
became fire and wrought itself into suns and stars. Its
partiality is terrible. Because it had a desire for man, it
ruthlessly sacrificed millions of beasts for millions of years to
achieve that desire. That terrible word "I want" has taken flesh
in woman, and therefore men, who are cowards, try with all their
might to keep back this primeval flood With their earthen dykes.
They are afraid lest, laughing and dancing as it goes, it should
wash away all the hedges and props of their pumpkin field. Men,
in every age, flatter themselves that they have secured this
force within the bounds of their convenience, but it gathers and
grows. Now it is calm and deep like a lake, but gradually its
pressure will increase, the dykes will give way, and the force
which has so long been dumb will rush forward with the roar: "I
These words of Sandip echo in my heart-beats like a war-drum.
They shame into silence all my conflicts with myself. What do I
care what people may think of me? Of what value are that orchid
and that niche in my bedroom? What power have they to belittle
me, to put me to shame? The primal fire of creation burns in me.
I felt a strong desire to snatch down the orchid and fling it out
of the window, to denude the niche of its picture, to lay bare
and naked the unashamed spirit of destruction that raged within
me. My arm was raised to do it, but a sudden pang passed through
my breast, tears started to my eyes. I threw myself down and
sobbed: "What is the end of all this, what is the end?"
When I read these pages of the story of my life I seriously
question myself: Is this Sandip? Am I made of words? Am I
merely a book with a covering of flesh and blood?
The earth is not a dead thing like the moon. She breathes. Her
rivers and oceans send up vapours in which she is clothed. She
is covered with a mantle of her own dust which flies about the
air. The onlooker, gazing upon the earth from the outside, can
see only the light reflected from this vapour and this dust. The
tracks of the mighty continents are not distinctly visible.
The man, who is alive as this earth is, is likewise always
enveloped in the mist of the ideas which he is breathing out.
His real land and water remain hidden, and he appears to be made
of only lights and shadows.
It seems to me, in this story of my life, that, like a living
plant, I am displaying the picture of an ideal world. But I am
not merely what I want, what I think--I am also what I do not
love, what I do not wish to be. My creation had begun before I
was born. I had no choice in regard to my surroundings and so
must make the best of such material as comes to my hand.
My theory of life makes me certain that the Great is cruel To be
just is for ordinary men--it is reserved for the great to be
unjust. The surface of the earth was even. The volcano butted
it with its fiery horn and found its own eminence--its justice
was not towards its obstacle, but towards itself. Successful
injustice and genuine cruelty have been the only forces by which
individual or nation has become millionaire or monarch.
That is why I preach the great discipline of Injustice. I say to
everyone: Deliverance is based upon injustice. Injustice is the
fire which must keep on burning something in order to save itself
from becoming ashes. Whenever an individual or nation becomes
incapable of perpetrating injustice it is swept into the dust-bin
of the world.
As yet this is only my idea--it is not completely myself. There
are rifts in the armour through which something peeps out which
is extremely soft and sensitive. Because, as I say, the best
part of myself was created before I came to this stage of
From time to time I try my followers in their lesson of cruelty.
One day we went on a picnic. A goat was grazing by. I asked
them: "Who is there among you that can cut off a leg of that
goat, alive, with this knife, and bring it to me?" While they
all hesitated, I went myself and did it. One of them fainted at
the sight. But when they saw me unmoved they took the dust of my
feet, saying that I was above all human weaknesses. That is to
say, they saw that day the vaporous envelope which was my idea,
but failed to perceive the inner me, which by a curious freak of
fate has been created tender and merciful.
In the present chapter of my life, which is growing in interest
every day round Bimala and Nikhil, there is also much that
remains hidden underneath. This malady of ideas which afflicts
me is shaping my life within: nevertheless a great part of my
life remains outside its influence; and so there is set up a
discrepancy between my outward life and its inner design which I
try my best to keep concealed even from myself; otherwise it may
wreck not only my plans, but my very life.
Life is indefinite--a bundle of contradictions. We men, with our
ideas, strive to give it a particular shape by melting it into a
particular mould--into the definiteness of success. All the
world-conquerors, from Alexander down to the American
millionaires, mould themselves into a sword or a mint, and thus
find that distinct image of themselves which is the source of
The chief controversy between Nikhil and myself arises from this:
that though I say "know thyself", and Nikhil also says "know
thyself", his interpretation makes this "knowing" tantamount to
"Winning your kind of success," Nikhil once objected, "is success
gained at the cost of the soul: but the soul is greater than
I simply said in answer: "Your words are too vague."
"That I cannot help," Nikhil replied. "A machine is distinct
enough, but not so life. If to gain distinctness you try to know
life as a machine, then such mere distinctness cannot stand for
truth. The soul is not as distinct as success, and so you only
lose your soul if you seek it in your success."
"Where, then, is this wonderful soul?"
"Where it knows itself in the infinite and transcends its
"But how does all this apply to our work for the country?"
"It is the same thing. Where our country makes itself the final
object, it gains success at the cost of the soul. Where it
recognizes the Greatest as greater than all, there it may miss
success, but gains its soul."
"Is there any example of this in history?"
"Man is so great that he can despise not only the success, but
also the example. Possibly example is lacking, just as there is
no example of the flower in the seed. But there is the urgence
of the flower in the seed all the same."
It is not that I do not at all understand Nikhil's point of view;
that is rather where my danger lies. I was born in India and the
poison of its spirituality runs in my blood. However loudly I
may proclaim the madness of walking in the path of self-
abnegation, I cannot avoid it altogether.
This is exactly how such curious anomalies happen nowadays in our
country. We must have our religion and also our nationalism; our
__Bhagavadgita__ and also our __Bande Mataram__. The result is that
both of them suffer. It is like performing with an English military
band, side by side with our Indian festive pipes. I must make it
the purpose of my life to put an end to this hideous confusion.
I want the western military style to prevail, not the Indian.
We shall then not be ashamed of the flag of our passion, which
mother Nature has sent with us as our standard into the
battlefield of life. Passion is beautiful and pure--pure as the
lily that comes out of the slimy soil. It rises superior to its
defilement and needs no Pears' soap to wash it clean.
A question has been worrying me the last few days. Why am I
allowing my life to become entangled with Bimala's? Am I a
drifting log to be caught up at any and every obstacle?
Not that I have any false shame at Bimala becoming an object of
my desire. It is only too clear how she wants me, and so I look
on her as quite legitimately mine. The fruit hangs on the branch
by the stem, but that is no reason why the claim of the stem
should be eternal. Ripe fruit cannot for ever swear by its
slackening stem-hold. All its sweetness has been accumulated for
me; to surrender itself to my hand is the reason of its
existence, its very nature, its true morality. So I must pluck
it, for it becomes me not to make it futile.
But what is teasing me is that I am getting entangled. Am I not
born to rule?--to bestride my proper steed, the crowd, and drive
it as I will; the reins in my hand, the destination known only to
me, and for it the thorns, the mire, on the road? This steed now
awaits me at the door, pawing and champing its bit, its neighing
filling the skies. But where am I, and what am I about, letting
day after day of golden opportunity slip by?
I used to think I was like a storm--that the torn flowers with
which I strewed my path would not impede my progress. But I am
only wandering round and round a flower like a bee--not a storm.
So, as I was saying, the colouring of ideas which man gives
himself is only superficial. The inner man remains as ordinary
as ever. If someone, who could see right into me, were to write
my biography, he would make me out to be no different from that
lout of a Panchu, or even from Nikhil!
Last night I was turning over the pages of my old diary ... I
had just graduated, and my brain was bursting with philosophy.
Even so early I had vowed not to harbour any illusions, whether
of my own or other's imagining, but to build my life on a solid
basis of reality. But what has since been its actual story?
Where is its solidity? It has rather been a network, where,
though the thread be continuous, more space is taken up by the
holes. Fight as I may, these will not own defeat. Just as I was
congratulating myself on steadily following the thread, here I am
badly caught in a hole! For I have become susceptible to
"I want it; it is here; let me take it"--This is a clear-cut,
straightforward policy. Those who can pursue its course with
vigour needs must win through in the end. But the gods would not
have it that such journey should be easy, so they have deputed
the siren Sympathy to distract the wayfarer, to dim his vision
with her tearful mist.
I can see that poor Bimala is struggling like a snared deer.
What a piteous alarm there is in her eyes! How she is torn with
straining at her bonds! This sight, of course, should gladden
the heart of a true hunter. And so do I rejoice; but, then, I am
also touched; and therefore I dally, and standing on the brink I
am hesitating to pull the noose fast.
There have been moments, I know, when I could have bounded up to
her, clasped her hands and folded her to my breast, unresisting.
Had I done so, she would not have said one word. She was aware
that some crisis was impending, which in a moment would change
the meaning of the whole world. Standing before that cavern of
the incalculable but yet expected, her face went pale and her
eyes glowed with a fearful ecstasy. Within that moment, when it
arrives, an eternity will take shape, which our destiny awaits,
holding its breath.
But I have let this moment slip by. I did not, with
uncompromising strength, press the almost certain into the
absolutely assured. I now see clearly that some hidden elements
in my nature have openly ranged themselves as obstacles in my
That is exactly how Ravana, whom I look upon as the real hero of
the __Ramayana__, met with his doom. He kept Sita in his
Asoka garden, awaiting her pleasure, instead of taking her
straight into his harem. This weak spot in his otherwise grand
character made the whole of the abduction episode futile.
Another such touch of compunction made him disregard, and be
lenient to, his traitorous brother Bibhisan, only to get himself
killed for his pains.
Thus does the tragic in life come by its own. In the beginning
it lies, a little thing, in some dark under-vault, and ends by
overthrowing the whole superstructure. The real tragedy is, that
man does not know himself for what he really is.
Then again there is Nikhil. Crank though he be, laugh at him as
I may, I cannot get rid of the idea that he is my friend. At
first I gave no thought to his point of view, but of late it has
begun to shame and hurt me. Therefore I have been trying to talk
and argue with him in the same enthusiastic way as of old, but it
does not ring true. It is even leading me at times into such a
length of unnaturalness as to pretend to agree with him. But
such hypocrisy is not in my nature, nor in that of Nikhil either.
This, at least, is something we have in common. That is why,
nowadays, I would rather not come across him, and have taken to
fighting shy of his presence.
All these are signs of weakness. No sooner is the possibility of
a wrong admitted than it becomes actual, and clutches you by the
throat, however you may then try to shake off all belief in it.
What I should like to be able to tell Nikhil frankly is, that
happenings such as these must be looked in the face--as great
Realities--and that which is the Truth should not be allowed to
stand between true friends.
There is no denying that I have really weakened. It was not this
weakness which won over Bimala; she burnt her wings in the blaze
of the full strength of my unhesitating manliness. Whenever
smoke obscures its lustre she also becomes confused, and draws
back. Then comes a thorough revulsion of feeling, and she fain
would take back the garland she has put round my neck, but
cannot; and so she only closes her eyes, to shut it out of sight.
But all the same I must not swerve from the path I have chalked
out. It would never do to abandon the cause of the country,
especially at the present time. I shall simply make Bimala one
with my country. The turbulent west wind which has swept away
the country's veil of conscience, will sweep away the veil of the
wife from Bimala's face, and in that uncovering there will be no
shame. The ship will rock as it bears the crowd across the
ocean, flying the pennant of __Bande Mataram__, and it will
serve as the cradle to my power, as well as to my love.
Bimala will see such a majestic vision of deliverance, that her
bonds will slip from about her, without shame, without her even
being aware of it. Fascinated by the beauty of this terrible
wrecking power, she will not hesitate a moment to be cruel. I
have seen in Bimala's nature the cruelty which is the inherent
force of existence--the cruelty which with its unrelenting might
keeps the world beautiful.
If only women could be set free from the artificial fetters put
round them by men, we could see on earth the living image of
Kali, the shameless, pitiless goddess. I am a worshipper of
Kali, and one day I shall truly worship her, setting Bimala on
her altar of Destruction. For this let me get ready.
The way of retreat is absolutely closed for both of us. We shall
despoil each other: get to hate each other: but never more be
EVERYTHING is rippling and waving with the flood of August. The
young shoots of rice have the sheen of an infant's limbs. The
water has invaded the garden next to our house. The morning
light, like the love of the blue sky, is lavished upon the earth
... Why cannot I sing? The water of the distant river is
shimmering with light; the leaves are glistening; the rice-
fields, with their fitful shivers, break into gleams of gold; and
in this symphony of Autumn, only I remain voiceless. The
sunshine of the world strikes my heart, but is not reflected
When I realize the lack of expressiveness in myself, I know why I
am deprived. Who could bear my company day and night without a
break? Bimala is full of the energy of life, and so she has
never become stale to me for a moment, in all these nine years of
our wedded life.
My life has only its dumb depths; but no murmuring rush. I can
only receive: not impart movement. And therefore my company is
like fasting. I recognize clearly today that Bimala has been
languishing because of a famine of companionship.
Then whom shall I blame? Like Vidyapati I can only lament:
It is August, the sky breaks into a passionate rain;
Alas, empty is my house.
My house, I now see, was built to remain empty, because its doors
cannot open. But I never knew till now that its divinity had
been sitting outside. I had fondly believed that she had
accepted my sacrifice, and granted in return her boon. But,
alas, my house has all along been empty.
Every year, about this time, it was our practice to go in a
house-boat over the broads of Samalda. I used to tell Bimala
that a song must come back to its refrain over and over again.
The original refrain of every song is in Nature, where the rain-
laden wind passes over the rippling stream, where the green
earth, drawing its shadow-veil over its face, keeps its ear close
to the speaking water. There, at the beginning of time, a man
and a woman first met--not within walls. And therefore we two
must come back to Nature, at least once a year, to tune our love
anew to the first pure note of the meeting of hearts.
The first two anniversaries of our married life I spent in
Calcutta, where I went through my examinations. But from the
next year onwards, for seven years without a break, we have
celebrated our union among the blossoming water-lilies. Now
begins the next octave of my life.
It was difficult for me to ignore the fact that the same month of
August had come round again this year. Does Bimala remember it,
I wonder?--she has given me no reminder. Everything is mute
It is August, the sky breaks into a passionate rain;
Alas, empty is my house.
The house which becomes empty through the parting of lovers,
still has music left in the heart of its emptiness. But the
house that is empty because hearts are asunder, is awful in its
silence. Even the cry of pain is out of place there.
This cry of pain must be silenced in me. So long as I continue
to suffer, Bimala will never have true freedom. I must free her
completely, otherwise I shall never gain my freedom from untruth
I think I have come to the verge of understanding one thing. Man
has so fanned the flame of the loves of men and women, as to make
it overpass its rightful domain, and now, even in the name of
humanity itself, he cannot bring it back under control. Man's
worship has idolized his passion. But there must be no more
human sacrifices at its shrine ...
I went into my bedroom this morning, to fetch a book. It is long
since I have been there in the day-time. A pang passed through
me as I looked round it today, in the morning light. On the
clothes rack was hanging a __sari__ of Bimala's, crinkled
ready for wear. On the dressing-table were her perfumes, her
comb, her hair-pins, and with them, still, her vermilion box!
Underneath were her tiny gold-embroidered slippers.
Once, in the old days, when Bimala had not yet overcome her
objections to shoes, I had got these out from Lucknow, to tempt
her. The first time she was ready to drop for very shame, to go
in them even from the room to the verandah. Since then she has
worn out many shoes, but has treasured up this pair. When first
showing her the slippers, I chaffed her over a curious practice
of hers; "I have caught you taking the dust of my feet, thinking
me asleep! These are the offerings of my worship to ward the
dust off the feet of my wakeful divinity." "You must not say
such things," she protested, "or I will never wear your shoes!"
This bedroom of mine--it has a subtle atmosphere which goes
straight to my heart. I was never aware, as I am today, how my
thirsting heart has been sending out its roots to cling round
each and every familiar object. The severing of the main root, I
see, is not enough to set life free. Even these little slippers
serve to hold one back.
My wandering eyes fall on the niche. My portrait there is
looking the same as ever, in spite of the flowers scattered round
it having been withered black! Of all the things in the room
their greeting strikes me as sincere. They are still here simply
because it was not felt worth while even to remove them. Never
mind; let me welcome truth, albeit in such sere and sorry garb,
and look forward to the time when I shall be able to do so
unmoved, as does my photograph.
As I stood there, Bimal came in from behind. I hastily turned my
eyes from the niche to the shelves as I muttered: "I came to get
Amiel's Journal." What need had Ito volunteer an explanation? I
felt like a wrong-doer, a trespasser, prying into a secret not
meant for me. I could not look Bimal in the face, but hurried
I had just made the discovery that it was useless to keep up a
pretence of reading in my room outside, and also that it was
equally beyond me to busy myself attending to anything at all--so
that all the days of my future bid fair to congeal into one solid
mass and settle heavily on my breast for good--when Panchu, the
tenant of a neighbouring __zamindar__, came up to me with a
basketful of cocoa-nuts and greeted me with a profound obeisance.
"Well, Panchu," said I. "What is all this for?"
I had got to know Panchu through my master. He was extremely
poor, nor was I in a position to do anything for him; so I
supposed this present was intended to procure a tip to help the
poor fellow to make both ends meet. I took some money from my
purse and held it out towards him, but with folded hands he
protested: "I cannot take that, sir!"
"Why, what is the matter?"
"Let me make a clean breast of it, sir. Once, when I was hard
pressed, I stole some cocoa-nuts from the garden here. I am
getting old, and may die any day, so I have come to pay them
Amiel's Journal could not have done me any good that day. But
these words of Panchu lightened my heart. There are more things
in life than the union or separation of man and woman. The great
world stretches far beyond, and one can truly measure one's joys
and sorrows when standing in its midst.
Panchu was devoted to my master. I know well enough how he
manages to eke out a livelihood. He is up before dawn every day,
and with a basket of __pan__ leaves, twists of tobacco,
coloured cotton yarn, little combs, looking-glasses, and other
trinkets beloved of the village women, he wades through the knee-
deep water of the marsh and goes over to the Namasudra quarters.
There he barters his goods for rice, which fetches him a little
more than their price in money. If he can get back soon enough
he goes out again, after a hurried meal, to the sweetmeat
seller's, where he assists in beating sugar for wafers. As soon
as he comes home he sits at his shell-bangle making, plodding on
often till midnight. All this cruel toil does not earn, for
himself and his family, a bare two meals a day during much more
than half the year. His method of eating is to begin with a good
filling draught of water, and his staple food is the cheapest
kind of seedy banana. And yet the family has to go with only one
meal a day for the rest of the year.
At one time I had an idea of making him a charity allowance,
"But," said my master, "your gift may destroy the man, it cannot
destroy the hardship of his lot. Mother Bengal has not only this
one Panchu. If the milk in her breasts has run dry, that cannot
be supplied from the outside."
These are thoughts which give one pause, and I decided to devote
myself to working it out. That very day I said to Bimal: "Let us
dedicate our lives to removing the root of this sorrow in our
"You are my Prince Siddharta,  I see," she replied with a
smile. "But do not let the torrent of your feelings end by
sweeping me away also!"
"Siddharta took his vows alone. I want ours to be a joint
The idea passed away in talk. The fact is, Bimala is at heart
what is called a "lady". Though her own people are not well off,
she was born a Rani. She has no doubts in her mind that there is
a lower unit of measure for the trials and troubles of the "lower
classes". Want is, of course, a permanent feature of their
lives, but does not necessarily mean "want" to them. Their very
smallness protects them, as the banks protect the pool; by
widening bounds only the slime is exposed.
The real fact is that Bimala has only come into my home, not into
my life. I had magnified her so, leaving her such a large place,
that when I lost her, my whole way of life became narrow and
confined. I had thrust aside all other objects into a corner to
make room for Bimala--taken up as I was with decorating her and
dressing her and educating her and moving round her day and
night; forgetting how great is humanity and how nobly precious is
man's life. When the actualities of everyday things get the
better of the man, then is Truth lost sight of and freedom
missed. So painfully important did Bimala make the mere
actualities, that the truth remained concealed from me. That is
why I find no gap in my misery, and spread this minute point of
my emptiness over all the world. And so, for hours on this
Autumn morning, the refrain has been humming in my ears:
It is the month of August, and the sky breaks into a passionate
Alas, my house is empty.
17. The name by which Buddha was known when a Prince, before
renouncing the world.
The change which had, in a moment, come over the mind of Bengal
was tremendous. It was as if the Ganges had touched the ashes of
the sixty thousand sons of Sagar  which no fire could
enkindle, no other water knead again into living clay. The ashes
of lifeless Bengal suddenly spoke up: "Here am I."
I have read somewhere that in ancient Greece a sculptor had the
good fortune to impart life to the image made by his own hand.
Even in that miracle, however, there was the process of form
preceding life. But where was the unity in this heap of barren
ashes? Had they been hard like stone, we might have had hopes of
some form emerging, even as Ahalya, though turned to stone, at
last won back her humanity. But these scattered ashes must have
dropped to the dust through gaps in the Creator's fingers, to be
blown hither and thither by the wind. They had become heaped up,
but were never before united. Yet in this day which had come to
Bengal, even this collection of looseness had taken shape, and
proclaimed in a thundering voice, at our very door: "Here I am."
How could we help thinking that it was all supernatural? This
moment of our history seemed to have dropped into our hand like a
jewel from the crown of some drunken god. It had no resemblance
to our past; and so we were led to hope that all our wants and
miseries would disappear by the spell of some magic charm, that
for us there was no longer any boundary line between the possible
and the impossible. Everything seemed to be saying to us: "It is
coming; it has come!"
Thus we came to cherish the belief that our history needed no
steed, but that like heaven's chariot it would move with its own
inherent power--At least no wages would have to be paid to the
charioteer; only his wine cup would have to be filled again and
again. And then in some impossible paradise the goal of our
hopes would be reached.
My husband was not altogether unmoved, but through all our
excitement it was the strain of sadness in him which deepened and
deepened. He seemed to have a vision of something beyond the
I remember one day, in the course of the arguments he continually
had with Sandip, he said: "Good fortune comes to our gate and
announces itself, only to prove that we have not the power to
receive it--that we have not kept things ready to be able to
invite it into our house."
"No," was Sandip's answer. "You talk like an atheist because you
do not believe in our gods. To us it has been made quite visible
that the Goddess has come with her boon, yet you distrust the
obvious signs of her presence."
"It is because I strongly believe in my God," said my husband,
"that I feel so certain that our preparations for his worship are
lacking. God has power to give the boon, but we must have power
to accept it."
This kind of talk from my husband would only annoy me. I could
not keep from joining in: "You think this excitement is only a
fire of drunkenness, but does not drunkenness, up to a point,
"Yes," my husband replied. "It may give strength, but not
"But strength is the gift of God," I went on. "Weapons can be
supplied by mere mechanics."
My husband smiled. "The mechanics will claim their wages before
they deliver their supplies," he said.
Sandip swelled his chest as he retorted: "Don't you trouble about
that. Their wages shall be paid."
"I shall bespeak the festive music when the payment has been
made, not before," my husband answered.
"You needn't imagine that we are depending on your bounty for the
music," said Sandip scornfully. "Our festival is above all money
And in his thick voice he began to sing:
"My lover of the unpriced love, spurning payments,
Plays upon the simple pipe, bought for nothing,
Drawing my heart away."
Then with a smile he turned to me and said: "If I sing, Queen
Bee, it is only to prove that when music comes into one's life,
the lack of a good voice is no matter. When we sing merely on
the strength of our tunefulness, the song is belittled. Now that
a full flood of music has swept over our country, let Nikhil
practise his scales, while we rouse the land with our cracked
"My house cries to me: Why go out to lose your all?
My life says: All that you have, fling to the winds!
If we must lose our all, let us lose it: what is it worth after
If I must court ruin, let me do it smilingly;
For my quest is the death-draught of immortality.
"The truth is, Nikhil, that we have all lost our hearts. None
can hold us any longer within the bounds of the easily possible,
in our forward rush to the hopelessly impossible.
"Those who would draw us back,
They know not the fearful joy of recklessness.
They know not that we have had our call
From the end of the crooked path.
All that is good and straight and trim--
Let it topple over in the dust."
I thought that my husband was going to continue the discussion,
but he rose silently from his seat and left us.
The thing that was agitating me within was merely a variation of
the stormy passion outside, which swept the country from one end
to the other. The car of the wielder of my destiny was fast
approaching, and the sound of its wheels reverberated in my
being. I had a constant feeling that something extraordinary
might happen any moment, for which, however, the responsibility
would not be mine. Was I not removed from the plane in which
right and wrong, and the feelings of others, have to be
considered? Had I ever wanted this--had I ever been waiting or
hoping for any such thing? Look at my whole life and tell me
then, if I was in any way accountable.
Through all my past I had been consistent in my devotion--but
when at length it came to receiving the boon, a different god
appeared! And just as the awakened country, with its __Bande
Mataram__, thrills in salutation to the unrealized future
before it, so do all my veins and nerves send forth shocks of
welcome to the unthought-of, the unknown, the importunate
One night I left my bed and slipped out of my room on to the open
terrace. Beyond our garden wall are fields of ripening rice.
Through the gaps in the village groves to the North, glimpses of
the river are seen. The whole scene slept in the darkness like
the vague embryo of some future creation.
In that future I saw my country, a woman like myself, standing
expectant. She has been drawn forth from her home corner by the
sudden call of some Unknown. She has had no time to pause or
ponder, or to light herself a torch, as she rushes forward into
the darkness ahead. I know well how her very soul responds to
the distant flute-strains which call her; how her breast rises
and falls; how she feels she nears it, nay it is already hers, so
that it matters not even if she run blindfold. She is no mother.
There is no call to her of children in their hunger, no home to
be lighted of an evening, no household work to be done. So; she
hies to her tryst, for this is the land of the Vaishnava Poets.
She has left home, forgotten domestic duties; she has nothing but
an unfathomable yearning which hurries her on--by what road, to
what goal, she recks not.
I, also, am possessed of just such a yearning. I likewise have
lost my home and also lost my way. Both the end and the means
have become equally shadowy to me. There remain only the
yearning and the hurrying on. Ah! wretched wanderer through the
night, when the dawn reddens you will see no trace of a way to
return. But why return? Death will serve as well. If the Dark
which sounded the flute should lead to destruction, why trouble
about the hereafter? When I am merged in its blackness, neither
I, nor good and bad, nor laughter, nor tears, shall be any more!
18. The condition of the curse which had reduced them to ashes
was such that they could only be restored to life if the stream
of the Ganges was brought down to them. [Trans.].
In Bengal the machinery of time being thus suddenly run at full
pressure, things which were difficult became easy, one following
soon after another. Nothing could be held back any more, even in
our corner of the country. In the beginning our district was
backward, for my husband was unwilling to put any compulsion on
the villagers. "Those who make sacrifices for their country's
sake are indeed her servants," he would say, "but those who
compel others to make them in her name are her enemies. They
would cut freedom at the root, to gain it at the top."
But when Sandip came and settled here, and his followers began to
move about the country, speaking in towns and market-places,
waves of excitement came rolling up to us as well. A band of
young fellows of the locality attached themselves to him, some
even who had been known as a disgrace to the village. But the
glow of their genuine enthusiasm lighted them up, within as well
as without. It became quite clear that when the pure breezes of
a great joy and hope sweep through the land, all dirt and decay
are cleansed away. It is hard, indeed, for men to be frank and
straight and healthy, when their country is in the throes of
Then were all eyes turned on my husband, from whose estates alone
foreign sugar and salt and cloths had not been banished. Even
the estate officers began to feel awkward and ashamed over it.
And yet, some time ago, when my husband began to import country-
made articles into our village, he had been secretly and openly
twitted for his folly, by old and young alike. When
__Swadeshi__ had not yet become a boast, we had despised it
with all our hearts.
My husband still sharpens his Indian-made pencils with his
Indian-made knife, does his writing with reed pens, drinks his
water out of a bell-metal vessel, and works at night in the light
of an old-fashioned castor-oil lamp. But this dull, milk-and-
water __Swadeshi__ of his never appealed to us. Rather, we
had always felt ashamed of the inelegant, unfashionable furniture
of his reception-rooms, especially when he had the magistrate, or
any other European, as his guest.
My husband used to make light of my protests. "Why allow such
trifles to upset you?" he would say with a smile.
"They will think us barbarians, or at all events wanting in
"If they do, I will pay them back by thinking that their
refinement does not go deeper than their white skins."
My husband had an ordinary brass pot on his writing-table which
he used as a flower-vase. It has often happened that, when I had
news of some European guest, I would steal into his room and put
in its place a crystal vase of European make. "Look here,
Bimala," he objected at length, "that brass pot is as unconscious
of itself as those blossoms are; but this thing protests its
purpose so loudly, it is only fit for artificial flowers."
The Bara Rani, alone, pandered to my husband's whims. Once she
comes panting to say: "Oh, brother, have you heard? Such lovely
Indian soaps have come out! My days of luxury are gone by;
still, if they contain no animal fat, I should like to try some."
This sort of thing makes my husband beam all over, and the house
is deluged with Indian scents and soaps. Soaps indeed! They are
more like lumps of caustic soda. And do I not know that what my
sister-in-law uses on herself are the European soaps of old,
while these are made over to the maids for washing clothes?
Another time it is: "Oh, brother dear, do get me some of these
new Indian pen-holders."
Her "brother" bubbles up as usual, and the Bara Rani's room
becomes littered with all kinds of awful sticks that go by the
name of __Swadeshi__ pen-holders. Not that it makes any
difference to her, for reading and writing are out of her line.
Still, in her writing-case, lies the selfsame ivory pen-holder,
the only one ever handled.
The fact is, all this was intended as a hit at me, because I
would not keep my husband company in his vagaries. It was no
good trying to show up my sister-in-law's insincerity; my
husband's face would set so hard, if I barely touched on it. One
only gets into trouble, trying to save such people from being
The Bara Rani loves sewing. One day I could not help blurting
out: "What a humbug you are, sister! When your 'brother' is
present, your mouth waters at the very mention of __Swadeshi__
scissors, but it is the English-made article every time when you
"What harm?" she replied. "Do you not see what pleasure it
gives him? We have grown up together in this house, since he was
a boy. I simply cannot bear, as you can, the sight of the smile
leaving his face. Poor dear, he has no amusement except this
playing at shop-keeping. You are his only dissipation, and you
will yet be his ruin!"
"Whatever you may say, it is not right to be double-faced," I
My sister-in-law laughed out in my face. "Oh, our artless little
Chota Rani!--straight as a schoolmaster's rod, eh? But a woman
is not built that way. She is soft and supple, so that she may
bend without being crooked."
I could not forget those words: "You are his dissipation, and
will be his ruin!" Today I feel--if a man needs must have some
intoxicant, let it not be a woman.
Suksar, within our estates, is one of the biggest trade centres
in the district. On one side of a stretch of water there is held
a daily bazar; on the other, a weekly market. During the rains
when this piece of water gets connected with the river, and boats
can come through, great quantities of cotton yarns, and woollen
stuffs for the coming winter, are brought in for sale.
At the height of our enthusiasm, Sandip laid it down that all
foreign articles, together with the demon of foreign influence,
must be driven out of our territory.
"Of course!" said I, girding myself up for a fight.
"I have had words with Nikhil about it," said Sandip. "He tells
me, he does not mind speechifying, but he will not have
"I will see to that," I said, with a proud sense of power. I
knew how deep was my husband's love for me. Had I been in my
senses I should have allowed myself to be torn to pieces rather
than assert my claim to that, at such a time. But Sandip had to
be impressed with the full strength of my __Shakti__.
Sandip had brought home to me, in his irresistible way, how the
cosmic Energy was revealed for each individual in the shape of
some special affinity. Vaishnava Philosophy, he said, speaks of
the __Shakti__ of Delight that dwells in the heart of
creation, ever attracting the heart of her Eternal Lover. Men
have a perpetual longing to bring out this __Shakti__ from the
hidden depths of their own nature, and those of us who succeed in
doing so at once clearly understand the meaning of the music
coming to us from the Dark. He broke out singing:
"My flute, that was busy with its song,
Is silent now when we stand face to face.
My call went seeking you from sky to sky
When you lay hidden;
But now all my cry finds its smile
In the face of my beloved."
Listening to his allegories, I had forgotten that I was plain and
simple Bimala. I was __Shakti__; also an embodiment of
Universal joy. Nothing could fetter me, nothing was impossible
for me; whatever I touched would gain new life. The world around
me was a fresh creation of mine; for behold, before my heart's
response had touched it, there had not been this wealth of gold
in the Autumn sky! And this hero, this true servant of the
country, this devotee of mine--this flaming intelligence, this
burning energy, this shining genius--him also was I creating from
moment to moment. Have I not seen how my presence pours fresh
life into him time after time?
The other day Sandip begged me to receive a young lad, Amulya, an
ardent disciple of his. In a moment I could see a new light
flash out from the boy's eyes, and knew that he, too, had a
vision of __Shakti__ manifest, that my creative force had
begun its work in his blood. "What sorcery is this of yours!"
exclaimed Sandip next day. "Amulya is a boy no longer, the wick
of his life is all ablaze. Who can hide your fire under your
home-roof? Every one of them must be touched up by it, sooner or
later, and when every lamp is alight what a grand carnival of a
__Dewali__ we shall have in the country!"
Blinded with the brilliance of my own glory I had decided to
grant my devotee this boon. I was overweeningly confident that
none could baulk me of what I really wanted. When I returned to
my room after my talk with Sandip, I loosed my hair and tied it
up over again. Miss Gilby had taught me a way of brushing it up
from the neck and piling it in a knot over my head. This style
was a favourite one with my husband. "It is a pity," he once
said, "that Providence should have chosen poor me, instead of
poet Kalidas, for revealing all the wonders of a woman's neck.
The poet would probably have likened it to a flower-stem; but I
feel it to be a torch, holding aloft the black flame of your
hair." With which he ... but why, oh why, do I go back to all
I sent for my husband. In the old days I could contrive a
hundred and one excuses, good or bad, to get him to come to me.
Now that all this had stopped for days I had lost the art of
Panchu's wife has just died of a lingering consumption. Panchu
must undergo a purification ceremony to cleanse himself of sin
and to propitiate his community. The community has calculated
and informed him that it will cost one hundred and twenty-three
"How absurd!" I cried, highly indignant. "Don't submit to this,
Panchu. What can they do to you?"
Raising to me his patient eyes like those of a tired-out beast of
burden, he said: "There is my eldest girl, sir, she will have to
be married. And my poor wife's last rites have to be put
"Even if the sin were yours, Panchu," I mused aloud, "you have
surely suffered enough for it already."
"That is so, sir," he naïvely assented. "I had to sell part of
my land and mortgage the rest to meet the doctor's bills. But
there is no escape from the offerings I have to make the
What was the use of arguing? When will come the time, I
wondered, for the purification of the Brahmins themselves who can
accept such offerings?
After his wife's illness and funeral, Panchu, who had been
tottering on the brink of starvation, went altogether beyond his
depth. In a desperate attempt to gain consolation of some sort
he took to sitting at the feet of a wandering ascetic, and
succeeded in acquiring philosophy enough to forget that his
children went hungry. He kept himself steeped for a time in the
idea that the world is vanity, and if of pleasure it has none,
pain also is a delusion. Then, at last, one night he left his
little ones in their tumble-down hovel, and started off wandering
on his own account.
I knew nothing of this at the time, for just then a veritable
ocean-churning by gods and demons was going on in my mind. Nor
did my master tell me that he had taken Panchu's deserted
children under his own roof and was caring for them, though alone
in the house, with his school to attend to the whole day.
After a month Panchu came back, his ascetic fervour considerably
worn off. His eldest boy and girl nestled up to him, crying:
"Where have you been all this time, father?" His youngest boy
filled his lap; his second girl leant over his back with her arms
around his neck; and they all wept together. "O sir!" sobbed
Panchu, at length, to my master. "I have not the power to give
these little ones enough to eat--I am not free to run away from
them. What has been my sin that I should be scourged so, bound
hand and foot?"
In the meantime the thread of Panchu's little trade connections
had snapped and he found he could not resume them. He clung on
to the shelter of my master's roof, which had first received him
on his return, and said not a word of going back home. "Look
here, Panchu," my master was at last driven to say. "If you
don't take care of your cottage, it will tumble down altogether.
I will lend you some money with which you can do a bit of
peddling and return it me little by little."
Panchu was not excessively pleased--was there then no such thing
as charity on earth? And when my master asked him to write out a
receipt for the money, he felt that this favour, demanding a
return, was hardly worth having. My master, however, did not
care to make an outward gift which would leave an inward
obligation. To destroy self-respect is to destroy caste, was his
After signing the note, Panchu's obeisance to my master fell off
considerably in its reverence--the dust-taking was left out. It
made my master smile; he asked nothing better than that courtesy
should stoop less low. "Respect given and taken truly balances
the account between man and man," was the way he put it, "but
veneration is overpayment."
Panchu began to buy cloth at the market and peddle it about the
village. He did not get much of cash payment, it is true, but
what he could realize in kind, in the way of rice, jute, and
other field produce, went towards settlement of his account. In
two month's time he was able to pay back an instalment of my
master's debt, and with it there was a corresponding reduction in
the depth of his bow. He must have begun to feel that he had
been revering as a saint a mere man, who had not even risen
superior to the lure of lucre.
While Panchu was thus engaged, the full shock of the
__Swadeshi__ flood fell on him.
It was vacation time, and many youths of our village and its
neighbourhood had come home from their schools and colleges.
They attached themselves to Sandip's leadership with enthusiasm,
and some, in their excess of zeal, gave up their studies
altogether. Many of the boys had been free pupils of my school
here, and some held college scholarships from me in Calcutta.
They came up in a body, and demanded that I should banish foreign
goods from my Suksar market.
I told them I could not do it.
They were sarcastic: "Why, Maharaja, will the loss be too much
I took no notice of the insult in their tone, and was about to
reply that the loss would fall on the poor traders and their
customers, not on me, when my master, who was present,
"Yes, the loss will be his--not yours, that is clear enough," he
"But for one's country . ."
"The country does not mean the soil, but the men on it,"
interrupted my master again. "Have you yet wasted so much as a
glance on what was happening to them? But now you would dictate
what salt they shall eat, what clothes they shall wear. Why
should they put up with such tyranny, and why should we let
"But we have taken to Indian salt and sugar and cloth ourselves."
"You may do as you please to work off your irritation, to keep up
your fanaticism. You are well off, you need not mind the cost.
The poor do not want to stand in your way, but you insist on
their submitting to your compulsion. As it is, every moment of
theirs is a life-and-death struggle for a bare living; you cannot
even imagine the difference a few pice means to them--so little
have you in common. You have spent your whole past in a superior
compartment, and now you come down to use them as tools for the
wreaking of your wrath. I call it cowardly."
They were all old pupils of my master, so they did not venture to
be disrespectful, though they were quivering with indignation.
They turned to me. "Will you then be the only one, Maharaja, to
put obstacles in the way of what the country would achieve?"
"Who am I, that I should dare do such a thing? Would I not
rather lay down my life to help it?"
The M.A. student smiled a crooked smile, as he asked: "May we
enquire what you are actually doing to help?"
"I have imported Indian mill-made yarn and kept it for sale in my
Suksar market, and also sent bales of it to markets belonging to
"But we have been to your market, Maharaja," the same student
exclaimed, "and found nobody buying this yarn."
"That is neither my fault nor the fault of my market. It only
shows the whole country has not taken your vow."
"That is not all," my master went on. "It shows that what you
have pledged yourselves to do is only to pester others. You want
dealers, who have not taken your vow, to buy that yarn; weavers,
who have not taken your vow, to make it up; then their wares
eventually to be foisted on to consumers who, also, have not
taken your vow. The method? Your clamour, and the
__zamindars'__ oppression. The result: all righteousness
yours, all privations theirs!"
"And may we venture to ask, further, what your share of the
privation has been?" pursued a science student.
"You want to know, do you?" replied my master. "It is Nikhil
himself who has to buy up that Indian mill yarn; he has had to
start a weaving school to get it woven; and to judge by his past
brilliant business exploits, by the time his cotton fabrics leave
the loom their cost will be that of cloth-of-gold; so they will
only find a use, perhaps, as curtains for his drawing-room, even
though their flimsiness may fail to screen him. When you get
tired of your vow, you will laugh the loudest at their artistic
effect. And if their workmanship is ever truly appreciated at
all, it will be by foreigners."
I have known my master all my life, but have never seen him so
agitated. I could see that the pain had been silently
accumulating in his heart for some time, because of his
surpassing love for me, and that his habitual self-possession had
become secretly undermined to the breaking point.
"You are our elders," said the medical student. "It is unseemly
that we should bandy words with you. But tell us, pray, finally,
are you determined not to oust foreign articles from your
"I will not," I said, "because they are not mine."
"Because that will cause you a loss!" smiled the M.A. student.
"Because he, whose is the loss, is the best judge," retorted my
With a shout of __Bande Mataram__ they left us.
A FEW days later, my master brought Panchu round to me. His
__zamindar__, it appeared, had fined him a hundred rupees, and
was threatening him with ejectment.
"For what fault?" I enquired.
"Because," I was told, "he has been found selling foreign cloths.
He begged and prayed Harish Kundu, his __zamindar__, to let
him sell off his stock, bought with borrowed money, promising
faithfully never to do it again; but the __zamindar__ would
not hear of it, and insisted on his burning the foreign stuff
there and then, if he wanted to be let off. Panchu in his
desperation blurted out defiantly: "I can't afford it! You are
rich; why not buy it up and burn it?" This only made Harish
Kundu red in the face as he shouted: "The scoundrel must be
taught manners, give him a shoe-beating!" So poor Panchu got
insulted as well as fined.
"What happened to the cloth?"
"The whole bale was burnt."
"Who else was there?"
"Any number of people, who all kept shouting __Bande
Mataram__. Sandip was also there. He took up some of the
ashes, crying: 'Brothers! This is the first funeral pyre lighted
by your village in celebration of the last rites of foreign
commerce. These are sacred ashes. Smear yourselves with them in
token of your __Swadeshi__ vow.'"
"Panchu," said I, turning to him, "you must lodge a complaint."
"No one will bear me witness," he replied.
"None bear witness?--Sandip! Sandip!"
Sandip came out of his room at my call. "What is the matter?"
"Won't you bear witness to the burning of this man's cloth?"
Sandip smiled. "Of course I shall be a witness in the case," he
said. "But I shall be on the opposite side."
"What do you mean," I exclaimed, "by being a witness on this or
that side? Will you not bear witness to the truth?"
"Is the thing which happens the only truth?"
"What other truths can there be?"
"The things that ought to happen! The truth we must build up
will require a great deal of untruth in the process. Those who
have made their way in the world have created truth, not blindly
"And so I will bear what you people are pleased to call false
witness, as they have done who have created empires, built up
social systems, founded religious organizations. Those who would
rule do not dread untruths; the shackles of truth are reserved
for those who will fall under their sway. Have you not read
history? Do you not know that in the immense cauldrons, where
vast political developments are simmering, untruths are the main
"Political cookery on a large scale is doubtless going on, but--"
"Oh, I know! You, of course, will never do any of the cooking.
You prefer to be one of those down whose throats the hotchpotch
which is being cooked will be crammed. They will partition
Bengal and say it is for your benefit. They will seal the doors
of education and call it raising the standard. But you will
always remain good boys, snivelling in your corners. We bad men,
however, must see whether we cannot erect a defensive
fortification of untruth."
"It is no use arguing about these things, Nikhil," my master
interposed. "How can they who do not feel the truth within them,
realize that to bring it out from its obscurity into the light is
man's highest aim--not to keep on heaping material outside?"
Sandip laughed. "Right, sir!" said he. "Quite a correct speech
for a schoolmaster. That is the kind of stuff I have read in
books; but in the real world I have seen that man's chief
business is the accumulation of outside material. Those who are
masters in the art, advertise the biggest lies in their business,
enter false accounts in their political ledgers with their
broadest-pointed pens, launch their newspapers daily laden with
untruths, and send preachers abroad to disseminate falsehood like
flies carrying pestilential germs. I am a humble follower of
these great ones. When I was attached to the Congress party I
never hesitated to dilute ten per cent of truth with ninety per
cent of untruth. And now, merely because I have ceased to belong
to that party, I have not forgotten the basic fact that man's
goal is not truth but success."
"True success," corrected my master.
"Maybe," replied Sandip, "but the fruit of true success ripens
only by cultivating the field of untruth, after tearing up the
soil and pounding it into dust. Truth grows up by itself like
weeds and thorns, and only worms can expect to get fruit from
it!" With this he flung out of the room.
My master smiled as he looked towards me. "Do you know, Nikhil,"
he said, "I believe Sandip is not irreligious--his religion is of
the obverse side of truth, like the dark moon, which is still a
moon, for all that its light has gone over to the wrong side."
"That is why," I assented, "I have always had an affection for
him, though we have never been able to agree. I cannot contemn
him, even now; though he has hurt me sorely, and may yet hurt me
"I have begun to realize that," said my master. "I have long
wondered how you could go on putting up with him. I have, at
times, even suspected you of weakness. I now see that though you
two do not rhyme, your rhythm is the same."
"Fate seems bent on writing __Paradise Lost__ in blank verse,
in my case, and so has no use for a rhyming friend!" I remarked,
pursuing his conceit.
"But what of Panchu?" resumed my master.