Part 3 out of 5
"You say Harish Kundu wants to eject him from his ancestral
holding. Supposing I buy it up and then keep him on as my
"And his fine?"
"How can the __zamindar__ realize that if he becomes my
"His burnt bale of cloth?"
"I will procure him another. I should like to see anyone
interfering with a tenant of mine, for trading as he pleases!"
"I am afraid, sir," interposed Panchu despondently, "while you
big folk are doing the fighting, the police and the law vultures
will merrily gather round, and the crowd will enjoy the fun, but
when it comes to getting killed, it will be the turn of only poor
"Why, what harm can come to you?"
"They will burn down my house, sir, children and all!"
"Very well, I will take charge of your children," said my master.
"You may go on with any trade you like. They shan't touch you."
That very day I bought up Panchu's holding and entered into
formal possession. Then the trouble began.
Panchu had inherited the holding of his grandfather as his sole
surviving heir. Everybody knew this. But at this juncture an
aunt turned up from somewhere, with her boxes and bundles, her
rosary, and a widowed niece. She ensconced herself in Panchu's
home and laid claim to a life interest in all he had.
Panchu was dumbfounded. "My aunt died long ago," he protested.
In reply he was told that he was thinking of his uncle's first
wife, but that the former had lost no time in taking to himself a
"But my uncle died before my aunt," exclaimed Panchu, still more
mystified. "Where was the time for him to marry again?"
This was not denied. But Panchu was reminded that it had never
been asserted that the second wife had come after the death of
the first, but the former had been married by his uncle during
the latter's lifetime. Not relishing the idea of living with a
co-wife she had remained in her father's house till her husband's
death, after which she had got religion and retired to holy
Brindaban, whence she was now coming. These facts were well
known to the officers of Harish Kundu, as well as to some of his
tenants. And if the __zamindar's__ summons should be
peremptory enough, even some of those who had partaken of the
marriage feast would be forthcoming!
One afternoon, when I happened to be specially busy, word came to
my office room that Bimala had sent for me. I was startled.
"Who did you say had sent for me?" I asked the messenger.
"The Rani Mother."
"The Bara Rani?"
"No, sir, the Chota Rani Mother."
The Chota Rani! It seemed a century since I had been sent for by
her. I kept them all waiting there, and went off into the inner
apartments. When I stepped into our room I had another shock of
surprise to find Bimala there with a distinct suggestion of being
dressed up. The room, which from persistent neglect had latterly
acquired an air of having grown absent-minded, had regained
something of its old order this afternoon. I stood there
silently, looking enquiringly at Bimala.
She flushed a little and the fingers of her right hand toyed for
a time with the bangles on her left arm. Then she abruptly broke
the silence. "Look here! Is it right that ours should be the
only market in all Bengal which allows foreign goods?"
"What, then, would be the right thing to do?" I asked.
"Order them to be cleared out!"
"But the goods are not mine."
"Is not the market yours?"
"It is much more theirs who use it for trade."
"Let them trade in Indian goods, then."
"Nothing would please me better. But suppose they do not?"
"Nonsense! How dare they be so insolent? Are you not ..."
"I am very busy this afternoon and cannot stop to argue it out.
But I must refuse to tyrannize."
"It would not be tyranny for selfish gain, but for the sake of
"To tyrannize for the country is to tyrannize over the country.
But that I am afraid you will never understand." With this I
All of a sudden the world shone out for me with a fresh
clearness. I seemed to feel it in my blood, that the Earth had
lost the weight of its earthiness, and its daily task of
sustaining life no longer appeared a burden, as with a wonderful
access of power it whirled through space telling its beads of
days and nights. What endless work, and withal what illimitable
energy of freedom! None shall check it, oh, none can ever check
it! From the depths of my being an uprush of joy, like a
waterspout, sprang high to storm the skies.
I repeatedly asked myself the meaning of this outburst of
feeling. At first there was no intelligible answer. Then it
became clear that the bond against which I had been fretting
inwardly, night and day, had broken. To my surprise I discovered
that my mind was freed from all mistiness. I could see
everything relating to Bimala as if vividly pictured on a camera
screen. It was palpable that she had specially dressed herself
up to coax that order out of me. Till that moment, I had never
viewed Bimala's adornment as a thing apart from herself. But
today the elaborate manner in which she had done up her hair, in
the English fashion, made it appear a mere decoration. That
which before had the mystery of her personality about it, and was
priceless to me, was now out to sell itself cheap.
As I came away from that broken cage of a bedroom, out into the
golden sunlight of the open, there was the avenue of bauhinias,
along the gravelled path in front of my verandah, suffusing the
sky with a rosy flush. A group of starlings beneath the trees
were noisily chattering away. In the distance an empty bullock
cart, with its nose on the ground, held up its tail aloft--one of
its unharnessed bullocks grazing, the other resting on the grass,
its eyes dropping for very comfort, while a crow on its back was
pecking away at the insects on its body.
I seemed to have come closer to the heartbeats of the great earth
in all the simplicity of its daily life; its warm breath fell on
me with the perfume of the bauhinia blossoms; and an anthem,
inexpressibly sweet, seemed to peal forth from this world, where
I, in my freedom, live in the freedom of all else.
We, men, are knights whose quest is that freedom to which our
ideals call us. She who makes for us the banner under which we
fare forth is the true Woman for us. We must tear away the
disguise of her who weaves our net of enchantment at home, and
know her for what she is. We must beware of clothing her in the
witchery of our own longings and imaginings, and thus allow her
to distract us from our true quest.
Today I feel that I shall win through. I have come to the
gateway of the simple; I am now content to see things as they
are. I have gained freedom myself; I shall allow freedom to
others. In my work will be my salvation.
I know that, time and again, my heart will ache, but now that I
understand its pain in all its truth, I can disregard it. Now
that I know it concerns only me, what after all can be its value?
The suffering which belongs to all mankind shall be my crown.
Save me, Truth! Never again let me hanker after the false
paradise of Illusion. If I must walk alone, let me at least
tread your path. Let the drum-beats of Truth lead me to Victory.
Bimala sent for me that day, but for a time she could not utter a
word; her eyes kept brimming up to the verge of overflowing. I
could see at once that she had been unsuccessful with Nikhil.
She had been so proudly confident that she would have her own
way--but I had never shared her confidence. Woman knows man well
enough where he is weak, but she is quite unable to fathom him
where he is strong. The fact is that man is as much a mystery to
woman as woman is to man. If that were not so, the separation of
the sexes would only have been a waste of Nature's energy.
Ah pride, pride! The trouble was, not that the necessary thing
had failed of accomplishment, but that the entreaty, which had
cost her such a struggle to make, should have been refused. What
a wealth of colour and movement, suggestion and deception, group
themselves round this "me" and "mine" in woman. That is just
where her beauty lies--she is ever so much more personal than
man. When man was being made, the Creator was a schoolmaster--
His bag full of commandments and principles; but when He came to
woman, He resigned His headmastership and turned artist, with
only His brush and paint-box.
When Bimala stood silently there, flushed and tearful in her
broken pride, like a storm-cloud, laden with rain and charged
with lightning, lowering over the horizon, she looked so
absolutely sweet that I had to go right up to her and take her
by the hand. It was trembling, but she did not snatch it away.
"Bee," said I, "we two are colleagues, for our aims are one.
Let us sit down and talk it over."
I led her, unresisting, to a seat. But strange! at that very
point the rush of my impetuosity suffered an unaccountable check
--just as the current of the mighty Padma, roaring on in its
irresistible course, all of a sudden gets turned away from the
bank it is crumbling by some trifling obstacle beneath the
surface. When I pressed Bimala's hand my nerves rang music, like
tuned-up strings; but the symphony stopped short at the first
What stood in the way? Nothing singly; it was a tangle of a
multitude of things--nothing definitely palpable, but only that
unaccountable sense of obstruction. Anyhow, this much has become
plain to me, that I cannot swear to what I really am. It is
because I am such a mystery to my own mind that my attraction for
myself is so strong! If once the whole of myself should become
known to me, I would then fling it all away--and reach beatitude!
As she sat down, Bimala went ashy pale. She, too, must have
realized what a crisis had come and gone, leaving her unscathed.
The comet had passed by, but the brush of its burning tail had
overcome her. To help her to recover herself I said: "Obstacles
there will be, but let us fight them through, and not be down-
hearted. Is not that best, Queen?"
Bimala cleared her throat with a little cough, but simply to
"Let us sketch out our plan of action," I continued, as I drew a
piece of paper and a pencil from my pocket.
I began to make a list of the workers who had joined us from
Calcutta and to assign their duties to each. Bimala interrupted
me before I was through, saying wearily: "Leave it now; I will
join you again this evening" and then she hurried out of the
room. It was evident she was not in a state to attend to
anything. She must be alone with herself for a while--perhaps
lie down on her bed and have a good cry!
When she left me, my intoxication began to deepen, as the cloud
colours grow richer after the sun is down. I felt I had let the
moment of moments slip by. What an awful coward I had been! She
must have left me in sheer disgust at my qualms--and she was
While I was tingling all over with these reflections, a servant
came in and announced Amulya, one of our boys. I felt like
sending him away for the time, but he stepped in before I could
make up my mind. Then we fell to discussing the news of the
fights which were raging in different quarters over cloth and
sugar and salt; and the air was soon clear of all fumes of
intoxication. I felt as if awakened from a dream. I leapt to my
feet feeling quite ready for the fray--Bande Mataram!
The news was various. Most of the traders who were tenants of
Harish Kundu had come over to us. Many of Nikhil's officials
were also secretly on our side, pulling the wires in our
interest. The Marwari shopkeepers were offering to pay a
penalty, if only allowed to clear their present stocks. Only
some Mahomedan traders were still obdurate.
One of them was taking home some German-made shawls for his
family. These were confiscated and burnt by one of our village
boys. This had given rise to trouble. We offered to buy him
Indian woollen stuffs in their place. But where were cheap
Indian woollens to be had? We could not very well indulge him in
Cashmere shawls! He came and complained to Nikhil, who advised
him to go to law. Of course Nikhil's men saw to it that the
trial should come to nothing, even his law-agent being on our
The point is, if we have to replace burnt foreign clothes with
Indian cloth every time, and on the top of that fight through a
law-suit, where is the money to come from? And the beauty of it
is that this destruction of foreign goods is increasing their
demand and sending up the foreigner's profits--very like what
happened to the fortunate shopkeeper whose chandeliers the nabob
delighted in smashing, tickled by the tinkle of the breaking
The next problem is--since there is no such thing as cheap and
gaudy Indian woollen stuff, should we be rigorous in our boycott
of foreign flannels and memos, or make an exception in their
"Look here!" said I at length on the first point, "we are not
going to keep on making presents of Indian stuff to those who
have got their foreign purchases confiscated. The penalty is
intended to fall on them, not on us. If they go to law, we must
retaliate by burning down their granaries!--What startles you,
Amulya? It is not the prospect of a grand illumination that
delights me! You must remember, this is War. If you are afraid
of causing suffering, go in for love-making, you will never do
for this work!"
The second problem I solved by deciding to allow no compromise
with foreign articles, in any circumstance whatever. In the good
old days, when these gaily coloured foreign shawls were unknown,
our peasantry used to manage well enough with plain cotton
quilts--they must learn to do so again. They may not look as
gorgeous, but this is not the time to think of looks.
Most of the boatmen had been won over to refuse to carry foreign
goods, but the chief of them, Mirjan, was still insubordinate.
"Could you not get his boat sunk?" I asked our manager here.
"Nothing easier, sir," he replied. "But what if afterwards I am
"Why be so clumsy as to leave any loophole for responsibility?
However, if there must be any, my shoulders will be there to bear
Mirjan's boat was tied near the landing-place after its freight
had been taken over to the market-place. There was no one on it,
for the manager had arranged for some entertainment to which all
had been invited. After dusk the boat, loaded with rubbish, was
holed and set adrift. It sank in mid-stream.
Mirjan understood the whole thing. He came to me in tears to beg
for mercy. "I was wrong, sir--" he began.
"What makes you realize that all of a sudden?" I sneered.
He made no direct reply. "The boat was worth two thousand
rupees," he said. "I now see my mistake, and if excused this
time I will never ..." with which he threw himself at my feet.
I asked him to come ten days later. If only we could pay him
that two thousand rupees at once, we could buy him up body and
soul. This is just the sort of man who could render us immense
service, if won over. We shall never be able to make any headway
unless we can lay our hands on plenty of money.
As soon as Bimala came into the sitting-room, in the evening, I
said as I rose up to receive her: "Queen! Everything is ready,
success is at hand, but we must have money.
"Money? How much money?"
"Not so very much, but by hook or by crook we must have it!"
"But how much?"
"A mere fifty thousand rupees will do for the present."
Bimala blenched inwardly at the figure, but tried not to show it.
How could she again admit defeat?
"Queen!" said I, "you only can make the impossible possible.
Indeed you have already done so. Oh, that I could show you the
extent of your achievement--then you would know it. But the time
for that is not now. Now we want money!"
"You shall have it," she said.
I could see that the thought of selling her jewels had occurred
to her. So I said: "Your jewels must remain in reserve. One can
never tell when they may be wanted." And then, as Bimala stared
blankly at me in silence, I went on: "This money must come from
your husband's treasury."
Bimala was still more taken aback. After a long pause she said:
"But how am Ito get his money?"
"Is not his money yours as well?"
"Ah, no!" she said, her wounded pride hurt afresh.
"If not," I cried, "neither is it his, but his country's, whom he
has deprived of it, in her time of need!"
"But how am Ito get it?" she repeated.
"Get it you shall and must. You know best how. You must get it
for Her to whom it rightfully belongs. __Bande Mataram__!
These are the magic words which will open the door of his iron
safe, break through the walls of his strong-room, and confound
the hearts of those who are disloyal to its call. Say __Bande
WE are men, we are kings, we must have our tribute. Ever since
we have come upon the Earth we have been plundering her; and the
more we claimed, the more she submitted. From primeval days have
we men been plucking fruits, cutting down trees, digging up the
soil, killing beast, bird and fish. From the bottom of the sea,
from underneath the ground, from the very jaws of death, it has
all been grabbing and grabbing and grabbing--no strong-box in
Nature's store-room has been respected or left unrifled. The one
delight of this Earth is to fulfil the claims of those who are
men. She has been made fertile and beautiful and complete
through her endless sacrifices to them. But for this, she would
be lost in the wilderness, not knowing herself, the doors of her
heart shut, her diamonds and pearls never seeing the light.
Likewise, by sheer force of our claims, we men have opened up all
the latent possibilities of women. In the process of
surrendering themselves to us, they have ever gained their true
greatness. Because they had to bring all the diamonds of their
happiness and the pearls of their sorrow into our royal treasury,
they have found their true wealth. So for men to accept is truly
to give: for women to give is truly to gain.
The demand I have just made from Bimala, however, is indeed a
large one! At first I felt scruples; for is it not the habit of
man's mind to be in purposeless conflict with itself? I thought
I had imposed too hard a task. My first impulse was to call her
back, and tell her I would rather not make her life wretched by
dragging her into all these troubles. I forgot, for the moment,
that it was the mission of man to be aggressive, to make woman's
existence fruitful by stirring up disquiet in the depth of her
passivity, to make the whole world blessed by churning up the
immeasurable abyss of suffering! This is why man's hands are so
strong, his grip so firm. Bimala had been longing with all her
heart that I, Sandip, should demand of her some great sacrifice--
should call her to her death. How else could she be happy? Had
she not waited all these weary years only for an opportunity to
weep out her heart--so satiated was she with the monotony of her
placid happiness? And therefore, at the very sight of me, her
heart's horizon darkened with the rain clouds of her impending
days of anguish. If I pity her and save her from her sorrows,
what then was the purpose of my being born a man?
The real reason of my qualms is that my demand happens to be for
money. That savours of beggary, for money is man's, not woman's.
That is why I had to make it a big figure. A thousand or two
would have the air of petty theft. Fifty thousand has all the
expanse of romantic brigandage. Ah, but riches should really
have been mine! So many of my desires have had to halt, again
and again, on the road to accomplishment simply for want of
money. This does not become me! Had my fate been merely unjust,
it could be forgiven--but its bad taste is unpardonable. It is
not simply a hardship that a man like me should be at his wit's
end to pay his house rent, or should have to carefully count out
the coins for an Intermediate Class railway ticket--it is vulgar!
It is equally clear that Nikhil's paternal estates are a
superfluity to him. For him it would not have been at all
unbecoming to be poor. He would have cheerfully pulled in the
double harness of indigent mediocrity with that precious master
of his. I should love to have, just for once, the chance to
fling about fifty thousand rupees in the service of my country
and to the satisfaction of myself. I am a nabob born, and it is
a great dream of mine to get rid of this disguise of poverty,
though it be for a day only, and to see myself in my true
character. I have grave misgivings, however, as to Bimala ever
getting that fifty thousand rupees within her reach, and it will
probably be only a thousand or two which will actually come to
hand. Be it so. The wise man is content with half a loaf, or
any fraction for that matter, rather than no bread. I must
return to these personal reflections of mine later. News comes
that I am wanted at once. Something has gone wrong ...
It seems that the police have got a clue to the man who sank
Mirjan's boat for us. He was an old offender. They are on his
trail, but he should be too practised a hand to be caught
blabbing. However, one never knows. Nikhil's back is up, and
his manager may not be able to have things his own way.
"If I get into trouble, sir," said the manager when I saw him, "I
shall have to drag you in!"
"Where is the noose with which you can catch me?" I asked.
"I have a letter of yours, and several of Amulya Babu's." I
could not see that the letter marked "urgent" to which I had been
hurried into writing a reply was wanted urgently for this purpose
only! I am getting to learn quite a number of things.
The point now is, that the police must be bribed and hush-money
paid to Mirjan for his boat. It is also becoming evident that
much of the cost of this patriotic venture of ours will find its
way as profit into the pockets of Nikhil's manager. However, I
must shut my eyes to that for the present, for is he not shouting
__Bande Mataram__ as lustily as I am?
This kind of work has always to be carried on with leaky vessels
which let as much through as they fetch in. We all have a hidden
fund of moral judgement stored away within us, and so I was about
to wax indignant with the manager, and enter in my diary a tirade
against the unreliability of our countrymen. But, if there be a
god, I must acknowledge with gratitude to him that he has given
me a clear-seeing mind, which allows nothing inside or outside it
to remain vague. I may delude others, but never myself. So I
was unable to continue angry.
Whatever is true is neither good nor bad, but simply true, and
that is Science. A lake is only the remnant of water which has
not been sucked into the ground. Underneath the cult of __Bande
Mataram__, as indeed at the bottom of all mundane affairs,
there is a region of slime, whose absorbing power must be
reckoned with. The manager will take what he wants; I also have
my own wants. These lesser wants form a part of the wants of the
great Cause--the horse must be fed and the wheels must be oiled
if the best progress is to be made.
The long and short of it is that money we must have, and that
soon. We must take whatever comes the readiest, for we cannot
afford to wait. I know that the immediate often swallows up the
ultimate; that the five thousand rupees of today may nip in the
bud the fifty thousand rupees of tomorrow. But I must accept the
penalty. Have I not often twitted Nikhil that they who walk in
the paths of restraint have never known what sacrifice is? It is
we greedy folk who have to sacrifice our greed at every step!
Of the cardinal sins of man, Desire is for men who are men--but
Delusion, which is only for cowards, hampers them. Because
delusion keeps them wrapped up in past and future, but is the
very deuce for confounding their footsteps in the present. Those
who are always straining their ears for the call of the remote,
to the neglect of the call of the imminent, are like Sakuntala
 absorbed in the memories of her lover. The guest comes
unheeded, and the curse descends, depriving them of the very
object of their desire.
The other day I pressed Bimala's hand, and that touch still stirs
her mind, as it vibrates in mine. Its thrill must not be
deadened by repetition, for then what is now music will descend
to mere argument. There is at present no room in her mind for
the question "why?" So I must not deprive Bimala, who is one of
those creatures for whom illusion is necessary, of her full
supply of it.
As for me, I have so much else to do that I shall have to be
content for the present with the foam of the wine cup of passion.
O man of desire! Curb your greed, and practise your hand on the
harp of illusion till you can bring out all the delicate nuances
of suggestion. This is not the time to drain the cup to the
19. Sakuntala, after the king, her lover, went back to his
kingdom, promising to send for her, was so lost in thoughts of
him, that she failed to hear the call of her hermit guest who
thereupon cursed her, saying that the object of her love would
forget all about her. [Trans.].
Our work proceeds apace. But though we have shouted ourselves
hoarse, proclaiming the Mussulmans to be our brethren, we have
come to realize that we shall never be able to bring them wholly
round to our side. So they must be suppressed altogether and
made to understand that we are the masters. They are now showing
their teeth, but one day they shall dance like tame bears to the
tune we play.
"If the idea of a United India is a true one," objects Nikhil,
"Mussulmans are a necessary part of it."
"Quite so," said I, "but we must know their place and keep them
there, otherwise they will constantly be giving trouble."
"So you want to make trouble to prevent trouble?"
"What, then, is your plan?"
"There is only one well-known way of avoiding quarrels," said
I know that, like tales written by good people, Nikhil's
discourse always ends in a moral. The strange part of it is that
with all his familiarity with moral precepts, he still believes
in them! He is an incorrigible schoolboy. His only merit is his
sincerity. The mischief with people like him is that they will
not admit the finality even of death, but keep their eyes always
fixed on a hereafter.
I have long been nursing a plan which, if only I could carry it
out, would set fire to the whole country. True patriotism will
never be roused in our countrymen unless they can visualize the
motherland. We must make a goddess of her. My colleagues saw
the point at once. "Let us devise an appropriate image!" they
exclaimed. "It will not do if you devise it," I admonished
them. "We must get one of the current images accepted as
representing the country--the worship of the people must flow
towards it along the deep-cut grooves of custom."
But Nikhil's needs must argue even about this. "We must not seek
the help of illusions," he said to me some time ago, "for what we
believe to be the true cause."
"Illusions are necessary for lesser minds," I said, "and to this
class the greater portion of the world belongs. That is why
divinities are set up in every country to keep up the illusions
of the people, for men are only too well aware of their
"No," he replied. "God is necessary to clear away our illusions.
The divinities which keep them alive are false gods."
"What of that? If need be, even false gods must be invoked,
rather than let the work suffer. Unfortunately for us, our
illusions are alive enough, but we do not know how to make them
serve our purpose. Look at the Brahmins. In spite of our
treating them as demi-gods, and untiringly taking the dust of
their feet, they are a force going to waste.
"There will always be a large class of people, given to
grovelling, who can never be made to do anything unless they are
bespattered with the dust of somebody's feet, be it on their
heads or on their backs! What a pity if after keeping Brahmins
saved up in our armoury for all these ages--keen and serviceable
--they cannot be utilized to urge on this rabble in the time of
But it is impossible to drive all this into Nikhil's head. He
has such a prejudice in favour of truth--as though there exists
such an objective reality! How often have I tried to explain to
him that where untruth truly exists, there it is indeed the
truth. This was understood in our country in the old days, and
so they had the courage to declare that for those of little
understanding untruth is the truth. For them, who can truly
believe their country to be a goddess, her image will do duty for
the truth. With our nature and our traditions we are unable to
realize our country as she is, but we can easily bring ourselves
to believe in her image. Those who want to do real work must not
ignore this fact.
Nikhil only got excited. "Because you have lost the power of
walking in the path of truth's attainment," he cried, "you keep
waiting for some miraculous boon to drop from the skies! That is
why when your service to the country has fallen centuries into
arrears all you can think of is, to make of it an image and
stretch out your hands in expectation of gratuitous favours."
"We want to perform the impossible," I said. "So our country
needs must be made into a god."
"You mean you have no heart for possible tasks," replied Nikhil.
"Whatever is already there is to be left undisturbed; yet there
must be a supernatural result:"
"Look here, Nikhil," I said at length, thoroughly exasperated.
"The things you have been saying are good enough as moral
lessons. These ideas have served their purpose, as milk for
babes, at one stage of man's evolution, but will no longer do,
now that man has cut his teeth.
"Do we not see before our very eyes how things, of which we never
even dreamt of sowing the seed, are sprouting up on every side?
By what power? That of the deity in our country who is becoming
manifest. It is for the genius of the age to give that deity its
image. Genius does not argue, it creates. I only give form to
what the country imagines.
"I will spread it abroad that the goddess has vouchsafed me a
dream. I will tell the Brahmins that they have been appointed
her priests, and that their downfall has been due to their
dereliction of duty in not seeing to the proper performance of
her worship. Do you say I shall be uttering lies? No, say I, it
is the truth--nay more, the truth which the country has so long
been waiting to learn from my lips. If only I could get the
opportunity to deliver my message, you would see the stupendous
"What I am afraid of," said Nikhil, "is, that my lifetime is
limited and the result you speak of is not the final result. It
will have after-effects which may not be immediately apparent."
"I only seek the result," said I, "which belongs to today."
"The result I seek," answered Nikhil, "belongs to all time."
Nikhil may have had his share of Bengal's greatest gift--
imagination, but he has allowed it to be overshadowed and nearly
killed by an exotic conscientiousness. Just look at the worship
of Durga which Bengal has carried to such heights. That is one
of her greatest achievements. I can swear that Durga is a
political goddess and was conceived as the image of the
__Shakti__ of patriotism in the days when Bengal was praying
to be delivered from Mussulman domination. What other province
of India has succeeded in giving such wonderful visual expression
to the ideal of its quest?
Nothing betrayed Nikhil's loss of the divine gift of imagination
more conclusively than his reply to me. "During the Mussulman
domination," he said, "the Maratha and the Sikh asked for fruit
from the arms which they themselves took up. The Bengali
contented himself with placing weapons in the hands of his
goddess and muttering incantations to her; and as his country did
not really happen to be a goddess the only fruit he got was the
lopped-off heads of the goats and buffaloes of the sacrifice.
The day that we seek the good of the country along the path of
righteousness, He who is greater than our country will grant us
The unfortunate part of it is that Nikhil's words sound so fine
when put down on paper. My words, however, are not meant to be
scribbled on paper, but to be scored into the heart of the
country. The Pandit records his Treatise on Agriculture in
printer's ink; but the cultivator at the point of his plough
impresses his endeavour deep in the soil.
When I next saw Bimala I pitched my key high without further ado.
"Have we been able," I began, "to believe with all our heart in
the god for whose worship we have been born all these millions of
years, until he actually made himself visible to us?
"How often have I told you," I continued, "that had I not seen
you I never would have known all my country as One. I know not
yet whether you rightly understand me. The gods are invisible
only in their heaven--on earth they show themselves to mortal
Bimala looked at me in a strange kind of way as she gravely
replied: "Indeed I understand you, Sandip." This was the first
time she called me plain Sandip.
"Krishna," I continued, "whom Arjuna ordinarily knew only as the
driver of his chariot, had also His universal aspect, of which,
too, Arjuna had a vision one day, and that day he saw the Truth.
I have seen your Universal Aspect in my country. The Ganges and
the Brahmaputra are the chains of gold that wind round and round
your neck; in the woodland fringes on the distant banks of the
dark waters of the river, I have seen your collyrium-darkened
eyelashes; the changeful sheen of your __sari__ moves for me
in the play of light and shade amongst the swaying shoots of
green corn; and the blazing summer heat, which makes the whole
sky lie gasping like a red-tongued lion in the desert, is nothing
but your cruel radiance.
"Since the goddess has vouchsafed her presence to her votary in
such wonderful guise, it is for me to proclaim her worship
throughout our land, and then shall the country gain new life.
'Your image make we in temple after temple.'  But this our
people have not yet fully realized. So I would call on them in
your name and offer for their worship an image from which none
shall be able to withhold belief. Oh give me this boon, this
Bimala's eyelids drooped and she became rigid in her seat like a
figure of stone. Had I continued she would have gone off into a
trance. When I ceased speaking she opened wide her eyes, and
murmured with fixed gaze, as though still dazed: "O Traveller in
the path of Destruction! Who is there that can stay your
progress? Do I not see that none shall stand in the way of your
desires? Kings shall lay their crowns at your feet; the wealthy
shall hasten to throw open their treasure for your acceptance;
those who have nothing else shall beg to be allowed to offer
their lives. O my king, my god! What you have seen in me I know
not, but I have seen the immensity of your grandeur in my heart.
Who am I, what am I, in its presence? Ah, the awful power of
Devastation! Never shall I truly live till it kills me utterly!
I can bear it no longer, my heart is breaking!"
Bimala slid down from her seat and fell at my feet, which she
clasped, and then she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
This is hypnotism indeed--the charm which can subdue the world!
No materials, no weapons--but just the delusion of irresistible
suggestion. Who says "Truth shall Triumph"?  Delusion
shall win in the end. The Bengali understood this when he
conceived the image of the ten-handed goddess astride her lion,
and spread her worship in the land. Bengal must now create a new
image to enchant and conquer the world. __Bande Mataram__!
I gently lifted Bimala back into her chair, and lest reaction
should set in, I began again without losing time: "Queen! The
Divine Mother has laid on me the duty of establishing her worship
in the land. But, alas, I am poor!"
Bimala was still flushed, her eyes clouded, her accents thick, as
she replied: "You poor? Is not all that each one has yours?
What are my caskets full of jewellery for? Drag away from me all
my gold and gems for your worship. I have no use for them!"
Once before Bimala had offered up her ornaments. I am not
usually in the habit of drawing lines, but I felt I had to draw
the line there.  I know why I feel this hesitation. It is
for man to give ornaments to woman; to take them from her wounds
But I must forget myself. Am I taking them? They are for the
Divine Mother, to be poured in worship at her feet. Oh, but it
must be a grand ceremony of worship such as the country has never
beheld before. It must be a landmark in our history. It shall
be my supreme legacy to the Nation. Ignorant men worship gods.
I, Sandip, shall create them.
But all this is a far cry. What about the urgent immediate? At
least three thousand is indispensably necessary--five thousand
would do roundly and nicely. But how on earth am I to mention
money after the high flight we have just taken? And yet time is
I crushed all hesitation under foot as I jumped up and made my
plunge: "Queen! Our purse is empty, our work about to stop!"
Bimala winced. I could see she was thinking of that impossible
fifty thousand rupees. What a load she must have been carrying
within her bosom, struggling under it, perhaps, through sleepless
nights! What else had she with which to express her loving
worship? Debarred from offering her heart at my feet, she
hankers to make this sum of money, so hopelessly large for her,
the bearer of her imprisoned feelings. The thought of what she
must have gone through gives me a twinge of pain; for she is now
wholly mine. The wrench of plucking up the plant by the roots is
over. It is now only careful tending and nurture that is needed.
"Queen!" said I, "that fifty thousand rupees is not particularly
wanted just now. I calculate that, for the present, five
thousand or even three will serve."
The relief made her heart rebound. "I shall fetch you five
thousand," she said in tones which seemed like an outburst of
song--the song which Radhika of the Vaishnava lyrics sang:
For my lover will I bind in my hair
The flower which has no equal in the three worlds!
--it is the same tune, the same song: five thousand will I bring!
That flower will I bind in my hair!
The narrow restraint of the flute brings out this quality of
song. I must not allow the pressure of too much greed to flatten
out the reed, for then, as I fear, music will give place to the
questions "Why?" "What is the use of so much?" "How am I to get
it?"--not a word of which will rhyme with what Radhika sang! So,
as I was saying, illusion alone is real--it is the flute itself;
while truth is but its empty hollow. Nikhil has of late got a
taste of that pure emptiness--one can see it in his face, which
pains even me. But it was Nikhil's boast that he wanted the
Truth, while mine was that I would never let go illusion from my
grasp. Each has been suited to his taste, so why complain?
To keep Bimala's heart in the rarefied air of idealism, I cut
short all further discussion over the five thousand rupees. I
reverted to the demon-destroying goddess and her worship. When
was the ceremony to be held and where? There is a great annual
fair at Ruimari, within Nikhil's estates, where hundreds of
thousands of pilgrims assemble. That would be a grand place to
inaugurate the worship of our goddess!
Bimala waxed intensely enthusiastic. This was not the burning of
foreign cloth or the people's granaries, so even Nikhil could
have no objection--so thought she. But I smiled inwardly. How
little these two persons, who have been together, day and night,
for nine whole years, know of each other! They know something
perhaps of their home life, but when it comes to outside concerns
they are entirely at sea. They had cherished the belief that the
harmony of the home with the outside was perfect. Today they
realize to their cost that it is too late to repair their neglect
of years, and seek to harmonize them now.
What does it matter? Let those who have made the mistake learn
their error by knocking against the world. Why need I bother
about their plight? For the present I find it wearisome to keep
Bimala soaring much longer, like a captive balloon, in regions
ethereal. I had better get quite through with the matter in
When Bimala rose to depart and had neared the door I remarked in
my most casual manner: "So, about the money ..."
Bimala halted and faced back as she said: "On the expiry of the
month, when our personal allowances become due ..."
"That, I am afraid, would be much too late."
"When do you want it then?"
"Tomorrow you shall have it."
20. A line from Bankim Chatterjee's national song __Bande
21. A quotation from the Upanishads.
22. There is a world of sentiment attached to the ornaments worn
by women in Bengal.
They are not merely indicative of the love and regard of the
giver, but the wearing of them symbolizes all that is held best
in wifehood--the constant solicitude for her husband's welfare,
the successful performance of the material and spiritual duties
of the household entrusted to her care. When the husband dies,
and the responsibility for the household changes hands, then are
all ornaments cast aside as a sign of the widow's renunciation of
worldly concerns. At any other time the giving up of omaments is
always a sign of supreme distress and as such appeals acutely to
the sense of chivalry of any Bengali who may happen to witness it
PARAGRAPHS and letters against me have begun to come out in the
local papers; cartoons and lampoons are to follow, I am told.
Jets of wit and humour are being splashed about, and the lies
thus scattered are convulsing the whole country. They know that
the monopoly of mud-throwing is theirs, and the innocent passer-
by cannot escape unsoiled.
They are saying that the residents in my estates, from the
highest to the lowest, are in favour of __Swadeshi__, but they
dare not declare themselves, for fear of me. The few who have
been brave enough to defy me have felt the full rigour of my
persecution. I am in secret league with the police, and in
private communication with the magistrate, and these frantic
efforts of mine to add a foreign title of my own earning to the
one I have inherited, will not, it is opined, go in vain.
On the other hand, the papers are full of praise for those
devoted sons of the motherland, the Kundu and the Chakravarti
__zamindars__. If only, say they, the country had a few more
of such staunch patriots, the mills of Manchester would have, had
to sound their own dirge to the tune of __Bande Mataram__.
Then comes a letter in blood-red ink, giving a list of the
traitorous __zamindars__ whose treasuries have been burnt down
because of their failing to support the Cause. Holy Fire, it
goes on to say, has been aroused to its sacred function of
purifying the country; and other agencies are also at work to see
that those who are not true sons of the motherland do cease to
encumber her lap. The signature is an obvious __nom-de-
I could see that this was the doing of our local students. So I
sent for some of them and showed them the letter.
The B.A. student gravely informed me that they also had heard
that a band of desperate patriots had been formed who would stick
at nothing in order to clear away all obstacles to the success of
"If," said I, "even one of our countrymen succumbs to these
overbearing desperadoes, that will indeed be a defeat for the
"We fail to follow you, Maharaja," said the history student.
"'Our country," I tried to explain, "has been brought to death's
door through sheer fear--from fear of the gods down to fear of
the police; and if you set up, in the name of freedom, the fear
of some other bogey, whatever it may be called; if you would
raise your victorious standard on the cowardice of the country by
means of downright oppression, then no true lover of the country
can bow to your decision."
"Is there any country, sir," pursued the history student, "where
submission to Government is not due to fear?"
"The freedom that exists in any country," I replied, "may be
measured by the extent of this reign of fear. Where its threat
is confined to those who would hurt or plunder, there the
Government may claim to have freed man from the violence of man.
But if fear is to regulate how people are to dress, where they
shall trade, or what they must eat, then is man's freedom of will
utterly ignored, and manhood destroyed at the root."
"Is not such coercion of the individual will seen in other
countries too?" continued the history student.
"Who denies it?" I exclaimed. "But in every country man has
destroyed himself to the extent that he has permitted slavery to
"Does it not rather show," interposed a Master of Arts, "that
trading in slavery is inherent in man--a fundamental fact of his
"Sandip Babu made the whole thing clear," said a graduate. "He
gave us the example of Harish Kundu, your neighbouring
__zamindar__. From his estates you cannot ferret out a single
ounce of foreign salt. Why? Because he has always ruled with an
iron hand. In the case of those who are slaves by nature, the
lack of a strong master is the greatest of all calamities."
"Why, sir!" chimed in an undergraduate, "have you not heard of
the obstreperous tenant of Chakravarti, the other __zamindar__
close by--how the law was set on him till he was reduced to utter
destitution? When at last he was left with nothing to eat, he
started out to sell his wife's silver ornaments, but no one dared
buy them. Then Chakravarti's manager offered him five rupees for
the lot. They were worth over thirty, but he had to accept or
starve. After taking over the bundle from him the manager coolly
said that those five rupees would be credited towards his rent!
We felt like having nothing more to do with Chakravarti or his
manager after that, but Sandip Babu told us that if we threw over
all the live people, we should have only dead bodies from the
burning-grounds to carry on the work with! These live men, he
pointed out, know what they want and how to get it--they are born
rulers. Those who do not know how to desire for themselves, must
live in accordance with, or die by virtue of, the desires of such
as these. Sandip Babu contrasted them--Kundu and Chakravarti--
with you, Maharaja. You, he said, for all your good intentions,
will never succeed in planting __Swadeshi__ within your
"It is my desire," I said, "to plant something greater than
__Swadeshi__. I am not after dead logs but living trees--and
these will take time to grow."
"I am afraid, sir," sneered the history student, "that you will
get neither log nor tree. Sandip Babu rightly teaches that in
order to get, you must snatch. This is taking all of us some
time to learn, because it runs counter to what we were taught at
school. I have seen with my own eyes that when a rent-collector
of Harish Kundu's found one of the tenants with nothing which
could be sold up to pay his rent, he was made to sell his young
wife! Buyers were not wanting, and the __zamindar's__ demand
was satisfied. I tell you, sir, the sight of that man's distress
prevented my getting sleep for nights together! But, feel it as
I did, this much I realized, that the man who knows how to get
the money he is out for, even by selling up his debtor's wife, is
a better man than I am. I confess it is beyond me--I am a
weakling, my eyes fill with tears. If anybody can save our
country it is these Kundus and these Chakravartis and their
I was shocked beyond words. "If what you say be true," I cried,
"I clearly see that it must be the one endeavour of my life to
save the country from these same Kundus and Chakravartis and
officials. The slavery that has entered into our very bones is
breaking out, at this opportunity, as ghastly tyranny. You have
been so used to submit to domination through fear, you have come
to believe that to make others submit is a kind of religion. My
fight shall be against this weakness, this atrocious cruelty!"
These things, which are so simple to ordinary folk, get so
twisted in the minds of our B.A.'s and M.A.'s, the only purpose
of whose historical quibbles seems to be to torture the truth!
I am worried over Panchu's sham aunt. It will be difficult to
disprove her, for though witnesses of a real event may be few or
even wanting, innumerable proofs of a thing that has not happened
can always be marshalled. The object of this move is, evidently,
to get the sale of Panchu's holding to me set aside. Being
unable to find any other way out of it, I was thinking of
allowing Panchu to hold a permanent tenure in my estates and
building him a cottage on it. But my master would not have it.
I should not give in to these nefarious tactics so easily, he
objected, and offered to attend to the matter himself.
"You, sir!" I cried, considerably surprised.
"Yes, I," he repeated.
I could not see, at all clearly, what my master could do to
counteract these legal machinations. That evening, at the time
he usually came to me, he did not turn up. On my making
inquiries, his servant said he had left home with a few things
packed in a small trunk, and some bedding, saying he would be
back in a few days. I thought he might have sallied forth to
hunt for witnesses in Panchu's uncle's village. In that case,
however, I was sure that his would be a hopeless quest ...
During the day I forget myself in my work. As the late autumn
afternoon wears on, the colours of the sky become turbid, and so
do the feelings of my mind. There are many in this world whose
minds dwell in brick-built houses--they can afford to ignore the
thing called the outside. But my mind lives under the trees in
the open, directly receives upon itself the messages borne by the
free winds, and responds from the bottom of its heart to all the
musical cadences of light and darkness.
While the day is bright and the world in the pursuit of its
numberless tasks crowds around, then it seems as if my life wants
nothing else. But when the colours of the sky fade away and the
blinds are drawn down over the windows of heaven, then my heart
tells me that evening falls just for the purpose of shutting out
the world, to mark the time when the darkness must be filled with
the One. This is the end to which earth, sky, and waters
conspire, and I cannot harden myself against accepting its
meaning. So when the gloaming deepens over the world, like the
gaze of the dark eyes of the beloved, then my whole being tells
me that work alone cannot be the truth of life, that work is not
the be-all and the end-all of man, for man is not simply a serf--
even though the serfdom be of the True and the Good.
Alas, Nikhil, have you for ever parted company with that self of
yours who used to be set free under the starlight, to plunge into
the infinite depths of the night's darkness after the day's work
was done? How terribly alone is he, who misses companionship in
the midst of the multitudinousness of life.
The other day, when the afternoon had reached the meeting-point
of day and night, I had no work, nor the mind for work, nor was
my master there to keep me company. With my empty, drifting
heart longing to anchor on to something, I traced my steps
towards the inner gardens. I was very fond of chrysanthemums and
had rows of them, of all varieties, banked up in pots against one
of the garden walls. When they were in flower, it looked like a
wave of green breaking into iridescent foam. It was some time
since I had been to this part of the grounds, and I was beguiled
into a cheerful expectancy at the thought of meeting my
chrysanthemums after our long separation.
As I went in, the full moon had just peeped over the wall, her
slanting rays leaving its foot in deep shadow. It seemed as if
she had come a-tiptoe from behind, and clasped the darkness over
the eyes, smiling mischievously. When I came near the bank of
chrysanthemums, I saw a figure stretched on the grass in front.
My heart gave a sudden thud. The figure also sat up with a start
at my footsteps.
What was to be done next? I was wondering whether it would do to
beat a precipitate retreat. Bimala, also, was doubtless casting
about for some way of escape. But it was as awkward to go as to
stay! Before I could make up my mind, Bimala rose, pulled the
end of her __sari__ over her head, and walked off towards the
This brief pause had been enough to make real to me the cruel
load of Bimala's misery. The plaint of my own life vanished from
me in a moment. I called out: "Bimala!"
She started and stayed her steps, but did not turn back. I went
round and stood before her. Her face was in the shade, the
moonlight fell on mine. Her eyes were downcast, her hands
"Bimala," said I, "why should I seek to keep you fast in this
closed cage of mine? Do I not know that thus you cannot but pine
She stood still, without raising her eyes or uttering a word.
"I know," I continued, "that if I insist on keeping you shackled
my whole life will be reduced to nothing but an iron chain. What
pleasure can that be to me?"
She was still silent.
"So," I concluded, "I tell you, truly, Bimala, you are free.
Whatever I may or may not have been to you, I refuse to be your
fetters." With which I came away towards the outer apartments.
No, no, it was not a generous impulse, nor indifference. I had
simply come to understand that never would I be free until I
could set free. To try to keep Bimala as a garland round my
neck, would have meant keeping a weight hanging over my heart.
Have I not been praying with all my strength, that if happiness
may not be mine, let it go; if grief needs must be my lot, let it
come; but let me not be kept in bondage. To clutch hold of that
which is untrue as though it were true, is only to throttle
oneself. May I be saved from such self-destruction.
When I entered my room, I found my master waiting there. My
agitated feelings were still heaving within me. "Freedom, sir,"
I began unceremoniously, without greeting or inquiry, "freedom is
the biggest thing for man. Nothing can be compared to it--
nothing at all!"
Surprised at my outburst, my master looked up at me in silence.
"One can understand nothing from books," I went on. "We read in
the scriptures that our desires are bonds, fettering us as well
as others. But such words, by themselves, are so empty. It is
only when we get to the point of letting the bird out of its cage
that we can realize how free the bird has set us. Whatever we
cage, shackles us with desire whose bonds are stronger than those
of iron chains. I tell you, sir, this is just what the world has
failed to understand. They all seek to reform something outside
themselves. But reform is wanted only in one's own desires,
nowhere else, nowhere else!"
"We think," he said, "that we are our own masters when we get in
our hands the object of our desire--but we are really our own
masters only when we are able to cast out our desires from our
"When we put all this into words, sir," I went on, "it sounds
like some bald-headed injunction, but when we realize even a
little of it we find it to be __amrita__--which the gods have
drunk and become immortal. We cannot see Beauty till we let go
our hold of it. It was Buddha who conquered the world, not
Alexander--this is untrue when stated in dry prose--oh when shall
we be able to sing it? When shall all these most intimate truths
of the universe overflow the pages of printed books and leap out
in a sacred stream like the Ganges from the Gangotrie?"
I was suddenly reminded of my master's absence during the last
few days and of my ignorance as to its reason. I felt somewhat
foolish as I asked him: "And where have you been all this while,
"Staying with Panchu," he replied.
"Indeed!" I exclaimed. "Have you been there all these days?"
"Yes. I wanted to come to an understanding with the woman who
calls herself his aunt. She could hardly be induced to believe
that there could be such an odd character among the gentlefolk as
the one who sought their hospitality. When she found I really
meant to stay on, she began to feel rather ashamed of herself.
'Mother,' said I, 'you are not going to get rid of me, even if
you abuse me! And so long as I stay, Panchu stays also. For you
see, do you not, that I cannot stand by and see his motherless
little ones sent out into the streets?'
"She listened to my talks in this strain for a couple of days
without saying yes or no. This morning I found her tying up her
bundles. 'We are going back to Brindaban,' she said. 'Let us
have our expenses for the journey.' I knew she was not going to
Brindaban, and also that the cost of her journey would be
substantial. So I have come to you."
"The required cost shall be paid," I said.
"The old woman is not a bad sort," my master went on musingly.
"Panchu was not sure of her caste, and would not let her touch
the water-jar, or anything at all of his. So they were
continually bickering. When she found I had no objection to her
touch, she looked after me devotedly. She is a splendid cook!
"But all remnants of Panchu's respect for me vanished! To the
last he had thought that I was at least a simple sort of person.
But here was I, risking my caste without a qualm to win over the
old woman for my purpose. Had I tried to steal a march on her by
tutoring a witness for the trial, that would have been a
different matter. Tactics must be met by tactics. But stratagem
at the expense of orthodoxy is more than he can tolerate!
"Anyhow, I must stay on a few days at Panchu's even after the
woman leaves, for Harish Kundu may be up to any kind of devilry.
He has been telling his satellites that he was content to have
furnished Panchu with an aunt, but I have gone the length of
supplying him with a father. He would like to see, now, how many
fathers of his can save him!"
"We may or may not be able to save him," I said; "but if we
should perish in the attempt to save the country from the
thousand-and-one snares--of religion, custom and selfishness--
which these people are busy spreading, we shall at least die
Who could have thought that so much would happen in this one
life? I feel as if I have passed through a whole series of
births, time has been flying so fast, I did not feel it move at
all, till the shock came the other day.
I knew there would be words between us when I made up my mind to
ask my husband to banish foreign goods from our market. But it
was my firm belief that I had no need to meet argument by
argument, for there was magic in the very air about me. Had not
so tremendous a man as Sandip fallen helplessly at my feet, like
a wave of the mighty sea breaking on the shore? Had I called
him? No, it was the summons of that magic spell of mine. And
Amulya, poor dear boy, when he first came to me--how the current
of his life flushed with colour, like the river at dawn! Truly
have I realized how a goddess feels when she looks upon the
radiant face of her devotee.
With the confidence begotten of these proofs of my power, I was
ready to meet my husband like a lightning-charged cloud. But
what was it that happened? Never in all these nine years have I
seen such a far-away, distraught look in his eyes--like the
desert sky--with no merciful moisture of its own, no colour
reflected, even, from what it looked upon. I should have been so
relieved if his anger had flashed out! But I could find nothing
in him which I could touch. I felt as unreal as a dream--a dream
which would leave only the blackness of night when it was over.
In the old days I used to be jealous of my sister-in-law for her
beauty. Then I used to feel that Providence had given me no
power of my own, that my whole strength lay in the love which my
husband had bestowed on me. Now that I had drained to the dregs
the cup of power and could not do without its intoxication, I
suddenly found it dashed to pieces at my feet, leaving me nothing
to live for.
How feverishly I had sat to do my hair that day. Oh, shame,
shame on me, the utter shame of it! My sister-in-law, when
passing by, had exclaimed: "Aha, Chota Rani! Your hair seems
ready to jump off. Don't let it carry your head with it."
And then, the other day in the garden, how easy my husband found
it to tell me that he set me free! But can freedom--empty
freedom--be given and taken so easily as all that? It is like
setting a fish free in the sky--for how can I move or live
outside the atmosphere of loving care which has always sustained
When I came to my room today, I saw only furniture--only the
bedstead, only the looking-glass, only the clothes-rack--not the
all-pervading heart which used to be there, over all. Instead of
it there was freedom, only freedom, mere emptiness! A dried-up
watercourse with all its rocks and pebbles laid bare. No
feeling, only furniture!
When I had arrived at a state of utter bewilderment, wondering
whether anything true was left in my life, and whereabouts it
could be, I happened to meet Sandip again. Then life struck
against life, and the sparks flew in the same old way. Here was
truth--impetuous truth--which rushed in and overflowed all
bounds, truth which was a thousand times truer than the Bara Rani
with her maid, Thako and her silly songs, and all the rest of
them who talked and laughed and wandered about ...
"Fifty thousand!" Sandip had demanded.
"What is fifty thousand?" cried my intoxicated heart. "You
shall have it!"
How to get it, where to get it, were minor points not worth
troubling over. Look at me. Had I not risen, all in one moment,
from my nothingness to a height above everything? So shall all
things come at my beck and call. I shall get it, get it, get it
--there cannot be any doubt.
Thus had I come away from Sandip the other day. Then as I looked
about me, where was it--the tree of plenty? Oh, why does this
outer world insult the heart so?
And yet get it I must; how, I do not care; for sin there cannot
be. Sin taints only the weak; I with my __Shakti__ am beyond
its reach. Only a commoner can be a thief, the king conquers and
takes his rightful spoil ... I must find out where the treasury
is; who takes the money in; who guards it.
I spent half the night standing in the outer verandah peering at
the row of office buildings. But how to get that fifty thousand
rupees out of the clutches of those iron bars? If by some
__mantram__ I could have made all those guards fall dead in
their places, I would not have hesitated--so pitiless did I feel!
But while a whole gang of robbers seemed dancing a war-dance
within the whirling brain of its Rani, the great house of the
Rajas slept in peace. The gong of the watch sounded hour after
hour, and the sky overhead placidly looked on.
At last I sent for Amulya.
"Money is wanted for the Cause," I told him. "Can you not get it
out of the treasury?"
"Why not?" said he, with his chest thrown out.
Alas! had I not said "Why not?" to Sandip just in the same way?
The poor lad's confidence could rouse no hopes in my mind.
"How will you do it?" I asked.
The wild plans he began to unfold would hardly bear repetition
outside the pages of a penny dreadful.
"No, Amulya," I said severely, "you must not be childish."
"Very well, then," he said, "let me bribe those watchmen."
"Where is the money to come from?"
"I can loot the bazar," he burst out, without blenching.
"Leave all that alone. I have my ornaments, they will serve.
"But," said Amulya, "it strikes me that the cashier cannot be
bribed. Never mind, there is another and simpler way."
"What is that?"
"Why need you hear it? It is quite simple."
"Still, I should like to know."
Amulya fumbled in the pocket of his tunic and pulled out, first a
small edition of the __Gita__, which he placed on the table--
and then a little pistol, which he showed me, but said nothing
Horror! It did not take him a moment to make up his mind to kill
our good old cashier!  To look at his frank, open face one
would not have thought him capable of hurting a fly, but how
different were the words which came from his mouth. It was clear
that the cashier's place in the world meant nothing real to him;
it was a mere vacancy, lifeless, feelingless, with only stock
phrases from the __Gita--Who kills the body kills naught! __
"Whatever do you mean, Amulya?" I exclaimed at length. "Don't
you know that the dear old man has got a wife and children and
that he is ..."
"Where are we to find men who have no wives and children?" he
interrupted. "Look here, Maharani, the thing we call pity is, at
bottom, only pity for ourselves. We cannot bear to wound our own
tender instincts, and so we do not strike at all--pity indeed!
The height of cowardice!"
To hear Sandip's phrases in the mouth of this mere boy staggered
me. So delightfully, lovably immature was he--of that age when
the good may still be believed in as good, of that age when one
really lives and grows. The Mother in me awoke.
For myself there was no longer good or bad--only death, beautiful
alluring death. But to hear this stripling calmly talk of
murdering an inoffensive old man as the right thing to do, made
me shudder all over. The more clearly I saw that there was no
sin in his heart, the more horrible appeared to me the sin of his
words. I seemed to see the sin of the parents visited on the
The sight of his great big eyes shining with faith and enthusiasm
touched me to the quick. He was going, in his fascination,
straight to the jaws of the python, from which, once in, there
was no return. How was he to be saved? Why does not my country
become, for once, a real Mother--clasp him to her bosom and cry
out: "Oh, my child, my child, what profits it that you should
save me, if so it be that I should fail to save you?"
I know, I know, that all Power on earth waxes great under compact
with Satan. But the Mother is there, alone though she be, to
contemn and stand against this devil's progress. The Mother
cares not for mere success, however great--she wants to give
life, to save life. My very soul, today, stretches out its hands
in yearning to save this child.
A while ago I suggested robbery to him. Whatever I may now say
against it will be put down to a woman's weakness. They only
love our weakness when it drags the world in its toils!
"You need do nothing at all, Amulya, I will see to the money," I
told him finally. When he had almost reached the door, I called
"Amulya," said I, "I am your elder sister. Today is not the
Brothers' Day  according to the calendar, but all the days in
the year are really Brothers' Days. My blessing be with you: may
God keep you always."
These unexpected words from my lips took Amulya by surprise. He
stood stock-still for a time. Then, coming to himself, he
prostrated himself at my feet in acceptance of the relationship
and did me reverence. When he rose his eyes were full of tears
... O little brother mine! I am fast going to my death--let me
take all your sin away with me. May no taint from me ever
tarnish your innocence!
I said to him: "Let your offering of reverence be that pistol!"
"What do you want with it, sister?"
"I will practise death."
"Right, sister. Our women, also, must know how to die, to deal
death!" with which Amulya handed me the pistol. The radiance of
his youthful countenance seemed to tinge my life with the touch
of a new dawn. I put away the pistol within my clothes. May
this reverence-offering be the last resource in my extremity ...
The door to the mother's chamber in my woman's heart once opened,
I thought it would always remain open. But this pathway to the
supreme good was closed when the mistress took the place of the
mother and locked it again. The very next day I saw Sandip; and
madness, naked and rampant, danced upon my heart.
What was this? Was this, then, my truer self? Never! I had
never before known this shameless, this cruel one within me. The
snake-charmer had come, pretending to draw this snake from within
the fold of my garment--but it was never there, it was his all
the time. Some demon has gained possession of me, and what I am
doing today is the play of his activity--it has nothing to do
This demon, in the guise of a god, had come with his ruddy torch
to call me that day, saying: "I am your Country. I am your
Sandip. I am more to you than anything else of yours. __Bande
Mataram__!" And with folded hands I had responded: "You are my
religion. You are my heaven. Whatever else is mine shall be
swept away before my love for you. __Bande Mataram__!"
Five thousand is it? Five thousand it shall be! You want it
tomorrow? Tomorrow you shall have it! In this desperate orgy,
that gift of five thousand shall be as the foam of wine--and then
for the riotous revel! The immovable world shall sway under our
feet, fire shall flash from our eyes, a storm shall roar in our
ears, what is or is not in front shall become equally dim. And
then with tottering footsteps we shall plunge to our death--in a
moment all fire will be extinguished, the ashes will be
scattered, and nothing will remain behind.
23. The cashier is the official who is most in touch with the
ladies of a __zamindar's__ household, directly taking their
requisitions for household stores and doing their shopping for
them, and so he becomes more a member of the family than the
24. The daughter of the house occupies a place of specially
tender affection in a Bengali household (perhaps in Hindu
households all over India) because, by dictate of custom, she
must be given away in marriage so early. She thus takes
corresponding memories with her to her husband's home, where she
has to begin as a stranger before she can get into her place.
The resulting feeling, of the mistress of her new home for the
one she has left, has taken ceremonial form as the Brothers' Day,
on which the brothers are invited to the married sisters' houses.
Where the sister is the elder, she offers her blessing and
receives the brother's reverence, and vice versa. Presents,
called the offerings of reverence (or blessing), are exchanged.
FOR a time I was utterly at a loss to think of any way of getting
that money. Then, the other day, in the light of intense
excitement, suddenly the whole picture stood out clear before me.
Every year my husband makes a reverence-offering of six thousand
rupees to my sister-in-law at the time of the Durga Puja. Every
year it is deposited in her account at the bank in Calcutta.
This year the offering was made as usual, but it has not yet been
sent to the bank, being kept meanwhile in an iron safe, in a
corner of the little dressing-room attached to our bedroom.
Every year my husband takes the money to the bank himself. This
year he has not yet had an opportunity of going to town. How
could I fail to see the hand of Providence in this? The money
has been held up because the country wants it--who could have the
power to take it away from her to the bank? And how can I have
the power to refuse to take the money? The goddess revelling in
destruction holds out her blood-cup crying: "Give me drink. I am
thirsty." I will give her my own heart's blood with that five
thousand rupees. Mother, the loser of that money will scarcely
feel the loss, but me you will utterly ruin!
Many a time, in the old days, have I inwardly called the Senior
Rani a thief, for I charged her with wheedling money out of my
trusting husband. After her husband's death, she often used to
make away with things belonging to the estate for her own use.
This I used to point out to my husband, but he remained silent.
I would get angry and say: "If you feel generous, make gifts by
all means, but why allow yourself to be robbed?" Providence must
have smiled, then, at these complaints of mine, for tonight I am
on the way to rob my husband's safe of my sister-in-law's money.
My husband's custom was to let his keys remain in his pockets
when he took off his clothes for the night, leaving them in the
dressing-room. I picked out the key of the safe and opened it.
The slight sound it made seemed to wake the whole world! A
sudden chill turned my hands and feet icy cold, and I shivered
There was a drawer inside the safe. On opening this I found the
money, not in currency notes, but in gold rolled up in paper. I
had no time to count out what I wanted. There were twenty rolls,
all of which I took and tied up in a corner of my __sari__.
What a weight it was. The burden of the theft crushed my heart
to the dust. Perhaps notes would have made it seem less like
thieving, but this was all gold.
After I had stolen into my room like a thief, it felt like my own
room no longer. All the most precious rights which I had over it
vanished at the touch of my theft. I began to mutter to myself,
as though telling __mantrams: Bande Mataram, Bande Mataram__,
my Country, my golden Country, all this gold is for you, for none
But in the night the mind is weak. I came back into the bedroom
where my husband was asleep, closing my eyes as I passed through,
and went off to the open terrace beyond, on which I lay prone,
clasping to my breast the end of the __sari__ tied over the
gold. And each one of the rolls gave me a shock of pain.
The silent night stood there with forefinger upraised. I could
not think of my house as separate from my country: I had robbed
my house, I had robbed my country. For this sin my house had
ceased to be mine, my country also was estranged from me. Had I
died begging for my country, even unsuccessfully, that would have
been worship, acceptable to the gods. But theft is never
worship--how then can I offer this gold? Ah me! I am doomed to
death myself, must I desecrate my country with my impious touch?
The way to put the money back is closed to me. I have not
the strength to return to the room, take again that key, open
once more that safe--I should swoon on the threshold of my
husband's door. The only road left now is the road in front.
Neither have I the strength deliberately to sit down and count
the coins. Let them remain behind their coverings: I cannot
There was no mist in the winter sky. The stars were shining
brightly. If, thought I to myself, as I lay out there, I had to
steal these stars one by one, like golden coins, for my country--
these stars so carefully stored up in the bosom of the darkness--
then the sky would be blinded, the night widowed for ever, and my
theft would rob the whole world. But was not also this very
thing I had done a robbing of the whole world--not only of money,
but of trust, of righteousness?
I spent the night lying on the terrace. When at last it was
morning, and I was sure that my husband had risen and left the
room, then only with my shawl pulled over my head, could I
retrace my steps towards the bedroom.
My sister-in-law was about, with her brass pot, watering her
plants. When she saw me passing in the distance she cried: "Have
you heard the news, Chota Rani?"
I stopped in silence, all in a tremor. It seemed to me that the
rolls of sovereigns were bulging through the shawl. I feared
they would burst and scatter in a ringing shower, exposing to all
the servants of the house the thief who had made herself
destitute by robbing her own wealth.
"Your band of robbers," she went on, "have sent an anonymous
message threatening to loot the treasury."
I remained as silent as a thief.
"I was advising Brother Nikhil to seek your protection," she
continued banteringly. "Call off your minions, Robber Queen! We
will offer sacrifices to your __Bande Mataram__ if you will
but save us. What doings there are these days!--but for the
Lord's sake, spare our house at least from burglary."
I hastened into my room without reply. I had put my foot on
quicksand, and could not now withdraw it. Struggling would only
send me down deeper.
If only the time would arrive when I could hand over the money to
Sandip! I could bear it no longer, its weight was breaking
through my very ribs.
It was still early when I got word that Sandip was awaiting me.
Today I had no thought of adornment. Wrapped as I was in my
shawl, I went off to the outer apartments. As I entered the
sitting-room I saw Sandip and Amulya there, together. All my
dignity, all my honour, seemed to run tingling through my body
from head to foot and vanish into the ground. I should have to
lay bare a woman's uttermost shame in sight of this boy! Could
they have been discussing my deed in their meeting place? Had
any vestige of a veil of decency been left for me?
We women shall never understand men. When they are bent on
making a road for some achievement, they think nothing of
breaking the heart of the world into pieces to pave it for the
progress of their chariot. When they are mad with the
intoxication of creating, they rejoice in destroying the creation
of the Creator. This heart-breaking shame of mine will not
attract even a glance from their eyes. They have no feeling for
life itself--all their eagerness is for their object. What am I
to them but a meadow flower in the path of a torrent in flood?
What good will this extinction of me be to Sandip? Only five
thousand rupees? Was not I good for something more than only
five thousand rupees? Yes, indeed! Did I not learn that from
Sandip himself, and was I not able in the light of this knowledge
to despise all else in my world? I was the giver of light, of
life, of __Shakti__, of immortality--in that belief, in that
joy, I had burst all my bounds and come into the open. Had
anyone then fulfilled for me that joy, I should have lived in my
death. I should have lost nothing in the loss of my all.
Do they want to tell me now that all this was false? The psalm
of my praise which was sung so devotedly, did it bring me down
from my heaven, not to make heaven of earth, but only to level
heaven itself with the dust?
"The money, Queen?" said Sandip with his keen glance full on my
Amulya also fixed his gaze on me. Though not my own mother's
child, yet the dear lad is brother to me; for mother is mother
all the world over. With his guileless face, his gentle eyes,
his innocent youth, he looked at me. And I, a woman--of his
mother's sex--how could I hand him poison, just because he asked
"The money, Queen!" Sandip's insolent demand rang in my ears.
For very shame and vexation I felt I wanted to fling that gold at
Sandip's head. I could hardly undo the knot of my __sari__,
my fingers trembled so. At last the paper rolls dropped on the
Sandip's face grew black ... He must have thought that the rolls
were of silver ... What contempt was in his looks. What utter
disgust at incapacity. It was almost as if he could have struck
me! He must have suspected that I had come to parley with him,
to offer to compound his claim for five thousand rupees with a
few hundreds. There was a moment when I thought he would snatch
up the rolls and throw them out of the window, declaring that he
was no beggar, but a king claiming tribute.
"Is that all?" asked Amulya with such pity welling up in his
voice that I wanted to sob out aloud. I kept my heart tightly
pressed down, and merely nodded my head. Sandip was speechless.
He neither touched the rolls, nor uttered a sound.
My humiliation went straight to the boy's heart. With a sudden,
feigned enthusiasm he exclaimed: "It's plenty. It will do
splendidly. You have saved us." With which he tore open the
covering of one of the rolls.
The sovereigns shone out. And in a moment the black covering
seemed to be lifted from Sandip's countenance also. His delight
beamed forth from his features. Unable to control his sudden
revulsion of feeling, he sprang up from his seat towards me.
What he intended I know not. I flashed a lightning glance
towards Amulya--the colour had left the boy's face as at the
stroke of a whip. Then with all my strength I thrust Sandip from
me. As he reeled back his head struck the edge of the marble
table and he dropped on the floor. There he lay awhile,
motionless. Exhausted with my effort, I sank back on my seat.
Amulya's face lightened with a joyful radiance. He did not even
turn towards Sandip, but came straight up, took the dust of my
feet, and then remained there, sitting on the floor in front of
me. O my little brother, my child! This reverence of yours is
the last touch of heaven left in my empty world! I could contain
myself no longer, and my tears flowed fast. I covered my eyes
with the end of my __sari__, which I pressed to my face with
both my hands, and sobbed and sobbed. And every time that I felt
on my feet his tender touch trying to comfort me my tears broke
After a little, when I had recovered myself and taken my hands
from my face, I saw Sandip back at the table, gathering up the
sovereigns in his handkerchief, as if nothing had happened.
Amulya rose to his seat, from his place near my feet, his wet
Sandip coolly looked up at my face as he remarked: "It is six
"What do we want with so much, Sandip Babu?" cried Amulya.
"Three thousand five hundred is all we need for our work."
"Our wants are not for this one place only," Sandip replied. "We
shall want all we can get."
"That may be," said Amulya. "But in future I undertake to get
you all you want. Out of this, Sandip Babu, please return the
extra two thousand five hundred to the Maharani."
Sandip glanced enquiringly at me.
"No, no," I exclaimed. "I shall never touch that money again.
Do with it as you will."
"Can man ever give as woman can?" said Sandip, looking towards
"They are goddesses!" agreed Amulya with enthusiasm.
"We men can at best give of our power," continued Sandip. "But
women give themselves. Out of their own life they give birth,
out of their own life they give sustenance. Such gifts are the
only true gifts." Then turning to me, "Queen!" said he, "if
what you have given us had been only money I would not have
touched it. But you have given that which is more to you than
There must be two different persons inside men. One of these in
me can understand that Sandip is trying to delude me; the other
is content to be deluded. Sandip has power, but no strength of
righteousness. The weapon of his which rouses up life smites it
again to death. He has the unfailing quiver of the gods, but the
shafts in them are of the demons.
Sandip's handkerchief was not large enough to hold all the coins.
"Queen," he asked, "can you give me another?" When I gave him
mine, he reverently touched his forehead with it, and then
suddenly kneeling on the floor he made me an obeisance.
"Goddess!" he said, "it was to offer my reverence that I had
approached you, but you repulsed me, and rolled me in the dust.
Be it so, I accept your repulse as your boon to me, I raise it to
my head in salutation!" with which he pointed to the place where
he had been hurt.
Had I then misunderstood him? Could it be that his outstretched
hands had really been directed towards my feet? Yet, surely,
even Amulya had seen the passion that flamed out of his eyes, his
face. But Sandip is such an adept in setting music to his chant
of praise that I cannot argue; I lose my power of seeing truth;
my sight is clouded over like an opium-eater's eyes. And so,
after all, he gave me back twice as much in return for the blow I
had dealt him--the wound on his head ended by making me bleed at
heart. When I had received Sandip's obeisance my theft seemed to
gain a dignity, and the gold glittering on the table to smile
away all fear of disgrace, all stings of conscience.
Like me Amulya also was won back. His devotion to Sandip, which
had suffered a momentary check, blazed up anew. The flower-vase
of his mind filled once more with offerings for the worship of
Sandip and me. His simple faith shone out of his eyes with the
pure light of the morning star at dawn.
After I had offered worship and received worship my sin became
radiant. And as Amulya looked on my face he raised his folded
hands in salutation and cried __Bande Mataram__! I cannot
expect to have this adoration surrounding me for ever; and yet
this has come to be the only means of keeping alive my self-
I can no longer enter my bedroom. The bedstead seems to thrust
out a forbidding hand, the iron safe frowns at me. I want to get
away from this continual insult to myself which is rankling
within me. I want to keep running to Sandip to hear him sing my
praises. There is just this one little altar of worship which
has kept its head above the all-pervading depths of my dishonour,
and so I want to cleave to it night and day; for on whichever
side I step away from it, there is only emptiness.
Praise, praise, I want unceasing praise. I cannot live if my
wine-cup be left empty for a single moment. So, as the very
price of my life, I want Sandip of all the world, today.
When my husband nowadays comes in for his meals I feel I cannot
sit before him; and yet it is such a shame not to be near him
that I feel I cannot do that either. So I seat myself where we
cannot look at each other's face. That was how I was sitting the
other day when the Bara Rani came and joined us.
"It is all very well for you, brother," said she, "to laugh away
these threatening letters. But they do frighten me so. Have you
sent off that money you gave me to the Calcutta bank?"
"No, I have not yet had the time to get it away," my husband
"You are so careless, brother dear, you had better look out..."
"But it is in the iron safe right inside the inner dressing-
room," said my husband with a reassuring smile.
"What if they get in there? You can never tell!"
"If they go so far, they might as well carry you off too!"
"Don't you fear, no one will come for poor me. The real
attraction is in your room! But joking apart, don't run the risk
of keeping money in the room like that."
"They will be taking along the Government revenue to Calcutta in
a few days now; I will send this money to the bank under the same
"Very well. But see you don't forget all about it, you are so
"Even if that money gets lost, while in my room, the loss cannot
be yours, Sister Rani."
"Now, now, brother, you will make me very angry if you talk in
that way. Was I making any difference between yours and mine?
What if your money is lost, does not that hurt me? If Providence
has thought fit to take away my all, it has not left me
insensible to the value of the most devoted brother known since
the days of Lakshman." 
"Well, Junior Rani, are you turned into a wooden doll? You have
not spoken a word yet. Do you know, brother, our Junior Rani
thinks I try to flatter you. If things came to that pass I
should not hesitate to do so, but I know my dear old brother does
not need it!"
Thus the Senior Rani chattered on, not forgetting now and then to
draw her brother's attention to this or that special delicacy
amongst the dishes that were being served. My head was all the
time in a whirl. The crisis was fast coming. Something must be
done about replacing that money. And as I kept asking myself
what could be done, and how it was to be done, the unceasing
patter of my sister-in-law's words seemed more and more
What made it all the worse was, that nothing could escape my
sister-in-law's keen eyes. Every now and then she was casting
side glances towards me. What she could read in my face I do not
know, but to me it seemed that everything was written there only
Then I did an infinitely rash thing. Affecting an easy, amused
laugh I said: "All the Senior Rani's suspicions, I see, are
reserved for me--her fears of thieves and robbers are only a
The Senior Rani smiled mischievously. "You are right, sister
mine. A woman's theft is the most fatal of all thefts. But how
can you elude my watchfulness? Am I a man, that you should
"If you fear me so," I retorted, "let me keep in your hands all I
have, as security. If I cause you loss, you can then repay
"Just listen to her, our simple little Junior Rani!" she laughed
back, turning to my husband. "Does she not know that there are
losses which no security can make good, either in this world or
in the next?"
My husband did not join in our exchange of words. When he had
finished, he went off to the outer apartments, for nowadays he
does not take his mid-day rest in our room.
All my more valuable jewels were in deposit in the treasury in
charge of the cashier. Still what I kept with me must have been
worth thirty or forty thousand. I took my jewel-box to the Bara
Rani's room and opened it out before her, saying: "I leave these
with you, sister. They will keep you quite safe from all worry."
The Bara Rani made a gesture of mock despair. "You positively
astound me, Chota Rani!" she said. "Do you really suppose I
spend sleepless nights for fear of being robbed by you?"
"What harm if you did have a wholesome fear of me? Does anybody
know anybody else in this world?"
"You want to teach me a lesson by trusting me? No, no! I am
bothered enough to know what to do with my own jewels, without
keeping watch over yours. Take them away, there's a dear, so
many prying servants are about."
I went straight from my sister-in-law's room to the sitting-room
outside, and sent for Amulya. With him Sandip came along too. I
was in a great hurry, and said to Sandip: "If you don't mind, I
want to have a word or two with Amulya. Would you..."
Sandip smiled a wry smile. "So Amulya and I are separate in your
eyes? If you have set about to wean him from me, I must confess
I have no power to retain him."
I made no reply, but stood waiting.
"Be it so," Sandip went on. "Finish your special talk with
Amulya. But then you must give me a special talk all to myself
too, or it will mean a defeat for me. I can stand everything,
but not defeat. My share must always be the lion's share. This
has been my constant quarrel with Providence. I will defeat the
Dispenser of my fate, but not take defeat at his hands." With a
crushing look at Amulya, Sandip walked out of the room.
"Amulya, my own little brother, you must do one thing for me," I
"I will stake my life for whatever duty you may lay on me,