Part 4 out of 5
I brought out my jewel-box from the folds of my shawl and placed
it before him. "Sell or pawn these," I said, "and get me six
thousand rupees as fast as ever you can."
"No, no, Sister Rani," said Amulya, touched to the quick. "Let
these jewels be. I will get you six thousand all the same."
"Oh, don't be silly," I said impatiently. "There is no time for
any nonsense. Take this box. Get away to Calcutta by the night
train. And bring me the money by the day after tomorrow
Amulya took a diamond necklace out of the box, held it up to the
light and put it back gloomily.
"I know," I told him, "that you will never get the proper price
for these diamonds, so I am giving you jewels worth about thirty
thousand. I don't care if they all go, but I must have that six
thousand without fail."
"Do you know, Sister Rani," said Amulya, "I have had a quarrel
with Sandip Babu over that six thousand rupees he took from you?
I cannot tell you how ashamed I felt. But Sandip Babu would have
it that we must give up even our shame for the country. That may
be so. But this is somehow different. I do not fear to die for
the country, to kill for the country--that much __Shakti__ has
been given me. But I cannot forget the shame of having taken
money from you. There Sandip Babu is ahead of me. He has no
regrets or compunctions. He says we must get rid of the idea
that the money belongs to the one in whose box it happens to be--
if we cannot, where is the magic of __Bande Mataram__?"
Amulya gathered enthusiasm as he talked on. He always warms up
when he has me for a listener. "The Gita tells us," he
continued, "that no one can kill the soul. Killing is a mere
word. So also is the taking away of money. Whose is the money?
No one has created it. No one can take it away with him when he
departs this life, for it is no part of his soul. Today it is
mine, tomorrow my son's, the next day his creditor's. Since, in
fact, money belongs to no one, why should any blame attach to our
patriots if, instead of leaving it for some worthless son, they
take it for their own use?"
When I hear Sandip's words uttered by this boy, I tremble all
over. Let those who are snake-charmers play with snakes; if harm
comes to them, they are prepared for it. But these boys are so
innocent, all the world is ready with its blessing to protect
them. They play with a snake not knowing its nature, and when we
see them smilingly, trustfully, putting their hands within reach
of its fangs, then we understand how terribly dangerous the snake
is. Sandip is right when he suspects that though I, for myself,
may be ready to die at his hands, this boy I shall wean from him
"So the money is wanted for the use of your patriots?" I
questioned with a smile.
"Of course it is!" said Amulya proudly. "Are they not our
kings? Poverty takes away from their regal power. Do you know,
we always insist on Sandip Babu travelling First Class? He never
shirks kingly honours--he accepts them not for himself, but for
the glory of us all. The greatest weapon of those who rule the
world, Sandip Babu has told us, is the hypnotism of their
display. To take the vow of poverty would be for them not merely
a penance--it would mean suicide."
At this point Sandip noiselessly entered the room. I threw my
shawl over the jewel-case with a rapid movement.
"The special-talk business not yet over?" he asked with a sneer
in his tone.
"Yes, we've quite finished," said Amulya apologetically. "It was
"No, Amulya," I said, "we have not quite finished."
"So exit Sandip for the second time, I suppose?" said Sandip.
"If you please."
"And as to Sandip's re-entry."
"Not today. I have no time."
"I see!" said Sandip as his eyes flashed. "No time to waste,
only for special talks!"
Jealousy! Where the strong man shows weakness, there the weaker
sex cannot help beating her drums of victory. So I repeated
firmly: "I really have no time."
Sandip went away looking black. Amulya was greatly perturbed.
"Sister Rani," he pleaded, "Sandip Babu is annoyed."
"He has neither cause nor right to be annoyed," I said with some
vehemence. "Let me caution you about one thing, Amulya. Say
nothing to Sandip Babu about the sale of my jewels--on your
"No, I will not."
"Then you had better not delay any more. You must get away by
Amulya and I left the room together. As we came out on the
verandah Sandip was standing there. I could see he was waiting
to waylay Amulya. To prevent that I had to engage him. "What is
it you wanted to tell me, Sandip Babu?" I asked.
"I have nothing special to say--mere small talk. And since you
have not the time . . "
"I can give you just a little."
By this time Amulya had left. As we entered the room Sandip
asked: "What was that box Amulya carried away?"
The box had not escaped his eyes. I remained firm. "If I could
have told you, it would have been made over to him in your
"So you think Amulya will not tell me?"
"No, he will not."
Sandip could not conceal his anger any longer. "You think you
will gain the mastery over me?" he blazed out. "That shall
never be. Amulya, there, would die a happy death if I deigned to
trample him under foot. I will never, so long as I live, allow
you to bring him to your feet!"
Oh, the weak! the weak! At last Sandip has realized that he is
weak before me! That is why there is this sudden outburst of
anger. He has understood that he cannot meet the power that I
wield, with mere strength. With a glance I can crumble his
strongest fortifications. So he must needs resort to bluster. I
simply smiled in contemptuous silence. At last have I come to a
level above him. I must never lose this vantage ground; never
descend lower again. Amidst all my degradation this bit of
dignity must remain to me!
"I know," said Sandip, after a pause, "it was your jewel-case."
"You may guess as you please," said I, "but you will get nothing
out of me.
"So you trust Amulya more than you trust me? Do you know that
the boy is the shadow of my shadow, the echo of my echo--that he
is nothing if I am not at his side?"
"Where he is not your echo, he is himself, Amulya. And that is
where I trust him more than I can trust your echo!"
"You must not forget that you are under a promise to render up
all your ornaments to me for the worship of the Divine Mother.
In fact your offering has already been made."
"Whatever ornaments the gods leave to me will be offered up to
the gods. But how can I offer those which have been stolen away
"Look here, it is no use your trying to give me the slip in that
fashion. Now is the time for grim work. Let that work be
finished, then you can make a display of your woman's wiles to
your heart's content--and I will help you in your game."
The moment I had stolen my husband's money and paid it to Sandip,
the music that was in our relations stopped. Not only did I
destroy all my own value by making myself cheap, but Sandip's
powers, too, lost scope for their full play. You cannot employ
your marksmanship against a thing which is right in your grasp.
So Sandip has lost his aspect of the hero; a tone of low
quarrelsomeness has come into his words.
Sandip kept his brilliant eyes fixed full on my face till they
seemed to blaze with all the thirst of the mid-day sky. Once or
twice he fidgeted with his feet, as though to leave his seat, as
if to spring right on me. My whole body seemed to swim, my veins
throbbed, the hot blood surged up to my ears; I felt that if I
remained there, I should never get up at all. With a supreme
effort I tore myself off the chair, and hastened towards the
From Sandip's dry throat there came a muffled cry: "Whither would
you flee, Queen?" The next moment he left his seat with a bound
to seize hold of me. At the sound of footsteps outside the door,
however, he rapidly retreated and fell back into his chair. I
checked my steps near the bookshelf, where I stood staring at the
names of the books.
As my husband entered the room, Sandip exclaimed: "I say, Nikhil,
don't you keep Browning among your books here? I was just
telling Queen Bee of our college club. Do you remember that
contest of ours over the translation of those lines from
Browning? You don't?
"She should never have looked at me,
If she meant I should not love her,
There are plenty ... men you call such,
I suppose ... she may discover
All her soul to, if she pleases,
And yet leave much as she found them:
But I'm not so, and she knew it
When she fixed me, glancing round them.
"I managed to get together the words to render it into Bengali,
somehow, but the result was hardly likely to be a 'joy forever'
to the people of Bengal. I really did think at one time that I
was on the verge of becoming a poet, but Providence was kind
enough to save me from that disaster. Do you remember old
Dakshina? If he had not become a Salt Inspector, he would have
been a poet. I remember his rendering to this day ...
"No, Queen Bee, it is no use rummaging those bookshelves. Nikhil
has ceased to read poetry since his marriage--perhaps he has no
further need for it. But I suppose 'the fever fit of poesy', as
the Sanskrit has it, is about to attack me again."
"I have come to give you a warning, Sandip," said my husband.
"About the fever fit of poesy?"
My husband took no notice of this attempt at humour. "For some
time," he continued, "Mahomedan preachers have been about
stirring up the local Mussulmans. They are all wild with you,
and may attack you any moment."
"Are you come to advise flight?"
"I have come to give you information, not to offer advice."
"Had these estates been mine, such a warning would have been
necessary for the preachers, not for me. If, instead of trying
to frighten me, you give them a taste of your intimidation, that
would be worthier both of you and me. Do you know that your
weakness is weakening your neighbouring __zamindars__ also?"
"I did not offer you my advice, Sandip. I wish you, too, would
refrain from giving me yours. Besides, it is useless. And there
is another thing I want to tell you. You and your followers have
been secretly worrying and oppressing my tenantry. I cannot
allow that any longer. So I must ask you to leave my territory."
"For fear of the Mussulmans, or is there any other fear you have
to threaten me with?"
"There are fears the want of which is cowardice. In the name of
those fears, I tell you, Sandip, you must go. In five days I
shall be starting for Calcutta. I want you to accompany me. You
may of course stay in my house there--to that there is no
"All right, I have still five day's time then. Meanwhile, Queen
Bee, let me hum to you my song of parting from your honey-hive.
Ah! you poet of modern Bengal! Throw open your doors and let me
plunder your words. The theft is really yours, for it is my song
which you have made your own--let the name be yours by all means,
but the song is mine." With this Sandip struck up in a deep,
husky voice, which threatened to be out of tune, a song in the
"In the springtime of your kingdom, my Queen,
Meetings and partings chase each other in their endless hide
And flowers blossom in the wake of those that droop and die in
In the springtime of your kingdom, my Queen,
My meeting with you had its own songs,
But has not also my leave-taking any gift to offer you?
That gift is my secret hope, which I keep hidden in the shadows
of your flower garden,
That the rains of July may sweetly temper your fiery June."
His boldness was immense--boldness which had no veil, but was naked
as fire. One finds no time to stop it: it is like trying
to resist a thunderbolt: the lightning flashes: it laughs at all
I left the room. As I was passing along the verandah towards the
inner apartments, Amulya suddenly made his appearance and came
and stood before me.
"Fear nothing, Sister Rani," he said. "I am off tonight and
shall not return unsuccessful."
"Amulya," said I, looking straight into his earnest, youthful
face, "I fear nothing for myself, but may I never cease to fear
Amulya turned to go, but before he was out of sight I called him
back and asked: "Have you a mother, Amulya?"
"No, I am the only child of my mother. My father died when I was
"Then go back to your mother, Amulya."
"But, Sister Rani, I have now both mother and sister."
"Then, Amulya, before you leave tonight, come and have your
"There won't be time for that. Let me take some food for the
journey, consecrated with your touch."
"What do you specially like, Amulya?"
"If I had been with my mother I should have had lots of Poush
cakes. Make some for me with your own hands, Sister Rani!"
25. Of the __Ramayana__. The story of his devotion to his
elder brother Rama and his brother's wife Sita, has become a
I LEARNT from my master that Sandip had joined forces with Harish
Kundu, and there was to be a grand celebration of the worship of
the demon-destroying Goddess. Harish Kundu was extorting the
expenses from his tenantry. Pandits Kaviratna and Vidyavagish
had been commissioned to compose a hymn with a double meaning.
My master has just had a passage at arms with Sandip over this.
"Evolution is at work amongst the gods as well," says Sandip.
"The grandson has to remodel the gods created by the grandfather
to suit his own taste, or else he is left an atheist. It is my
mission to modernize the ancient deities. I am born the saviour
of the gods, to emancipate them from the thraldom of the past."
I have seen from our boyhood what a juggler with ideas is Sandip.
He has no interest in discovering truth, but to make a quizzical
display of it rejoices his heart. Had he been born in the wilds
of Africa he would have spent a glorious time inventing argument
after argument to prove that cannibalism is the best means of
promoting true communion between man and man. But those who deal
in delusion end by deluding themselves, and I fully believe that,
each time Sandip creates a new fallacy, he persuades himself that
he has found the truth, however contradictory his creations may
be to one another.
However, I shall not give a helping hand to establish a liquor
distillery in my country. The young men, who are ready to offer
their services for their country's cause, must not fall into this
habit of getting intoxicated. The people who want to exact work
by drugging methods set more value on the excitement than on the
minds they intoxicate.
I had to tell Sandip, in Bimala's presence, that he must go.
Perhaps both will impute to me the wrong motive. But I must free
myself also from all fear of being misunderstood. Let even
Bimala misunderstand me ...
A number of Mahomedan preachers are being sent over from Dacca.
The Mussulmans in my territory had come to have almost as much of
an aversion to the killing of cows as the Hindus. But now cases
of cow-killing are cropping up here and there. I had the news
first from some of my Mussulman tenants with expressions of their
disapproval. Here was a situation which I could see would be
difficult to meet. At the bottom was a pretence of fanaticism,
which would cease to be a pretence if obstructed. That is just
where the ingenuity of the move came in!
I sent for some of my principal Hindu tenants and tried to get
them to see the matter in its proper light. "We can be staunch
in our own convictions," I said, "but we have no control over
those of others. For all that many of us are Vaishnavas, those
of us who are Shaktas go on with their animal sacrifices just the
same. That cannot be helped. We must, in the same way, let the
Mussulmans do as they think best. So please refrain from all
"Maharaja," they replied, "these outrages have been unknown for
"That was so," I said, "because such was their spontaneous
desire. Let us behave in such a way that the same may become
true, over again. But a breach of the peace is not the way to
bring this about."
"No, Maharaja," they insisted, "those good old days are gone.
This will never stop unless you put it down with a strong hand."
"Oppression," I replied, "will not only not prevent cow-killing,
it may lead to the killing of men as well."
One of them had had an English education. He had learnt to
repeat the phrases of the day. "It is not only a question of
orthodoxy," he argued. "Our country is mainly agricultural, and
cows are ..."
"Buffaloes in this country," I interrupted, "likewise give milk
and are used for ploughing. And therefore, so long as we dance
frantic dances on our temple pavements, smeared with their blood,
their severed heads carried on our shoulders, religion will only
laugh at us if we quarrel with Mussulmans in her name, and
nothing but the quarrel itself will remain true. If the cow
alone is to be held sacred from slaughter, and not the buffalo,
then that is bigotry, not religion."
"But are you not aware, sir, of what is behind all this?"
pursued the English-knowing tenant. "This has only become
possible because the Mussulman is assured of safety, even if he
breaks the law. Have you not heard of the Pachur case?"
"Why is it possible," I asked, "to use the Mussulmans thus, as
tools against us? Is it not because we have fashioned them into
such with our own intolerance? That is how Providence punishes
us. Our accumulated sins are being visited on our own heads."
"Oh, well, if that be so, let them be visited on us. But we
shall have our revenge. We have undermined what was the greatest
strength of the authorities, their devotion to their own laws.
Once they were truly kings, dispensing justice; now they
themselves will become law-breakers, and so no better than
robbers. This may not go down to history, but we shall carry it
in our hearts for all time ..."
The evil reports about me which are spreading from paper to paper
are making me notorious. News comes that my effigy has been
burnt at the river-side burning-ground of the Chakravartis, with
due ceremony and enthusiasm; and other insults are in
contemplation. The trouble was that they had come to ask me to
take shares in a Cotton Mill they wanted to start. I had to tell
them that I did not so much mind the loss of my own money, but I
would not be a party to causing a loss to so many poor
"Are we to understand, Maharaja," said my visitors, "that the
prosperity of the country does not interest you?"
"Industry may lead to the country's prosperity," I explained,
"but a mere desire for its prosperity will not make for success
in industry. Even when our heads were cool, our industries did
not flourish. Why should we suppose that they will do so just
because we have become frantic?"
"Why not say plainly that you will not risk your money?"
"I will put in my money when I see that it is industry which
prompts you. But, because you have lighted a fire, it does not
follow that you have the food to cook over it."
What is this? Our Chakua sub-treasury looted! A remittance of
seven thousand five hundred rupees was due from there to
headquarters. The local cashier had changed the cash at the
Government Treasury into small currency notes for convenience in
carrying, and had kept them ready in bundles. In the middle of
the night an armed band had raided the room, and wounded Kasim,
the man on guard. The curious part of it was that they had taken
only six thousand rupees and left the rest scattered on the
floor, though it would have been as easy to carry that away also.
Anyhow, the raid of the dacoits was over; now the police raid
would begin. Peace was out of the question.
When I went inside, I found the news had travelled before me.
"What a terrible thing, brother," exclaimed the Bara Rani.
"Whatever shall we do?"
I made light of the matter to reassure her. "We still have
something left," I said with a smile. "We shall manage to get
"Don't joke about it, brother dear. Why are they all so angry
with you? Can't you humour them? Why put everybody out?"
"I cannot let the country go to rack and ruin, even if that would
"That was a shocking thing they did at the burning-grounds. It's
a horrid shame to treat you so. The Chota Rani has got rid of
all her fears by dint of the Englishwoman's teaching, but as for
me, I had to send for the priest to avert the omen before I could
get any peace of mind. For my sake, dear, do get away to
Calcutta. I tremble to think what they may do, if you stay on
My sister-in-law's genuine anxiety touched me deeply.
"And, brother," she went on, "did I not warn you, it was not well
to keep so much money in your room? They might get wind of it
any day. It is not the money--but who knows..."
To calm her I promised to remove the money to the treasury at
once, and then get it away to Calcutta with the first escort
going. We went together to my bedroom. The dressing-room door
was shut. When I knocked, Bimala called out: "I am dressing."
"I wonder at the Chota Rani," exclaimed my sister-in-law,
"dressing so early in the day! One of their __Bande Mataram__
meetings, I suppose. Robber Queen!" she called out in jest to
Bimala. "Are you counting your spoils inside?"
"I will attend to the money a little later," I said, as I came
away to my office room outside.
I found the Police Inspector waiting for me. "Any trace of the
dacoits?" I asked.
"I have my suspicions."
"Kasim, the guard."
"Kasim? But was he not wounded?"
"A mere nothing. A flesh wound on the leg. Probably self-
"But I cannot bring myself to believe it. He is such a trusted
"You may have trusted him, but that does not prevent his being a
thief. Have I not seen men trusted for twenty years together,
"Even if it were so, I could not send him to gaol. But why
should he have left the rest of the money lying about?"
"To put us off the scent. Whatever you may say, Maharaja, he
must be an old hand at the game. He mounts guard during his
watch, right enough, but I feel sure he has a finger in all the
dacoities going on in the neighbourhood."
With this the Inspector proceeded to recount the various methods
by which it was possible to be concerned in a dacoity twenty or
thirty miles away, and yet be back in time for duty.
"Have you brought Kasim here?" I asked.
"No," was the reply, "he is in the lock-up. The Magistrate is
due for the investigation."
"I want to see him," I said.
When I went to his cell he fell at my feet, weeping. "In God's
name," he said, "I swear I did not do this thing."
"I do not doubt you, Kasim," I assured him. "Fear nothing. They
can do nothing to you, if you are innocent."
Kasim, however, was unable to give a coherent account of the
incident. He was obviously exaggerating. Four or five hundred
men, big guns, numberless swords, figured in his narrative. It
must have been either his disturbed state of mind or a desire to
account for his easy defeat. He would have it that this was
Harish Kundu's doing; he was even sure he had heard the voice of
Ekram, the head retainer of the Kundus.
"Look here, Kasim," I had to warn him, "don't you be dragging
other people in with your stories. You are not called upon to
make out a case against Harish Kundu, or anybody else."
On returning home I asked my master to come over. He shook his
head gravely. "I see no good in this," said he--"this setting
aside of conscience and putting the country in its place. All
the sins of the country will now break out, hideous and
"Who do you think could have ..."
"Don't ask me. But sin is rampant. Send them all away, right
away from here."
"I have given them one more day. They will be leaving the day
"And another thing. Take Bimala away to Calcutta. She is
getting too narrow a view of the outside world from here, she
cannot see men and things in their true proportions. Let her see
the world--men and their work--give her abroad vision."
"That is exactly what I was thinking."
"Well, don't make any delay about it. I tell you, Nikhil, man's
history has to be built by the united effort of all the races in
the world, and therefore this selling of conscience for political
reasons--this making a fetish of one's country, won't do. I know
that Europe does not at heart admit this, but there she has not
the right to pose as our teacher. Men who die for the truth
become immortal: and, if a whole people can die for the truth, it
will also achieve immortality in the history of humanity. Here,
in this land of India, amid the mocking laughter of Satan
piercing the sky, may the feeling for this truth become real!
What a terrible epidemic of sin has been brought into our country
from foreign lands..."
The whole day passed in the turmoil of investigation. I was
tired out when I retired for the night. I left over sending my
sister-in-law's money to the treasury till next morning.
I woke up from my sleep at dead of night. The room was dark. I
thought I heard a moaning somewhere. Somebody must have been
crying. Sounds of sobbing came heavy with tears like fitful
gusts of wind in the rainy night. It seemed to me that the cry
rose from the heart of my room itself. I was alone. For some
days Bimala had her bed in another room adjoining mine. I rose
up and when I went out I found her in the balcony lying prone
upon her face on the bare floor.
This is something that cannot be written in words. He only knows
it who sits in the bosom of the world and receives all its pangs
in His own heart. The sky is dumb, the stars are mute, the night
is still, and in the midst of it all that one sleepless cry!
We give these sufferings names, bad or good, according to the
classifications of the books, but this agony which is welling up
from a torn heart, pouring into the fathomless dark, has it any
name? When in that midnight, standing under the silent stars, I
looked upon that figure, my mind was struck with awe, and I said
to myself: "Who am Ito judge her?" O life, O death, O God of the
infinite existence, I bow my head in silence to the mystery which
is in you.
Once I thought I should turn back. But I could not. I sat down
on the ground near Bimala and placed my hand on her head. At the
first touch her whole body seemed to stiffen, but the next moment
the hardness gave way, and the tears burst out. I gently passed
my fingers over her forehead. Suddenly her hands groping for my
feet grasped them and drew them to herself, pressing them against
her breast with such force that I thought her heart would break.
Amulya is due to return from Calcutta this morning. I told the
servants to let me know as soon as he arrived, but could not keep
still. At last I went outside to await him in the sitting-room.
When I sent him off to sell the jewels I must have been thinking
only of myself. It never even crossed my mind that so young a
boy, trying to sell such valuable jewellery, would at once be
suspected. So helpless are we women, we needs must place on
others the burden of our danger. When we go to our death we drag
down those who are about us.
I had said with pride that I would save Amulya--as if she who was
drowning could save others. But instead of saving him, I have
sent him to his doom. My little brother, such a sister have I
been to you that Death must have smiled on that Brothers' Day
when I gave you my blessing--I, who wander distracted with the
burden of my own evil-doing.
I feel today that man is at times attacked with evil as with the
plague. Some germ finds its way in from somewhere, and then in
the space of one night Death stalks in. Why cannot the stricken
one be kept far away from the rest of the world? I, at least,
have realized how terrible is the contagion--like a fiery torch
which burns that it may set the world on fire.
It struck nine. I could not get rid of the idea that Amulya was
in trouble, that he had fallen into the clutches of the police.
There must be great excitement in the Police Office--whose are
the jewels?--where did he get them? And in the end I shall have
to furnish the answer, in public, before all the world.
What is that answer to be? Your day has come at last, Bara Rani,
you whom I have so long despised. You, in the shape of the
public, the world, will have your revenge. O God, save me this
time, and I will cast all my pride at my sister-in-law's feet.
I could bear it no longer. I went straight to the Bara Rani.
She was in the verandah, spicing her betel leaves, Thako at her
side. The sight of Thako made me shrink back for a moment, but I
overcame all hesitation, and making a low obeisance I took the
dust of my elder sister-in-law's feet.
"Bless my soul, Chota Rani," she exclaimed, "what has come upon
you? Why this sudden reverence?"
"It is my birthday, sister," said I. "I have caused you pain.
Give me your blessing today that I may never do so again. My
mind is so small." I repeated my obeisance and left her
hurriedly, but she called me back.
"You never before told me that this was your birthday, Chotie
darling! Be sure to come and have lunch with me this afternoon.
You positively must."
O God, let it really be my birthday today. Can I not be born
over again? Cleanse me, my God, and purify me and give me one
I went again to the sitting-room to find Sandip there. A feeling
of disgust seemed to poison my very blood. The face of his,
which I saw in the morning light, had nothing of the magic
radiance of genius.
"Will you leave the room," I blurted out.
Sandip smiled. "Since Amulya is not here," he remarked, "I
should think my turn had come for a special talk."
My fate was coming back upon me. How was Ito take away the right
I myself had given. "I would be alone," I repeated.
"Queen," he said, "the presence of another person does not
prevent your being alone. Do not mistake me for one of the
crowd. I, Sandip, am always alone, even when surrounded by
"Please come some other time. This morning I am ..."
"Waiting for Amulya?"
I turned to leave the room for sheer vexation, when Sandip drew
out from the folds of his cloak that jewel-casket of mine and
banged it down on the marble table. I was thoroughly startled.
"Has not Amulya gone, then?" I exclaimed.
"No," chuckled Sandip.
Ah, then my blessing had come true, in spite of all. He was
saved. Let God's punishment fall on me, the thief, if only
Amulya be safe.
The change in my countenance roused Sandip's scorn. "So pleased,
Queen!" sneered he. "Are these jewels so very precious? How
then did you bring yourself to offer them to the Goddess? Your
gift was actually made. Would you now take it back?"
Pride dies hard and raises its fangs to the last. It was clear
to me I must show Sandip I did not care a rap about these jewels.
"If they have excited your greed," I said, "you may have them."
"My greed today embraces the wealth of all Bengal," replied
Sandip. "Is there a greater force than greed? It is the steed
of the great ones of the earth, as is the elephant, Airauat, the
steed of Indra. So then these jewels are mine?"
As Sandip took up and replaced the casket under his cloak, Amulya
rushed in. There were dark rings under his eyes, his lips were
dry, his hair tumbled: the freshness of his youth seemed to have
withered in a single day. Pangs gripped my heart as I looked on
"My box!" he cried, as he went straight up to Sandip without a
glance at me. "Have you taken that jewel-box from my trunk?"
"Your jewel-box?" mocked Sandip.
"It was my trunk!"
Sandip burst out into a laugh. "Your distinctions between mine
and yours are getting rather thin, Amulya," he cried. "You will
die a religious preacher yet, I see."
Amulya sank on a chair with his face in his hands. I went up to
him and placing my hand on his head asked him: "What is your
He stood straight up as he replied: "I had set my heart, Sister
Rani, on returning your jewels to you with my own hand. Sandip
Babu knew this, but he forestalled me."
"What do I care for my jewels?" I said. "Let them go. No harm
"Go? Where?" asked the mystified boy.
"The jewels are mine," said Sandip. "Insignia bestowed on me by
"No, no, no," broke out Amulya wildly. "Never, Sister Rani! I
brought them back for you. You shall not give them away to
"I accept your gift, my little brother," said I. "But let him,
who hankers after them, satisfy his greed."
Amulya glared at Sandip like a beast of prey, as he growled:
"Look here, Sandip Babu, you know that even hanging has no
terrors for me. If you dare take away that box of jewels ..."
With an attempt at a sarcastic laugh Sandip said: "You also ought
to know by this time, Amulya, that I am not the man to be afraid
"Queen Bee," he went on, turning to me, "I did not come here
today to take these jewels, I came to give them to you. You
would have done wrong to take my gift at Amulya's hands. In
order to prevent it, I had first to make them clearly mine. Now
these my jewels are my gift to you. Here they are! Patch up any
understanding with this boy you like. I must go. You have been
at your special talks all these days together, leaving me out of
them. If special happenings now come to pass, don't blame me.
"Amulya," he continued, "I have sent on your trunks and things to
your lodgings. Don't you be keeping any belongings of yours in
my room any longer." With this parting shot, Sandip flung out of
"I have had no peace of mind, Amulya," I said to him, "ever since
I sent you off to sell my jewels."
"Why, Sister Rani?"
"I was afraid lest you should get into trouble with them, lest
they should suspect you for a thief. I would rather go without
that six thousand. You must now do another thing for me--go home
at once, home to your mother."
Amulya produced a small bundle and said: "But, sister, I have got
the six thousand."
"I tried hard to get gold," he went on, without replying to my
question, "but could not. So I had to bring it in notes."
"Tell me truly, Amulya, swear by me, where did you get this
"That I will not tell you."
Everything seemed to grow dark before my eyes. "What terrible
thing have you done, Amulya?" I cried. "Is it then ..."
"I know you will say I got this money wrongly. Very well, I
admit it. But I have paid the full price for my wrong-doing. So
now the money is mine."
I no longer had any desire to learn more about it. My very
blood-vessels contracted, making my whole body shrink within
"Take it away, Amulya," I implored. "Put it back where you got
"That would be hard indeed!"
"It is not hard, brother dear. It was an evil moment when you
first came to me. Even Sandip has not been able to harm you as I
Sandip's name seemed to stab him.
"Sandip!" he cried. "It was you alone who made me come to know
that man for what he is. Do you know, sister, he has not spent a
pice out of those sovereigns he took from you? He shut himself
into his room, after he left you, and gloated over the gold,
pouring it out in a heap on the floor. 'This is not money,' he
exclaimed, 'but the petals of the divine lotus of power;
crystallized strains of music from the pipes that play in the
paradise of wealth! I cannot find it in my heart to change them,
for they seem longing to fulfil their destiny of adorning the
neck of Beauty. Amulya, my boy, don't you look at these with
your fleshly eye, they are Lakshmi's smile, the gracious radiance
of Indra's queen. No, no, I can't give them up to that boor of a
manager. I am sure, Amulya, he was telling us lies. The police
haven't traced the man who sank that boat. It's the manager who
wants to make something out of it. We must get those letters
back from him.'
"I asked him how we were to do this; he told me to use force or
threats. I offered to do so if he would return the gold. That,
he said, we could consider later. I will not trouble you,
sister, with all I did to frighten the man into giving up those
letters and burn them--it is a long story. That very night I
came to Sandip and said: 'We are now safe. Let me have the
sovereigns to return them tomorrow to my sister, the Maharani.'
But he cried, 'What infatuation is this of yours? Your precious
sister's skirt bids fair to hide the whole country from you. Say
__Bande Mataram__ and exorcize the evil spirit.'
"You know, Sister Rani, the power of Sandip's magic. The gold
remained with him. And I spent the whole dark night on the
bathing-steps of the lake muttering __Bande Mataram__.
"Then when you gave me your jewels to sell, I went again to
Sandip. I could see he was angry with me. But he tried not to
show it. 'If I still have them hoarded up in any box of mine you
may take them,' said he, as he flung me his keys. They were
nowhere to be seen. 'Tell me where they are,' I said. 'I will
do so,' he replied, 'when I find your infatuation has left you.
"When I found I could not move him, I had to employ other
methods. Then I tried to get the sovereigns from him in exchange
for my currency notes for six thousand rupees. 'You shall have
them,' he said, and disappeared into his bedroom, leaving me
waiting outside. There he broke open my trunk and came straight
to you with your casket through some other passage. He would not
let me bring it, and now he dares call it his gift. How can I
tell how much he has deprived me of? I shall never forgive him.
"But, oh sister, his power over me has been utterly broken. And
it is you who have broken it!"
"Brother dear," said I, "if that is so, then my life is
justified. But more remains to be done, Amulya. It is not
enough that the spell has been destroyed. Its stains must be
washed away. Don't delay any longer, go at once and put back the
money where you took it from. Can you not do it, dear?"
"With your blessing everything is possible, Sister Rani."
"Remember, it will not be your expiation alone, but mine also. I
am a woman; the outside world is closed to me, else I would have
gone myself. My hardest punishment is that I must put on you the
burden of my sin."
"Don't say that, sister. The path I was treading was not your
path. It attracted me because of its dangers and difficulties.
Now that your path calls me, let it be a thousand times more
difficult and dangerous, the dust of your feet will help me to
win through. Is it then your command that this money be
"Not my command, brother mine, but a command from above."
"Of that I know nothing. It is enough for me that this command
from above comes from your lips. And, sister, I thought I had an
invitation here. I must not lose that. You must give me your
__prasad__  before I go. Then, if I can possibly manage
it, I will finish my duty in the evening."
Tears came to my eyes when I tried to smile as I said: "So be
26. Food consecrated by the touch of a revered person.
WITH Amulya's departure my heart sank within me. On what
perilous adventure had I sent this only son of his mother? O
God, why need my expiation have such pomp and circumstance?
Could I not be allowed to suffer alone without inviting all this
multitude to share my punishment? Oh, let not this innocent
child fall victim to Your wrath.
I called him back--"Amulya!"
My voice sounded so feebly, it failed to reach him.
I went up to the door and called again: "Amulya!"
He had gone.
"Who is there?"
"Go and tell Amulya Babu that I want him."
What exactly happened I could not make out--the man, perhaps, was
not familiar with Amulya's name--but he returned almost at once
followed by Sandip.
"The very moment you sent me away," he said as he came in, "I had
a presentiment that you would call me back. The attraction of
the same moon causes both ebb and flow. I was so sure of being
sent for, that I was actually waiting out in the passage. As
soon as I caught sight of your man, coming from your room, I
said: 'Yes, yes, I am coming, I am coming at once!'--before he
could utter a word. That up-country lout was surprised, I can
tell you! He stared at me, open-mouthed, as if he thought I knew
"All the fights in the world, Queen Bee," Sandip rambled on, "are
really fights between hypnotic forces. Spell cast against spell
--noiseless weapons which reach even invisible targets. At last I
have met in you my match. Your quiver is full, I know, you
artful warrior Queen! You are the only one in the world who has
been able to turn Sandip out and call Sandip back, at your sweet
will. Well, your quarry is at your feet. What will you do with
him now? Will you give him the coup de grâce, or keep him in
your cage? Let me warn you beforehand, Queen, you will find the
beast as difficult to kill outright as to keep in bondage.
Anyway, why lose time in trying your magic weapons?"
Sandip must have felt the shadow of approaching defeat, and this
made him try to gain time by chattering away without waiting for
a reply. I believe he knew that I had sent the messenger for
Amulya, whose name the man must have mentioned. In spite of that
he had deliberately played this trick. He was now trying to
avoid giving me any opening to tell him that it was Amulya I
wanted, not him. But his stratagem was futile, for I could see
his weakness through it. I must not yield up a pin's point of
the ground I had gained.
"Sandip Babu," I said, "I wonder how you can go on making these
endless speeches, without a stop. Do you get them up by heart,
Sandip's face flushed instantly.
"I have heard," I continued, "that our professional reciters keep
a book full of all kinds of ready-made discourses, which can be
fitted into any subject. Have you also a book?"
Sandip ground out his reply through his teeth. "God has given
you women a plentiful supply of coquetry to start with, and on
the top of that you have the milliner and the jeweller to help
you; but do not think we men are so helpless ..."
"You had better go back and look up your book, Sandip Babu. You
are getting your words all wrong. That's just the trouble with
trying to repeat things by rote."
"You!" shouted Sandip, losing all control over himself. "You to
insult me thus! What is there left of you that I do not know to
the very bottom? What ..." He became speechless.
Sandip, the wielder of magic spells, is reduced to utter
powerlessness, whenever his spell refuses to work. From a king
he fell to the level of a boor. Oh, the joy of witnessing his
weakness! The harsher he became in his rudeness, the more did
this joy well up within me. His snaky coils, with which he used
to snare me, are exhausted--I am free. I am saved, saved. Be
rude to me, insult me, for that shows you in your truth; but
spare me your songs of praise, which were false.
My husband came in at this juncture. Sandip had not the
elasticity to recover himself in a moment, as he used to do
before. My husband looked at him for a while in surprise. Had
this happened some days ago I should have felt ashamed. But
today I was pleased--whatever my husband might think. I wanted
to have it out to the finish with my weakening adversary.
Finding us both silent and constrained, my husband hesitated a
little, and then took a chair. "Sandip," he said, "I have been
looking for you, and was told you were here."
"I am here," said Sandip with some emphasis. "Queen Bee sent for
me early this morning. And I, the humble worker of the hive,
left all else to attend her summons."
"I am going to Calcutta tomorrow. You will come with me.
"And why, pray? Do you take me for one of your retinue?"
"Oh, very well, take it that you are going to Calcutta, and that
I am your follower."
"I have no business there."
"All the more reason for going. You have too much business
"I don't propose to stir."
"Then I propose to shift you."
"Very well, then, I will make a move. But the world is not
divided between Calcutta and your estates. There are other
places on the map."
"From the way you have been going on, one would hardly have
thought that there was any other place in the world except my
Sandip stood up. "It does happen at times," he said, "that a
man's whole world is reduced to a single spot. I have realized
my universe in this sitting-room of yours, that is why I have
been a fixture here."
Then he turned to me. "None but you, Queen Bee," he said, "will
understand my words--perhaps not even you. I salute you. With
worship in my heart I leave you. My watchword has changed since
you have come across my vision. It is no longer __Bande
Mataram__ (Hail Mother), but Hail Beloved, Hail Enchantress.
The mother protects, the mistress leads to destruction--but sweet
is that destruction. You have made the anklet sounds of the
dance of death tinkle in my heart. You have changed for me, your
devotee, the picture I had of this Bengal of ours--'the soft
breeze-cooled land of pure water and sweet fruit.'  You have
no pity, my beloved. You have come to me with your poison cup
and I shall drain it, either to die in agony or live triumphing
"Yes," he continued. "The mother's day is past. O love, my
love, you have made as naught for me the truth and right and
heaven itself. All duties have become as shadows: all rules and
restraints have snapped their bonds. O love, my love, I could
set fire to all the world outside this land on which you have set
your dainty feet, and dance in mad revel over the ashes ...
These are mild men. These are good men. They would do good to
all--as if this all were a reality! No, no! There is no reality
in the world save this one real love of mine. I do you
reverence. My devotion to you has made me cruel; my worship of
you has lighted the raging flame of destruction within me. I am
not righteous. I have no beliefs, I only believe in her whom,
above all else in the world, I have been able to realize."
Wonderful! It was wonderful, indeed. Only a minute ago I had
despised this man with all my heart. But what I had thought to
be dead ashes now glowed with living fire. The fire in him is
true, that is beyond doubt. Oh why has God made man such a mixed
creature? Was it only to show his supernatural sleight of hand?
Only a few minutes ago I had thought that Sandip, whom I had once
taken to be a hero, was only the stage hero of melodrama. But
that is not so, not so. Even behind the trappings of the
theatre, a true hero may sometimes be lurking.
There is much in Sandip that is coarse, that is sensuous, that is
false, much that is overlaid with layer after layer of fleshly
covering. Yet--yet it is best to confess that there is a great
deal in the depths of him which we do not, cannot understand--
much in ourselves too. A wonderful thing is man. What great
mysterious purpose he is working out only the Terrible One 
knows--meanwhile we groan under the brunt of it. Shiva is the
Lord of Chaos. He is all Joy. He will destroy our bonds.
I cannot but feel, again and again, that there are two persons in
me. One recoils from Sandip in his terrible aspect of Chaos--the
other feels that very vision to be sweetly alluring. The sinking
ship drags down all who are swimming round it. Sandip is just
such a force of destruction. His immense attraction gets hold of
one before fear can come to the rescue, and then, in the
twinkling of an eye, one is drawn away, irresistibly, from all
light, all good, all freedom of the sky, all air that can be
breathed--from lifelong accumulations, from everyday cares--right
to the bottom of dissolution.
From some realm of calamity has Sandip come as its messenger; and
as he stalks the land, muttering unholy incantations, to him
flock all the boys and youths. The mother, seated in the lotus-
heart of the Country, is wailing her heart out; for they have
broken open her store-room, there to hold their drunken revelry.
Her vintage of the draught for the immortals they would pour out
on the dust; her time-honoured vessels they would smash to
pieces. True, I feel with her; but, at the same time, I cannot
help being infected with their excitement.
Truth itself has sent us this temptation to test our trustiness
in upholding its commandments. Intoxication masquerades in
heavenly garb, and dances before the pilgrims saying: "Fools you
are that pursue the fruitless path of renunciation. Its way is
long, its time passing slow. So the Wielder of the Thunderbolt
has sent me to you. Behold, I the beautiful, the passionate, I
will accept you--in my embrace you shall find fulfilment."
After a pause Sandip addressed me again: "Goddess, the time has
come for me to leave you. It is well. The work of your nearness
has been done. By lingering longer it would only become undone
again, little by little. All is lost, if in our greed we try to
cheapen that which is the greatest thing on earth. That which is
eternal within the moment only becomes shallow if spread out in
time. We were about to spoil our infinite moment, when it was
your uplifted thunderbolt which came to the rescue. You
intervened to save the purity of your own worship--and in so
doing you also saved your worshipper. In my leave-taking today
your worship stands out the biggest thing. Goddess, I, also, set
you free today. My earthen temple could hold you no longer--
every moment it was on the point of breaking apart. Today I
depart to worship your larger image in a larger temple. I can
gain you more truly only at a distance from yourself. Here I had
only your favour, there I shall be vouchsafed your boon."
My jewel-casket was lying on the table. I held it up aloft as I
said: "I charge you to convey these my jewels to the object of my
worship--to whom I have dedicated them through you."
My husband remained silent. Sandip left the room.
27. Quotation from the National song--__Bande Mataram__.
28. Rudra, the Terrible, a name of Shiva. [Trans.].
I had just sat down to make some cakes for Amulya when the Bara
Rani came upon the scene. "Oh dear," she exclaimed, "has it come
to this that you must make cakes for your own birthday?"
"Is there no one else for whom I could be making them?" I asked.
"But this is not the day when you should think of feasting
others. It is for us to feast you. I was just thinking of
making something up  when I heard the staggering news which
completely upset me. A gang of five or six hundred men, they
say, has raided one of our treasuries and made off with six
thousand rupees. Our house will be looted next, they expect."
I felt greatly relieved. So it was our own money after all. I
wanted to send for Amulya at once and tell him that he need only
hand over those notes to my husband and leave the explanations to
"You are a wonderful creature!" my sister-in-law broke out, at
the change in my countenance. "Have you then really no such
thing as fear?"
"I cannot believe it," I said. "Why should they loot our house?"
"Not believe it, indeed! Who could have believed that they would
attack our treasury, either?"
I made no reply, but bent over my cakes, putting in the cocoa-nut
"Well, I'm off," said the Bara Rani after a prolonged stare at
me. "I must see Brother Nikhil and get something done about
sending off my money to Calcutta, before it's too late."
She was no sooner gone than I left the cakes to take care of
themselves and rushed to my dressing-room, shutting myself
inside. My husband's tunic with the keys in its pocket was still
hanging there--so forgetful was he. I took the key of the iron
safe off the ring and kept it by me, hidden in the folds of my
Then there came a knocking at the door. "I am dressing," I
called out. I could hear the Bara Rani saying: "Only a minute
ago I saw her making cakes and now she is busy dressing up. What
next, I wonder! One of their __Bande Mataram__ meetings is
on, I suppose. I say, Robber Queen," she called out to me, "are
you taking stock of your loot?"
When they went away I hardly know what made me open the safe.
Perhaps there was a lurking hope that it might all be a dream.
What if, on pulling out the inside drawer, I should find the
rolls of gold there, just as before? ... Alas, everything was
empty as the trust which had been betrayed.
I had to go through the farce of dressing. I had to do my hair
up all over again, quite unnecessarily. When I came out my
sister-in-law railed at me: "How many times are you going to
"My birthday!" I said.
"Oh, any pretext seems good enough," she went on. "Many vain
people have I seen in my day, but you beat them all hollow."
I was about to summon a servant to send after Amulya, when one of
the men came up with a little note, which he handed to me. It
was from Amulya. "Sister," he wrote, "you invited me this
afternoon, but I thought I should not wait. Let me first execute
your bidding and then come for my __prasad__. I may be a
To whom could he be going to return that money? into what fresh
entanglement was the poor boy rushing? O miserable woman, you
can only send him off like an arrow, but not recall him if you
miss your aim.
I should have declared at once that I was at the bottom of this
robbery. But women live on the trust of their surroundings--this
is their whole world. If once it is out that this trust has been
secretly betrayed, their place in their world is lost. They have
then to stand upon the fragments of the thing they have broken,
and its jagged edges keep on wounding them at every turn. To sin
is easy enough, but to make up for it is above all difficult for
For some time past all easy approaches for communion with my
husband have been closed to me. How then could I burst on him
with this stupendous news? He was very late in coming for his
meal today--nearly two o'clock. He was absent-minded and hardly
touched any food. I had lost even the right to press him to take
a little more. I had to avert my face to wipe away my tears.
I wanted so badly to say to him: "Do come into our room and rest
awhile; you look so tired." I had just cleared my throat with a
little cough, when a servant hurried in to say that the Police
Inspector had brought Panchu up to the palace. My husband, with
the shadow on his face deepened, left his meal unfinished and
A little later the Bara Rani appeared. "Why did you not send me
word when Brother Nikhil came in?" she complained. "As he was
late I thought I might as well finish my bath in the meantime.
However did he manage to get through his meal so soon?"
"Why, did you want him for anything?"
"What is this about both of you going off to Calcutta tomorrow?
All I can say is, I am not going to be left here alone. I should
get startled out of my life at every sound, with all these
dacoits about. Is it quite settled about your going tomorrow?"
"Yes," said I, though I had only just now heard it; and though,
moreover, I was not at all sure that before tomorrow our history
might not take such a turn as to make it all one whether we went
or stayed. After that, what our home, our life would be like,
was utterly beyond my ken--it seemed so misty and phantom-like.
In a very few hours now my unseen fate would become visible. Was
there no one who could keep on postponing the flight of these
hours, from day to day, and so make them long enough for me to
set things right, so far as lay in my power? The time during
which the seed lies underground is long--so long indeed that one
forgets that there is any danger of its sprouting. But once its
shoot shows up above the surface, it grows and grows so fast,
there is no time to cover it up, neither with skirt, nor body,
nor even life itself.
I will try to think of it no more, but sit quiet--passive and
callous--let the crash come when it may. By the day after
tomorrow all will be over--publicity, laughter, bewailing,
But I cannot forget the face of Amulya--beautiful, radiant with
devotion. He did not wait, despairing, for the blow of fate to
fall, but rushed into the thick of danger. In my misery I do him
reverence. He is my boy-god. Under the pretext of his
playfulness he took from me the weight of my burden. He would
save me by taking the punishment meant for me on his own head.
But how am Ito bear this terrible mercy of my God?
Oh, my child, my child, I do you reverence. Little brother mine,
I do you reverence. Pure are you, beautiful are you, I do you
reverence. May you come to my arms, in the next birth, as my own
child--that is my prayer.
29. Any dainties to be offered ceremonially should be made by the
lady of the house herself. [Trans.].
Rumour became busy on every side. The police were continually in
and out. The servants of the house were in a great flurry.
Khema, my maid, came up to me and said: "Oh, Rani Mother! for
goodness" sake put away my gold necklace and armlets in your iron
safe." To whom was I to explain that the Rani herself had been
weaving all this network of trouble, and had got caught in it,
too? I had to play the benign protector and take charge of
Khema's ornaments and Thako's savings. The milk-woman, in her
turn, brought along and kept in my room a box in which were a
Benares __sari__ and some other of her valued possessions. "I
got these at your wedding," she told me.
When, tomorrow, my iron safe will be opened in the presence of
these--Khema, Thako, the milk-woman and all the rest ... Let me
not think of it! Let me rather try to think what it will be like
when this third day of Magh comes round again after a year has
passed. Will all the wounds of my home life then be still as
fresh as ever? ...
Amulya writes that he will come later in the evening. I cannot
remain alone with my thoughts, doing nothing. So I sit down
again to make cakes for him. I have finished making quite a
quantity, but still I must go on. Who will eat them? I shall
distribute them amongst the servants. I must do so this very
night. Tonight is my limit. Tomorrow will not be in my hands.
I went on untiringly, frying cake after cake. Every now and then
it seemed to me that there was some noise in the direction of my
rooms, upstairs. Could it be that my husband had missed the key
of the safe, and the Bara Rani had assembled all the servants to
help him to hunt for it? No, I must not pay heed to these
sounds. Let me shut the door.
I rose to do so, when Thako came panting in: "Rani Mother, oh,
"Oh get away!" I snapped out, cutting her short. "Don't come
"The Bara Rani Mother wants you," she went on. "Her nephew has
brought such a wonderful machine from Calcutta. It talks like a
man. Do come and hear it!"
I did not know whether to laugh or to cry. So, of all things, a
gramophone needs must come on the scene at such a time, repeating
at every winding the nasal twang of its theatrical songs! What a
fearsome thing results when a machine apes a man.
The shades of evening began to fall. I knew that Amulya would
not delay to announce himself--yet I could not wait. I summone
d a servant and said: "Go and tell Amulya Babu to come straight
in here." The man came back after a while to say that Amulya was
not in--he had not come back since he had gone.
"Gone!" The last word struck my ears like a wail in the
gathering darkness. Amulya gone! Had he then come like a streak
of light from the setting sun, only to be gone for ever? All
kinds of possible and impossible dangers flitted through my mind.
It was I who had sent him to his death. What if he was fearless?
That only showed his own greatness of heart. But after this how
was Ito go on living all by myself?
I had no memento of Amulya save that pistol--his reverence-
offering. It seemed to me that this was a sign given by
Providence. This guilt which had contaminated my life at its
very root--my God in the form of a child had left with me the
means of wiping it away, and then vanished. Oh the loving gift--
the saving grave that lay hidden within it!
I opened my box and took out the pistol, lifting it reverently to
my forehead. At that moment the gongs clanged out from the
temple attached to our house. I prostrated myself in salutation.
In the evening I feasted the whole household with my cakes. "You
have managed a wonderful birthday feast--and all by yourself
too!" exclaimed my sister-in-law. "But you must leave something
for us to do." With this she turned on her gramophone and let
loose the shrill treble of the Calcutta actresses all over the
place. It seemed like a stable full of neighing fillies.
It got quite late before the feasting was over. I had a sudden
longing to end my birthday celebration by taking the dust of my
husband's feet. I went up to the bedroom and found him fast
asleep. He had had such a worrying, trying day. I raised the
edge of the mosquito curtain very very gently, and laid my head
near his feet. My hair must have touched him, for he moved his
legs in his sleep and pushed my head away.
I then went out and sat in the west verandah. A silk-cotton
tree, which had shed all its leaves, stood there in the distance,
like a skeleton. Behind it the crescent moon was setting. All
of a sudden I had the feeling that the very stars in the sky were
afraid of me--that the whole of the night world was looking
askance at me. Why? Because I was alone.
There is nothing so strange in creation as the man who is alone.
Even he whose near ones have all died, one by one, is not alone--
companionship comes for him from behind the screen of death. But
he, whose kin are there, yet no longer near, who has dropped out
of all the varied companionship of a full home--the starry
universe itself seems to bristle to look on him in his darkness.
Where I am, I am not. I am far away from those who are around
me. I live and move upon a world-wide chasm of separation,
unstable as the dew-drop upon the lotus leaf.
Why do not men change wholly when they change? When I look into
my heart, I find everything that was there, still there--only
they are topsy-turvy. Things that were well-ordered have become
jumbled up. The gems that were strung into a necklace are now
rolling in the dust. And so my heart is breaking.
I feel I want to die. Yet in my heart everything still lives--
nor even in death can I see the end of it all: rather, in death
there seems to be ever so much more of repining. What is to be
ended must be ended in this life--there is no other way out.
Oh forgive me just once, only this time, Lord! All that you gave
into my hands as the wealth of my life, I have made into my
burden. I can neither bear it longer, nor give it up. O Lord,
sound once again those flute strains which you played for me,
long ago, standing at the rosy edge of my morning sky--and let
all my complexities become simple and easy. Nothing save the
music of your flute can make whole that which has been broken,
and pure that which has been sullied. Create my home anew with
your music. No other way can I see.
I threw myself prone on the ground and sobbed aloud. It was for
mercy that I prayed--some little mercy from somewhere, some
shelter, some sign of forgiveness, some hope that might bring
about the end. "Lord," I vowed to myself, "I will lie here,
waiting and waiting, touching neither food nor drink, so long as
your blessing does not reach me."
I heard the sound of footsteps. Who says that the gods do not
show themselves to mortal men? I did not raise my face to look
up, lest the sight of it should break the spell. Come, oh come,
come and let your feet touch my head. Come, Lord, and set your
foot upon my throbbing heart, and at that moment let me die.
He came and sat near my head. Who? My husband! At the first
touch of his presence I felt that I should swoon. And then the
pain at my heart burst its way out in an overwhelming flood of
tears, tearing through all my obstructing veins and nerves. I
strained his feet to my bosom--oh, why could not their impress
remain there for ever?
He tenderly stroked my head. I received his blessing. Now I
shall be able to take up the penalty of public humiliation which
will be mine tomorrow, and offer it, in all sincerity, at the
feet of my God.
But what keeps crushing my heart is the thought that the festive
flutes which were played at my wedding, nine years ago, welcoming
me to this house, will never sound for me again in this life.
What rigour of penance is there which can serve to bring me once
more, as a bride adorned for her husband, to my place upon that
same bridal seat? How many years, how many ages, aeons, must
pass before I can find my way back to that day of nine years ago?
God can create new things, but has even He the power to create
afresh that which has been destroyed?
TODAY we are going to Calcutta. Our joys and sorrows lie heavy
on us if we merely go on accumulating them. Keeping them and
accumulating them alike are false. As master of the house I am
in an artificial position--in reality I am a wayfarer on the path
of life. That is why the true Master of the House gets hurt at
every step and at last there comes the supreme hurt of death.
My union with you, my love, was only of the wayside; it was well
enough so long as we followed the same road; it will only hamper
us if we try to preserve it further. We are now leaving its
bonds behind. We are started on our journey beyond, and it will
be enough if we can throw each other a glance, or feel the touch
of each other's hands in passing. After that? After that there
is the larger world-path, the endless current of universal life.
How little can you deprive me of, my love, after all? Whenever I
set my ear to it, I can hear the flute which is playing, its
fountain of melody gushing forth from the flute-stops of
separation. The immortal draught of the goddess is never
exhausted. She sometimes breaks the bowl from which we drink it,
only to smile at seeing us so disconsolate over the trifling
loss. I will not stop to pick up my broken bowl. I will march
forward, albeit with unsatisfied heart.
The Bara Rani came and asked me: "What is the meaning, brother,
of all these books being packed up and sent off in box-loads?"
"It only means," I replied, "that I have not yet been able to get
over my fondness for them."
"I only wish you would keep your fondness for some other things
as well! Do you mean you are never coming back home?"
"I shall be coming and going, but shall not immure myself here
"Oh indeed! Then just come along to my room and see how many
things __I__ have been unable to shake off __my__ fondness
for." With this she took me by the hand and marched me off.
In my sister-in-law's rooms I found numberless boxes and bundles
ready packed. She opened one of the boxes and said: "See,
brother, look at all my __pan__-making things. In this bottle
I have catechu powder scented with the pollen of screw-pine
blossoms. These little tin boxes are all for different kinds of
spices. I have not forgotten my playing cards and draught-board
either. If you two are over-busy, I shall manage to make other
friends there, who will give me a game. Do you remember this
comb? It was one of the __Swadeshi__ combs you brought for
"But what is all this for, Sister Rani? Why have you been
packing up all these things?"
"Do you think I am not going with you?"
"What an extraordinary idea!"
"Don't you be afraid! I am not going there to flirt with you,
nor to quarrel with the Chota Rani! One must die sooner or
later, and it is just as well to be on the bank of the holy
Ganges before it is too late. It is too horrible to think of
being cremated in your wretched burning-ground here, under that
stumpy banian tree--that is why I have been refusing to die, and
have plagued you all this time."
At last I could hear the true voice of home. The Bara Rani came
into our house as its bride, when I was only six years old. We
have played together, through the drowsy afternoons, in a corner
of the roof-terrace. I have thrown down to her green amras from
the tree-top, to be made into deliciously indigestible chutnies
by slicing them up with mustard, salt and fragrant herbs. It was
my part to gather for her all the forbidden things from the
store-room to be used in the marriage celebration of her doll;
for, in the penal code of my grandmother, I alone was exempt from
punishment. And I used to be appointed her messenger to my
brother, whenever she wanted to coax something special out of
him, because he could not resist my importunity. I also remember
how, when I suffered under the rigorous régime of the doctors of
those days--who would not allow anything except warm water and
sugared cardamom seeds during feverish attacks--my sister-in-law
could not bear my privation and used to bring me delicacies on
the sly. What a scolding she got one day when she was caught!
And then, as we grew up, our mutual joys and sorrows took on
deeper tones of intimacy. How we quarrelled! Sometimes
conflicts of worldly interests roused suspicions and jealousies,
making breaches in our love; and when the Chota Rani came in
between us, these breaches seemed as if they would never be
mended, but it always turned out that the healing forces at
bottom proved more powerful than the wounds on the surface.
So has a true relationship grown up between us, from our
childhood up till now, and its branching foliage has spread and
broadened over every room and verandah and terrace of this great
house. When I saw the Bara Rani make ready, with all her
belongings, to depart from this house of ours, all the ties that
bound us, to their wide-spreading ends, felt the shock.
The reason was clear to me, why she had made up her mind to drift
away towards the unknown, cutting asunder all her lifelong bonds
of daily habit, and of the house itself, which she had never left
for a day since she first entered it at the age of nine. And yet
it was this real reason which she could not allow to escape her
lips, preferring rather to put forward any other paltry excuse.
She had only this one relationship left in all the world, and the
poor, unfortunate, widowed and childless woman had cherished it
with all the tenderness hoarded in her heart. How deeply she had
felt our proposed separation I never realized so keenly as when I
stood amongst her scattered boxes and bundles.
I could see at once that the little differences she used to have
with Bimala, about money matters, did not proceed from any sordid
worldliness, but because she felt that her claims in regard to
this one relationship of her life had been overridden and its
ties weakened for her by the coming in between of this other
woman from goodness knows where! She had been hurt at every turn
and yet had not the right to complain.
And Bimala? She also had felt that the Senior Rani's claim over
me was not based merely on our social connection, but went much
deeper; and she was jealous of these ties between us, reaching
back to our childhood.
Today my heart knocked heavily against the doors of my breast. I
sank down upon one of the boxes as I said: "How I should love,
Sister Rani, to go back to the days when we first met in this old
house of ours."
"No, brother dear," she replied with a sigh, "I would not live my
life again--not as a woman! Let what I have had to bear end with
this one birth. I could not bear it over again."
I said to her: "The freedom to which we pass through sorrow is
greater than the sorrow."
"That may be so for you men. Freedom is for you. But we women
would keep others bound. We would rather be put into bondage
ourselves. No, no, brother, you will never get free from our
toils. If you needs must spread your wings, you will have to
take us with you; we refuse to be left behind. That is why I
have gathered together all this weight of luggage. It would
never do to allow men to run too light."
"I can feel the weight of your words," I said laughing, "and if
we men do not complain of your burdens, it is because women pay
us so handsomely for what they make us carry."
"You carry it," she said, "because it is made up of many small
things. Whichever one you think of rejecting pleads that it is
so light. And so with much lightness we weigh you down ... When
do we start?"
"The train leaves at half past eleven tonight. There will be
lots of time."
"Look here, do be good for once and listen to just one word of
mine. Take a good nap this afternoon. You know you never get
any sleep in the train. You look so pulled down, you might go to
pieces any moment. Come along, get through your bath first."
As we went towards my room, Khema, the maid, came up and with an
ultra-modest pull at her veil told us, in deprecatingly low
tones, that the Police Inspector had arrived with a prisoner and
wanted to see the Maharaja.
"Is the Maharaja a thief, or a robber," the Bara Rani flared up,
"that he should be set upon so by the police? Go and tell the
Inspector that the Maharaja is at his bath."
"Let me just go and see what is the matter," I pleaded. "It may
be something urgent."
"No, no," my sister-in-law insisted. "Our Chota Rani was making
a heap of cakes last night. I'll send some to the Inspector, to
keep him quiet till you're ready." With this she pushed me into
my room and shut the door on me.
I had not the power to resist such tyranny--so rare is it in this
world. Let the Inspector while away the time eating cakes. What
if business is a bit neglected?
The police had been in great form these last few days arresting
now this one, now that. Each day some innocent person or other
would be brought along to enliven the assembly in my office-room.
One more such unfortunate, I supposed, must have been brought in
that day. But why should the Inspector alone be regaled with
cakes? That would not do at all. I thumped vigorously on the
"If you are going mad, be quick and pour some water over your
head--that will keep you cool," said my sister-in-law from the
"Send down cakes for two," I shouted. "The person who has been
brought in as the thief probably deserves them better. Tell the
man to give him a good big helping."
I hurried through my bath. When I came out, I found Bimal
sitting on the floor outside.  Could this be my Bimal of
old, my proud, sensitive Bimal?
What favour could she be wanting to beg, seated like this at my
As I stopped short, she stood up and said gently with downcast
eyes: "I would have a word with you."
"Come inside then," I said.
"But are you going out on any particular business?"
"I was, but let that be. I want to hear ..."
"No, finish your business first. We will have our talk after you
have had your dinner."
I went off to my sitting-room, to find the Police Inspector's
plate quite empty. The person he had brought with him, however,
was still busy eating.
"Hullo!" I ejaculated in surprise. "You, Amulya?"
"It is I, sir," said Amulya with his mouth full of cake. "I've
had quite a feast. And if you don't mind, I'll take the rest
with me." With this he proceeded to tie up the remaining cakes
in his handkerchief.
"What does this mean?" I asked, staring at the Inspector.
The man laughed. "We are no nearer, sir," he said, "to solving
the problem of the thief: meanwhile the mystery of the theft
deepens." He then produced something tied up in a rag, which
when untied disclosed a bundle of currency notes. "This,
Maharaja," said the Inspector, "is your six thousand rupees!"
"Where was it found?"
"In Amulya Babu's hands. He went last evening to the manager of
your Chakna sub-office to tell him that the money had been found.
The manager seemed to be in a greater state of trepidation at the
recovery than he had been at the robbery. He was afraid he would
be suspected of having made away with the notes and of now making
up a cock-and-bull story for fear of being found out. He asked
Amulya to wait, on the pretext of getting him some refreshment,
and came straight over to the Police Office. I rode off at once,
kept Amulya with me, and have been busy with him the whole
morning. He refuses to tell us where he got the money from. I
warned him he would be kept under restraint till he did so. In
that case, he informed me he would have to lie. Very well, I
said, he might do so if he pleased. Then he stated that he had
found the money under a bush. I pointed out to him that it was
not quite so easy to lie as all that. Under what bush? Where
was the place? Why was he there?--All this would have to be
stated as well. 'Don't you worry,' he said, 'there is plenty of
time to invent all that.'"
"But, Inspector," I said, "why are you badgering a respectable
young gentleman like Amulya Babu?"
"I have no desire to harass him," said the Inspector. "He is not
only a gentleman, but the son of Nibaran Babu, my school-fellow.
Let me tell you, Maharaja, exactly what must have happened.
Amulya knows the thief, but wants to shield him by drawing
suspicion on himself. That is just the sort of bravado he loves
to indulge in." The Inspector turned to Amulya. "Look here,
young man," he continued, "I also was eighteen once upon a time,
and a student in the Ripon College. I nearly got into gaol
trying to rescue a hack driver from a police constable. It was a
near shave." Then he turned again to me and said: "Maharaja, the
real thief will now probably escape, but I think I can tell you
who is at the bottom of it all."
"Who is it, then?" I asked.
"The manager, in collusion with the guard, Kasim."
When the Inspector, having argued out his theory to his own
satisfaction, at last departed, I said to Amulya: "If you will
tell me who took the money, I promise you no one shall be hurt."
"I did," said he.
"But how can that be? What about the gang of armed men?..."
"It was I, by myself, alone!"
What Amulya then told me was indeed extraordinary. The manager
had just finished his supper and was on the verandah rinsing out
his mouth. The place was somewhat dark. Amulya had a revolver
in each pocket, one loaded with blank cartridges, the other with
ball. He had a mask over his face. He flashed a bull's-eye
lantern in the manager's face and fired a blank shot. The man
swooned away. Some of the guards, who were off duty, came
running up, but when Amulya fired another blank shot at them they
lost no time in taking cover. Then Kasim, who was on duty, came
up whirling a quarterstaff. This time Amulya aimed a bullet at
his legs, and finding himself hit, Kasim collapsed on the floor.
Amulya then made the trembling manager, who had come to his
senses, open the safe and deliver up six thousand rupees.
Finally, he took one of the estate horses and galloped off a few
miles, there let the animal loose, and quietly walked up here, to
"What made you do all this, Amulya?" I asked.
"There was a grave reason, Maharaja," he replied.
"But why, then, did you try to return the money?"
"Let her come, at whose command I did so. In her presence I
shall make a clean breast of it."
"And who may 'she' be?"
"My sister, the Chota Rani!"
I sent for Bimala. She came hesitatingly, barefoot, with a white
shawl over her head. I had never seen my Bimal like this before.
She seemed to have wrapped herself in a morning light.
Amulya prostrated himself in salutation and took the dust of her
feet. Then, as he rose, he said: "Your command has been
executed, sister. The money is returned."
"You have saved me, my little brother," said Bimal.
"With your image in my mind, I have not uttered a single lie,"
Amulya continued. "My watchword __Bande Mataram__ has been
cast away at your feet for good. I have also received my reward,
your __prasad__, as soon as I came to the palace."
Bimal looked at him blankly, unable to follow his last words.
Amulya brought out his handkerchief, and untying it showed her
the cakes put away inside. "I did not eat them all," he said.
"I have kept these to eat after you have helped me with your own
I could see that I was not wanted here. I went out of the room.
I could only preach and preach, so I mused, and get my effigy
burnt for my pains. I had not yet been able to bring back a
single soul from the path of death. They who have the power, can
do so by a mere sign. My words have not that ineffable meaning.
I am not a flame, only a black coal, which has gone out. I can
light no lamp. That is what the story of my life shows--my row
of lamps has remained unlit.
30. Sitting on the bare floor is a sign of mourning, and so, by
association of ideas, of an abject attitude of mind. [Trans.].
I returned slowly towards the inner apartments. The Bara Rani's
room must have been drawing me again. It had become an absolute
necessity for me, that day, to feel that this life of mine had
been able to strike some real, some responsive chord in some
other harp of life. One cannot realize one's own existence by
remaining within oneself--it has to be sought outside.
As I passed in front of my sister-in-law's room, she came out
saying: "I was afraid you would be late again this afternoon.
However. I ordered your dinner as soon as I heard you coming.
It will be served in a minute."
"Meanwhile," I said; "let me take out that money of yours and
have it kept ready to take with us."
As we walked on towards my room she asked me if the Police
Inspector had made any report about the robbery. I somehow did
not feel inclined to tell her all the details of how that six
thousand had come back. "That's just what all the fuss is
about," I said evasively.
When I went into my dressing-room and took out my bunch of keys,
I did not find the key of the iron safe on the ring. What an
absurdly absent-minded fellow I was, to be sure! Only this
morning I had been opening so many boxes and things, and never
noticed that this key was not there.
"What has happened to your key?" she asked me.
I went on fumbling in this pocket and that, but could give her no
answer. I hunted in the same place over and over again. It
dawned on both of us that it could not be a case of the key being
mislaid. Someone must have taken it off the ring. Who could it
be? Who else could have come into this room?
"Don't you worry about it," she said to me. "Get through your
dinner first. The Chota Rani must have kept it herself, seeing
how absent-minded you are getting."
I was, however, greatly disturbed. It was never Bimal's habit to
take any key of mine without telling me about it. Bimal was not
present at my meal-time that day: she was busy feasting Amulya in
her own room. My sister-in-law wanted to send for her, but I
asked her not to do so.
I had just finished my dinner when Bimal came in. I would have
preferred not to discuss the matter of the key in the Bara Rani's
presence, but as soon as she saw Bimal, she asked her: "Do you
know, dear, where the key of the safe is?"
"I have it," was the reply.
"Didn't I say so!" exclaimed my sister-in-law triumphantly.
"Our Chota Rani pretends not to care about these robberies, but
she takes precautions on the sly, all the same."
The look on Bimal's face made my mind misgive me. "Let the key
be, now," I said. "I will take out that money in the evening."
"There you go again, putting it off," said the Bara Rani. "Why
not take it out and send it to the treasury while you have it in
"I have taken it out already," said Bimal.
I was startled.
"Where have you kept it, then?" asked my sister-in-law.
"I have spent it."
"Just listen to her! Whatever did you spend all that money on?"
Bimal made no reply. I asked her nothing further. The Bara Rani
seemed about to make some further remark to Bimala, but checked
herself. "Well, that is all right, anyway," she said at length,
as she looked towards me. "Just what I used to do with my
husband's loose cash. I knew it was no use leaving it with him--
his hundred and one hangers-on would be sure to get hold of it.
You are much the same, dear! What a number of ways you men know
of getting through money. We can only save it from you by
stealing it ourselves! Come along now. Off with you to bed."
The Bara Rani led me to my room, but I hardly knew where I was
going. She sat by my bed after I was stretched on it, and smiled
at Bimal as she said: "Give me one of your pans, Chotie darling--
what? You have none! You have become a regular mem-sahib. Then
send for some from my room."
"But have you had your dinner yet?" I anxiously enquired.
"Oh long ago," she replied--clearly a fib.
She kept on chattering away there at my bedside, on all manner of
things. The maid came and told Bimal that her dinner had been
served and was getting cold, but she gave no sign of having heard