Asia Online (TAO)
Broken Ties and
by Rabindranath Tagore
First published 1925
IN THE NIGHT
THE FUGITIVE GOLD
THE LOST JEWELS
When I first met Satish he appeared to me like a constellation of
stars, his eyes shining, his tapering fingers like flames of fire, his
face glowing with a youthful radiance. I was surprised to find that
most of his fellow-students hated him, for no other fault than that he
resembled himself more than he resembled others. Because with men, as
well as with some insects, taking the colour of the surroundings is
often the best means of self-protection.
in the hostel where I lived could easily guess my
reverence for Satish. This caused them discomfort, and they never
missed an opportunity of reviling him in my hearing. If you have a
speck of grit in your eye it is best not to rub it. And when words
smart it is best to leave them unanswered.
But one day
the calumny against Satish was so gross that I could not
Yet the trouble
was that I hardly knew anything about Satish. We never
had even a word between us, while some of the other students were his
close neighbours, and some his distant relatives. These affirmed,
with assurance, that what they said was true; and I affirmed, with
even greater assurance, that it was incredible. Then all the residents
of the hostel bared their arms, and cried: 'What impertinence!'
That night I
was vexed to tears. Next day, in an interval between
lectures, when Satish was reading a book lying at full length on the
grass in College Square, I went up to him without any introduction,
and spoke to him in a confused manner, scarcely knowing what I said.
Satish shut his book, and looked in my face. Those who have not seen
his eyes will not know what that look was like.
to me: 'Those who libel me do so, not because they love to
know the truth, but because they love to believe evil of me. Therefore
it is useless to try to prove to them that the calumny is untrue.'
'But,' I said,'the liars must be---'
'They are not liars,' interrupted Satish.
'I have a neighbour,'
he went on, 'who has epileptic fits. Last winter
I gave him a blanket. My servant came to me in a furious temper, and
told me that the boy only feigned the disease. These students who
malign me are like that servant of mine. They believe what they say.
Possibly my fate has awarded me an extra blanket which they think
would have suited them better.'
I asked him
a question: 'Is it true what they say, that you are an
He said: 'Yes.'
I bent my head
to the ground. I had been arguing with my
fellow-students that Satish could not possibly be an atheist.
I had received
two severe blows at the outset of my short acquaintance
with Satish. I had imagined that he was a Brahman, but I had come to
know that Satish belonged to a Bania family, and I in whose veins
flowed a bluer blood was bound duly to despise all Banias. Secondly, I
had a rooted belief that atheists were worse than murderers, nay,
worse even than beef-eaters.
have imagined, even in a dream, that I would ever sit
down and take my meals with a Bania student, or that my fanatical zeal
in the creed of atheism would surpass even that of my instructor. Yet
both these things came to pass.
our professor in the College. His learning was on a level
with his contempt for his pupils. He felt that it was a menial
occupation to teach literature to Bengali students. Therefore, in our
Shakespeare class, he would give us the synonym for 'cat' as 'a
quadruped of the feline species.' But Satish was excused from taking
notes. The Professor told him: 'I will make good to you the hours
wasted in this class when you come to my room.'
The other less
favoured students used to ascribe this indulgent
treatment of Satish to his fair complexion and to his profession of
atheism. Some of the more worldly-wise among them went to Wilkins's
study with a great show of enthusiasm to borrow from him some book on
Positivism. But he refused, saying that it would be too hard for them.
That they should be held unfit even to cultivate atheism made their
minds all the more bitter against Satish.
Jagamohan was Satish's uncle. He was a notorious atheist of that time.
It would be inadequate to say that he did not believe in God. One
ought rather to say that he vehemently believed in no God. As the
business of a captain in the navy is rather to sink ships than to
steer, so it was Jagamohan's business to sink the creed of theism,
wherever it put its head above the water.
The order of his arguments ran like this:
(1) If there be a God, then we must owe our intelligence to Him.
(2) But our intelligence clearly tells us that there is no God.
(3) Therefore God Himself tells us that there is no God.
'Yet you Hindus,'
he would continue, 'have the effrontery to say that
God exists. For this sin thirty-three million gods and goddesses exact
penalties from you people, pulling your ears hard for your
married when he was a mere boy. Before his wife died he
had read Malthus. He never married again.
brother, Harimohan, was the father of Satish. Harimohan's
nature was so exactly the opposite of his elder brother's, that people
might suspect me of fabricating it for the purpose of writing a story.
But only stories have to be always on their guard to sustain their
reader's confidence. Facts have no such responsibility, and laugh at
our incredulity. So, in this world, there are abundant instances of
two brothers, the exact opposites of one another, like morning and
his infancy, had been a weakly child. His parents had
tried to keep him safe from the attacks of all maladies by barricading
him behind amulets and charms, dust taken from holy shrines, and
blessings bought from innumerable Brahmans at enormous expense. When
Harimohan grew up, he was physically quite robust, yet the tradition
of his poor health lingered on in the family. So nobody claimed from
him anything more arduous than that he should continue to live. He
fulfilled his part, and did hold on to his life. Yet he never allowed
his family to forget for a moment that life in his case was more
fragile than in most other mortals. Thus he managed to divert towards
himself the undivided attention of all his aunts and his mother, and
had specially prepared meals served to him. He had less work and more
rest than other members of the family. He was never allowed to forget
that he was under the special protection, not only of his aforesaid
mother and aunts, but also of the countless gods and goddesses
presiding in the three regions of earth, heaven, and air. He thus
acquired an attitude of prayerful dependence towards all the powers of
the world, both seen and unseen,--sub-inspectors, wealthy neighbours,
highly placed officials, let alone sacred cows and Brahmans.
anxieties went altogether in an opposite direction. He
would give a wide berth to men of power, lest the slightest suspicion
of snobbishness should cling to him. It was this same sentiment which
had greatly to do with his defiance of the gods. His knees were too
stiff to bend before those from whom favour could be expected.
himself married at the proper time, that is to say, long
before the time. After three sisters and three brothers, Satish was
born. Everybody was struck by his resemblance to his uncle, and
Jagamohan took possession of him, as if he were his own son.
At first Harimohan
was glad of this, having regard to the educational
advantage of the arrangement; for Jagamohan had the reputation of
being the most eminent scholar of that period.
He seemed to
live within the shell of his English books. It was easy
to find the rooms he occupied in the house by the rows of books about
the walls, just as it is easy to find out the bed of a stream by its
lines of pebbles.
and spoilt his eldest son, Purandar, to his heart's
content. He had an impression that Purandar was too delicate to
survive the shock of being denied anything he wanted. His education
was neglected. No time was lost in getting him married, and yet nobody
could keep him within the connubial limits. If Harimohan's
daughter-in-law expressed any disapprobation of his vagaries in that
get angry with her and ascribe his son's conduct to
her want of tact and charm.
took charge of Satish to save him from similar
paternal solicitude. Satish acquired a mastery of the English language
while he was still a child, and the inflammatory doctrines of Mill and
Bentham set his brain on fire, till he began to burn like a living
torch of atheism.
Satish, not as his junior, but as his boon
companion. He held the opinion that veneration in human nature was a
superstition, specially designed to make men into slaves. Some
son-in-law of the family wrote to him a letter, with the usual formal
'To the gracious feet of----'
Jagamohan wrote an answer, arguing with him as follows:
MY DEAR NOREN--Neither
you nor I know what special significance it
gives to the feet to call them 'gracious.' Therefore the epithet is
worse than useless, and had better be dropped. And then it is apt to
give one a nervous shock when you address your letter only to the
feet, completely ignoring their owner. But you should understand, that
so long as my feet are attached to my body, you should never
dissociate them from their context.
Next, you should
bear in mind that human feet have not the advantage
of prehensibility, and it is sheer madness to offer anything to them,
confounding their natural function.
use of the plural inflection to the word 'feet,' instead
of the dual, may denote special reverence on your part (because there
are animals with four feet which have your particular veneration) but
I consider it my duty to disabuse your mind of all errors concerning
my own zoological identity.--Yours, JAGAMOHAN.
to discuss with Satish subjects which are usually kept
out of sight in conversation. If people objected to this plainness of
speech with one so young, he would say that you can only drive away
hornets by breaking in their nest. So you can only drive away the
shamefulness of certain subjects by piercing through the shame itself.
had completed his College course, Harimohan tried his best
to extricate him from his uncle's sphere of influence. But when once
the noose is fixed round the neck, it only grows tighter by pulling at
it. Harimohan became more and more annoyed at his brother, the more
Satish proved recalcitrant. If this atheism of his son and elder
brother had been merely a matter of private opinion, Harimohan could
have tolerated it. He was quite ready to pass off dishes of fowl as
'kid curry.' [Footnote: In Bengal kid curry is often eaten without
blame. But fowl curry would come within the prohibitions.] But matters
had now become so desperate that even lies became powerless to
whitewash the culprits. What brought things to a head was this:
side of Jagamohan's atheistic creed consisted in doing
good to others. He felt a special pride in it, because doing good, for
an atheist, was a matter of unmitigated loss. It had no allurements of
merit and no deterrents of punishment in the hereafter. If he was
asked what concern he had in bringing about'the greatest happiness of
the greatest number,' he used to answer that his best incentive was
that he could expect nothing in return. He would say to Satish:
A term of endearment, literally 'father.'] we are
atheists. And therefore the very pride of it should keep us absolutely
stainless. Because we have no respect for any being higher than
ourselves, therefore we must respect ourselves.'
There were some
leather shops in the neighbourhood kept by
Muhammadans. The uncle and nephew bestirred themselves with great zeal
in doing good to these Muhammadans and their untouchable leather
workers! [Footnote: As leather is made from the hides of dead
animals, those who work in leather are regarded as unclean by orthodox
Hindus. Only the very lowest castes are tanners.] This made Harimohan
beside himself with indignation. Since he knew that any appeal to
Scriptures, or to tradition, would have no effect upon these two
renegades, he complained to his brother concerning the wasting of his
'When my expenditure,'
his brother answered, 'comes up to the amount
you have spent upon your full-fed Brahman priests, we shall be quits.'
One day Harimohan's
people were surprised to find that a preparation
was going on in Jaga-mohan's quarters for a grand feast. The cooks and
waiters were all Mussulmans. Harimohan called for his son, and said to
'I hear that
you are going to give a feast to all your reverend
friends, the leather workers.'
that he was far too poor to think of it. His uncle had
invited them. Purandar, Satish's elder brother, was equally
indignant. He threatened to drive all the unclean guests away. When
Harimohan expressed his protest to his brother, he answered:
'I never make
any objection to your offering food to your idols. You
should make no objection to my offering food to my gods.'
'Your gods!' exclaimed Harimohan.
'Yes, my gods,' his brother answered.
'Have you become a theist all of a sudden?' sneered Harimohan.
'No!' his brother
replied. 'Theists worship the God who is invisible.
You idolaters worship gods who are visible, but dumb and deaf. The
gods I worship are both visible and audible, and it is impossible not
to believe in them.'
'Do you really
mean to say,' cried Harimohan, 'that these leather
workers and Mussulmans are your gods?'
are,' said Jagamohan; 'you shall see their miraculous
power when I put food before them. They will actually swallow it,
which I defy your gods to do. It delights my heart to see my gods
perform such divine wonders. If you are not morally blind, it will
delight your heart also.'
to his uncle, and told him in a high-pitched voice that
he was prepared to take desperate measures to stop the proceedings.
Jagamohan laughed at him, and said:
If you ever try to lay hands on my gods, you will
instantly discover how powerful they are, and I shall not have to do
anything to defend them.'
even a greater coward than his father. He was a tyrant
only where he was sure of receiving submission. In this case he did
not dare to pick a quarrel with his Muhammadan neighbours. So he came
to Satish, and reviled him. Satish gazed at him with those wonderful
eyes of his, and remained silent.
The feast was a great success.
Harimohan could not take this insult passively. He declared war. The
property on whose income the whole family subsisted was a temple
endowment. Harimohan brought a suit in the law court against his
brother, accusing him of such grave breaches of propriety as made him
unworthy of remaining the trustee of a religious endowment. Harimohan
had as many witnesses as ever he wished. The whole Hindu neighbourhood
was ready to support him.
in open court that he had no faith in gods or
idols of any description whatever; that all eatable food was for him
food to be eaten; that he never bothered his head to find out the
particular limb of Brahma from which the Muhammadans had issued, and
therefore he had not the smallest hesitation in taking food in their
The judge ruled
Jagamohan to be unfit to hold the temple property.
Jagamohan's lawyers assured him that the decision could be upset by an
appeal to the higher Court. But Jagamohan refused to appeal. He said
he could not cheat even the gods whom he did not believe in. Only
those who had the intelligence to believe such things had the
conscience to cheat them.
His friends asked him: 'How are you going to maintain yourself?'
'If I have nothing else to eat, I shall be content to
gulp down my last breath.'
a partition was made of the family house. A wall was
raised from the ground floor to the upper storey, dividing the house
into two parts.
great faith in the selfish sanity of prudence in human
nature. He was certain that the savour of good living would tempt
Satish into his golden trap, away from the empty nest of Jagamohan.
But Satish gave another proof that he had neither inherited his
father's conscience nor his sanity. He remained with his uncle.
so accustomed to look upon Satish as his own that he was
not surprised to find him remaining on his side after the partition.
knew his brother's temperament very well. He went about
talking to people, explaining that the reason why Jagamohan did not
let go his hold on Satish was that he expected to make a good thing
out of Satish's presence, keeping him as a kind of hostage.
shed tears while he said to his neighbour: 'Could my
brother ever imagine that I was going to starve him? Since he is
cunning enough to concoct this diabolical plot against me, I shall
wait and see whether he is cleverer than I am.'
talk about Satish reached Jaga-mohan's ears. Jagamohan was
surprised at his own stupidity in not anticipating such a turn of
He said: 'Good-bye, Satish.'
Satish was absolutely
certain that nothing could make Jagamohan change
his mind, so he had to take his leave, after having spent his eighteen
years of life in his uncle's company.
had put his books and bedding on the top of the carriage,
and driven away, Jagamohan shut the door of his room, and flung
himself on the floor. When evening came, and the old servant knocked
at the door with the lighted lamp, he got no answer.
Alas for the
greatest happiness of the greatest number! The estimate
in number is not the only measure of human affairs. The man who counts
'one' may go beyond all arithmetic when the heart does the sum. When
Satish took his departure, he at once became infinite to Jagamohan.
into a students' lodging to share a room with one of his
friends. Harimohan shed tears while meditating on the neglect of
filial duties in this god-forsaken age. Harimohan had a very tender
After the partition,
Purandar dedicated a room in their portion of the
house to the family god. It gave him a peculiar pleasure to know that
his uncle must be execrating him for the noise raised every morning
and every evening by the sacred conches and prayer gongs.
In order to
maintain himself, Satish secured a post as a private
tutor. Jagamohan obtained an appointment as head master of a high
school. And it became a religious duty with Harimohan and Purandar to
persuade parents and guardians to take away their boys from the malign
influence of the atheist Jagamohan.
One day, after a very long interval of absence, Satish came to
Jagamohan. These two had given up the usual form of greeting
[Footnote: This greeting in Bengal is for the younger to touch the
feet of the elder.] which passes between elder and younger.
Satish, led him to a chair, and asked him for the
There was news indeed!
A girl named
Nonibala had taken shelter with her widowed mother in the
house of the mother's brother. So long as her mother lived, there was
no trouble. But a short time ago her mother had died. Her cousins were
rascals. One of their friends had taken away this girl. Then,
suspecting her of infidelity, after a while he made her life a
constant torture. This had happened in the house next to the one where
Satish had his tutorship. Satish wanted to save her from this misery,
but he had no money or shelter of his own. Therefore he had come to
his uncle. The girl was about to give birth to a child.
he heard the story, was filled with indignation. He
was not the man to calculate coldly the consequence of his deeds, and
he at once said to his nephew: 'I have the room in which I keep my
books. I can put the girl there.'
'But what about
your books?' Satish asked in surprise. Very few books,
however, were now remaining. During the time when he had been unable
to secure an appointment, he had been obliged to eke out a living by
selling his books.
Jagamohan said: 'Bring the girl at once.'
'She is waiting
downstairs,' said Satish. 'I have brought her here.'
Jagamohan ran downstairs, and found the girl crouching in the corner,
wrapped in her _sari_, looking like a bundle of clothes.
his deep bass voice, said at once: 'Come, little Mother,
why do you sit in the dust?'
The girl covered
her face, and burst into tears. Jagamohan was not a
man to give way to emotion, but his eyes were wet as he turned to
Satish and said: 'The burden that this girl is bearing is ours.'
Then he said
to the girl: 'Mother, don't be shy on my account. My
schoolfellows used to call me "Mad Jagai," and I am the same madcap
hesitation, he took the girl by both her hands, and
raised her. The veil dropped from off her face.
The girl's face
was fresh and young, and there was no line of hardness
or vice in it. The inner purity of her heart had not been stained,
just as a speck of dust does not soil a flower. Jagamohan took
Nonibala to his upper room, and said to her: 'Mother, look what a
state my room is in! The floor is all unswept. Everything is upside
down; and as for myself, I have no fixed hour for my bath or my meals.
Now that you have come to my house, everything will be put right, and
even this mad Jagai will be made respectable.'
never felt before, even when her mother lived, how much
one person could be to another; because her mother had looked upon
her, not so much as a daughter, but as a young girl who had to be
an elderly woman servant to help Nonibala. At first
Noni was afraid lest Jagamohan should refuse to take food from her
hand because of her impurity. But it turned out that Jagamohan refused
to take his meals unless they were cooked and served by Noni.
aware that a great wave of calumny was about to break
over his head. Noni also felt that it was inevitable, and she had no
peace of mind. Within a day or two it began.
who waited on her had at first supposed that Noni was
Jagamohan's daughter. But she came one day, saying hard things to
Noni, and resigned her service in contempt. Noni became pale with
fear, thinking of Jagamohan.
to her: 'My little Mother, the full moon is up in the
horizon of mr life, so the time is ripe for the flood-tide of
revilement. But, however muddy the water may become, it will never
stain my moonlight.'
An aunt of Jagamohan's
came to Harimohan's quarters, and said to him:
'Jagai, what a disgrace, what a disgrace! Wipe off this stain of sin
from your house.'
'You are pious people, and this advice is worthy
of you. But if I try to drive away all relics of sin, what will become
of the sinner?'
Some old grandmother
of a woman came to him, and said: 'Send this
wench away to the hospital. Harimohan is ready to bear all the cost.'
'But she is my mother. Because some one is ready to
pay expenses, should I send my mother to the hospital?'
opened her eyes wide with surprise and said: 'Who is
this you call your mother?'
'Her who nourished life within her womb, and risks
her life to give birth to children. I cannot call that
scoundrel-father of the child "Father." He can only cause trouble,
keeping himself safely out of it.'
whole body shrank with the utter infamy of the thing. That
a fallen woman should be sheltered only on the other side of the wall,
and in the midst of a household sacred to the memory of generations of
mothers and grandmothers! The disgrace was intolerable.
once surmised that Satish was mixed up in this affair,
and that his uncle was encouraging him in his shameful conduct. He was
so sure of his facts that he went about spreading the news. Jagamohan
did not say a single word to contradict him.
'For us atheists,'
he said,'the only heaven waiting for good deeds is
The more the
rumour of Jagamohan's doings became distorted, the more
he seemed to enjoy it, and his laughter rang loud in the sky.
Harimohan and respectable people of his class could never imagine that
the uncle could go so far as to jest openly on such a subject, and
indulge in loud unseemly buffoonery about it with his own nephew.
had been carefully avoiding that part of the house
where his uncle lived, he vowed that he would never rest till he had
driven the girl away from her shelter.
At the time
when Jagamohan had to go to his school he would shut up
all access to his quarters, and he would come back the moment he had
any leisure to see how Noni was faring.
One day at noon
Purandar, with the help of a bamboo ladder, crossed
the boundary wall and jumped down into Jagamohan's part of the house.
Nonibala had been resting after the morning meal. The door of her
room was open. Purandar, when he saw the sleeping figure of Noni, gave
a great start, and shouted out in anger: 'So _you_ are here, are you?'
Noni woke up
and saw Purandar before her. She became pale as death,
and her limbs shrank under her. She felt powerless to run away or to
utter a single word.
Purandar, trembling with rage, shouted out: 'Noni!'
Just then Jagamohan
entered the room from behind, and cried: 'Get out
of this room.'
Purandar's whole body began to swell up like an angry cat.
'If you don't get out at once, I will call in the
Purandar darted a terrible glance at Noni, and went out. Noni fainted.
understood the whole situation. By questioning, he
found out that Satish had been aware that Purandar had seduced Noni;
but, fearing an angry brawl, he had not informed Jagamohan of the
For days after
this incident Noni trembled like a bamboo leaf. Then
she gave birth to a dead child.
Purandar had driven Noni away from her room, kicking her
in anger. Since then he had sought her in vain. When he suddenly found
her in his uncle's house, he was seized with an uncontrollable passion
of jealousy. He was sure that Satish had enticed her away from him, to
keep her for his own pleasure, and had then put her in the very next
house to his own in order to insult him. This was more than any mortal
man could bear.
all about it. Indeed, Purandar never took any pains to
hide these doings from his father, for his father looked upon his
son's moral aberrations with a kindly indulgence. But Harimohan
thought it contrary to all notions of decency for Satish to snatch
away this girl whom his elder brother, Purandar, had looked upon with
favour. He devoutly hoped that Purandar would be successful in
recovering his spoil.
It was the time
of the Christmas holidays. Jagamohan attended Noni
night and day. One evening he was translating a novel of Sir Walter
Scott's to her, when Purandar burst into the room with another young
was about to call for the police, the young man said:
'I am Noni's cousin. I have come to take her away.'
hold of Purandar by his neck, and shoved him out of
the room and down the stairs. He then turned to the other young man
and said: 'You are a villain and a scoundrel! You assert this cousin's
right of yours to wreck her life, not to protect her.'
The young man
hurried away. But when he had got to a safe distance, he
threatened Jagamohan with legal steps in order to rescue his ward.
Noni said within
herself: 'O Earth, open and swallow me up!'
[Footnote: The reference is to Sita in the Ramayana, who uttered this
cry when in extreme trouble.]
Satish, and said to him: 'Let me leave this place and
go to some up-country town with Noni. It will kill her if this is
that his brother was certain to follow her when once he
had got the clue.
'Then what do you propose?' said Jagamohan.
'Let me marry Noni,' was the answer.
'Yes, according to the civil marriage rites.'
Jagamohan stood up and went to Satish, and pressed him to his heart.
Since the partition
of the house, Harimohan had not once entered the
house to see his elder brother. But that day he came in, dishevelled,
Elder brother.] what disaster is this you are
'I am saving everybody from disaster,' said Jagamohan.
'Satish is just
like a son to you,' said Harimohan, 'and yet you can
have the heart to see him married to that woman of the street!'
'Yes,' he replied,
'I have brought him up almost as my own son, and I
consider that my pains have borne fruit at last.'
Harimohan, 'I humbly acknowledge my defeat at your hands.
I am willing to write away half my property to you, if only you will
not take revenge on me like this.'
Jagamohan started up from his chair and bellowed out:
'You want to
throw me your dirty leavings, as you throw a dog a bone!
I am an atheist--remember that! I am not a pious man like you! I
neither take revenge, nor beg for favours.'
Harimohan hastened round to Satish's lodgings. He cried out to him:
in the world are you going to do? Can you think of no
other way of ruining yourself? Are you determined to plunge the whole
family into this hideous shame?'
'I have no particular desire to marry. I only do it
in order to save my family from hideous shame.'
'Have you not got the least spark of conscience
left in you? That girl, who is almost like a wife to your brother--'
him up sharply: 'What? Like a wife. Not that word, sir,
if you please!'
Harimohan became wildly abusive in his language, and
Satish remained silent.
Harimohan most was that Purandar openly advertised his
intention to commit suicide if Satish married Noni. Purandar's wife
told him that this would solve a difficult problem--if only he would
have the courage to do it.
avoided Noni all these days, but, when the proposed
marriage was settled, Jagamohan asked Satish that Noni and he should
try to know each other better before they were united in wedlock.
Jagamohan fixed a date for their first talk together. He said to Noni:
'My little Mother, you must dress yourself up for this occasion.'
Noni bent her eyes to the ground.
'No, no,' said
he,'don't be shy, Noni. I have a great longing to see
you nicely dressed, and you must satisfy my desire.'
He had specially
selected some Benares silk and a bodice and veil for
Noni. He gave these things to her.
herself at his feet. This made Jagamohan get up
hurriedly. He snatched away his feet from her embrace, and said:
'I see, Noni,
I have miserably failed in clearing your mind of all
this superstitious reverence. I may be your elder in age, but don't
you know you are greater than I am, for you are my mother?'
He kissed her on her forehead and said:
'I have had
an invitation to go out, and I shall be late back this
Noni clasped his hand and said:
'Baba, I want your blessing to-night.'
'Mother, I see
that you are determined to turn me into a theist in my
old age. I wouldn't give a brass farthing for a blessing, myself. Yet
I cannot help blessing you when I see your face.'
his hand under her chin, and raised her face, and looked
into it silently, while tears ran down her cheeks.
In the evening a man ran up to the place where Jagamohan was having
his dinner, and brought him back to his house.
He found the
dead body of Noni, stretched on the bed, dressed in the
things he had given her. In her hand was a letter. Satish was
standing by her head. Jagamohan opened the letter, and read:
Baba, forgive me. I could not do what you wanted. I tried my best,
but I could never forget him. My thousand salutations to your gracious
feet.--NONIBALA, the Sinner.
The last words of Jagamohan, the atheist, to his nephew, Satish, were:
'If you have a fancy for funeral ceremony, don't waste it on your
uncle,--reserve it for your father.'
This is how he came by his death.
When the plague
first broke out in Calcutta, the poor citizens were
less afraid of the epidemic than of the preventive staff who wore its
badge. Satish's father, Harimohan, was sure that their Mussulman
neighbours, the untouchable leather-dealers, would be the first to
catch it, and thereupon defile him and his kith and kin by dragging
them along into a common end. Before he fled from his house, Harimohan
went over to offer refuge to his elder brother, saying: 'I have taken
a house on the river at Kalna, if you------'
'Nonsense!' interrupted Jagamohan. 'How can I desert these people?'
'These leather-dealers of ours.'
a grimace and left his brother without further parley.
He next proceeded to his son's lodgings, and to him simply said: 'Come
was equally laconic. 'I have work to do here,' he
'As pall-bearer to the leather-dealers, I suppose?'
'Yes, sir; that is, if my services be needed.'
'Yes, sir, indeed!
You scamp, you scoundrel, you atheist! If need be
you're quite ready to consign fourteen generations of your ancestors
to perdition, I have no doubt!'
the Kali Yuga [Footnote: According to the Hindu
Shastras the present age, the Kali Yuga, is the Dark Age when Dharma (
civilisation) will be at its lowest ebb.] had touched its lowest
depth, Harimohan returned home, despairing of the salvation of his
next of kin. In order to protect himself against contamination he
covered sheets of foolscap with the name of Kali, the protecting
goddess, in his neatest handwriting.
Calcutta. The plague and the preventive officials duly
made their appearance in the locality; and for dread of being dragged
off to the plague hospital, the wretched victims dared not call in
medical aid. After a visit to one of these hospitals, Jagamohan shook
his head and remarked: 'What if these people are falling ill,--that
does not make them criminals.'
and contrived till he obtained permission to use his
own house as a private plague hospital. Some of us students offered to
assist Satish in nursing: there was a qualified doctor among our
The first patient
in our hospital was a Mussulman. He died. The next
was Jagamohan himself. He did not survive either. He said to Satish:
I have all along followed has given me its last reward.
There is nothing to complain of.'
Satish had never
taken the dust [Footnote: Touching the feet of a
revered elder, and then one's own head, is called taking the dust of
the feet. It is the formal way of doing reverence.] of his uncle's
feet while living. After Jagamohan's death he made that obeisance for
the first and last time.
'Fit death for
an atheist!' scoffed Hari-mohan when he first came
across Satish after the cremation.
'That is so, sir!' agreed Satish, proudly.
Just as, when the flame is blown out, the light suddenly and
completely disappears, so did Satish after his uncle's death. He went
out of our ken altogether.
We had never
been able to fathom how deeply Satish loved his uncle.
Jagamohan was alike father and friend to him,--and, it may be said,
son as well; for the old man had been so regardless of himself, so
unmindful of worldly concerns, that it used to be one of the chief
cares of Satish to look after him and keep him safe from disaster.
Thus had Satish received from and given to his uncle his all.
What the bleakness
of his bereavement meant for Satish, it was
impossible for us to conceive. He struggled against the agony of
negation, refusing to believe that such absolute blankness could be
true: that there could be emptiness so desolate as to be void even of
Truth. If that which seemed one vast 'No' had not also its aspect of
'Yes,' would not the whole universe leak away through its yawning gap
For two years
Satish wandered from place to place,---we had no touch
with him. We threw ourselves with all the greater zeal into our self--
appointed tasks. We made it a special point to shock those who
professed belief in any kind of religion, and the fields of good work
we selected were such that not a good soul had a good word left for
us. Satish had been our flower; when he dropped off, we, the thorns,
cast off our sheaths and gloried in our sharpness.
Two years had passed since we lost sight of Satish. My mind revolted
against harbouring the least thing evil against him, nevertheless I
could not help suspecting that the high pitch at which he used to be
kept strung must have been flattened down by this shock.
had once said of a _Sannyasin_: 'As the money-changer
tests the ring of each coin, so does the world test each man by the
response he gives to shocks of loss and pain, and the resistance he
offers to the craze for cheap salvation. Those who fail to ring true
are cast aside as worthless. These wandering ascetics have been so
rejected, as being unfit to take part in the world's commerce,--yet
the vagabonds swagger about, boasting that it is they who have
renounced the world! The worthy are permitted no loophole of escape
from duty,--only withered leaves are allowed to fall off the tree.'
Had it come
to this, that Satish, of all people, had joined the ranks
of the withered and the worthless? Was he, then, fated to leave on the
black touchstone of bereavement his mark of spuriousness?
with these misgivings, news suddenly reached us that
Satish (our Satish, if you please!) was making the heavens resound
with his cymbals in some out-of-the-way village, singing frenzied
_kirtans_ [Footnote: The _kirtan_ is a kind of devotional oratorio
sung to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals, the libretto ranging
over the whole gamut of human emotions, which are made the vehicle for
communion with the Divine Lover. As their feelings get worked up, the
singers begin to sway their bodies with, and finally dance to, the
rhythm.] as a follower of Lilananda Swami, the Vaishnava revivalist!
It had passed
my comprehension, when I first began to know Satish, how
he could ever have come to be an atheist. I was now equally at a loss
to understand how Lilananda Swami could have managed to lead him such
a dance with his _kirtans_.
And how on earth
were we to show our faces? What laughter there would
be in the camp of the enemy,--whose number, thanks to our folly, was
legion! Our band waxed mightily wroth with Satish. Many of them said
they had known from the very first that there was no rational
substance in him,--he was all frothy idealism. And I now discovered
how much I really loved Satish. He had dealt his ardent sect of
atheists their deathblow, yet I could not be angry with him.
Off I started
to hunt up Lilananda Swami. River after river I
crossed, and trudged over endless fields. The nights I spent in
grocers' shops. At last in one of the villages I came up against
It was then
two o'clock in the afternoon. I had been hoping to catch
Satish alone. Impossible! The cottage which was honoured with the
Swami's presence was packed all round with crowds of his disciples.
There had been _kirtans_ all the morning; those who had come from a
distance were now waiting to have their meal served.
As soon as Satish
caught sight of me, he dashed up and embraced me
fervidly. I was staggered. Satish had always been extremely reserved.
His outward calm had been the only measure of his depth of feeling. He
now appeared as though intoxicated.
The Swami was
resting in the front room, with the door ajar. He could
see us. At once came the call, in a deep voice: 'Satish!'
Satish was back inside, all in a flurry.
'Who is that?' inquired the Swami.
'Srivilas, a great friend of mine,' Satish reported.
years I had managed to make a name for myself in our
little world. A learned Englishman had remarked, on hearing one of my
English speeches: 'The man has a wonderful------.' But let that be.
Why add to the number of my enemies? Suffice it to say that, from the
students up to the students' grandparents, the reputation had
travelled round that I was a rampaging atheist who could bestride the
English language and race her over the hurdles at breakneck speed in
the most marvellous manner.
I somehow felt
that the Swami was pleased to have me here. He sent for
me. I merely hinted at the usual salutation as I entered his
room,--that is to say, my joined hands were uplifted, but my head was
This did not
escape the Swami. 'Here, Satish!' he ordered. 'Fill me
that pipe of mine.'
Satish set to
work. But as he lit the tinder, it was I who was set
ablaze within. Moreover, I was getting fidgety, not knowing where to
sit. The only seat in the room was a wooden bedstead on which was
spread the Swami's carpet. Not that I confessed to any qualms about
occupying a corner of the same carpet on which the great man was
installed, but somehow my sitting down did not come off. I remained
standing near the door.
that the Swami was aware of my having won the
Premchand-Roychand [Footnote: The highest prize at the Calcutta
University. scholarship.] 'My son,' he said to me, 'it is good for
the pearl diver if he succeeds in reaching the bottom, but he would
die if he had to stay there. He must come up for the free breath of
life. If you would live, you must now come up to the light, out of the
depths of your learning. You have enjoyed the fruits of your
scholarship, now try a taste of the joys of its renunciation.'
his Master the lighted pipe and sat down on the bare
floor near his feet. The Swami leant back and stretched his legs out
towards Satish, who began gently to massage them. This was more than I
could stand. I left the room. I could, of course, see that this
ordering about of Satish and making him fetch and carry was
deliberately directed at me.
The Swami went
on resting. All the guests were duly served by the
householder with a meal of kedgeree. From five o'clock the _kirtans_
started again and went on till ten in the night.
When I got Satish
alone at last, I said to him: 'Look here, Satish!
You have been brought up in the atmosphere of freedom from infancy.
How have you managed to get yourself entangled in this kind of bondage
to-day? Is Uncle Jagamohan, then, so utterly dead?'
the playfulness of affection prompted it, partly,
perhaps, because precision of description required it, Satish used to
reverse the first two syllables of my name and call me Visri.
[Footnote: Ungainly, ugly.]
replied, 'while Uncle was alive he gave me freedom in
life's field of work,--the freedom which the child gets in the
playground. After his death it is he, again, who has given me freedom
on the high seas of emotion,--the freedom which the child gains when
it comes back to its mother's arms. I have enjoyed to the full the
freedom of life's day-time; why should I now deprive myself of the
freedom of its evening?
Be sure that both these are the gift of that same uncle of ours.'
may say,' I persisted, 'Uncle could have nothing to do
with this kind of pipe-filling, leg-massaging business. Surely this is
no picture of freedom.'
Satish, 'was the freedom on shore. There Uncle gave
full liberty of action to our limbs. This is freedom on the ocean.
Here the confinement of the ship is necessary for our progress. That
is why my Master keeps me bound to his service. This massaging is
helping me to cross over.'
'It does not
sound so bad,' I admitted,'the way you put it. But, all
the same, I have no patience with a man who can thrust out his legs at
you like that.'
'He can do it,'
explained Satish, 'because he has no need of such
service. Had it been for himself, he might have felt ashamed to ask
it. The need is mine.'
I realised that
the world into which Satish had been transported had
no place for me, his particular friend. The person, whom Satish has so
effusively embraced, was not Srivilas, but a representative of all
humanity,--just an idea. Such ideas are like wine. When they get into
the head any one can be embraced and wept over--I, only as much as
anybody else. But whatever joys may be the portion of the ecstatic
one, what can such embrace signify to me, the other party? What
satisfaction am I to get, merely to be accounted one of the ripples on
a grand, difference-obliterating flood,--I, the individual I?
argument was clearly useless. Nor could I make up my
mind to desert Satish. So, as his satellite, I also danced from
village to village, carried along the current of _kirtan_ singing.
of it gradually took hold of me. I also embraced all
and sundry, wept without provocation, and tended the feet of the
Master. And one day, in a moment of curious exaltation, Satish was
revealed to me in a light for which there can be no other name than
With the capture of two such egregious, college-educated atheists as
we were, the fame of Lilananda Swami spread far and wide. His Calcutta
disciples now pressed him to take up his headquarters at the
So Swami Lilananda
came on to Calcutta. Shivatosh had been a devoted
follower of Lilananda. Whenever the Swami visited Calcutta he had
stayed with Shivatosh. And it was the one delight of Shivatosh's life
to serve the Master, together with all his disciples, when they thus
honoured his house. When he died he bequeathed all his property to the
Swami, leaving only a life-interest in the income to his young
childless widow. It was his hope that this house of his would become a
pilgrim-centre for the sect.
This was the house where we now went into residence.
During our ecstatic
progress through the villages I had been in an
elated mood, which I now found it difficult to keep up in Calcutta. In
the wonderland of emotion, where we had been revelling, the mystic
drama of the courting of the Bride within us and the Bridegroom who is
everywhere was being played. And a fitting accompaniment to it had
been the symphony of the broad grazing greens, the shaded ferry
landing-places, the enraptured expanse of the noonday leisure, the
deep evening silences vibrant with the tremolo of cicadas. Ours had
been a dream progress to which the open skies of the countryside
offered no obstacle. But with our arrival at Calcutta we knocked our
heads against its hardness, we got jostled by its crowds, and our
dream was at an end.
Yet, was not
this the same Calcutta where, within the confines of our
students' lodgings, we had once put our whole soul into our studies,
by day and by night; where we had pondered over and discussed the
problems of our country with our fellow-students in the College
Square; where we had served as volunteers at the holding of our
National Assemblies; where we had responded to the call of Uncle
Jagamohan, and taken the vow to free our minds from all slavery
imposed by Society or State? Yes, it was in this self-same Calcutta
that, in the flood-tide of our youth, we had pursued our course,
regardless of the revilement of stranger and kindred alike, proudly
breasting all contrary currents like a boat in full sail. Why, then,
should we now fail, in this whirlpool of suffering humanity, ridden
with pleasure and pain, driven by hunger and thirst, to keep up the
exaltation proper to our tear-drenched cult of emotional Communion?
As I manfully
made the attempt, I was beset with doubts at every step.
Was I then a mere weakling: unfaithful to my ideal: unworthy of
strenuous endeavour? When I turned to Satish, to see how he fared, I
found on his countenance no sign to show that Calcutta, for him,
represented any geographical reality whatsoever. In the mystic world
where he dwelt, all this city life meant no more than a mirage.
We two friends took up our quarters, with the Master, in Shivatosh's
house. We had come to be his chief disciples, and he would have us
constantly near his person.
With our Master
and our fellow-disciples we were absorbed day and
night in discussing emotions in general and the philosophy of
spiritual emotion in particular. Into the very thick of the abstruse
complexities which thus engaged our attention, the ripple of a woman's
laughter would now and again find its way from the inner apartments.
[Footnote: The women's part of the house.] Sometimes there would be
heard, in a clear, high-toned voice, the call 'Bami!'--evidently a
maid-servant of that name.
These were doubtless
but trivial interruptions for minds soaring,
almost to vanishing point, into the empyrean of idea. But to me they
came as a grateful shower of rain upon a parched and thirsty soil.
When little touches of life, like shed flower petals, were blown
across from the unknown world behind the wall, then all in a moment I
could understand that the wonderland of our quest was just
there,--where the keys jingled, tied to the corner of Bami's sari;
where the sound of the broom rose from the swept floor, and the smell
of the cooking from the kitchen,--all trifles, but all true. That
world, with its mingling of fine and coarse, bitter and sweet,--that
itself was the heaven where Emotion truly held sway.
The name of
the widow was Damini. We could catch momentary glimpses of
her through opening doors and flapping curtains. But the two of us
grew to be so much part and parcel of the Master as to share his
privilege, [Footnote: Women do not observe _purdah_ with religious
ascetics.] and very soon these doors and curtains were no longer
barriers in our case.
Damini means Lightning.] was the lightning which
gleams within the massed clouds of July. Without, the curves of youth
enveloped her in their fulness, within flashed fitful fires. Thus runs
an entry in Satish's diary:
I have seen the Universal Woman in one of her
aspects,--the woman who takes on herself the whole burden of sin, who
gives up life itself for the sinner's sake, and in dying leaves for
the world the balm of immortality. In Damini I see another aspect of
Universal Woman. This one has nothing to do with death,--she is the
Artist of the Art of Life. She blossoms out, in limitless profusion,
in form and scent and movement. She is not for rejection; refuses to
entertain the ascetic; and is vowed to resist the least farthing of
payment to the tax-gathering Winter Wind.
It is necessary to relate Damini's previous history.
At the time
when the coffers of her father, Annada, were overflowing
with proceeds of his jute business, Damini was married to Shivatosh.
So long, Shivatosh's fortune had consisted only in his pedigree: it
could now count a more substantial addition. Annada bestowed on his
son-in-law a house in Calcutta and sufficient money to keep him for
life. There were also lavish gifts of furniture and ornaments made to
made a futile attempt to take Shivatosh into his own
business. But the latter had no interest in worldly concerns. An
astrologer had once predicted to Shivatosh that, on the happening of a
special conjunction of the stars, his soul would gain its emancipation
whilst still in the flesh. From that day he lived in this hope alone,
and ceased to find charm in riches, or even in objects still more
charming. It was while in this frame of mind that he had become a
disciple of Lilananda Swami.
In the meantime,
with the subsidence of the jute boom, the full force
of the adverse wind caught the heavy-laden bark of Annada's fortune
and toppled it over. All his property was sold up and he had hardly
enough left to make a bare living.
Shivatosh came into the inner apartments and said to his
wife: 'The Master is here. He has some words of advice for you and
bids you attend.'
'I cannot go to him now,' answered Damini. 'I haven't the time.'
What? No time!
Shivatosh went up nearer and found his wife seated in
the gathering dusk, in front of the open safe, with her ornaments
spread out before her. 'What in the world is keeping you?' inquired
'I am arranging my jewels,' was the reply.
So that was the reason for her lack of time. Indeed!
The next day,
when Damini opened the safe, she found her jewel-box
missing. 'My jewels?' she exclaimed, turning inquiringly to her
'But you offered
them to the Master. Did not his call reach you at the
very moment?--for he sees into the minds of men. He has deigned, in
his mercy, to save you from the lure of pelf.'
Damini's indignation rose to white heat.
'Give me back my ornaments!' she commanded.
'Why, what will you do with them?'
'They were my father's gift to me. I would return them to him.'
'They have gone
to a better place,' said Shivatosh. 'Instead of
pandering to worldly needs they are dedicated to the service of
That is how
the tyrannical imposition of faith began. And the pious
ritual of exorcism, in all its cruelty, continued to be practised in
order to rid Damini's mind of its mundane affections and desires.
So, while her
father and her little brother were starving by inches,
Damini had to prepare daily, with her own hands, meals for the sixty
or seventy disciples who thronged the house with the Master. She
would sometimes rebelliously leave out the salt, or contrive to get
the viands scorched, but that did not avail to gain her any respite
from her penance.
At this juncture
Shivatosh died: and in departing he awarded his wife
the supreme penalty for her want of faith,--he committed his widow,
with all her belongings, to the guardianship of the Master.
The house was in a constant tumult with rising waves of fervour.
Devotees kept streaming in from all quarters to sit at the feet of the
Master. And yet Damini, who had gained the Presence without effort of
her own, thrust aside her good fortune with contumely.
Did the Master
call her for some special mark of his favour she would
keep aloof, pleading a headache. If he had occasion to complain of
some special omission of personal attention on her part, she would
confess to have been away at the theatre. The excuse was lacking in
truth, but not in rudeness.
The other women
disciples were aghast at Damini's ways. First, her
attire was not such as widows [Footnote: Hindu widows in Bengal are
supposed to dress in simple white (sometimes plain brown silk),
without border, or ornamentation.] should affect. Secondly, she showed
no eagerness to drink in the Master's words of wisdom. Lastly, her
demeanour had none of the reverential restraint which the Master's
presence demanded. 'What a shame,' exclaimed they. 'We have seen many
awful women, but not one so outrageous.'
The Swami used
to smile. 'The Lord,' said he,'takes a special delight
in wrestling with a valiant opponent. When Damini has to own defeat,
her surrender will be absolute.'
He began to
display an exaggerated tolerance for her contumacy. That
vexed Damini still more, for she looked on it as a more cunning form
of punishment. And one day the Master caught her in a fit of laughter,
mimicking to one of her companions the excessive suavity of his manner
towards herself. Still he had not a word of rebuke, and repeated
simply that the final _denouement_ would be all the more
extraordinary, to which end the poor thing was but the instrument of
Providence, and so herself not to blame.
This was how
we found her when we first came. The _denouement_ was
indeed extraordinary. I can hardly bring myself to write on further.
Moreover, what happened is so difficult to tell. The network of
suffering, which is woven behind the scenes, is not of any pattern set
by the Scriptures, nor of our own devising. Hence the frequent
discords between the inner and the outer life--discords that hurt, and
wail forth in tears.
at length, the dawn when the harsh crust of rebelliousness
cracked and fell to pieces, and the flower of self-surrender came
through and held up its dew-washed face. Damini's service became so
beautiful in its truth that it descended on the devotees like the
blessing of the very Divinity of their devotions.
And when Damini's
lightning flashes had matured into a steady
radiance, Satish looked on her and saw that she was beautiful; but I
say this, that Satish gazed only on her beauty, failing to see Damini
room there hung a portrait of the Swami sitting in
meditation, done on a porcelain medallion. One day he found it on the
floor,--in fragments. He put it down to his pet cat.
But other little
mischiefs began to follow, which were clearly beyond
the powers of the cat. There was some kind of disturbance in the air,
which now and again broke out in unseen electric shocks.
How others felt,
I know not, but a growing pain gnawed at my heart.
Sometimes I thought that this constant ecstasy of emotion was proving
too much for me. I wanted to give it all up and run away. The old work
of teaching the leather-dealers' children seemed, in its unalloyed
prose, to be now calling me back.
when the Master was taking his siesta, and the weary
disciples were at rest, Satish for some reason went off into his own
room at this unusual hour. His progress was suddenly arrested at the
threshold. There was Damini, her thick tresses dishevelled, lying
prone on the floor, beating her head on it as she moaned: 'Oh, you
stone, you stone, have mercy on me, have mercy and kill me outright!'
from head to foot with a nameless fear, fled from
It was a rule with Swami Lilananda to go off once a year to some
remote, out-of-the-way place, away from the crowd. With the month of
Magh [Footnote: January-February.] came round the time for his
journey. Satish was to attend on him.
I asked to go
too. I was worn to the very bone with the incessant
emotional excitement of our cult, and felt greatly in need of physical
movement as well as of mental quiet.
The Master sent
for Damini. 'My little mother,' he told her, 'I am
about to leave you for the duration of my travels. Let me arrange for
your stay meanwhile with your aunt, as usual.'
'I would accompany you,' said Damini.
'You could hardly
bear it, I am afraid. Our journeying will be
'Of course I
can bear it,' she answered. 'Pray have no concern about
any trouble of mine.'
pleased at this proof of Damini's devotion. In former
years, this opportunity had been Damini's holiday time,--the one thing
to which she had looked forward through the preceding months.
'Miraculous!' thought the Swami. 'How wondrously does even stone
become as wax in the Lord's melting-pot of emotion.'
So Damini had her way, and came along with us.
The spot we reached, after hours of tramping in the sun, was a little
promontory on the sea-coast, shaded by cocoa-nut palms. Profound was
the solitude and the tranquillity which reigned there, as the gentle
rustle of the palm tassels merged into the idle plash of the girdling
sea. The place looked like a tired hand of the sleepy shore, limply
fallen upon the surface of the waters. On this open hand stood a
bluish-green hill, and inside the hill was a sculptured cave-temple of
bygone days, which, for all its serene beauty, was the cause of much
disquiet amongst antiquarians as to the origin, style, and
subject-matter of its sculptures.
had been to return to the village where we had made our
halt, after paying a visit to this temple. That was now seen to be
impossible. The day was fast declining, and the moon was long past
its full. Lilananda Swami at length decided that we should pass the
night in the cave.
All four of
us sat down to rest on the sandy soil beneath the
cocoa-nut groves fringing the sea. The sunset glow bent lower and
lower over the western horizon, as though Day was making its parting
obeisance to approaching Night.
The Master's voice broke forth in song--one of his own composition:
_The day has waned, when at last we meet at the turning;
And as I try
to see thy face, the last ray of evening fades into the
We had heard
the song before, but never with such complete rapport
between singer, audience, and surroundings. Damini was affected to
tears. The Swami went on to the second verse:
_I shall not
grieve that the darkness comes between thee and my
Only, for a
moment, stand before me, that I may kiss thy feet and
wipe them with my hair._
When he had
come to the end, the placid eventide, enveloping sky and
waters, was filled, like some ripe, golden fruit, with the bursting
sweetness of melody.
and went up to the Master. As she prostrated herself at
his feet, her loose hair slipped off her shoulders and was scattered
over the ground on either side. She remained long thus before she
raised her head.
(FROM SATISH'S DIARY)
There were several chambers within the temple. In one of these I
spread my blanket and laid myself down. The darkness pent up inside
the cave seemed alive, like some great black monster, its damp breath
bedewing my body. I began to be haunted by the idea that this was the
first of all created animals, born in the beginning of time, with no
eyes or ears, but just one enormous appetite. Confined within this
cavern for endless ages it knew nothing, having no mind; but having
sensibility it felt; and wept and wept in silence.
my limbs like a dead weight, but sleep came not.
Some bird, or perhaps bat, flitted in from the outside, or out from
the inside,--its wings beating the air as it flew from darkness to
darkness; when the draught reached my body it sent a shiver through
me, making my flesh creep.
I thought I
would go and get some sleep outside. But I could not
recollect the direction in which the entrance was. As I crawled on my
hands and knees along the way which appeared the right one, I knocked
against the cave wall. When I tried a different side, I nearly tumbled
into a hollow in which the water dripping through the cracks had
I crawled back
to my blanket and stretched myself on it again. Again
was I possessed with the fancy that I had been taken right into the
creature's maw and could not extricate myself; that I was the victim
of a blind hunger which was licking me with its slimy saliva, through
which I would be sucked and digested noiselessly, little by little.
I felt that
only sleep could save me. My living, waking consciousness
was evidently unable to bear such close embrace of this horrible,
suffocating obscurity--fit only for the dead to suffer. I cannot say
how long after it came upon me,--or whether it was really sleep at
all,--but a thin veil of oblivion fell at last over my senses. And
while in such half-conscious state I actually felt a deep breathing
somewhere near my bare feet. Surely it was not that primeval creature
of my imagining!
seemed to cling about my feet. Some real wild animal
this time,--was my first thought. But there was nothing furry in its
touch. What if it was some species of serpent or reptile, of features
and body unknown to me, of whose method of absorbing its prey I could
form no idea? All the more loathsome seemed the softness of it,--of
this terrible, unknown mass of hunger.
dread and disgust, I could not even utter a cry. I tried
to push it away with ineffectual thrusts with my legs. Its face seemed
to be touching my feet, on which its panting breath fell thickly. What
kind of a face had it, I wondered. I launched a more vigorous kick as
the stupor left me. I had at first supposed there was no fur, but what
felt like a mane now brushed across my legs. I struggled up into a
away in the darkness. There was also a curious kind of
sound. Could it have been sobbing?
We are back in our quarters in the village, near a temple, in a
two-storeyed house belonging to one of the Swami's disciples, which
had been placed at our disposal. Since our return we see but little of
Damini, though she is still in charge of our household affairs. She
has made friends with the neighbouring women, and spends most of her
spare time in going about with them from one house to another.
The Swami is
not particularly pleased. Damini's heart, thinks he,
does not yet respond to the call of the ethereal heights. All its
fondness is still for earthen walls. In her daily work of looking
after the devotees,--formerly like an act of worship with her,--a
trace of weariness has become noticeable. She makes mistakes. Her
service has lost its radiance.
at heart, begins to be afraid of her again. Between her
brows there darkens a gathering frown; her temple is ruffled with
fitful breezes; the loosening knot of her hair lowers over her neck;
the pressure of her lips, the gleams from the corner of her eye, her
sudden wayward gestures presage a rebellious storm.
The Swami turned
to his _kirtans_ with renewed attention. The
wandering bee, he hoped, would be brought to drink deep of the honey,
once enticed in by its fragrance. And so the short cool days were
filled to the brim with the foaming wine of ecstatic song.
But no, Damini
refused to be caught. The exasperated Swami laughed out
one day: 'The Lord is out hunting: the resolute flight of the deer
adds zest to the chase: but succumb she must, in the end.'
When we had
first come to know Damini, she was not to be found among
the band of devotees clustering round the Master. That, however, did
not attract our notice then. But now, her empty place had become
conspicuous. Her frequent absences smote us tempestuously.
The Swami put
this down to her pride, and that hurt his own pride. As
for me,--but what does it matter what I thought?
One day the
Master mustered up courage to say in his most dulcet
tones: 'Damini, my little mother, do you think you will have a little
time to spare this afternoon? If so------'
'No,' said Damini.
'Would you mind telling me why?',
'I have to assist in making sweetmeats at the Nandi's.'
'Sweetmeats? What for?'
'They have a wedding on.'
'Is your assistance so indispensably------?'
'I promised to be there.'
out of the room without waiting for further
was there with us, was dumbfounded. So many men of
learning, wealth, and fame had surrendered at the feet of the Master,
and this slip of a girl,--what gave her such hardihood of assurance?
Damini happened to be at home. The Master had
addressed himself to some specially important topic. After his
discourse had progressed awhile, something in our faces gave him
pause. He found our attention wandering. On looking round he
discovered that Damini, who had been seated in the room, sewing in
hand, was not to be seen. He understood the reason of our distraction.
She was not there, not there, not there,--the refrain now kept
worrying him too. He began to lose the thread of his discourse, and at
last gave it up altogether.
The Swami left
the room and went off to Damini's door. 'Damini,' he
called. 'Why are you all alone here? Will you not come and join us?'
'I am engaged,' said Damini.
Swami could see, as he passed by the half-open door, a
captive kite in a cage. It had somehow struck against the telegraph
wires, and had been lying wounded when Damini rescued it from the
pestering crows, and she had been tending it since.
The kite was
not the only object which engaged Damini's solicitude.
There was a mongrel pup, whose looks were on a par with its breeding.
It was discord personified. Whenever it heard our cymbals, it would
look up to heaven and voice forth a prolonged complaint. The gods,
being fortunate, did not feel bound to give it a hearing. The poor
mortals whose ears happened to be within reach were woefully agonised.
when Damini was engaged in practising horticulture in
sundry cracked pots on the roof-terrace, Satish came up and asked her
point-blank: 'Why is it you have given up coming over there
'To the Master.'
'Why, what need have you people of me?'
'We have no need,--but surely the need is yours.'
'No, no!' flung out Damini. 'Not at all, not at all!'
by her heat, Satish gazed at her in silence. Then he mused
aloud: 'Your mind lacks peace. If you would gain peace------'
you,--you who are consumed day and night with your
excitement,--where have you the peace to give? Leave me alone, I beg
and pray you. I was at peace. I would be at peace.'
'You see but
the waves on the surface. If you have the patience to
dive deep, you will find all calm there.'
her hands as she cried: 'I beseech you, for the Lord's
sake, don't insist on my diving downwards. If only you will give up
all hope of my conversion, I may yet live.'
My experience has never been large enough to enable me to penetrate
the mysteries of woman's mind. Judging from what little I have seen of
the surface from the outside, I have come to the belief that women are
ever ready to bestow their heart where sorrow cannot but be their lot.
They will either string their garland of acceptance [Footnote: In the
old days, when a girl had to choose between several suitors, she
signified her choice by putting a garland round the neck of the
accepted one.] for some brute of a man who will trample it under foot
and defile it in the mire of his passions, or dedicate it to some
idealist, on whose neck it will get no hold, attenuated as he is, like
the dream-stuff of his imaginings.
When left to
do their own choosing, women invariably reject ordinary
men like me, made up of gross and fine, who know woman to be just
woman,--that is to say, neither a doll of clay made to serve for our
pastime, nor a transcendental melody to be evoked at our master touch.
They reject us, because we have neither the forceful delusions of the
flesh, nor the roseate illusions of fancy: we can neither break them
on the wheel of our desire, nor melt them in the glow of our fervour
to be cast in the mould of our ideal.
Because we know
them only for what they are, they may be friendly, but
cannot love us. We are their true refuge, for they can rely on our
devotion; but our self-dedication comes so easy that they forget it
has a price. So the only reward we get is to be used for their
purposes; perchance to win their respect. But I am afraid my
excursions into the region of psychology are merely due to personal
grievances, which have my own experience behind them. The fact
probably is, what we thus lose is really our gain,--anyway, that is
how we may console ourselves.
the Master because she cannot bear him. She fights shy
of Satish because for him her feelings are of the opposite
description. I am the only person, near at hand, with whom there is
no question either of love or hate. So whenever I am with her, Damini
talks away to me of unimportant matters concerning the old days, the
present times, or the daily happenings at the neighbours' houses.
These talks usually take place on the shaded part of the roof-terrace,
which serves as a passage between our several rooms on the second
storey, where Damini sits slicing betel-nuts.
What I could
not understand was, how these trifling talks should have
attracted the notice of Satish's emotion-clouded vision. Even suppose
the circumstance was not so trifling, had I not often been told that,
in the world where Satish dwelt, there were no such disturbing things
as circumstances at all? The Mystic Union, in which personified cosmic
forces were assisting, was an eternal drama, not an historical
episode. Those who are rapt with the undying flute strains, borne
along by the ceaseless zephyrs which play on the banks of the
ever-flowing Jamuna of that mystic paradise, have no eyes or ears left
for the ephemeral doings immediately around them. This much at least
is certain, that before our return from the cave, Satish used to be
much denser in his perception of worldly events.
For this difference
I may have been partly responsible. I also had
begun to absent myself from our _kirtans_ and discourses, perhaps with
a frequency which could not elude even Satish. One day he came round
on inquiry, and found me running after Damini's mongoose,--a recent
acquisition,--trying to lure it into bondage with a pot of milk, which
I had procured from the local milkman. This occupation, viewed as an
excuse, was simply hopeless. It could easily have waited till the end
of our sitting. For the matter of that, the best thing clearly would
have been to leave the mongoose to its own devices, thus at one stroke
demonstrating my adherence to the two principal tenets of our
cult,--Compassion for all creatures, and Passion for the Lord.
That is why,
when Satish came up, I had to feel ashamed. I put down
the pot, then and there, and tried to edge away along the path which
led back to self-respect.
behaviour took me by surprise. She was not in the least
abashed as she asked: 'Where are you off to, Srivilas Babu?'
my head, as I mumbled: 'I was thinking of joining
'They must have finished by this time. Do sit down.'
This coming from Damini, in the presence of Satish, made my ears burn.
to Satish. 'I am in awful trouble with the mongoose,'
she said. 'Last night it stole a chicken from the Mussulman quarters
over there. I dare not leave it loose any longer. Srivilas Babu has
promised to look out for a nice big hamper to keep it in.'
It seemed to
me that it was my devotion to her which Damini was using
the mongoose to show off. I was reminded how the Swami had given
orders to Satish so as to impress me. The two were the same thing.
no reply, and his departure was somewhat abrupt. I gazed
on Damini and could see her eyes flash out as they followed his
disappearing figure; while on her lips there set a hard, enigmatic
Damini had come to she herself knew best; the only
result apparent to me was that she began to send for me on all kinds
of flimsy pretexts. Sometimes she would make sweetmeats, which she
pressed on me. One day I could not help suggesting: 'Let's offer some
to Satish as well.'
'That would only annoy him,' said Damini.
And it happened
that Satish, passing that way, caught me in the act of
being thus regaled.
In the drama
which was being played, the hero and the heroine spoke
their parts 'aside.' I was the one character who, being of no
consequence, had to speak out. This sometimes made me curse my lot;
none the less, I could not withstand the temptation of the petty cash
with which I was paid off, from day to day, for taking up the role of
For some days Satish clanged his cymbals and danced his _kirtans_ with
added vigour. Then one day he came to me and said: 'We cannot keep
Damini with us any longer.'
'Why?' I asked.
'We must free ourselves altogether from the influence of women.'
'If that be
a necessity,' said I,'there must be something radically
wrong with our system.'
Satish stared at me in amazement.
'Woman is a
natural phenomenon,' I continued, undaunted, 'who will
have her place in the world, however much we may try to get rid of
her. If your spiritual welfare depends on ignoring her existence, then
its pursuit will be like the chasing of a phantom, and will so put you
to shame, when the illusion is gone, that you will not know where to
'Oh, stop your
philosophising!' exclaimed Satish. 'I was talking
practical politics. It is only too evident that women are emissaries
of Maya, and at Maya's behest ply on us their blandishments,--for they
cannot fulfil the design of their Mistress unless they overpower our
reason. So we must steer clear of them if we would keep our intellect
I was about
to make my reply, when Satish stopped me with a gesture,
and went on: 'Visri, old fellow! let me tell you plainly: if the hand
of Maya is not visible to you, that is because you have allowed
yourself to be caught in her net. The vision of beauty with which she
has ensnared you to-day will vanish, and with the beauty will
disappear the spectacles of desire, through which you now see it as
greater than all the world. Where the noose of Maya is so glaringly
obvious, why be foolhardy enough to take risks?'
'I admit all
that,' I rejoined. 'But, my dear fellow, the
all-pervading net of Maya was not cast by my hands, nor do I know the
way to escape through it. Since we have not the power to evade Maya,
our spiritual striving should help us, while acknowledging her, to
rise above her. Because it does not take such a course, we have to
flounder about in vain attempts to cut away the half of Truth.'
'Well, well, let's have your idea a little more clearly,' said Satish.
'We must sail
the boat of our life,' I proceeded, 'along the current
of nature, in order to reach beyond it. Our problem is, not how to get
rid of this current, but how to keep the boat afloat in its channel
until it is through. For that, a rudder is necessary.'
who have ceased to be loyal to the Master,--how can I make
you understand that in _him_ we have just this rudder? You would
regulate your spiritual life according to your own whims. That way
death lies!' Satish went to the Master's chamber, and fell to tending
his feet with fervour.
The same evening,
when Satish lit the Master's pipe, he also put
forward his plaint against Maya and her emissaries. The smoking of one
pipe, however, did not suffice for its adjudication. Evening after
evening, pipe after pipe was exhausted, yet the Master was unable to
make up his mind.
very beginning Damini had given the Swami no end of trouble.
Now the girl had managed to set up this eddy in the midst of the
smooth course of the devotees' progress. But Shivatosh had thrown her
and her belongings so absolutely on the Master's hands that he knew
not how or where to cast her off. What made it more difficult still
was that he harboured a secret fear of his ward.
in spite of all the doubled and quadrupled enthusiasm
which he put into his _kirtans_, in spite of all the pipe-filling and
massaging in which he tried to rest his heart, was not allowed to
forget for a moment that Maya had taken up her position right across
the line of his spiritual advance.
One day some
_kirtan_ singers of repute had arrived, and were to sing
in the evening at the temple next door. The _kirtan_ would last far
into the night. I managed to slip away after the preliminary overture,
having no doubt that, in so thick a crowd, no one would notice my
evening had completely thrown off her reserve. Things
which are difficult to speak of, which refuse to leave one's choking
throat, flowed from her lips so simply, so sweetly. It was as if she
had suddenly come upon some secret recess in her heart, so long hidden
away in darkness,--as if, by some strange chance, she had gained the
opportunity to stand before her own self, face to face.
Just at this
time Satish came up from behind and stood there
hesitating, without our being aware of it at the moment. Not that
Damini was saying anything very particular, but there were tears in
her eyes,--all her words, in fact, were then welling up from some
tear-flooded depth. When Satish arrived, the _kirtan_ could not have
been anywhere near its end. I divined that he must have been goaded
with repeated inward urgings to have left the temple then.
As Satish came
round into our view, Damini rose with a start, wiped
her eyes, and made off towards her room. Satish, with a tremor in his
voice, said: 'Damini, will you listen to me? I would have a word with
retraced her steps, and came and sat down again. I made
as though to take myself off, but an imploring glance from her
restrained me from stirring. Satish, who seemed to have made some kind
of effort meanwhile, came straight to the point.
said he to Damini, 'which brought the rest of us to the
Master, was not yours when you came to him.'
'No,' avowed Damini expectantly.
'Why, then, do you stay amongst his devotees?'
flamed up as she cried: 'Why do I stay? Because I did
not come of my own accord! I was a helpless creature, and every one
knew my lack of faith. Yet I was bound hand and foot by your devotees
in this dungeon of devotion. What avenue of escape have you left me?'
'We have now
decided,' stated Satish,'that if you would go to stay
with some relative all your expenses will be found.'
'You have decided, have you?'
'Well, then,--I have not!'
'Why, how will that inconvenience you?'
'Am I a pawn
in your game, that you devotees should play me, now this
way, now the other?'
Satish was struck dumb.
'I did not come,'
continued Damini, 'wanting to please your devotees.
And I am not going away at the bidding of the lot of you, merely
because I don't happen to please you!'
her face with her hands and burst out sobbing as she
ran into her room and slammed the door.
Satish did not
return to the _kirtan_ singing. He sank down in a
corner of the adjoining roof-terrace and brooded there in silence.
The sound of
the breakers on the distant seashore came, wafted along
the south breeze, like despairing sighs, rising up to the watching
star clusters, from the very heart of the Earth. I spent the night
wandering round and round along the dark, deserted village lanes.
The World of Reality has made a determined onslaught on the Mystic
Paradise, within the confines of which the Master sought to keep
Satish and myself content by repeatedly filling for us the cup of
symbolism with the nectar of idea. Now the clash of the actual with
the symbolic bids fair to overturn the latter and spill its emotional
contents in the dust. The Master is not blind to this danger.
Satish is no
longer himself. Like a paper kite, with its regulating
knot gone, he is still high in the skies, but may at any moment begin
to gyrate groundwards. There is no falling off as yet in the outward
rigour of his devotional and disciplinary exercises, but a closer
scrutiny reveals the totter of weakening.
As for my condition,
Damini has left nothing so vague in it as to
require any guess-work. The more she notices the fear in the Master's
face, and the pain in Satish's, the oftener she makes me dance
attendance on her.
At last it came
to this, that when we were engaged in talk with the
Master, Damini would sometimes appear in the doorway and interrupt us
with: 'Srivilas Babu, would you mind coming over this way?' without
even condescending to add what I was wanted for.
The Swami would
glance up at me; Satish would glance up at me; I would
hesitate for a moment between them and her; then I would glance up at
the door,--and in a trice I was off the fence and out of the room. An
effort would be made, after my exit, to go on with the talk, but the
effort would soon get the better of the talk, whereupon the latter
to be falling to pieces around us. The old
compactness was gone.
We two had come
to be the pillars of the sect. The Master could not
give up either of us without a struggle. So he ventured once more to
make an overture to Damini. 'My little mother,' said he,'the time is
coming for us to proceed to the more arduous part of our journey. You
had better return from here.'
'Home, to your aunt.'
'That cannot be.'
the Swami. 'First of all,' said Damini,'she is not my
own aunt at all. Why should she bear my burden?'
'All your expenses shall be borne by us.'
not the only burden. It is no part of her duty to be
saddled with looking after me.'
urged the Swami in his desperation, 'can I keep you
with me for ever?'
'Is that a question for me to answer?'
'But where will you go when I am dead?'
'I was never
allowed,' returned Damini icily, 'to have the
responsibility of thinking that out. I have been made to realise too
well that in this world I have neither home nor property; nothing at
all to call my own. That is what makes my burden so heavy to bear. It
pleased you to take it up. You shall not now cast it on another!'
Damini went off.
'Lord, have mercy!' sighed the Swami.
Damini had laid
on me the command to procure for her some good Bengali
books. I need hardly say that by 'good' Damini did not mean spiritual,
of the quality affected by our sect. Nor need I pause to make it clear
that Damini had no compunction in asking anything from me. It had not
taken her long to find out that making demands on me was the easiest
way of making me amends. Some kinds of trees are all the better for
being pruned: that was the kind of person I seemed to be where Damini
Well, the books
I ordered were unmitigatedly modern. The author was
distinctly less influenced by Manu [Footnote: The Hindu law-giver.]
than by Man himself. The packet was delivered by the postman to the
Swami. He raised his eyebrows, as he opened it, and asked: 'Hullo,
Srivilas, what are these for?'
I remained silent.
The Master gingerly
turned over some of the pages, as he remarked for
my benefit that he had never thought much of the author, having failed
to find in his writings the correct spiritual flavour.
'If you read
them carefully, sir,' I suddenly blurted out, 'you will
find his writings not to be lacking in the flavour of Truth.' The fact
is, rebellion had been long brewing within me. I was feeling done to
death with mystic emotion. I was nauseated with shedding tears over
abstract human feelings, to the neglect of living human creatures.
The Master blinked
at me curiously before he replied: 'Very well, my
son, carefully read them I will.' He tucked the books away under the
bolster on which he reclined. I could perceive that his idea was not
to surrender them to me.
behind the door, must have got wind of this, for at once
she stepped in and asked: 'Haven't the books you ordered for me
I remained silent.
'My little mother!'
said the Swami. 'These books are not fit for you
'How should you know that?'
The Master frowned. 'How, at least, could you know better?'
'I have read the author: you, perhaps, have not.'
'Why, then, need you read him over again?'
have any need,' Damini flared up, 'nothing is allowed to
stand in _your_ way. It is only _I_ who am to have no needs!'
yourself, Damini. I am a _sannyasin_. I have no worldly
that I am not a _sannyasin_. I have a desire to read these
books. Will you kindly let me have them?'
The Swami drew
out the books from under his bolster and tossed them
across to me. I handed them over to Damini.
In the end,
the books that Damini would have read alone by herself,
she now began to send for me to read out to her. It was in that same
shaded veranda along our rooms that these readings took place. Satish
passed and repassed, longing to join in, but could not, unasked.
One day we had
come upon a humorous passage, and Damini was rocking
with laughter. There was a festival on at the temple and we had
supposed that Satish would be there. But we heard a door open behind,
through which Satish unexpectedly appeared and came and sat down
was at once cut short. I also felt awkward. I wanted
badly to say something to Satish, but no words would come, and I went
on silently turning over page after page of my book. He rose, and
left as abruptly as he had come. Our reading made no further progress
Satish may very
likely have understood that while he envied the
absence of reserve between Damini and me, its presence was just what I
envied in his case. That same day he petitioned the Master to be
allowed to go off on a solitary excursion along the sea-coast,
promising to be back within a week. 'The very thing, my son!'
acquiesced the Swami, with enthusiasm.
Damini did not send for me to read to her any more,
nor had she anything else to ask of me. Neither did I see her going to
her friends, the women of the neighbourhood. She kept her room, with
Some days passed
thus. One afternoon, when the Master was deep in his
siesta, and I was writing a letter seated out on our veranda, Satish
suddenly turned up. Without so much as a glance at me, he walked
straight up to Damini's door, knocking as he called: 'Damini, Damini.'
out at once. A strangely altered Satish met her inquiring
gaze. Like a storm-battered ship, with torn rigging and tattered
sails, was his condition,--eyes wild, hair dishevelled, features
drawn, garments dusty.
Satish, 'I asked you to leave us. That was wrong of
me. I beg your forgiveness.'
'Oh, don't say that,' cried the distressed Damini, clasping her hands.
'You must forgive
me,' he repeated. 'I will never again allow that
pride to overcome me, which led me to think I could take you or leave
you, according to my own spiritual requirements. Such sin will never
cross my mind again, I promise you. Do you also promise me one thing?'
'Command me!' said Damini, making humble obeisance.
'You must join us, and not keep aloof like this.'
'I will join
you,' said Damini. 'I will sin no more.' Then, as she
bowed low again to take the dust of his feet, she repeated, 'I will
sin no more.'
The stone was melted again. Damini's bewildering radiance remained
undimmed, but it lost its heat. In worship and ritual and service her
beauty blossomed out anew. She was never absent from the _kirtan_
singing, nor when the Master gave his readings and discourses. There
was a change in her raiment also. She reverted to the golden brown of
plain tussore, [Footnote: The tussore silk-worm is a wild variety, and
its cocoon has to be used after the moth has cut its way out and flown
away, thus not being killed in the process of unwinding the silk.
Hence tussore silk is deemed specially suitable for wear on occasions
of divine worship.] and whenever we saw her she seemed fresh from her
test came in her intercourse with the Master. When she
made her salutation to him, I could catch the glint of severely
repressed temper through her half-closed eyelids. I knew very well
that she could not bear to take orders from the Master; nevertheless,
so complete was her self-suppression, that the Swami was able to screw
up the courage to repeat his condemnation of the obnoxious tone of
that outrageously modern Bengali writer. The next day there was a heap
of flowers near his seat, and under them were the torn pages of the
books of the objectionable author.
I had always
noticed that the attendance on the Master by Satish was
specially intolerable to Damini. Even now, when the Master asked him
for some personal service, Damini would try to hustle past Satish and
forestall him. This, however, was not possible in every case; and
while Satish kept blowing on the tinder to get it into a blaze for the
Master's pipe, Damini would have much ado to keep herself in hand by
grimly repeating under her breath,'I will sin no more. I will sin no
But what Satish
had tried for did not come off. On the last occasion
of Damini's self-surrender, he had seen the beauty of the surrender
only, not of the self behind it. This time Damini herself had become
so true for him that she eclipsed all strains of music, and all
thoughts of philosophy. Her reality had become so dominant that Satish
could no longer lose himself in his visions, nor think of her merely
as an aspect of Universal Woman. It was not she who, as before, set
off for him the melodies which filled his mind; rather, these melodies
had now become part of the halo which encircled her person.
I should not,
perhaps, leave out the minor detail that Damini had no
longer any use for me. Her demands on me had suddenly ceased
altogether. Of my colleagues, who used to assist in beguiling her
leisure, the kite was dead, the mongoose had escaped, and as for the
mongrel puppy, its manners having offended the Master's
susceptibilities, it had been given away. Thus, bereft both of
occupation and companionship, I returned to my old place in the
assembly surrounding the Master, though the talking and singing and
doing that went on there had all alike become horribly distasteful to
The laboratory of Satish's mind was not amenable to any outside laws.
One day, as he was compounding therein, for my special benefit, a
weird mixture of ancient philosophy and modern science, with reason as
well as emotion promiscuously thrown in, Damini burst in upon us,
panting: 'Oh, do come, both of you, come quick!'
'Whatever is the matter?' I cried, as I leapt up.
'Nabin's wife has taken poison, I think,' she said.
Nabin was a
neighbour, one of our regular _kirtan_ singers--an ardent
disciple. We hurried after Damini, but when we arrived his wife was
We pieced together
her story. Nabin's wife had brought her motherless
younger sister to live with them. She was a very pretty girl, and when
Nabin's brother had last been home, he was so taken with her that
their marriage was speedily arranged. This greatly relieved her elder
sister, for, high caste as they were, a suitable bridegroom was not
easy to find. The wedding-day had been fixed some months later, when
Nabin's brother would have completed his college course. Meanwhile
Nabin's wife lit upon the discovery that her husband had seduced her
sister. She forthwith insisted on his marrying the unfortunate
girl,--for which, as it happened, he did not require much persuasion.
The wedding ceremony had just been put through, whereupon the elder
sister had made away with herself by taking poison.
There was nothing
to be done. The three of us slowly wended our way
back, to find the usual throng round the Master. They sang a _kirtan_
to him, and he waxed ecstatic in his usual manner, and began to dance
the moon was near its full. One corner of our terrace was
overhung by the branch of a _chalta_ tree. At the edge of the shadow,
under its thick foliage, sat Damini lost in silent thought. Satish
was softly pacing up and down our veranda behind her. I had a hobby
for diary-writing, in which I was indulging, alone in my room, with
the door wide open.
the _koil_ could not sleep; stirred by the south breeze
the leaves too were speaking out, and the moonlight, shimmering on
them, smiled in response. Something must also have stirred within
Satish, for he suddenly turned his steps towards the terrace and went
and stood near Damini.
round with a start, adjusted her _sari_ [Footnote: A
formal recognition of the presence of an elder.] over the back of her
head, and rose as if to leave. Satish called, 'Damini!'
at once, and turning to him appealingly with folded hands
she said, 'My Master, may I ask you a question?'
Satish looked at her inquiringly, but made no reply.
on: 'Tell me truly, of what use to the world is this thing
with which your sect is occupied day and night? Whom have you been
able to save?'
I came out from my room and stood on the veranda.
'This passion, passion, passion on which you
harp,--did you not see it in its true colours to-day? It has neither
religion nor duty; it regards neither wife nor brother, nor the
sanctuary of home; it knows neither pity nor trust, nor modesty, nor
shame. What way have you discovered to save men from the hell of this
cruel, shameless, soul-killing passion?'
I could not
contain myself, but cried out: 'Oh yes, we have hit upon
the wonderful device of banishing Woman right away from our territory,
so as to make our pursuit of passion quite safe!'
any heed to my words, Damini spoke on to Satish: 'I
have learnt nothing at all from your Master. He has never given me one
moment's peace of mind. Fire cannot quench fire. The road along which
he is taking his devotees leads neither to courage, nor restraint, nor
peace. That poor woman who is dead,--her heart's blood was sucked dry
by this Fury, Passion, who killed her. Did you not see the hideous
countenance of the murderess? For God's sake, my Master, I implore
you, do not sacrifice me to that Fury. Oh, save me, for if anybody
can save me, it is you!'
For a space
all three of us kept silent. So poignant became the
silence all around, it seemed to me that the vibrating drone of the
_cicadas_ was but a swoon-thrill of the pallid sky.
Satish was the
first to speak. 'Tell me,' said he to Damini, 'what is
it you would have me do for you?'
'Be my _guru_!
I would follow none else. Give me some creed--higher
than all this--which can save me. Do not let me be destroyed, together
with the Divinity which is in me.'
Satish drew himself up straight, as he responded: 'So be it.'
herself at his feet, her forehead touching the
ground, and remained long thus, in reverential adoration, murmuring:
'Oh, my Master, my Master, save me, save me, save me from all sin.'
Once more there was a mighty sensation in our world, and a storm of
vituperation in the newspapers--for Satish had again turned renegade.
At first he
had defiantly proclaimed active disbelief in all religion
and social convention. Next, with equal vehemence, he had displayed
active belief in gods and goddesses, rites and ceremonies, not
excluding the least of them. Now, lastly, he had thrown to the winds
all the rubbish-heaps both of religious and irreligious cults, and had
retired into such simple peacefulness that no one could even guess
what he believed, or what he did not. True, he took up good works as
of old; but there was nothing aggressive about it this time.
There was another
event over which the newspapers exhausted all their
resources of sarcasm and virulence. That was the announcement of
Damini's marriage with me. The mystery of this marriage none will
perhaps fathom,--but why need they?
There was once an indigo factory on this spot. All that now remains
of it are some tumble-down rooms belonging to the old house, the rest
having crumbled into dust. When returning homewards, after performing
Damini's last rites, the place, as we passed by it, somehow appealed
to me, and I stayed on alone.
The road leading
from the river-side to the factory gate is flanked by
an avenue of sissoo trees. Two broken pillars still mark the site of
the gateway, and portions of the garden wall are standing here and
there. The only other memento of the past is the brick-built mound
over the grave of some Mussulman servant of the factory. Through its
cracks, wild flowering shrubs have sprung up. Covered with blossoms
they sway to the breeze and mock at death, like merry maidens shaking
with laughter while they chaff the bridegroom on his wedding-day. The
banks of the garden pool have caved in and let the water trickle away,
leaving the bottom to serve as a bed for a coriander patch. As I sit
out on the roadside, under the shade of the avenue, the scent of the
coriander, in flower, goes through and through my brain.
I sit and muse.
The factory, of which these remnants are left, like
the skeleton of some dead animal by the wayside, was once alive. From
it flowed waves of pleasure and pain in a stormy succession, which
then seemed to be endless. Its terribly efficient English proprietor,
who made the very blood of his sweating cultivators run
indigo-blue,--how tremendous was he compared to puny me! Nevertheless,
Mother Earth girded up her green mantle, undismayed, and set to work
so thoroughly to plaster over the disfigurement wrought by him and his
activities, that the few remaining traces require but a touch or two
more to vanish for ever.
novel reflection, however, was not what my mind
ruminated over. 'No, no!' it protested. 'One dawn does not succeed
another merely to smear fresh plaster [Footnote: The wattle-and-daub
cottages of a Bengal village are cleaned and renovated every morning
by a moist clay mixture being smeared by the housewife over the plinth
and floors.] over the floor. True, the Englishman of the factory,
together with the rest of its abominations, are all swept away into
oblivion like a handful of dust,--but my Damini!'
Many will not
agree with me, I know. Shan-karacharya's philosophy
spares no one. All the world is _maya_, a trembling dewdrop on the
lotus leaf. But Shankaracharya was a _sannyasin_. 'Who is your wife,
who your son?' were questions he asked, without understanding their
meaning. Not being a _sannyasin_ myself, I know full well that Damini
is not a vanishing dewdrop on the lotus leaf.
But, I am told,
there are householders also, who say the same thing.
That may be. They are mere householders, who have lost only the
mistress of their house. Their home is doubtless maya, and so likewise
is its mistress. These are their own handiwork, and when done with any
broom is good enough for sweeping their fragments clean away.
I did not keep
house long enough to settle down as a householder, nor
is mine the temperament of a _sannyasin_,--that saved me. So the
Damini whom I gained became neither housewife nor _maya_. She ever
remained true to herself,--my Damini. Who dares to call her a shadow?
Had I known
Damini only as mistress of my house, much of this would
never have been written. It is because I knew her in a greater, truer
relation, that I have no hesitation in putting down the whole truth,
recking nothing of what others may say.
Had it been
my lot to live with Damini, as others do in the everyday
world, the household routine of toilet and food and repose would have
sufficed for me as for them. And after Damini's death, I could have
heaved a sigh and exclaimed with Shankaracharya: 'Variegated is the
world of _maya_!' before hastening to honour the suggestion of some
aunt, or other well-meaning elder, by another attempt to sample its
variety by marrying again. But I had not adjusted myself to the
domestic world, like a foot in a comfortable old shoe. From the very
outset I had given up hope of happiness,--no, no, that is saying too
much; I was not so non-human as that. Happiness I certainly hoped for,
but I did not arrogate to myself the right to claim it.
it was I who persuaded Damini to give her consent to our
marriage. Not for us was the first auspicious vision [Footnote: At one
stage of the wedding ceremony a red screen is placed round the Bride
and Bridegroom, and they are asked to look at each other. This is the
Auspicious Vision,] in the rosy glow of festive lamps, to the
rapturous strains of wedding pipes. We married in the broad light of
day, with eyes wide open.
When we went away from Lilananda Swami, the time came to think of ways
and means, as well as of a sheltering roof. We had all along been more
in danger of surfeit than of starvation, with the hospitality which
the devotees of the Master pressed on us, wherever we went with him.
We had almost come to forget that to be a householder involves the
acquiring, or building, or at least the renting of a house, so
accustomed had we become to cast the burden of its supply upon
another, and to look on a house as demanding from us only the duty of
making ourselves thoroughly comfortable in it.
At length we
recollected that Uncle Jagamohan had bequeathed his share
of the house to Satish. Had the will been left in Satish's custody,
it would by this time have been wrecked, like a paper boat, on the
waves of his emotion. It happened, however, to be with me; for I was
the executor. There were three conditions attached to the bequest
which I was responsible for carrying out. No religious worship was to
be performed in the house. The ground floor was to be used as a school
for the leather-dealers' children. And after Satish's death, the whole
property was to be applied for the benefit of that community. Piety
was the one thing Uncle Jagamohan could not tolerate. He looked on it
as more defiling even than worldliness; and probably these provisions,
which he facetiously referred to in English as 'sanitary precautions,'
were intended as a safeguard against the excessive piety which
prevailed in the adjoining half of the house.
'Come along,' I said to Satish. 'Let's go to your Calcutta house.'
'I am not quite ready for that yet,' Satish replied.
I did not understand him.
'There was a
day,' he explained, 'when I relied wholly on reason, only
to find at last that reason could not support the whole of life's
burden. There was another day, when I placed my reliance on emotion,
only to discover it to be a bottomless abyss. The reason and the
emotion, you see, were alike mine. Man cannot rely on himself alone. I
dare not return to town until I have found my support.'
'What then do you suggest?' I asked.
'You two go
on to the Calcutta house. I would wander alone for a time.
I seem to see glimpses of the shore. If I allow it out of my sight
now, I may lose it for ever.'
As soon as we
were by ourselves, Damini said to me: 'That will never
do! If he wanders about alone, who is to look after him? Don't you
remember in what plight he came back when he last went wandering? The
very idea of it fills me with fear.'
Shall I tell
the truth? This anxiety of Damini's stung me like a
hornet, leaving behind the smart of anger. Had not Satish wandered
about for two whole years after Uncle Jagamohan's death,--had that
killed him? My question did not remain unuttered. Rather, some of the
smart of the sting got expressed with it.
'I know, Srivilas
Babu,' Damini replied. 'It takes a great deal to
kill a man. But why should he be allowed to suffer at all, so long as
the two of us are here to prevent it?'
The two of us!
Half of that meant this wretched creature, Srivilas! It
is of course a law of the world, that in order to save some people
from suffering others shall suffer. All the inhabitants of the earth
may be divided into two such classes. Damini had found out to which I
belonged. It was compensation, indeed, that she included herself in
the same class.
I went and said
to Satish: 'All right, then, let us postpone our
departure to town. We can stay for a time in that dilapidated house on
the river-side. They say it is subject to ghostly visitations. This
will serve to keep off human visitors.'
'And you two?' inquired Satish.
'Like the ghosts, we shall keep in hiding as far as possible.'
a nervous glance at Damini,--there may have been a
suggestion of dread in it.
her hands as she said imploringly: 'I have accepted you
as my guru.
sins may have been, let them not deprive me of the right
to serve you.'
I must confess that this frenzied pertinacity of Satish's quest is
beyond my understanding. There was a time when I would have laughed to
scorn the very idea. Now I had ceased to laugh. What Satish was
pursuing was fire indeed, no will-o'-the-wisp. When I realised how its
heat was consuming him, the old arguments of Uncle Jagamohan's school
refused to pass my lips. Of what avail would it be to find, with
Herbert Spencer, that the mystic sense might have originated in some
ghostly superstition, or that its message could be reduced to some
logical absurdity? Did we not see how Satish was burning,--his whole
Satish was perhaps
better off when his days were passing in one round
of excitement,--singing, dancing, serving the Master,--the whole of
his spiritual effort exhausting itself in the output of the moment.
Since he has lapsed into outward quiet, his spirit refuses to be
controlled any longer. There is now no question of seeking emotional
satisfaction. The inward struggle for realisation is so tremendous
within him, that we are afraid to look on his face.
I could remain
silent no longer. 'Satish,' I suggested,'don't you
think it would be better to go to some _guru_ who could show you the
way and make your spiritual progress easier?'
This only served
to annoy him. 'Oh, do be quiet, Visri,' he broke out
irritably. 'For goodness' sake keep quiet! What does one want to make
it easier for? Delusion alone is easy. Truth is always difficult.'
'But would it
not be better,' I tried again, 'if some _guru_ were to
guide you along the path of Truth?'
Satish was almost
beside himself. 'Will you never understand,' he
groaned,'that I am not running after any geographical truth? The
Dweller within can only come to me along my own true path. The path of
the _guru_ can only lead to the _guru's_ door.'
What a number
of opposite principles have I heard enunciated by this
same mouth of Satish! I, Srivilas, once the favourite disciple of
Uncle Jagamohan,--who would have threatened me with a big stick if I
had called him Master,--had actually been made by Satish to massage
the legs of Lila-nanda Swami. And now not even a week has passed but
he needs must preach to me in this strain! However, as I dared not
smile, I maintained a solemn silence.
'I have now
understood,' Satish went on, 'why our Scriptures say that
it is better to die in one's own _dharma_ rather than court the
terrible fate of taking the _dharma_ of another. All else may be
accepted as gifts, but if one's _dharma_ is not one's own, it does not
save, but kills. I cannot gain my God as alms from anybody else. If I
get Him at all, it shall be I who win Him. If I do not, even death is
I am argumentative
by nature, and could not give in so easily. 'A
poet,' said I,'may get a poem from within himself. But he who is not a
poet needs must take it from another.'
'I am a poet,' said Satish, without blenching.
That finished the matter. I came away.
Satish had no
regular hours for meals or sleep. There was no knowing
where he was to be found next. His body began to take on the
unsubstantial keenness of an over--sharpened knife. One felt this
could not go on much longer. Yet I could not muster up courage to
interfere. Damini, however, was utterly unable to bear it. She was
grievously incensed at God's ways. With those who ignored Him, God was
powerless,--was it fair thus to take it out of one who was helplessly
prostrate at His feet? When Damini used to wax wroth with Lilananda
Swami, she knew how to bring it home to him. Alas, she knew not how to
bring her feelings home to God! Anyhow, she spared no pains in trying
to get Satish to be regular in satisfying his physical needs.
Numberless and ingenious were her contrivances to get this misfit
creature to conform to domestic regulations. For a considerable space
Satish made no overt objection to her endeavours. But one morning he
waded across the shallow river to the broad sand-bed along the
opposite bank, and there disappeared from sight.
The sun rose
to the meridian; it gradually bent over to the west; but
there was no sign of Satish. Damini waited for him, fasting, till she
could contain herself no longer. She put some food on a salver, and
with it toiled through the knee-deep water, and at last found herself
on the sand-bank.
It was a vast
expanse on which not a living creature of any kind was
to be seen. The sun was cruel. Still more so were the glowing billows
of sand, one succeeding the other, like ranks of crouching sentinels
guarding the emptiness. As she stood on the edge of this spreading
pallor, where all limits seemed to have been lost, where no call could
meet with any response, no question with any answer, Damini's heart
sank within her. It was as if her world had been wiped away and
reduced to the dull blank of original colourlessness. One vast 'No'
seemed to be stretched at her feet. No sound, no movement, no red of
blood, no green of vegetation, no blue of sky,--but only the drab of
sand. It looked like the lipless grin of some giant skull, the
tongueless cavern of its jaws gaping with an eternal petition of
thirst to the unrelenting fiery skies above.
While she was
wondering in what direction to proceed, the faint track
of footsteps caught Damini's eye. These she pursued, and went on and
on, over the undulating surface, till they stopped at a pool on the
farther side of a sand-drift. Along the moist edge of the water could
be seen the delicate tracery of the claw-marks of innumerable
water-fowl. Under the shade of the sand-drift sat Satish.
The water was
the deepest of deep blue. The fussy snipe were poking
about on its margin, bobbing their tails and fluttering their
black-and-white wings. At some distance were a flock of wild duck
quacking vigorously, and seeming never to get the preening of their
feathers done to their own satisfaction. When Damini reached the top
of the mound, which formed one bank of the pool, the ducks took
themselves off in a body, with a great clamour and beating of wings.
Satish looked round and saw Damini. 'Why are you here?' he cried.
'I have brought you something to eat,' said Damini.
'I want nothing,' said Satish.
'It is very late------' ventured Damini.
'Nothing at all,' repeated Satish.
'Let me then
wait a little,' suggested Damini. 'Perhaps later
'Oh, why will
you------' burst out Satish, but as his glance fell on
Damini's face he stopped short.
nothing further. Tray in hand she retraced her steps
through the sand, which glared round her like the eye of a tiger in
Tears had always
been rarer in Damini's eyes than lightning flashes.
But when I saw her that evening,--seated on the floor, her feet
stretched out before her,--she was weeping. When she saw me her tears
seemed to burst through some obstruction and showered forth in
torrents. I cannot tell what it felt like within my breast. I came
near and sat down on one side.
When she had
calmed herself a little I inquired: 'Why does Satish's
health make you so anxious?'
'What else have
I to be anxious about?' she asked simply. 'All the
rest he has to think out for himself. There I can neither understand
Damini,' I said. 'When man's mind puts forth all its
energy into one particular channel, his bodily needs become reduced
correspondingly. That is why, in the presence of great joy or great
sorrow, man does not hunger or thirst. Satish's state of mind is now
such that it will do him no harm even if you do not look after his
'I am a woman,'
replied Damini. 'The building up of the body with our
own body, with our life itself, is our _dharma_. It is woman's own
creation. So when we women see the body suffer, our spirit refuses to
'That is why,'
I retorted,'those who are busy with things of the
spirit seem to have no eyes for you, the guardians of mere bodies!'
Damini flared up. 'So wonderful, rather, is the vision
of their eyes, it turns everything topsy-turvy.'
said I to myself. 'That is what fascinates you. Srivilas,
my boy, next time you take birth, take good care to be born in the
world of topsy-turvydom.'
The wound which Satish inflicted on Damini that day on the sands had
this result, that he could not remove from his mind the agony he had
seen in her eyes. During the succeeding days he had to go through the
purgatory of showing her special consideration. It was long since he
had freely conversed with us. Now he would send for Damini and talk to
her. The experiences and struggles through which he was passing were
the subject of these talks.
Damini had never
been so exercised by his indifference as she now was
by his solicitude. She felt sure this could not last, because the cost
was too much to pay. Some day or other Satish's attention would be
drawn to the state of the account, and he would discover how high the
price was; then would come the crash. The more regular Satish became
in his meals and rest, as a good householder should, the more anxious
became Damini, the more she felt ashamed of herself. It was almost as
if she would be relieved to find Satish becoming rebellious. She
seemed to be saying: 'You were quite right to hold aloof. Your
concern for me is only punishing yourself. That I cannot bear!--I
must,' she appeared to conclude,'make friends with the neighbours
again, and see if I cannot contrive to keep away from the house.'
One night we
were roused by a sudden shout: 'Srivilas! Damini!' It
must have been past midnight, but Satish could not have taken count of
the hour. How he passed his nights we knew not, but the way he went on
seemed to have cowed the very ghosts into flight.
We shook off
our slumbers, and came out of our respective rooms to
find Satish on the flagged pavement in front of the house, standing
alone in the darkness. 'I have understood!' he exclaimed as he saw us.
'I have no more doubts.'
went up and sat down on the pavement. Satish absently
followed her example and sat down too. I also followed suit.
'If I keep going,'
said Satish, 'in the same direction along which He
comes to me, then I shall only be going further and further away from
Him. If I proceed in the opposite direction, then only can we meet.'
I silently gazed
at his flaming eyes. As a geometrical truth what he
said was right enough. But what in the world was it all about? 'He
loves form,' Satish went on,'so He is continually descending towards
form. We cannot live by form alone, so we must ascend towards His
formlessness. He is free, so His play is within bonds. We are bound,
so we find our joy in freedom. All our sorrow is because we cannot
We kept as silent as the stars.
'Do you not
understand, Damini?' pursued Satish. 'He who sings
proceeds from his joy to the tune; he who hears, from the tune to joy.
One comes from freedom into bondage, the other goes from bondage into
freedom; only thus can they have their communion. He sings and we
hear. He ties the bonds as He sings to us, we untie them as we hear
I cannot say
whether Damini understood Satish's words, but she
understood Satish. With her hands folded on her lap she kept quite
'I was hearing
His song through the night,' Satish went on,'till in a
flash the whole thing became clear to me. Then I could not keep it to
myself, and called out to you. All this time I had been trying to
fashion Him to suit myself, and so was deprived.--O Desolator! Breaker
of ties! Let me be shattered to pieces within you, again and again,
for ever and ever. Bonds are not for me, that is why I cannot hold on
to bonds for long. Bonds are yours, and so are you kept eternally
bound to creation. Play on, then, with our forms and let me take my
flight into your formlessness.--O Eternal, you are mine, mine,
mine!'--Satish departed into the night towards the river.
After that night,
Satish lapsed back into his old ways, forgetful of
all claims of rest or nourishment. As to when his mind would rise
into the light of ecstasy, or lapse into the depths of gloom, we could
make no guess. May God help her who has taken on herself the burden of
keeping such a creature within the wholesomeness of worldly habit....
It had been stiflingly oppressive the whole day. In the night a great
storm burst on us. We had our several rooms along a veranda, in which
a light used to be kept burning all night. That was now blown out. The
river was lashed into foaming waves, and a flood of rain burst forth
from the clouds. The splashing of the waves down below, and the
dashing of the torrents from above, played the cymbals in this chaotic
revel of the gods. Nothing could be seen of the deafening movements
which resounded within the depths of the darkness, and made the sky,
like a blind child, break into shivers of fright. Out of the bamboo
thickets pierced a scream as of some bereaved giantess. From the
mango groves burst the cracking and crashing of breaking timber. The
river--side echoed with the deep thuds of falling masses from the
crumbling banks. Through the bare ribs of our dilapidated house the
keen blasts howled and howled like infuriated beasts.
On such a night
the fastenings of the human mind are shaken loose. The
storm gains entry and plays havoc within, scattering into disorder its
well-arranged furniture of convention, tossing about its curtains of
decorous restraint in disturbing revealment. I could not sleep. But
what can I write of the thoughts which assailed my sleepless brain?
They do not concern this story.
'Who is that?' I heard Satish cry out all of a sudden in the darkness.
'It is I,--Damini,'
came the reply. 'Your windows are open, and the
rain is streaming in. I have come to close them.'
As she was doing
this, she found Satish had got out of his bed. He
seemed to stand and hesitate, just for a moment, and then he went out
of the room.
back to her own room and sat long on the threshold. No one
returned. The fury of the wind went on increasing in violence.
sit quiet no longer. She also left the house. It was
hardly possible to keep on one's feet in the storm. The sentinels of
the revelling gods seemed to be scolding Damini and repeatedly
thrusting her back. The rain made desperate attempts to pervade every
nook and cranny of the sky.
A flash rent
the sky from end to end with terrific tearing thunder. It
revealed Satish standing on the river brink. With a supreme effort
Damini reached him in one tempestuous rush, outvying the wind. She
fell prone at his feet. The shriek of the storm was overcome by her
cry: 'At your feet, I swear I had no thought of sin against your God!
Why punish me thus?' Satish stood silent.
'Thrust me into
the river with your feet, if you would be rid of me.
But return you must!'
back. As he re-entered the house he said: 'My need for Him
whom I seek is immense,--so absolutely, that I have no need for
anything else at all. Damini, have pity on me and leave me to Him.'
After a space of silence Damini said: 'I will.'
I knew nothing of this at the time, but heard it all from Damini
afterwards. So when I saw through my open door the two returning
figures pass along the veranda to their rooms, the desolation of my
lot fell heavy on my heart and took me by the throat. I struggled up
from my bed. Further sleep was impossible that night.
what a changed Damini met my eyes! The demon dance of
last night's storm seemed to have left all its ravages on this one
forlorn girl. Though I knew nothing of what had happened, I felt
bitterly angry with Satish.
'Srivilas Babu,' said Damini, 'will you take me on to Calcutta?'
I could guess
all that these words meant for her; so I asked no
question. But, in the midst of the torture within me, I felt the balm
of consolation. It was well that Damini should take herself away from
here. Repeated buffeting against the rock could only end in the vessel
being broken up.
Damini made her obeisance to Satish, saying: 'I have
grievously sinned at your feet. May I hope for pardon?'
his eyes fixed on the ground, replied: 'I also have
sinned. Let me first purge my sin away, and then will I claim
It became clear
to me, on our way to Calcutta, what a devastating fire
had all along been raging within Damini. I was so scorched by its heat
that I could not restrain myself from breaking out in revilement of
me frenziedly. 'Don't you dare talk so in my presence!'
she exclaimed. 'Little do you know what he saved me from! You can
only see my sorrow. Had you no eyes for the sorrow he has been
through, in order to save me? The hideous tried once to destroy the
beautiful, and got well kicked for its pains.--Serve it right!--Serve
it right!'--Damini began to beat her breast violently with her
clenched hands. I had to hold them back by main force.
When we arrived
in the evening, I left Damini at her aunt's and went
over to a lodging-house, where I used to be well known. My old
acquaintances started at sight of me. 'Have you been ill?' they cried.
By next morning's
post I got a letter from Damini. 'Take me away,' she
wrote. 'There is no room for me here.'
that her aunt would not have her. Scandal about us was
all over the town. The Pooja numbers of the weekly newspapers had come
out shortly after we had given up Lilananda Swami. All the
instruments for our execution had been kept sharpened. The carnage
turned out to be worthy of the occasion. In our _shastras_ the
sacrifice of she-animals is prohibited. But, in the case of modern
human sacrifice, a woman victim seems to add to the zest of the
performers. The mention of Damini's name was skilfully avoided. But no
less was the skill which did away with all doubt as to the intention.
Anyhow, it had resulted in this shrinkage of room in the house of
Damini's distant aunt.
Damini had lost
her parents. But I had an idea that her brother was
living. I asked Damini for his address, but she shook her head, saying
they were too poor. The fact was, Damini did not care to place her
brother in an awkward position. What if he also came to say there was
'Where will you stay, then?' I had to inquire.
'I will go back
to Lilananda Swami.' I could not trust myself to speak
for a time,--I was so overcome. Was this, then, the last cruel trick
which Fate had held in reserve?
'Will the Swami take you back?' I asked at length.
men. Sect-mongers rejoice more in capturing
adherents than in comprehending truths. Damini was quite right. There
would be no dearth of room for her at Lilananda's, but-------
said, just at this juncture. 'There is another way. If you
promise not to be angry, I will mention it.'
'Tell me,' said Damini.
'If it is at
all possible for you to think of marrying a creature,
such as I am------'
'What are you
saying, Srivilas Babu?' interrupted Damini. 'Are you
'Suppose I am,'
said I. 'One can sometimes solve insoluble problems by
becoming mad. Madness is like the wishing carpet of the _Arabian
Nights_. It can waft one over the thousand petty considerations which
obstruct the everyday world.'
'What do you call petty considerations?'
'Such as: What
will people think?--What will happen in the
future?--and so on, and so forth.'
'And what about the vital considerations?'
'What do you call vital?' I asked in my turn.
'Such as, for
instance: What will be your fate if you marry a creature
like me?' said Damini.
'If that be
a vital consideration, I am reassured. For I cannot
possibly be in a worse plight than now. Any movement of my prostrate
fortune, even though it be a turning over to the other side, cannot
but be a sign of improvement.'
Of course I
could not believe that some telepathic news of my state of
mind had never reached Damini. Such news, however, had not, so far,
come under the head of 'Important'--at least it had not called for any
notice to be taken. Now action was definitely demanded of her.
Damini was lost in silent thought.
said, 'I am only one of the very ordinary sort of
men,--even less, for I am of no account in the world. To marry me, or
not to marry me, cannot make enough difference to be worth all this
in Damini's eyes. 'Had you been an ordinary man, it
would not have cost me a moment's hesitation,' she said.
After another long silence, Damini murmured: 'You know what I am.'
'You also know what I am,' I rejoined.
Thus was the
proposal mooted, relying more on things unspoken than on
what was said.
Those who, in the old days, had been under the spell of my English
speeches had mostly shaken off their fascination during my absence;
except only Naren, who still looked on me as one of the rarest
products of the age. A house belonging to him was temporarily vacant.
In this we took shelter.
It seemed at
first that my proposal would never be rescued from the
ditch of silence, into which it had lumbered at the very start; or at
all events that it would require any amount of discussion and repair
work before it could be hauled back on the high road of 'yes' or 'no.'
But man's mind
was evidently created to raise a laugh against mental
science, with its sudden practical jokes. In the spring, which now
came upon us, the Creator's joyous laughter rang through and through
this hired dwelling of ours.
All this while
Damini never had the time to notice that I was anybody
at all; or it may be that the dazzling light from a different quarter
had kept her blinded. Now that her world had shrunk around her, it was
reduced to me alone. So she had no help but to look on me with seeing
eyes. Perhaps it was the kindness of my fate which contrived that this
should be her first sight of me.
By river and
hill and seashore have I wandered along with Damini, as
one of Lilananda's kirtan party, setting the atmosphere on fire with
passionate song, to the beat of drum and cymbal. Great sparks of
emotion were set free as we rang the changes on the text of the
Vaishanava poet: _The noose of love hath bound my heart to thy feet_.
Yet the curtain which hid me from Damini was not burnt away.
But what was
it that happened in this Calcutta lane? The dingy houses,
crowding upon one another, blossomed out like flowers of paradise.
Verily God vouchsafed to us a miracle. Out of this brick and mortar He
fashioned a harp-string to voice forth His melody. And with His wand
He touched me, the least of men, and made me, all in a moment,
When the curtain
is there, the separation is infinite; when it is
lifted, the distance can be crossed in the twinkling of an eye. So it
took no time at all. 'I was in a dream,' said Damini. 'It wanted this
shock to wake me. Between that "you" of mine and this "you" of mine,
there was a veil of stupor. I salute my Master again and again, for it
is he who dispelled it.'
said,'do not keep your gaze on me like that. Before, when
you made the discovery that this creation of God is not beautiful, I
was able to bear it; but it will be difficult to do so now.'
'I am making
the discovery,' she replied,'that this creation of God
has its beauty.'
'Your name will
go down in history!' I exclaimed. 'The planting of the
explorer's flag on the South Pole heights was child's play to this
discovery of yours. "Difficult" is not the word for it. You will have
achieved the impossible!'
I had never
realised before how short our spring month of Phalgun is.
It has only thirty days, and each of the days is not a minute more
than twenty-four hours. With the infinite time which God has at His
disposal, such parsimony I failed to understand!
'This mad freak
that you are bent on,' said Damini; 'what will your
people have to say to it?'
'My people are
my best friends. So they are sure to turn me out of
'Next it will
be for you and me to build up a home, fresh from the
very foundations, that will be our own special creation.'
'You must also
fashion afresh the mistress of your house, from the
very beginning. May she also be your creation, with no trace left of
her old battered condition!'
We fixed a day
in the following month for the wedding. Damini insisted
that Satish should be brought over.
'What for?' I asked.
'He must give me away.'
Where the madcap
was wandering I was not sure. I had written several
letters, but with no reply. He could hardly have given up that old
haunted house, otherwise my letters would have been returned as
undelivered. The chances were that he had not the time to be opening
and reading letters.
I, 'you must come with me and invite him personally.
This is not a case for sending a formal invitation letter. I could
have gone by myself, but my courage is not equal to it. For all we
know, he may be on the other side of the river, superintending the
preening of ducks' feathers. To follow him there is a desperate
venture of which you alone are capable!'
Damini smiled. 'Did I not swear I would never pursue him there again?'
'You swore you
would not go to him with food any more. That does not
cover your going over to invite him to a repast!'
This time everything passed off smoothly. We each took Satish by one
hand and brought him along with us back to Calcutta. He was as pleased
as a child receiving a pair of new dolls!
Our idea had
been to have a quiet wedding. But Satish would have none
of that. Moreover, there were the Mussulman friends of Uncle
Jagamohan. When they heard the news, they were so extravagantly
jubilant that the neighbours must have thought it was for the Amir of
Kabul or the Nizam of Hyderabad, at the very least. But the height of
revelry was reached by the newspapers in a very orgy of calumny. Our
hearts, however, were too full to harbour any resentment. We were
quite willing to allow the blood-thirstiness of the readers to be
satisfied, and the pockets of the proprietors to be filled,--along
with our blessings to boot.
'Come and occupy my house, Visri, old fellow,' said Satish.
'Come with us,
too,' I added. 'Let us set to work together over
'No, thank you,' said Satish. 'My work is elsewhere.'
'You won't be
allowed to go till you have assisted at our
house-warming,' insisted Damini.
was not going to be a crowded affair, Satish being the
only guest. But it was all very well for him to say: 'Come and occupy
my house.' That had already been done by his father, Harimohan,--not
directly, but through a tenant. Harimohan would have entered into
possession himself, but his worldly and other-worldly advisers warned
him that it was best not to risk it,--a Mussulman having died there of
the plague. Of course the tenant to whom it was offered ran the same
spiritual and physical risks, but then why need he be told?
How we got the
house out of Harimohan's clutches is a long story. The
Mussulman leather-dealers were our chief allies. When they got to know
the contents of the will, we found further legal steps to be
which I had all along been getting from home was now
stopped. It was all the more of a joy to us to undertake together the
toil of setting up house without outside assistance. With the seal of
Premchand-Roychand it was not difficult for me to secure a
professorship. I was able to supplement my income by publishing notes
on the prescribed text--books, which were eagerly availed of as patent
nostrums for passing examinations. I need not have done so much, for
our own wants were few. But Damini insisted that Satish should not
have to worry about his own living while we were here to prevent it.
There was another
thing about which Damini did not say a word. I had
to attend to it secretly. That was the education of her brother's son
and the marriage of his daughter. Both of these matters were beyond
the means of her brother himself. His house was barred to us, but
pecuniary assistance has no caste to stand in the way of its
acceptance. Moreover, acceptance did not necessarily involve
acknowledgment. So I had to add the sub-editorship of a newspaper to
my other occupations.
Damini, I engaged a cook and two servants. Without
consulting me, Damini sent them packing the very next day. When I
objected, she made me conscious how ill-judged was my attempted
consideration for her. 'If I am not allowed,' she said,'to do my share
of work while you are slaving away, where am I to hide my shame?'
My work outside
and Damini's work at home flowed on together like the
confluent Ganges and Jumna. Damini also began to teach sewing to the
leather-dealers' little girls. She was determined not to take defeat
at my hands. I am not enough of a poet to sing how this Calcutta house
of ours became Brindaban itself, our labours the flute strains which
kept it enraptured. All I can say is that our days did not drag,
neither did they merely pass by,--they positively danced along.
One more springtime came and went; but never another.
Ever since her
return from the cave-temple Damini had suffered from a
pain in her breast, of which, however, she then told no one. This
suddenly took a turn for the worse, and when I asked her about it she
said: 'This is my secret wealth, my touchstone. With it, as dower, I
was able to come to you. Otherwise I would not have been worthy.'
each of them, had a different name for the malady.
Neither did they agree in their prescriptions. When my little hoard of
gold was blown away between the cross-fire of the doctors' fees and
the chemist's bills, the chapter of medicament came to an end, and
change of air was advised. As a matter of fact, hardly anything of
changeable value was left to us except air.
'Take me to
the place from which I brought the pain,' said Damini. 'It
has no dearth of air.'
When the month
of Magh ended with its full moon and Phalgun began,
while the sea heaved and sobbed with the wail of its lonely eternity,
Damini, taking the dust of my feet, bade farewell to me with the
'I have not
had enough of you. May you be mine again in our next