Broken Ties/Chapter IV
|Chapter III. Damini|| Broken Ties
Chapter IV. Srivilas
written by Rabindranath Tagore
|1925. Published with Broken Ties and Other Stories.|
Chapter IV. Srivilas
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.
This scarcely 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.
Why? Because 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.”
Satish threw a nervous glance at Damini,—there may have been a suggestion of dread in it.
Damini clasped her hands as she said imploringly: “I have accepted you as my guru.
Whatever my 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 being aglow?
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 better.”
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 on——?”
“Oh, why will you——” burst out Satish, but as his glance fell on Damini's face he stopped short.
Damini said nothing further. Tray in hand she retraced her steps through the sand, which glared round her like the eye of a tiger in the dark.
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 nor help.”
“But consider, 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 body.”
“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 be comforted.”
“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!”
“Haven't they!” Damini flared up. “So wonderful, rather, is the vision of their eyes, it turns everything topsy-turvy.”
“Ah, woman,” 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.”
Damini softly 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 understand this.”
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 Him.”
I cannot say whether Damini understood Satish's words, but she understood Satish. With her hands folded on her lap she kept quite still.
“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.
Damini went back to her own room and sat long on the threshold. No one returned. The fury of the wind went on increasing in violence.
Damini could 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!”
Satish came 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.
Next morning, 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.
At parting, Damini made her obeisance to Satish, saying: “I have grievously sinned at your feet. May I hope for pardon?”
Satish, with his eyes fixed on the ground, replied: “I also have sinned. Let me first purge my sin away, and then will I claim forgiveness.”
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 Satish.
Damini stopped 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.”
It appeared 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 no room?
“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.
Damini understood 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——-
“Damini,” I 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 mad?”
“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.
“Damini,” I 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 thought.”
Tears glistened 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, wonderful.
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.”
“Damini,” I 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 their house.”
“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.
“Damini,” said 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 again.”
“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.
This function 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 superfluous.
The allowance 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.
Without consulting 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.”
The doctors, 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 words:
“I have not had enough of you. May you be mine again in our next birth.”