An Unfinished Song/Chapter 1

AN UNFINISHED SONG

CHAPTER I

"Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
'Tis woman's whole existence."

He who wrote the above lines was a great man. It seems wonderful that a man should have read the inner nature of woman so clearly as to become aware of this subtle fact. In my own life, I feel that every word of it is true. When I retrace the history of my life, as far back as memory carries me, I see that I have always loved; love and life have been so blended that they became one. And were this love ever taken from me, life would be worthless, a mere blank, my individuality lost.

What was my age when love first came? I do not know the day and year of my birth. We had no horoscope cast, my sister and I. Once I found among a pile of waste paper an old note-book of my father's in which the dates of these important events were recorded. I tore out the page containing the record and pasted it in the corner of my song book, but the book got lost in course of time as books will. A search was made for it, and all the books I had ever possessed were brought together. The very scribbling block on which I had first practised the art of writing in big letters, from right to left and from left to right, even this appeared, but the song book, the book that was wanted above all others, was never found. Men will smile when I tell them of this lack of knowledge; they will grow sceptical over my simplicity. But women know what a difficult thing it is for the female memory to retain mere numbers. Both days and years escape them in their flight. We have no trouble in guessing the right day of the week, because weeks are short and quick to recur. But when we are asked the exact date of some bygone event, I would not ask any one to place reliance on our statements. We remember days by events, and only those days interest us on which events took place in which we were concerned. Let me, for instance, recall my sister's marriage. Before my mind's eye appears a moonlight night in the month of Falgoon.[1] I still see the calm moon in the clear sky. I see a night made bright by the lights and the merriment of the bridal fête. But the full moon and the bridal song did not record numbers. Ask me not for the year, because years are to us only numbers, formless things following each other silently, and like a sage meditating on the Being without form or quality, so has the woman to stop and think and count backward and forward and backward again when she wants to trace the year in which a certain event occurred. But there is one thing the great God in His mercy has made impossible for her. She cannot, however hard she may try, count backward to the day of her birth. That event is happily shrouded in oblivion.

It is all a great riddle, a mystery—this birth of man. The constellations are busily at work at a certain moment to prepare a future for him, but he who is most concerned is oblivious to it all. So after all it is no fault of mine if I know not the year in which my life commenced. I seem to remember 1882 or 1883, but how far these figures are exact I cannot tell. And after all is there really any one who is the loser by this uncertainty? The loss is neither mine nor the reader's. If the want of knowledge of these three hundred and sixty-five days would shorten or lengthen a man's life to that extent, it would be a different matter. But as it is, man may forget time, but time will never forget man. My age will be the same whether I realise it or not, and it does not matter much to the reader if I am twenty instead of nineteen. Let me assume then that I am nineteen in order to settle the question finally. I am still a spinster. This may be a source of surprise to one who understands this land of ours; but it is gradually changing, for are there not many maids unmarried in this advanced age who count as many years as I do? And if a surprise it be I have a still greater in store for my readers. I, a Hindu maiden, knew love before I entered wedlock. I loved a man without even expecting him to become my husband.

I do not remember my mother; I lost her in my infancy. But my father's devotion offered compensation, and I loved him with a fondness greater than which no child could bestow on its mother. It is often argued that filial and conjugal affection are feelings of a very different nature. But my impression has been just the reverse. Here again I may differ from my reader. What the lover is to youth the parents are to childhood—the object of worship and affection, the idol of the heart. It has always seemed to me that a parent is protector and lover blended in one. Towards both we are drawn by the same desire, to make the beloved a part of ourselves, to have complete possession. The disappointment is the same in each case when love is not reciprocated, and we feel an equal readiness to embrace pain and adversity in order to promote the happiness of the beloved.

I had a sister but we had become somewhat estranged from each other. She was four or five years older than I, and lived with our father's sister in Calcutta for her education. I loved my sister dearly, and was delighted whenever she came home on a visit, but if she took up too much of my father's attention, if she claimed his affection in too great a degree, I ceased to appreciate her. After dinner my father was in the habit of lying down to enjoy his "gurguri" (large hookah). In this quiet hour he would soon find his little girls on either side of him. When alone with him I used to consider it my special privilege to twine my arms round his neck. In this way I chatted with him, asking every evening anew the same question, "Whom do you love best?" to which he invariably replied that he loved both alike. But notwithstanding this I used to be quite certain in my mind that he loved me most. "Do you say this because you fear my sister will get angry?" I would question. This only made him smile and remain firm in his assertion.

I still remember the many ways in which I used to show my solicitude for him. If it was cold in winter, his warm clothing was insufficient to keep him warm, it required my little shawl to cover him and protect him from the cold. The punkah coolie could not do his duty in the summer, father would certainly be very uncomfortable unless I plied my little hand-fan to cool him. I remember I used to make cuts in the potatoes, and decorate them after my own fashion, so that they might please him when they were placed before him. Although I often cut my fingers during this performance I could not be induced to abstain from it. If the cook listened to my entreaties to let me put the salt into the curry, I thought how very palatable it now must be for father. If ever he had to hurry off to office without taking the betel I had prepared for him, I would go without food that day. My poor widowed aunt who superintended our household used to be put to great difficulty because she could get no flowers for her worship; for with the early dawn I was in the garden gathering all the opened buds for father, and no one else dared to claim one.

I remember that I was ill once while my sister was at home on a visit, and she took upon herself the duty of gathering flowers and presenting them to my father. Oh, how this pained me; I suffered more from it than from my illness. If I became cross and naughty, nothing would make me behave better so quickly as the threat, "You will not be allowed to rest with your father after dinner to-night."

I was at most five years old at the time of which I am writing. My young life was inundated with love, and from it I have drawn the conclusion that love is ever the same, whether it be between parent and child, brother and sister or youth and maiden. It is born in affection towards the parent, then passing in its development through the stages of love for brothers and sisters, and the fondness of friendship, it finally finds its full expression in the passion of youth and maiden. Just as I am the same individual now that I was in my infancy although I have assumed a different appearance through the growth and expansion of body and mind, so love is the same, though it grows, expands and blossoms out from infantile affection into the passion of youth. It can then no longer be sustained by the limited ideas of childhood, it seeks another object to which to attach itself, and as it passes through the different stages the heart learns in the end to yearn after the supreme ideal. That woman is blessed who, having found her idol, surrenders herself in worship to him entirely. That man is blessed who, once installed in the shrine of a consecrated heart, dedicates himself to her and thus justifies the end of life. That love alone is true which, based on self-abnegation, endures in its fullness throughout all time.

Thus I love father much even now. I would gladly sacrifice myself to procure his happiness, but he is no longer the only object of my affection, aspiration, desire, worship and contemplation, my only source of happiness. My all-pervading, all-embracing love did not twine around him alone very long. While I was still a child a rival appeared to share it.

 

  1. The first month of the Indian Spring, which begins from the middle of February.