Chandra Shekhar/Part 1/Chapter 1
HE ruler of Bengal, Behar and Orissa, Nawab Alija Mir Kasim Khan was then residing in the Monghyr Castle. Within the castle, in the seraglio, was the Rangamahal,* a part of which was looking exceptionally grand and beautiful. It was still the first part of night. Within the royal apartment, there lay stretched, on the beautifully painted floor, an exceedingly soft piece of carpet. A silver lamp, with fragrant oil, was burning there. The chamber was filled with the fragrance of sweet-scented flowers. Resting her little head on a soft silk pillow, there was lying, on a bed, a young lady of small size and girl-like appearance, reading, with careful study, the difficult texts of the Gulesthan.* She was seventeen, but her short-built frame made her look like a pretty little girl. She was reading the Gulesthan, but at times rose from her study and looked around, muttering within herself a world of things. Sometimes she asked herself, "How is it that he is not yet come?" And the next moment, "Why should he? I am only one of his thousand devoted slaves, why should he come all this distance for me?" She again took to her book. But reading a little, she stopped and said, "I cannot enjoy. Well, he may not come but he can send for me. But why should he think of me at all? I am but one of his thousand devoted slaves." She again began to read the Gulesthan, but again closed it, and said, "After all, why God's ways are such? Why does one wait and wait for another, with lingering looks? If that be the will of God, how is it that people do not long for one who is obtainable in life and crave for another who cannot be had? I am a creeper and why do I long to climb the oak?" Then, laying aside the book, she rose up. Her thick curls, which looked like so many flowing snakes, began to swing from her little head, which had a faultless make—the bright golden scarf on her body, which filled the air with sweet fragrance, also began to swing, and a wave of beauty rose in the chamber, as it were, with the very movement of her body, like ripples caused at the slightest agitation in deep waters.
Now, the fair lady took up a little harp, and with a sweet gentle voice began to sing softly, as if she was afraid of listeners. Just then, she heard the greetings of the waiting guards and the footsteps of the Tanjam* carriers. The girl got startled. She walked up to the entrance in great hurry, and found the Nawab's Tanjam there. Nawab Mir Kasim Ali Khan alighted from the Tanjam, and entered into the chamber. "Dalani Bibi, what were you singing just now?" inquired the Nawab pleasantly, as he took his seat. The name of the young lady was probably Doulatunnissa. The Nawab used to call her Dalani, perhaps, to abbreviate her name. So, every one in the palace called her Dalani Bibi or Dalani Begum. Dalani, out of bashfulness, remained silent with downcast eyes. To her misfortune the Nawab said, "Just sing again what you had been singing. I would like to hear it." Now, everything was upset—the strings of the harp became rebellious—nothing could set them in proper tune. She laid aside the harp and took up a violin. The violin again, it seemed, could not be tuned. The Nawab said, "That will do, you just sing with it." At this, Dalani came to suspect that the Nawab thought she had no good sense of music. Then again, Dalani could not open her lips. She attempted several times, but nothing could make them obey her—they remained closed in spite of all efforts. They quivered—they trembled—but, after all, they remained closed. Like the petals of a lily in a cloudy day, they seemed to open but remained closed. Like, a timid poet's verses, or the choked voice of love of a woman, silent in piqued pride, her song seemed to come out but died in her lips.
Then, all on a sudden, Dalani laid aside the harp, and said, "I won't sing."
"What is the matter? Are you displeased with me?" inquired the Nawab in surprise.
Dalani. I shall never again sing in your presence, unless you get for me one of those musical instruments, which Englishmen, in Calcutta, use when they sing.
"I shall certainly give you one, if nothing stands in the way," said Mir Kasim smiling.
Dalani. Why? What would prevent it?
"I am afraid we may fall in a quarrel with the English," observed the Nawab in a sad tone, "why, have you not heard of it?"
"Yes, I have," she replied, and then was silent.
Mir Kasim. What are you thinking of so exclusively, Dalani?
Dalani. You once told me that any one who would quarrel with the English would surely come to grief—why should you then fight with them yourself? I am a girl, your devoted wife—it is impertinence on my part to speak in a matter like this, but I have a right to say—you are kind to me, you love me.
Mir Kasim. It is true, indeed, I love you, Dalani. I never loved nor ever thought of loving a woman so dearly.
Dalani's hairs stood up on their ends. She remained silent for a long time—tears came into her eyes, wiping them away, she said, "If you are sure that whoever would go to fight with the English must be defeated, why are you then preparing for a war against them?" Mir Kasim, in a comparatively low voice, replied, "I have no other alternative. I know you are my own, so I say, in your presence, that I know it for certain that in this struggle I shall lose my kingdom, yea, it may be, even my life. Why should I then go for this war at all? Because, the actions of the English go to show that they are the real masters of the country—I am a ruler in name only. What shall I do with that kingdom where I am not the king? Nor is that all. The English say, 'We are the rulers but you shall oppress the people, in our interest.' Why should I do that? If I cannot govern my kingdom for the good of my people, I shall gladly give it up—why should I, for nothing, share in the burden of sin and disgrace? I am neither Seerajuddaulla nor Mirjafar."
Dalani highly admired in her mind the ruler of Bengal. She said, "My lord, what shall I say to what has fallen from your lips? But I have a favour to ask of you. You must not go to the battle-field yourself."
Mir Kasim. Is it proper that the Nawab of Bengal should listen to the counsel of a girl in a matter like this, or is it pertinent for her to thrust her counsel in so serious an affair?
Dalani was put out of countenance—she was mortified, and said, "Excuse me, I have spoken foolishly. A woman has little self-control and that is why I said all these. But I have another prayer."
"What is it?"
"Would you take me to the field along with you?"
"Why? Do you mean to fight yourself? Tell me, I would then dismiss Gurgan Khan and appoint you instead.
Dalani was again put to the blush, and this time she could not speak. "Why do you like to accompany me," inquired Mir Kasim in an affectionate tone.
"Because I shall be with you," replied Dalani suavely, with a charming earnestness.
Mir Kasim declined. Nothing could persuade him to accede to her wishes. Dalani then said, with a gentle smile, "My lord! you know to read the future, pray see, where shall I be during the war?"
"Very well, let me have pen and ink," said Mir Kasim with a smile.
The attending maid, being asked by Dalani, brought in the golden case of pen and ink.
Mir Kasim had learnt astrology from the Hindus. As instructed, he put down some figures, and began to calculate. After a while, he threw away the paper from his hand and became sad. "What is the result of your calculation?" inquired Dalani anxiously.
"What I see is very strange. You should not hear it," answered Mir Kasim with a melancholy voice.
The Nawab immediately came out, and calling the Mir Munshi* before him, said, "Issue orders to a Hindu officer, at Murshidabad, to send here Chandra Shekhar, a learned Brahmin, who taught me astrology. He lives at Bedagram, a place very close to Murshidabad. He should be summoned here to calculate where would Dalani Begum be, at the time of, and after, the war with the English, if it breaks out at all."
The Mir Munshi, as ordered, sent for Chandra Shekhar, at Murshidabad.