Chandra Shekhar/Part 1/Chapter 2
the bhima tank
N the four sides of the large tank Bhima, there were thick rows of palm trees. The golden rays of the setting sun had fallen on the black waters of the tank, and on its dark bosom were painted the dark shadows of the palm trees, with the sun-shine between them. By the side of a ghat, a small group of shrubby plants, closely knitted together by clustering creepers, served to screen the bashful beauties, playing merry pranks in the water, with their out-stretched boughs. Under the covered shade of that grove, Shaibalini and Sundari, with brass pails in their hands, were in frolic and play with the water.
What does a play between water and a young woman mean? We do not understand it. He, whose heart beauty has melted into water, can alone say what it is. He alone can say how water, being stirred by the pail, breaks into ripples and dances, in perfect harmony, with the melodious music of the ringing ornaments in a woman's hands. He alone can say how it, embellishing her bosom with a garland of its bubbles, dances in that musical concord. He alone can say how it, rocking the playful swimming little bird on its surface, dances in accompaniment to that ringing music. He alone can say how it, raising its little curling waves, leaps and frisks about her hands, her neck, her shoulders and breast, well-regulated by that melodious tune—again, how the sportive beauty in her turn, floating her pail on the surface of the water, entrusting it to the care of the gentle breeze, dips herself in the water up to the chin, touches it with her purple lips, takes it within her little mouth, and sends it up in the air towards the sun—the water while falling down presents her with a hundred sun, in all its glittering particles. At the very movement of her limbs the water dances and shoots up in silvery fountains. Her heart at the same time dances with the waving ripples of the water. Both are of the same nature! Water is fickle and so also the all-captivating heart of women. Water takes no impression, does a young woman's heart take?
The golden rays of the evening sun gradually faded away in the black waters of the tank, and in a moment everything became dark. Only the top of the palm trees began to scintillate like golden flags.
Sundari cried out, "Well, it is getting late. We should not be here any longer. Let us go home."
Shaibalini. No one is here to listen to us, just softly sing a song, dear.
Sundari. Stop, thou naughty creature; come home.
Shaibalini then playfully uttered the first few lines of a Bengali love song—
"To home I won't return,
My love, look, here he comes;
To home I won't return."
Sundari. What a curse it is! Your love is at home, better go there.
Shaibalini. Go and tell him that his sweet-love, finding the waters of the Bhima delightfully cool, has drowned herself in it.
Sundari. Enough, keep your joke aside. It is getting late, I can't wait any longer. Besides, Khemi's mother was telling us that a whiteman has come in our village!
Shaibalini. What need you and I fear in that?
Sundari. Oh, you surprise me! get up or I am off.
Shaibalini. I won't, you better go.
Sundari, in anger, filled her pail and got up on the bank. Turning towards Shaibalini, she again said, "I say, do you really mean to keep here alone, at this late hour?" Shaibalini did not answer, she only pointed out something with her finger. Sundari turned her eyes in that direction—on the other side of the tank, under a palm tree, oh, horrible! Sundari, without uttering a single word, threw down her pail and ran away breathless. The brass pail rolled down the slope, vomiting forth the water within it with a gurgling sound, and entered into the waters of the tank. Sundari had seen a whiteman under the palm tree.
Shaibalini, however, stood firm—she did not get up—she only dipped herself into the water up to her breast, and covering with the wet cloth her braid and only a portion of her head, she remained there like a smiling lily floating on water. A constant flash of lightning smiled in the dark clouds—a golden lily bloomed in the dark ripples of the Bhima.The Englishman now finding Shaibalini alone, stealthily came up very close to the ghat
under the cover of the palm trees. The man was indeed young by appearance. He did not wear a beard or a moustache. His hairs were rather black and his eyes rather dark for an Englishman. He was very gaudily dressed, and there was indeed a good exhibition of chain, ring and other like decorations.
He slowly came up to the ghat, and drawing near the water, said, "I come again, fair lady."
Shaibalini. I don't understand your jargon.
Foster. Oh-ay that nasty gibberish—I must speak it, I suppose. Ham again ayahaya (I come again).
Shaibalini. Why? Is this the way to Yama's* gate?
The Englishman failing to understand her asked, "Keya bolta haya?" (What do you say, lady?)
Shaibalini. I say, has Yama forgotten you?
Foster. Yama! John you mean? I am not John, I am Lawrence.
Shaibalini. It is good after all, I have learnt an English word.—Lawrence means monkey.
In that late hour of the evening, Lawrence Foster thus ridiculed by Shaibalini returned to his own place.
Descending the mounds of the tank, Lawrence Foster untied his horse from the mango tree and rode away, singing lowly the song, he once heard with its echoes from the resounding hills on the banks of the Teviot. At times, he spoke within himself, "The fascination of the snow-white Mary Foster, in which I lost myself in my younger days, is now but a dream. Does change come in the taste of a man, when he comes to live in another land? Is the snow-white Mary to be favourably compared with the flaming beauty of the tropics? I cannot decide."
When Foster left, Shaibalini gently filled her pail and with it she slowly returned home, like the gliding clouds on the back of the gentle breeze of spring. Putting the pail in the proper place, she entered into the bedroom.
In that room, Shaibalini's husband, Chandra Shekhar, sitting on a small piece of blanket stretched on the floor, and having tied, for close attention, both of his thighs with the waist, by a rag painted with sacred symbols, was reading old manuscripts, in the light of the earthen lamp before him. A hundred years have passed since the time of which we are speaking. Chandra Shekhar was then about forty years of age. He was tall in stature, and his body was proportionately stout. He had a large head, with a broad forehead, which was anointed with Chandan.*
While entering the bedroom, Shaibalini thought what she would say to her husband when he would inquire the cause of her returning so late. Chandra Shekhar, however, did not say a word when she entered into the room. He was then busily engaged in making out the sense of a particular text of the Brahmasutras.*
Now, Shaibalini burst into laughter. It was then that Chandra Shekhar looked up, and asked, "Why is the flash of beauty so untimely to-day?"
Shaibalini. I thought you would chide me in anger.
Chandra Shekhar. Why?
Shaibalini. Because I am late in returning from the ghat.
Chandra Shekhar. Oh, I see! You are just come! Why so late?
Shaibalini. An Englishman had come to the ghat. Your cousin Sundari was on the bank at the time and she ran away leaving me alone. I was in the water and could not come up for fear. I went further down and stood motionless where the water reached my neck. I could not get up and come home till the man had left."
"Don't come again," he said in abstraction and again fixed his mind on Shankar's* Commentary.
Night advanced far. Even then, Chandra Shekhar was absorbed in the discussion of Prama,* Maya,* Sphota* and Apaurusheyatya.* Shaibalini was sleeping soundly on a bed, in one corner of the room, after she had kept, as usual, her husband's dishes close by him and had taken her own meals. She had Chandra Shekhar's permission to do so every day; for he used to study far in the night and could not take his meals early and retire.
All on a sudden, the hoarse voice of an owl came from the roof of the house. Chandra Shekhar perceiving that the night had far advanced closed his book and putting it in the proper place, stood up to shake off his drowsiness. His eyes fell upon the beauty of nature which smiled in the moonlight, beyond the open window of his room. The radiant beams of the moon had fallen on the beautiful face of the sleeping Shaibalini. Chandra Shekhar with a delightful heart saw that smiling face and thought, a lily had bloomed on the waters of a pond, in the radiance of the glorious moon. Standing there motionless, he gazed untiringly—his eyes beaming with joy—at Shaibalini's faultless face. Under her dark brows, which were as beautiful as a pair of most artistically painted bows, he saw her beautiful closed eyes, resembling two lilies with folded petals. He saw beautiful fine lines on her thin eyelids, as are seen on the leaf of a tree. He saw that her soft little palm was placed upon her cheek in the unconsciousness of sleep—it appeared, as if, some one had scattered flowers upon flowers. Her beautiful set of pearl-like teeth could be slightly seen between her sweet rosy lips, which had parted a little under the pressure of the hand over her cheek. The sleeping Shaibalini smiled, perhaps, in a pleasant dream—it appeared, as if, there was a flash in the silvery sky of a moonlit night. Her face again became placid in deep slumber. The serene but smiling face of that young lady of twenty, which did not seem to be ruffled by passion, brought tears in Chandra Shekhar's eyes. He thought within himself, "Alas! why have I married Shaibalini? This jewel would adorn the crown of a king—why have I brought it in the cottage of a poor Brahmin, who is always busy with his books? No doubt, she has brought to me happiness with her, but what is that to Shaibalini? My age renders it impossible for her to love me—nor can my love quench the thirst of her yearning heart. Particularly, I am always busy with my books and when do I care for Shaibalini's happiness? What pleasure so young a lady can have in taking care of my books? I selfishly looked to my own happiness and that is why I could think of marrying her. What shall I do now? Shall I throw into water all the books, which I have collected with great pains and make the lily-like face of a woman as my life's sole object of adoration? Oh shame! I cannot do that. Will then poor Shaibalini undergo a penance for my sins? Ah me, did I pluck this beautiful flower, from its stalk, only to see it wither in the fire of unsatiated passions?"
Chandra Shekhar in his abstraction forgot to take his meals. Next morning, a message came from the Mir Munshi that Chandra Shekhar was to start for Murshidabad—the Nawab had some business with him.