Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part1/Chapter 2


THICK rows of palms skirted the banks of a big tank called “the Bheema.” The golden rays of the declining sun had fallen on its dark waters; the dark shadows of the palms along with the sunbeams had been imprinted on their surface; by the side of a ghât or water-stair-way, a few small trees mantled with creepers and linked together by them, with the branches spreading out up to the water-surface, sheltered from view the water-frolicking ladies. In that dim seclusion Shaibalini and Sundari with metallic pitchers in their hands were sporting with the water.

What is meant by water sporting with a girl? We do not know that, we are not water. He only can tell us who has been melted into water at the sight of beauty. He alone can tell us how the water, tossing up ripples urged by the onset of the pitcher and marking time with the jingle of the ornaments on the arms, dances in unison; how dangling the garland of water-flowers pressing against the heart and swaying the little bird eager in swimming; how circling round and round the girl, peeping at her arms, throat, shoulders, and bosom, and pitching up waves, it dances in unison. He alone can tell us how the girl, letting the pitcher drift at the mercy of the gentle breeze, and sunk in water up to the chin, touches the water with her lips, crimson as the fruit of the balsam—apple, and sends it into her mouth and back again towards the sun, and how in that process the water makes a present of a hundred suns reflected in the falling spray. In the movement of the girl’s limbs the water dances up in jets and her heart also dances with the dancing of the ripple Both are equal—the water is volatile, and the heart of world-upsetting womanhood is volatile likewise. No impression is left on the water——is a young lady's heart anyway different?

The golden sunbeams dissolved in the dark waters of the tank and in a moment every thing was dark, only the palm-tops glistened like golden pennons.

“Sister,” said Sundari, “it is getting on to night; we should not tarry here any longer, come, let us go home.”

“No one is here,” said Shaibalini, “do sing a song dear, softly?”

“Go to, you sinner, come home.”

Shaibalini began to hum the scrap of a song :—

“Home, friend, again I shall not go.
My Cupid lo! is coming there.
Go home again I shall not, oh!”

“Perdition take you! your Cupid is waiting at home—why don’t you go there?”

“Go and tell him that his Psyche finding the water of the Bheema cool, has drowned herself.”

“Now keep your fooling aside. It is already dark, I cannot wait any longer. And then again, Khemi’s mother has declared that a white man has appeared in the neighbourhood to-day.”

“What is there in that for you or me to be afraid of?”

“Eh! is that it? Come out of the water, or else I go.”

"I am not going to get out——you can go.”

Sundari got very much annoyed, filled her pitcher and got upon the bank.

“La!” cried Sundari turning round, “Do you seriously mean to stay alone in the ghât at this time of dusk?”

Shaibalini did not make any reply, and pointed her finger in a particular direction. Following the direction of the finger, Sundari looked and saw on the other side of the tank under a palm-tree——oh, ruination! Without uttering another word she flung the pitcher on the ground from her hip and ran away with breathless speed. The brass pitcher rolled down emitting its watery contents with a gurgling sound and again disappeared in the water.

Sundari had seen an Englishman under the palm-trees.

The sight of the Englishman did not shake Shaibalini out of her place, nor did she get out of the water. She only dipped herself up to the breast and covering just half of her head, including the chignon, with her wet cloth, remained like a blooming water-lily. In the cloud of waters the fixed lightning smiled; in the dark waves of the Bheema the golden lotus opened in bloom.

When he found that Sundari had run away and the coast was clear, the Englishman under cover of the palm-rows slowly crept up to the ghât.

Of a surety he looked young. He had neither moustache nor beard. His hair was dark for an English-man, and so were his eyes. He was smartly dressed, and the watch, chain, ring and other jewellery about his person were nice and decent.

He slowly came up to the ghât and going near the edge of the water said, “ I come again fair lady.”

“I do not understand that rubbish,” said Shaibalini in Bengali.

“Oh—ay—that nasty gibberish! I must speak it, I suppose. (Hum) I, again (aya hai) have come.”

Shaibalini: (In Bengali), “Why, is this the way to Pluto’s abode?”

The Englishman could not understand a word of what Shaibalini said, and asked in Hindustani, “What do you say?”

Shaibalini: (In Bengali) “I say, has (Jom) Pluto forgotten you?”

The Englishman said in Hindustani, “Jom? John you mean? I am not John, I am Lawrence.”

Shaibalini: (In Bengali), “Well, I have learnt one English word at least—Lawrence means a monkey.”

In the dusk of that evening, after being treated to a course of Indian abuse, Lawrence Foster returned to his own place. Descending the bank of the tank, he unfastened his horse from a mango-tree, flung himself across it and rode away. On his way a melody he had once heard mingling with the echoes of the hills on the banks of the Teviot came surging back into his memory. Now and again a thought flitted across his mind: The love of Mary Foster white as driven snow of that cold country, which over-powered me in my younger days, now appears like a dream. Does change of country beget a change of taste? Is the snow-white Mary comparable with the flaming beauty of this Warm region? Can't say.

After Foster had departed, Shaibalini slowly filled her pitcher and placing it on her hip, like a cloud riding on the spring breeze, traced back her slow steps home. Setting the pitcher in its accustomed place she entered the sleeping room.

There Shaibalini’s husband, Chandrashekhar, squatting on a small square blanket, with his waist and knees fastened together with a cloth printed with the sacred names of the gods and an earthenware lamp in front, was poring over manuscripts of hand-made paper. A hundred years have now elapsed since the time we are talking of.

Chandrashekhar was about forty. He was tall of stature with a corresponding powerful frame. He had a massive head and a broad forehead marked with sandalwood paste.[1]

“What should I say,” Shaibalini asked herself as she entered the house, “if he wanted to know the cause of my delay?” But when she went in, Chandrashekhar said nothing. At that time he was deeply engaged in elucidating the meaning of a particular verse of the Brahmasuttras[2]Shaibalini laughed out.

Chandrashekhar looked up and said, “Why this untimely lightning flash?”

“I was thinking what an amount of scolding you would give me,” said Shaibalini.

“Scold you for what?”

“Because I am late in returning from the ghât?”

“Exactly so. Are you just come? Why this delay?’, "A white man appeared. Sister-in-law Sundari was on dry land and she ran away leaving me behind. I was in water; It could not get out through fear, and stood immersed up to my throat. When the man had gone away I got out and came.”

“Don’t come again," said Chandrashekhar in a fit of abstraction, and again bent his mind on the commentary of Shankar.

It was gone far into the night. Chandrashekhar was yet engaged in settling questions of real knowledge, illusion, archetype of sound, necessity and other similar matters. Placing her husband’s plate of rice and curry near him as usual, Shaibalini finished her meal and lay down on a bed in a corner of the room and was soon fast asleep.

In this matter she had her husband’s permission.[3] Chandrashekhar used to carry his studies deep into the night and he was not in the habit of retiring after finishing his evening meal early.

Suddenly the deep hooting of an owl from a neigh-bouring housetop was heard. Then Chandrashekhar became aware that night had far advanced and tied up his manuscripts. Keeping them in their wonted place he stood up to stretch his limbs. Through the open casement his eyes fell on Nature smiling in the rays of the moon. The pencilled moonbeams clustering through the window had fallen on the sleeping beauty of Shaibalini’s face. Chandrashekhar saw with rapture in his heart, that in his house (likened to a tank) the lotus had bloomed in the light of the moon. He stood and stood, and with pleasure-dilated eyes drank in the irreproachable beauty of her countenance. Under the deep black eyebrow like a pencilled bow, he observed her lotus—like eyes remaining closed like sleeping lotus-buds, and marked the soft parallel lines in the long eye-lashes. He marked the small delicate hand resting against the cheek under the influence of sleep, as if a multitude had been heaped on a mass of flowers. The pressure of the hand had parted a little the beautiful luscious lips red with the stain of betel juice partially disclosing the pearly rows of her teeth. Anon the sleeping Shaibalini seemed to smile in some pleasant dream, and it seemed as though a flash of lightning swept across a moonlight sheet, and again the face resumed its former deep-sleep calm. Tears began to flow from Chandrashekhar’s eyes at the sight of the happy face of that girl of twenty reposing in the calm of deep slumber without a trace of voluptuousness about it.

The beauty of Shaibalini’s face quiescent in a profound sleep melted him into tears. “Alas! why did I marry her?” he thought. “This flower would adorn a King’s Crown. Why did I bring this jewel into the but of a learned Brahmin? By bringing her here I have rendered myself happy no doubt, but what is her happiness in it! Considering my age it is impossible to expect any love from her. Nor is there any chance of my love satisfying the craving of her mind. Moreover, I am always busy with my books; when shall I think of her happiness? By handling my books what pleasure can a young girl like her have? I am extremely selfish about my own happiness, and that is what prompted me to marry her. What shall I do now? Shall I throw my books collected at so much trouble into water and make the lotus-like face of a woman the be-all and end-all of mv existence? Fie! fie! I shall not be able to do that. Then will this innocent girl make the scapegoat to expiate my sin? Did I sever this beautiful flower from its stem to be consumed in the fierce flames of a disappointed youth?”

In these thoughts Chandrashekhar forgot to take his meal. The next morning a message came from the Chief Secretary of the Nawab desiring him to come to Murshidabad. The Nawab had some business with him.

  1. Marking the forehead with sandalwood paste forms part of the religious ceremonial of a Hindu.
  2. This is one of the sacred books of the Hindus.
  3. With the Bengali Hindus it is not usual for the wife to take her meal before the husband takes his.