Durgesa Nandini/Book 2/Chapter 1

 

PART II.

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CHAPTER I.

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AESHA.

When Jagat Singha opened his eyes, he found himself in a handsome chamber and lying upon a couch. He could not remember ever having been in the place before. The room was spacious and richly furnished. The marble-paved floor was covered with a soft carpet, over which were ranged rose-water pots and other articles of silver, gold, ivory and such things. Blue screens hung in front of the doors, and softened ere they admitted the day into the chamber. The place was perfumed with various odours.

All was still as death. A maid-servant was noiselessly fanning the Prince with a fan sprinkled with fragrant waters; another stood at a little distance mute and motionless as a statue. Beside the Prince on the ivory-inlaid couch sat a woman engaged in applying some salve to his wounds. On the carpet below sat a well-dressed Pathan, chewing betel and reading a Persian work. But none was speaking or breaking the utter silence of the place.

The Prince looked round. He tried to turn but could not do so on account of severe pain all over his body.

"Be still, Sir. Don't move," said the woman beside him in a soft, sweet tone.

"Where am I?" enquired the Prince faintly.

"Pray Sir, be quiet," said she in the same musical tone. "You are in a proper place, Sir. Don't be uneasy. Don't speak."

"What's the time now?" asked the Prince still more faintly.

"'Tis afternoon" replied she "Be quiet, I beseech you. You won't come all right if you talk; and we must leave the place."

"One word more,"—said he with an effort, "who are you,?"

"Aesha," replied the damsel.

The Prince fell to studying Aesha’s countenance in silence. Had he seen her before? No.

Aesha might be twenty-two. She was beautiful to a degree; but it is not possible to depict that style of beauty in a word or two. Tilottama also was exceedingly beautiful; but Aesha's beauty was not of that type. The charms of the ever young Bimala also fascinated people; but neither could they claim fellowship with Aesha's transcendental graces. The loveliness of some damsels is like the blossoming of the vernal Mallika[1]—fresh-blooming, closing for bashfulness, tender, serenely bright and deliciously fragrant. Tilottama was such an one. Some women are like the afternoon Stala-padma,[2] odourless, about to close, wanting moisture, yet graceful, full-blown, splendid and ripe with honey. Such were the charms of Bimala. Aesha resembled the lotus expanding itself to the rosy touch of the morning sun—so beautifully blooming, so exquisitely fragrant, so overflowing with honey, so resplendent; neither closing nor lacking moisture, and 'clothed with transcendent brightness.' The rays of the sun are beaten off by the expanded leaves, yet its face ever beams with a smile. O reader, have you ever witnessed 'beauty's splendour'? You may at least have heard of such a thing. Many a fair one illumines all round with her beauty. The daughter-in-law of many a man illumines his home. In the land of Vraja[3] and in the war of Nisumbha,[4] the world was ablaze with dark lustre. But has the gentle reader now understood what I mean by 'beauty's splendour'? Bimala shined in beauty but her light was that of the pradipa,[5] somewhat dim, wanting oil, though sufficient for domestic use; it can light you from room to room; with it you can cook your food, prepare your bed &c; but you must not touch it, on pain of being burnt. Tilottama too shined in beauty but her light was like the soft rays of the crescent moon—pure, balmy, cool, but ill fitted for daily use, not powerful and coming from afar. Aesha shined in beauty, and it was the full effulgence of the mid-day sun,—flaming, darting myriads of rays and imprinting a laugh on whatever it fell.

What the lotus is to the garden is Aesha to this story; and I am therefore anxious to make the reader realize her form and face. Were I gifted with a cunning pencil—could I prepare that color—not champaka-like, nor red, nor yet like the unblown white lotus, but a happy mixture of all three—could I truthfully paint that forehead of hers, so faultlessly round and deliciously expansive—the very field of Cupid—over which appeared the fine curves of her hair,—could I prolong them as finely over her smooth and round forehead—could I turn them off in the same way over her ears—could I paint her black silken hair,—could I in the same way part them above her forehead—could I dress them in the same neat and elegant fashion—could I weave her dangling braid—could I depict those dense eyebrows—could I show how they attempted to kiss each other and how by gentle degrees attaining bulk they visibly increased in breadth ere they had yet reached the middle, and then by as soft gradations ended in an exquisitely fine point near her hair—could I show all this—could I moreover paint those tender, nimble lids which looked like clouds flashing with lightning—could I transfer to the canvass the expanse of those eyes—the graceful curves of the upper and lower lids—that azure lustre so finely touched with red—those dark pupils—that acquiline nose with nostrils dilated with pride—those lips, the home of Nature's sweets—that alabaster neck over which fell her braid—those full blown cheeks which ever and anon attemped to kiss her pendants—those fully developed, delicate arms shining with gems—those fingers before which the gems on the rings grew pale—those hands which in hue might vie with the land-lotus—the pomp and grandeur of her swelling bust, which shamed the brightness of the pearl chain which fell over it—the 'mighty magic' of her stature,

"O call it middle not tall!"

Could I do all this, yet I would not touch the pencil. Aesha's beauty was the only reality in this unreal world;—she was the master work of nature's hand;—her side-glance was like the blue lotus waving in the evening breeze. Ah! how can I hope to paint her without the help of inspiration?

The Prince gazed at Aesha. Immediately the thought of Tilottama arose in his mind; and he felt the iron entering his soul. The blood coursed violently through his veins, and gushed out afresh from the deep wounds; he closed his eyes and sank in insensibility. The lovely lady on the couch immediately arose. The person who sat on the carpet reading, from time to time lifted his eyes from the book and saw Aesha lovingly;—for a long while he gazed with insatiate eyes at her waving pendants, as she arose. Aesha softly approached to him and whispered into his ear,

"Osman, send for the physician, sharp"; for it was no other than the conqueror of the castle. On receiving this communication, he went out. Aesha took a vessel which stood upon a silver stool, and drenched the prince's forehead and face with some liquid.

Osman Khan soon came back with the physician, who after a variety of expedients succeeded in stopping the bleeding and handed to Aesha various medicines, giving directions in a low tone for their use.

"Pray, what do you think of him, Sir," said she in the physician's ear.

"O the fever is awful!" replied he.

He saluted them and was going out, when Osman overtook him near the door and asked him in an undertone,

"What do you think of his recovery, Sir?"

"I am not hopeful, you know," said he, "but please call me again, when the fit returns."

 

  1. A species of the jasmine.
  2. Land-lotus.
  3. Vraja was the scene of Krishna's amours.
  4. Nisumbha was a demon killed by Kali,—the personification of the cosmic force.
  5. The common earthen lamp used by Bengalis.