Kopal-Kundala/In the Female Apartments

Chapter VI.

In the Female Apartments.

It is well known that in former times Septogram was a city of great wealth. At one time the merchants of every country from Java to Constantinople used to collect in that great city for commerce; but in the tenth or eleventh century of the Bengal era the pristine magnificence of Septogram declined. The principal reason for the decline lay in the fact that the river, which used to wash past the outskirts of the city, had now become a narrow stream, so that ships of large burden could no longer come up to the city. For this reason its extensive trade gradually disappeared. When a commercial city loses its commerce, it loses everything: Septogram lost everything. In the eleventh century Hooghly, with its newly acquired grandeur, began to rival it, and the Portuguese set on foot a trade which was gradually dragging the goddess of wealth away from Septogram. But even then Septogram had not altogether lost its former magnificence; it was still the residence of the Foujdar and other royal Ministers. However, a large portion of the city had become poor and depopulated, and now resembled a mere hamlet.

Nobokumar's house was in a desolate suburb of Septogram, which was now very little frequented in the present shattered fortunes of the city. The roads were overgrown with creepers and shrubs, and behind Nobokumar's house was a dense extensive forest. In front of it, at a distance of about two miles, flowed a small stream, which, after skirting a small jungle, entered the forest behind the house. The house was made of brick, and was not a bad-sized house for that period and place. It was two-storeyed, but not very high. At the present time many one-storeyed houses are as high.

Two young girls were standing on the terrace of this house, and enjoying the view. It was evening; the outlook on all sides was enchanting. On one side, close by, was a dense forest, in which countless birds were singing; on the opposite side a small stream lay like a silver thread. At a distance sparkled the countless terraced roofs of the city, full of townsmen eager to quaff the spring breezes. In another direction, some distance away, twilight was gradually deepening down on the broad bosom of the Bhagirutti, adorned with boats.

Of the two young women standing on the terrace, the complexion of one was like the rays of the moonlight; she was half-concealed by her masses of unconfined hair. The other was dark, beautiful, and sixteen. Her body and face were both small. The upper portion of her face was encircled with tiny black curls, as the leaves of the blue lotus encircle the lotus flower. Her eyes were large, and of a tender white colour, like the saphri fish. Her fingers were very small, and buried in the waves of her companion's hair. The reader has understood that the girl with the complexion of moonlight was Kopal-Kundala; and I will inform him that the dark one was her husband's sister,[1] Shamasoondri.

Shamasoondri sometimes called her brother's wife "Bo,"[2] and sometimes affectionately "Bon," and sometimes "Mrino." The name of Kopal-Kundala being terribly long, the family had nicknamed her "Mrinomoi;" hence the title "Mrino." We too shall sometimes call her Mrinomoi.

Shamasoondri was repeating a bit of poetry she had learnt as a child. She said, "Will you alone remain a devotee?"

Mrinomoi replied, "Why, am I doing any penance?"

Shamasoondri, lifting Mrinomoi's waves of hair with her hands, said, "Aren't you going to do up your masses of hair?"

Mrinomoi only smiled and pulled her hair away from Shamasoondri's hand.

Shamasoondri again said, "Well, do what I wish, and for once dress yourself like us grihusti[3] women. How long will you remain an ascetic?"

Mri. I was an ascetic before I had seen this Brahman youth.

Sha. You must be one no longer.

Mri. Why not?

Sha. Why? d'you wish to see? I will break your asceticism. Do you know what they call the touchstone?

Mrinomoi said, "No."

Sha. The touchstone turns even copper into gold.

Mri. What of that?

Sha. Women also have their touchstone.

Mri. What is that?

Sha. Man. By the breath of man even the Jogini[4] is changed into the Grihini.[5] You have touched that stone, you will see.

"I will tie up your masses of hair, I will put fine clothes on you,
I will hang flowers from your top-knot;
I will put the sithi[6] on your forehead, on your waist the chandrahar,[6]
And a pair of ear-rings in your ears.
I will give you saffron, sandal, myrrh, and plates of pán and betel-nut.
Your face will be red in colour.
I will place in your lap a gold doll-child,
And see if you like it or not."

Mrinomoi said, "Well, I understand. Suppose I have touched the touchstone, and have become gold: I tie up my hair, I wear fine clothes, I put flowers in my hair-knot, a chandrahar on my waist, and ear-rings in my ears. Sandal, saffron, myrrh, pan, betel-nut and gold doll,—I have them all. I have them all, mind you; but admitting all this, what happiness have I?"

Sha. Tell me, what pleasure has the flower in blooming?

Mri. Those who see it experience pleasure; but what pleasure has the flower?

Shamasoondri's face became grave; her eyes shook a little like a blue lotus struck by the

morning wind. She said, "What pleasure has the flower? That I cannot say. I have never been a flower and bloomed; but had I been a bud like you, then I should have found pleasure in blooming."

Shama was the wife of a Kulin.[7]

We will take this opportunity of informing the reader that a flower feels pleasure in blooming; its pleasure consists in the bestowal of its juice and fragrance. Giving and receiving are the bases of all pleasure: there is no third basis. Mrinomoi, from living in the wilds, had never realised this, therefore she made no reply.

Shamasoondri, observing her silence, said, "Well, if this is not so, then tell me in what does your pleasure consist?"

Mrinomoi thought for a little, and said, "I cannot say. I think I should be happy if I could wander about in those forests by the sea-shore."

Shamasoondri was a little astonished. She was also somewhat vexed that Mrinomoi had not benefited by their care. She was a little angry also, and said, "Have you any means of going back now?"

Mri. No.

Shama. Then what will you do?

Mri. The Adhikari used to say, "Destiny must be fulfilled."

Shamasoondri put her face in her cloth, and said, laughing, "Certainly, Mr. Bhuttacharjya,[8] what is all that?"

Mrinomoi heaved a sigh and said, "I will do whatever the Creator causes me to do; whatever is in my fate must come to pass."

Sha. Why, whatever is in your fate? There is happiness in your fate. Why do you sigh so deeply?

Mrinomoi said, "Listen. On the day I set out with my husband, just before starting I went to place three leaves at Bhobani's feet. I never used to do anything without placing three leaves at the mother's lotus feet. If the undertaking was to be successful, the mother used to accept the three leaves; if there was likely to be any disaster, the leaves used to fall. I felt some hesitation in coming with an unknown man to an unknown country; I went to the mother to know what was fitting. The mother did not accept the three leaves, so I cannot say what is in store for me."

Mrinomoi remained silent; Shamasoondri shuddered.


  1. The Bengalees have a different word for husband's sister (nonod) and wife's sister (bhouj). The nonod is often inimical to the bhouj, and the feeling between them corresponds to the proverbial feeling between mothers-in-law and sons-in-law in England.
  2. "Bo"=daughter-in-law. Kopal-Kundala was the daughter-in-law of the house.
  3. Grihusti woman means a respectable female member of a respectable family. Even a widow living alone may be spoken of as grihusti, in contradistinction to ghusgi, which means a woman of somewhat loose morals.
  4. Jogini, a female ascetic.
  5. Grihini, the mistress or matron of a household, often spoken of as "Ginni."
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sithi, also called simontini, an ornament which is worn along the parting at the top of the head, and stretches along the edge of the forehead on either side to the ears. Chandrahar is a silver waist-belt. The ornaments of Bengali women are numerous and varied. Perhaps the commonest way of investing savings is to spend it on ornaments for the wife or other female members of the family. The gold used is pure, so that the ornaments, when sold, realise almost as much as they cost, whereas English ornaments rarely realise more than twenty per cent. of their cost price. It may be said that the end-all and be-all of a Bengali woman's existence is to wear as many ornaments as possible. When they pay visits, they often borrow ornaments from their female friends. The lower castes, who cannot afford gold or silver, wear brass, bell-metal, zinc, &c. The Ooria women wear large brass ornaments which cover their arms from the wrist to the elbow. In this and other matters of taste and perception, the Ooria lags far behind the Bengali. But Bengali women are by no means of opinion that beauty when unadorned is adorned the most! Their ambition is to possess a complete set of ornaments. For instance, there are no fewer than six different sorts of bracelets for the wrist, as churi, bala, &c. Then there are six different armlets worn above the elbow, e.g., tabiz, bazu, ananta, &c. The prettiest ornament is the gold chik or necklace. The ears are pierced in three places, at the top, at the bottom, and in the middle. Then there are various sorts of waistlets and anklets, and rings on the fingers and toes. Love of ornaments may be called an important factor for evil or for good in Bengali social life.
  7. This means that Shama never or scarcely ever was blessed with the sight of her husband. Large sums are paid by fathers of girls for Kulin bridegrooms. A Kulin Brahman girl, to preserve her caste and social position intact, must be married to a Kulin bridegroom. So it happens that Kulin youths are sometimes married to ten or twenty different wives. They can visit the houses of their numerous fathers-in-law, and are not only well entertained when there, but expect a present on coming away. There have been cases in which poor fathers of Kulin girls have taken them and had them wedded to old men on the point of death. They cannot afford to pay for a young and suitable bridegroom, and it is an indelible disgrace for their daughters to remain unmarried. On the other hand, Brahmans of lower family have to pay for a bride, and a Piroli or a Bhuttacharjya may reach the age of thirty-five before he can afford to marry. The state of things is not so bad as it used to be. The feeling of the upper classes of Hindoos is strongly in favour of monogamy, and a Kulin who marries many wives is regarded with some contempt and aversion. For instance, a Kulin weds the daughter of a rich Tagore (Piroli) family. The wife is the mistress and probably remains on in her father's house. The husband falls into the position of a sort of paid retainer and loses respect and dignity. Even among the Mussulmans one wife is the rule. In case of barrenness, or misconduct of the first wife, a second wife is married nika. But, in the absence of sufficient cause, the man who inflicts a sotin (co-wife) on his first wife is considered worthy of blame.
  8. Mrinomoi had spoken in Sanskrit, so Shamasoondri jokingly calls her Bhuttacharjya, that is, a Brahman who teaches Sanskrit in a small tole or school.