Mashi and Other Stories/Raja and Rani
RAJA AND RANI
RAJA AND RANI
Bipin Kisore was born "with a golden spoon in his mouth"; hence he knew how to squander money twice as well as how to earn it. The natural result was that he could not live long in the house where he was born.
He was a delicate young man of comely appearance, an adept in music, a fool in business, and unfit for life's handicap. He rolled along life's road like the wheel of Jagannath's car. He could not long command his wonted style of magnificent living.
Luckily, however, Raja Chittaranjan, having got back his property from the Court of Wards, was intent upon organizing an Amateur Theatre Party. Captivated by the prepossessing looks of Bipin Kisore and his musical endowments, the Raja gladly "admitted him of his crew."
Chittaranjan was a B.A. He was not given to any excesses. Though the son of a rich man, he used to dine and sleep at appointed hours and even at appointed places. And he suddenly became enamoured of Bipin like one unto drink. Often did meals cool and nights grow old while he listened to Bipin and discussed with him the merits of operatic compositions. The Dewan remarked that the only blemish in the otherwise perfect character of his master was his inordinate fondness for Bipin Kisore.
Rani Basanta Kumari raved at her husband, and said that he was wasting himself on a luckless baboon. The sooner she could do away with him, the easier she would feel.
The Raja was much pleased in his heart at this seeming jealousy of his youthful wife. He smiled, and thought that women-folk know only one man upon the earth—him they love; and never think of other men's deserts. That there may be many whose merits deserve regard, is not recorded in the scriptures of women. The only good man and the only object of a woman's favours is he who has blabbered into her ears the matrimonial incantations. A little moment behind the usual hour of her husband's meals is a world of anxiety to her, but she never cares a brass button if her husband's dependents have a mouthful or not. This inconsiderate partiality of the softer sex might be cavilled at, but to Chittaranjan it did not seem unpleasant. Thus, he would often indulge in hyperbolic laudations of Bipin in his wife's presence, just to provoke a display of her delightful fulminations.
But what was sport to the "royal" couple, was death to poor Bipin. The servants of the house, as is their wont, took their cue from the Rani's apathetic and wilful neglect of the wretched hanger-on, and grew more apathetic and wilful still. They contrived to forget to look after his comforts, to Bipin's infinite chagrin and untold sufferings.
Once the Rani rebuked the servant Puté, and said: "You are always shirking work; what do you do all through the day?" "Pray, madam, the whole day is taken up in serving Bipin Babu under the Maharaja's orders," stammered the poor valet.
The Rani retorted: "Your Bipin Babu is a great Nawab, eh?" This was enough for Puté. He took the hint. From the very next day he left Bipin Babu's orts as they were, and at times forgot to cover the food for him. With unpractised hands Bipin often scoured his own dishes and not unfrequently went without meals. But it was not in him to whine and report to the Raja. It was not in him to lower himself by petty squabblings with menials. He did not mind it; he took everything in good part. And thus while the Raja's favours grew, the Rani's disfavour intensified, and at last knew no bounds.
Now the opera of Subhadraharan was ready after due rehearsal. The stage was fitted up in the palace court-yard. The Raja acted the part of "Krishna," and Bipin that of "Arjuna." Oh, how sweetly he sang! how beautiful he looked! The audience applauded in transports of joy.
The play over, the Raja came to the Rani and asked her how she liked it. The Rani replied: "Indeed, Bipin acted the part of 'Arjuna' gloriously! He does look like the scion of a noble family. His voice is rare!" The Raja said jocosely: "And how do I look? Am I not fair? Have I not a sweet voice?" "Oh, yours is a different case!" added the Rani, and again fell to dilating on the histrionic abilities of Bipin Kisore.
The tables were now turned. He who used to praise, now began to deprecate. The Raja, who was never weary of indulging in high-sounding panegyrics of Bipin before his consort, now suddenly fell reflecting that, after all, unthinking people made too much of Bipin's actual merits. What was extraordinary about his appearance or voice? A short while before he himself was one of those unthinking men, but in a sudden and mysterious way he developed symptoms of thoughtfulness!
From the day following, every good arrangement was made for Bipin's meals. The Rani told the Raja: "It is undoubtedly wrong to lodge Bipin Babu with the petty officers of the Raj in the Kachari; for all he now is, he was once a man of means." The Raja ejaculated curtly: "Ha!" and turned the subject. The Rani proposed that there might be another performance on the occasion of the first-rice ceremony of the "royal" weanling. The Raja heard and heard her not.
Once on being reprimanded by the Raja for not properly laying his cloth, the servant Puté replied: "What can I do? According to the Rani's behests I have to look after Bipin Babu and wait on him the livelong day." This angered the Raja, and he exclaimed, highly nettled: "Pshaw! Bipin Babu is a veritable Nawab, I see! Can't he cleanse his own dishes himself?" The servant, as before, took his cue, and Bipin lapsed back into his former wretchedness.
The Rani liked Bipin's songs — they were sweet — there was no gainsaying it. When her husband sat with Bipin to the wanted discourses of sweet music of an evening, she would listen from behind the screen in an adjoining room. Not long afterwards, the Raja began again his old habit of dining and sleeping at regular hours. The music came to an end. Bipin's evening services were no more needed.
Raja Chittaranjan used to look after his zemindari affairs at noon. One day he came earlier to the zenana, and found his consort reading something. On his asking her what she read, the Rani was a little taken aback, but promptly replied: "I am conning over a few songs from Bipin Babu's song-book. We have not had any music since you tired abruptly of your musical hobby." Poor woman! it was she who had herself made no end of efforts to eradicate the hobby from her husband's mind.
On the morrow the Raja dismissed Bipin — without a thought as to how and where the poor fellow would get a morsel henceforth!
Nor was this the only matter of regret to Bipin. He had been bound to the Raja by the dearest and most sincere tie of attachment. He served him more for affection than for pay. He was fonder of his friend than of the wages he received. Even after deep cogitation, Bipin could not ascertain the cause of the Raja's sudden estrangement. "'Tis Fate! all is Fate!" Bipin said to himself. And then, silently and bravely, he heaved a deep sigh, picked up his old guitar, put it up in the case, paid the last two coins in his pocket as a farewell bakshish to Puté, and walked out into the wide wide world where he had not a soul to call his friend.
- Kachari, generally anglicized as cuteberry: offices and courts.