The Home and the World/Chapter 6/Sandip's Story
Bimala sent for me that day, but for a time she could not utter a word; her eyes kept brimming up to the verge of overflowing. I could see at once that she had been unsuccessful with Nikhil. She had been so proudly confident that she would have her own way,—but I had never shared her confidence. Woman knows man well enough where he is weak, but she is quite unable to fathom him where he is strong. The fact is that man is as much a mystery to woman as woman is to man. If that were not so, the separation of the sexes would only have been a waste of Nature's energy.
Ah pride, pride! The trouble was, not that the necessary thing had failed of accomplishment, but that the entreaty, which had cost her such a struggle to make, should have been refused. What a wealth of colour and movement, suggestion and deception, group themselves round this 'me' and 'mine' in woman. That is just where her beauty lies,—she is ever so much more personal than man. When man was being made, the Creator was a schoolmaster,—His bag full of commandments and principles; but when He came to woman, He resigned His headmastership and turned artist, with only His brush and paint-box.
When Bimala stood silently there, flushed and tearful in her broken pride, like a storm-cloud, laden with rain and charged with lightning, lowering over the horizon, she looked so absolutely sweet that I had to go right up to her and take her by the hand. It was trembling, but she did not snatch it away. 'Bee,' said I, 'we two are colleagues, for our aims are one. Let us sit down and talk it over.'
I led her, unresisting, to a seat. But strange! at that very point the rush of my impetuosity suffered an unaccountable check,—just as the current of the mighty Padma, roaring on in its irresistible course, all of a sudden gets turned away from the bank it is crumbling by some trifling obstacle beneath the surface. When I pressed Bimala's hand my nerves rang music, like tuned-up strings; but the symphony stopped short at the first movement.
What stood in the way? Nothing singly; it was a tangle of a multitude of things,—nothing definitely palpable, but only that unaccountable sense of obstruction. Anyhow, this much has become plain to me, that I cannot swear to what I really am. It is because I am such a mystery to my own mind that my attraction for myself is so strong! If once the whole of myself should become known to me, I would then fling it all away,—and reach beatitude!
As she sat down, Bimala went ashy pale. She, too, must have realized what a crisis had come and gone, leaving her unscathed. The comet had passed by, but the brush of its burning tail had overcome her. To help her to recover herself I said: 'Obstacles there will be, but let us fight them through, and not be down-hearted. Is not that best, Queen?'
Bimala cleared her throat with a little cough, but simply to murmur: 'Yes.'
'Let us sketch out our plan of action,' I continued, as I drew a piece of paper and a pencil from my pocket.
I began to make a list of the workers who had joined us from Calcutta and to assign their duties to each. Bimala interrupted me before I was through, saying wearily: 'Leave it now; I will join you again this evening'; and then she hurried out of the room. It was evident she was not in a state to attend to anything. She must be alone with herself for a while,—perhaps lie down on her bed and have a good cry!
When she left me, my intoxication began to deepen, as the cloud colours grow richer after the sun is down. I felt I had let the moment of moments slip by. What an awful coward I had been! She must have left me in sheer disgust at my qualms—and she was right!
While I was tingling all over with these reflections, a servant came in and announced Amulya, one of our boys. I felt like sending him away for the time, but he stepped in before I could make up my mind. Then we fell to discussing the news of the fights which were raging in different quarters over cloth and sugar and salt; and the air was soon clear of all fumes of intoxication. I felt as if awakened from a dream. I leapt to my feet feeling quite ready for the fray,—Bande Mataram!
The news was various. Most of the traders who were tenants of Harish Kundu had come over to us. Many of Nikhil's officials were also secretly on our side, pulling the wires in our interest. The Marwari shopkeepers were offering to pay a penalty, if only allowed to clear their present stocks. Only some Mahomedan traders were still obdurate.
One of them was taking home some German-made shawls for his family. These were confiscated and burnt by one of our village boys. This had given rise to trouble. We offered to buy him Indian woollen stuffs in their place. But where were cheap Indian woollens to be had? We could not very well indulge him in Cashmere shawls! He came and complained to Nikhil, who advised him to go to law. Of course Nikhil's men saw to it that the trial should come to nothing, even his law-agent being on our side!
The point is, if we have to replace burnt foreign clothes with Indian cloth every time, and on the top of that fight through a law-suit, where is the money to come from? And the beauty of it is that this destruction of foreign goods is increasing their demand and sending up the foreigner's profits,—very like what happened to the fortunate shopkeeper whose chandeliers the nabob delighted in smashing, tickled by the tinkle of the breaking glass.
The next problem is,—since there is no such thing as cheap and gaudy Indian woollen stuff, should we be rigorous in our boycott of foreign flannels and memos, or make an exception in their favour?
'Look here!' said I at length on the first point, 'we are not going to keep on making presents of Indian stuff to those who have got their foreign purchases confiscated. The penalty is intended to fall on them, not on us. If they go to law, we must retaliate by burning down their granaries!—What startles you, Amulya? It is not the prospect of a grand illumination that delights me! You must remember, this is War. If you are afraid of causing suffering, go in for love-making, you will never do for this work!'
The second problem I solved by deciding to allow no compromise with foreign articles, in any circumstance whatever. In the good old days, when these gaily coloured foreign shawls were unknown, our peasantry used to manage well enough with plain cotton quilts,—they must learn to do so again. They may not look as gorgeous, but this is not the time to think of looks.
Most of the boatmen had been won over to refuse to carry foreign goods, but the chief of them, Mirjan, was still insubordinate.
'Could you not get his boat sunk?' I asked our manager here.
'Nothing easier, sir,' he replied. 'But what if afterwards I am held responsible?'
'Why be so clumsy as to leave any loophole for responsibility? However, if there must be any, my shoulders will be there to bear it.'
Mirjan's boat was tied near the landing-place after its freight had been taken over to the market-place. There was no one on it, for the manager had arranged for some entertainment to which all had been invited. After dusk the boat, loaded with rubbish, was holed and set adrift. It sank in mid-stream.
Mirjan understood the whole thing. He came to me in tears to beg for mercy. 'I was wrong, sir—' he began.
'What makes you realize that all of a sudden?' I sneered.
He made no direct reply. 'The boat was worth Rs. 2000,' he said. 'I now see my mistake, and if excused this time I will never...' with which he threw himself at my feet.
I asked him to come ten days later. If only we could pay him that Rs. 2000 at once, we could buy him up body and soul. This is just the sort of man who could render us immense service, if won over. We shall never be able to make any headway unless we can lay our hands on plenty of money.
As soon as Bimala came into the sitting-room, in the evening, I said as I rose up to receive her: 'Queen! Everything is ready, success is at hand, but we must have money.'
'Money? How much money?'
'Not so very much, but by hook or by crook we must have it!'
'But how much?'
'A mere fifty thousand rupees will do for the present.'
Bimala blenched inwardly at the figure, but tried not to show it. How could she again admit defeat?
'Queen!' said I, 'you only can make the impossible possible. Indeed you have already done so. Oh, that I could show you the extent of your achievement,—then you would know it. But the time for that is not now. Now we want money!'
'You shall have it,' she said.
I could see that the thought of selling her jewels had occurred to her. So I said: 'Your jewels must remain in reserve. One can never tell when they may be wanted.' And then, as Bimala stared blankly at me in silence, I went on: 'This money must come from your husband's treasury.'
Bimala was still more taken aback. After a long pause she said: 'But how am I to get his money?'
'Is not his money yours as well?'
'Ah, no!' she said, her wounded pride hurt afresh.
'If not,' I cried, 'neither is it his, but his country's, whom he has deprived of it, in her time of need!'
'But how am I to get it?' she repeated.
'Get it you shall and must. You know best how. You must get it for Her to whom it rightfully belongs. Bande Mataram! These are the magic words which will open the door of his iron safe, break through the walls of his strong-room, and confound the hearts of those who are disloyal to its call. Say Bande Mataram, Bee!'