The Home and the World/Chapter 8/Bimala's Story
Who could have thought that so much would happen in this one life? I feel as if I have passed through a whole series of births, time has been flying so fast, I did not feel it move at all, till the shock came the other day.
I knew there would be words between us when I made up my mind to ask my husband to banish foreign goods from our market. But it was my firm belief that I had no need to meet argument by argument, for there was magic in the very air about me. Had not so tremendous a man as Sandip fallen helplessly at my feet, like a wave of the mighty sea breaking on the shore? Had I called him? No, it was the summons of that magic spell of mine. And Amulya, poor dear boy, when he first came to me—how the current of his life flushed with colour, like the river at dawn! Truly have I realized how a goddess feels when she looks upon the radiant face of her devotee.
With the confidence begotten of these proofs of my power, I was ready to meet my husband like a lightning-charged cloud. But what was it that happened? Never in all these nine years have I seen such a far-away, distraught look in his eyes,—like the desert sky,—with no merciful moisture of its own, no colour reflected, even, from what it looked upon. I should have been so relieved if his anger had flashed out! But I could find nothing in him which I could touch. I felt as unreal as a dream,—a dream which would leave only the blackness of night when it was over.
In the old days I used to be jealous of my sister-in-law for her beauty. Then I used to feel that Providence had given me no power of my own, that my whole strength lay in the love which my husband had bestowed on me. Now that I had drained to the dregs the cup of power and could not do without its intoxication, I suddenly found it dashed to pieces at my feet, leaving me nothing to live for.
How feverishly I had sat to do my hair that day. Oh, shame, shame on me, the utter shame of it! My sister-in-law, when passing by, had exclaimed: 'Aha, Chota Rani! Your hair seems ready to jump off. Don't let it carry your head with it.'
And then, the other day in the garden, how easy my husband found it to tell me that he set me free! But can freedom—empty freedom—be given and taken so easily as all that? It is like setting a fish free in the sky,—for how can I move or live outside the atmosphere of loving care which has always sustained me?
When I came to my room today, I saw only furniture—only the bedstead, only the looking-glass, only the clothes-rack—not the all-pervading heart which used to be there, over all. Instead of it there was freedom, only freedom, mere emptiness! A dried-up watercourse with all its rocks and pebbles laid bare. No feeling, only furniture!
When I had arrived at a state of utter bewilderment, wondering whether anything true was left in my life, and whereabouts it could be, I happened to meet Sandip again. Then life struck against life, and the sparks flew in the same old way. Here was truth—impetuous truth—which rushed in and overflowed all bounds, truth which was a thousand times truer than the Bara Rani with her maid, Thako and her silly songs, and all the rest of them who talked and laughed and wandered about....
'Fifty thousand!' Sandip had demanded.
'What is fifty thousand?' cried my intoxicated heart. 'You shall have it!'
How to get it, where to get it, were minor points not worth troubling over. Look at me. Had I not risen, all in one moment, from my nothingness to a height above everything? So shall all things come at my beck and call. I shall get it, get it, get it,—there cannot be any doubt.
Thus had I come away from Sandip the other day. Then as I looked about me, where was it,—the tree of plenty? Oh, why does this outer world insult the heart so?
And yet get it I must; how, I do not care; for sin there cannot be. Sin taints only the weak; I with my Shakti am beyond its reach. Only a commoner can be a thief, the king conquers and takes his rightful spoil.... I must find out where the treasury is; who takes the money in; who guards it.
I spent half the night standing in the outer verandah peering at the row of office buildings. But how to get that Rs. 50,000 out of the clutches of those iron bars? If by some mantram I could have made all those guards fall dead in their places, I would not have hesitated,—so pitiless did I feel!
But while a whole gang of robbers seemed dancing a war-dance within the whirling brain of its Rani, the great house of the Rajas slept in peace. The gong of the watch sounded hour after hour, and the sky overhead placidly looked on.
At last I sent for Amulya.
'Money is wanted for the Cause,' I told him. 'Can you not get it out of the treasury?'
'Why not?' said he, with his chest thrown out.
Alas! had I not said 'Why not?' to Sandip just in the same way? The poor lad's confidence could rouse no hopes in my mind.
'How will you do it?' I asked.
The wild plans he began to unfold would hardly bear repetition outside the pages of a penny dreadful.
'No, Amulya,' I said severely, 'you must not be childish.'
'Very well, then,' he said, 'let me bribe those watchmen.'
'Where is the money to come from?'
'I can loot the bazar,' he burst out, without blenching.
'Leave all that alone. I have my ornaments, they will serve.'
'But,' said Amulya, 'it strikes me that the cashier cannot be bribed. Never mind, there is another and simpler way.'
'What is that?'
'Why need you hear it? It is quite simple.'
'Still, I should like to know.'
Amulya fumbled in the pocket of his tunic and pulled out, first a small edition of the Gita, which he placed on the table,—and then a little pistol, which he showed me, but said nothing further.
Horror! It did not take him a moment to make up his mind to kill our good old cashier! To look at his frank, open face one would not have thought him capable of hurting a fly, but how different were the words which came from his mouth. It was clear that the cashier's place in the world meant nothing real to him; it was a mere vacancy, lifeless, feelingless, with only stock phrases from the Gita,—Who kills the body kills naught!
'Whatever do you mean, Amulya?' I exclaimed at length. 'Don't you know that the dear old man has got a wife and children and that he is....'
'Where are we to find men who have no wives and children?' he interrupted. 'Look here, Maharani, the thing we call pity is, at bottom, only pity for ourselves. We cannot bear to wound our own tender instincts, and so we do not strike at all;—pity indeed! The height of cowardice!'
To hear Sandip's phrases in the mouth of this mere boy staggered me. So delightfully, lovably immature was he,—of that age when the good may still be believed in as good, of that age when one really lives and grows. The Mother in me awoke.
For myself there was no longer good or bad,—only death, beautiful alluring death. But to hear this stripling calmly talk of murdering an inoffensive old man as the right thing to do, made me shudder all over. The more clearly I saw that there was no sin in his heart, the more horrible appeared to me the sin of his words. I seemed to see the sin of the parents visited on the innocent child.
The sight of his great big eyes shining with faith and enthusiasm touched me to the quick. He was going, in his fascination, straight to the jaws of the python, from which, once in, there was no return. How was he to be saved? Why does not my country become, for once, a real Mother,—clasp him to her bosom and cry out: 'Oh, my child, my child, what profits it that you should save me, if so it be that I should fail to save you?'
I know, I know, that all Power on earth waxes great under compact with Satan. But the Mother is there, alone though she be, to contemn and stand against this devil's progress. The Mother cares not for mere success, however great,—she wants to give life, to save life. My very soul, to-day, stretches out its hands in yearning to save this child.
A while ago I suggested robbery to him. Whatever I may now say against it will be put down to a woman's weakness. They only love our weakness when it drags the world in its toils!
'You need do nothing at all, Amulya, I will see to the money,' I told him finally.
When he had almost reached the door, I called him back. 'Amulya,' said I, 'I am your elder sister. To-day is not the Brothers' Day according to the calendar, but all the days in the year are really Brothers' Days. My blessing be with you: may God keep you always.'
These unexpected words from my lips took Amulya by surprise. He stood stock-still for a time. Then, coming to himself, he prostrated himself at my feet in acceptance of the relationship and did me reverence. When he rose his eyes were full of tears.... O little brother mine! I am fast going to my death,—let me take all your sin away with me. May no taint from me ever tarnish your innocence!
I said to him: 'Let your offering of reverence be that pistol!'
'What do you want with it, sister?'
'I will practise death.'
'Right, sister. Our women, also, must know how to die, to deal death!' with which Amulya handed me the pistol.
The radiance of his youthful countenance seemed to tinge my life with the touch of a new dawn. I put away the pistol within my clothes. May this reverence-offering be the last resource in my extremity....
The door to the mother's chamber in my woman's heart once opened, I thought it would always remain open. But this pathway to the supreme good was closed when the mistress took the place of the mother and locked it again. The very next day I saw Sandip; and madness, naked and rampant, danced upon my heart.
What was this? Was this, then, my truer self? Never! I had never before known this shameless, this cruel one within me. The snake-charmer had come, pretending to draw this snake from within the fold of my garment,—but it was never there, it was his all the time. Some demon has gained possession of me, and what I am doing to-day is the play of his activity—it has nothing to do with me.
This demon, in the guise of a god, had come with his ruddy torch to call me that day, saying: 'I am your Country. I am your Sandip. I am more to you than anything else of yours. Bande Mataram!' And with folded hands I had responded: 'You are my religion. You are my heaven. Whatever else is mine shall be swept away before my love for you. Bande Mataram!'
Five thousand is it? Five thousand it shall be! You want it to-morrow? To-morrow you shall have it! In this desperate orgy, that gift of five thousand shall be as the foam of wine,—and then for the riotous revel! The immovable world shall sway under our feet, fire shall flash from our eyes, a storm shall roar in our ears, what is or is not in front shall become equally dim. And then with tottering footsteps we shall plunge to our death,—in a moment all fire will be extinguished, the ashes will be scattered, and nothing will remain behind.
- The cashier is the official who is most in touch with the ladies of a zamindar's household, directly taking their requisitions for household stores and doing their shopping for them, and so he becomes more a member of the family than the others.—Tr.
- The daughter of the house occupies a place of specially tender affection in a Bengali household (perhaps in Hindu households all over India) because, by dictate of custom, she must be given away in marriage so early. She thus takes corresponding memories with her to her husband's home, where she has to begin as a stranger before she can get into her place. The resulting feeling, of the mistress of her new home for the one she has left, has taken ceremonial form as the Brothers' Day, on which the brothers are invited to the married sisters' houses. Where the sister is the elder, she offers her blessing and receives the brother's reverence, and vice versa. Presents, called the offerings of reverence (or blessing), are exchanged.—Tr.