My husband was very eager to take me out of purdah. 6
One day I said to him: "What do I want with the outside world?"
"The outside world may want you," he replied.
"If the outside world has got on so long without me, it may go on for some time longer. It need not pine to death for want of me."
"Let it perish, for all I care! That is not troubling me. I am thinking about myself."
"Oh, indeed. Tell me what about yourself?"
My husband was silent, with a smile.
I knew his way, and protested at once: "No, no, you are not going to run away from me like that! I want to have this out with you."
"Can one ever finish a subject with words?"
"Do stop speaking in riddles. Tell me..."
"What I want is, that I should have you, and you should have me, more fully in the outside world. That is where we are still in debt to each other."
"Is anything wanting, then, in the love we have here at home?"
"Here you are wrapped up in me. You know neither what you have, nor what you want."
"I cannot bear to hear you talk like this."
"I would have you come into the heart of the outer world and meet reality. Merely going on with your household duties, living all your life in the world of household conventions and the drudgery of household tasks--you were not made for that! If we meet, and recognize each other, in the real world, then only will our love be true."
"If there be any drawback here to our full recognition of each other, then I have nothing to say. But as for myself, I feel no want."
"Well, even if the drawback is only on my side, why shouldn't you help to remove it?"
Such discussions repeatedly occurred. One day he said: "The greedy man who is fond of his fish stew has no compunction in cutting up the fish according to his need. But the man who loves the fish wants to enjoy it in the water; and if that is impossible he waits on the bank; and even if he comes back home without a sight of it he has the consolation of knowing that the fish is all right. Perfect gain is the best of all; but if that is impossible, then the next best gain is perfect losing.
I never liked the way my husband had of talking on this subject, but that is not the reason why I refused to leave the zenana. His grandmother was still alive. My husband had filled more than a hundred and twenty per cent of the house with the twentieth century, against her taste; but she had borne it uncomplaining. She would have borne it, likewise, if the daughter-in-law 7 of the Rajah's house had left its seclusion. She was even prepared for this happening. But I did not consider it important enough to give her the pain of it. I have read in books that we are called "caged birds". I cannot speak for others, but I had so much in this cage of mine that there was not room for it in the universe--at least that is what I then felt.
The grandmother, in her old age, was very fond of me. At the bottom of her fondness was the thought that, with the conspiracy of favourable stars which attended me, I had been able to attract my husband's love. Were not men naturally inclined to plunge downwards? None of the others, for all their beauty, had been able to prevent their husbands going headlong into the burning depths which consumed and destroyed them. She believed that I had been the means of extinguishing this fire, so deadly to the men of the family. So she kept me in the shelter of her bosom, and trembled if I was in the least bit unwell.
His grandmother did not like the dresses and ornaments my husband brought from European shops to deck me with. But she reflected: "Men will have some absurd hobby or other, which is sure to be expensive. It is no use trying to check their extravagance; one is glad enough if they stop short of ruin. If my Nikhil had not been busy dressing up his wife there is no knowing whom else he might have spent his money on!" So whenever any new dress of mine arrived she used to send for my husband and make merry over it.
Thus it came about that it was her taste which changed. The influence of the modern age fell so strongly upon her, that her evenings refused to pass if I did not tell her stories out of English books.
After his grandmother's death, my husband wanted me to go and live with him in Calcutta. But I could not bring myself to do that. Was not this our House, which she had kept under her sheltering care through all her trials and troubles? Would not a curse come upon me if I deserted it and went off to town? This was the thought that kept me back, as her empty seat reproachfully looked up at me. That noble lady had come into this house at the age of eight, and had died in her seventy-ninth year. She had not spent a happy life. Fate had hurled shaft after shaft at her breast, only to draw out more and more the imperishable spirit within. This great house was hallowed with her tears. What should I do in the dust of Calcutta, away from it?
My husband's idea was that this would be a good opportunity for leaving to my sister-in-law the consolation of ruling over the household, giving our life, at the same time, more room to branch out in Calcutta. That is just where my difficulty came in. She had worried my life out, she ill brooked my husband's happiness, and for this she was to be rewarded! And what of the day when we should have to come back here? Should I then get back my seat at the head?
"What do you want with that seat?" my husband would say. "Are there not more precious things in life?"
Men never understand these things. They have their nests in the outside world; they little know the whole of what the household stands for. In these matters they ought to follow womanly guidance. Such were my thoughts at that time.
I felt the real point was, that one ought to stand up for one's rights. To go away, and leave everything in the hands of the enemy, would be nothing short of owning defeat.
But why did not my husband compel me to go with him to Calcutta? I know the reason. He did not use his power, just because he had it.
6 The seclusion of the zenana, and all the customs peculiar to it, are designated by the general term "Purdah", which means Screen.
7 The prestige of the daughter-in-law is of the first importance in a Hindu household of rank [Trans.].