When I returned, Sandip Babu was tenderly apologetic. "I am afraid we have spoilt your appetite," he said.
I felt greatly ashamed. Indeed, I had been too indecently quick over my dinner. With a little calculation, it would become quite evident that my non-eating had surpassed the eating. But I had no idea that anyone could have been deliberately calculating.
I suppose Sandip Babu detected my feeling of shame, which only augmented it. "I was sure," he said, "that you had the impulse of the wild deer to run away, but it is a great boon that you took the trouble to keep your promise with me."
I could not think of any suitable reply and so I sat down, blushing and uncomfortable, at one end of the sofa. The vision that I had of myself, as the Shakti of Womanhood, incarnate, crowning Sandip Babu simply with my presence, majestic and unashamed, failed me altogether.
Sandip Babu deliberately started a discussion with my husband. He knew that his keen wit flashed to the best effect in an argument. I have often since observed, that he never lost an opportunity for a passage at arms whenever I happened to be present.
He was familiar with my husband's views on the cult of Bande Mataram, and began in a provoking way: "So you do not allow that there is room for an appeal to the imagination in patriotic work?"
"It has its place, Sandip, I admit, but I do not believe in giving it the whole place. I would know my country in its frank reality, and for this I am both afraid and ashamed to make use of hypnotic texts of patriotism."
"What you call hypnotic texts I call truth. I truly believe my country to be my God. I worship Humanity. God manifests Himself both in man and in his country."
"If that is what you really believe, there should be no difference for you between man and man, and so between country and country."
"Quite true. But my powers are limited, so my worship of Humanity is continued in the worship of my country."
"I have nothing against your worship as such, but how is it you propose to conduct your worship of God by hating other countries in which He is equally manifest?"
"Hate is also an adjunct of worship. Arjuna won Mahadeva's favour by wrestling with him. God will be with us in the end, if we are prepared to give Him battle."
"If that be so, then those who are serving and those who are harming the country are both His devotees. Why, then, trouble to preach patriotism?"
"In the case of one's own country, it is different. There the heart clearly demands worship."
"If you push the same argument further you can say that since God is manifested in us, our self has to be worshipped before all else; because our natural instinct claims it."
"Look here, Nikhil, this is all merely dry logic. Can't you recognize that there is such a thing as feeling?"
"I tell you the truth, Sandip," my husband replied. "It is my feelings that are outraged, whenever you try to pass off injustice as a duty, and unrighteousness as a moral ideal. The fact, that I am incapable of stealing, is not due to my possessing logical faculties, but to my having some feeling of respect for myself and love for ideals."
I was raging inwardly. At last I could keep silent no longer. "Is not the history of every country," I cried, "whether England, France, Germany, or Russia, the history of stealing for the sake of one's own country?"
"They have to answer for these thefts; they are doing so even now; their history is not yet ended."
"At any rate," interposed Sandip Babu, "why should we not follow suit? Let us first fill our country's coffers with stolen goods and then take centuries, like these other countries, to answer for them, if we must. But, I ask you, where do you find this 'answering' in history?"
"When Rome was answering for her sin no one knew it. All that time, there was apparently no limit to her prosperity. But do you not see one thing: how these political bags of theirs are bursting with lies and treacheries, breaking their backs under their weight?"
Never before had I had any opportunity of being present at a discussion between my husband and his men friends. Whenever he argued with me I could feel his reluctance to push me into a corner. This arose out of the very love he bore me. Today for the first time I saw his fencer's skill in debate.
Nevertheless, my heart refused to accept my husband's position. I was struggling to find some answer, but it would not come. When the word "righteousness" comes into an argument, it sounds ugly to say that a thing can be too good to be useful.
All of a sudden Sandip Babu turned to me with the question: "What do you say to this?"
"I do not care about fine distinctions," I broke out. "I will tell you broadly what I feel. I am only human. I am covetous. I would have good things for my country. If I am obliged, I would snatch them and filch them. I have anger. I would be angry for my country's sake. If necessary, I would smite and slay to avenge her insults. I have my desire to be fascinated, and fascination must be supplied to me in bodily shape by my country. She must have some visible symbol casting its spell upon my mind. I would make my country a Person, and call her Mother, Goddess, Durga--for whom I would redden the earth with sacrificial offerings. I am human, not divine."
Sandip Babu leapt to his feet with uplifted arms and shouted "Hurrah!"--The next moment he corrected himself and cried: "Bande Mataram."
A shadow of pain passed over the face of my husband. He said to me in a very gentle voice: "Neither am I divine: I am human. And therefore I dare not permit the evil which is in me to be exaggerated into an image of my country--never, never!"
Sandip Babu cried out: "See, Nikhil, how in the heart of a woman Truth takes flesh and blood. Woman knows how to be cruel: her virulence is like a blind storm. It is beautifully fearful. In man it is ugly, because it harbours in its centre the gnawing worms of reason and thought. I tell you, Nikhil, it is our women who will save the country. This is not the time for nice scruples. We must be unswervingly, unreasoningly brutal. We must sin. We must give our women red sandal paste with which to anoint and enthrone our sin. Don't you remember what the poet says:
Come, Sin, O beautiful Sin,
Let thy stinging red kisses pour down fiery red wine into our blood.
Sound the trumpet of imperious evil
And cross our forehead with the wreath of exulting lawlessness,
O Deity of Desecration,
Smear our breasts with the blackest mud of disrepute, unashamed.
Down with that righteousness, which cannot smilingly bring rack and ruin."
When Sandip Babu, standing with his head high, insulted at a moment's impulse all that men have cherished as their highest, in all countries and in all times, a shiver went right through my body.
But, with a stamp of his foot, he continued his declamation: "I can see that you are that beautiful spirit of fire, which burns the home to ashes and lights up the larger world with its flame. Give to us the indomitable courage to go to the bottom of Ruin itself. Impart grace to all that is baneful."
It was not clear to whom Sandip Babu addressed his last appeal. It might have been She whom he worshipped with his Bande Mataram. It might have been the Womanhood of his country. Or it might have been its representative, the woman before him. He would have gone further in the same strain, but my husband suddenly rose from his seat and touched him lightly on the shoulder saying: "Sandip, Chandranath Babu is here."
I started and turned round, to find an aged gentleman at the door, calm and dignified, in doubt as to whether he should come in or retire. His face was touched with a gentle light like that of the setting sun.
My husband came up to me and whispered: "This is my master, of whom I have so often told you. Make your obeisance to him."
I bent reverently and took the dust of his feet. He gave me his blessing saying: "May God protect you always, my little mother." I was sorely in need of such a blessing at that moment.