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Bimala's Story


Come, come! Now is the time to set sail towards that great confluence, where the river of love meets the sea of worship. In that pure blue all the weight of its muddiness sinks and disappears.

I now fear nothing--neither myself, nor anybody else. I have passed through fire. What was inflammable has been burnt to ashes; what is left is deathless. I have dedicated myself to the feet of him, who has received all my sin into the depths of his own pain.

Tonight we go to Calcutta. My inward troubles have so long prevented my looking after my things. Now let me arrange and pack them.

After a while I found my husband had come in and was taking a hand in the packing.

"This won't do," I said. "Did you not promise me you would have a sleep?"

"I might have made the promise," he replied, "but my sleep did not, and it was nowhere to be found."

"No, no," I repeated, "this will never do. Lie down for a while, at least."

"But how can you get through all this alone?"

"Of course I can."

"Well, you may boast of being able to do without me. But frankly I can't do without you. Even sleep refused to come to me, alone, in that room." Then he set to work again.

But there was an interruption, in the shape of a servant, who came and said that Sandip Babu had called and had asked to be announced. I did not dare to ask whom he wanted. The light of the sky seemed suddenly to be shut down, like the leaves of a sensitive plant.

"Come, Bimal," said my husband. "Let us go and hear what Sandip has to tell us. Since he has come back again, after taking his leave, he must have something special to say."

I went, simply because it would have been still more embarrassing to stay. Sandip was staring at a picture on the wall. As we entered he said: "You must be wondering why the fellow has returned. But you know the ghost is never laid till all the rites are complete." With these words he brought out of his pocket something tied in his handkerchief, and laying it on the table, undid the knot. It was those sovereigns.

"Don't you mistake me, Nikhil," he said. "You must not imagine that the contagion of your company has suddenly turned me honest; I am not the man to come back in slobbering repentance to return ill-gotten money. But..."

He left his speech unfinished. After a pause he turned towards Nikhil, but said to me: "After all these days, Queen Bee, the ghost of compunction has found an entry into my hitherto untroubled conscience. As I have to wrestle with it every night, after my first sleep is over, I cannot call it a phantom of my imagination. There is no escape even for me till its debt is paid. Into the hands of that spirit, therefore, let me make restitution. Goddess! From you, alone, of all the world, I shall not be able to take away anything. I shall not be rid of you till I am destitute. Take these back!"

He took out at the same time the jewel-casket from under his tunic and put it down, and then left us with hasty steps.

"Listen to me, Sandip," my husband called after him.

"I have not the time, Nikhil," said Sandip as he paused near the door. "The Mussulmans, I am told, have taken me for an invaluable gem, and are conspiring to loot me and hide me away in their graveyard. But I feel that it is necessary that I should live. I have just twenty-five minutes to catch the North-bound train. So, for the present, I must be gone. We shall have our talk out at the next convenient opportunity. lf you take my advice, don't you delay in getting away either. I salute you, Queen Bee, Queen of the bleeding hearts, Queen of desolation!"

Sandip then left almost at a run. I stood stock-still; I had never realized in such a manner before, how trivial, how paltry, this gold and these jewels were. Only a short while ago I was so busy thinking what I should take with me, and how I should pack it. Now I felt that there was no need to take anything at all. To set out and go forth was the important thing.

My husband left his seat and came up and took me by the hand. "It is getting late," he said. "There is not much time left to complete our preparations for the journey."

At this point Chandranath Babu suddenly came in. Finding us both together, he fell back for a moment. Then he said, "Forgive me, my little mother, if I intrude. Nikhil, the Mussulmans are out of hand. They are looting Harish Kundu's treasury. That does not so much matter. But what is intolerable is the violence that is being done to the women of their house."

"I am off," said my husband.

"What can you do there?" I pleaded, as I held him by the hand. "Oh, sir," I appealed to his master. "Will you not tell him not to go?"

"My little mother," he replied, "there is no time to do anything else."

"Don't be alarmed, Bimal," said my husband, as he left us.

When I went to the window I saw my husband galloping away on horseback, with not a weapon in his hands.

In another minute the Bara Rani came running in. "What have you done, Chotie darling," she cried. "How could you let him go?"

"Call the Dewan at once," she said, turning to a servant.

The Ranis never appeared before the Dewan, but the Bara Rani had no thought that day for appearances.

"Send a mounted man to bring back the Maharaja at once," she said, as soon as the Dewan came up.

"We have all entreated him to stay, Rani Mother," said the Dewan, "but he refused to turn back."

"Send word to him that the Bara Rani is ill, that she is on her death-bed," cried my sister-in-law wildly.

When the Dewan had left she turned on me with a furious outburst. "Oh, you witch, you ogress, you could not die yourself, but needs must send him to his death! ..."

The light of the day began to fade. The sun set behind the feathery foliage of the blossoming Sajna tree. I can see every different shade of that sunset even today. Two masses of cloud on either side of the sinking orb made it look like a great bird with fiery-feathered wings outspread. It seemed to me that this fateful day was taking its flight, to cross the ocean of night.

It became darker and darker. Like the flames of a distant village on fire, leaping up every now and then above the horizon, a distant din swelled up in recurring waves into the darkness.

The bells of the evening worship rang out from our temple. I knew the Bara Rani was sitting there, with palms joined in silent prayer. But I could not move a step from the window.

The roads, the village beyond, and the still more distant fringe of trees, grew more and more vague. The lake in our grounds looked up into the sky with a dull lustre, like a blind man's eye. On the left the tower seemed to be craning its neck to catch sight of something that was happening.

The sounds of night take on all manner of disguises. A twig snaps, and one thinks that somebody is running for his life. A door slams, and one feels it to be the sudden heart-thump of a startled world.

Lights would suddenly flicker under the shade of the distant trees, and then go out again. Horses' hoofs would clatter, now and again, only to turn out to be riders leaving the palace gates.

I continually had the feeling that, if only I could die, all this turmoil would come to an end. So long as I was alive my sins would remain rampant, scattering destruction on every side. I remembered the pistol in my box. But my feet refused to leave the window in quest of it. Was I not awaiting my fate?

The gong of the watch solemnly struck ten. A little later, groups of lights appeared in the distance and a great crowd wound its way, like some great serpent, along the roads in the darkness, towards the palace gates.

The Dewan rushed to the gate at the sound. Just then a rider came galloping in. "What's the news, Jata?" asked the Dewan.

"Not good," was the reply.

I could hear these words distinctly from my window. But something was next whispered which I could not catch.

Then came a palanquin, followed by a litter. The doctor was walking alongside the palanquin.

"What do you think, doctor?" asked the Dewan.

"Can't say yet," the doctor replied. "The wound in the head is a serious one."

"And Amulya Babu?"

"He has a bullet through the heart. He is done for."