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Chapter Eleven

Bimala's Story


With Amulya's departure my heart sank within me. On what perilous adventure had I sent this only son of his mother? O God, why need my expiation have such pomp and circumstance? Could I not be allowed to suffer alone without inviting all this multitude to share my punishment? Oh, let not this innocent child fall victim to Your wrath.

I called him back--"Amulya!"

My voice sounded so feebly, it failed to reach him.

I went up to the door and called again: "Amulya!"

He had gone.

"Who is there?"

"Rani Mother!"

"Go and tell Amulya Babu that I want him."

What exactly happened I could not make out--the man, perhaps, was not familiar with Amulya's name--but he returned almost at once followed by Sandip.

"The very moment you sent me away," he said as he came in, "I had a presentiment that you would call me back. The attraction of the same moon causes both ebb and flow. I was so sure of being sent for, that I was actually waiting out in the passage. As soon as I caught sight of your man, coming from your room, I said: 'Yes, yes, I am coming, I am coming at once!'--before he could utter a word. That up-country lout was surprised, I can tell you! He stared at me, open-mouthed, as if he thought I knew magic.

"All the fights in the world, Queen Bee," Sandip rambled on, "are really fights between hypnotic forces. Spell cast against spell-- noiseless weapons which reach even invisible targets. At last I have met in you my match. Your quiver is full, I know, you artful warrior Queen! You are the only one in the world who has been able to turn Sandip out and call Sandip back, at your sweet will. Well, your quarry is at your feet. What will you do with him now? Will you give him the coup de grâce, or keep him in your cage? Let me warn you beforehand, Queen, you will find the beast as difficult to kill outright as to keep in bondage. Anyway, why lose time in trying your magic weapons?"

Sandip must have felt the shadow of approaching defeat, and this made him try to gain time by chattering away without waiting for a reply. I believe he knew that I had sent the messenger for Amulya, whose name the man must have mentioned. In spite of that he had deliberately played this trick. He was now trying to avoid giving me any opening to tell him that it was Amulya I wanted, not him. But his stratagem was futile, for I could see his weakness through it. I must not yield up a pin's point of the ground I had gained.

"Sandip Babu," I said, "I wonder how you can go on making these endless speeches, without a stop. Do you get them up by heart, beforehand?"

Sandip's face flushed instantly.

"I have heard," I continued, "that our professional reciters keep a book full of all kinds of ready-made discourses, which can be fitted into any subject. Have you also a book?"

Sandip ground out his reply through his teeth. "God has given you women a plentiful supply of coquetry to start with, and on the top of that you have the milliner and the jeweller to help you; but do not think we men are so helpless ..."

"You had better go back and look up your book, Sandip Babu. You are getting your words all wrong. That's just the trouble with trying to repeat things by rote."

"You!" shouted Sandip, losing all control over himself. "You to insult me thus! What is there left of you that I do not know to the very bottom? What ..." He became speechless.

Sandip, the wielder of magic spells, is reduced to utter powerlessness, whenever his spell refuses to work. From a king he fell to the level of a boor. Oh, the joy of witnessing his weakness! The harsher he became in his rudeness, the more did this joy well up within me. His snaky coils, with which he used to snare me, are exhausted--I am free. I am saved, saved. Be rude to me, insult me, for that shows you in your truth; but spare me your songs of praise, which were false.

My husband came in at this juncture. Sandip had not the elasticity to recover himself in a moment, as he used to do before. My husband looked at him for a while in surprise. Had this happened some days ago I should have felt ashamed. But today I was pleased--whatever my husband might think. I wanted to have it out to the finish with my weakening adversary.

Finding us both silent and constrained, my husband hesitated a little, and then took a chair. "Sandip," he said, "I have been looking for you, and was told you were here."

"I am here," said Sandip with some emphasis. "Queen Bee sent for me early this morning. And I, the humble worker of the hive, left all else to attend her summons."

"I am going to Calcutta tomorrow. You will come with me.

"And why, pray? Do you take me for one of your retinue?"

"Oh, very well, take it that you are going to Calcutta, and that I am your follower."

"I have no business there."

"All the more reason for going. You have too much business here."

"I don't propose to stir."

"Then I propose to shift you."



"Very well, then, I will make a move. But the world is not divided between Calcutta and your estates. There are other places on the map."

"From the way you have been going on, one would hardly have thought that there was any other place in the world except my estates."

Sandip stood up. "It does happen at times," he said, "that a man's whole world is reduced to a single spot. I have realized my universe in this sitting-room of yours, that is why I have been a fixture here."

Then he turned to me. "None but you, Queen Bee," he said, "will understand my words--perhaps not even you. I salute you. With worship in my heart I leave you. My watchword has changed since you have come across my vision. It is no longer Bande Mataram (Hail Mother), but Hail Beloved, Hail Enchantress. The mother protects, the mistress leads to destruction--but sweet is that destruction. You have made the anklet sounds of the dance of death tinkle in my heart. You have changed for me, your devotee, the picture I had of this Bengal of ours--'the soft breeze-cooled land of pure water and sweet fruit.'  27 You have no pity, my beloved. You have come to me with your poison cup and I shall drain it, either to die in agony or live triumphing over death.

"Yes," he continued. "The mother's day is past. O love, my love, you have made as naught for me the truth and right and heaven itself. All duties have become as shadows: all rules and restraints have snapped their bonds. O love, my love, I could set fire to all the world outside this land on which you have set your dainty feet, and dance in mad revel over the ashes ... These are mild men. These are good men. They would do good to all--as if this all were a reality! No, no! There is no reality in the world save this one real love of mine. I do you reverence. My devotion to you has made me cruel; my worship of you has lighted the raging flame of destruction within me. I am not righteous. I have no beliefs, I only believe in her whom, above all else in the world, I have been able to realize."

Wonderful! It was wonderful, indeed. Only a minute ago I had despised this man with all my heart. But what I had thought to be dead ashes now glowed with living fire. The fire in him is true, that is beyond doubt. Oh why has God made man such a mixed creature? Was it only to show his supernatural sleight of hand? Only a few minutes ago I had thought that Sandip, whom I had once taken to be a hero, was only the stage hero of melodrama. But that is not so, not so. Even behind the trappings of the theatre, a true hero may sometimes be lurking.

There is much in Sandip that is coarse, that is sensuous, that is false, much that is overlaid with layer after layer of fleshly covering. Yet--yet it is best to confess that there is a great deal in the depths of him which we do not, cannot understand-- much in ourselves too. A wonderful thing is man. What great mysterious purpose he is working out only the Terrible One  28 knows--meanwhile we groan under the brunt of it. Shiva is the Lord of Chaos. He is all Joy. He will destroy our bonds.

I cannot but feel, again and again, that there are two persons in me. One recoils from Sandip in his terrible aspect of Chaos--the other feels that very vision to be sweetly alluring. The sinking ship drags down all who are swimming round it. Sandip is just such a force of destruction. His immense attraction gets hold of one before fear can come to the rescue, and then, in the twinkiing of an eye, one is drawn away, irresistibly, from all light, all good, all freedom of the sky, all air that can be breathed--from lifelong accumulations, from everyday cares--right to the bottom of dissolution.

From some realm of calamity has Sandip come as its messenger; and as he stalks the land, muttering unholy incantations, to him flock all the boys and youths. The mother, seated in the lotus-heart of the Country, is wailing her heart out; for they have broken open her store-room, there to hold their drunken revelry. Her vintage of the draught for the immortals they would pour out on the dust; her time-honoured vessels they would smash to pieces. True, I feel with her; but, at the same time, I cannot help being infected with their excitement.

Truth itself has sent us this temptation to test our trustiness in upholding its commandments. Intoxication masquerades in heavenly garb, and dances before the pilgrims saying: "Fools you are that pursue the fruitless path of renunciation. Its way is long, its time passing slow. So the Wielder of the Thunderbolt has sent me to you. Behold, I the beautiful, the passionate, I will accept you--in my embrace you shall find fulfilment."

After a pause Sandip addressed me again: "Goddess, the time has come for me to leave you. It is well. The work of your nearness has been done. By lingering longer it would only become undone again, little by little. All is lost, if in our greed we try to cheapen that which is the greatest thing on earth. That which is eternal within the moment only becomes shallow if spread out in time. We were about to spoil our infinite moment, when it was your uplifted thunderbolt which came to the rescue. You intervened to save the purity of your own worship--and in so doing you also saved your worshipper. In my leave-taking today your worship stands out the biggest thing. Goddess, I, also, set you free today. My earthen temple could hold you no longer-- every moment it was on the point of breaking apart. Today I depart to worship your larger image in a larger temple. I can gain you more truly only at a distance from yourself. Here I had only your favour, there I shall be vouchsafed your boon."

My jewel-casket was lying on the table. I held it up aloft as I said: "I charge you to convey these my jewels to the object of my worship--to whom I have dedicated them through you."

My husband remained silent. Sandip left the room.


27 Quotation from the National song--Bande Mataram.

28 Rudra, the Terrible, a name of Shiva. [Trans.].

Next: XXI