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.].
I had just sat down to make some cakes for Amulya when the Bara
Rani came upon the scene. "Oh dear," she exclaimed, "has it come
to this that you must make cakes for your own birthday?"
"Is there no one else for whom I could be making them?" I asked.
"But this is not the day when you should think of feasting
others. It is for us to feast you. I was just thinking of
making something up  when I heard the staggering news which
completely upset me. A gang of five or six hundred men, they
say, has raided one of our treasuries and made off with six
thousand rupees. Our house will be looted next, they expect."
I felt greatly relieved. So it was our own money after all. I
wanted to send for Amulya at once and tell him that he need only
hand over those notes to my husband and leave the explanations to
"You are a wonderful creature!" my sister-in-law broke out, at
the change in my countenance. "Have you then really no such
thing as fear?"
"I cannot believe it," I said. "Why should they loot our house?"
"Not believe it, indeed! Who could have believed that they would
attack our treasury, either?"
I made no reply, but bent over my cakes, putting in the cocoa-nut
"Well, I'm off," said the Bara Rani after a prolonged stare at
me. "I must see Brother Nikhil and get something done about
sending off my money to Calcutta, before it's too late."
She was no sooner gone than I left the cakes to take care of
themselves and rushed to my dressing-room, shutting myself
inside. My husband's tunic with the keys in its pocket was still
hanging there - so forgetful was he. I took the key of the iron
safe off the ring and kept it by me, hidden in the folds of my
Then there came a knocking at the door. "I am dressing," I
called out. I could hear the Bara Rani saying: "Only a minute
ago I saw her making cakes and now she is busy dressing up. What
next, I wonder! One of their __Bande Mataram__ meetings is
on, I suppose. I say, Robber Queen," she called out to me, "are
you taking stock of your loot?"
When they went away I hardly know what made me open the safe.
Perhaps there was a lurking hope that it might all be a dream.
What if, on pulling out the inside drawer, I should find the
rolls of gold there, just as before? ... Alas, everything was
empty as the trust which had been betrayed.
I had to go through the farce of dressing. I had to do my hair
up all over again, quite unnecessarily. When I came out my
sister-in-law railed at me: "How many times are you going to
"My birthday!" I said.
"Oh, any pretext seems good enough," she went on. "Many vain
people have I seen in my day, but you beat them all hollow."
I was about to summon a servant to send after Amulya, when one of
the men came up with a little note, which he handed to me. It
was from Amulya. "Sister," he wrote, "you invited me this
afternoon, but I thought I should not wait. Let me first execute
your bidding and then come for my __prasad__. I may be a
To whom could he be going to return that money? into what fresh
entanglement was the poor boy rushing? O miserable woman, you
can only send him off like an arrow, but not recall him if you
miss your aim.
I should have declared at once that I was at the bottom of this
robbery. But women live on the trust of their surroundings - this
is their whole world. If once it is out that this trust has been
secretly betrayed, their place in their world is lost. They have
then to stand upon the fragments of the thing they have broken,
and its jagged edges keep on wounding them at every turn. To sin
is easy enough, but to make up for it is above all difficult for
For some time past all easy approaches for communion with my
husband have been closed to me. How then could I burst on him
with this stupendous news? He was very late in coming for his
meal today - nearly two o'clock. He was absent-minded and hardly
touched any food. I had lost even the right to press him to take
a little more. I had to avert my face to wipe away my tears.
I wanted so badly to say to him: "Do come into our room and rest
awhile; you look so tired." I had just cleared my throat with a
little cough, when a servant hurried in to say that the Police
Inspector had brought Panchu up to the palace. My husband, with
the shadow on his face deepened, left his meal unfinished and
A little later the Bara Rani appeared. "Why did you not send me
word when Brother Nikhil came in?" she complained. "As he was
late I thought I might as well finish my bath in the meantime.
However did he manage to get through his meal so soon?"
"Why, did you want him for anything?"
"What is this about both of you going off to Calcutta tomorrow?
All I can say is, I am not going to be left here alone. I should
get startled out of my life at every sound, with all these
dacoits about. Is it quite settled about your going tomorrow?"
"Yes," said I, though I had only just now heard it; and though,
moreover, I was not at all sure that before tomorrow our history
might not take such a turn as to make it all one whether we went
or stayed. After that, what our home, our life would be like,
was utterly beyond my ken - it seemed so misty and phantom-like.
In a very few hours now my unseen fate would become visible. Was
there no one who could keep on postponing the flight of these
hours, from day to day, and so make them long enough for me to
set things right, so far as lay in my power? The time during
which the seed lies underground is long - so long indeed that one
forgets that there is any danger of its sprouting. But once its
shoot shows up above the surface, it grows and grows so fast,
there is no time to cover it up, neither with skirt, nor body,
nor even life itself.
I will try to think of it no more, but sit quiet - passive and
callous - let the crash come when it may. By the day after
tomorrow all will be over - publicity, laughter, bewailing,
questions, explanations - everything.
But I cannot forget the face of Amulya - beautiful, radiant with
devotion. He did not wait, despairing, for the blow of fate to
fall, but rushed into the thick of danger. In my misery I do him
reverence. He is my boy-god. Under the pretext of his
playfulness he took from me the weight of my burden. He would
save me by taking the punishment meant for me on his own head.
But how am Ito bear this terrible mercy of my God?
Oh, my child, my child, I do you reverence. Little brother mine,
I do you reverence. Pure are you, beautiful are you, I do you
reverence. May you come to my arms, in the next birth, as my own
child - that is my prayer.
- - -
29. Any dainties to be offered ceremonially should be made by the
lady of the house herself. [Trans.].
Rumour became busy on every side. The police were continually in
and out. The servants of the house were in a great flurry.
Khema, my maid, came up to me and said: "Oh, Rani Mother! for
goodness" sake put away my gold necklace and armlets in your iron
safe." To whom was I to explain that the Rani herself had been
weaving all this network of trouble, and had got caught in it,
too? I had to play the benign protector and take charge of
Khema's ornaments and Thako's savings. The milk-woman, in her
turn, brought along and kept in my room a box in which were a
Benares __sari__ and some other of her valued possessions. "I
got these at your wedding," she told me.
When, tomorrow, my iron safe will be opened in the presence of
these - Khema, Thako, the milk-woman and all the rest ... Let me
not think of it! Let me rather try to think what it will be like
when this third day of Magh comes round again after a year has
passed. Will all the wounds of my home life then be still as
fresh as ever? ...
Amulya writes that he will come later in the evening. I cannot
remain alone with my thoughts, doing nothing. So I sit down
again to make cakes for him. I have finished making quite a
quantity, but still I must go on. Who will eat them? I shall
distribute them amongst the servants. I must do so this very
night. Tonight is my limit. Tomorrow will not be in my hands.
I went on untiringly, frying cake after cake. Every now and then
it seemed to me that there was some noise in the direction of my
rooms, upstairs. Could it be that my husband had missed the key
of the safe, and the Bara Rani had assembled all the servants to
help him to hunt for it? No, I must not pay heed to these
sounds. Let me shut the door.
I rose to do so, when Thako came panting in: "Rani Mother, oh,
"Oh get away!" I snapped out, cutting her short. "Don't come
"The Bara Rani Mother wants you," she went on. "Her nephew has
brought such a wonderful machine from Calcutta. It talks like a
man. Do come and hear it!"
I did not know whether to laugh or to cry. So, of all things, a
gramophone needs must come on the scene at such a time, repeating
at every winding the nasal twang of its theatrical songs! What a
fearsome thing results when a machine apes a man.
The shades of evening began to fall. I knew that Amulya would
not delay to announce himself - yet I could not wait. I summone
d a servant and said: "Go and tell Amulya Babu to come straight
in here." The man came back after a while to say that Amulya was
not in - he had not come back since he had gone.
"Gone!" The last word struck my ears like a wail in the
gathering darkness. Amulya gone! Had he then come like a streak
of light from the setting sun, only to be gone for ever? All
kinds of possible and impossible dangers flitted through my mind.
It was I who had sent him to his death. What if he was fearless?
That only showed his own greatness of heart. But after this how
was Ito go on living all by myself?
I had no memento of Amulya save that pistol - his reverence-
offering. It seemed to me that this was a sign given by
Providence. This guilt which had contaminated my life at its
very root - my God in the form of a child had left with me the
means of wiping it away, and then vanished. Oh the loving gift -
the saving grave that lay hidden within it!
I opened my box and took out the pistol, lifting it reverently to
my forehead. At that moment the gongs clanged out from the
temple attached to our house. I prostrated myself in salutation.
In the evening I feasted the whole household with my cakes. "You
have managed a wonderful birthday feast - and all by yourself
too!" exclaimed my sister-in-law. "But you must leave something
for us to do." With this she turned on her gramophone and let
loose the shrill treble of the Calcutta actresses all over the
place. It seemed like a stable full of neighing fillies.
It got quite late before the feasting was over. I had a sudden
longing to end my birthday celebration by taking the dust of my
husband's feet. I went up to the bedroom and found him fast
asleep. He had had such a worrying, trying day. I raised the
edge of the mosquito curtain very very gently, and laid my head
near his feet. My hair must have touched him, for he moved his
legs in his sleep and pushed my head away.
I then went out and sat in the west verandah. A silk-cotton
tree, which had shed all its leaves, stood there in the distance,
like a skeleton. Behind it the crescent moon was setting. All
of a sudden I had the feeling that the very stars in the sky were
afraid of me - that the whole of the night world was looking
askance at me. Why? Because I was alone.
There is nothing so strange in creation as the man who is alone.
Even he whose near ones have all died, one by one, is not alone -
companionship comes for him from behind the screen of death. But
he, whose kin are there, yet no longer near, who has dropped out
of all the varied companionship of a full home - the starry
universe itself seems to bristle to look on him in his darkness.
Where I am, I am not. I am far away from those who are around
me. I live and move upon a world-wide chasm of separation,
unstable as the dew-drop upon the lotus leaf.
Why do not men change wholly when they change? When I look into
my heart, I find everything that was there, still there - only
they are topsy-turvy. Things that were well-ordered have become
jumbled up. The gems that were strung into a necklace are now
rolling in the dust. And so my heart is breaking.
I feel I want to die. Yet in my heart everything still lives -
nor even in death can I see the end of it all: rather, in death
there seems to be ever so much more of repining. What is to be
ended must be ended in this life - there is no other way out.
Oh forgive me just once, only this time, Lord! All that you gave
into my hands as the wealth of my life, I have made into my
burden. I can neither bear it longer, nor give it up. O Lord,
sound once again those flute strains which you played for me,
long ago, standing at the rosy edge of my morning sky - and let
all my complexities become simple and easy. Nothing save the
music of your flute can make whole that which has been broken,
and pure that which has been sullied. Create my home anew with
your music. No other way can I see.
I threw myself prone on the ground and sobbed aloud. It was for
mercy that I prayed - some little mercy from somewhere, some
shelter, some sign of forgiveness, some hope that might bring
about the end. "Lord," I vowed to myself, "I will lie here,
waiting and waiting, touching neither food nor drink, so long as
your blessing does not reach me."
I heard the sound of footsteps. Who says that the gods do not
show themselves to mortal men? I did not raise my face to look
up, lest the sight of it should break the spell. Come, oh come,
come and let your feet touch my head. Come, Lord, and set your
foot upon my throbbing heart, and at that moment let me die.
He came and sat near my head. Who? My husband! At the first
touch of his presence I felt that I should swoon. And then the
pain at my heart burst its way out in an overwhelming flood of
tears, tearing through all my obstructing veins and nerves. I
strained his feet to my bosom - oh, why could not their impress
remain there for ever?
He tenderly stroked my head. I received his blessing. Now I
shall be able to take up the penalty of public humiliation which
will be mine tomorrow, and offer it, in all sincerity, at the
feet of my God.
But what keeps crushing my heart is the thought that the festive
flutes which were played at my wedding, nine years ago, welcoming
me to this house, will never sound for me again in this life.
What rigour of penance is there which can serve to bring me once
more, as a bride adorned for her husband, to my place upon that
same bridal seat? How many years, how many ages, aeons, must
pass before I can find my way back to that day of nine years ago?
God can create new things, but has even He the power to create
afresh that which has been destroyed?
TODAY we are going to Calcutta. Our joys and sorrows lie heavy
on us if we merely go on accumulating them. Keeping them and
accumulating them alike are false. As master of the house I am
in an artificial position - in reality I am a wayfarer on the path
of life. That is why the true Master of the House gets hurt at
every step and at last there comes the supreme hurt of death.
My union with you, my love, was only of the wayside; it was well
enough so long as we followed the same road; it will only hamper
us if we try to preserve it further. We are now leaving its
bonds behind. We are started on our journey beyond, and it will
be enough if we can throw each other a glance, or feel the touch
of each other's hands in passing. After that? After that there
is the larger world-path, the endless current of universal life.
How little can you deprive me of, my love, after all? Whenever I
set my ear to it, I can hear the flute which is playing, its
fountain of melody gushing forth from the flute-stops of
separation. The immortal draught of the goddess is never
exhausted. She sometimes breaks the bowl from which we drink it,
only to smile at seeing us so disconsolate over the trifling
loss. I will not stop to pick up my broken bowl. I will march
forward, albeit with unsatisfied heart.
The Bara Rani came and asked me: "What is the meaning, brother,
of all these books being packed up and sent off in box-loads?"
"It only means," I replied, "that I have not yet been able to get
over my fondness for them."
"I only wish you would keep your fondness for some other things
as well! Do you mean you are never coming back home?"
"I shall be coming and going, but shall not immure myself here
"Oh indeed! Then just come along to my room and see how many
things __I__ have been unable to shake off __my__ fondness
for." With this she took me by the hand and marched me off.
In my sister-in-law's rooms I found numberless boxes and bundles
ready packed. She opened one of the boxes and said: "See,
brother, look at all my __pan__-making things. In this bottle
I have catechu powder scented with the pollen of screw-pine
blossoms. These little tin boxes are all for different kinds of
spices. I have not forgotten my playing cards and draught-board
either. If you two are over-busy, I shall manage to make other
friends there, who will give me a game. Do you remember this
comb? It was one of the __Swadeshi__ combs you brought for
"But what is all this for, Sister Rani? Why have you been
packing up all these things?"
"Do you think I am not going with you?"
"What an extraordinary idea!"
"Don't you be afraid! I am not going there to flirt with you,
nor to quarrel with the Chota Rani! One must die sooner or
later, and it is just as well to be on the bank of the holy
Ganges before it is too late. It is too horrible to think of
being cremated in your wretched burning-ground here, under that
stumpy banian tree - that is why I have been refusing to die, and
have plagued you all this time."
At last I could hear the true voice of home. The Bara Rani came
into our house as its bride, when I was only six years old. We
have played together, through the drowsy afternoons, in a corner
of the roof-terrace. I have thrown down to her green amras from
the tree-top, to be made into deliciously indigestible chutnies
by slicing them up with mustard, salt and fragrant herbs. It was
my part to gather for her all the forbidden things from the
store-room to be used in the marriage celebration of her doll;
for, in the penal code of my grandmother, I alone was exempt from
punishment. And I used to be appointed her messenger to my
brother, whenever she wanted to coax something special out of
him, because he could not resist my importunity. I also remember
how, when I suffered under the rigorous regime of the doctors of
those days - who would not allow anything except warm water and
sugared cardamom seeds during feverish attacks - my sister-in-law
could not bear my privation and used to bring me delicacies on
the sly. What a scolding she got one day when she was caught!
And then, as we grew up, our mutual joys and sorrows took on
deeper tones of intimacy. How we quarrelled! Sometimes
conflicts of worldly interests roused suspicions and jealousies,
making breaches in our love; and when the Chota Rani came in
between us, these breaches seemed as if they would never be
mended, but it always turned out that the healing forces at
bottom proved more powerful than the wounds on the surface.
So has a true relationship grown up between us, from our
childhood up till now, and its branching foliage has spread and
broadened over every room and verandah and terrace of this great
house. When I saw the Bara Rani make ready, with all her
belongings, to depart from this house of ours, all the ties that
bound us, to their wide-spreading ends, felt the shock.
The reason was clear to me, why she had made up her mind to drift
away towards the unknown, cutting asunder all her lifelong bonds
of daily habit, and of the house itself, which she had never left
for a day since she first entered it at the age of nine. And yet
it was this real reason which she could not allow to escape her
lips, preferring rather to put forward any other paltry excuse.
She had only this one relationship left in all the world, and the
poor, unfortunate, widowed and childless woman had cherished it
with all the tenderness hoarded in her heart. How deeply she had
felt our proposed separation I never realized so keenly as when I
stood amongst her scattered boxes and bundles.
I could see at once that the little differences she used to have
with Bimala, about money matters, did not proceed from any sordid
worldliness, but because she felt that her claims in regard to
this one relationship of her life had been overridden and its
ties weakened for her by the coming in between of this other
woman from goodness knows where! She had been hurt at every turn
and yet had not the right to complain.
And Bimala? She also had felt that the Senior Rani's claim over
me was not based merely on our social connection, but went much
deeper; and she was jealous of these ties between us, reaching
back to our childhood.
Today my heart knocked heavily against the doors of my breast. I
sank down upon one of the boxes as I said: "How I should love,
Sister Rani, to go back to the days when we first met in this old
house of ours."
"No, brother dear," she replied with a sigh, "I would not live my
life again - not as a woman! Let what I have had to bear end with
this one birth. I could not bear it over again."
I said to her: "The freedom to which we pass through sorrow is
greater than the sorrow."
"That may be so for you men. Freedom is for you. But we women
would keep others bound. We would rather be put into bondage
ourselves. No, no, brother, you will never get free from our
toils. If you needs must spread your wings, you will have to
take us with you; we refuse to be left behind. That is why I
have gathered together all this weight of luggage. It would
never do to allow men to run too light."
"I can feel the weight of your words," I said laughing, "and if
we men do not complain of your burdens, it is because women pay
us so handsomely for what they make us carry."
"You carry it," she said, "because it is made up of many small
things. Whichever one you think of rejecting pleads that it is
so light. And so with much lightness we weigh you down ... When
do we start?"
"The train leaves at half past eleven tonight. There will be
lots of time."
"Look here, do be good for once and listen to just one word of
mine. Take a good nap this afternoon. You know you never get
any sleep in the train. You look so pulled down, you might go to
pieces any moment. Come along, get through your bath first."
As we went towards my room, Khema, the maid, came up and with an
ultra-modest pull at her veil told us, in deprecatingly low
tones, that the Police Inspector had arrived with a prisoner and
wanted to see the Maharaja.
"Is the Maharaja a thief, or a robber," the Bara Rani flared up,
"that he should be set upon so by the police? Go and tell the
Inspector that the Maharaja is at his bath."