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The King of the Dark Chamber


By Rabindranath Tagore


[Translated from Bengali to English by Kshitish Chandra Sen]


[New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914;
Copyright, 1914, by Drama League of America,
by The Macmillan Company]




I


[A street. A few wayfarers, and a CITY GUARD]

FIRST MAN. Ho, Sir!

CITY GUARD. What do you want?

SECOND MAN. Which way should we go? We are strangers here.
Please tell us which street we should take.

CITY GUARD. Where do you want to go?

THIRD MAN. To where those big festivities are going to be held,
you know. Which way do we go?

CITY GUARD. One street is quite as good as another here. Any
street will lead you there. Go straight ahead, and you cannot
miss the place. [Exit.]

FIRST MAN. Just hear what the fool says: "Any street will lead
you there!" Where, then, would be the sense of having so many
streets?

SECOND MAN. You needn't be so awfully put out at that, my man.
A country is free to arrange its affairs in its own way. As for
roads in our country - well, they are as good as non-existent;
narrow and crooked lanes, a labyrinth of ruts and tracks. Our
King does not believe in open thoroughfares; he thinks that
streets are just so many openings for his subjects to fly away
from his kingdom. It is quite the contrary here; nobody stands
in your way, nobody objects to your going elsewhere if you like
to; and yet the people are far from deserting this kingdom. With
such streets our country would certainly have been depopulated in
no time.

FIRST MAN. My dear Janardan, I have always noticed that this is
a great fault in your character.

JANARDAN. What is?

FIRST MAN. That you are always having a fling at your country.
How can you think that open highways may be good for a country?
Look here, Kaundilya; here is a man who actually believes that
open highways are the salvation of a country.

KAUNDILYA. There is no need, Bhavadatta, of my pointing out
afresh that Janardan is blessed with an intelligence which is
remarkably crooked, which is sure to land him in danger some day.
If the King comes to hear of our worthy friend, he will make it a
pretty hard job for him to find any one to do him his funeral
rites when he is dead.

BHAVADATTA. One can't help feeling that life becomes a burden in
this country; one misses the joys of privacy in these streets -
this jostling and brushing shoulders with strange people day and
night makes one long for a bath. And nobody can tell exactly
what kind of people you are meeting with in these public roads -
ugh!

KAUNDILYA. And it is Janardan who persuaded us to come to this
precious country! We never had any second person like him in our
family. You knew my father, of course; he was a great man, a
pious man if ever there was one. He spent his whole life within
a circle of a radius of 49 cubits drawn with a rigid adherence to
the injunctions of the scriptures, and never for a single day did
he cross this circle. After his death a serious difficulty
arose - how cremate him within the limits of the 49 cubits and yet
outside the house? At length the priests decided that though we
could not go beyond the scriptural number, the only way out of
the difficulty was to reverse the figure and make it 94 cubits;
only thus could we cremate him outside the house without
violating the sacred books. My word, that was strict observance!
Ours is indeed no common country.

BHAVADATTA. And yet, though Janardan comes from the very same
soil, he thinks it wise to declare that open highways are best
for a country.

[Enter GRANDFATHER with a band of boys]

GRANDFATHER. Boys, we will have to vie with the wild breeze of
the south to-day - and we are not going to be beaten. We will
sing till we have flooded all streets with our mirth and song.

SONG.

/*
The southern gate is unbarred. Come, my spring, come!
Thou wilt swing at the swing of my heart, come, my spring,
come!
Come in the lisping leaves, in the youthful surrender of
flowers;
Come in the flute songs and the wistful sighs of the woodlands!
Let your unfastened robe wildly flap in the drunken wind!
Come, my spring, come!
*/

[Exeunt.]

[Enter a band of CITIZENS]

FIRST CITIZEN. After all, one cannot help wishing that the King
had allowed himself to be seen at least this one day. What a
great pity, to live in his kingdom and yet not to have seen him
for a single day!

SECOND CITIZEN. If you only knew the real meaning of all this
mystery! I could tell you if you would keep a secret.

FIRST CITIZEN. My dear fellow, we both live in the same quarter
of the town, but have you ever known me letting out any man s
secret? Of course, that matter of your brother's finding a
hidden fortune while digging for a well - well, you know well
enough why I had to give it out. You know all the facts.

SECOND CITIZEN. Of course I know. And it is because I know that
I ask, could you keep a secret if I tell you? It may mean
ruination to us all, you know, if you once let it out.

THIRD CITIZEN. You are a nice man, after all, Virupaksha! Why
are you so anxious to bring down a disaster which as yet only may
happen? Who will be responsible for keeping your secret all his
life?

VIRUPAKSHA. It is only because the topic came up - well, then, I
shall not say anything. I am not the man to say things for
nothing. You had yourself brought up the question that the King
never showed himself; and I only remarked that it was not for
nothing that the King shut himself up from the public gaze.

FIRST CITIZEN. Pray do tell us why, Virupaksha.

VIRUPAKSHA. Of course I don't mind telling you - for we are all
good friends, aren't we? There can be no harm. (With a low
voice.) The King - is - hideous to look at, so he has made up his
mind never to show himself to his subjects.

FIRST CITIZEN. Ha! that's it! It must be so. We have always
wondered ... why, the mere sight of a King in all countries
makes one's soul quake like an aspen leaf with fear; but why
should our King never have been seen by any mortal soul? Even if
he at least came out and consigned us all to the gibbet, we might
be sure that our King was no hoax. After all, there is much in
Virupaksha's explanation that sounds plausible enough.

THIRD CITIZEN. Not a bit - I don't believe in a syllable of it.

VIRUPAKSHA. What, Vishu, do you mean to say that I am a liar?

VISHU. I don't exactly mean that - but I cannot accept your
theory. Excuse me, I cannot help if I seem a bit rude or
churlish.

VIRUPAKSHA. Small wonder that you can't believe my words - you
who think yourself sage enough to reject the opinions of your
parents and superiors. How long do you think you could have
stayed in this country if the King did not remain in hiding? You
are no better than a flagrant heretic.

VISHU. My dear pillar of orthodoxy! Do you think any other King
would have hesitated to cut off your tongue and make it food for
dogs? And you have the face to say that our King is horrid to
look at!

VIRUPAKSHA. Look here, Vishu. will you curb your tongue?

VISHU. It would be superfluous to point out whose tongue needs
the curbing.

FIRST CITIZEN. Hush, my dear friends - this looks rather bad....
It seems as if they are resolved to put me in danger as well. I
am not going to be a party to all this.[Exit.]

[Enter a number of men, dragging in GRANDFATHER, in boisterous
exuberance]

SECOND CITIZEN. Grandpa, something strikes me to-day ...

GRANDFATHER. What is it?

SECOND CITIZEN. This year every country has sent its people to
our festival, but every one asks, "Everything is nice and
beautiful - but where is your King?" and we do not know what to
answer. That is the one big gap which cannot but make itself
felt to every one in our country.

GRANDFATHER. "Gap," do you say! Why, the whole country is all
filled and crammed and packed with the King: and you call him a
"gap"! Why,he has made every one of us a crowned King!

SINGS.

/*
We are all Kings in the kingdom of our King.
Were it not so, how could we hope in our heart to meet him!
We do what we like, yet we do what he likes;
We are not bound with the chain of fear at the feet of a slave-
owning King.
Were it not so, how could we hope in our heart to meet him!
Our King honours each one of us, thus honours his own very
self.
No littleness can keep us shut up in its walls of untruth for
aye.
Were it not so, how could we have hope in our heart to meet
him!
We struggle and dig our own path, thus reach his path at the
end.
We can never get lost in the abyss of dark night.
Were it not so, how could we hope in our heart to meet him!
*/

THIRD CITIZEN. But, really, I cannot stand the absurd things
people say about our King simply because he is not seen in
public.

FIRST CITIZEN. Just fancy! Any one libelling me can be
punished, while nobody can stop the mouth of any rascal who
chooses to slander the King.

GRANDFATHER. The slander cannot touch the King. With a mere
breath you can blow out the flame which a lamp inherits from the
sun, but if all the world blow upon the sun itself its effulgence
remains undimmed and unimpaired as before.

[Enter VISHVAVASU and VIRUPAKSHA]

VISHU. Here's Grandfather! Look here, this man is going about
telling everybody that our King does not come out because he is
ugly.

GRANDFATHER. But why does that make you angry, Vishu? His King
must be ugly, because how else could Virupaksha possess such
features in his kingdom? He fashions his King after the image of
himself he sees in the mirror.

VIRUPAKSHA. Grandfather, I shall mention no names, but nobody
would think of disbelieving the person who gave me the news.

GRANDFATHER. Who could be a higher authority than yourself!

VIRUPAKSHA. But I could give you proofs ...

FIRST CITIZEN. The impudence of this fellow knows no bounds!
Not content with spreading a ghastly rumour with an unabashed
face, he offers to measure his lies with insolence!

SECOND CITIZEN. Why not make him measure his length on the
ground?

GRANDFATHER. Why so much heat, my friends? The poor fellow is
going to have his own festive day by singing the ugliness of his
King. Go along, Virupaksha, you will find plenty of people ready
to believe you: may you be happy in their company.[Exeunt.]

[Re-enter the party of FOREIGNERS]

BHAVADATTA. It strikes me, Kaundilya, that these people haven't
got a King at all. They have somehow managed to keep the rumour
afloat.

KAUNDILYA. You are right, I think. We all know that the supreme
thing that strikes one's eye in any country is the King, who of
course loses no opportunity of exhibiting himself.

JANARDAN. But look at the nice order and regularity prevailing
all over the place - how do you explain it without a King?

BHAVADATTA. So this is the wisdom you have arrived at by living
so long under a ruler! Where would be the necessity of having a
King if order and harmony existed already?

JANARDAN. All these people have assembled to rejoice at this
festival. Do you think they could come together like this in a
country of anarchy?

BHAVADATTA. My dear Janardan, you are evading the real issue, as
usual. There can be no question about the order and regularity,
and the festive rejoicing too is plain enough: there is no
difficulty so far. But where is the King? Have you seen him?
Just tell us that.

JANARDAN. What I want to say is this: you know from your
experience that there can be chaos and anarchy even if a King be
present: but what do we see here?

KAUNDILYA. You are always coming back to your quibbling. Why
can you not give a straight answer to Bhavadatta's question - Have
you, or have you not, seen the King? Yes or no? [Exeunt.]

[Enter a band of MEN, singing]

SONG.

/*
My beloved is ever in my heart
That is why I see him everywhere,
He is in the pupils of my eyes
That is why I see him everywhere.
I went far away to hear his own words,
But, ah, it was vain!
When I came back I heard them
In my own songs.
Who are you who seek him like a beggar
from door to door!
Come to my heart and see his face in the
tears of my eyes!
*/

[Enter HERALDS and ADVANCE GUARDS of the KING]

FIRST HERALD. Stand off! Get away from the street, all of you!

FIRST CITIZEN. Eh, man, who do you think you are? You weren't
of course born with such lofty strides, my friend? - Why should we
stand off, my dear sir? Why should we budge? Are we street
dogs, or what?

SECOND HERALD. Our King is coming this way.

SECOND CITIZEN. King? Which King?

FIRST HERALD. Our King, the King of this country.

FIRST CITIZEN. What, is the fellow mad? Whoever heard of our
King coming out heralded by these vociferous gentry?

SECOND HERALD. The King will no longer deny himself to his
subjects. He is coming to command the festivities himself.

SECOND CITIZEN. Brother, is that so?

SECOND HERALD. Look, his banner is flying over there.

SECOND CITIZEN. Ah, yes, that is a flag indeed.

SECOND HERALD. Do you see the red Kimshuk flower
painted on it?

SECOND CITIZEN. Yes, yes, it is the Kimshuk
indeed! - what a bright scarlet flower!

FIRST HERALD. Well! do you believe us now?

SECOND CITIZEN. I never said I didn't. That fellow Kumbha
started all this fuss. Did I say a word?

FIRST HERALD. Perhaps, though a pot-bellied man, he is quite
empty inside; an empty vessel sounds most, you know.

SECOND HERALD. Who is he? Is he any kinsman of yours?

SECOND CITIZEN. Not at all. He is just a cousin of our village
chief's father-in-law, and he does not even live in the same part
of our village with us.

SECOND HERALD. Just so: he quite looks the seventh cousin of
somebody's father-in-law, and his understanding appears also to
bear the stamp of uncle-in-lawhood.

KUMBHA. Alas, my friends, many a bitter sorrow has given my poor
mind a twist before it has become like this. It is only the
other day that a King came and paraded the streets, with as many
titles in front of him as the drums that made the town hideous by
their din, ... What did I not do to serve and please him! I
rained presents on him, I hung about him like a beggar - and in
the end I found the strain on my resources too hard to bear. But
what was the end of all that pomp and majesty? When people
sought grants and presents from him, he could not somehow
discover an auspicious day in the Calendar: though all days were
red-letter days when we had to pay our taxes!

SECOND HERALD. Do you mean to insinuate that our King is a bogus
King like the one you have described?

FIRST HERALD. Mr. Uncle-in-law, I believe the time has come for
you to say good-bye to Aunty-in-law.

KUMBHA. Please, sirs, do not take any offence. I am a poor
creature - my sincerest apologies, sirs: I will do anything to be
excused. I am quite willing to move away as far as you like.

SECOND HERALD. All right, come here and form a line. The King
will come just now - we shall go and prepare the way for him.
[They go out.]

SECOND CITIZEN. My dear Kumbha, your tongue will be your death
one day.

KUMBHA. Friend Madhav, it isn't my tongue, it is fate. When the
bogus King appeared I never said a word, though that did not
prevent my striking at my own feet with all the self-confidence
of innocence. And now, when perhaps the real King has come, I
simply must blurt out treason. It is fate, my dear friend!

MADHAV. My faith is, to go on obeying the King - it does not
matter whether he is a real one or a pretender. What do we know
of Kings that we should judge them! It is like throwing stones
in the dark - you are almost sure of hitting your mark. I go on
obeying and acknowledging - if it is a real King, well and good:
if not, what harm is there?

KUMBHA. I should not have minded if the stones were nothing
better than stones. But they are often precious things: here, as
elsewhere, extravagance lands us in poverty, my friend.

MADHAV. Look! There comes the King! Ah, a King indeed! What a
figure, what a face! Whoever saw such beauty - lily-white,
creamy-soft! What now, Kumbha? What do you think now?

KUMBHA. He looks all right - yes, he may be the real King for all
I know.

MADHAV. He looks as if he were moulded and carved for kingship,
a figure too exquisite and delicate for the common light of day.

[Enter the "KING"]

[Transcriber's note: The author indicates the trumped up King as
"KING" in this play, enclosing the word King in double quotes to
help us distinguish the imposter from the real one.]

MADHAV. Prosperity and victory attend thee, O King! We have
been standing here to have a sight of thee since the early
morning. Forget us not, your Majesty, in your favours.

KUMBHA. The mystery deepens. I will go and call
Grandfather.[Goes out.]

[Enter another band of MEN]

FIRST MAN. The King, the King! Come along, quick, the King is
passing this way.

SECOND MAN. Do not forget me, O King! I am Vivajadatta, the
grandson of Udayadatta of Kushalivastu. I came here at the first
report of thy coming - I did not stop to hear what people were
saying: all the loyalty in me went out towards thee, O Monarch,
and brought me here.

THIRD MAN. Rubbish! I came here earlier than you - before the
cockcrow. Where were you then? O King, I am Bhadrasena, of
Vikramasthali. Deign to keep thy servant in thy memory!

"KING". I am much pleased with your loyalty and devotion.

VIVAJADATTA. Your Majesty, many are the grievances and
complaints we have to make to thee: to whom could we turn our
prayers so long, when we could not approach thy august presence?

"KING". Your grievances will all be redressed. [Exit.]

FIRST MAN. It won't do to lag behind, boys - the King will lose
sight of us if we get mixed up with the mob.

SECOND MAN. See there-look what that fool Narottam is doing! He
has elbowed his way through all of us and is now sedulously
fanning the King with a palm leaf!

MADHAV. Indeed! Well, well, the sheer audacity of the man takes
one's breath away.

SECOND MAN. We shall have to pitch the fellow out of that
place - is he fit to stand beside the King?

MADHAV. Do you imagine the King will not see through him? His
loyalty is obviously a little too showy and profuse.

FIRST MAN. Nonsense! Kings can't scent hypocrites as we do - I
should not be surprised if the King be taken in by that fool's
strenuous fanning.

[Enter KUMBHA with GRANDFATHER]

KUMBHA. I tell you - he has just passed by this street.

GRANDFATHER. Is that a very infallible test of Kingship?

KUMBHA. Oh no, he did not pass unobserved: not one or two men
but hundreds and thousands on both sides of the street have seen
him with their own eyes.

GRANDFATHER. That is exactly what makes the whole affair
suspicious. When ever has our King set out to dazzle the eyes of
the people by pomp and pageantry? He is not the King to make
such a thundering row over his progress through the country.

KUMBHA. But he may just have chosen to do so on this important
occasion: you cannot really tell.

GRANDFATHER. Oh yes, you can! My King cherishes no weathercock
fancy, no fantastic vein.

KUMBHA. But, Grandfather, I wish I could only describe him! So
soft, so delicate and exquisite like a waxen doll! As I looked
on him, I yearned to shelter him from the sun, to protect him
with my whole body.

GRANDFATHER. Fool, O precious ass that you are! My King
a waxen doll, and you to protect him!

KUMBHA. But seriously, Grandpa, he is a superb god, a miracle of
beauty: I do not find a single other figure in this vast assembly
that can stand beside his peerless loveliness.

GRANDFATHER. If my King chose to make himself shown, your eyes
would not have noticed him. He would not stand out like that
amongst others - he is one of the people, he mingles with the
common populace.

KUMBHA. But did I not tell you I saw his banner?

GRANDFATHER. What did you see displayed on his banner?

KUMBHA. It had a red Kimshuk flower painted on it - the
bright and glittering scarlet dazzled my eyes.

GRANDFATHER. My King has a thunderbolt within a lotus
painted on his flag.

KUMBHA. But every one is saying, the King is out in this
festival: every one.

GRANDFATHER. Why, so he is, of course: but he has no heralds, no
army, no retinue, no music bands or lights to accompany him.

KUMBHA. So none could recognise him in his incognito, it seems.

GRANDFATHER. Perhaps there are a few that can.

KUMBHA. And those that can recognise him - does the King grant
them whatever they ask for?

GRANDFATHER. But they never ask for anything. No beggar will
ever know the King. The greater beggar appears like the King to
the eyes of the lesser beggar. O fool, the man that has come out
to-day attired in crimson and gold to beg from you - it is him
whom you are trumpeting as your King! ... Ah, there comes my
mad friend! Oh come, my brothers! we cannot spend the day in
idle wrangling and prating - let us now have some mad frolic, some
wild enjoyment!

[Enter the MAD FRIEND, who sings]

/*
Do you smile, my friends? Do you laugh, my brothers? I roam
in search of the golden stag! Ah yes, the fleet-foot vision
that ever eludes me!

Oh, he flits and glimpses like a flash and then is gone, the
untamed rover of the wilds! Approach him and he is afar in a
trice, leaving a cloud of haze and dust before thy eyes!

Yet I roam in search of the golden stag, though I may never
catch him in these wilds! Oh, I roam and wander through
woods and fields and nameless lands like a restless vagabond,
never caring to turn my back.

You all come and buy in the marketplace and go back to your
homes laden with goods and provisions: but me the wild winds
of unscalable heights have touched and kissed - Oh, I know not
when or where!

I have parted with my all to get what never has become mine!
And yet think my moanings and my tears are for the things I
thus have lost!

With a laugh and a song in my heart I have left all sorrow and
grief far behind me: Oh, I roam and wander through woods and
fields and nameless lands - never caring to turn my vagabond's
back!
*/




II


[A DarkChamber. QUEEN SUDARSHANA. Her Maid of Honour,
SURANGAMA]

SUDARSHANA. Light, light! Where is light? Will the lamp never
be lighted in this chamber?

SURANGAMA. My Queen, all your other rooms are lighted - will you
never long to escape from the light into a dark room like this?

SUDARSHANA. But why should this room be kept dark?

SURANGAMA. Because otherwise you would know neither light nor
darkness.

SUDARSHANA. Living in this dark room you have grown to speak
darkly and strangely - I cannot understand you, Surangama. But
tell me, in what part of the palace is this chamber situated? I
cannot make out either the entrance or the way out of this room.

SURANGAMA. This room is placed deep down, in the very heart of
the earth. The King has built this room specially for your sake.

SUDARSHANA. Why, he has no dearth of rooms - why need he have
made this chamber of darkness specially for me?

SURANGAMA. You can meet others in the lighted rooms: but only in
this dark room can you meet your lord.

SUDARSHANA. No, no - I cannot live without light - I am restless
in this stifling dark. Surangama, if you can bring a light into
this room, I shall give you this necklace of mine.

SURANGAMA. It is not in my power, O Queen. How can I bring
light to a place which he would have kept always dark!

SUDARSHANA. Strange devotion! And yet, is it not true that the
King punished your father?

SURANGAMA. Yes, that is true. My father used to gamble. All
the young men of the country used to gather at my father's
house-and they used to drink and gamble.

SUDARSHANA. And when the King sent away your father in exile,
did it not make you feel bitterly oppressed?

SURANGAMA. Oh, it made me quite furious. I was on the road to
ruin and destruction: when that path was closed for me, I seemed
left without any support, without any succour or shelter. I
raged and raved like a wild beast in a cage - how I wanted to tear
every one to pieces in my powerless anger!

SUDARSHANA. But how did you get this devotion towards that same


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