Anandamath (Dawn over India)/Part 1/Chapter 15

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In the forest a number of the Children had heard the song Mahatma Satya sang. But Jiban, above all, understood its real message. He had had, in the very beginning, the Mahatma's command to follow the movements of Mahendra.

In this assignment he had met on the roadside a woman who had had no food for seven days. Jiban revived her with food and drink, but at parting swore at her for having caused him delay. Then he saw his master being taken away by the sepoys and heard him sing the song. Jiban well understood the code signals of the Mahatma.

He interpreted the song and the melody as a command to rush to the aid of a woman lying helpless by the river. Jiban had seen his master in the hands of the British, and he felt that his first duty was to release the Mahatma by any means. But he thought within himself: 'This is not the meaning of the master's message. To obey his orders is much more important than to save his life. This was the first lesson I learnt from him.'

So he walked slowly along the river. At a little distance under a tree he discovered a dead woman and her living child. He had never seen Mahendra's wife and child, but he had seen Mahendra with the Mahatma. Consequently he reasoned: 'The woman may be Mahendra's wife, and the girl his daughter. Whoever they may be, the mother is dead and the daughter still alive. The first thing to do is to save the life of the child, otherwise she will be eaten up by the tigers and the bears of the jungle. Bhavan is somewhere around. He will attend to the cremation of this woman.' He picked up the child and walked away.

With the child in his arms, Jiban entered the thick forest. Beyond the jungle he came to a village by the name of Bharuipur, where a few families of simple country folk lived. Beyond it again there lay another vast forest — and forests on all sides, so that the village was like an island surrounded by an ocean of forests.

Bharuipur was small but very beautiful village. There were velvety pastures and delightful groves of mango, jack fruit, plum and palm trees, their branches and leaves green and soft. In a lake of blue water played cranes, ducks and gallinules. On the banks around the lake cuckoos and geese abounded. At a little distance peacocks were dancing. Every family in the village had cows in the yard. But the granaries were empty, and on all sides signs of destitution were evident. From the ceiling of one house hung a myna cage. A few houses had sacramental paintings on their walls and a few families had vegetable gardens in their yards. All had been equally affected by the famine.

Men, women and children were weak, emaciated and miserable. And, yet, the people of this village had no idea of the worst of the famine. The jungles yielded various kinds of food fit for humans to eat. This fact helped to protect the villagers from the dangers of sickness and saved their lives.

A little house was standing in the midst of an extensive mango grove. A mud wall surrounded the homestead. On each of the four sides of a courtyard a house stood. They had cows, goats, a peacock, even a chattering myna bird. They had had a monkey, but it was so difficult to feed that they had to let it go. In the barn there was a rice husker and a lemon tree in the yard. There were also a few jasmine plants but none of them had borne flowers this year. On every verandah of the houses there was a spinning wheel.

Few people were around when Jiban entered the yard with the child in his arms. He walked up to the verandah of one of the houses and rotated a spinning wheel to its whining way. The child had never heard the noise of a charkha before. She had been crying a little ever since she had been separated from her mother. Now, frightened by the strange noise, she screamed at the top of her voice. At the child's cry a girl of seventeen or eighteen rushed out of the house. She was amazed at what she saw. As she stood, her head bent and forefinger on her cheek, she spoke: 'Brother Jiban, what is this? What makes you spin the wheel? Where did you get the child? Is this your child? Perhaps you have married again?'

As Jiban handed the child to his sister, he shook her in affectionate reproach and said: 'My naughty sister, how can I have a child? Do you think I am so worthless? Have you any milk in the house?'

'Certainly, we have milk,' she replied, and then hurried into the house to warm some while Jiban played with the spinning wheel on the verandah.

Sukumari had stopped crying the moment she was taken into the young girl's arms. Perhaps the little girl accepted her hostess as her own mother, for the lady was pretty, like a lotus blossom. Within the house the child cried but once, perhaps with the warmth from the heat of the stove. Jiban, hearing this cry, called out: 'O, Nimi, my little sister, haven't you finished warming the milk yet?'

'Yes, brother,' Nimi replied, as she brought a big cup of milk.

Nimi sat on the floor, placed the child flat on her lap, and began feeding her with a spoon. Suddenly tears fell from her beautiful eyes. The spoon had belonged to a child of her own that had died. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Nimi smiled and asked: 'Tell me, brother, whose daughter is she?'

'What makes you so interested in knowing that, my naughty little sister?'

'Will you give me the girl?'

'What will you do with her?'

'I shall feed her, fondle her in my arms, and nurse her as my very own.'

Again tears filled her eyes, and again she wiped them away and smiled.

'You will have no use for her,' Jiban said. 'You will have children of your own.'

'That may be. But please let me have this child now. You may take her away afterwards.'

'All right, you may have her. Once in a while, I shall come down to see her. She belongs to the Kshatriya caste. Now I must go.'

'But you must eat something before you go, brother. It is already late for luncheon. I beg of you, please eat something before you go.'

'Well, if you insist, I shall take a little rice and curry.'

Within a few minutes Nimi had the lunch served for her brother. Jiban had before him milk-white rice, Kalai pea soup, wild figs, curried carp caught from the pond, and milk.

'Nimi, my dear sister,' Jiban remarked. 'Who says that we are going through a famine? Perhaps famine has not touched your village yet! Is it so?'

'Famine has reached here all right. This famine is frightful indeed! But we are only two in the family. Whatever we have we share with others and thus get along. We had rain in our village. Don't you remember? You said it would rain; so it did. Thus in our village the rice crop did not altogether fail. Others sold their rice in the city but we did not.'

'Where is my brother-in-law, Nimi?'

'A neighbouring family needs food,' Nimi whispered as she looked at the floor. 'So he has gone out with a few pounds of rice.'

Jiban had not eaten such a sumptuous meal for many months. Without wasting words he quickly finished the repast. Nimi had cooked only enough for herself and her husband, and had given her own share to her brother. When she found his plate empty, she also gave him her husband's share, and in a few minutes Jiban finished that too.

'May I serve you anything more, brother?' Nimi asked.

'What else have you?'

'I have a ripe jack-fruit.'

'Excellent.'

And Nimi served the jack-fruit, which Jiban ate without a word of protest.

'Brother, that's all. I have nothing more to offer you,' Nimi said, laughing.

'Well, then I shall return some other time and once more eat dishes like these.'

Nimi now offered him water for washing.

'Brother, I have a request for you,' Nimi said as she poured water into his hands.

'What is it, Nimi?'

'Do you promise that you will grant me the favour?'

'First tell me what it is.'

'But you won't disappoint me, will you?'

'What is it, my dear little sister?'

Then she pressed the fingers of her left hand with those of her right; looked at her fingers; then looked at Jiban, and again at the floor. At last she summoned courage enough to say: 'May I bring my bowdi here?'

'Give my child back to me,' Jiban said, furious at such a request. 'And on another such occasion I shall return the food you fed me with. You wicked girl, you always say the things you should never mention to me.'

'I may be bad and naughty and all that, but may I fetch your wife here for a moment so that she may see you just once before you return to the ashram of the Mother?'

'I must go now. I must go.' And Jiban started quickly from the room. But Nimi rushed to the door, closed it, stood against it and said: 'You must kill me before you can go. You will see your wife before you leave this house.'

'Do you realise how many enemies of our Motherland I have killed so far?'

'Bravo! Bravo! What a thing to be proud of!' Nimi said angrily. 'You renounce your wife. You kill human beings. And then you want me to be afraid of you! But I tell you that we are children of the same father. If you have come to such a state that you are proud of killing human beings, then kill me, and you will have a chance to brag of having killed your own sister. Shame on you, to kill human beings and then boast of it!'

'Well, then go and get your bowdi,' Jiban said as he laughed. 'This time I forgive you, but if you ever again even suggest such a thing, I may or may not punish you; but be sure that by way of an insult I shall shave the head of your husband, bathe it in buttermilk and then place him on the hind end of a donkey, and expel him out of the village.'

'Oh, what a relief that would be,' Nimi smiled as she hurried from the room. She ran to a humble cottage near by. Inside the cottage sat a woman in rags. The woman's hair was untidy. She was spinning.

'Hurry, sister, hurry,' Nimi said.

'Why, what has happened, sister? Has your husband beaten you? Must I apply healing oil to the wounds?'

'Pretty near, sister, pretty near. Have you any oil here?'

The sister-in-law handed Nimi a cup containing oil. Nimi immediately began to dress her sister-in-law's hair with it. Then she affectionately patted the woman on the cheeks and said: 'You are dressed in rags now. Where is that beautiful Dhaka sari of yours?'

'Have you gone crazy, sister?'

'There is no time to lose. Please get your sari out quickly.'

In fun the sister-in-law got her sari. Even the dire sorrow of her life had failed to crush the joy in her heart. She was young. The freshness of her youth was like the glory of a full blown blossom. She lived in sackcloth and ashes, and fasting had become her only food. Yet her radiant beauty blossomed through the humble rags that covered her body. As lightning in the clouds, brilliance in the mind, music in words, happiness in death, there dwelt in her beauty an intangible glory. Yes, peerless devotion adorned her personality. Smilingly she took her Dhaka sari from its hiding place, handed it to Nimi and said: 'Here you are. Here is the Dhaka sari. What are you going to do with it?'

'You have to wear it today,' Nimi said.

'Why should I put that sari on?'

'My brother is home. He wants to see you,' Nimi whispered, placing her beautiful arms around the graceful neck of her sister-in-law.

'If he wants to see me, then there is no reason why I should put on my beautiful sari. Let me go as I am, in these rags.'

And the sister-in-law threw the sari aside. She placed her arm around Nimi's neck and then walked out of the cottage. Nimi accompanied her to the door of her own house made her enter, closed the door and she herself remained outside.