Anandamath (Dawn over India)/Part 2/Chapter 1

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Shanti had lost her mother in her infancy. This had played its part in the formation of her character. Her father had been a Brahmin professor in his own Sanskrit academy. As he had no other female in the family, Shanti was wont to attend her fathers classes. A few students lived at the academy and little Shanti used to visit them, played with them, and they grew to be very fond of her.

The first fruit of Shanti's association with students was that she failed to learn how to dress like a girl; or if she did, she gave it up and dressed herself like a boy. If perchance anyone ever dressed her as a girl, she herself changed the sari into a dhoti and garbed herself like a boy again. As she never dressed her hair like a girls, the students were fond of combing it into curls with a wooden comb; and the curls fell on her back, on her shoulders, on her arms, and on her cheeks. Like the students, she was in the habit of putting holy marks on her forehead, and sandal paste on her body. And she cried bitterly indeed when she was forbidden to use the sacred thread meant only for male Brahmins. At the time of prayer and meditation, she never forgot to imitate the students of the academy. In the absence of the professor, the students at times entertained themselves with stories and risque jokes in Sanskrit. Like a parrot Shanti memorised those tales, of course without knowing what they meant.

As Shanti grew up she began to learn what the students were studying. She did not know anything about Sanskrit grammar; but she memorised verses from Bhatti Kavyam, Raghuvangsam, Kumarsambhavam, Naishadhacharitam and other Sanskrit works of importance. Her father, noticing the literary tendencies of his motherless daughter, at last began to teach her the Mughdhobodha Sanskrit grammar. Shanti learned the grammar so quickly that her father was surprised indeed, and taught her a few books of Sanskrit literature.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the professor died. The academy closed. Shanti became a homeless orphan. The students left. But they all loved Shanti and could not leave her helpless. One of them took her to his own home. This young student later joined the Order of the Children, and became known as Jiban. Jiban's parents were alive. He introduced Shanti to them.

'Who will take the responsibility for someone else's daughter?' Jibans father asked.

'I have brought her here, and I will undertake the full responsibility of Shanti,' Jiban replied.

As Jiban was a bachelor and Shanti approaching womanhood, the parents proposed a match between the two. Without more ado Shanti was married to Jiban.

After the marriage the parents came to realise that they had done the wrong thing — that the marriage perhaps had been a mistake, for Shanti stubbornly refused to dress as a girl, and would not even fix her hair like a girls. She was scarcely ever at home, but would mingle with the boys of the neighbourhood and play with them like a tomboy. She used to enter the neighbouring jungles alone and search for peacocks, deer, and rare fruits and flowers. Her parents-in-law at first simply asked her not to do such things. Then they rebuked her. Punishment followed rebuke and finally they confined Shanti to the house. These tyrannies upset Shanti. So once at an opportune moment she left home without telling even Jiban of her plans.

She entered the jungle, and with the help of flowers dyed her dress yellow. Thus she transformed herself into a young sanyasi. In those days multitudes of sanyasis roamed about Bengal. Shanti lived on alms and at last stood on the road to the holy shrine of Jagannath at Puri. Within a short time there appeared a group of sanyasis. Shanti joined them.

The sanyasis of those days were of a different type than of todays. They were upright, well educated, strong and knew the science of warfare. They were endowed with other qualities too. Generally they were rebels against the British occupation of India. They lost no opportunity in seizing the properties of the alien government. They never failed to pick up strong children everytime they got a chance. They educated and trained them in the use of arms, and thus added to the strength of their own community.

It was with one such community of sanyasis, that Shanti found herself. Noticing the slender body of Shanti, they at first hesitated to accept her; but when they came to know her qualities, the high culture of her mind and her ability for work, they accepted her into the order. In this community Shanti learned gymnastics and the use of arms, and soon became strong and hardy. She travelled with them far and near, taking part in many a fray, and became expert in the use of the weapons of war.

Gradually, however, she showed signs of her sex. Many of the sanyasis came to know that young Shanti was a woman in disguise. But sanyasis in general were above sex and they did not object to the continuance of her association. There were many scholars among them and one of them undertook to teach Shanti. Though the sanyasis were free from the craving of sex, this pandit was not. Or it may be that the youth and ravishing beauty of Shanti were responsible for his lack of restraint. His senses tortured him again and again. He began to teach Shanti poems of love with strong amorous appeal and explain these sensuous poems to her with vulgar frankness.

Instead of hurting Shanti, this helped her. She had never known what bashfulness was. Now feminine modesty slowly entered her heart. As the radiance of feminine grace began to rise above her acquired masculine habits, the rare qualities of her personality shone beautifully. She gave up her studies with this teacher.

But as a hunter follows the doe, so this teacher followed Shanti. She, however, had acquired, through gymnastic exercises, a strength of which few men could boast. Whenever he came near her, she fought him Once this sensuous man found her alone, and caught her tightly by her left hand. She could not free herself; but with her right fist she struck such a blow on the pandit's forehead that he fell unconscious to the ground. Then she left this group of sanyasis.

Shanti was fearless. Alone she started for home. Her courage and strength protected her all the way. She lived on alms or on wild fruits. She fought many fights alone and always won. Eventually she reached home, but her father-in-law closed his doors against her. He did not want to lose caste in the community. Shanti had left home, and certainly could not be taken back now into the family. So she went away without a word of protest. But Jiban was at home. He followed her and soon overtook her.

'Why did you leave home, Shanti?' Jiban asked. 'Where have you been all this time?'

Shanti told him nothing but the truth. And Jiban who could tell the difference between truth and falsehood, believed every word she uttered.

Cupid never wastes his darts, so carefully made from the lustre of the amorous glances of the most charming damsels in heaven. And he does not by any means waste such darts on married couples. Cupid never wastes his time doing useless things, unlike human beings who always seem to enjoy doing the unnecessary; and not only human beings, for at times even the moon can be seen in the skies after the rising of the sun. Lord Indra showers rain on the ocean. Kuber, Lord of Wealth, always likes to fill chests that are already overflowing with wealth. Yama, Lord of Death, enjoys taking away the only surviving member of a family when others are gone. But Cupid, leaves married couples in the hands of Prajapati, and studiously goes after those with whose hearts he can easily play. But today, perhaps Cupid had nothing else to do, perhaps he was enjoying a holiday. So he nonchalantly shot two of his darts. One went right through the heart of Jiban. And the other fell on Shanti's heart to tell her that her heart was, after all, the heart of a woman — a tender heart, yes, very, very tender indeed!

Suddenly the bud of her heart opened its petals into a fullblown blossom of love. And with deep and smiling eyes she looked at Jiban's face.

'I will not disown you,' Jiban said. 'Please stay here until I return.'

'Are you sure to return?' Shanti inquired.

Jiban did not reply nor did he even look to see if anybody was near.

In the shade of the coconut trees he pressed his lips gently against Shanti's and ran off, feeling as if he had drunk the nectar that can be found only in heaven. He returned home in a rush, explained everything, and said goodbye to his mother.

Recently his sister, Nimi, had married a gentleman of Bharuipur. He was very fond of this brother-in-law. So Jiban took his wife to Bharuipur. His brother-in-law gave him a plot of land and Jiban built a little cottage on it. Both Shanti and Jiban passed their days there in unalloyed happiness. Thus living with her husband, Shanti's tomboy qualities gradually began to disappear. The feminine within her began daily to unfold itself. The two passed their days and nights as if in a dream. But suddenly this dream came to an end. Jiban met Mahatma Satya, left his wife and joined the Order of the Children. For the first time since this separation they met at the meeting arranged by Nimi.