Anandamath (Dawn over India)/Part 2/Chapter 8

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Shanti, having been granted permission to stay at the ashram that night, began looking for rooms. There were many empty ones. Gobardhan, an attendant, candle in hand, undertook to show them to her. She liked none of them. Gobardhan, in disappointment, turned to lead her back to the Mahatma.

'Brother Child,' Shanti said, 'we have not examined the rooms on the other side yet, you know.'

'Those are very nice rooms indeed, but they are all occupied.'

'Who stay there?'

'The most eminent generals.'

'Who are those eminent generals?'

'Bhavan, Jiban, Dhiren and Jnan.'

'Let us go and see those rooms.'

Gobardhan led Shanti first to the room of Dhiren. Dhiren, busy reading the Dronaparba of the Mahabharata, was absorbed in thinking how Abhimanyu fought alone with seven warriors. He spoke not a word. Shanti too was silent and left without speaking. She then entered Bhavan's room. He was engaged in his meditations and his gaze seemed fixed on a face. This face must have been that of Kalyani. He was so absorbed in his thoughts of the beauty and the grace of Kalyani's face that he did not even look at the face of Shanti.

Entering another room Shanti asked: 'Whose room is this?'

'This is Jiban's room,' Gobardhan replied.

'Who is he? Why, no one is here!'

'He is a great general. He must be somewhere around. He will return any moment.'

'This is the best of all the rooms.'

'But you can't have this room by any means.'

'Why, may I ask?'

'Jiban lives here.'

'He may find another room for himself.'

'How is that possible? This is his room. He is the chief of this Home of the Mother. His orders are laws here. You don't know him. Oh, you certainly don't know him!'

'Then you may retire. If I cannot find a suitable room, I shall spend the night under a tree.'

Gobardhan retired and Shanti entered the room. She spread Jiban's black deerskin and sat herself on it. Then she lighted the little oil lamp, and began to read a book belonging to Jiban.

After a while Jiban returned. Though Shanti was dressed as a man, he knew her at first sight.

'How strange that Shanti is here!' Jiban said.

'Who is Shanti, sir?' she asked as she slowly laid the book aside and looked at Jiban's face.

Jiban was surprised beyond words. At last he mastered courage enough to say: 'You ask who Shanti is? Why, are you not Shanti?'

'I am Nabin, if you please,' Shanti said haughtily and she began to read the book again.

'This is certainly a joke to me,' Jiban said laughing aloud. 'But, then, Nabin, what brings you here in my room?'

'It is customary that when two gentlemen meet for the first time they should not fail to use words of respect like "sir" and "please". I am not transgressing the rudiments of good manners amongst strangers. I do not see any reason why you should!'

'Thy command shall be most punctiliously observed, most honoured Nabin,' Jiban said in affected humility. 'Now, this humble servant of thine begs thy permission to inquire as to why thou hast left Bharuipur and come here. This humble servant shall be most happy to know that.'

'There is no need for irony either,' Shanti said gravely. 'I do not know Bharuipur. I came here to enter the order of the Children and I have been initiated today.'

'Good gracious, is that true? This means ruination, I am sure.'

'Why ruination? You, too, are initiated, aren't you?'

'But you are a woman!'

'What do you mean by that? What makes you say so?'

'Most respected lady, I was always under the impression that my wife was a woman.'

'Wife! Have you a wife?'

'I thought I had one.'

'And you are under the impression that I am your wife?'

'I am absolutely sure of that.'

'If such a ludicrous thought has assaulted your consciousness, then, pray tell me what should be your duty?'

'To deprive you of your garment of deerskin by force and then to drink the nectar from your lips.'

'You must be either insane or under the influence of narcotic hemp. Did you not, at the time of your initiation, take the oath that you would have nothing to do with women? Well, if you really think that I am a woman, then you should not come near me and you should not even speak to me.'

And Shanti began to read the book again. Thus vanquished, Jiban prepared a separate bed for himself and retired for the night.