Anandamath (Dawn over India)/Part 4/Chapter 3

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The new fort at Padachina saw the reunion of Mahendra and Kalyani, Jiban and Shanti, Nimi and Sukumari. It was a happy gathering indeed. Shanti came in the garb of Nabin. The night Shanti escorted Kalyani to the cottage in the woods, she had asked her not to tell Mahendra that Nabin was a woman.

At Padachina Kalyani once asked Nabin to enter the woman's quarters — the zenana. Despite the protests of the servants, Nabin did.

'Why did you send for me, sister?' Nabin asked Kalyani.

'How long,' Kalyani asked, 'will you dress as a man? I can't see you. I can't talk to you. You must reveal your identity to my husband.'

Nabin stood pensive; spoke not a word for some time. Then at last she said: 'There is much danger in that, Kalyani!'

And they both began to discuss the problem of identity. In the meantime the servants who had tried to stop Nabin from entering the zenana reported to Mahendra that a man had entered the zenana by force, and against their vehement protests. Suspicion led Mahendra quickly to the zenana. He entered Kalyani's bedroom to find Nabin standing there. Kalyani had her arms around Nabin, but actually she was only untying the knots of the tiger skin around Shanti's breast. Mahendra was shocked! He was speechless with furious anger and mortification.

'How is it, Mahendra, that you distrust a comrade Child?' Nabin asked smiling.

'Was Bhavan very trustworthy?'

'Do you think,' Nabin said, her eyes twinkling, 'that Kalyani ever placed her arms around Bhavan to untie the knots of a tiger skin?' And she caught hold of the hands of Kalyani to stop her from untying the knots any further.

'What do you mean by that?'

'I mean that you may distrust me, but how dare you distrust Kalyani?'

'Why, what makes you think that I distrust Kalyani?' said Mahendra much embarrassed.

'Otherwise, why have you followed me so quickly into Kalyani's room?'

'I have something to tell Kalyani. That's why I am here.'

'Then you may go now. I, too, have something to tell Kalyani. You had better go from here. Let me talk to her first. This is your home. You may come in here anytime you like. It was difficult for me to come here even once.'

Wise Mahendra stood profoundly perplexed. He could not solve the riddle. No guilty man, he thought, ever talked in such a vein. Kalyani, too, behaved strangely. She did not run away like a guilty wife. She was not afraid nor was she ashamed. Instead, she continued to smile as sweetly as was her wont. How could the same Kalyani who had cheerfully swallowed poison under the tree be such a treacherously faithless wife — such a guilty woman?

Nabin was moved at this predicament of Mahendra. When she smiled and cast a coquettish glance at Kalyani, the riddle was solved automatically. Mahendra realised that such a glance could only be the glance of a woman. He mustered courage to pull Nabin by the beard. The false beard and moustache fell to the floor. During the excitement Kalyani managed to undo the knots of the tiger skin around Nabin's breast. The tiger skin, too, fell to the floor. Caught red-handed, Shanti blushed and looked down shyly.

'Who are you?' Mahendra asked.

'My name is Nabin,' replied Shanti.

'That is a false name. Are you a woman?'

'It seems impossible for me to say no to your question now.'

'Then why do you, a woman, keep constant company with Jiban?'

'I prefer not to tell that to you.'

'Does Jiban know that you are a woman?'

'Yes, he does.'

The pious, dutiful and even punctilious Mahendra was much grieved to hear this.

Kalyani, moved by the sadness on the face of her husband, burst forth: 'She is Jiban's wife. Her name is Shanti.'

For an instant Mahendra looked cheerful, but then his face darkened again. Kalyani understood the cause and quickly said: 'Shanti observes the strictest laws of the Order of the Children.'