Anandamath (Dawn over India)/Part 4/Chapter 5

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Shanti and Jiban whispered to each other in consultation. Jiban hid himself inside the jungle. Shanti entered another part of the jungle and began her mysterious engagement.

Shanti was going to die, but she had the desire to die in the dress of a woman, for Mahendra had called her male dress a falsely deceiving one. How could she die in a dress of deceit? She had brought with her a little hand-basket containing all her feminine clothes. She began to change in the jungle. She garbed herself as a mendicant woman, half-covering her face with her hair. Then playing on her sarangi she entered the British encampment as a beggar woman. The black-bearded sepoys of the British army became excited at seeing such a charming young female mendicant. They ordered her to sing their favourite songs. Shanti sang them gloriously. Some gave her rice, some coppers, some sweets and some pieces of silver. She studied the British camp very carefully. As she was about to go away, the sepoys asked: 'When are you coming here again?'

'I do not know,' she replied. 'My home is far away from here.'

'How far?'

'My home is at Padachina.'

One of the sepoys, knowing that that very day Major Edwards was gathering information about Padachina, brought the mendicant woman to the Captain. The Captain in turn took her to the Major. Shanti smiled flirtatiously at the Major and intoxicated him with the ravishing glances of her black eyes. She sang in Sanskrit about the destruction of India's enemies with the sword of the Mother.

'Where is your home?' Major Edwards asked.

'My home is at Padachina,' Shanti replied quickly.

'Where is that? Is there a fort there?'

'Yes, indeed, a very big fort!'

'How many soldiers are there?'

'Twenty to fifty thousand.'

'Nonsense! Only two to four thousand soldiers can stay in a fort. How many are there now? And how many do you think have gone out of the fort?'

'Where could they go to, I wonder?'

'Why, to the fair! When did you leave home?'

'Only yesterday.'

'Perhaps they have gone out today.'

Shanti, understanding the entire situation, thought within herself: 'My life is of no use if I do not annihilate you and your army together. I am anxious to see your head chewed by the jackals of the woods!'

But she spoke out: 'Major Sahib, that may be possible. They might have gone out today. I am only a beggar woman. I sing songs and beg for my living. I do not know much about those things. But I do know that I am tired of talking. Please give me a few pennies for I must be gone. Or, if you want to reward me well, I can return the day after tomorrow and let you have all the information you need.'

'The day after tomorrow wont do,' the Major said as he threw a silver rupee to her, 'I must have this information tonight.'

'What impudence! You had better go to sleep. Do you think it is possible to make forty miles a day on foot? What a chucho of a man!'

'What is a chucho?'

'A chucho is a hero, a great General,' Shanti smiled.

'A great General! Yes, indeed, I may be one myself someday — like Lord Clive, you know. But I must have this information tonight. I offer you one hundred rupees.'

'You may offer me a thousand. I cannot possibly travel forty miles on foot in one day.'

'How about doing it on horseback?'

'If I knew how to ride on horseback, do you think I would come to your camp and sing songs to beg for a living?'

'How about being carried on a man's lap?'

'On a man's lap? Do you think I have no sense of decency?'

'How absurd! I offer you five hundred rupees cash!'

'Who will go with me? Will you go yourself, Major Sahib?'

Major Edwards pointed at a young English officer, and said: 'Lindlay, are you willing to go?'

Lindlay sized up the youth and the beauty of the beggar woman, and said: 'With great pleasure!'

The young officer was soon ready with a beautiful Arab horse. He tried to push Shanti up into the saddle.

'Shame on you!' Shanti said. 'How can I get on a horse before so many people? Do you think I am altogether shameless? You had better proceed. Let us be away from the crowds first.'

Lindlay mounted the horse and walked it slowly. Shanti walked behind. Thus they left the camp and entered a solitary meadow. In an instant Shanti placed her foot on that of Lindlay and jumped on the horse without the least effort.

'I see you are an expert horsewoman!' Lindlay said, laughing with wonder.

'I am such an expert horsewoman,' Shanti said, 'That I am ashamed to ride with you. Who cares to ride with his feet in the stirrups?'

As a boastful gesture, Lindlay quietly removed his feet from the stirrups. Shanti at once caught the stupid man by his neck and quickly pushed him off the horse. She then took her usual seat and touching the horse with her silver anklets galloped away as fast as the wind. The hapless Lindlay lay prone on the ground.