Anandamath (Dawn over India)/Part 4/Chapter 6

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Major Edwards was a veteran army officer. He had scouts watching at every important centre. He soon learned that the beggar woman had thrown Lindlay from his horse and had ridden off with it. On hearing this news, the Major was furious. 'An imp of Satan! Remove the tents!' he ordered.

Like a city built of clouds the canvas tents disappeared in a few minutes. These were placed on wagons. The cavalrymen mounted their horses and the infantry, mixed soldiers of the British army, fell in with rifles on their shoulders. The artillery began to rumble along the road.

Mahendra had started for the fair with his soldiers. Later at afternoon he decided to encamp for the night. The Children had no tents, so they slept on blankets on burlap pieces spread under the trees. They ate little. Mahendra came by an orchard and there issued the order: 'Let us encamp right here for the night.'

Just behind this orchard was a little hill somewhat difficult to climb. Observing this Mahendra thought that it might be a better idea to encamp on the hill. He determined to look over the ground on the summit and slowly rode up the hill on his horse. Just then a young man joined the army of the Children and said: 'Let us march up the hill, comrades!'

'Why?' inquired these who were near him.

The young warrior leaped to a mound of earth and shouted: 'Children, march forward! In this beautiful moonlit night fragrant with the perfume of the early blossoms of the spring, we must fight our foes, and fight to win!'

The Children at once realised that it was Jiban who was speaking. They shouted Bande Mataram fervently, jumped up, and quickly began to march up the hill under Jiban's leadership. Someone quickly brought a caparisoned horse for him.

Seeing all this from a distance, Mahendra was surprised. He was astonished at this march of his soldiers without command. Turning his horse, he began to ride down the hill like lightning. When he met Jiban he asked: 'What joke is this, Jiban?'

'It is a great joke!' Jiban said. 'It is a joyous joke indeed! Major Edwards is on the other side of the hill on his way to capture our fort at Padachina. The party that climbs the hill first, wins.'

Jiban then thus addressed the Children: 'Do you know me, Children? I am Jiban and I have killed at least one thousand English officers and soldiers.'

'We know you. You are our own Jiban,' thundered back the Children; and their majestic cry echoed on the hills and through the groves.

'Then shout Bande Mataram.'

'Bande Mataram, Bande Mataram, Bande Mataram,' shouted the Children.

'The enemy is on the other side of the hill,' Jiban said with all the feeling at his command. 'The night is beautiful and the sky is blue; and tonight we must fight. March fast, comrades, march fast. Those who reach the summit first win the battle. So sing Bande Mataram and march fast up the hill, Children, up the hill!'

The hills and the forests resounded with the shouts of Bande Mataram. Slowly the Children began the ascent. But soon they were dismayed to see Mahendra rushing down the hill frantically blowing a trumpet. In an instant the crest of the hill was covered with cannons, and the artillerymen of the British army stood clear against the blue sky.

The Children sang:

Mother, hail!
Thou sole creed and wisdom art,
Thou our very mind and heart,
And the life-breath in our bodies.
Thou as strength in arms of men,
Thou as faith in hearts dost reign.

But the fierce roar of the British cannons drowned this great song of the Children. Hundreds of them began to fall, dead or wounded, on the hillside. The British steadily kept up the cannonading with volleys like thunder. Like sheaves of rice before the farmers at harvest time the Children fell, cut to pieces. Both Jiban and Mahendra tried their best to stem the tide of battle but in vain. The Children began to retreat like falling stones from a hilltop. They ran helter-skelter.

The British soldiers shouted triumphantly and pursued the retreating patriots down the hill. With bayonets fixed, they fell upon the Children in waves. In the melee, Jiban met Mahendra for a moment and said: 'Everything is finished today! Let us both die here, fighting for our country's independence.'

'If we could win this battle by our death,' said Mahendra, 'then certainly I would die cheerfully but a hero should never die in vain.'

'Well, let me die in vain. I must die on the battlefield,' Jiban said.

He looked back and shouted: 'Those who want to die singing Bande Mataram follow me.'

Many Children moved towards Jiban. But he said to them: 'That won't do! That won't do! Swear by the holy names of God and Mother India that you will never retreat.'

Those who had advanced, fell back. Jiban shouted again: 'Are there none to follow me? Well, then I go alone, I go alone.'

Mahendra stood at a little distance. Jiban mounted a new horse and spoke to Mahendra: 'Brother, tell Nabin that I am riding to my death, and that I will meet her in the world beyond death.'

And heroic Jiban rode fearlessly into the terrific shower of steel. He had a spear in his left hand, a rifle in his right, and Bande Mataram on his lips. There was no chance for him to fight. Such reckless display of courage was fruitless. Yet he repeatedly shouted Bande Mataram, and entered the lines of the enemy.

'Turn back, my friends,' Mahendra said to the retreating Children. 'Just once turn back and look at Jiban. You are sure to gain immortality if you but look at him once.'

A few Children turned back and watched the superhuman performance of Jiban. At first they were surprised beyond words. Then they said: 'Jiban knows how to die indeed! Why can't we, too, follow him. Come, comrades, let us enter heaven with Jiban.'

At this a number of the Children felt inspired to turn back. Another group turned to imitate the first batch of patriots. There was an ominous stir within their ranks. Jiban, in the meantime, had penetrated so far into the lines of the enemy that no one could see him anymore.

And so it happened that from all over the battlefield the Children noticed that some of their number had turned back to fight. And they all came to the conclusion that perhaps the Children had been victorious and that they were now pursuing the English soldiers. Then they all turned and shouted: 'Kill the English soldiers — kill the enemy;' and defiantly advanced upon the British troops.

The British soldiers, at this sudden move, became confused and frantic and sepoys began to run away in different directions. Then the Englishmen too, bayonets in their hands, could be seen trying to make their way rapidly to their camp.

Mahendra, searching for the cause of this demoralisation of the British, discovered a new army of Children on the top of the hill. They were descending and attacking the English soldiers from behind.

'Children,' shouted Mahendra, 'look! There flies the flag of Mahatma Satya on the top of the hill! The Mahatma himself is on the battlefield today. Look, countless numbers of our soldiers are on the crest of the hill. Now, let us crush the enemy to atoms from both sides. Look, our comrades have captured the top of the hill, Children, look!'

Mahendra's army now mustered courage. His soldiers sang Bande Mataram. They began to climb the hill with energy. The English soldiers became panic-stricken.

Mahatma Satya now attacked the centre of the English forces with his large army. A terrible battle ensued. As a little fly is crushed into nothingness between two slabs of stone, just so the British army was crushed between the mighty forces under the command of Mahatma Satya and faithful Mahendra. Before long there was not a man left of the English army to convey to Warren Hastings the news of this historic defeat.