Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part1/Chapter 1

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THE ruler of the provinces of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, Nawab Aliza Mir Kasim Khan, lived in the Fort of Monghyr. Inside the fort and within the harem, a particular spot was looking exceedingly charming. The first watch of the night had not yet been over. A soft thick carpet covered the variegated pavement of an apartment. Lights were burning from silver lamps fed with scented oil. The room was redolent of the perfume of sweet-smelling flowers. With her small head propped up against a king-cob pillow, a slight, girlish figure was reclining and composing herself to read the Gulistha. She was seventeen, but short and delicate as a child. While reading the Gulistha she occasionally sat up and looked round and talked to herself. Now she muttered, “What keeps him away so long, I wonder?” Then the next moment, “Why should he come? I am only one among a thousand slaves, why should he take the trouble of coming so far for me?” Presently she resumed her Gulistha. After reading a little again she cried, “Augh! I do not like it,” and laid down the book. “If he will not come,” she went on, “I can go to him if he only wishes it. But then why should he remember me! I am no better than one among a thousand slaves.” Again she returned to her book and again she threw it down in disgust and said, “Well, why should God dispose of things in such a way! Why should one be made to pine away for another! If that is His will, then why should not one desire for the person who is within one’s reach! Why this desire, to have one who cannot be had! Why should I, a mere creeper, aspire to climb up a sal tree!” The girl then put her book away and stood up. The weight of her thick curly tresses falling from the small faultless head like a cluster of serpents began to tremble, the dazzling scarf embroidered with gold and scattering sweet perfumes began to flutter, and the slightest motion of her limbs rolled waves of beauty along the room—waves such as are born of the slightest stir in fathomless waters.

The girl then took up a lute and began to tune it, and slowly and softly crooned a song, as if she was afraid of an audience. Just at this moment, the salute of the near sentinel and the footfall of palanquin-bearers met her ears. She started up and hastening to the door found it was the Nawab’s tonjon. Nawab Mir Kasim Ali Khan got out of the tonjon and entered the apartment.

“Dalani Bibi,[1] what song were you singing? ” asked the Nawab after taking his seat. Perhaps, the real name of the young lady was Dowlatunnissa. The Nawab used to call her “Dalani” for the sake of brevity. For this reason all the household used to call her Dalani Begum, or Dalani Bibi. Dalani bashfully held down her head. To her misfortune the Nawab continued, “Go on with your song, why do you stop ? I want to listen.”

This set up a great commotion. The strings of the lute became refractory——they would never be set in order. She threw it down in despair and took up the violin. The violin also seemed to disclose a false ring. “That will do,” said the Nawah to relieve her embarrassment, “you had better sing in accompaniment.” At this, Dalani thought that the Nawab had concluded that she had no knowledge of music. At that, and after that, Dalani could not open her lips. She tried hard, but her lips would not obey—no, not for worlds. They were about to open, they nearly opened, but at last did not open. Like the hibiscus in a cloudy day, the lips were about to open, but opened not; like the rhymes of a timorous poet, they were about to speak, but spoke not; like the endearing address swelling in the throat of a love-lorn lady in a miff at the approach of her truant love, her lips were about to speak, but spoke not. Then suddenly putting down the lute she jerked out, “I won’t sing.”

“Why,” asked the Nawab in surprise, “are you angry?”

“First get me the musical instrument which Englishmen at Calcutta play in accompaniment with their song, then I will sing to you again, otherwise not.”

“If there be no thorn in the way,” said Mir Kasim smiling, “surely I will get you one.”

“Why should there be any thorn?”

“I am afraid I may have to quarrel with the English,” said the Nawab sadly. “Why, have you not heard anything about it?”

“Yes, I have,” answered Dalani, and remained silent.

“Dalani Bibi, what are you thinking about in that abstracted way?” asked Mir Kasim.

“One day you told me,” replied Dalani, "that whoever would fight the English was sure to be defeated, then why do you propose to break out with them? I am a girl, your humble servant; I know it is extremely improper on my part to talk of these things, but I have a right to speak, and that is because you are graciously pleased to love me.”

“That is true, Dalani,” said the Nawab, “I do love you. I have never loved woman as I love you, nor do I think I ever shall.”

A thrill of pleasure passed through Da1ani’s frame. She remained speechless for sometime; tears started into her eyes, and brushing them away, she said, “If you know that whoever would fight the English was sure to be defeated, then why have you made up your mind to fall out with them?”

“I,” said Mir Kasim a little softly, “have no other alternative. I look upon you as my own, therefore I tell you these things. I know it for certain that this quarrel will cost me my throne, perhaps I shall lose my life. Then why do I want to fight?——you might ask. From the way in which the English are behaving, one would imagine as if they were the rulers and not I. What is the good of a kingdom of which I am not the king? Not only that; they say, ‘we are the rulers, but the grinding of the people is left to you, you shall do that for us.’ Why should I do it? If I cannot reign for the good of my people I will rather abdicate my throne. Why should I be a participator in their sin and infamy for nothing? I am not Sirajuddaula or Mir Jafar.”

Dalani mentally applauded the Lord of Bengal a hundred times, and aloud she said, “Lord of my life! what should I say in reply? But I have got one requestto make—don’t go to the war yourself.”

“In a matter like this, is it right for the Nawab of Bengal to listen to the advice of a woman, or is it proper for her to offer any such advice?”

Dalani felt abashed and sorry, and said, “I crave your pardon, I have spoken thoughtlessly. A woman’s mind is not easily allayed, therefore I have said these things. But I have got another request.”

“What is it?”

“Will you take me to the war with you?”

“Why, are you going to fight? Tell me I will dismiss Gurgan Khan and appoint you instead.”

Dalani was again covered with shame and remained tongue—tied. “Why do you wish to go?” asked Mir Kasim affectionately.

“Because I want to keep with you.”

Mir Kasim did not consent; he would never consent to it.

“My liege!” said Dalani with a soft smile, “you can predict the future. Tell me where I shall be during the war."

“In that case let me have the standish,” said Mir Kasim smiling.

A serving-maid brought a golden standish at Dalani‘s bidding.

Mir Kasim had learnt astrology from the Hindus. Following his teachings he cast figures and began to calculate. After a while he flung the paper at a distance, and sat morose. “What do you find?” asked Dalani.

“What I find,” answered Mir Kasim, “is very strange. You had better not hear it.”

The next instant, the Nawab went out and sent for the Chief Secretary. He directed him to issue a mandate on a Hindu officer at Murshidabad to the following effect :—Not very far from Murshidabad, there is a place called Vedagram. A learned Brahmin by name Chandrashekhar Sharma lives there. He taught me astrology. He should be brought up and made to calculate as to where Dalani Begum would be both during and after the war, in case war should shortly break out with the English.

The Chief Secretary carried out the instructions of the Nawab. He sent a man to Murshidabad to fetch Chandrashekhar.

  1. Bibi is an honorific for Mahomedan ladies of rank