Kopal-Kundala/In the House by the Road

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Chapter II.

In the House by the Road.

If this woman had been a faultless beauty, then I could have said, "Reader! she is as beautiful as your wife;[1] and, fair reader! she is as lovely as the reflection in your mirror!" In so many words, the description would have been complete. But, unfortunately, I must abstain from such a description, as she was not perfect in every feature and limb.

The reason why I saw she was not a faultless beauty is that, in the first place, her body was somewhat taller than middle-height; secondly, her lips were a trifle broad; and thirdly, her colour was not fair, in the true sense of the word.

She was rather tall, it is true, but her arms, legs, breast, and in fact all her limbs, were well-rounded and well-developed. Just as in the rains a creeper trembles under the weight of its own leaves, so her frame trembled with its own ripeness; and for this reason her somewhat lofty stature derived an additional beauty from her full development. Of those whom I call really fair-coloured, some resemble the moonlight of the full moon, others again are like the rosy-faced dawn. Her colour was neither of these, and though for this reason I have said she was not really fair, still her complexion was not deficient in fascinating power. She was of a brown[2] colour; not the dark colour by which Sham's mother and Shamsoonder[3] are depicted, but the rich brown colour of molten gold. If the rays of the full moon, on the dawn crowned with golden clouds, represent the colour of fair-limbed women, then the colour I am describing may be compared to the beauty of the new mango-leaves that come out in spring. Many of my readers may praise light-coloured women, but the man who is fascinated by such a brown cannot be said to be devoid of the sense of colour. If any one disagrees with what I say, then let him for a moment think of the tresses hanging over that bright brown forehead, like a cluster of bees seated on young mango leaves; let him contemplate the eye-brows touching the curls under that forehead, resembling the moon of the seventh day; let him think of those cheeks, purple as the ripe mango; and between the cheeks let him regard those small deep-red lips,—if he does this, he will feel that this unknown woman is the queen of beauties. Her eyes were not very large, but they had well-curved lids, and were very bright. Her glance was steady and penetrating. If she looked at you, you would feel at that moment that this woman is reading your heart. As you look, that penetrating glance assumes a different character, and the eyes melt in a tender, loving gaze; while now and again appears nothing but an expression of fatigue caused by a surfeit of pleasure, as if the eyes were a couch for the dreams of Cupid; sometimes opening with desire, and quivering with the juice of love, and again flashing a cruel glance from the corner of her eye, like flashes of lightning in the clouds! The loveliness of her face had two indescribable beauties; the first derived from the splendour of an all-penetrating intellect, and the second from a majestic self-respect. For these reasons when she stood up curving her swan's throat, you might easily suppose her to be the queen of the race of women.

The fair one's age was twenty-seven—the overflowing river of the month of Bhadro.[4] Like the river-water in Bhadro, her wealth of beauty was surging and overflowing. More than her colour, more than her eyes, more than all was the flashing fascination of that beauty. Her whole frame was constantly quivering with the weight of her ripe youth, as, when there is no breeze, a river quivers in the young autumn; and this quivering changefulness each moment added a fresh lustre to her beauty. Nobokumar was steadily gazing at this ever-fresh beauty.

The fair one, seeing Nobokumar's thirsty gaze, said, "What are you looking at?"

Nobokumar was a gentleman; being somewhat confounded, he bent down his head. Seeing him at a loss for a reply, the unknown one again said with a smile, "Have you never seen a woman, or do you think me very beautiful?"

If these words had been spoken in a natural tone they would have appeared like a rebuke, but the smile which accompanied them showed that the woman spoke in fun. Nobokumar saw that she was very pert, and why should he not answer a pert woman's question? So he said, "I have seen women, but I have never seen so beautiful a woman."

The woman asked with some pride, "Not a single one?" Kopal-Kundala's beauty was awake in Nobokumar's heart, so he too replied with some pride, "I cannot go so far as to say not a single one."

The blow of iron fell on the stone. The speaker said, "Good; is she your wife?"

Nob. Why? Why do you think it is my wife?

The Woman. Bengalees always think their wives are more beautiful than anybody else.

Nob. I am a Bengali. You too speak like a Bengali; of what country are you?"

The young woman looked at her clothes and said, "This unfortunate one is not a Bengali; she is an up-country Mussulman." Nobokumar scanned her, and saw that in truth her dress was like that of an up-country Mussulman woman. After a moment, the woman said—

"Sir, by your skilful questions you have found me out; now satisfy my curiosity by telling me who you are. Where is the house in which that unrivalled beauty resides?"

Nobokumar said, "I live at Septogram."

The foreigner made no reply, but quickly held down her head, and began to make the light brighter.[5]

After a moment she said, without raising her head, "Your slave's name is Moti; am I not to hear your name?"

Nobokumar said, "Nobokumar Sarma."

The light went out.

  1. Bengalees are married by their parents when children, or quite young, and therefore do not choose their own wives. It is therefore all the more surprising that they should be so thoroughly satisfied with their wives, and consider them combinations of Venus and Minerva. Bengalees are often the devoted slaves of their wives, and there is far more petticoat government in Bengal than is generally supposed.
  2. It is impossible to translate adequately the word in the vernacular. The variety of complexions among the Bengalees is scarcely less than the variety of castes. We meet with the jet black, creamy white, turmeric yellow, burnished gold, copper red, lemon, bamboo, chocolate, coffee, and a hundred gradual variations of these colours. The colour referred to in the text is something between, or a combination produced by black, molten lead, coffee, and indigo.
  3. Shamsoonder, i.e. the god Krishna, who is always represented as having a bluish-black skin. In Orissa the upper castes are very fond of blue dhotees (waist-cloths), blue being Krishna's colour.
  4. Bhadro=the latter half of August and the first half of September, when the rivers are in full flood.
  5. The light is a wick placed in a small vessel of oil. To conceal her interest or agitation, Moti Bibi began to push the wick further into the oil. Not that she wanted more light, but the action occupied her restless hands, and enabled her to conceal her face.