Kopal-Kundala/On the High Road
On the High Road.
Some writer has said that man's life is but a poem. One canto of Kopal-Kundala's life-poem had passed. What was to follow?
On arriving at Midnapur, Nobokumar engaged a female servant, a guard, and some palki-bearers for Kopal-Kundala with the Adhikari's money; and putting her in the palki, he sent her on. For want of money, he himself went on foot. Nobokumar was weary with the former day's toil, and after the mid-day meal the bearers left him far behind. Gradually evening came on, and the sky was covered with the fleecy clouds of cold weather. Evening passed away, and the world became dark. A little rain, too, began to fall. Nobokumar felt anxious to catch up Kopal-Kundala, and he felt certain that he would see her at the first serai, but no serai was yet in sight. About four or six dandas of the night had passed, and Nobokumar began to run, when suddenly his foot struck against some hard substance, which broke with a crackling sound under his tread. Nobokumar stood still. He again moved his feet, and again the same sound. He took the substance up in his hands, and saw that it was like a piece of broken plank.
Though the sky was covered with clouds, it had not become so very dark that the shape of a large thing could not be seen in an open place. In front lay something large. Nobokumar perceived that it was a broken palki, and at once fear for Kopal-Kundala's safety leapt to his heart. Going towards the palki, his foot struck against a different sort of substance. The touch appeared to be like that of a tender human body. Sitting down and spreading his hand over it, he saw that it was a human body. It was very cold to the touch, and at the same time he felt something liquid. Feeling the pulse, he perceived that there was no movement, and that life had left the body. But listening with great attention, it seemed as if he could hear the sound of inward and outward breathing. If there is breath, then why no pulse? Is it a sick man? Putting his hand to the nostrils, he perceived that no breath was coming out. Then why was there a sound? It may be that there is also some live person here. Thinking this, he asked, "Is there any live person here?"
A soft voice replied, "I am."
Nobokumar said, "Who are you?" The answer was "Who are you?" In Nobokumar's ear the voice sounded like that of a woman's. So he eagerly asked, "Is it Kopal-Kundala?"
The woman replied, "I don't know who Kopal-Kundala is; I have just been robbed of my kundalas."
Hearing a joke, Nobokumar was a little cheered. He asked, "What has happened?"
The speaker replied, "Robbers have broken my palki, and have killed one of my bearers. The others have run away. The robbers have stripped me of my ornaments, and have tied me in the palki."
Nobokumar could perceive in the darkness that a woman was really tied firmly in the palki with a cloth. He quickly loosened the fastening, and said, "Can you get up?"
The woman said, "One blow of a stick struck me also. I feel a pain in my foot, but I think that I could rise with a little help."
Nobokumar stretched out his arm, by the aid of which the woman got up. Nobokumar said, "Will you be able to walk?"
The woman gave no reply, but asked, "Have you seen whether any traveller is coming along behind you?"
Nobokumar replied in the negative.
The woman again asked, "How far is the chuttee?"
Nobokumar said, "I can't say, but it must be close at hand."
The woman said, "How am I to sit in the fields alone with you in the darkness; I must go with you to the chuttee. I think I can walk, if I had something to lean upon."
Nobokumar said, "It is folly to be modest at a time of danger. Lean on my shoulder."
The woman was not foolish. So she went along leaning on Nobokumar's shoulder.
As a matter of fact, the chuttee was quite close. At that time robbers did not fear to commit crimes of violence quite close to chuttees. In a short time Nobokumar arrived there with his companion.
Nobokumar saw that Kopal-Kundala was in the chuttee, her male and female servant having prepared a house for her. Nobokumar quickly engaged a house close to it for his companion, and placed her in it. At his order the landlord's wife brought a light. When the rays of the light fell on his companion's body, Nobokumar saw that she was uncommonly beautiful. The full bloom of her youth was overflowing with the waves of her beauty, like a river in the month of Srabun.
- Serai, a staging-house on a road. The Mohammedan emperors built a number of such serais along the principal lines of communication and pilgrim routes. Under British rule they have fallen somewhat into neglect and disrepair, except in municipalities. But private serais or lodging-houses are springing up everywhere, at which accommodation can be had for a very moderate price.
- Kundalas=ear-rings. The joke or pun in the original lies in the word niskundala, which means "deprived of ear-rings."
- A chuttee is a serai and something more. It is a small cluster of houses (comprising a shop or two), which springs up on much-frequented routes to supply the wants of pilgrims and others using the road. If the road be much frequented and the chuttee be three miles or more from the nearest village on either side, a liquor shop will generally be found there, or in North Behar, a ganja shop, or in Orissa, an opium shop.