Tales of Bengal (S. B. Banerjea)/Gobardhan's Triumph

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GOBARDHAN'S TRIUMPH.

Jadu Babu's four-year-old daughter, Mrinalini, or Mrinu as she was called in the family, came to her mother one evening to say that her kitten was lost. In vain was she taken on the maternal lap, her tears gently wiped away, and all manner of pretty toys promised. Her little frame was convulsed with sobs, and she refused to be comforted. So her mother sent a maidservant to search for the plaything. The girl returned shortly and said that the kitten was certainly not in the house. At this Mrinu howled more loudly than ever, bringing her father on the scene. He pacified the child by undertaking to produce her pet, and told the servants that the finder would be handsomely rewarded. Meanwhile his wife was trying to keep Mrinu's attention engaged by telling her a long story, when she suddenly exclaimed, "What has become of your jasam (gold bracelet)?"

Mrinu replied, "I took it off to play with kitty and laid it down somewhere ".

This was all the information she could vouchsafe in answer to repeated questions. The mother set her down and proceeded to search every hole and corner for the jasam, but it was not to be found. Her husband was greatly alarmed on hearing of this untoward event. The loss of Rs. 100, at which the trinket was valued, might have been borne; but Hindus believe that misfortune invariably follows the loss of gold. He set all his servants and hangers-on to look for the jasam, but they were unsuccessful. In despair he hurried to Nalini for advice and was told to send for Gobardhan, which he promptly did.

The astrologer listened attentively to his story and then asked whether Jadu Babu would try Báti Chálá (divination by the báta leaf), or some simpler method of discovering the lost jasam. On learning that the matter would be left entirely in his hands, he told Jadu Babu to collect all his servants in the parlour and let him have half a seer (1 lb.) of raw rice, with as many strips of banana leaf as there were servants. When all were assembled, Gobardhan thus addressed them, "Mrinu has lost her jasam, have any of you seen it?" The reply was a chorus of "Noes" with emphatic head-shakings. "Then none of you have stolen it?" Again a volume of protestations. "Very well, then," said Gobardhan, "I must try the ordeal of chewed rice." After uttering many mantras (incantations) and waving his hand over the pile of grain and banana leaves, he dealt out a quotum of each to the servants.

"Now," he said, "you will masticate the rice for a minute thoroughly and then drop the result on your leaves. I warn you that it will be deadly poison for the thief." All obeyed with alacrity, and Gobardhan, after examining the contents of each leaf, assured Jadu Babu that the jasam had not been stolen.

My readers who are versed in science will understand that, in point of fact, there is nothing magical about this rite, which is based on the circumstance that fear checks the flow of saliva. In all probability a thief would eject the rice absolutely dry.

The inference was that the jasam had been mislaid; and Jadu Babu asked whether Gobardhan's lore was equal to recovering it.

"Possibly," answered the astrologer, "but it is not a case of Báti Chálá; if you can guarantee me Rs. 10, I will perform Nákha Darpan (literally 'nail-mirror'). Let me have an almanac, please, to find an auspicious day."

After examining it and receiving a ten-rupee note from Jadu Babu, the astrologer said oracularly that he would return on the following afternoon, with a lad of twelve, who had been born under the Constellation of the Scales.

At the appointed hour, Gobardhan came accompanied by his acolyte, with whom he sat down at the Chandimandab (a shrine of the goddess Durga, found in most Hindu houses, which serves for social gatherings). Jadu Babu and the bhadra-lok (gentle-folk) took their seats there too, while the underlings formed a respectful half-circle in front. Adjuring all to keep perfect silence, he asked the lad to gaze into the nail on his own right index finger and tell the people what he saw there. After staring at it for a minute or so, the boy began to tremble violently and whispered: "I see a mango-tope (orchard); a little girl is playing with her kitten under the trees. Now I see her slipping a jasam from her arm, the kitten frisks about, and the child follows it; now it disappears, and the child runs indoors." Then, raising his voice to a shrill scream, he pointed with his left hand to the north and asked:—

"What are those animals which are prowling in the orchard? Are they dogs? No—they are jackals—one, two, three jackals! They pounce on the kitten, and tear her limb from limb! Now everything is growing hazy; I can't see any more!"

A thrill of fear ran through the audience, and one might have heard a pin drop. At length Gobardhan broke the silence:—

"Let us go to the mango-tope north of this house," he said solemnly.

Thither they hurried and, after a few minutes' search, one of the maidservants cried out that she had found the jasam half-hidden by the gnarled roots of a tree.

Jadu Babu was overjoyed by the recovery of his missing jewel, and pressed another fee of ten rupees on the astrologer. As for Gobardhan, his fame spread far and wide, and his hut was rarely without some client, eager to learn the future.