The Translation of Harihara Sastry into Joseph Hariharan.
The Story of a Student Brahmin-Convert.
Domestic food is wholesome though 'tis homely.
And foreign dainties poisonous though tasteful.
The French Courtesan.
ONE eventful evening in the life of our young hero, a respectable gentleman whose countenance bore the stamp of seemingly three score was leisurely lounging on a reclining chair in the spacious hall of the second story of a handsome house, considered to be the best in the pretty large and thickly populated Indian Village it was located in. Hoisted up in his hand wavered a newspaper held topsy-turvy; far off fixed his eyes most thoughtfully to the ceiling, bespoke a heavy heart within. There stood before him a lady of middle age with downward looks cast frowningly on the floor while rested her left hand on a table that bent beneath a few bundles of respectably worn sheets of paper besides an old Office-box with "R. NATESA SASTRY, B.A.," painted thereon. He was evidently convening with her on some momentous matter.
"Ay! ----------------Ay!" said Mr. Natesa Sastry with unusual resolution assuming at once as if automatically lifted up an erect sitting postures and hauling in a lungful of air, "I have, my dear, made up my mind to send Hariharan to the metropolis ere the season grows a fortnight older, and in time to meet the opening of the college."
"What," interrogated Kamalam shaking off her limbs as if the whole had paralyzed them and standing straight, "Send him alone?"
"Yes," he answered agitatingly "yes ---- for the present we cannot risk residing in town nor can we ---"
"Does your we include me also? What! to live far from my darling! I ----I----I can't"
As she stammered the words, her right hand caught up the skirt of her Sari hanging in loose-elegance about her body and sponged off the briny dewy drops that had already began to collect about her sparkling eyes that threatened a heavy shower should any thought more upon the subject flash further in her mind. After a painful pause she calmly continued in an earnest imploring voice:
"Let him be content with such education and instruction as this village affords and let not for anything his educational enterprise extend beyond our fire-side, however petty and poor it may prove."
The seriousness that sat on his brow when he first introduced the topic seemingly subsided; and was visible in its place a warm wish to run the subject through a calm consideration and submit if possible to the anatomy of argument with the proviso as their outcome a result must once for all he recorded and acted up to.
"We are living," spoke Mr. Sastriar persuading in attainment of the aforesaid object, "We are living unfortunately at a time when English education has become the sole end and aim of every one – the strong-struggled-for salvation of every mortal in this nether world. Will not our son, therefore, curse me if I myself should shut against him the gates of such a salvation? --- Ah! that's what pains me most."
Kamalammal pondered puzzlingly. The metaphor had, it seemed, proved too hard for the digestion of her delicate intellect, while the truth, his bitter experience had searched and sifted up was beyond her belief. As leeches and the like halt at each remove and store strength to advance, the pause Kamalammal caused armed her with improved energy to encounter the conversation.
Curse you!" echoed the fair stepping a few paces in front. "Why should he? Have you not already taught him the divine literature that had enthroned our fathers in lasting fame? Let him therefore remain with us in the village and continue to imbibe that to his fill which you have only tasted. Spare his tongue from the pollution that a study of that vile language will stain with. God has fortunately placed us in more congenial circumstances; my son may therefore be, as he is, a little prince. He has not to hang upon his relations, nor woo exertions for bread. Why then do you wish to burden him with a foreign education? The wind – the life-less wind is steadier than your mind. Scarcely had a couple of weeks gone by, since has the subject been well ventilated by a detailed discussion. I remember how you nodded approval at the time and even went to the length of crediting my sex with some sense! Alas for the thousand and oneth time does this stale story stare on us."
"Patience! Listen to me, my dear, yes, it is as you say a twice-told tale; but it is of such a weighty nature that we cannot afford to trifle with it. Everything must be done betimes. To have a bow-like bough we must bend the twig and not the tree. Ten years hence our boy cannot, even if he will, learn a single syllable. How can we let slip this golden opportunity and rear a dunce of him? How proudly you speak of our wealth! It must aid him to obtain the best education rather than prevent him from possessing it"…………..
In truth for want of a healthy purse my parents denied me the benefit of a law-course and deprived me of being a successful Vakil. Soon after my graduation the maintenance of the family sat heavy on me and drove me to the necessity of accepting a fifteen rupee post in the Collectorate. Ah! what were the humiliations of the place. How would I have preferred the horrors of a hell! How I shudder at the bare thought of them. Being a novice I was often over-burdened with the work of the idle clerks. A part of my paltry pay went to enrich the head clerk's purse to silence his cruel-complaining tongue. How often have I been sworn at and loaded with heavy reproaches and all, only for having gone perhaps a few minutes beyond the time, or copied a document slowly or given room for corrections therein. Many were the times I was threatened with dismissal. Oh, my dear! Such were the rungs of the ladder, I patiently labored up through. How warmly I wished in those dreadful days to be freed from the drudgery. In the few moments I was able to snatch from the thralldom of the desk, I designed plans to bring up my son – if ever I should be blessed with one – for, so hopeless I was at the time – to one of the 'learned professions' and my inclinations interested themselves in the study of law. A quarter of a century has rolled by. My present circumstances – thank God for them – favor the realization of those long cherished hopes which I once despaired to be no better than dreams. But it is evident you will not ---."
"Those hard days have died" spoke the lady in a conquered tone" and with them bury your schemes since they have been the creations of an idle or vexed brain."
"Nay! Call them not so. Believe me, Kamalam, Riches have wings, the more ignorant and unacquainted with the real worth of them we are, the sooner will they fly away from us. How will his stay in town affect us, is what I can't comprehend. Set aside your blind womanly love for him and spare him for better things. Is it not the love I bear for him and the interest I have taken for his future peace and prosperity that prompt me to adopt such a procedure, however uncongenial it may appear to you. You see, therefore, my affection for him is no less warm than yours. Bid farewell, my dear, for all these vain altercations and anxieties."
"Why then should you take me into your consultations at all? Act up to your own views and send your son over the waves to London. What has this wretched woman, the sports of your whims and wits, to do with it. Neither you nor I, why none among the mortals, can deface the writ of Fate on that poor child's head; of what avail will, therefore, be my intercession on his behalf? Oh! How would I wish he was not at all born! Why as for that myself a burden of the earth – a disapprover of your designs. Alas! Fate! Have mercy on me and on that only child. Pray inflict on me no more of this unwelcome and tedious topic. It is so grating on my ear – so freezing my heart and so benumbing my senses. And you, as his father, are at unlimited liberty to experiment your schemes on him and submit him to unspeakable sufferings. As for me how gladly would I woo the woes of a wilderness to burn the rest of my…."
"Patience poor woman! There is no use of sighing – one of the most conspicuous characteristics of your sex. Muster your courage and leave the future to God. He, the Lord of the universe, the Parent of the peasant and the prince and the mighty Dispenser of destinies, will guard and guide our son wherever he be. Does He not feed the frog buried in the bosom of a rock or warm the animals inhabiting the far frozen north? Why don't you resign, therefore, all apathies and anxieties anchoring down in your heart in His healing helping hands? Don't torment yourself with fancied ills, nor be pleased with airy good. Behave like a mother and plead not like a fool."
"It is easier even for a fool to philosophize than for a sage - …."
The further utterance of Kamalammal was inaudible checked by the sudden appearance of her only son who just then returned from the day's thralldom of book birch and master.
He was a sprightly youth of about fifteen with a handsome appearance and engaging manners. He was too sober, clever, and intelligent for his years and had a fund of gentle humor, sharp wit, and curious information with which he entertained even the most unwilling grey heads of the place, so much so, that he was looked upon by elderly men as a prodigy and adored by boys of his age as an oracle. And was it often said of him: he
"Delivers in such apt and gracious words
That aged ears play truant at his tales
And younger hearings are quite ravished,
So sweet and voluble in his discourse".
His exterior was no less attractive. His soft snowy face reflected a soul pure and pious within and a heart kind and courageous. The deep dark eyes glowed with intelligence and caution. His glossy curling hair supplemented his beauty, while his several symmetrical features bore testimony to the high artistic and aesthetic attitude of the marvelous Maker.
No sooner had Hariharan (for, it was his name) entered the room than he perceived with his natural keenness the unusual melancholy and disturbed looks on the faces of his parents. His joyful countenance suddenly changed, a serious doubt darkened his smiling face. Fearing that the boy – in their estimation a child – might also be infected with what then prevailed in the room, "come my darling!" said Kamalammal, as she hastened with Hariharan out of the room: "and tell me what you were taught today and leave your father alone as he is busily planning schemes to realize his old dreams."
The words "schemes" and "dreams" referred to by his mother struck hard the chord of agitation in the unmatured mind. He focused, however, all his wit to decipher them as his mother hurried with him on the terrace.
The darkness that intervened the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon slowly vanished. Fair Luna spread her snowy Sari on flowery fields and crystal current, on temple towers and crumbled cottages, and on high hillocks and verdant valleys. The circling stretches of paddy-fields, rich with ripe corn, and set rocking by the gentle zephyr looked like a silent sea of gold. In the distant lake that lay sleeping, and on whose glassy surface was reflected the moon's unsteady disc, the wanton fishes leapt up now and then, like the sudden jerking's of the limbs produced by the deep emotions of midnight dreams. The waters in the long and winding rill, that guarded the northern frontier of this lovely village, flowed murmuring like pilgrims, who, afraid of the summer sun perform their destined journey by moon-light, and chat on to cheat the weary way. The currents that ran kissing the banks and filling the small openings and touching the drooping branches seemed to linger, where they could, to escape the general doom of being hurried on and lost in the eternal deep. It was altogether a lovely sight; and both animate – save the thief – and inanimate nature here below richly enjoyed what Phoebe generously bestowed on them that evening.
Mrs. And Master Natesa Sastry, sat reclining on a slab in the moon-lit third story of their superb mansion. After a few formal questions Kamalammal found herself too agitated to continue the conversation any longer, though she wished very much to divert the young mind. The sensitive lad smelt her uneasiness. The moon shone in vain upon them, nor did they note the gentle breeze that fanned them softly.
The feelings of doubt and dismay were so wound up in his bosom that a continuous compression was considered neither permissible nor possible, which prompted therefore, his heart to leap unconsciously on his tongue:-
"Are you indisposed today, man ma?" inquired the child in a faltering tone. "Why then this cessation, this branch in our daily program; you did not, as you would, enliven me with a story or two to shorten these evening hours. What should have cast you, as you seem to be, in such a gloomy gulf of grief?"
There was a strong struggle in Kamalammal to suppress suddenly the sorrow which she thought lay sufficiently concealed from her son. With the haste, natural in men who speed to offer an apology if their guilt were discovered, she poured forth:-
No, my child, nothing of the kind. I was thinking all the while what would interest you most and teach you the best moral; but comes the story of "How dishonesty succeeded where honesty failed" for this evening's narration". With no more words either as explanatory or preparatory she introduced the following fable:-
"In days long gone by –
No story is of recent birth; all belong to the golden age" interposed the young critic –
In days long gone by, in the ancient town of Thirukodanthy there dwelt, with her only son Govind, Savitri a woman of Komatti community. She lost her husband ere her summers had completely flown by. To her brother, a merchant of the place she consigned the care of the education and instruction of her son. The boy had in him, in conformity with his caste, frugal habits and speculative dispositions. The young widow was irresistibly inclined to walk her son in the foot prints of his father. In pursuance of the woman's wish, Govind, when man-hood dawned on him started a small trade, kept a shop of sundry articles. Being a raw hand he failed in a few months. He began another with a fresh capital and hoped against hope, of regaining his lost wealth. The second was no better than the first. He met with the same fate in all his mercantile enterprises and grew poorer by each failure which at last stranded him in a state where he had to struggle hard for his very existence. Sanguinary and speculative as our here, was he struck upon a more solid scheme; and pledged the few ornaments that survived the pecuniary wreck. With the money thus raised he bought a firm-knit good looking goat."
"Ah! you unfortunate Komatti, you bought after all a Goat, what to do with it? Funny – indeed – curious" – with these incoherent expressions exclaimed Hariharan and his smile stretched itself into a loud laughter.
"He brought home and grew it fatter fed with the grass in the common and the green leaves of the trees on the Local Fund Road known now as such."
He went early every morning to the Cauvery, washed his person and his companion and most religiously besmeared his body and that of the goat with the sacred ash in stripes of three while his lips quivered as if Mantrams flowed out through them. Shutting his eyes he stood speechless with the animal by his side facing the rising sun. This done, he rounded the sacred Aswatha? Ficus religiosa.
No Shastra, no principle of any religion, extant or extinguished, advocated the action of this curious ceremony. The regular repetition of such an understandable observance puzzled the public and inspired awe and admiration. In the same city lived a wealthy Vellalah woman who had long remained childless in spite of various prayers and pilgrimages and rites and repentances. During her daily baths she saw Govind and his curious companion and took them for divine creatures at whose hands her complaint might reap redress. She craved, therefore, for an interview with the supposed Sadhu. Thus it chanced that Govind was one day alone with his goat, when approaching most reverentially she prostrated at his sacred feet and in a pitiable voice tuned out her melody. Govind's heart heaved with joy. The time he longed for was come – come most unexpectedly and amorously the tide of fortune after an awfully long absence. With all ceremonial calm and composure of a genuine Yogee the cunning Komatti opened his eyes and surveyed the fair feminine figure standing before him in a pious posture with doubt and distress darkening her brow. "I know what brought you here," spoke the counterfeit very majestically, "Take this heavenly creature and keep him with you for forty days and you will obtain the consummation of your desire. He is a divine gift of a Rishi and as a proof of my gratitude I have promised him two thousand Pagodas."
This said he shut his eyes and sunk more ostentatiously into his mysterious meditation. Puffed with the hopes of a promised cure the patient ran home and returned with the money. The jingling sound of the silver threw open his eye-lids and flooded his heart with joy. With much pretended reluctance he received the price and in return gave the goat with profuse blessings. He could no longer live there. Forty days more his deceit will be discovered, where disgrace and distress shall await him, and to escape them the necessity of forsaking his home was imperative. He safely secured the ill got-wealth round his waist and speeded on in search of a new settlement. At one time he crossed a river, at another a wild 'waste expanding to the skies' and until at last his eyes encountered the frightful sight of a tigress. After a short service his heels failed him and his heart was shrouded in sorrow. The fear of death hovered over him. He ran round a big Palmyra. The beast pursued her prey. He felt the warmth of her breath blowing on his back. Driven by deep despair, the knave by a dexterous manipulation caught firm the two fore-legs of his opponent as the tree stood between them protecting him from imminent danger. His right hand linked to her left, her left linked to his right, was just enough to gird the stem of the tree. In this unpleasant position they placed round and round till the hard saw-like exterior of the bark clothing the stem striking against the skin of the animal tamed her fury and loosened the hold of the purse that girt the manly waist and the silver therein was strewed down on the track. A healthy – no less wealthy – Mahomedan happening to ride that way was surprised at this strange scene. He got down and enquired the cause of this peculiar procedure. Govind came with another opportunity to display his deception and made the following reply:-
"Oh! Saheb, a curious animal ten rounds with her – there drops a coin – a costly coin from the neck, there from the bleeding part. Look down, the harvest of my toil, but tired I am."
The Saheb: - Will you leave her then to me?
Govind (glad at heart): - No – Not at all?
The Saheb: - I say take all the money ground down by you.
Govind: - Add your horse to the bargain.
The Saheb a little hesitated; but the hope of possessing a powerful profit by the transaction dawned on him and he wasted no time in nodding full content. The Mahomedan who fell a victim to the treachery of our hero hastily took hold of the tigress's hands. Govind mounted up and galloped off with joy and triumph. Evening set in; Govind got in a village and sought the house of a rich prostitute for shelter which was for a few Pagodas to be had. He asked the permission of the mistress to bring the horse into the house for the night and had it. About midnight when slumber steeped the lady's senses in unconsciousness he stole from his bed and buried the Pagodas he had, in the dung he found near his house. An hour afterwards he awoke the mistress and requested her to wash off the dung with a pot of water which she did and found most amazingly a heap of silver. She persistently persuaded him to part with the horse and bid his best price for the same. He frowned at first at the very idea, but her repeated requests wrung out content. The sale secured him 500 pagodas more. He left her instructions that, should the dung contain no coin to apply pressure to the stomach of the horse and went on his way with a heavier purse and a guiltier conscience. He reached safe at last a village remote from his own town, took up lodgings and wedded a wife. But he was not allowed long to enjoy the sweets of his new home, for his victims, the Vellalah woman who paid heavily for a goat, the Mahomedan who after a time saw nothing but the tigress drop down dead and the prostitute, who, in obedience to his prescription squeezed the stomach and killed the animal which yielded no silver, all came and demanded payment. He invited them to his house, in their presence called in his mother, who was then very old, strewed some sacred ashes on her, and threw her up on to the terrace by one side; down jumped suddenly a girl in her teens richly decorated with ornaments by another. This contrivance of an old woman into a young wealthy girl was due to the virtue of the ash he owned. They were very willing to receive the ash for the money due. Each hastened home where each had a very old mother to experiment upon."
Hariharan burst out into a boisterous laughter and exclaimed: - "I guess what the result was. Ah! each committed the cruel crime of murdering their own mother. Is it not?"
"Of course the result grieved them much and kindled afresh their wrath. With a cry of vengeance they came up to him, bound him hand and foot and enclosed him in a big bag without paying heed to his remonstrance. The three carried him on their heads, thought to put a period to his roguery by casting him off into the ocean. On their way they halted at a place to satisfy their hunger and bore down the burden. Each in turn asked the other to stay and watch the bag, but union is scarcely to be found among the Hindus, and the result was Govind was left to himself. He saw through a hole an old shepherd standing at a short distance and shouted out to him. He came and was asked to unite the bag, the hand and the foot. Having done so, the shepherd who was a hunchback inquired why he was packed so.
Govind: - Am I now alright? I was like yourself a hunchback before this.
No sooner had the old patient heard those words than he himself entered into the bag and requested him to bind as was formerly done. This added another rose to the vile victorious wreath he originally wore. The Mahomedan with the others found the bag safe in the place it was left at, carried it and threw it in the sea to their greatest joy."
"How innocence suffers," said Hariharan, "while gilt triumphs. A very bad world it is. Well what became of the Komatti?"
"On their way back from the sea they met him and thought he was armed with some supernatural power to escape as he has done, even death. Thus you see how dishonesty succeeded where honesty failed."
The story ceased, the thoughts of the evening conversation rushed into her mind again and there a solemn silence reigned supreme once more.
It was past eight; Mottai, the old cook, having done his kitchen-work waited every moment the arrival of the master and mistress who, he probably thought, had been out. The vessel of water, left for Sastriar's Sandiavanthanam which would always be punctually done at seven, lay untouched. There was not a stir in the house; an awful calm prevailed. He then went upstairs and where to his great surprise, saw mother and son for the first time hold, as it were, a vow of silence; his presence was unnoticed; he feared to disturb them and stole himself back. Even the old grandmother, the mother of Kamalammal, whom rheumatism generally kept awake all night was then found snoring.
Mr. Sastriar at last, by an effort, left his dejected seat and performed though late, his evening ablution. He then asked his servant for his son and wife who were accordingly called for. The leaves were spread and they wasted no time in sitting down to them. The gloomy occupants of their mind had so blunted the usual sharpness of their appetite, that heaps of victuals and eatables were left laden on their leaves to conform the truth. Supper was thus over and the elders retired.
Hariharan sat, as usual, book in hand to learn his lessons but his heavy heart often drew his attention away, and he desired to drown his uneasiness in a sound sleep. Throwing aside his book he soon resigned himself to the embrace of Morpheus.
While the interior of the house assumed such an unwelcome aspect there waited without Mr. Krishnamachariar and Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer to timely take their places in the Conversazione that would engage them an hour or so preceding the period of slumber. Messers. Natesan Sastry, Krishnamachariar, and Ramaswamy Iyer clung to one common nativity – the Indian village whence springs out our plat. Their official retirement had buried them in the quietude of a country life after many summers of laborious toil in the tumult of a town. Childhood saw them sport together, youth watched them sit in the same bench and study, but manhood murmured that official atmosphere had dissembled them, and age, however, assembled them to enjoy their well procured pensions in calmness and contentment.
"Well! Ramu," enquired earnestly Mr. Krishnamachariar, while his left hand rounded his big pumpkin-like belly which the supper had swollen to its utmost capacity and the teeth, the tongue and the lips with their combined efforts had chewed the pan and the betel, "what detains Natesan so long within? Is the old chap captivated by his wife's bewitching charms? I wonder!"
"Kamalam! Is she not the third wife?" responded Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer as he spread his dhothi over his bony body that had hitherto been bare and drew nearer his chair "Two have died. Is isn't"
At this stage appeared on the scene a tall person with a flowing beard and work-worn limbs, having a dyed piece of cloth covering the cropped head more "inclined on baldness" and a pair of eyes that lacked lustre, and whispered to them that a dialogue between the master and the mistress in the evening had upset the usual tranquility. This information was no other than Mahamud Kadhar, the most fearing and faithful servant of Mr. Sastriar on whose kindness and courtesy some five-and-twenty years crimeless and continuous chain of service fastened the greatest claim and consideration. This intelligence was no less sad than true. Since slumber had stolen on their senses they sought their homes postponing inquiry for the morrow.
We have introduced, save Kadhar, two more prominent persons one Iyenger (Chariar) and one Iyer. Who they are, what they are, and why are they come within the pale of our plot with other detailed descriptions deemed deserving shall be seen sprinkled and scattered over the pages of the succeeding chapters.
Can the fond mother from herself depart?
Can she forget the darling of her heart?
The little darling whom she bore and bred,
Nursed on her knees and at her bosoms fed.
Sweet was the morning in December. The light dark preceding the silvery dawn had disappeared. Birds chirped, twittered and fluttered from the tree tops that sheltered them during the wintry night, rejoiced at the approach of the day; while jackals and foxes discontent perhaps with their adventure and the booty consequent, there upon, ran reluctantly to their respective distant dens. The cattle, let loose the previous night to feast upon, and damage the neighbors' fields or gardens, glided home with their stomachs swollen to capacious dimensions and apparently fortified against an inevitable Indian famine. Plants and tender twigs decked with dew drops hung down their heads greeting most reverentially the Lord of the day. The breeze saturated with sweet smell was enjoyable, refreshing and renovating. The frost shrouding the landscape vapored away. Every tree and every plant with their fresh flowery robes smiled and breathed incense. Tiny brooks babbled and prattled as they hurried on their downward course unconscious, as they seemed to be, of being swallowed by greater ones and all their mirth and frolic extinguished. Children, reluctant to relinquish their beds, when roused wept and indulged in another nap. Eagerly engaged in devouring passage after passage till many pages were got up, some examination encountering youth unconscious of Nature's overthrow of the gloomy queen and the enthronement of a luminous king in her stead, was still burning an oil lamp in some corner of the insanitary habitation.
Peasants with plough-laden shoulders drove teems of oxen across the meadow, while some armed with spades and other agricultural implements faced the labors of the field. An old orthodox Hindu Brahmin returned home shivering and quivering with the cold that he had most religiously self-inflicted upon him by the early bath. Mr. Natesa Sastry and his friends, whose materials of clothing, in virtue of their English education and civilized enlightenment, varied with the whether dressed in wool crossed the common over-looking the Agraharam and went on their morning walk, no doubt.
"Brushing with hasty steps the dews away."
So gay and glorious was the morning that succeeded the evening on which had taken place Kamalammal's unhappy interview with her husband.
Messers. Natesa Sastry and company not only exercised their legs but their tongues and lungs, during their walks, for, so loquacious were they.
"You had Natesan," observed Mr. Krishnama Chari with all freedom and friendship, as he changed his side next to Mr. Sastriar," some disharmony in your family? What facilitated such a friction? You were always wise enough to ward off such occurrences."
"Why! Sir", explained Mr. Sastriar after a deep deliberation, as if he felt the gravity of the subject, "the evils of a home! Alas! How many are they? Never were great things begun or achieved in this world without either incurring the enmity of one or the protestations of another. A home, sir, after all is only a world in miniature."
"Yes, true!" emphasized Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer his friend's statement. "How Columbus, I remember, was ridiculed and laughed at when he spoke of the discovery he was to make."
"Why Columbus alone?" added Mr. Krishnama Chari "as for that, poor Julius Caesar too."
Mr. N. Sastriar: - History reveals thousands of such never-to-be-forgotten names. Let's, for a moment pause and ponder who has been the author of the greatest calamities that have befallen the world. If we are to be believe Homer, in a Woman originated the flames of war that burned Troy to ashes. Shame seize her! , the very Paradise was lost. What made the good old Britons a land-thirsty conquering race, the English men of today – the introduction of Christianity and that through a woman. Then again, a whole monarchy was upset and a republic was set up in Rome; it is due directly or indirectly to a woman. India is no exception. What induced Rama to extirpate the race of Rakhshathas? Wait sir! What brought about the battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Why did King Nala desert his kingdom and took abode in a forest.
Mr. K.Chariar: - Add to the string of woes the most miserable of St. Bartholomew; yes, they had, as you say, sown all caustic calamities. Nature has consigned the authorship of miseries to them; why dispute we then?
Mr. R. Iyer, (impatiently): - Ish! Natesan, you are beating about the bust. We were anxious to know what provoked the rub, but, you are regularly repeating histories, that does credit more to your memory.
Mr. N. Sastriar: - Only a leaf of that history, sir, there is nothing whatever new under the sun. A word about Hariharan's English education brings at once copious tears in Kamalam's eyes, stout protestations in her voice, and dire discord into the family; the curtain of "Domestic Tragedy" falls that day and darkens the home.
Mr. K. Chariar: - Kamalam does all this? Ha! How highly had I thought of her! How often have I asked my wife to copy Kamalam? – Her ways, her walks. Who knows (in a low consoling voice)! She may have her answers and apathy's!
Mr. R. Iyer (highly embarrassed): - What does she say against? May we know that?
There was some hesitation at first, arising naturally from the consciousness, how he had lowered the estimation of his wife in the eyes of his friends; he did, therefore, bare justice to Kamalammal by giving out the sum and substance of their conversation in a most impartial way, asking at the same time advice as to his safe guidance and conduct to avoid cutting deeper the wound he had inflicted on her heart.
One of them suggested that persuasion and perseverance would crown his request with compliance.
The wandering eyes of Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer were arrested by what, in those out-of-the-way places, was considered uncommon objects: the approach of two strong and sinewy men clothed, as they were, in loosely cut white trousers, and black coarse woolen coats, at the lower end of which above the waist a strap of polished leather two inches broad ran round, and a methodically- made red helmet hooked with metallic numerical figures, as if 'Catalogued in a collection' of curiosities, completed the outward adornment. Proximity of distance determined them to be Indian Police Constables. Quite in a military mode they sainted the retired officials. One of them in a respectably low voice communicated that their Inspector had long been waiting at Mr. Sastriar's. The news quickened their speed; each wondered within himself the cause of the untimely arrival of an officer who, they thought, had nothing to do with them. The Inspector's cold response to the welcome of the hosts intimated them of some calamitous catastrophe. Yet they called in their presence of mind, but Mr. Sastriar was seen shaken with a convulsion of consternation and confusion. A grey coarse envelope, officially long, that had hitherto protruded in the Inspector's pocket, pounced on Mr. Sastriar's quivering hands? Mr. Krishnama Chariar knew by sight what it was. He saw, his frame flickered. He struggled strongly to keep up control and composure. Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer gaped with awe and anxiety. They stood stupefied and speechless as so many statues. Mr. Natesa Sastry strained his sight to read the letter. So swimming were the eyes that he could not go through the whole. But he understood enough to make him sad and silent. With his Characteristic courage, Mr. Krishnama Chari led the peace-protector by the hand into a spacious hall in the interior of the house and seated him on a chair, put on an affected smile, and beckoned his friends to sit.
"Just stepping into the court," spoke Mr. Chariar in a compromising tone, "you know, Mr. Inspector, no matter how truthful, hopeful and just one's cause is, degrades one's dignity. Gentlemen, possessing a morsel of wisdom and self-respect, will at any cost avoid appearing at the Court."
So saying he held out to the Inspector a small thin piece of paper apparently a currency note valued at Rs. 50. He refused acceptance and requested the donor not to press him too far in such a momentous matter, and complimented that as a bird of the same feather Mr. Chariar should have felt better the difficulties and dangers of the situation. Mr. Krishnama Chari quitted his seat, drew Mr. Sastriar farther away and putting his arm round the neck over the shoulder, seemingly solved certain problematic points, as an immediate effect of which, Mr. Natesa Sastry added another similar sheet, and the two together were offered to the officer who in accepting pretended reluctance, impressed upon them their debt of personal obligation and did not forget to demand cash for the notes. There was a scarcity of silver. It was long before they satisfied the demand. After the acceptance of pan and betel and the exchange of courtesies the officer rode off followed by his men.
Though the danger, Mr. Sastriar tided over with a thousand rupees, had become impotent, yet it dyed deeper the distress of the last evening. He sat self-tortured and tormented, as his friends parted away. Every kind of labor, spiritual, intellectual or physical leaves best its impression on the face: a grave countenance, sympathetic look, unostentatious air, and renunciation of all that is worldly, mark a true devotee. Sparkling eyes, face furrowed with lineaments, a desire for more light and an ear trained to hear, bespeak the wisdom treasured within the scholar; languid eyes turning like life-less glass balls beneath a pair of spectacles, a pale bloodless face, and the stamp of premature old age, advertise the ware of the present-day graduates of the Indian Universities. But the havoc, that a single sleep-less night commits, are too many. Languid and lifeless were the eyes of Kamalammal; withered and white were the roses of her cheeks; dead and dropped were the cherries of her lips, as she emerged out from a woolen blanket to attend to the domestic duties of a Hindu home. She went through the daily operation of personal cleanliness; and picked up from the store faggots and combustible to kindle the hearth and prepare that beverage commonly called in civilized countries as 'coffee'. The season rendered lighting the woods difficult and Kamalammal, however, got over it. She yawned frequently, threw her hands in wrathful gesture, and muttered low now and then. A string of tears like pearls dropped down from her eyes. What could have all these meant? Why this sorrow? Suppressed sighs swelled her snowy bosom! She swept the kitchen with searching looks; she was alone as she had longed. Before her burned flames without, as within care and anxiety, as resisted streams gather strength and effect a breach, her sorrowing silence swelled into a soliloquy.
"Hari! Is it all thy fortune? What poor blessings thou hast had after all from Heaven! How sore and sad you make your mother, who has known no happier hour than that she stayed with you; who has had no brighter thought than that you were safe and sound and whose eyes never delighted more than when they saw you…"
So absent-minded and attention-absorbed was she that the milk on the fire more than once effervescence and bounced up with vengeance beyond the brim of the vessel and quenched the flames beneath.
The diverse disturbances: the tramples of boots, the screeching sound of the hinges caused by the opening of the iron safe, the murmur of discontentment and the confidential whisper had forced their entrance into the knowledge of Kamalammal. She suddenly threw open the blinds of the nearest window and peeped through into the hall. What met her sight there? A still more tragic scene than that her heart had hitherto disclosed. A couple of constables, with sheathed daggers dangling from their waist; with burnished hand-cuffs in their fingers with quick caution in their eye, and grave look on their face, she saw; paler grew her face, sadder her countenance, deeper sunk her soul in sorrow; doubt and distress harrowed harder her heart. But she had not remained long in that unhappy state. Mr. Sastriar was soon by himself. Kamalammal, like her sex, was neither frank nor free. Entering the hall, she walked to-and-fro before her husband as if she were quite unaware of the incident that had poisoned Mr. Sastriar's peace of mind and so self-devoted to her domestic duties. Coffee was as usual brought to him. The couple had not exchanged even a single word after the last sad evening. With all the vanity of woman, Kamalammal gave no sign of impatience though her interior was inundated with it, and remained mute and moody. Mr. Sastriar coughed, shook his limb, coughed again, and with the cough dropped a query.
"Where would he be generally at this time? I perceive no change in me or around me, nor with him but you make up the want by too many changes that like a chameleon, colorize you and your actions."
Her observation was more mysterious than melancholising. Mr. Sastriar spoke rather surprised.
"Want.' 'Too many changes,' 'Chameleon,' 'Colorize', 'You', and 'Your actions'. What are these? – So meaningless! You never spoke in all your life so disconnectedly and disinterestedly; and still boast of conservatism! What more proof of an inside-out change need we?"
Kamalammal did not relish his reproof, and she pined to know why the Red-turban came and went leaving so much uneasiness at the spot he touched. She spoke as she turned round:
"Who unlooked that iron chest and left it open?"
"Why? myself." Was the unhesitated reply.
"Why should we intrude into their secrets?" She spoke to herself in a cold-complaining tone. "God knows why he opened the safe even at this early hour! Why he required such big sums as necessitated an opening of the safe. It may be, perhaps, to book a passage to send his son to England!" Her eyes were brimful and all the struggle of the lids to guard the overflow was vain.
"What on earth is this!" exclaimed Mr. Sastriar. "she imagines that I am sending away her son. That moment her face scowls, her voice thunders, her eye flashes and rains!"
She filled a silver cup with the coffee in the Kuja which was so hot that clouds of smoke fumed away and transferred the contents to another to cool down to a drinkable degree of warmth.
"One rash act of mine cost me – thank God – thousand rupees, and that necessitated the opening, not that I am sending our son to England."
She looked up in amazement.
"You know it, I believe, the death of Kathan, our Pariah-tenant, who stole some bushels of paddy a month or two ago in our estate!"
"What if? He might have done so to stand against a sudden starvation. He stole only his food, when his energetic labors from morning till evening should have failed to meet the want, or your agents and managers should have withheld or, postponed as often is the case, the payment of his wages. Why should it cost you thousand rupees, and that, this morning after two long months?"
"I sincerely scorn, you, know, falsehood and stealing; on the receipt of the report from our agent, Subramanian Sastry, I went in person and inflicted an exemplary punishment on Kathan and."
"You had him tied, then, to a post, while tamarind-twigs rained heavy blows on him? Your dislike of falsehood and theft drove away from you the mercy and love of humanity; you need not be proud of it. What then?"
"'What then'! The fellow fell swooned. I mistook it for pretense at the time. A fresh shower of whipping rained on his back. He was carried home unconscious. Three days he lingered on a bed of starvation, and then slept happy for ever in the grave. I have provided the wife and young ones of the deceased with comfort and compensation. Misfortune reigns supreme now! This's what happens in every big estate every day and in every Mutt. The Government never smell it; but some of my enemies have turned this moment to a very advantageous purpose. Some hours back, I was threatened with despise and destruction, now too, the clouds are not clearly past; money often does what even men cannot. One thousand silenced the tongue of murder, I hope, forever."
As he bragged of his exploit and the end Kamalammal stood stupefied the words were so many daggers to her and so overwhelmed with grief was she that more than once her attempt to speak ended in stammer: -
"Was so sadly and silently extinguished the life of one of God's noblest creation and your crime so completely covered in? You speak the existence of so many such rush land-lords! Do people call that part of the world inhabited by them earth, or, as it deserves, hell?"
She leaned on a pillar before him and with great assiduity continued the conversation:
"Pray! Let me know if the Government has appointed officers to cover in cruelties like yours for such payments, or, have you bribed them? , in either way, scandalous. A good man's wealth imbibes humane thoughts, generates charitable dispositions. On the contrary, a bad man's pelf purchases him his illegitimate liberty, sows vice in him, and shall at least lift him up mercilessly to the gallows. How, I wonder, men heavily paid to protect life and lucre when money intercedes forget their duty! Can it be that Government has lost sight of the character and conduct of her servants, who let loose hell on earth?"
"You seem to think that they deal in bribery with impunity. No doubt the Police Department is open to criticism. That's how a great part of India's riches are practically cut out of use and utility. Hence the fell famines and pinching poverty of so many millions you read about in the vernacular papers! I roughly estimate India to be in possession of about three thousand Inspectors of all grades. Any one serving the department a score of years is sure to have scored some thousands which are buried safe in the bosom of the earth. Our Krishnama Chari opened his career as a writer of the S. H, O. on about Rs. 8 per mensem. He spent, as many do, the little parental property he inherited, on English education with the result that the university had found one limb or other of this knowledge, deformed or distorted, demanding a simultaneous perfection of all of them on each of the six times he sought admission at the door of Matriculation. He has, therefore, to die unmatriculated. For five-and-thirty years he stood on various steps of his official pinnacle…
"You may as well say: Various were the places in Southern India he pitched upon for his plunder and robbery, and …"
"What a princely life he has led! He underwent what to others might have been, the costliest ceremony of getting his three daughters becomingly married. What an anomaly! He grew richer each time as men become stronger by operation and by the apparent removal of impure matters from the body. He had himself to purchase a wife when he lost his first. In spite of these drainages he is worth five-and-fifty thousand."
"He is a licensed robber, it seems. His uniform authorizes him to empty every chest without being protested or punished. These happy pirates come and go by broad daylight; while their brethren, genuine thieves, for want of that license and uniform, come by night and make themselves at times unhappy, especially when their tributes are not timely transmitted to those brethren in authority."
"What you have learned too much of them. The D. P. W., some ridicule it as the Department of Public Waste, is also equally bad. Our Ramu had grown fat, too fat considering his original thinness, having grazed in its fertile fields for a very long time. Why, we can pick holes in every department."
"Why!" spoke she silly, "you were not less happy in your illicit earning; why, you had a very narrow escape when you were a Sub-Magistrate!"
Mr. Sastriar who presided so much to love truth was a great deal wounded with a bit of it. Kamalammal having noticed his uneasiness or suffocated with the strong stinging smell the itching palms of those gentlemen emanated, gave a turn to her conversation and enticed him to the subject – the father of her thoughts. He lifted up a cup of coffee and the contents disappeared, so a second and a third.
"I very well understand the cause of the change that runs through the vein of every thought, word, and action of yours of late. It is the Ghost of Kathan the Pariah-tenant our family is possessed with. The sin is so thick upon you, misfortune after misfortune does waylay us. We will only be acting wisely if we do not scatter the strength of our already wore out family. Till time mends itself better, we will drop the idea of Hariharan's intellectual equipment and all guided glory of educational warfare."
"You are not better for the night", remarked Mr. Sastriar as he put down the cup he had been tossing about after the contents were emptied into the stomach. "Still some screw is loose in the upper-stomach never once in your life you spoke so stubbornly nor ever disapproved my designs. Mothers and children are everywhere; but your son and you seem strange. A mother's love must be for the son's betterment, but your love poisons his prospects and prosperity. I have exhausted all my arts to make you feel, as I do, the necessity of an early execution of my endeavors. But to no purpose. A Pharmacopeia is administered, yet the patient feels no better."
"It is the Ghost of the Pariah; and as such its mischief must be mighty and malignant. Pray, drown your designs, and seek purification for the sin-stained soul. We have time enough to think of our boy's education after your soul is saved and secured. Believe me, sir, the cloud of a Himalayan misfortune hovers over our roof. The change every inch of your body bristles with, is the shadow of coming calamities…."
Opening on its hinges, the door ushered in a lady, middle statured, charmingly clad with a well washed sari that rustled as she walked. Her hair was oiled, perfumed and artistically and beautifully braided up. Her forehead was rather raised and broad, in the middle of which between the lashes and above the farther end of the nose was painted a jet dark small circular spot which characterizes, and adds tone to, the Indian beauties. Her sloping snowy shoulders, the chest, with the pair of ivory balls, tipped with azure-blue, so pressing upon each other, and the fair round upper arms, were covered under as closely fitting transparent Indian petticoat. We cannot help recollecting at the sight the very lively lines of Beaumont and Fletcher:
"Hide, O. hide these hills of snow,
Which thy (frozen) bosom bears,
On whose tops the pinks that grow
Are of those that April wears?
But first set my poor heart free
Bound in those (icy) chains by thee."
Cast of a modern mould, the few ornaments she wore bespoke the fashion of the day. Her small fair feet peeped in and out on with measured steps and a dignified carriage. Modesty made her hang down her head at the sight of Mr. Sastriar. Kamalammal tore herself away and led the feminine intruder into the recess of the house. The recipient of such an honor, must by no means be a common country woman.