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The Poet Kalidas was supplied with flowers by a <em>Malini</em> (flower-girl). He, being a poor Brahmin, could not pay for the flowers, but in place of that he used to read some of his own verses to the <em>Malini</em>. One day there bloomed in the <em>Malini's</em> tank a lily of unparalleled beauty. Plucking it, the <em>Malini</em> offered it to Kalidas. As a reward the poet read to her some verses from the <em>Megha Duta</em> (Cloud Messenger). That poem is an ocean of wit, but every one knows that its opening lines are tasteless. The <em>Malini</em> did not relish them, and being annoyed she rose to go.

The poet asked: "Oh! friend <em>Malini</em>, are you going?"

"Your verses have no flavour," replied the <em>Malini</em>.

"<em>Malini</em>! you will never reach heaven."

"Why so?"

"There is a staircase to heaven. By ascending millions of steps heaven is reached. My poem has also a staircase; these tasteless verses are the steps. If you can't climb these few steps, how will you ascend the heavenly ladder?"

The <em>Malini</em> then, in fear of losing heaven through the Brahmin's curse, listened to the <em>Megha Duta</em> from beginning to end. She admired the poem; and next day, binding a wreath of flowers in the name of Cupid, she crowned the poet's temples therewith.

This ordinary poem of mine is not heaven; neither has it a staircase of a million steps. Its flavour is faint and the steps are few. These few tasteless chapters are the staircase. If among my readers there is one of the <em>Malini's</em> disposition, I warn him that without climbing these steps he will not arrive at the pith of the story.

Surja Mukhi's father's house was in Konnagar. Her father was a <em>Kaystha</em> of good position. He was cashier in some house at Calcutta. Surja Mukhi was his only child. In her infancy a <em>Kaystha</em> widow named Srimati lived in her father's house as a servant, and looked after Surja Mukhi. Srimati had one child named Tara Charan, of the same age as Surja Mukhi. With him Surja Mukhi had played, and on account of this childish association she felt towards him the affection of a sister.

Srimati was a beautiful woman, and therefore soon fell into trouble. A wealthy man of the village, of evil character, having cast his eyes upon her, she forsook the house of Surja Mukhi's father. Whither she went no one exactly knew, but she did not return. Tara Charan, forsaken by his mother, remained in the house of Surja Mukhi's father, who was a very kind-hearted man, and brought up this deserted boy as his own child; not keeping him in slavery as an unpaid servant, but having him taught to read and write. Tara Charan learned English at a free mission-school. Afterwards Surja Mukhi was married, and some years later her father died. By this time Tara Charan had learned English after a clumsy fashion, but he was not qualified for any business. Rendered homeless by the death of Surja Mukhi's father, he went to her house. At her instigation Nagendra opened a school in the village, and Tara Charan was appointed master. Nowadays, by means of the grant-in-aid system in many villages, sleek-haired, song-singing, harmless Master Babus appear; but at that time such a being as a Master Babu was scarcely to be seen. Consequently, Tara Charan appeared as one of the village gods; especially as it was known in the bazaar that he had read the <em>Citizen of the World</em>, the <em>Spectator</em>, and three books of <em>Euclid</em>. On account of these gifts he was received into the <em>Brahmo Samaj</em> of Debendra Babu, the zemindar of Debipur, and reckoned as one of that Babu's retinue.

Tara Charan wrote many essays on widow-marriage, on the education of women, and against idol-worship; read them weekly in the <em>Samaj</em>, and delivered many discourses beginning with "Oh, most merciful God!" Some of these he took from the <em>Tattwa Bodhini</em>,[3] and some he caused to be written for him by the school <em>pandit</em>. He was forever preaching: "Abandon idol-worship, give choice in marriage, give women education; why do you keep them shut up in a cage? let women come out." There was a special cause for this liberality on the subject of women, inasmuch as in his own house there was no woman. Up to this time he had not married. Surja Mukhi had made great efforts to get him married, but as his mother's story was known in Govindpur, no respectable <em>Kaystha</em> consented to give him his daughter. Many a common, disreputable <em>Kaystha</em> girl he might have had; but Surja Mukhi, regarding Tara Charan as a brother, would not give her consent, since she did not choose to call such a girl sister-in-law. While she was seeking for a respectable <em>Kaystha</em> girl, Nagendra's letter came, describing Kunda Nandini's gifts and beauty. She resolved to give her to Tara Charan in marriage.

[Footnote 3: A religious periodical published in Calcutta.]