The widow Kunda Nandini passed some time in Nagendra's house. One afternoon the whole household of ladies were sitting together in the other division of the house, all occupied according to their tastes in the simple employment of village women. All ages were there, from the youngest girl to the grey-haired woman. One was binding another's hair, the other suffering it to be bound; one submitting to have her white hairs extracted, another extracting them by the aid of a grain of rice; one beauty sewing together shreds of cloth into a quilt for her boy, another suckling her child; one lovely being dressing the plaits of her hair; another beating her child, who now cried aloud, now quietly sobbed, by turns. Here one is sewing carpet-work, another leaning over it in admiring examination. There one of artistic taste, thinking of some one's marriage, is drawing a design on the wooden seats to be used by the bridal pair. One learned lady is reading Dasu Rai's poetry. An old woman is delighting the ears of her neighbours with complaints of her son; a humorous young one, in a voice half bursting with laughter, relates in the ears of her companions whose husbands are absent some jocose story of her husband's, to beguile the pain of separation. Some are reproaching the <em>Grihini</em> (house-mistress), some the <em>Korta</em> (master), some the neighbours; some reciting their own praises. She who may have received a gentle scolding in the morning from Surja Mukhi on account of her stupidity, is bringing forward many examples of her remarkable acuteness of understanding. She in whose cooking the flavours can never be depended upon, is dilating at great length upon her proficiency in the art. She whose husband is proverbial in the village for his ignorance, is astounding her companions by her praises of his superhuman learning. She whose children are dark and repulsive-looking, is pluming herself on having given birth to jewels of beauty. Surja Mukhi was not of the company. She was a little proud, and did not sit much with these people; if she came amongst them her presence was a restraint upon the enjoyment of the rest. All feared her somewhat, and were reserved towards her. Kunda Nandini associated with them; she was amongst them now, teaching a little boy his letters at his mother's request. During the lesson the pupil's eyes were fixed upon the sweetmeat in another child's hand, consequently his progress was not great. At this moment there appeared amongst them a <em>Boisnavi</em> (female mendicant), exclaiming, "<em>Jai Radhika!</em>" (Victory to Radhika).
[Footnote 4: Wife of Krishna.]
A constant stream of guests was served in Nagendra's <em>Thakur bari</em>, and every Sunday quantities of rice were distributed in the same place, but neither <em>Boisnavis</em> nor others were allowed to come to the women's apartments to beg; accordingly, on hearing the cry "<em>Jai Radha!</em>" in these forbidden precincts, one of the inmates exclaimed: "What, woman! do you venture to intrude here? go to the <em>Thakur bari</em>." But even as she spoke, turning to look at the <em>Boisnavi</em>, she could not finish her speech, but said instead: "Oh, ma, what <em>Boisnavi</em> are you?"
Looking up, all saw with astonishment that the <em>Boisnavi</em> was young and of exceeding beauty; in that group of beautiful women there was none, excepting Kunda Nandini, so beautiful as she. Her trembling lips, well-formed nose, large lotus-eyes, pencilled brows, smooth, well-shaped forehead, arms like the lotus-stalk, and complexion like the <em>champak</em> flower, were rare among women. But had there been present any critic of loveliness, he would have said there was a want of sweetness in her beauty, while in her walk and in her movements there was a masculine character.
The <em>sandal</em> mark on the <em>Boisnavi's</em> nose was long and fine, her hair was braided, she wore a <em>sari</em> with a coloured border, and carried a small tambourine in her hand. She wore brass bracelets, and over them others made of black glass.
[Footnote 5: The caste mark, made with sandal-wood powder.]
One of the elder women addressed her saying, "Who are you?"
The <em>Boisnavi</em> replied, "My name is Haridasi. Will the ladies like a song?"
The cry, "Yes, yes! sing!" sounded on all sides from old and young. Raising her tambourine, the <em>Boisnavi</em> seated herself near the ladies, where Kunda was teaching the little boy. Kunda was very fond of music; on hearing that the <em>Boisnavi</em> would sing she came nearer. Her pupil seized the opportunity to snatch the sweetmeat from the other child's hand, and eat it himself.
The <em>Boisnavi</em> asking what she should sing, the listeners gave a number of different orders. One called for the strains of <em>Govinda Adhikari</em>, another <em>Gopale Ure</em>. She who was reading Dasu Rai's poem desired to have it sung. Two or three asked for the old stories about Krishna; they were divided as to whether they would hear about the companions or about the separation. Some wanted to hear of his herding the cows in his youth. One shameless girl called out, "If you do not sing such and such a passage I will not listen." One mere child, by way of teaching the <em>Boisnavi</em>, sang some nonsensical syllables. The <em>Boisnavi</em>, listening to the different demands, gave a momentary glance at Kunda, saying: "Have you no commands to give?"
Kunda, ashamed, bent her head smiling, but did not speak aloud; she whispered in the ear of a companion, "Mention some hymn."
The companion said, "Kunda desires that you will sing a hymn." The <em>Boisnavi</em> then began a hymn. Kunda, seeing that the <em>Boisnavi</em> had neglected all other commands to obey hers, was much abashed. Haridasi, striking gently on her tambourine as if in sport, recited in a gentle voice some few notes like the murmuring of a bee in early spring, or a bashful bride's first loving speech to her husband. Then suddenly she produced from that insignificant tambourine, as though with the fingers of a powerful musician, sounds like the crashing of the clouds in thunder, making the frames of her hearers shrink within them as she sang in tones more melodious than those of the <em>Apsharas</em> (celestial singing women).
The ladies, astonished and enchanted, heard the <em>Boisnavi's</em> unequalled voice filling the court with sound that ascended to the skies. What could secluded women understand of the method of that singing? An intelligent person would have comprehended that this perfect singing was not due to natural gifts alone. The <em>Boisnavi</em>, whoever she might be, had received a thorough scientific training in music, and, though young, she was very proficient.
The <em>Boisnavi</em>, having finished her song, was urged by the ladies to sing again. Haridasi, looking with thirsty eyes at Kunda, sang the following song from Krishna's address to Radhika:
THE BOISNAVI'S SONG.
<blockquote> "To see thy beauteous lily face
I come expectant to this place;
Let me, oh Rai! thy feet embrace.
To deprecate thy sullen ire,
Therefore I come in strange attire;
Revive me, Radha, kindness speak,
Clasping thy feet my home I'd seek.
Of thy fair form to catch a ray
From door to door with flute I stray;
When thy soft name it murmurs low
Mine eyes with sudden tears o'erflow.
If thou wilt not my pardon speak
The banks of Jumna's stream I'll seek,
Will break my flute and yield my life;
Oh! cease thy wrath, and end the strife.
The joys of Braj I've cast aside
A slave before thy feet t' abide;
Thine anklets round my neck I'll bind,
In Jumna's stream I'll refuge find."</blockquote>
The song over, the <em>Boisnavi</em>, looking at Kunda, said, "Singing has made me thirsty; give me some water."
Kunda brought water in a vessel; but the <em>Boisnavi</em> said, "I will not touch your vessel; come near and pour some water into my hands. I was not born a <em>Boisnavi</em>." By this she gave it to be understood that she was formerly of some unholy caste, and had since become a <em>Boisnavi</em>.
In reply to her words, Kunda went behind her so as to pour the water into her hands. They were at such a distance from the rest that words spoken gently could not be heard by any of them. Kunda poured the water, and the <em>Boisnavi</em> washed her hands and face.
While thus engaged the latter murmured, "Are you not Kunda?"
In astonishment Kunda replied, "Why do you ask?"
"Have you ever seen your mother-in-law?"
Kunda had heard that her mother-in-law, having lost her good name, had left the place.
Then said the <em>Boisnavi</em>: "Your mother-in-law is here now. She is in my house, and is crying bitterly to be allowed to see you for once. She dare not show her face to the mistress of this house. Why should you not go with me to see her? Notwithstanding her fault, she is still your mother-in-law."
Although Kunda was simple, she understood quite well that she should not acknowledge any connection with such a relation. Therefore she merely shook her head at the <em>Boisnavi</em>'s words and refused her assent. But the <em>Boisnavi</em> would not take a refusal; again she urged the matter.
Kunda replied, "I cannot go without the <em>Grihini</em>'s permission."
This Haridasi forbade. "You must not speak to the house-mistress, she will not let you go; it may be she will send for your <em>Sasuri</em> (mother-in-law). In that case your mother-in-law would flee the country."
The more the <em>Boisnavi</em> insisted, the more Kunda refused to go without the <em>Grihini's</em> permission.
Haridasi having no other resource, said: "Very well, put the thing nicely to the <em>Grihini</em>; I will come another day and take you. Mind you put it prudently, and shed some tears also, else she will not consent."
Even to this Kunda did not consent; she would not say either "yes" or "no."
Haridasi, having finished purifying her face and hands, turned to the ladies and asked for contributions. At this moment Surja Mukhi came amongst them, the desultory talk ceased, and the younger women, all pretending some occupation, sat down.
Surja Mukhi, examining the <em>Boisnavi</em> from head to foot, inquired, "Who are you?"
An aunt of Nagendra's explained: "She is a <em>Boisnavi</em> who came to sing. I never heard such beautiful singing! Will you let her sing for you? Sing something about the goddesses."
Haridasi, having sung a beautiful piece about Sham, Surja Mukhi, enchanted, dismissed her with a handsome present. The <em>Boisnavi</em>, making a profound salute, cast one more glance at Kunda and went away. Once out of the range of Surja Mukhi's eyes, she made a few gentle taps on the tambourine, singing softly--
<blockquote> "Ah, my darling!
I'll give you honey to eat, golden robes to wear;
I'll fill your flask with <em>attar</em>,
And your jar with water of rose,
Your box with spice prepared by my own hand."</blockquote>
The <em>Boisnavi</em> being gone, the women could talk of nothing else for some time. First they praised her highly, then began to point out her defects.
Biraj said, "She is beautiful, but her nose is somewhat flat."
Bama remarked, "Her complexion is too pale."
Chandra Mukhi added, "Her hair is like tow."
Kapal said, "Her forehead is too high."
Kamala said, "Her lips are thick."
Harani observed, "Her figure is very wooden."
Pramada added, "The woman's bust is like that of a play actor, it has no grace."
In this manner it soon appeared that the beautiful <em>Boisnavi</em> was of unparalleled ugliness.
Then Lalita said, "Whatever her looks may be, she sings beautifully."
But even this was not admitted. Chandra Mukhi said the singing was coarse; Mukta Keshi confirmed this criticism.
Ananga said, "The woman does not know any songs; she could not even give us one of Dasu Rai's songs."
Kanak said, "She does not understand time."
Thus it appeared that Haridasi <em>Boisnavi</em> was not only extremely ugly, but that her singing was of the worst description.