You are here


Kunda arrived safely with Nagendra at Govindpur. At the sight of Nagendra's dwelling she became speechless with wonder, for she had never seen one so grand. There were three divisions without and three within. Each division was a large city. The outer <em>mahal</em> (division) was entered by an iron gate, and was surrounded on all sides by a handsome lofty iron railing. From the gate a broad, red, well-metalled path extended, on each side of which were beds of fresh grass that would have formed a paradise for cows. In the midst of each plat was a circle of shrubs, all blooming with variously coloured flowers. In front rose the lofty demi-upper-roomed <em>boita khana</em> (reception-hall), approached by a broad flight of steps, the verandah of which was supported by massive fluted pillars. The floor of the lower part of this house was of marble. Above the parapet, in its centre, an enormous clay lion, with dependent mane, hung out its red tongue. This was Nagendra's <em>boita khana</em>. To left and right of the grass plats stood a row of one-storied buildings, containing on one side the <em>daftar khana</em> (accountant's office) and <em>kacheri</em> (court-house); on the other the storehouse, treasury, and servants' dwellings. On both sides of the gate were the doorkeepers' lodges. This first <em>mahal</em> was named the <em>kacheri bari</em> (house of business); the next to it was the <em>puja mahal</em> (division for worship). The large hall of worship formed one side of the <em>puja mahal</em>; on the other three sides were two-storied houses. No one lived in this <em>mahal</em>. At the festival of Durga it was thronged; but now grass sprouted between the tiles of the court, pigeons frequented the halls, the houses were full of furniture, and the doors were kept locked. Beside this was the <em>thakur bari</em> (room assigned to the family deity): in it on one side was the temple of the gods, the handsome stone-built dancing-hall; on the remaining sides, the kitchen for the gods, the dwelling-rooms of the priests, and a guest-house. In this <em>mahal</em> there was no lack of people. The tribe of priests, with garlands on their necks and sandal-wood marks on their foreheads; a troop of cooks; people bearing baskets of flowers for the altars; some bathing the gods, some ringing bells, chattering, pounding sandal-wood, cooking; men and women servants bearing water, cleaning floors, washing rice, quarrelling with the cooks. In the guest-house an ascetic, with ash-smeared, loose hair, is lying sleeping; one with upraised arm (stiffened thus through years) is distributing drugs and charms to the servants of the house; a white-bearded, red-robed <em>Brahmachari</em>, swinging his chaplet of beads, is reading from a manuscript copy of the <em>Bhagavat-gita</em> in the <em>Nagari</em> character; holy mendicants are quarrelling for their share of <em>ghi</em> and flour. Here a company of emaciated <em>Boiragis</em>, with wreaths of <em>tulsi</em> (a sacred plant) round their necks and the marks of their religion painted on their foreheads, the bead fastened into the knot of hair on their heads shaking with each movement, are beating the drums as they sing:

<blockquote> "I could not get the opportunity to speak,
The elder brother Dolai was with me."</blockquote>

The wives of the <em>Boiragis</em>, their hair braided in a manner pleasing to their husbands, are singing the tune of <em>Govinda Adhi Kari</em> to the accompaniment of the tambourine. Young <em>Boisnavis</em> singing with elder women of the same class, the middle-aged trying to bring their voices into unison with those of the old. In the midst of the court-yard idle boys fighting, and abusing each other's parents.

These three were the outer <em>mahals</em>. Behind these came the three inner ones. The inner <em>mahal</em> behind the <em>kacheri bari</em> was for Nagendra's private use. In that only himself, his wife, and their personal attendants were allowed; also the furniture for their use. This place was new, built by Nagendra himself, and very well arranged. Next to it, and behind the <em>puja bari</em>, came another <em>mahal</em>; this was old, ill-built, the rooms low, small, and dirty. Here was a whole city-full of female relations, mother's sister and mother's cousin, father's sister and cousin; mother's widowed sister, mother's married sister; father's sister's son's wife, mother's sister's son's daughter. All these female relatives cawing day and night like a set of crows in a banian tree; at every moment screams, laughter, quarrelling, bad reasoning, gossip, reproach, the scuffling of boys, the crying of girls. "Bring water!" "Give the clothes!" "Cook the rice!" "The child does not eat!" "Where is the milk?" etc., is heard as an ocean of confused sounds. Next to it, behind the <em>Thakur bari</em>, was the cook-house. Here a woman, having placed the rice-pot on the fire, gathering up her feet, sits gossiping with her neighbour on the details of her son's marriage. Another, endeavouring to light a fire with green wood, her eyes smarting with the smoke, is abusing the <em>gomashta</em> (factor), and producing abundant proof that he has supplied this wet wood to pocket part of the price. Another beauty, throwing fish into the hot oil, closes her eyes and twists her ten fingers, making a grimace, for oil leaping forth has burnt her skin. One having bathed her long hair, plentifully besmeared with oil, braiding it in a curve on the temples and fastening it in a knot on the top of her head, stirs the pulse cooking in an earthen pot, like Krishna prodding the cows with a stick. Here Bami, Kaymi, Gopal's mother, Nipal's mother, are shredding with a big knife vegetable pumpkins, brinjals, the sound of the cutting steel mingling with abuse of the neighbours, of the masters, of everybody: that Golapi has become a widow very young; that Chandi's husband is a great drunkard; that Koylash's husband has secured a fine appointment as writer to the <em>Darogah</em>; that there could not be in the world such a flying journey as that of Gopal, nor such a wicked child as Parvati's; how the English must be of the race of <em>Ravan</em> (the ten-headed king of Ceylon); how <em>Bhagirati</em> had brought <em>Ganga</em>; how Sham Biswas was the lover of the daughter of the Bhattacharjyas; with many other subjects. A dark, stout-bodied woman, placing a large <em>bonti</em> (a fish-cutter) on a heap of ashes in the court, is cutting fish; the kites, frightened at her gigantic size and her quick-handedness, keeping away, yet now and again darting forward to peck at the fish. Here a white-haired woman is bringing water; there one with powerful hand is grinding spices. Here, in the storehouse, a servant, a cook, and the store-keeper are quarrelling together; the store-keeper maintaining, "The <em>ghi</em> (clarified butter) I have given is the right quantity;" the cook disputing it; the servant saying, "We could manage with the quantity you give if you left the storehouse unlocked." In the hope of receiving doles of rice, many children and beggars with their dogs are sitting waiting. The cats do not flatter any one; they watch their opportunity, steal in, and help themselves. Here a cow without an owner is feasting with closed eyes upon the husks of pumpkins, other vegetables, and fruit.

Behind these three inner <em>mahals</em> is the flower-garden; and further yet a broad tank, blue as the sky. This tank is walled in. The inner house (the women's) has three divisions, and in the flower-garden is a private path, and at each end of the path two doors; these doors are private, they give entrance to the three <em>mahals</em> of the inner house. Outside the house are the stables, the elephant-house, the kennels, the cow-house, the aviaries, etc.

Kunda Nandini, full of astonishment at Nagendra's unbounded wealth, was borne in a palanquin to the inner apartments, where she saluted Surja Mukhi, who received her with a blessing.

Having recognized in Nagendra the likeness of the man she had seen in her dream, Kunda Nandini doubted whether his wife would not resemble the female figure she had seen later; but the sight of Surja Mukhi removed this doubt. Surja Mukhi was of a warm, golden colour, like the full moon; the figure in the dream was dark. Surja Mukhi's eyes were beautiful, but not like those in the dream. They were long deer-eyes, extending to the side hair; the eye-brows joined in a beautiful curve over the dilated, densely black pupils, full but steady. The eyes of the dark woman in the dream were not so enchanting. Then Surja Mukhi's features were not similar. The dream figure was dwarfish; Surja Mukhi rather tall, her figure swaying with the beauty of the honeysuckle creeper. The dream figure was beautiful, but Surja Mukhi was a hundredfold more so. The dream figure was not more than twenty years of age; Surja Mukhi was nearly twenty-six. Kunda saw clearly that there was no resemblance between the two. Surja Mukhi conversed pleasantly with Kunda, and summoned the attendants, to the chief among whom she said, "This is Kunda with whom I shall give Tara Charan in marriage; therefore see that you treat her as my brother's wife."

The servant expressed her assent, and took Kunda aside with her to another place. At sight of her Kunda's flesh crept; a cold moisture came over her from head to foot. The female figure which Kunda in her dream had seen her mother's fingers trace upon the heavens, this servant was that lotus-eyed, dark-complexioned woman.

Kunda, agitated with fear, breathing with difficulty, asked, "Who are you?"

The servant answered, "My name is Hira."