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His four sons, three daughters their own children as well , sons-in-law, neighbours, servants —it became a festival. All the villagers gathered to watch the much-hyped funeral. Weeping, the daught ers applied thick layers alta on both the feet of Ma and smeared sindur on her h ead. After smearing the forehead with sandalwood, the daughter-in-laws draped Ma in an expensive sari and with the end of the sari wiped her feet.
Old Mukhopadhyay bade his life partner goodbye for the last time with a calm dis position. Drying his tears, he started consoling the aggrieved daughters and dau ghters-in-law. Stirring up the morning sky with cries of hari bol, the whole vil lager marched ahead with the family. Another being who was standing aloof also b ecame a part of this group. She was walking towards th e village market carrying some of her homegrown brinjals.
Forgetting her planned trip, forgetting about her brinjals, wip ing her tears, she reached the cremation ground following the crowd. On the bank s of the Garur river near the edge of the village laid the cremation ground. Woo den logs, pieces of sandalwood, ghee, honey, incense sticks and dhuno were alrea dy collected there beforehand.
Standing on a heap from a distance, she star ted watching the funeral rites from the beginning till the end curiously. When t he body was laid on the wide and copious pyre, she was moved by seeing the crims on-coloured feet and wished she could run and take a little bit of the alta off the feet to bless herself.
Fire lit by the hands of a son! It is not an easy achievement. The body was covered with many sketches; the top wa s covered with many tendrils. Will you not prepare rice? It is just smoke!
She felt embarrassed realizing that she was crying at the cremation ground for a stranger and fearing bad omen for her son; she instantly wiped her tears away.
Smoke got into my eyes. You were crying. TWO Watching the foolishness of the parents during the naming ceremony of a child, G od does not only rest himself but also protests vehemently. For that reason, the ir lives frown at their very names until death.
Her mother died giving birth to her. Annoyed her father named her Abhagi. No mother to take care of; her father caught fish from the river- he had no sense of day or night. The person she was married to was Rasik Bagh who had another wife. He we nt and settled with the other wife in another village. Abhagi was left behind in the village with her misery and the baby boy, Kangali. That baby boy of her, Kangali was now fifteen year old.
Recently he had started learning bamboo work. Abhagi hoped after struggling with ill luck for another ye ar or so, her misery would be gone. Other than the person who had bestowed this on her, no one could understand her misery.
Coming from the pond, Kangali saw his mother storing the remaining food in a cla y plate. I am not feeling hungry any longer. Then let me see your pot. He let her free after inspecting the pot. There was sufficient rice for one person. A boy of his age would nit do such a thing. He had to satisfy himself with playing in her lap. Why did you watch the funeral rites standing under the scorching sun?
Why did you bathe after that? Do not say funeral rites. You will commit a crime then. The pious mathakarun went to heaven riding a chariot.
Does any body go to he aven riding a chariot? Every body saw her crimson coloured feet. It was his habi t to believe his mother. He had learnt to believe her since childhood. Is she wa s assuring every body had observed the incident; he had no room for disbelieve. Why do I have to remarry again?
I would have died out of hung er by now. Actually, almost everyone had given her that advice a nd when she did not agree to it, no less problem was inflicted on her. Kangali spread the mat, spread the quilt.
Let me relate to you a fairy tale. These stories were much heard from and narrated to others. Nevertheless after some moments, there was no trace of the prince and the son of the sentry.
She s tarted relating a story that was not learnt from others. It was her own creation. The more feverish she became, the fasted the hot blood rushed towards the brai n, she came up with more thrilling tales. There was no rest, no gap in between.
It was the tale of the cremation ground and the journey. The same chariot, the same crimson coloured feet, the same journey of her to heaven. The all encompassing smoke is not just a mere smoke; that is t he chariot to heaven.
Kangali-charan, my child! No one could prevent us for being miserable. He would bid me farewell, blessing me in the same manner. By applying the alta, thesindur in th e similar way. But who would even do that? You would do that, would not you Kang ali? You are my son, you are my daughter; you mean everything to me!
The span was not much but little. It seemed not even thirty years were crossed. It ended in a sim ple manner.
There was no ayurvedic practitioner in the village; he lived in a di fferent one. Kangali cried, submitted himself in front of him; lastly, he mortga ged the metal water pot and paid him a rupee. He did not come; gave four medicin e globules. No one has ever survived in the household of a low cast e by taking medicine. Hearing the news, the neighbours c ame to inspect.
Whatever quack remedies they knew- water rubbed with horns of a deer, et cetera- were advised after which they went to attend their own work. I would get well without any assistance. You threw them in the oven. Does any one recover like this? Nevertheless, prepare meal by boiling rice and vegetables and eat. Let me see that. Ne ither could he extract the water properly, nor could he serve it properly.
His o ven would not lit up. The water splashed inside to create just a smoke. While se rving rice, it spread everywhere. She tried to rise u p from bed but could not straighten her head; she rolled onto the bed.
On finishing the meal, she tried to give her son advice on how to do what but he r faint voice stopped. Only tears flowed out uncontrollably from her eyes. In the village, Ishwar, the barber, knew how to feel the pulse.
Next morning he felt her pulse and in her very presense he became grave, heaved a sigh and got u p shaking his head. Say Ma is dying. She would give you as soon as you mention my name. She loves me to o much. After the onset of fever, he had heard these few things f rom her so much in so many ways that he set out for the journey crying. T he shadow of death was visible on her face.
The eyes had done away with this mor tal world and left for another. It might be that her deeply stored desir e like tradition had nudged her subconscious mind. She forwarded her numb hand t o receive the blessings. Rasik stood there dumbfounded.
His blessings were necessary and that anybody cou ld ask for them- these very notions were beyond his dreams. The wife whom he did not love, did not provide food nor clot hing, did not enquire after her well-being, at the time of her death, he started crying while giving his blessings.
I do not know whether there were any arrangements of a chariot for such a low caste, or whether they had to journey on their feet. Nev ertheless, this was comprehendible that no sooner, the night died out, she left this world.
There was a wood-apple tree in the courtyard of the cottage.
What did you hurt my father for? For fear of getting impure, he did not t ouch him. Because of such a chaos, a crowd formed.
Again, they themselves tried to convince darwan so he gave the permission. Darwan would not be convinced. Moving his limbs, he announced this sort of trick s could not be applied on him. Zaminder was not a local man. He had a cutcherry in the village. The revenue col lector, Adhar Roy was the manager of it.
When the people were vainly requesting the darwan, Kangali ran breathlessly towards the cutcherry. He believed it for certain that if he could report about this highly unjustified oppression to the manager, he woul d not stop from taking a step.
O, the inexperienced child! He did not know the B angladesh zaminders and their employees. In confusion and excitement of recently losing his mother, he straightaway went upstairs.
Adhar Roy was coming out afte r the evening prayer and an adequate meal. Darwan thrashed my father. Father was a great scholar, and he had tried his hand at stories and novels, dramas and poems, in short, every branch of literature, but never could finish anything. I have not his work now—somehow it got lost; but I remember poring over those incomplete mss. Probably this led to my writing short stories when I was barely seventeen. But I soon gave up the habit as useless, and almost forgot in the long years that followed that I could even write a sentence in my boyhood.
A mere accident made me start again, after the lapse of about eighteen years. When almost hopeless, some of them suddenly remembered me, and after much persuasion they succeeded in extracting from me a promise to write for it.
This was in the year I promised most unwillingly—perhaps only to put them off till I had returned to Rangoon and could forget all about it. But sheer volume and force of their letters and telegrams compelled me at last to think seriously about writing again. I sent them a short story, for their magazine Jamuna. This became at once extremely popular, and made me famous in one day.
Since then I have been writing regularly. In Bengal perhaps I am the only fortunate writer who has not had to struggle'. Very few of his fellow-novelists have had his experience of life. Mention of Rangoon above reminds us that he lived for many years in Burma, serving in a Government office. He thus had the inestimable advantage of viewing his land and people from outside.
His fiction deals very largely with social problems, and with tyrannies 'that have obsessed the modern Bengali life against reason and humanity'. No problem is more insistent with the educated classes to-day. The sales of his books have been enormous, greater than those of any other Indian novelist.
Srikanta is his most ambitious book, in style and scope. It is understood to be largely autobiography. Like most autobiographical novels, it is rather a string of episodes than a connected story. This is not the place for criticism.
The earlier chapters are a sort of Bengali Huckleberry Finn ; and the Ganges escapade of the two boys is a fine piece of writing, as is also the night on the burning-ghat later on in the book. The translator, Mr. Sen, has done admirably in his rendering of these two elaborate passages. The novel was an exotic in Bengal. Its course can be epitomised under three names. Bankimchandra Chatterji took Scott as his model, and popularised the new form in a very short time.
Bankim was propagandist as well as novelist, and his work was often a reconstruction of earlier days in his country, as his imagination pictured them. His handling of those days may be compared profitably with Scott's revival of former history.