Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mahamaya


How can love survive during the unfavorable social traditions and customs? Read the story to find out the answer.

Mahamaya and Rajib met together in a ruined temple on the river bank.

In silence, she gave her naturally grave look at Rajib with a tinge of reproach. She meant: “How can you call me at this unusual hour today? You have ventured to do it only because I have so long obeyed you in all things!”

Rajib had a little awe at Mahamaya at all tims, and now this look of her thoroughly upset him: he at once gave up his fondly conceived plans of making a set speech to her. And yet he had to give quickly some reason for this interview. So he hurriedly blurted out, “I say let us run away from this place and marry.” True, Rajib thus delivered himself of what he had in his mind; but the preface he had silently composed was lost. His speech sounded very dry and bald, even absurd. He himself was confused after saying it, and had now power left in him to add some words to modify its effect. The fool! After calling Mahamaya to that ruined temple by the riverside at midday, he could only tell her, “Come, let us marry!”

Mahamaya was a Kulin’s daughter, 24 years old- in the full bloom of her youth and beauty like an image of pure gold, of the hue of an early autumn sunlight; radiant and still at that sunshine; with a gaze free and fearless as daylight itself.

She was an orphan. Her older brother, Bhavanicharan Chatto Padhyay, looked after her. The two were of the same mold – taciturn, but possessing a force of character which burnt silently like the midday sun. People feared Bhavanicharan without knowing why.

Rajib had come from afar with the Burra Sahib of the silk factory of the place. His father had served this Sahib, and when he died the Sahib undertook to bring up his orphan boy and took him with himself to this Bamanhati factory. In those early days, such instances of sympathy were frequently among the Sahibs. Mahamaya was Rajib’s playmate in childhood, and was dearly loved by his aunt.

Rajib refused to marry even at the age of 19. Mahamaya, too, grew up in maidenhood fro no bridegroom of an equal grade of blue blood could be secured except for an impossible dowry.

Kandarapa’s influence shows itself differently in different persons. Under his inspiration, Rajib constantly sought for a chance of whispering his hear longings, but Mahamaya gave him no opportunity.

Today he had, by a hundred solemn entreaties and conjurations, at least succeeded in bringing her to this ruined temple. Confusingly, he just stood and asked Mahamaya, “Come, let us go and marry.”

For a long time she did not reply, as if she never expected such a proposal from Rajib. Rajib stood reclining against the ruinous plinth of the temple like a tired dreamer, gazing at the river; he had not the spirit to look at Mahamaya in the face.

After a while he turned his head and again cast a supplicating glance at Mahamaya’s face. She shook her head and replied, “No, it can’t be.”

At once the whole fabric of his hopes was dashed to the ground; for he knew that when Mahamaya refused his offer, it was through her own conviction and nobody else in the world could bend her to his own will. Mahamaya at once prepared to leave the temple.

Rajib understood her and quickly broke in with “I am leaving this place tomorrow.”

Calmly she asked, “Why” Rajib replied, “My Sahib has been transferred from here to the Sonapur factory, and he is taking me with him.” Again she stood in long silence, musing thus: “Our lives are moving in two contrary directions. I cannot hope to keep a man a prisoner of my eyes forever.” So she opened her compressed lips a little and said, “Very well.” it sounded rather like a deep sigh.

With this word only she was again about to leave, when Rajib started up with the whisper, “Your brother!”

She looked out and saw her brother coming towards the temple, and she knew that he had found out their assignation. Rajib, fearing to place Mahamaya in a false position, tried to escape by jumping out n the hole in the temple wall; but Mahamaya seized his arm and kept him back by main force. Bhavanicharan entered the temple and only cast one silent and placid glance at the pair.

Mahamaya looked at Rajib and said with an unruffled voice, “Yes, I will go to your house Rajib. Do you wait for me?”

Silently, her brother left the temple, and Mahamaya followed him as silently. And Rajib? He stood in a maze as if he had been doomed to death.

That night, Bhavanicharan gave a crimson silk sari to Mahamaya and told her to put it on at once. Then he said, “Follow me.” Nobody had ever disobeyed Bhavanicharan’s bidding or even his hint; Mahamaya herself was no exception to it.

That night the two walked to the building place on the river bank, not far from their home. There in the hut for sheltering dying men brought to the holy river’s side, an old Brahmin was lying in expectation of death. The two went up to his bedside. A Brahmin priest was present in one corner of the room. Bhavanicharan beckoned to him.

The priest quickly got his things ready for the happy ceremony. Mahamaya realized that she was to be married to this dying man, but she did not make the least objection. In the dim room, faintly lit up by the glare of two funeral pyres hard by, the muttered sacred texts mingled with the groans of the dying as Mahamaya’s marriage was celebrated.

The day following after her marriage, she became a widow. But she did not feel excessively grieved at the bereavement. And Rajib, too, was not crushed by the news of her widowhood as he had been by the unexpected tidings of her marriage. Nay, he felt rather cheered. But this feeling did not last long. A second terrible blow laid him utterly in the dust; he heard that there was a grand ceremony at the burning ghat that day as Mahamaya was going to burn herself with her husband’s corpse.

At first he thought of informing Sahib and forcibly stopping the cruel sacrifice with his help. But then he recollected that the Sahib had made over charge and left for Sonapor that very day; he had wanted to take Rajib with him but the youth had stayed behind on a month’s leave.

Mahamaya had told him, “Wait for me,” This request he must by no means disregard. He had at first taken a month’s leave, but if needed where he would take two months, then three months’ leave and finally throw up the Sahib’s service and live by begging, yet he would wait for her to his life’s close.

Just when Rajib was going to rush out madly and commit suicide or some other terrible deed, a deluge of rain came down with a desolating storm of sunset. The tempest threatened to tumble his house on his head. He gained composure when he found that the convulsion in outer nature was harmonizing with the storm within his soul. It seemed to him that all nature had taken up his cause and was going to bring him some sort of remedy. The force he wished to apply in his own person but could not was now being applied by nature herself over earth and sky.

At such time, someone pushed the door hard from outside. Rajib hastened to open it. A woman entered the room, clad in wet garment, with a long veil covering her entire face, Rajib at once knew her for Mahamaya.

In a voice full of emotion he asked, “Mahamaya, have you come away from the funeral pyre?”

She replied, “Yes, I had promised to come to your house. Here I am to keep my word. But, Rajib, I am not exactly the same person. I am changed altogether. I am the Mahamaya of old in my mind only. Speak now, I can yet go back to the funeral pyre. But if you swear never to draw my veil aside, never to look on my face, then I shall live in your house.”

It was enough to get her back from the hand of Death; all other considerations banished before it. Rajib promptly replied, “Leave here in any fashion you like; if you leave me I shall die.”

Mahamaya said, “Then come away at once. Let us go where your Sahib has gone on transfer.”

Abandoning all his property in that house, Rajib went forth into the middle of the storm with Mahamaya. The force of the wind made it hard for them to stand erect; the gravel driven by the wind pricked their limbs like buck shot. The two look to the open fields, lest the trees by the roadside should crash down on their heads. The violence of the wind struck them form behind as if the tempest had turn the couple asunder form human habitations and was blowing them away on to destruction.

The reader must not discredit my tale as false or supernatural. There are traditions of a few such occurrences having taken place in the days when the burning of widows was customary.

Mahamaya had been bound hand and found and placed on the funeral pyre, to which fire was applied at that appointed time.

The flames had shot up from the pile, when a violent storm of rainshower began. Those who had come to conduct the cremation quickly fled for refuge to the hut for dying men and shot the door. The rain put the funeral pyres out in no time. Meantime the bands on Mahamaya’s wrists had been burnt to ashes, setting her hands free. Without uttering a groan amidst the intolerable pain of burning, she sat up and untied her feet. Then wrapping round herself her partly burnt cloth, she rose half-naked from the pyre, and first came to her own house. There was no one there; all had gone to the burning ghat; she lighted a lamp, put on a fresh cloth, and looked at her face in a glass. Dashing the mirror down on the ground, she mused for a while. Then she drew a long veil over her face and went to Rajib’s house which was near by. The reader knows what happened next.

True, Mahamaya now lived in Rajib’s house, but there was no joy in his life. It was not much, but only a simple veil that parted the one from the other. And to get that veil was eternal like death, but more agonizing than death itself, because despair in time deadens the pang of death’s separation, while living hope was daily and hourly crushed by the separation which that veil caused.

For one thing there was a spirit of motionless silence in Mahamaya’s form of old; and now the hush from within the veil appeared doubly unbearable. She seemed to be living within a winding sheet of death. This silent death clasped the life of Rajib and daily seemed to shrivel it up. He lost the Mahamaya whom he had known of ol, and at the same time this veiled figure ever sitting by his side silently preventing him from enshrining in his life the sweet memory of her as she was in her girlhood. He brooded; “Nature has placed barrier enough between one human being and another. Mahamaya, in particular has been born, like karna of old, with a natural charm against all evil. There is an innate fence round her being.”

“And now she seems to have been born a second time and come to me with a second line of fence round herself. Ever by my side, she yet has become so remote as to be no longer within my reach. I am sitting outside the inviolable circle of her magic and trying, with an unsatiated thirsty soul, to penetrate this thin but unfathomable mystery, as the stars wear out the hours night after night in vain attempt to pierce the mystery of the dark night with their sleepless winkless downcast gaze.

Long did these two companionless lonely creatures thus pass their days together.

One night on the tenth day of the new moon, the clouds withdrew for the first time in that rainy season, and the moon showed herself. The motionless moonlight night seemed to be sitting in a vigil by the head of the sleeping world. That night, Rajib, too had quit his bed and sat gazing out of his window. From the heat-oppressed woodland a peculiar scent and the lazy hum of the cricket were entering into his room. As he gaze, the sleeping tank by the dark rows of trees glimmered like a silver plate. It is hard to say whether man at such a time thinks any clearly defined thought. Only his heart rushes in a particular direction – it sends forth an effusion of odor like the woodland, it utters a cricket hum like the night. What Rajib was thinking of I know not; but it seemed to him that that night all the old laws had been set aside; that day the rainy season’s night had drawn aside her veil of clouds, and this night looked silent, beautiful and grave like the Mahamaya of those early days. All the currents of his being flowed impetuously together that Mahamaya.

Like on morning in a dream, Rajib entered Mahamaya’s bedroom. She was asleep then.

He stood by her side and stooped down to gaze on her. The moon beams had fallen on her face. But, oh horror! Where was that face known of old? The flame of the funeral pure, with its ruthless greedy tongue, had utterly licked away a part of the beauty from the left cheek of Mahamaya and left there only the ravages of its hunger.

Did Rajib start? Did a muffled cry escape from his lips? Probably so. Mahamaya woke up with a start and saw Rajib before her. At once she replaced her veil and stood erect, leaving her bed. Rajib knewthat the thunderbolt was uplifted. He fell down before her – he clasped her feet, crying “Forgive me!”

She answered not a word, she did not look back for a moment as she walked out of the room. She never came back. No trace of her was found anywhere. The silent fire of her anger at that unforgiving eternal parting left all the remaining days of Rajib’s life branded with a long scar.

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