Moni-hara : Story by Rabindranath Tagore in English

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      Moni-hara - Robbed of the Gem : is a chilling account of how terrible attachment to material possessions can be. Childless Moni (which means 'gem' or 'jewel') is over-attached to her jewellery. Her husband Phani Bhushan adores her but when he needs her jewellery (his own gifts to her) to help him out of debts, she makes off with them rather than help him out. On the way she is robbed and killed and comes back to haunt her poor sorrowing husband. Moni-hara is part of Teen Kanya (1961).

Short Story :-

My boat was tied to the crumbling embankment of the river.

The sun had just set. The boatman was busy reading his names from the rooftop of the boat. The palatial building next to the river bank was in ruins - the doors and windows and even the balconies of the building were falling apart. I was quietly sitting on the steps that led down to the river and tears were about to come into my dry eyes, when a voice pierced the silence and shocked me.

"Where are you from, Sir?"

The man who asked me the question was sitting at the top of the stairs. The condition of his clothes did speak a great deal about his poverty. He may have walked in after his day's work and having no money to buy an evening snack, must have decided to taken in whiffs of the river air as refreshment.

"I am from Ranchi", I replied.
"And your name, Sir?"
gave a name, but it was not mine.
"What brings you here?"
"A change of scene".
"Where are you staying?"

I pointed to the ruined mansion. He must have thought that I was hunting for some treasures in there. He turned out to be the local school teacher whose appearance reminded me a lot Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. He wanted to narrate to me a tragic tale that had occurred fifteen years ago, in the very mansion which stood in ruins upon the riverside.

The boatman had finished offering prayers and got down to cooking his meal. The light on the horizon was fading out, the play of the soft sun-rays giving the palace a ghostly look.

The school master began.

Almost ten years before I came to this village, the beautiful, college educated Monimalika and her husband, the well-meaning, city bred Phani Bhushan Saha used to live in this house. Phani Bhushan had inherited his father's palatial house and the family business. He and Monimalika had no children and Phani Bhushan was very much in love with his wife. He showered her with gifts comprising or the best of Dhakaiya saris and jewelry. Moni Mallika, however, had presumed that it was her birthright to get the gifts. She was always in the mood to receive, never to reciprocate. Not even with love.

On the way she is robbed and killed and comes back to haunt her poor sorrowing husband. Moni-hara is part of Teen Kanya (1961).

Moni Mallika kept to herself in the house and did not like socializing with the local people. Phani Bhushan remained busy throughout the day with affairs of his business.

Unfortunately, Phani Bhushan's business had slowly moved in to major losses and there came a time when he needed an urgent funding of almost one and a half lakh of rupees. He had to arrange for the money within five days to save his business from the crisis. Phani Bhushan did not support the idea of approaching the local moneylenders for he feared that if the word of his borrowing went around, it would further affect his business adversely. He thought it would be easier to mortgage some valuable item like jewelry and obtain a loan as it would involve very little paper work. He approached Moni Mallika and suggested that she part with her ornaments so that Phani Bhushan could quickly organise the funds and save the business from sinking, Moni Mallika heard him out but did not respond either way. Phanibhushan got the message and though saddened by his wife's reaction, he left for Kolkata in order to try and secure the funds by some other means.

Next day, Moni Mallika sent for Madhusudhan, her cousin, who did a small job in her husband's office. She asked him for advice, which was immediately offered as Madhusudhan saw a game plan for himself.

"I don't think he will ever be able to secure the money. The amount he is looking for is big. Ultimately, he will be forced to return and pawn your ornaments," he warned.

Moni Mallika shuddered at the very thought of having to take off all her ornaments from her hands and body and exchange them for money to save the business.

"What shall I do?" she asked Madhusudhan.

"Let us leave right away and go to your parent's house," he suggested. He was sure to ultimately lay his hands on a better part of the ornaments.

Moni Mallika immediately agreed and told Madhusudhan to arrange for a boat. In the evening a boat arrived at the banks of the river. At the crack of dawn, wrapped in a shawl from head to toe, Moni Mallika got on to the boat.

Once the boat left the banks and sped away with the torrent, the shrewd Madhusudan asked her to hand over the jewelry box to him for safe keeping. As Monimalika would not trust anybody with the box, she had, piece by piece, worn every item of jewelry she possessed. She was scared that in case she ever parted with the box, she would be ruined. She may not have understood her husband Phani Bhushan, but was certainly correct in her assessment about her cousin Madhusudhan.

Before leaving, Madhusudan had left a note for Phani Bhushan's office manager that he would be escorting Moni Mallika to her parents house. The next day when the manager read the note, he informed Phani Bhushan about his wife's departure and also added that Phani Bhushan was, perhaps, not right in permitting his wife to indulge to this extent.

Phani Bhushan was shocked to hear the news. He had not taken and pawned his wife's jewelry. He had come to Kolkata to try and raise the funds on his own. Then, why did his wife not trust him with the ornaments, he wondered.

Accepting his fate, he decided to complete his business and then return home. He expected that after having left the jewelry box at her father's house, Moni Mallika would have returned home. To his dismay, on his return, he found the door locked. Breaking open the door, he found that the trunk containing the ornaments was empty.

The old caretaker suggested that without losing any further time, they should look for Moni Mallika, and accordingly, a search operation was carried out. All boats, boat men, river ways...everything was looked in to, and everyone was interrogated, but there was no sign of Moni Mallika. Meanwhile, the messenger who was sent to Moni  Mallika's village returned with the news that she had not reached there.

Giving up all hopes to find Monimalika, Phanibhushan walked in to the empty room. Everything in the room was in position as before...the decanter, the Chinese doll, the small bottles of essence...only the lady was not present.

Late in the night the torrential rains had finally stopped The Jatra being performed in the village had also come to an end. The music had stopped. The air was heavy as a morose Phani Bhushan reclined in the empty room, pining for Moni Mallika to suddenly enter and light up the house - and his life.

Suddenly, he heard a metallic noise in the darkness. It was slowly coming up the stairs that led to the bank of the river. He sat up with an air of excitement. The noise was moving up to the main entrance of the house. The main door had been locked by the darowan. There was a sound of violent knocking on the door. The noise was that of heavy ornaments banging against each other.

Phani Bhushan ran out of the room, down the stairs and reached the main door. He was sweating and his body was cold like ice. He opened the door, but he found nobody there.

Next day he asked the darowan to keep the door open. The darowan protested saying there was another jatra performance slated that night and it would not be safe or wise to keep the main door unlocked. He offered to stay up the whole night instead. Phanibhushan declined his offer and insisted that he too attend the jatra performance that night and leave him alone in the mansion. The absurd instruction baffled the darowan.

That night, again there was the noise moving up the stairs from the bank. The sound got closer and reached the edge of the door to the room. His heart beating, Phani Bhushan yelled, "Moni!" There was silence.

The following night Phani Bhushan announced that he wanted, again, to spend the night all by himself. His staff thought that the master may be practicing some voodoo activity. He maintained a fast all day.

Night fell. Like the previous two nights, the heavy sound of ornaments started moving up the stairs. As Phanibhushan waited with bated breath and closed eyes, the sound entered the room and moved past the lamp, the almirah, in fact every point in the room, and finally stopped very close to Phanibhushan.

He gradually opened his eyes and to his utter shock, he found a full skeleton standing in front of him! The skeleton wore eight rings in eight fingers, bangles, fact the bones were all draped with sparkling ornaments.

His blood froze...horrified, he tried to close his eyes but, failed. The skeleton quietly pointed at Phani Bhushan and signaled him to follow her. He did likewise, and the skeleton led him to the balcony, on to the main doorway and out to the stairs leading to the bank. Phani Bhushan was totally mesmerized and followed without any second thoughts. The river was flowing gushing and gurgling as it did so - the skeleton stepped in to the turbulent waters of the river...Phanibhushan followed, and as he did so, he was instantly swept away by the strong current. He offered no resistance, and despite being a swimmer, did not even attempt to stay afloat.

The school master stopped. I had not said a word till now.
"I don't think you believed this story?' he asked me.
"Did you?" it was my turn to ask him now.
"Not really. First, I don't think God Almighty is a novelist - He has many other urgent missions to attend to and..."
"...and secondly, I myself am Phani Bhushan Saha", I interrupted.
The school master was not in the least ashamed. "I guessed right. What was your wife's name?"
"Nritya kali", I replied.

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