Dena Paona : by Rabindranath Tagore || Short Story

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In a Bengali family, when a daughter was born, after five sons, the parents, out of their lavish love, named her Nirupama, the inimitable one. Such an attractive name had never been heard in the family before. Usually names of gods and deities, such as Ganesh, Kartik, Parvati, were used.

Dena paona by Rabindranath Tagore
Dena Paona

The family was now considering Nirupama's marriage. Her father Ramsunder Mitra went around looking for a suitable groom but could hardly find one to his own liking. At last, he found out the only son of a lofty Rai Bahadur. The ancestral wealth of this Rai Bahadur had dwindled considerably, but still the family was aristocratic. The groom's family asked for a dowry of 10,000 rupees and many extra gifts. Ramsunder agreed without a thought; he couldn't let such a groom slip through his fingers. But in no way could he raise all the money. Even after pawning, selling and exhausting every other means, there was deficit of 6000 - 7000 rupees. In the meantime, the day of the wedding was drawing near. The wedding day finally arrived. Someone had agreed to lend the rest of the amount at an exorbitant rate of interest,

but he failed to show up on the appointed day. A furious row broke out at the wedding assembly. Ramsunder humbly begged to the Rai Bahadur, 'Let the auspicious ceremony take place, I'll definitely pay off the debt'. The Rai Bahadur replied, The groom could not be brought to the assembly until the amount was paid in full'.

The women of the house began wailing at this dreadful incident. The root cause of the misfortune sat mutely in her silk wedding sari and ornaments, her forehead anointed with sandal-paste. It was not that she was harbouring much love or respect for her prospective in-laws. Meanwhile the situation turned favourable. The groom suddenly became defiant of his father and declared, I know none of this haggling and transaction, I have come to marry and marry I shall.'

The father complained to everyone around him, 'See, sir, how the boys behave these days'. Some elderly men present at the hall answered, 'It's because they get no moral and religious education nowadays.' Seeing the poisonous fruit of modern education in his own son, the Rai Bahadur sat despondent, and the wedding was solemnised in a gloomy and cheerless fashion. As Nirupama was about to leave for her in-laws' house, her father pulled her to his breast and failed to hold back is tears. "Won't they let me visit you again, father?", she asked. Why not, my daughter; if not, I'll go and fetch you,' the father replied. Ramsunder went to see his daughter frequently, but he had no respect in his son-in-law's house. Even the servants looked down upon him. In a separate house away from the main living quarters, he was allowed to see his daughter for five minutes on Some days, and on other days he was denied even that.

Unable to bear such humiliation at a relative's house, Ramsunder decided that the money had to be paid somehow. But he was already tottering under the burden of his current debts, and stretched to the limit with the family expenses. To avoid meeting his creditors, he had to constantly adopt various wily strategies.

In the meantime, the girl was being taunted by her in-laws at every turn. It became a daily routine for her to shed tears behind closed doors at the insults heaped at her family.

In particular, her mother-in-law's grudge wouldn't abate. If someone remarked, What a beautiful bride! Her face is soothing on the eyes,' the old lady would angrily retort, Yeak she is very pretty! Pretty as the family she came from. Even her food and clothing were neglected. If a kind neighbour pointed out a flaw, the mother-in-law replied, 'she has enough meaning, if the father had paid full price, the daughter would get full care. Everyone behaved as if the bride had no rights in the house; she had entered it by fraud. Perhaps the father had come to know of such neglect and humiliation of his daughter. He decided to sell the house. But he kept it from his sons that he was about to make them homeless. His plan was to sell the house and then continue to live there on rent. He would manage it so tactfully that his sons would have no clue about the matter before his death.

But his sons came to know. They protested and begged him not to do so. Especially, the three elder sons who were married, and one or two even had children. Their objections grew so resolute that he had to call off selling the house. Ramsunder then started borrowing small sums of money from different sources at a high interest. The situation became such that he could no longer meet the family expenses. Nirupama understood everything by looking at her father's face. The old man's grey hair, emaciated face and ever-cowering appearance provided testimony to the family's unbearable poverty and anxiety. When a father is guilty of a wrongful act to his daughter, how can he hide the remorse from that infraction! Whenever Ramsunder was allowed to see his daughter even for a while, one could tell from the way he laughed how heat broken he was.

Nirupama became restless to go, home for a few days to console her distressed father. She could no longer bear to be away on seeing his haggard face. One day she asked Ramsunder, Father, take me home for once. The father replied, All right. But Ramunder lacked the power to carry out his wish. The natural claims a father has to his claughter had to be pawned for the lack of dowry money. Even to see his daughter he had to beg meekly, and if he was denied permission on any occasion, he didn't have the face to ask a second time.

But if a daughter wants to come home on her own accord, how could a father not bring her? So the insult, indignity and loss that Ramsunder had to experience to raise 3000 rupees before he could bring the request to the attention of his daughter's father-in-law best remain unsaid here.

Wrapping the banknotes in a handkerchief and tying it at a corner of his shawl, Ramsunder went and sat beside the man. He began calmly, with a smile, by first narrating the local news. There was a spectacular burglary at Harekrishna's house, he recounted the full details of it; comparing the intelligence and temperament of the two brothers, Nabinmadhab and Radhamadhab, he sang praises of Radhamadhab and condemned Nabinmadhab; he gave a fantastic account of a new disease in town, and then, finally, putting the tobacco pipe down, he said as if in a course of conversation, Oh, yes, yes, my brother, I still have some money owing for sure. I remember it everyday and ask myself to bring some as I come to visit you, but somehow it slips my mind. Besides, I have grown old, my friend.' After such a long preamble, he took out the three notes with seeming unconcern and aloofness, but which were actually like three of his ribs. Seeing only 3000 rupees, the Rai Bahadur burst out in a raucous laughter, and said, 'Let it be, I won't need that.' Citing a conventional Bengali phrase, he said he didn't want to make his hand reek for no reason.

After this incident, no father can ask to bring his daughter home, but Ramsunder thought such propriety didn't suit him. After sitting in a mortifying silence for a long while, he finally brought up the matter in a low voice. The Rai Bahadur replied, Not now,' and gave no reason. He then left the place on the pretext of work.

Ramsunder lost the courage to face his daughter, and tying the notes in trembling hands at a corner of his shawl he returned home. He took a vow that until he could pay up all the money and lay claims on his daughter confidently, he wouldn't return to the Rai Bahadur's house.

Days and weeks passed. Nirupama sent messenger after messenger but received no sight of her father. Finally, hurt, she stopped sending emissaries which stung Ramsunder, but still he didn't go to visit her.

The month of Ashwin, sixth month of the Bengali calendar came. Ramsunder said, "I must bring my daughter home during this puja festival or else I...', and made a dreadful vow.

On the fifth or sixth day of the puja festival, Ramsunder once again tied a few notes at the edge of his shawl and prepared to go out. His five-year-old grandson came and asked, Grandfather, are you going out to buy a cart for me? For a long time, the boy had been having the fancy to ride in a push-cart, but Ramsunder found no means to meet that wish. Then a six-year-old granddaughter came and complained tearfully that she had no decent dress for visiting friends this festive season.

Ramsunder knew that well, and had brooded over it intensely while smoking his hookah. He had sighed many times thinking over how the women of his household would have to attend the puja invitation at the Rai Bahadur's house wearing their little jewellery like paupers asking for favour; but such thoughts had done him no good except to make the marks of his age on the forehead deeper.

With the cries of his poverty-stricken household in his ears, the old man stepped into the Rai Bahadur's house. Today there was no hesitation in him; no diffidence and timidity in greeting the servants and the security guards like in the past. He was told that the Rai Bahadur had gone out and he would have to wait for some time. But unable to hold back his excitement, Ramsunder went in to meet his daughter. Tears rolled down his face in uncontrollable joy. Both father and daughter cried, unable to speak for a while. Then Ramsunder said, I am taking you home this time, my daughter. There are no obstacles now.

At this time, Ramsunder's eldest son Haramohan barged in the room with his two little sons. He cried, 'Father, have you decided to ruin us utterly? Suddenly turning furious, Rumsunder yelped, Am I to condemn myself to hell for your sakes? Won't you let me do what is right?" Ramsunder had already sold the house. He had taken every measure so that his sons wouldn't find out about the sale, but noticing that they still had found out he became upset and angry.

His grandson clutched round his knees tightly, looked up, and asked, 'Grandfather, won't you buy me that cart. When he got no reply from the stooping Ramsunder, the body went up to Nirupama and asked, Aunty, will you buy me a cart Nirupama figured out the whole situation. Father, she said, if you give one more coin to my father-in-law, you won't see your daughter again I swear. Ramsunder replied, 'Shame, daughter, never say such a thing Besides, if I fail to pay the money, it brings dishonour on me and on you too.

Nirupama said, It is humiliating only if you pay the money. Does your daughter have no dignity? Am I only a bag of money; so long as there is money I have value? No father, don't insult me by paying that money. Besides, my husband doesn't want it. "Then they won't let you visit us, my child,' said Ramsunder What can you do if they don't? You also don't try to take me, Nirupama replied. Ramsunder took up the shawl in trembling hands with the money still tied into it, put it back on his shoulder, and again returned home like a thief avoiding everyone's gaze. But that Ramsunder had brought the money and left without giving it, persuaded by his daughter, did not renmain a secret. Some inquisitive, eavesdropping maid informed it to Nirupama's mother-in-law. Hearing it, the old woman's malice crossed all limits.

Her in-laws' house turned into a bed of arrows for Nirupama. Her husband had left home soon after their marriage to take up a posting of Deputy Magistrate in another part of the country, and on the pretext that she might be corrupted by contact, her in- laws forbade her from all kinds of interaction with her relatives.

At this time, Nirupama fell critically ill. But her mother-in-law could not be fully blamed for it. She was extremely negligent of her own health. She slept the whole chilly autumn nights with her head close to an open door; in winter she remained barely clothed. Her meals were irregular. At times, when the maid forgot to bring her food, she didn't once open her mouth to remind them. The notion that she was living on the mercy of the master and lady as well as the servants and maids of a strange. house was becoming deep-seated in her mind. But even this attitude was unbearable for her mother-in-law. If she observed Nirupama's slight apathy towards food, she would say, 'Isn't she from a noble family? Provisions of a poor household are not to her taste. Or, 'Look at her, how graceful she looks! Day by day she is becoming more like a piece of burnt wood.'

When the illness became more severe, the mother-in-law said, It's all a sham.' At last, Nirupama pleaded to her mother- in-law, Please allow me to see my father and my brothers just once, Mother.'

It's only a ploy to go to her father's house,' was the old lady's reply. It might sound absurd, but the evening Nirupama started gasping for breath, she was seen by a doctor for the first time, and that also turned out to be his last visit.

The eldest daughter-in-law of the household had passed away; her funeral rites were carried out with great pomp. The Rai Chaudhuries were renowned in the district for their ceremonial immersion of the idol at the end of the puja festival; the Rai Bahadurs gained an equal fame for their spectacular cremation of the eldest daughter-in-law. Nobody had seen such a huge sandalwood funeral pyre in the region. Only the Rai Bahadurs could afford the stately funeral ceremony that followed, and it was rumoured that they had run into a bit of debt as a result.

While consoling Ramsunder, everyone gave long description of the pomp and grandeur of his daughter's death. Meanwhile, a letter came from the Deputy Magistrate, 'I have made all arrangements here; please send my wife to me without delay.' Rai Bahadur's wife replied, 'My son, we have fou another girl for you, so take leave immediately and come home This time the dowry was set at 20,000 rupees, all in cash.

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