Sanskar : short story by Rabindranath Tagore

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      Chitragupta, the secretary of the god of death Yama, records many sins in bold letters in his ledger which are unknown even to the perpetrators. But there are other sins which are known only to those who have committed them. The one I am about to relate here belongs to the second type. A confession, before I have to account for my action to Chitragupta, will, with some luck, make the sin lighter.

The incident occurred yesterday, a Saturday. The Jain's in the locality were having a feast, and I was passing by in a car with my wife Kalika. We were invited for tea at the home of our friend, Nayan Mohan. My wife's name is Kalika, which literally means 'a bud'. It was given to her by my father-in-law, not me.
Sanskar

      The incident occurred yesterday, a Saturday. The Jain's in the locality were having a feast, and I was passing by in a car with my wife Kalika. We were invited for tea at the home of our friend, Nayan Mohan. My wife's name is Kalika, which literally means 'a bud'. It was given to her by my father-in-law, not me. Her name does not fit her behaviour, as her ideas are more like fully bloomed flowers. When recently she picketed against the selling of British cloth at Barabazar, she did it with such fervour that her followers proudly dubbed her 'Dhruba Brata or she of unwavering conviction'. My name is Girindra, which means, 'the king of the mountains'. Not that her devotees care much about the significance of my name; they know me as 'her' husband. But I too have a bit of significance by God's grace, owing to the virtue of my inherited wealth, and the members of her political party cast an eye on it when it is time for collecting donations.

      Absence of similarity between a husband and wife makes a marriage more harmonious, like that between a piece of dry earth and a stream. I have a relaxed personality and take things easily. My wife's temperament, on the contrary, is extremely rigid: she clings to whatever occurs in her mind. This disparity is what keeps peace in our family.

      But we have not found accord only in one area of difference. Kalika believes that I do not love the country. She is so fixed in her view that no matter how much evidence I produce of my love for the country, she refuses to accept it because it fails to match her party's symbols of patriotism.

      I have been a book enthusiast since childhood; every time I hear of a new book I go and buy it. Even my enemies would acknowledge that I read the books I purchase, and my friends know very well that I not only read but also like to discuss them. My passion for arguments has, in fact, driven all my friends away, except one, Bon Bihari, with whom I have lively sessions every Sunday. His name means 'roving in forests', but because of his unsocial nature, I call him 'Kon Bihari', or 'room-rambler'. Some nights we sit and chat on the roof till two o'clock in the morning. The present time is of course not the best time for book lovers. On the one hand, the sight of a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in any house is a conclusive evidence of sedition for the police; on the other, the nationalists see the possession of the cut pages of a British published book as a mark of treason. They consider me a brown coloured, white island-born renegade. These days, the nationalist even refuse to worship the goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning and eloquence, because of her white complexion. They have raised an outcry that the water or her divine lake in which the white lotus blooms, far from abating the wretched condition of our motherland is only flaring it up.

      I don't wear homespun khaddar in spite of the good example set by my wite and her continuous nagging. This has nothing to do with the pros and cons of khaddar or that I am fussy about clothing. It is rather the opposite. I may be accused of many lapses in my patriotic nationalistic intentions and activities but being dapper is not one of them. I wear simple and shabby clothes and dress in a dishevelled way out of habit. Before Kalika's recent political transformation, I used to wear broadtoed shoes bought from the local China market, which I often forgot to polish and keep clean. Moreover, I found putting on socks irritating, and wearing loose kurtas more comfortable than proper shirts, and cared the least if those kurtas lacked a button or two. Such habits, indeed, threatened to destroy our marriage at one point.

      Kalika would warn me, Look, I feel embarrassed to go out with you in public. I would reply, "There is no need to be an obedient wife. Feel free to go out on your own".

      Now the time has changed but my fate is still the same. Kalika still says she is ashamed to go out with me. I couldn't accept the costume of her band members then, and can't accept the uniform of her party members now. Thus, my wife's shame in me has remained unchanged. The fault lies with my personality. Whatever may be the ideology of a group, I feel shy to dress in sectarian attire. I have not been able to overcome this feeling, and Kalika failed to accept my difference of opinion as final. Like a mountain stream pushing a big rock fiercely but meaninglessly, Kalika can't help ceaselessly jostling with opinions different from her own. Any contact with views contrary to her own makes her restless, creating an irresistible itch in her to respond.

      Yesterday, as we were getting ready to go out for a tea invitation, Kalika brought up the matter of my non-khaddar outfit for the millionth time, and in a tone that was anything but polite. I couldn't help rebutting her insults because of my intellectual pride - an innate tendency in humans that inspires them to such futile errors. So in an equally acerbic tone I said to her for the countless time, "Women like to cover their god given power of sight by pulling the end of a thick black bordered sari over their eyes and tie their mind to custom. They find it easier to obey than to think. In every important aspect of life, if they an avoid having to think and decide for themselves and confine their life, instead, to the zenana of social conventions, they are hanny, Women are so excited about khaddar because in our custom-riddled country it is turning into a virtuous convention and, like wearing garlands and the sandal paste mark on a Vaishnava mendicant's forehead, is seen as a sign of religiosity.

      Kalika began fuming in anger. She screamed so loudly that the maidservant in the next room must have thought that the mistress was scolding the master for tricking her with some jewellery not made of pure gold. She said, Look, the day wearing khaddar becomes a natural part of our culture, like bathing in the holy water of the Ganges, this country will be saved. When a code becomes one with habit, it turns into a custom. Thought, when it finds a clear shape, brings purification. People then work with full conviction, without having to think twice clearly those were Professor Nayan Mohan's words, only the quotation marks had disappeared. Kalika now considered them her own.

      A silent person has no enemy' - whoever came up with that aphorism must have been unmarried. When I chose not to respond, she became jittery, and yelled, You only talk about caste discrimination but practically do nothing to redress it. But we are trying to paint a colour of unity over that disunity with our khaddar uniform, and replace caste disharmony with the fellowship of all.

      I was about to say, 'Indeed, I overcame caste distinction with y mouth first, the day I tasted the chicken curry prepared a Muslim cook. So my conversion is not merely verbal but also in action, which comes from the soul. To dress up caste differences in a new garb is superficial; it only conceals but doesn't obliterate.' But having thought of those words, I didn't have the courage to express them. I am naturally a timid man, so I kept silent. For I know from experience that Kalika carries the altercations we spontaneously have at home to her friends, like laundry washing where they are violently thrashed and twisted. Returning armed with ounter-arguments from her visits to the Philosophy professor Nayan Mohan's house, she fires them off at me and stares in a savage, silent way that seems to say, Now tackle that if you can.'

      I was not interested a bit to attend Nayan Mohan's tea invitation that evening. I was sure that a hair-splitting discussion on the comparative role of tradition and novelty, the logical and illogical in Hindu culture, and why our country is superior to all the other countries in this regard, over cups of steaming tea would create an oppressive atmosphere, through the blending of mists from tea cups, hot air, and foggy ideas. Besides, I had some new books which had just arrived from the bookseller waiting expectantly by my dumpy bolster, in their gold-blocked covers and uncut pages. I had a glance at them while still in their brown wraps, but hadn't fully unpacked them yet, and as we were about to leave the house I felt an incipient urge to unwrap them. Yet I had no choice but to go, because I knew that any impediment to Dhruba Brata's will-force would, either in words or through silence, create a huge commotion which would be detrimental to my health.

      We had just travelled a short distance from the house in our car. Coming past the tube-well and reaching close to the back of the temple, where a pot-bellied confectioner from Central India made all kinds of deep fried unsavoury items, we came upon a terrible uproar. I saw some of our neighbours from the Marwari' Community walking in a procession towards the temple, with expensive offerings for the gods in hand. Their journey also had come to a halt here. We could hear people yelling and sounds of beating. I thought some pickpocket was being punished.

      Moving slowly past the agitated people in our motor car, after repeated rated honking of the horn, we came to the centre of the ruckus and saw our old municipal sweeper being brutally smacked by everyone. He had just taken his bath at the tube-well, put on fresh clothes, and set out on the street with a bucket of water in the right hand and a broom under his arm. Dressed in a chequered, loose-sleeved jacket, his wet hair neatly combed, he was walking with his eight or nine year old grandson holding his left hand, both well-built and handsome in appearance. During the hustle on the street, they must have accidentally touched someone, resulting in this merciless beating. His grandson was crying and pleading to everyone, Please don't beat my grandfather. The old man was repeatedly appealing with folded hands, I didn't notice, I didn't realise, it's my fault, please forgive me. The more he was saying it, the more the devotees of non-violence became inflamed. Tears ran down the old man's frightened eyes, and his beard was daubed in blood.

      It was an unbearable sight. To get into a fight with the violent mob was beneath me. I decided to take the old sweeper into my car and show that I couldn't support their sense of religion. Kalika saw my uneasiness and immediately knew what was in my mind. She held my arm with all her strength and said, What are you planning? He is a sweeper. I said, 'So what if he is a sweeper? So they'll unjustly beat him?

Kalika said, 'It's his fault, Why did he have to walk in the middle of the road like that? Would it have hurt his price to stay at the side?

I don't care about that, I said. I am determined to get him inside the car.

Kalika: replied, In that case, I'll step out right here. I won't ride with a sweeper; if he was a fisherman or an undertake, I would have considered, but a sweeper!

I said, 'Look he's just had a shower and is wearing washed clothes. He is much cleaner than most people in that crowd. So what? He is a sweeper

She then told the driver, Drive off, quick, Ganga Din. I was defeated. I am a coward. At tea, Nayan Mohan tried to explain the situation with profound sociological theories, but I didn't pay any heed. Nor did I care to answer.

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