Shubho Drishti : by Rabindranath Tagore short story

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      Kanti Chandra was a young man, and yet after his wife's death he devoted his mind to hunting birds and beasts rather than looking for a second wife. He had a tall, lean, firm and light body, sharp eyesight and an infallible aim. His outfit was Western. His companions included the wrestler Hari Singh Chhakkanlal, musicians Khan Sahib, Mian Sahib, and many others. He had no lack of idle followers.

The girl's beauty had a rare freshness to it, as though the creator had just formed her with his own hands. It was difficult to determine her age. Her figure was like a woman's but her face looked so childlike that it had clearly not been corrupted by society's touch. She herself didn't seem aware that she had arrived at womanhood.
Subho Drishti

      Towards the middle of the month of Agrabayan, Kanti Chandra had gone out hunting near the marshy area of Noidighi with his fellow huntsmen. They were stationed in two large boats, and there were many servants in two or three more, all occupying the landing area of the river. The village women found it almost impossible to bathe there or to collect water for home. The land and water in the area vibrated with gunshots all day long, and at night loud musical practices kept the villagers awake.

      One morning, Kanti Chandra was attentively cleaning the barrel of his gun, sitting in his boat. He was startled by the udden cackling sound of ducks, and as he looked up, he saw young woman standing by the river's edge with two ducklings pressed to her chest. The stream was narrow, almost stagnant, and full of weeds. The girl put the birds into the water and kept an anxious eye on them so that they wouldn't swim out or reach. It was clear that on other days she would leave the birds there and go home, but it was difficult for her to do the same now because of the presence of the fowlers.

      The girl's beauty had a rare freshness to it, as though the creator had just formed her with his own hands. It was difficult to determine her age. Her figure was like a woman's but her face looked so childlike that it had clearly not been corrupted by society's touch. She herself didn't seem aware that she had arrived at womanhood.

      Kanti Chandra became unmindful in his work for a moment. He was dazed. He had never expected to see such a face in this place. Yet her beauty suited this spot better than a palace. A flower looks more agreeable in a bush than in a gold vase. The blossoming reeds by the riverbank were glistening that day in the autumn dew and morning sun, and the sight of that young, childlike face in its midst painted a joyous picture of the coming festive season in Kanti's entranced eyes. The adolescent Durga also came to the bank of the mythical Ganges carrying ducklings in her bosom from time to time, but the poet Kalidasa has forgotten to recount that in his work.

      As he stared, the girl panicked and instantly began to walk away from the place with tearful eyes and an indistinct piteous cry, taking the two ducklings with her. Kanti stepped out of the boat to figure out why the girl looked so terror-stricken and saw one of his gallant companions jestingly pointing an unloaded gun at the ducks to frighten the girl. Kanti at once went up to the man, snatched the gun from behind, and landed a mighty slap on his face. The man's joke ended there as he fell onto the gound, Kanti returned to the boat and resumed cleaning the gun.

      That afternoon, Kanti and his men were walking through the densely shaded village roads towards a cornfield. One of them suddenly fired a gun, and a bird came spiralling down and fell into a nearby bamboo-clump.


      Kanti pushed through the bushes to look for the bird and arrived at the yard of a well-to-do householder. There was a row of granaries at one end of the yard. He saw a plum tree beside a neat, large cowshed, and the girl from the morning sitting underneath it and sobbing, holding a wounded dove close to her body. She was trying to wring little drops of water into the yellow beaks of the dove from the wet end of her sari soaked from a bowl placed nearby. Her pet cat was eagerly looking up at the dove, resting its fore-paws on the girl's knee, and every now and then, when it came too close to the bird, the girl seemed to caution it by gently touching the tip of its nose with her index finger.

      This piteous sight on a quiet afternoon, in the compound of an affluent and peaceful household, created a lasting impression on Kanti's sensitive mind. The shade of the tree and the light coming through its sparse leaves played on the girl's lap; nearby, a satisfied, well-nourished cow was lazily keeping off flies with slow movements of its head and tail; the northern wind was making intermittent whispering sounds. The girl, who looked like the beauty of the forest by the riverside in the morning, appeared as the embodiment of goddess Lakshmi in the silence of noon beside that cowshed.

      Suddenly in the presence of the distressed girl and with his gun in hand, Kanti recoiled for a moment. He felt like a thief caught red-handed. He longed to explain that it was not he who had wounded the dove, and as he was thinking of the best way to do so, he heard the call of 'Sudha' from the house. The girl looked alert. 'Sudha', the voice came again, and the hurriedly got up with her dove and walked into the house. Kanti thought, "Sudha" - nectar. What a befitting name!

      Kanti then handed the gun to one of his companions and walked up to the front door of the house. He saw a clean-shaven, calm-looking elderly Brahmin sitting by the door, muttering a devotional song, and noticed a semblance between the serene, thoughtful appearance of this man and the kindness in the face of the maiden.

      With an obeisance, Kanti asked the man, May I have a glass of water, sir? I am very thirsty.' The Brahmin warmly greeted him and, offering him a seat, instantly went inside and returned with a brass bowl of molasses, wafers and a bell-metal pot filled with water.

      After Kanti drank the water, the Brahmin asked him who he was. Kanti introduced himself and said to the old man, "Sir, I would be very fortunate if I could do you any favour". I need no favour, my son', Nabin Mukherjee replied, 'But I have a daughter, Sudha, who has grown up. If I could find her a worthy groom then I would be relieved. I don't see anyone suitable nearby, and also can't go far to look for one. I have never travelled away from home.'

      If you come to my boat, sir, we'll discuss the possibility of your daughter's marriage', Kanti said. Meanwhile Kanti's men inquired after Sudha from as many villagers as they could. They all spoke highly of her.

      The next day when Nabin came to the boat, Kanti greeted him by touching his feet and declared that he himself was willing to marry the Brahmin's, daughter. The old man was so overcome by this unexpected good news - as Kanti was a well-educated and wealthy man - that he could not speak out for a moment. Then thinking that there must have been a mix up, he volunteered, You intend to marry my daughter?

    "Kanti said, I am ready, if you would agree". Nabin asked yet again, You mean Sudha? Yes', Kanti replied.

      Nabin asked in a composed voice, 'Wouldn't you like to first see and speak to her? Pretending that he had not seen the girl already, Kanti said,

      That we can save for the moment of our "Auspicious Sight". Indeed! My Sudha is a virtuous girl', Nabin declared in a voice choked with emotion. 'She is well-skilled in household work. The way you have accepted to marry her on trust, may she also make you happy and never cause you the slightest regret. This is my blessing.

      Kanti did not want to delay the wedding and a suitable date was found in the month of Magh. The neighbouring Majumdars' old brick-mansion was hired for the wedding ceremony. The groom arrived on time, riding on an elephant's back, followed by musicians and a torchlight procession.

      When the moment of the solemn rite of Auspicious Sight came, the groom looked up at the bride. But her face coy and cast downwards, decorated with sandal paste and the head covered with the wedding coronet, Kanti could hardly recognise the village girl of his desire.. In the midst of excitement and emotional effusion, he felt confused.

      After the wedding ceremony, when everyone gathered at the bridal chamber, one of the elderly women from the neighbourhood insisted that Kanti himself remove his wife's bridal veil and, as he did, he looked utterly shocked. Alas, it was not the same girl! He suddenly felt shot by lightning and the whole bridal chamber plunged into darkness. That blackness of the room also left a stain on the bride's face.

      Kanti Chandra had resolved not to marry a second time. He never thought that fate would destroy that resolve in a strange mockery with the snap of a finger. He had ignored proposals from so many respectable families, and disregarded the appeals from friends and relatives. After resisting the temptations of social power through matrimonial alliance, money, beauty and all else, how could he get so easily deceived by a poor family in an unknown village in the middle of a swamp? How would he ever show his face to the society again?

      At first he felt furious with his father-in-law. The fraud had shown him one daughter and married him to another! But on reflection, he realised that Nabin had indeed never refused to show him the girl, that it was he who was unwilling. Accepting the whole incident as a foolish mistake from his own reckless behaviour, he considered it best to keep the matter to himself. He swallowed the pill but lost all appetite. He could no longer relish the fun and humour of the festive occasion, and fumed with anger at himself and everyone else.

      Suddenly his wife, seated next to him, drew back with an indistinct sound of shock as a leveret ran into the room and brushed past her body. Soon after, that girl from the other day came running in, caught the leveret, and began to caress it in her arms. Everyone in the room murmured, 'Oh, the crazy girl is here', and began to gesture at her to leave the place. Ignoring it completely, she came and sat in front of the married couple and looked into their faces with a childish curiosity. When a maid servant came and tried to drag her by the hand out of the room, Kanti hurriedly interposed and said, 'Let her be.'

      He then asked the girl, What's your name? Without giving an answer, she began to rock gently. All the women in the room giggled at this. Kanti asked her another question, 'How big are your ducklings now?

      The girl stared at him as nonchalantly as before. The confused Kanti ventured yet again, 'How is the condition or the dove? But to no avail. The women in the room began to laugh seeing the whole thing a gag.

      Finally, Kanti inquired and found out that the girl was deaf and mute, and a friend of all the birds and animals in the neighborhood. It was just a coincidence that she had gone into the house the other day at the same time Sudha had been called. The attribution of the name had been only Kanti's guess, with no valid reason behind it.

      Kanti was now shocked a second time. The loss of the very woman which made this world a bitter place for Kanti, now the riddance of her in a stroke of luck made him feel blessed. He reflected, What if I had gone to the father of this girl and he had conspired to dump her on me!'

      As long as he was absorbed and excited with the girl of his imagination, he remained insensitive to his own wife. He didn't even care to look for the prospects of solace elsewhere. The moment he heard the girl was deaf and mute, a black veil lifted from the world around him. Banishing all far-fetched thoughts, he found things nearby more visible. With a deep sigh of relief, he stole a look at his wife's demure face. The moment of auspicious sight finally came, and all the barriers from his mind's eye suddenly disappeared. The light from his heart as well as the lamps in the room radiated and converged on a soft beautiful face. Kanti saw that it was a tender face, shrouded in peace and grace, and realised that Nabin's blessings would indeed be fulfilled.

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