Tyaag : by Rabindranath Tagore Short Story

Also Read

I
      In a spring season, early spring wind, thick with the fragrance of mango blossoms was blowing on the first full moon night of Phalgoon (eleventh month of the Bengali calendar). The incessant call of a sleepless cuckoo from the dense foliage of an old lychee tree by the pond was permeating into a sleepless bedroom of the Mukherjee house. Hemanta was either restlessly detaching a lock of hair from his wife's chignon and wrapping it against his fingers, or making a mild clanking noise by causing friction between her bracelets and bangles, or gently pulling the flower-wreath from her head and placing it over her face. As the wind tries to stir a motionless tree in the evening by blowing now from this side and next from another, giving it a little jerk, so was Hemanta behaving.

But Kusum sat there inertly with her eyes absorbed into the infinite void of the night drenched in moonbeams. Her husband's restiveness bounced off of her. At last, with an impatient tug at Kusum's hands, Hemanta said, Where are you, Kusum? You seem to be so far away that even an extensive search with a huge telescope would yield but the faintest trace of you. My wish is you stay a little close to me today. Look, look, what a beautiful night it is out there!".
Tyaag

      But Kusum sat there inertly with her eyes absorbed into the infinite void of the night drenched in moonbeams. Her husband's restiveness bounced off of her. At last, with an impatient tug at Kusum's hands, Hemanta said, Where are you, Kusum? You seem to be so far away that even an extensive search with a huge telescope would yield but the faintest trace of you. My wish is you stay a little close to me today. Look, look, what a beautiful night it is out there!".

      Kusum turned her face from the empty space towards her husband and said, I know a mantra which could crush this moonlit night, this spring into a lie in an instant'.

      Hemanta replied, If you know of any such mantra, betten not to utter it. Rather, if you know of any incantation that could introduce three or four Sundays in a week or extend the night to five or five-thirty of the following afternoon, then I would he willing to hear that.' So saying, he tried to draw Kusum a little closer. Avoiding the embrace, Kusum answered, "The word that I wanted to reveal to you at the time of my death, I feel like divulging it now. Today I feel, no matter how much you punish me, I'll be able to endure it.'

      Hemanta was about to make light of the situation by reciting a verse on punishment from the famous Bengali poet Jayadeva. Right then he heard a pair of indignant slippers noisily rushing towards his room. It was the familiar footsteps of Hemanta's father, Harihar Mukherjee. Hemanta became alarmed. Harihar roared angrily from the door, Hemanta, drive your wife out of the house right now'.

      Hemanta looked at his wife, but she didn't show any surprise; stricken with grief, she only covered her face with her hands to efface herself with all her will and energy. The southerly wind still brought the cuckoo's song into the house but nobody paid any heed. This world is so infinitely beautiful but it can be reduced to ruins so easily.

II

      Returning home from outside, Hemanta asked his wife,

'Is it true? The wife replied, 'Yes'.
Why didn't you tell me for so long?
I have tried many times, but I couldn't. I am very sinful.
Okay then, say everything candidly today.'

      Kusum said everything in a weighty, steady voice as was walking through a burning fire in gentle, resolute steps; nobody knew how much she was being scalded by it. Hemanta walked away after hearing everything.

      Kusum knew that the husband who had left would never come back. But it did not strike her as strange; she took it as easily as any other daily experience; so much drab numbness had accumulated in her mind. Only, she felt inclined to think that the world and love itself were totally false and meaningless. Even the recollection of Hemanta's past gestures of love reduced a drab, dreary, dreadful smile that like a sharp, cruel knife left a scar all over her mind. Perhaps she thought, love which appeared so magnanimous, which involved so much affection and intensity - a moment of separation which seemed so tragic, and a momentary union so infinitely blissful that it was impossible to imagine it to end ever - was so futile in reality. So flimsy! The moment the society struck a blow, infinite love reduced itself into a handful of rubble. Just a while ago, Hemanta was whispering excitedly, "What a beautiful night" That night had not ended yet; that cuckoo was still singing; the southerly wind was blowing against the mosquito net; the moonlit night was sleeping intently like a beautiful, happily exhausted woman at one end of the bed beside the window. It is all a lie! Love is a greater liar and a more inveterate follower of falsehood than I am!

III

      The next morning, emaciated from a sleepless night, Hemanta rushed to Pyarishankar Ghosal's house in a wild state. Pyarishankar asked, Hello, son, what's the news? Ablaze like a huge ball of fire, Hemanta said in a trembling Voice, You have defiled our caste; ruined us - you'll have to pay for it;' so saying his voice got choked.

      With a faint smile of ridicule, Pyarishankar replied, 'And you have protected my caste and cared for my class; you have been pating my back. You have so much of love and concern for me!

      Hemanta felt like reducing Pyarishankar instantly to ashes. with the fearsome energy of Brahma, but he himself continued to burn in the flame while Pyarishankar sat there calm nd unperturbed.

      In a husky voice, Hemanta asked, 'what did I do to you?" Pyarishankar replied, Let me ask, what harm did my only daughter - and I have no other children except her - do to your father? You were little then, maybe you are not aware of it - so listen to me carefully. Don't be impatient, son; there is plenty of humour in it.

      When my son-in-law Nabakanta fled to England stealing my daughter's jewellery, you were an infant then. When he came back after five years with a bar-at-law degree, the fracas that broke out in the village, maybe you would remember some of that. Or maybe you wouldn't know about it as you were in school in Kolkata then. Your father, assuming the role of village ringleader, declared, "If you have the desire to send your daughter to her husband, you couldn't bring her back again". I begged, "Dada (elder brother), forgive me this time. I'll make my son-in-law atone for it in the harshest way; take him back into the fold of our caste." Your father refused to acquiesce; I also couldn't forsake my only daughter. Giving up my caste and community, I started a new life in Kolkata. But that also did not settle the issue. When we had made all the preparations for my nephew's marriage, your father encouraged the bride's family to break off the wedding. Then I took a vow that if l didn't retaliate, I was not a Brahmin's son. Now perhaps you have understood a bit, but wait a while longer; you'll feel happy when you hear the whole story - there is some fun in it.

      When you were studying in college, Bipradas Chatterjee lived next to your house. The innocent man is dead now. A homeless young widow from a Kayastha family, named Kusum, lived in Mr. Chatterjee's house like an adopted child. The girl was very beautiful; the old Brahmin became a bit worried about keeping her in sight of the college boys. But to hoodwink an old man is not at all difficult for a young woman. She often went to the roof to hang out the laundry for drying and you too perhaps could not commit your lessons to memory without stepping on the roof. Whether you spoke to one another from each other's roof, only you could tell, but the old man became suspicious of the girl from her movements. Because she increasingly became unmindful in her household work, and like the goddess Durgas in her meditative state began to give up food and sleep. On some evenings, she failed to restrain her tears without any reason in the very presence of the old man.'

      At last, the old man discovered that you two had occasional silent meetings with each other on the roof at proper and improper hours - even at noon, you would sit at a corner of the roof under the shadow of the attic with a book in hand, missing your classes at college; you had suddenly developed such eagerness in solitary studies. When Bipradas came to seek my advice, I said, "Uncle, you have been planning to go to Vanaras on a pilgrimage for a long time; leave the girl in my care and go on your devotional trip, I am taking charge of her".

      Bipradas went for his pilgrimage. I took the girl, placed her in Sripati Chatterjee's house, and proclaimed him as the girl's father. You know of what followed after that. I feel very happy telling you everything, from top to bottom, so candidly. It is almost like a story. I have the intention of putting everything in writing and publishing it in a book. But I am not accustomed to writing. I have heard that my nephew writes now and then; I intend to get him to write it for me. Though it would be best if you and he wrote it together, as I do not have the details of the story's ending. Without paying much attention to Pyarishakar's final words, Hemanta asked, Kusum raised no objection to the marriage in any way?

      Pyarishankar replied, "Whether she had any objection or not is hard to tell. You know, son, how women's mind works; when they say "no", we have to take it for "yes". For the first few dave in the new house, without being able to see you, she became almost mad. You also, I noticed, had found out somehow. Often starting for college with your books in hand, you would forget your way and end up in ront of Sripati's house, where you seemed to search for something. Although it didn't look like vou were casting about for the road to Presidency College, because only flying insects and the heart of lunatic youth found their way through the windows of a gentleman's house. Seeing all this I felt very sorry. I noticed that your studies were seriously hampered and the girl was also in a dire state.

      One day I called for Kusum and said, "My child, I am an old man, there is no need to be shy with me; I know the person you worship at heart. The boy is also about to be ruined. My wish is for you two to come together." Hearing this, Kusum began to howl and ran away from the place. In this way, going to Sripati's house in the evening from time to time, I sent for Kusum and purposefully spoke to her about you to slowly rid her of her coyness. Eventually, through a daily systematic discussion, I managed to impress upon her that there was no way out except marriage. There was no other alternative for a union. Kusum retorted, "How could that be possible?" I said, "We'll present you as one from a noble caste". After many arguments, She asked me to seek your opinion about the matter. I said, the boy is about to go mad, why is it necessary to talk to him about such a complicated issue. There will be joy on all sides if the task was completed safely and without causing much distress. Particularly since there was no chance of the secret out ever, why should we unnecessarily make the poor unhappy for life.'

      Whether Kusum could figure it out or not, I could not be certain. Sometimes she cried, sometimes she remained silent. Finally, when I said, "okay then, let's forget it", she became restless. In this circumstance, I sent a marriage proposal for you via Sripati. I noticed that it didn't take you long to give your consent. Then all arrangements were made for the wedding.

      Just before the wedding, Kusum became so adamant that I could barely bring her around. She pleaded and begged, "Uncle, let's not do it". I said, "What a disaster! Everything is set, how can we turn away now." Kusum said, "You announce that I have suddenly died - you send me away from here". I said, "Then what will happen to the boy! He is in a heavenly bliss thinking his long-time dream will come to fruition tomorrow, and you want me to send him your death news suddenly today. Then the next day I'll have to send you his death news, and the same evening the news of your death will come to me. Am I about to commit the ultimate sin at this old age?"

      After that, the wedding was completed at the auspicious hour, and I felt relieved having fulfilled one of my obligations. You know what happened after that. Hemanta asked, 'You did what you wanted to do to us, but why did you also have to disclose it?

      Pyarishankar replied, I noticed that your younger sister's wedding match was fixed. Then I thought to myself, I have defiled the caste of one Brahmin family but only from a sense of duty. Now my duty was to stop another Brahmin family from losing their caste. So I wrote to them saying, I have evidence that Hemanta has married a Shudra's daughter. Retaining his calm with great effort, Hemanta said, 'Now that I'll relinquish this girl, what will happen to her? Will you provide her shelter? Pyarishankar replied, I did what I considered as my duty, now to provide for someone's abandoned wife is not my business, and then he screamed out to his servants, 'Hello, do you hear, bring a glass of green coconut water with ice for Hemanta Babu, and bring some paan (betel leaf) as well'. Hemanta left the place without waiting for the cold hospitality.

IV

      It was the fifth night of the dark lunar fortnight. Gloomy outside there was no chirping of birds. The lychee tree by the pond appeared like a thick mark of paint on a black canvass. The southerly wind turned round in the dark blindly as if it were in a hypnotic state. The stars in the firmament looked through the darkness in a steady gaze to find answer to some riddle.

      No lamps were lighted in the bedroom. Hemanta was seated on the bed beside the window, stirring ahead into the darkness. Kusum lolled on the ground, hugging Hemanta's legs and hanging her face loosely over them. Time stood still like a stupefied ocean, as if an invisible painter had drawn this one abiding image on the eternal night; cataclysm on all sides and a judge sitting in the midst of it with a guilty woman at his feet. The slippers sounded again. Walking up to the room, Harihar Mukherjee uttered, It has been quite long, I can't give you any more time. Turn the girl out of the house.

      On hearing the voice, Kusum hugged Hemanta's legs instantly with twice the vigour, putting all her feelings into it, kissed the legs, took dust from the feet to smear her forehead, and then let go of them. Hemanta walked up to his father and said, I won't get rid my wife.

      "Harihar screamed, You want to be an outcaste?
Hemanta replied, I don't care for caste.'
Then both of you leave the house."

Previous Post Next Post