By Rabindranath Tagore
The full moon night of Phalgun - a month in India’s Almanac - the early springtime - was as beautiful as the moon itself. Fragrance from mango blossoms, harmonious tune of Papiya, and cool breeze transformed the night into a dream prospect.
Hemanta was busy getting Kusum’s attention diverted to him through various activities but in vain. Kusum, as static as a stone, gazed outside beyond full moon sky in the mysterious space of the universe. Finally he turned her towards him, and with a soft approach invited her to join him for reclaiming these surroundings meaningfully. Stiff as before Kusum said, “So you know, tonight I feel a longing to tell you what I promised to reveal only in my death-bed. Tonight I feel that I could endure whatever punishment you might inflict on me.” To dilute her seriousness Hemanta started to recite a laughable verse from Jayadeva.
No sooner his recitation ended, the familiar foot steps of his father Harihar Mukherjee nearing the room was heard. He shouted, “Hemanta, turn your wife out of the house immediately.” The same beautiful night prevailed but all charms were lost in the momentous change of circumstances.
Hemanta demanded the truth from her that she replied affirmatively. He asked her, “Why did you not tell me earlier?”
“I tried, but could not. I am a wretched woman.”
“Tell me everything.”
The story of her life as a widow was full of dreary incidents that even she sometimes could not digest. Absorbed by her story, Hemanta left home silently.
The churning in her mind made her think that love she was gratefully bestowed by her beloved husband is nothing more than handful rice of alms. The eternal love, which she considered never ending, is gone forever taking her husband along with. Love is just a word to her now.
Next day Hemanta met Peari Shankar Ghosal at his residence, and charged him, “You have caused dishonor and devastation in our family for which you have to pay a price.”
Peari Shankar replied sarcastically, “And you have honored our caste, and brought reputation to our family, isn’t it?”
“Did I ever do any harm to you?” He asked.
“No, it is your father, who did hurt my only daughter that you are unaware of, since you were young and in Calcutta for your schooling. My son-in-law Nabakanta stole my daughter’s jewellery - went to England - returned after five years as a barrister. When I decided to send my daughter back to him, it was your father as the head of the community opposed it. He asked me to renounce her if she is gone to her husband’s home. I begged to him for withdrawing his decree for the last time. I even offered to make my son-in-law swallow cow dung, and go for Prayaschittam (Reparation) ceremony, but your father remained adamant. With heavy heart I had to abandon my ancestral house in the village as a punishment. I went to Calcutta. There too I faced troubles at the time of my nephew’s marriage because your father filled the ears of girl’s family. Then only I took the solemn oath to take revenge.”
Peari Shankar paused a little, and told Hemanta to have patience for the concluding part.
He started, “Kusum, a kayastha, was a child widow living in the house of one Bipradas Chatterjee, next to your lodging house in Calcutta. You probably got close with her there. When Bipradas knew this, he asked my advice. I sent him on pilgrimage, and kept Kusum in the house of Sripati Chatterjee. For the first few days Kusum was terribly disturbed by not seeing you. The new address was not known to you initially, eventually you located Kusum, and the same intimacy continued. Seeing your relationship growing, I asked her to marry you. She refused categorically as it would be wrong being a widow and a non-Brahmin. She accepted the proposal on hearing that both these facts will remain in the dark forever. Again, when the marriage date was fixed, she became adamant, and I had to satisfy her with acceptable words, and the marriage was solemnized.”
Hemanta’s rage reached the peak, yet he asked with commotion, “You should have stopped after that?”
“The news of your sister’s marriage helped me recollect the past, and I informed the groom’s house the truth about your family.”
Hemanta had nothing more to hear from him, but asked, “What will happen to Kusum now, will you take care of her?”
Peari Shankar sweetly rebuffed him.
Hemanta left his house as abruptly as he entered hours ago.
In a melancholy mood he was sitting by the window gazing at the darkness of the nature, Kusum was lying on the bare floor. His attention diverted from the darkness to the door on hearing the foot steps of his father. Harihar Mukherjee yelled, “I can’t allow you more time. Turn the girl out of the house now.”
Hearing this Kusum embraced her husband’s feet with all devotion and love of a life time, and then took her hands back to the forehead reverentially.
Reaching at the door he said, “Father, I will not renounce my wife.”
“You will lose your caste then, do you know?” Father uttered.
Peacefully he said, “I don’t care for caste.”
“Then, I too renounce you”, father’s last words reverberated.