Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

F. W. Bain as a Story-writer

By K. Chandrasekharan


The art of F. W. Bain, the author of a series of Indian Tales is at once fascinating and suggestive. His surpassing love of Sanskrit with the attendant fondness for its imagery, has impelled him to offer us this bunch of delicious stories, all sweet with their Oriental fragrance. Steeped in the culture of the East, and with a sympathy born of his personal touch with the Hindu, he refuses to be obsessed with a sense of the superiority of his own race. Nay, his keen pleasure in drinking in the charm of Indian scenery has almost bred in him a bias for the Hindu mythology with its numerous Gods symbolizing Nature. He says once, on gazing at his own Welsh Mountains, "this is not quite the golden glow of my Indian eve; for this is just chilly; and yet yonder is a hill worthy to be haunted by Parvathi herself." He seems even willing to become "a pagan stickled in a creed out-worn" in order to retain the heart "where echoes some scrap of ancient poetry, where the everyday sun descends to rest behind the Western hills."

But the stories of Bain, unlike the merely romantic ones narrating the amorous adventures of Prince Udayana, have a silver thread of message running throughout. The thought often disturbs the reader whether these works have been dug out from our own treasure troves and for the first time translated into English as represented by the author. Rather we demur at the idea, since none among us seems to have known of their existence, at least in the form in which they have been received, though we hardly feel Mr. Bain himself would have the temerity to launch upon a scheme of writing stories of Eastern love without a deep and regular study of the Sanskrit Literature. It cannot but leave the impression on us that such intoxicating lines on the beauty of woman and the moon, have nothing in common with any other language than Sanskrit. Moreover, the author himself is not forgetful of his debt to the originals which he is careful enough to point out by a note here and there. But beneath all this care, we suspect a secret which suddenly reveals, as it were, a flood of sunshine. He disarms us completely when he takes us into confidence and says regarding the origin of these stories in the last book of the series entitled ‘The substance of a dream’ that "they come one by one, suddenly like a flash of lightning all together; I see them in the air before me like a Bayeaux tapestry, complete from end to end, and write them down hardly lifting the pen from the paper straight off ‘from the M.S.’ I never know the day before, when one is coming; it arrives as if shot out of a pistol; who can tell? They may be all but so many reminiscences of a former birth."

Now, one wonders how a Westerner, with an inborn dislike for anything not scientifically proved, should have imbibed the Indian temperament of dreaming which "chooses rather to err with Kalidas and Valmiki than go right with some elementary manual of geography." And again we are not a little struck by Bain's spirit in justifying the polytheistic religion of India as "better reflecting the many facets of an incomprehensible divinity." For he perceives in the East "some curious indestructible asbestos, some element of perennial, imperturbable tranquility, and calm . . . which is conspicuous by its absence in the worry of the West." Walking once through the narrow streets of Benares, crowded with its multitudes from all quarters, he came to the river scene where "lying with the bodies still alive, the ashes of bodies just burned or still burning on the Ghat" he was taught to appreciate the great philosophy of the Hindus that "Life and death touching, running into one another . . . is a matter of course," Yet his heart feels a strange thrill at the quietism of India and he breaks out, "it is curious, this peace, this indifference, this calm, it does not seem a reality: it is like a thing looked at in a picture, like a dream."

This passionate taste for the Indian life and its beautiful literature which is "all one gigantic stream, fairy talereduced to a kind of system, where wild imagination is reality and the commonplace is not," has permeated his soul with a great yearning. Hence his intense desire to be ever dwelling in fantasies, wherein the God with the moony-tiara and Uma, the mountain-born, appear in a splendid vision before him and begin narrating the stories which he has given us, in the manner in which they were told.

To the modern lover of short stories, these tales, mere figments of imagination, with more of poetic conceit in them than of reality, may give little pleasure. But the deftness with which he weaves them, and his bewitching style with its delicate touches, attract young and old. His powers of description excelling those of Oriental authors have really set the minds of the students of Sanskrit on a quest after their originals. The charm of his pen consists in creating an atmosphere, wherein we feel ourselves transported to cool forests besides pools of lotuses, with the silvery digit above us, and camphor-oozing stones around. His knowledge of a foreign language and its traditions is unerring. He is faithful to Sanskrit poetry, mellifluous and rich with metaphors, and never wafting anything but pollen-laden breeze. His perfect imitation of the Oriental art is still a marvel to many.

Each of the books bears a lovely title, highly suggestive of the contents within. And each story again embosoms a fine suggestion. Love is the theme of almost all of them, though

each exhibits a distinct phase of it. ‘The Heifer of the Dawn’ is a little story in which a lady woos her hero. As the story proceeds, the position is reversed. The parts have been so dexterously pieced together, with a number of other stories from the mouth of the lady in love, that the sweetness and variety of the whole are enhanced. We are ourselves so captivated by the magic of the Cheti's speech that, no wonder, the prince who listened to her finally desired to have the story-teller ever near his heart. Even the loquacity of a Rosalind is not half as enlivening as that of Madhupamanjari.

Again the lofty Indian conception of wife-hood has been chosen the subject of another tiny volume ‘In The Great God's Hair,’ where Indra seeks in vain to win the love of a chaste woman. She is steadfast in her devotion towards her lord. Bain is so saturated with the Indian belief in rebirth, that he says with Wanallari, "a woman recognises in an instant, with unerring sagacity . . . her husband; for, this depends not on the shallow and casual experiences of this life, but the store of reminiscences of a former birth." We find him echoing with pride the Hindu idea of ‘Sati’ when he says, "every woman needs a lord. When she has found him, let him treat her how he will, she is his. But if she finds the wrong man, though he may treat her as a queen and adore her as a goddess, yet she will never love him."

The thought which is ingrained in us for ages, is that the whole of this lower life (ihaloka) is wrapped up in a fascination for fleeting shadows. And love which alternately binds human hearts in bonds of pain and bliss, is perhaps the worst of illusions, in which men forget themselves. Bain calls it a bubble of the foam, "so beautiful in its colour while it endures; so evanascent, so hollow, leaving behind it when it bursts and disappears, nothing but a memory and a bitter taste of the brine." So feels Aranyani, an innocent maiden, born and bred up in the lap of Nature, when she falls an easy victim to the smiles of Atirup, only to realize the grief of being rejected after a brief spell of happiness. Her tragic end only confirms the truth, ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’ And Bhabru's figure haunts us long after the book is closed, even more pathetic in its appeal to us, than that of Victor Hugo's hero in the ‘Toilers of the Sea.’

The volume ‘An Incarnation of the Snow’ evokes conflicting emotions in us. The prologue finds us quite as earnest as Uma herself, to hear the string of stories, though the epilogue suddenly fills us with joy at the turn of events towards the close–all the work of a mischievous God playing the role of a lover. We are in transports at the devise, which is Bain’s own, employed to appease the anger of His consort.

A close study of human psychology leaves no room to doubt the influence of woman's beauty on the mind of man. The great God's anger at Love only hastened his final defeat at the latter's hands. Hence ‘The Mine of Faults’ deals with the history of Prince Chand, an inveterate foe of woman's smiles, becoming the target of a shower of sharp glances from the corner of the eyes of the daughter of King Mitra. The interview between her and the prince, diplomatically arranged by a cunning minister to bring about amicable relations between two kingdoms, ended in failure on both sides. The enchantress of the prince herself felt the sweet compulsion of being ensnared in his arms. Love knows not when it will strike its victims, and if love is true it has a great capacity to forgive.

‘The Livery of Eve’ is a story of a Naga woman whose affections for a mortal, Kesava, is so great that all her woman's wits are at her service, when she hits upon a plan to liberate her lover from the deceit played on him by a malicious rival. Love has power to overcome all barriers.

‘A Digit of the Moon’ has a remarkable attraction for us. A prince with his avowed dislike for the other sex meets with a damsel, whose beautiful looks and accomplishments slowly wear out his obduracy, even as waves do, by beating repeatedly on the rocky shore. His love waxes with every day's meeting which brings him a fresh story from the inexhaustible store-house of his sweetheart. The final reward is the union of their souls, for "without that all beauty of a woman is but nectar-poison." Bain is so well versed in Eastern lore, that he successfully adopts the most beautiful method of developing the progress of his tale with a number of minor stories. For the Indian mind has not shown signs of fatigue in creating such dreams, which allure the hearts of even the grown-up among us.

‘The Essence of a Dusk’ is a wild romance, alluring and yet bewildering as the expanded hood of an Indian cobra. The wild chase of beauty by prince Aja enthused him to brave even the witchcraft of the Yakshas who entice him to a mysterious death. Love is mad and is ready to risk even life itself. Love is jealous of a rival and is unsparing in its frequent demands of reciprocity from the object of its adoration. It is with such consummate skill and insight Bain prepares in his book ‘The Syrup of the Bees’ the heart of Makarandika to suspect another sharing her husband's love. She begins spiting a rival and ends by hating her lord. In the convulsive grasp of jealousy she turns out an evil woman, only to engulf herself and the rest in a catastrophe.

‘The Descent of the Sun’ is full of love's speechless messages which induce prince Umarsingh to search for the queen of his heart. Her face is familiar to him when seen with the ‘creative eye of fancy’ but unreal in substance. The strange curse of a sage wrought on a pair of youthful lovers this change and separation and longing for each other, which like a dream was only for a while.

The story in ‘The Ashes of a God’ has the usual theme of a woman's attempts to spoil the tapas of a sage, in order to diminish his ‘mountain of merits.’ The jealous God Indra resorts to his devise of sending down an Apsara to shake the firmness of a disciplined mind. Trishodadi who "stood four-square to all the winds that blew" was shaken when his weakness was delicately touched by the flattery of a woman's tongue. His fall was prepared by himself.

For an intense dreaming of love with its feverish delights and fatigues we have to look to ‘A Draught of the Blue,’ a story pregnant with significant touches, all converging onthe one theme, that love knows no bounds. Alichumbita and Rudralaka have their feast of youth, all evanascent as the evening glow.

Finally, the question is asked by Bain why woman becomes the load-star of man's heart. The queen Tarawali has been powerless to ward off a host of suitors, who like bees hover about her person. Hatred, born of loving the same woman, sets two men Satrunjaya and Narasimhan to seek each other's end as well as the pathetic close to the career of a queen, whose only fault is her beauty. Maheswara answers the query in the ‘Substance of a Dream’ that man is to blame for love's follies and woman is powerless in his hands. His impulses goad him to fall into a deep passion for her, though he soon feels disgusted at .her loveliness, when he learns how it is potent in its influence on others as much as on himself. Bain is perhaps thinking with Dr. Tagore that "woman is not only the handiwork of God but also of man . . . she is half-woman, half-dream."

These then are his wonderful tales perhaps intoxicating us with their thousand beauties. The thoughts of Bain lie scattered about like flowers on the polished floor of an Indian ground. They emit their odours all alike pleasing, though each bloom can be distinguished by its peculiar fragrance. All his women are ranged before us in their best form and they are as fresh and soft as the substance of a dream. It is indeed for us to choose the best. Madhupamanjari alone stands above the rest, in the fullness of her glory, for hers is a charm which does not merely belong to her person. Her culture is deep and her imagination powerful. The flow of her words is a crystal stream which is limpid and fertilizing. None will deem her wanting in taste or delicacy when she wins her heart's desire, for her heart is fixed on a permanent love.

Bain has added his rich store to the world of ideas. He inspires us to estimate the true value of our own books. His perfection as an artist needs no better testimony than that his books have ever impressed us with what he would have desired deeply, that they should be deemed genuine translations. The mind which conceived of such a pleasure to be derived from literature stands in its own majestic isolation though none the less our hearts are wrapped up in the felicity of knowing it. For it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

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