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....

Born to Sin

‘Brinda’

I

Saturday afternoon was the hour of promise for Sreenivasan. He would return from his office at two, and take his wife to a matinee cinema show or a music performance, or go shopping with her to George Town, or otherwise beguile the hours in her company, feeling all the time what a good thing it was to be alive.

To-day the couple stayed indoors, and Kamala was playing a new song on the veena. Seated on a swing, Sreenivasan watched her deft fingers coax the sweetest of melodies out of the vibrant string, and his eyes glowed with unstinted admiration.

A sound of footsteps in the hall below broke the spell of the idyll.

"Wait a minute. I shall see who it is. It must be another of those beggars."

Kamala stopped in the middle of a note and went downstairs. She was some time coming . Rather impatiently Sreenivasan sauntered towards the landing. A woman’s voice fell on his ears. It was a halting and faltering voice, as if the speaker were accustomed only to whispers and undertones, or ashamed of what she spoke, or afraid of some imaginary eaves-dropper. Sreenivasan did not care to make out the words, for he was cursing the intruder for the broken Kalyani.

His face lit up with a smile as Kamala came . But a shadow lurked in Kamala’s brow as she spoke to him half-abstractedly.

"It is pitiful. Another unfortunate creature. A widow left to make shift for herself and a boy of ten. An outcaste I take it, though she didn’t tell me as much…..Some man’s mischief. She is selling embroidery. There she is, leaving the gate."

Sreenivasan turned to see where his wife pointed. The woman was crossing the street hurriedly to gain the shade of the trees which flanked the opposite row.

Sreenivasan’s heart missed a beat. Something in her faltering gait, in her far-away, frightened manner, in the weird locks of hair which tumbled about her all sorts of ways, in the self-accusatory way she drew her saree tightly round her as if all that she desired was to withdraw into herself far from the gaze of the madding crowd–something in her forlorn figure wakened a dead chord in Sreenivasan’s soul.

"What is come over you? You look so strange."

Kamala took his hands in hers, what time his mind skipped twelve years.

"Come, don’t be sentimental. The way you worry about other people’s misfortunes, one would think you created the earth."

II

A bright and sunny morning, fifteen years ago. All roads in Tiruttur and the neighbourhood led to the house of Viswanatha Aiyar, one of the oldest and worthiest mirasdars of the District. His daughter Savitri was being married. The marriage was to go down in the annals of Tiruttur for more reasons than one.

The oldest man extant in Tiruttur does not remember a grander event. Men and women from six outlying villages poured in and camped at Tiruttur,and ate their fill for five days at Viswanatha Aiyar’s. Asiri Appasamy Aiyar, the vocalist, Venugopalan, the violinist, Rajamanickam, the piper–wizards of the music world, all of them–gave of their best to an audience that still remembers their performances with something of a thrill. Viswam Aiyar was a genial soul. He was a widower. He had some money.

"My son is in good employ," he had said. "He can very well do without my money. I have only my Savitri to look after. I shall spend a little bit on her marriage."

As a matter of fact he spent a very large bit of his fortune on her marriage.

Savitri was a girl of twelve then. She had not been taught to read and write; thoughtless and carefree, she had grown in sun and shower like one of those flowers in the village meadow, a simple maiden who ever let her fancy roam, and roam chiefly round the day when she should be married. When that day came she felt mighty proud of her clothes and her jewels–so proud that she had no thought for anything else. She did not worry about her husband. When the latter–a third-year student on whom the beauties of Keats and Shelley were just beginning to dawn–lingered longingly at her door on the eve of his departure, hoping to exchange a surreptitious word, or at least a glance with her, she just pouted her lips, giggled childishly, and went about her business.

When she went to bed she dreamt of that longing look in his eye. As the dark overtures of the dawn unfold the jasmine bud, it wakened the woman’s soul within her girl’s body, till she was dazed with her own fragrance.

Three years later, she still dreamt of that yearning in his eye, but it was in a different setting. The wind moaned despondently, rattled the doors of the dormitory, hissed up the stairs, and bit into her flesh-all the horrors of the October night crowded upon her–and she dreamt the dream that had turned into a nightmare.

She would sit up in bed shivering, a cold sweat all over her.

She would think of her father, wondering what he must be doing now. Poor father, he had never completely recovered from the shock. Alone and unfriended, how sad he must be feeling, always brooding over that misfortune which was as much his as itwas hers. She had offered to stay with him, but he had sent her away to the hostel. He could not bear the sight of her. Often he had wept silently and bitterly. And it would bring the tears to her own eyes to see him weeping like a child, the strong man that he was.

She would think inevitably of her husband as he had waited for her at her door, his dark and timid eyes full of yearning. She had not given him the response he had wanted….But how was she to have known that she would never see him again alive?

The morning they brought her the tidings of his death, she had been plaiting some flowers for her hair.

Flowers!….

One day, Radha, the bright little darling with whom she had fallen in love at the very first sight–Radha’s parents had been visiting her, and it was soon after they had left–came to her friend’s room bringing some flowers, jasmines and roses, and when Savitri refused to wear them, Radha was disappointed, and had said:

"Why don’t you wear flowers?"

"I don’t like flowers."

"Imagine anybody not liking flowers. I am crazy about them, anyway. And you have got such long and lovely hair. Savitri, you will just look splendid with your hair done in a knot–not let loose over your ears and left dangling in mid-air to take care of itself–and the roses stuck all round–"

Dear little Radha, how was she to know?

Flowers were not for her, nor the saffron, nor the rainbow-tinted raiments she had loved once, nor any outward token of delight. In a forgotten suit-case in her village home lay the gorgeous saree of red and gold that had been specially designed for her bridal morn–her pride then, now a harrowing memory.

Nevertheless she was not very unhappy during those five years she spent at the hostel. The boarders were kind to her, and looked on her as one of themselves, though she herself felt out of place in the midst of so many happy, radiant lives. The bigger girls who knew her condition refrained, out of some instinctive reserve, from probing her life; and the smaller ones just failed to see the difference between themselves and her, only wondering now and then why she so rarely left her room to join her hostel-mates in their pranks, never accompanied them when they attended shows and concerts, nor troubled about "make-up" as other girls far less pretty did. They liked her, however, for beneath her retiring exterior she harboured a warm and generous soul……Among them in that unsophisticated world, where there was no room for scandal, and no prying and no scheming, and pity and superciliousness were as much unknown as were sneer and slight, Savitri hood-winked fate for a while, and forgot occasionally the blight that had descended on her life.

In the village, it was all different. The neighbours who came to see her took up the refrain of her tale of woe, and harped on it, and interminably looked on her as on a sheep that is led to its slaughter. She could have borne their taunts and sneers and innuendoes, but their voluble sympathy was too much for her. Her father noted how she smarted and winced under their kindness, during her first recess. Thereafter he would not take any risks. When school broke up, he took her to Bangalore, and they spent the vacation in that city of ever-lasting spring.

In a new environment, away from sordid associations, life still seemed to hold out some vestige of pleasure. One could not but be gay amid the jocund company of the shifting skies, the smiling orchards, and the perennially fresh lawns of Bangalore.

Yet the days are long and dreary for those who hope not for dear tomorrows. When the ashen grey of everlasting winter has displaced the cycle of the seasons in our hearts, not all the witchery of man and nature can transform its hoar frost into the freshness of May-time. Even the meagre pleasures of the present are like a landscape seen through a fog, when there lurks over them the shadow of an immutable doom. In striving and in expecting lies the joy of living. What was she to strive for, what to expect? Closed on her were the doors of that dreamland which is the maiden’s delight, and the wife’s; closed the thoughts of the day when, under her chosen lord’s love, her young soul would burst forth in rapture like a flower from among its protective foliage; of the home she would touch to mesmerize, a living expression of her womanhood; or of the children who would grow up under her loving-kindness to light the days for her and carry the memory of her so that her life would not have been lived in vain.

Inescapable thoughts came to her often, and she fell into moods of despondency.

During one of their holidays in Bangalore, her father fell ill and had to keep to his bed for several days. He got round, but the attack was only the first of many to follow. "Rheumatism. The heart is none too sound. Requires great care," were the doctor’s laconic instructions to Savitri.

When the time came for them to part, Savitri offered to accompany him home so that she could nurse him to normal health. He would hear nothing of it.

"I’ll be all right," he said, "You mind your lessons and I’ll mind my gout. Put your heart and soul into your work, my dear. When you have done your Inter, you are going to the Medical College. You can take charge of my gout when you are a full-blown doctor, not now."

But that day never came. Instead, the bouts came quicker, and left him weaker and weaker. For a while, the will to live propped him up, but he was a broken man, he had seen too much of life, he was weary of the struggle, he had no stamina left. In the fall of that year he died.

"I am a doomed girl. It seems to be the decree of fate that those who are dear to me should die before their time. My mother died when I was born. My husband died when I was married. And now my father is dead when I am just beginning to secure the broken threads of my life together again. I do not see why I should continue to live. Nobody wishes that I should live. Nobody would care if I died."

These words scrawled on a piece of paper torn off an exercise note book greeted Radha when she went into her friend’s room the morning after the latter had received the news of her father’s death.

Immediately the news spread all over the hostel that Savitri had "done something to herself." An alarmed bunch of girls called upon the warden with the awesome tidings. An alarmed warden rang up the police and informed them of her missing charge. An alarmed brother wired to the warden, in answer to her message for information about Savitri, that he had no news whatever of his sister.

III

"You are impulsive, you are intelligent, you are imaginative. You are often on the point of doing great things, but you never do them. You lack will, you will always be led….."

It was only an amateur palmist’s reading, but curiously as Sreenivasan wandered by himself this evening, the words kept recurring to his mind.

The light grew dim as he left the half-forgotten lake where he had spent the evening in company with his vagabond thoughts.

He was an introvert. But he might have been anything, the thorn which suddenly pricked his foot cared not. And when the pain shot through his arteries, he had to turn the search-light away from his own psyche to matters more mundane.

He remembered that he had left his sandals at the edge of the lake. He was not sorry–he was always glad of a pre-text to tramp among the vast silences of nature, especially in the uncertain light of dusk. He went the way he had come. Already the little footpath was being swallowed up in darkness. It was a cool night in November, just after a rain, so that, though there was a moon, it scarcely dispelled the gloom that clung to the prospect, and the air was damp and heavy with an expectant stillness–one of those evenings when the world looks phantasmagoric, and life itself seems rather quizzical, and one feels that ‘anything’ might happen. As Sreenivasan approached the lake, he very nearly forgot what he had come to look for, watching the hazy shadows on the placid stream, and listening to the sharp trill of beetles from among the undergrowth, the stir among the dead leaves as a squirrel or a mole darted hither and thither, and the croaking of the frogs at the water’s edge.

Presently he started in a nervous fright. He steadied himself against a tree-trunk unable to believe the testimony of his eyes. True he had heard of spirits who frequented this pond, remnants of men and women who had dissolved their cares in its sinister depths. But he did not believe in ghosts, and did not want to. He tried to laugh off his agitation. "Sure it is those eerie stories I have heard," he told himself. "I got near a shaking, though." But sure as he was alive, at a stone’s throw from where he stood was the dark shape which had frightened him, whether it was a ghost or a hallucination. As he stood uncertain whether to advance or to beat a hasty retreat, a wisp of wind stirred the raiment which was wrapped round the strange figure.

He took a bold step forward. and found himself face to face with a young woman.

A cry of dismay rose but stopped short in her throat.

Sreenivasan, like all heroes in the hour of triumph, felt very awkward. He felt bound to say something, but he had never learnt how to begin a conversation with a person just thwarted in an attempt at suicide. One could not talk about the weather or the international situation; one could not even say such commonplace things as: "Can I do anything for you?" or "I am glad to make your acquaintance."

"Don’t be frightened," he said, "I am only a friend."

Then he added with an air of casualness:

"Good thing I saw you while you were still on dry land, or I would have had to give evidence at the inquest. I cannot swim."

She was not listening, and her fidgety manner betrayed her sense of frustration.

"You will be surprised to hear, but I took you for a ghost at first sight, and was for beating it out of here. This place is famous for ghosts. And rather eerie by moonlight, don’t you think? I have often felt that I was preparing myself for a watery exit, if you will believe me."

It was strange, but characteristic of Sreenivasan, that he should not have thought of asking her any of those questions which a man of commonsense would have done, but only of lecturing her.

"Only this morning I was watching a cripple in Mount Road. He had lost one leg and was dragging himself along on the other. A very old man, so weak and diseased that you would have thought a breath of wind would have knocked him down. The least one could wish for him was death. He was trying to cross the road at a point where the traffic was thickest. A car at top speed came racing along to within a few yards of him, and I thought he was done for, but the fellow gesticulated wildly, and with a bound that well-nigh seemed a miracle for a man in his condition, he had removed himself out of reach of the monster. He tried to save himself. And now I see you here intent on killing yourself, So young and --"

Suddenly, scared by her perturbing calmness, he caught her hand and said: "Why don’t you talk something? Your silence frightens me. Are you a ghost?"

She relented, and felt that she owed him something.

Encouraged by her changed manner, Sreenivasan addressed her at severe length.

When they left the theatre of that twilight drama, Sreenivasan had gained enough of her confidence to extract from her a promise that she would write to him as soon as she should reach her village, whither she proceeded that very night.

He got a letter from her which read thus;

"Dear friend,

I feel I owe you an apology as much for not writing earlier as for my strange behaviour that evening. How can I ever thank you adequately for the good turn you have done me? Not that my life was worth the saving, but you saved me from worse than death, you saved me from the heinous sin of self-slaughter.

I sometimes wish to see you again. I feel I have many things to tell you.

Yours sincerely,

S."

To which he replied:

My dear friend,

You don’t know how anxiously I was looking forward to your letter, and what joy it has afforded me. Believe it or not, but ever since our strange meeting, I have been thinking of you a good deal. You may think that our encounter was accidental, but to me it seems as if it was fate that brought us together.

What do you mean by saying that your life was not worth the saving?

I am thirsting to meet you. Shall I go over to your place? Suggest something–I must see you.

S."

Many letters passed between them after that. The last of which was Sreenivasan’s;

"My dearest Savitri,

I am counting the days before I should see you again. It seems incredible that such sovereign good luck should fall to my lot. Ifonly you knew how happy, and anxious, and nervous and uneasy I feel….

You say you are looking for a situation in the City. My sister (my brother-in-law is an Engineer) is on the look-out for a tutoress for her children. If you consider the place acceptable, you can come and see my sister.

I hope you will not be offended at my intrusion.

Yours,

S"

Village maiden, child-widow, school-girl–and now for the fourth time destiny moved her again on the chess-board of circumstance, as it ensconced her as a teacher in a house that harboured the man who was dangerously on the road to becoming her lover.

Sreenivasan was of that age and in that frame of mind when one thinks seriously and rather disproportionately of love. His friends, married and unmarried, talked incessantly about this love. The books which he read, from Dante to yesterday’s penny-dreadful, harped on this puzzling theme of love. Honestly, he had never felt anything akin to the grand passion. He had cast more than one side-long glance at more than one good-looking girl, it was true; his heart had even fluttered a bit now and then–but the feeling he had experienced could not be called love, it was so fleeting, trite, unreal, rather faked-up and rather foolish. Yet he wanted to fall in love–it seemed a disgrace not to have fallen in love after having lived twenty three years, read such a lot of romances and witnessed the drama of everyday life.

Nature had made him ripe for love, then. Fate was not behind-hand in providing ‘the phantom of delight.’ And the romance of that dark encounter in the woods supplied that extra element of mystery which counts more, with men of Sreenivasan’s nature, than anything else.

When they met again, by appointment, at the beach, they had emotionally got nearer to each other, but they were still removed in space and time. So that, though in their hearts they felt familiar, outwardly there was the reserve, the restraint born out of sex-consciousness.

"Savitri."

He began for the third time, but the attempt to begin a conversation flopped again. He had tried to talk of this, that and the other, but had not got very far.

He let himself go with an effort.

"Savitri, you wrote to me that you had many things to tell me."

"I thought so. Now I hardly know what I have got to say."

"If you have nothing to tell me, I have many things to ask you. For instance, who you are and what, why you attempted to drown yourself that evening, and why you have left your home–"

She buried her face in her hands.

"Pardon me. I didn’t intend to be rude. I only thought I had a right to ask you as your friend."

"You have every right. But mine is a long, long story. I shall tell it to you one day, not now."

"In your own good time. Besides, that is not what I wanted talk to you about. Since I met you, Savitri, I can’t tell you how I have felt. I haven’t had a thought for anything. I know sounds rather commonplace, but before God it is the plain truth I love you."

He was whispering in her ear all the pretty phrases that had stayed in his memory out of his romantic reading.

"Savitri, darling. All my life before now has been but a prelude to this. Only to think that you are mine, my own once and for ever!"

She had wanted to keep the dread knowledge from him, but she saw no help for it but to confess. She released her-self from his ardent embraces and shook her head.

"I can never be yours."

"What do you mean? Don’t you…….don’t you love me? What stands between us then?"

"Fate"

"I don’t understand. Won’t you explain?"

"I had better not. If I do, you will hate me, abhor me. The very thought of me will make you bitter against all woman-kind. No, don’t press me to explain, or you will rue your curiosity."

"I must know."

"No," she rose up and said determinedly. "How foolish I have been! This must not go any further. God, I have steeped myself in sin. I have wronged you–I have wronged you more than you know. I have played with your affections, worked on your innocence, Heaven help me for it. Let us part while the memory of each of us is replete with happiness for the other. Don’t wish to know anything about me, if you care for me. Forget all about me, think I am just a dream, a nightmare, an illusion that claimed a few hours of your life. I am in earnest, my friend. Forgive me for my indiscretion."

"Savitri, what is the meaning of all this? You don’t know what you are talking. I love you too much to let you go away from me."

"Do you mean it?"

"Do you doubt it?"

"But I am–I am–"

She faltered, the words struggled in her throat, then suddenly she was in tears.

"Savitri, can’t you tell me?"

"I am a widow."

In spite of himself, his arms which had held her tight relaxed.

"There," didn’t I tell you? Your face is already changed."

"You misjudge me, Savitri. Do you think it makes any difference to me? If that is all you wanted to keep from me, if that is all you feared would embitter me and kill my love, you have worried yourself for nothing. You are a woman first and foremost–that is what you are to me. And it is your right to think, to feel, to love, to act as any other human being. I am supposed to have spent a few years at a University, Savitri. I am supposed to have a little bit of intelligence and imagination. All my education and culture wouldn’t be worth two straws, if my devotion were to change, because you have told me you are a widow."

Did he mean all that he said? Did she believe all that he said? Did he believe it himself? Or did he try to stifle by his own volubility the voice of tradition trying to speak through him?

Anyway, the next instant, earth and sky had crumbled and dissolved about their feet and were forgotten, and they were the first man and the first woman met in the elemental embrace.

Thereafter the mad gallop proceeded at a headlong pace. It was difficult to say who raced the faster. Sreenivasan was impulsive, ardent, given to extremes. Savitri was eighteen. There was nothing to curb her infant passion. She had not known enough of her husband to be deeply moved by his memory. She did not respect the laws of the society wherein she lived–five years spent in the enlightened atmosphere of a progressive school had washed off what remained of her regard for them; unknown to herself she harboured a sullen hatred of that society’s rigid steel-frame. Nor did she suffer from any religious scruples. What she had had of religion had been burnt to ashes on her husband’s funeral pyre. Her heart had hardened against God and Man. A great change had come over her since first the prospect of a living death to be gone through in life had opened out before her. And now here was life offering her a glimpse of its hidden wonders. Her young soul rotting in darkness turned instinctively towards that surge of light. She gathered her rose-buds while she could–the rose-buds that she had long despaired her desert universe of ever yielding. They threw caution and restraint to the winds. They met at stealthy trysts. They frequented parks, theatres, hotels–they tried by every artificial means to stimulate to fever-pitch their already delirious passion.

There were terrible moments of reason when Savitri’s mind broke away from all this madness and tried to peer into the days that were to be. Once she said to Sreenivasan, suddenly, in such a moment:

"I shudder to think where all this will end."

"Why should we care?"

"It is better to know where exactly one stands."

"I know what you mean, Sa. Wait for some time. When I secure a foothold somewhere–"

"You will forget me–that’s all."

Sreenivasan laughed.

"That is what they write in stories. You who have known me shouldn’t say such things. I am a bad fellow in many respects, but I hope I am genuine with you……We shan’t be victims to superstition, slaves of fear, Sa. We shall set an example to others, shan’t we?"

She felt a little thrill of exultation.

Was she wrong in interpreting his vague suggestions as an offer of a more lasting union than what existed between them?

The days fused into months, the months swallowed one another, still Sreenivasan’s suggestion remained a mere suggestion.

One evening, Janaki–Sreenivasan’s sister–said to Savitri:

"You can have this afternoon to yourself, Savitri, because the children won’t be taking their lessons."

"Why?"

"Don’t you know? Seenu is leaving by the Grand Trunk tomorrow to join duty next week."

"Who?"

"Don’t you know our Seenu? Didn’t you see his photo in the papers yesterday? He has been appointed in the Customs Department,"

So this was the end of her short-lived love. Only now she understood why Sreenivasan had been scarce of late. He had not breathed a word to her about his appointment or departure.

As she dragged herself across the lawn, rather than walked, a familiar voice hailed her from behind a hedge.

The next thing she was aware of was Sreenivasan thrusting a bulky envelope into her hands, and whispering agitatedly in her ear, in the tones of a man who wants to be done with a bad business.

"I have no time to explain. There is a letter in this. I shall soon write again to you, Good-bye."

She looked at the envelope and then at his face, She had a faint suspicion, and so opened the envelope in his presence.

It contained a very brief letter–and a bundle of notes.

"So this is what I have been to you?"

"No, no. It will be useful."

"You are going away?"

"Yes."

"This is how you walk out of my life, after all that has passed between us?"

"Savitri, you are not yourself. I shall explain in good time."

"You can explain to your conscience, not to me. Where shall I go? What will become of me? Where can I hide my shame? You must take me with you."

"Don’t make a scene, Savitri. Don’t compromise me, not just now. I have got a good many things to do tonight, so excuse me–"

"What have I to do? What have I to think of except my shame? If you have a heart that can feel for a woman in my condition, if you bear me a hundredth of the love you have professed, I implore you, don’t cast me off like an old garment. On bended knees I beg you. I have nowhere to turn to. No one will take me but you. Have you no pity for me? You saved my life once–how much better it had been if you had left me alone to die that night! Save my honour now, if you are a man, if you ever loved me."

She was touching his feet and clinging to him, and her face was drenched with tears, and her voice was hoarse with weeping. He turned away from that helpless look in her eyes lest it should defeat his purpose. He took her in his arms and said tenderly:

"I know all that, Sa. I shall not leave you in the lurch. You shall hear from me in two days."

IV

Kamala was puzzled by her husband’s behaviour that evening. He pleaded a headache and cancelled their intended visit to the pictures. When his daughter Shanta worried him to take her to beach in their car, he sent her away rather brusquely. He did not read his newspaper. At supper he was silent and toyed with his meal. He returned monosyllabic answers to Kamala’s questions. He retired rather early for the night.

A little while afterwards he found himself at his old haunt by the lake.

"You are ever on the point of doing great things, but you never do them. You lack will..."

He heard the words, but could not see the speaker.

Next a young woman with a child in her arms–her face, however, was blurred and indistinguishable–was speaking to him.

"I have come to you. You must take me."

And he himself was answering, in a voice that sounded like somebody else’s:

"I love you and you love me...you are a woman first and foremost...What does anything matter?"

Then he was aware of Kamala rebuking him:

"Who is it you have brought here? This is no home for waifs and strays."

The child in the woman’s arms started yelling. He looked at the child in surprise–it was his own daughter Shanta.

He woke up with a start.

Kamala at his bedside was feeling his forehead.

"You are not well, You were talking in your sleep."

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: