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....

Was It Indira?

Masti Venkatesa Iyengar

Was It Indira?

(A Story translated from the Kannada)

Narayanamurthy had lost all joy inlife. Without the house he had no rest; within the house, peace. His mind was full of aches and pains, specially these few days. That particular day he had returned from office rather late, and after eating a little of what was served as a meal he had gone and sat in his room. His wife was still attending to household work "Poor thing ", he thought to himself: "She hasto do all the work herself. She has no one to help. What is the pleasure that even she has in life!" From that his thought flowed further: "What about Indira? She too had had all the work of the house. But she used to be smiling all the time. Of course she did not have to lookafter so many children. Children! Oh, these children!! Those who have none pray to God for them. He had children but was not happy. Alas, that boy whom he had taken to the isolation shed three days ago, was he not his child like these other children who were lying in their bed in the room? Yet Savitri had not thought that life as valuable as theselives. Would Indira have done so? Who could tell?"

His thought running in this way, Narayanamurthy dozed as he sat in his chair. A weary mind and a tired body both needed rest. As he sat there in a slumber Indira came to him.

I should tell you what Indira was like for you really to understand all that her coming meant. Indira was a very handsome young Woman. The face was somewhat longish and of a complexion very like the olive-tinted white of the cream of milk. The beauty of the forehead seemed to pour between those eye-brows, to fill the eyes and flow all round the black bee-like pupil. How bright the white of those eyes was and how it was emphasised by the lustrous pupils! Those eye-lids, shutting and opening, looked as if they were playing with a bee caught in a flower. The nose was longishand shapely and was exceedingly beautiful. Exceedingly beautiful too was that mouth, a little rose bud just a little open. Shapely again were the cheek and chin. The teeth looked like grains of white rice placed side by side. The cheek was of deeper yellow because of the saffron. On the forehead, a little above the eye-brows, was a small mark of red. It seemed to speak and challenge the loving one to come and kiss just there. Altogether it was a feast to the eyes to see Indira’s face. She was not a tall woman, being of rather less height than normal, but she had a body proportionate to her height and struck whoever saw her as exceedingly handsome.

Indira walked up smiling. Whoever saw her smile should have felt infinitely happy. That manner of her coming and that smile were sure to cure Narayanamurthy of any vexation or anger. He in fact felt his aches and restlessness going as Indira came. But he was somehow not inclined to respond to her. So, though she came near, he sat still.

Indira moved nearer, and noticing his silence and seeming indifference, said: "What is this? Are you asleep so soon?" With this she took his face between her hands and looked into his eyes with her winsome smile. As Narayanamurthy did not relent she said: "You will not speak, won’t you? Well then, this is the remedy for silence." With this she sat on his lap and put a hand round his neck.

Love is a great transmuter. To change copper into gold is not so great a matter as changing vexation into friendliness. Yet love like Indira’s can effect this change. When like a star from the heavens she dropped into Narayanamurthy’s lap, his mind, in his own despite, felt a peace like the peace of the moonlit night. His vexation disappeared; his aches and pains disappeared. Feeling a deep peace Narayanamurthy put his arms round Indira and said: "Indira".

"Look now. You did notanswer when I spoke to you. Now that you speak, I shall not answer. Say Indira, Indira, twenty times and see if I shall open my mouth."


"Did I not tell you that 1 shall not open my mouth?"

"Do you not open your mouth and yet talk so much?"

"I said that merely to make you call me Indira twenty times."

"What pleasure does it give you to hear me call your name?"

"I do not know. But the oftener you call me the more happy I feel."


"Really and truly. What is the difference between real and unreal in this?"

"Then we shall say that it is unreal."

Indira placed her head on Narayanamurthy’s shoulder. He felt her breath playing on his cheek. He turned his head, held her face in his hands and looked at her eyes. How beautiful was the face! How pretty the mouth! And in those eyes what depth of affection, what unparalleled friendliness! He sat again and put his arms round her.

"Can you not say why it gives you so much pleasure when I call your name?"


"Oh, but you should be able to tell why a thing is pleasant."

"That is metaphysics. Ifyou teach me I shall tell."

"To tell that which you have been taught, you need not be such a clever person."

"So I am clever. Then I shall tell you why. You feel some pleasure when I play on the veena?"

"Your playing on the veena? It is long since I heard. Yes. It gives pleasure."

"Why does it do that?"

"Because a sweet sound proceeds from the veena."

"To what is that due?"


"To me and to the veena. When you say 'Indira', I feel as if you touched a string within my heart and it emits a sweet sound that my ears alone can hear. It is that that gives me joy.

"Narayanamurthy sat in silence. Indira too remained silent. To lovers, proximity gives joy as much in silence as in speech.

Some minutes later Narayanamurthy said: "Indira"


"How you love me, my dear!"

Narayanamurthy wanted to hear his wife loved him greatly. What husband does not?

"I do not love you."

"No? Why?"

Narayanamurthy felt crest-fallen. His wife had not given the reply he expected.

"No. I do not love you. I am mad about you." Indira gave a little laugh and put her cheek against Narayanamurthy’s.

Narayanamurthy felt a surge ofwarmth in his being. How full this little body ofhis wife’s was of love for him! What dear little ways she had of showing that love! He felt that Indira would willingly give up her life for him. Men say that there is great power and variety of meaning in sacred symbols like ‘Om’ and the rest. To Narayanamurthy it seemed as if all the meaning of love was symbolised in the three syllables of the name Indira: endless affection; endless devotion; endless pity; glamour and playfulness without end. He felt as if the blood in his body began to move in rhythm to the sounds of Indira’s name.

Narayanamurthy passed many minutes in this way, his beloved Indira’s head resting on his shoulder and her liquid eyes looking at" him. He held her close and with his head a little bent down looked on her face unmoving. How long he sat in this way he could not have told. As he sat thus he experienced a deep peace of mind. Such peace is known only to a heart which nothing is agitating. Not often does a man experience it, but when it is experienced one realises that there is no joy to equal it. Drinking in this peace of soul Narayanamurthy sat still.

Soon, however, a thought came up to disturb the calm. At first it was indistinct, but speedily it shaped itself into a question. It is not one of the first impulses of man’s nature to doubt the reality of any joy that life brings. But it is a second impulse, and that impulse grew in Narayanamurthy. Indira was with him now and he was happy. What was it that had happened previously? Previously? What was it previously? Narayanamurthy was unable to recollect exactly what it was. Though he could not recollect exactly he had a vague feeling that it was something distressing. "Indira is here now," his mind said, "Where was she before?" It seemed to him for a fraction of a moment that he knew what had happened. But forgetfulness supervened too quickly for him to wade to an impression. As he was struggling with his memory in this way, he seemed to get on to some of the facts. Oh, God! That son in the isolation shed; those other children in the house; the mother of those children; the mother of that boy. Again the veil was drawn across. Failing to get the facts from memory Narayanamurthy turned to Indira and said: "Indira".


"When did you come? "

"Half an hour ago."

"You came into this room then?"


"Where did you come from?"

"Why that?"

"Where had you gone?"

"Where had I gone?"

"What is the matter with me? I feel it is very long since I saw you."


"Wait. Oh yes, I have got it all . Yes, I have." With this Narayanamurthy trembled, touched Indira with his hand and asked: "Indira, are you really here?"

"This is fine. What are you saying? How can I be here without being really here? You are not talking very sensibly."

"Well then, shall I tell you what is coming to my mind?"


"We married and set up house and my father and mother were with us."


"Then my mother died; then my father. In his last moments he asked you to sit near him."


"He was very fond of our son and said: ‘My son, look after the little boy well. My daughter, look after the little fellow well. Be kind to him always on my account.’ "


"We two looked after the little fellow very well. I at least used occasionally to say a hard word to him and on just one day I beat him. But I never heard you say a single harsh word, let alone beating him."

"Harsh word to him? You did it for his good."

"That is not what I was thinking of. I was thinking of the great affection which we lavished on the boy. One day you lay down in fever."


I did all I could to cure you of the fever. But you went on being ill and one day,-was it dream or fact?-one day...."


Narayanamurthy held Indira hard and said: "One day you......went somewhere."

"Went somewhere?"

"There was no one to look after the boy. I was very unhappy. I wept for many days, Indira. I wailed and groaned."


"I groaned and moaned and was like one brainless."

Narayanamurthy was silent for a moment. He had again become dense like one brainless. He was aware that Indira was sitting near him and he was talking to her. But she had gone somewhere that day long ago. She had gone. Where had she gone? She had gone somewhere that day. This sentence seemed to go round in his mind. She had gone; she had gone. Underneath was the question: "Where had she gone?" but the answer was not coming up.

In the state of half-sleep in which Narayanamurthy was at that moment, man’s mind works in, as it were, a number of layers. Some of the layers are awake and some asleep, and even in any one layer some parts are awake and some still asleep. The things that occur to us in our lives go into the mind like pebbles thrown into a pond in the mud and sink deeper and deeper as the days pass, each to settle down at some place in the layer it has reached. When we are in this kind of half slumber and some layers or parts of layers are awake and some asleep. The mind becomes aware of the things that are settled in the wakeful parts, and is not aware of the things in the layers or parts of the layers which are in sleep. Just this had happened to Narayanamurthy at this moment. That Indira was gone was in a part of the mind that was awake. Where she had gone was in the twilight. He was trying to recollect, but from languor or other reasons the effort was not successful. He was, however, sure that the thing was something distressing.

"Then one day there was no one in the house and the boy had nothing to eat. When I came from office he was sitting down crying. I was very unhappy to see that he had been hungry and could not get food."


"If there were somebody in the house the boy would have been given food. Who is to care for him now? So I thought but could not make up my mind. One day uncle came and said that there was a suitable girl and asked me to marry her."

Indira did not answer.

"I did not wish to marry the girl. I did not know why. Uncle pressed me. He said that the girl was very handsome. He brought her and showed her to me. It was Savitri. She was handsome, but I did not wish to marry her."

Indira was silent.

"But I grew weary, Indira. I grew tired of being alone. You had gone and I was lonely and weary of being alone. When another day uncle came and told me that he was thinking not of me but of the boy, and of somebody who could take care of him, and pressed me to marry the girl...."


"I agreed ......"


"And married her. Savitri came. For some time she seemed a second You, but this changed later. When she got a child of her own she began to look at the boy with a dislike. I blamed her. She grew angry. From that day peace left the house."

Indira did not answer. Narayanamurthy had the feeling that she was crying.

"Though her children and the boy were the same in my eyes, they seemed to her to be opponents. I was not in a position to attend to the boy. It was her part to give him his food or give him a bath. What could I do? I saw her neglecting him but was unable to help."

Indira was listening silently.

"The day before yesterday the boy returned from play and lay down in fever. I sent for the doctor. He came and said it was plague. If he stayed at home everyone in the house would be in danger of infection. But if I took him to the shed he would be neglected. Whom should I think of? Of the boy or of these children? As I was turning this over in my mind, Savitri said that I should take the boy to the isolation shed."


"I took him to the shed and left him there. Uncle came to the shed and is attending on the boy. I wished to stay there but Savitri does not agree. She says that she will look after him there. She says that I should not run any risk. Savitri’s mind is very hard, Indira. It is exceedingly hard."

Indira seemed not even to breathe.

"This evening I went and saw the boy. He was restless because of the fever. I could not bear to look on him. Partly for that reason and partly because here in this house, at the end of the town, Savitri and the children are alone, I came away early. Besides, the boy was calling out: mother, mother. Where is ‘mother’? Alas, how restless he was!"

"Do not worry. He is well."

"You are saying so to comfort me. He was so restless in the evening. How can he be well now? No matter, you at least have come. This is to the good. You can look after him now."


"And I have no worry: I am seeing you."

With this Narayanamurthy again held Indira close and caressed her. After a moment he asked: "Is the boy well?"


"Did you see him?"

"Yes. Would you like to see him?"


" See."

Indira pointed towards the door. Narayanamurthy turned that way and saw Gopal, standing just beyond the door. The boy seemed to be free of fever and quite well. Narayanamurthy did not reason or question. He felt happy and wondered that the boy should look so well.

With the shock of joy that Gopal was well Narayanamurthy turned to look at Indira. Indira’s form had faded. With rising dread within the heart Narayanamurthy called out ‘Indira’ and tried to hold her. Like a youngster who is on a hill top for once and, seeing a piece of the mountain mist passing in front of him, stretches his hand to it with intent to hold it in his palm, Narayanamurthy was unable to hold Indira. Crying out ‘Indira’ he came out of his slumber.

Indira had been dead ten years.

Narayanamurthy had lost that wife ten years previously and had suffered the sorrow of widowhood for days that had no end. Today that wife had come to him in dream, repeating the words which she had spoken to him on various occasions in their life together. She had come again, in dream, and again had disappeared, and this loss of her from a dream brought to Narayanamurthy the sorrow of the first loss in all its strength. Grief surged in his heart like the rising tide of the sea; flowing over, not to be held in. Narayanamurthy looked out of the window. How calm the night was! The light of the fullmoon filled the sky, and the moon himself in the midst of his stars, rode the clear firmament, smiling in the height of joy. That joy of hisseemed to flow allround the earth and make it float. Oh, what joy it was; what peace; what calm!

Narayanamurthy did not then know that the boy Gopal had, in that calm night of the bright fullmoon, stretched his soul to the endless peace to which his mother had gone ten years before.

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