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....

The Refugee

Prof. Gangadhar Gadgil

THE REFUGEE
(A Story)

(Rendered from Marathi)

It was twenty minutes past ten. The electric clock at the railway station had lifted its short thickset hand in a gesture of angry remonstrance. The pleasant warmth of the early morning was giving place to intense heat as though the sun, guiltily conscious of his drowsy sluggishness, had bestirred himself and decided to make good.

A local train noisily approached the station. Grumbling like a wild beast being driven into a cage, it crawled in and halted with angry, reluctant grunts. An army of white-collared men with the morning papers tucked under their arms immediately scrambled out and started marching. Near the gate a queue was automatically formed. The little revolving gate pushed them out, one by one, with the mechanical regularity of a conveyor belt.

A little bustling man, who appeared strangely out of place in this stream of grave, silent figures, suddenly shouted out, “Baburao, ah, Baburao! Why don’t you wait a bit? How about your daughter’s marriage? When is it to come off?”

The unexpected outburst shot across the crowd like a ray of sunlight on a dark, windless, rainy day. The tense, expressionless faces relaxed. Amused and curious, they turned to look at that fussy little man.

The sight moved Raghunath strangely. It began to dawn upon him that these neat, well trimmed figures were not robots but men, each akin to himself and yet unique, each an assorted bundle of mysterious, complex impulses and inhibitions and yet on the surface so much like others. As this realization entered his consciousness, there was a momentary panic in his heart, a panic reminiscent of the terror that had gripped him so long and had only lately released its hold on him–the terror of man! He felt the earth sagging under his feet and wanted to clutch at something for support.

He was carried along with the crowd, out of the railway station into the busy street. In the midst of the bewildering, complicated pattern of the traffic stood a neat, little policeman, like a king on a chess board. In an instant, he lifted up an arm, no bigger than a match stick. The hurrying, hooting automobiles abruptly halted. The stream of men, so long banked up, rushed and overflowed into the street. Everybody now quickened his pace. They had to sign the muster at their offices at ten-thirty sharp. Not a minute could be wasted.

Raghunath watched the scene with amazement. The world of men around him was set in a perfect pattern. Law and order reigned unquestioned everywhere. A policeman’s little finger could control the movements of thousands. The ugly little hand of a clock could goad them all to hurry Up. A woman could easily pass through the thickest crowd of these men. Their bodies automatically withdrew to give her passage. They talked casually of prices, of vegetables, of love, of promotions and leave-rules and of the possibilities of war. In the glass show-case of a big shop was exhibited jewellery worth thousands of rupees. People were looking at it with their noses pressed against the glass, without greed or fear.

How different was all this, thought Raghunath, from the wild chaos that he had left behind and that was still within him! Mau appeared here a very simple and tame creature. The eyes of these men did not speak the language of madness and terror. Their faces were not contorted with agony or hatred, Their voices were not hoarse with lust. None of them would have dreamed of piercing flashing steel in his neighbour’s flesh and grinning at his convulsive death.

The low, innocent talk of these simple, rather timid, men seemed to pour balm on his overwrought nerves. It was like the hum of a machine in perfect order. His mind felt suddenly relieved of tension and an overwhelming flood of weariness seemed to overpower his entire being. He wanted to lay his head on the ground and drown the tortures of his mutilated consciousness in one long sleep.

For, the unexampled horror of his experiences during the last two months had uprooted the very foundations of his being. The world of which he was a part, and which he had taken for granted had been suddenly shattered to pieces. He had not imagined hitherto that men could undergo such an experience and survive it. The eruption of a volcano brings home to us what tremendous furies lie concealed in the interior of our planet and how frail and insecure is the lid of solid crust that conceals them. Likewise, Raghunath’s experience of that explosive emergence of the dark passions that lie embedded in the depths of the human personality had shown to him how shallow and unstable are the foundations on which the pattern of civilized existence rest. With that experience still fresh in his mind, he could not adjust himself to the routine of civilized life. The values of that life had lost their meaning for him and he could not discover any others to take their place. Thus bereft of its bearings, his soul was hurtling in an endless void.

Now that he was out of his ordeal, he wanted to forget it once and for all. He was so weary and tired. But tired or not, he had to go through the same terrible anguish again and again. The ghastly pageant passed and repassed before him endlessly and in every painful detail. In the empty ruins of the vast amphi-theatre of his consciousness, the tragedy was enacted repeatedly by monstrous, shadowy figures for the benefit of himself, its lonely reluctant spectator.

……….After prolonged travel he had reached Bombay. For many days his mind was a tremendous emptiness, haunted by unknown terrors. Like a ship without rudder, it turned and twisted meaninglessly. He had a feeling that he had been flung into a bottomless pit and was hurtling through space at incredible speed. He hoped and prayed that he should dash against some rock and be destroyed and no trace should be left of his existence on this earth.

When he found that even this prayer was not granted by the merciful God who was supposed to exist, he experienced a mad and overwhelming desire to destroy everything around him and to stand on the ruins, growling defiance at he knew not what.

He had not imagined that man could stand and survive such intense emotional tension. He did not expect that he would survive it. But even at the time when he was in the profoundest depths of misery and despair, those mysterious healing processes of the soul which cure all wounds and heal mortal injuries had been unobtrusively operating in his being. In time, he began to feel their soothing influence. The tension on his mind relaxed gradually, imperceptibly. His emotions began to swing into focus and one day, to his surprise, he found himself lifted clean from the morass in which he was stuck so long. He no longer felt like being on the brink of insanity. His normal desires and appetites reappeared and began to blossom forth with remarkable speed and strength. Life once more seemed to acquire meaning and value.

He started wandering about in the great city to find his place in the complex structure of its life. He wanted a job, a home, where he could take root and feel secure and develop a life of his own.

But even while he was thus engaged, one part of his mind seemed, as it were, functioning independently of him, watching the world of men from an unwonted angle and with a new curiosity. When he saw men and women pass across the street, he would wonder if they were really as innocent as they seemed or, in truth, wolves in sheep’s clothing. When his children hung round his neck or when his wife kissed him, he was incontinently stabbed by strange misgivings about the reality of the bonds of kinship and domestic attachment.

Incessantly haunted by such growing doubts, he would sometimes desperately ask himself: “Whither after all is Man going? The God that he created, the songs that he sung, the monuments that he built and the civilizations that he reared–were all these to end in some terrific cataclysm such as that he had witnessed? Was the accumulated wisdom of the ages incapable of controlling the diabolical urges that man inherited from his primitive ancestry? Was man’s life ultimately nothing more than a meaningless repetition of life and death?” These indeed had been the only truths in respect of man’s existence that had emerged un- challenged from the great holocaust.

It was no academic passion for knowledge that impelled him to set these questions to himself. He was no philosopher devoted to the disinterested quest of Reality. He was asking them with the curiosity of a child who naively inquires of its mother what exists beyond the blue canopy of the sky. He could, however, find no answers to his questions. None indeed had yet found them, though, paradoxically enough, one’s life is barren and in-complete unless one struggles to find them.

Perplexed as he was with these questions, the sight of the natural restraint and discipline of that white-collared crowd gave him a strange relief. He was thrilled with a new hope. “Enough of this brooding and these doubts,” he said to himself as he bestirred himself and began to walk faster. “It was a world temporarily gone mad. It is now all over and done with. I must now forget it all and turn to the future.”

Walking close to him were a young man and a girl. As Raghunath turned to look at them the young man was speaking. “What have you got in that bag? Sweets? Then why not give some to me?”

The girl made a coquettish gesture but did not reply.

“You are very stingy. If not sweets, can I not at least have a few sweet words from you?” continued the young man now a little bolder.

The girl now turned towards him. “Do you mean to say that so long my speech has been bitter?” she asked, continuing the joke.

“Not at all,” replied the young man, “but the sweet speech I wish is of a different kind.”

The girl blushed at this and the young man laughed. The men walking close by looked at them with amused interest.

How simple was all this! How human and how sweet!

On one side of the street, a Victoriawalla stood by his carriage. He had a cup of tea in his hand and he was beckoning to another Victoriawalla on the opposite side of the street. In response to this invitation, the second Victoriawalla brought his carriage right across the street, close to his friend’s, thus holding up for a couple of minutes the entire traffic on the crowded street. The first Victoriawalla then poured some portion of the tea in the saucer and gave it to his friend. They drank their share of that single cup of tea, cutting, meanwhile, crude practical jokes at each other’s expense. At the end the second Victoriawalla tried to run away with his friend’s new whip. When Raghunath saw the friendly strife that ensued between them, his heart melted and tears welled up in his eyes. On the vast, benighted desert-sands of his consciousness there seemed to appear suddenly a golden-haired child, smiling and playing.

Proceeding further, he saw at a corner of the street, a group of coolies intently listening to an indelicate song by one of them. On their greasy perspiring faces bloomed the wild flower of merriment. When the song was over, there was an appreciative furore from the crowd, and one or two more enthusiastic members of the gang actually threw their arms round the neck of the singer and kissed him.

Boarding a tram, Raghunath saw a Parsi boy arguing with the conductor that since he was less than twelve years old, he was entitled to a half-ticket. The conductor asked him irately how he could grow a moustache if he was less than twelve. The boy explained, with the appearance of the utmost gravity, that he belonged to a very manly family in which boys grew moustaches right sine their birth. The boy’s friend laughed at this explanation, but the conductor was scandalized and furious. They talked at each other and ultimately the joke threatened to develop into a quarrel. But an old Parsi gentleman intervened and pacified the conductor by paying the fare on behalf of the boy. Meanwhile, however, a fat Gujarati merchant accidentally trod upon the toe of a Maharashtrian clerk. The pained, wry-faced clerk gave vent to his resentment by muttering that Gujaratis had grown very insolent because of the money they had made in the black-markets. The Gujarati retorted that all the money the Gujaratis made in black-markets had to be spent in giving bribes to Maharashtrians in Government service, who had an insatiable appetite for bribes. The clerk’s rejoinder was that if at all his people accepted bribes, it was simply in order to make both ends meet in these inflationary times, but that the Gujaratis were hoarding more and more wealth and ruining the country. So the controversy continued and many of the passengers in the tram contributed their own arguments to it. It was ultimately concluded that Maharashtrian clerks and officers were corrupt because they could not otherwise maintain themselves and the Gujaratis had to indulge in black-marketing just because of the perversity of Government in imposing controls!

Taking advantage of the crowding at the gates when the tram stopped, one fellow gave a rude push to a lady. The lady angrily looked and immediately three or four persons caught hold of the offender and began to thrash him. Thus overpowered, the man cringed and whined and tried to justify himself by pleading that he had not insulted the lady deliberately. At length, a kind-hearted man got him released from the hands of the crowd and pushed him away.

Raghunath witnessed all these scenes with the interest of a detached observer. Those barbaric impulses whose naked fury he bad experienced at Lahore were manifest here as well. But how mild and inoffensive did they appear here, and how curiously diluted and softened were they by man’s more humane impulses! If only they could always remain thus softened within a secure social pattern

Raghunath’s fears seemed to dwindle and fade. He was prepared to accept this way of life and merge the stream of his own individual existence in this mighty river. For what he had longed for was precisely this,–that life should be simple and straight-forward as it here appeared to be. The magical beauty of the evening twilight seemed to enter his heart and irradiate his entire being with a warm translucent glow. What had hitherto seemed ugly, fearful and disfigured appeared to assume a wonderful charm and attractiveness. He would, he thought, start at once to rebuild his wrecked life. Every day, he would go out for work; on his way home he would purchase some eatables for his children and flowers for his wife, and they would all live in perfect happiness. He was going to ask no questions and entertain no misgivings. He was not going to allow the bitter memories of the past to spoil the promise of present happiness. The horrible pageant in his heart would be sealed off from this, his new life.

Making his way in the thick crowd, he began to walk home. But even at that very instant, the crowd suddenly divided and terrific screams began to rend the air. Men and women began to run helter-skelter and boys and girls walking hand in hand quickly deserted each other.

And, right in the middle of the road, a mad Gurkha ran amok, piercing with his kukri every one on whom he could lay his hands.

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