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AN INCOMPLETE OBLIVION
KNOW, then, that this King, who was found dead in the early morning, with a dagger in his heart, was named Arunodaya.1 For his father said, when he was born: This son is, as it were, the sunrise of our hopes. And yet, by the decree of destiny, it turned out altogether contrary to his expectation. For as it happened, his father, in whose family it was an hereditary custom to have only one queen at a time, grew gradually tired of his only wife. But being as cowardly in crime as he was weak in constancy, he did not dare to bring about his wishes by any violence or practice of his own, but lay, as it were, in wait, for some suitable opportunity or occasion to present itself, by means of which he might succeed in getting rid of her, without incurring any blame, or running any risk. For such souls as his was, think to throw dust in the eyes of Chitragupta,2 not knowing that they do but add cowardice to the total of their guilt.
So while he waited, time went on, and year succeeded year. And little by little he and his queen grew gradually older, and his son changed slowly from a boy into a man.
And then, at last, one day it happened that the King and Queen were sitting together on the palace roof. And all at once, the Queen started to her feet with a cry. And as the King looked towards her, with wonder and curiosity, she said slowly: Aryaputra,3 know, that I have suddenly recollected my former birth. And now, I long to tell thee all about it; and yet I am afraid. For this is the law, that if anybody suddenly remembers his former birth, and tells it to another, that very moment he must die. And if I die, I must leave thee: for if not, what could death do to me, since that is the only thing in the three worlds of which I am afraid?
So as she looked at him, with regret and affection in her eyes — for she was as devoted to her husband as if he had been worthy, as indeed he was utterly unworthy, of her devotion — all at once the King's heart leaped in his breast. And he said to himself: Ha! Here, as it seems, is that very opportunity, for which I have been waiting all these years: till I thought that my soul would almost part from my body, for sheer impatience and disgust. And in an instant, he also sprang to his feet, exclaiming as he did so, with an ecstasy that was only half feigned: Strange! can it be? For I, too, have suddenly remembered my former birth: as if this recollection of thine had been the spark required, to set fire to the memory of my own. So now, then, let us very quickly tell each other all, and so take leave together of these miserable bodies, into which we must, beyond a doubt, have fallen, by reason of a curse.
So then, deceived by the display of his hypocritical affection, the Queen told him very quickly all that she recollected of her former birth. And when she had finished, the King looked at her steadily for a while, and his face fell. And he said, with difficulty: Alas! alas! I was utterly mistaken: and as I think, I took fire falsely, out of sympathy with thee. And now I have fallen unwittingly into an irreparable disaster. For as to my own former birth, I remember absolutely nothing about anything at all.
So as he spoke, he looked at the Queen, and their eyes met. And in that instant, she understood; and caught, like a flash of lightning, the falsehood in his soul. And she gazed at him, for a while, fixedly, with eyes that resembled an incarnation of scrutiny that was mingled with reproach, till all at once he turned away, unable to endure the detection of his own baseness, reflected, as it were, in the calm mirror of her own pure gaze. And after a while, she said slowly: Son, not of a noble, but an outcast, know, that thou hast doomed not me only, but thyself. And now, because thou hast betrayed me to my death, thy son also shall die as I do, and on the very same spot, by the agency of one who stands to him in the very same relation that I do to thee: and the husband shall pay for the wife. And the consequence of works shall dog thee, in the form of the total extinction of thy race. But as for me, now I see only too clearly that this birth has been a blunder, and a punishment, and a delusion, resembling a scene played upon a stage, whose king turns out, when the curtain falls, to be but a sorry rascal after all. And all the while, I have given my devotion to the wrong husband, and like a foolish benefactor, have wasted alms on a pitiful impostor. I feared, but one short moment since, to leave thee, and to part from thee; but now, thou hast suddenly changed regret into relief. See, whether separation will be thy blessing or thy curse.
So as she spoke, she tottered, and her soul suddenly left its body, which sank to the ground abandoned, like a creeper that collapses when the trunk it clung to falls, and saying as if to mock him: Seek now for the core that is gone, within the hollow husk.
So then, when her funeral obsequies were over, that widowed King, strange to say! fell into melancholy, deceiving all his subjects, as if by express design. For they pitied him exceedingly, each saying to the other: See, now, how this good queen's death has robbed this poor deserted King, as it were, of his own soul: as well indeed, it might. For she was a patidewata,4 and a Sawitri, not only in her name, but in her nature, and rather than outlive him, preferred to go before. Whereas, on the contrary, that King's decline arose, not from regret, but from remorse, mixed with anxiety and the apprehension of his coming doom. For this is the way of the weak, that they yield to evil impulse, and yet repent of their own doings, taking fright at the sight of them, as soon as they are done, and discovering the terrible consequences of works, too late. For a deed that is done, is divided from what it was, before it was done, by all eternity, in the fraction of a second: as this King found to his cost. For even as he gazed at the body of his queen, lying dead on the floor beside him, remorse rose up, as it were, out of her body and took him by the throat. And at that moment, he would have thrown away his kingdom like a blade of grass, to bring her back to life. And his longing to get rid of her changed, like a flash of lightning, into a passionate yearning to repossess her, dead. And he said to himself, as he looked at her: Where in the world shall I find another resembling her in the least degree, and what shall I do, to save myself from the ripening of her curse? For destiny listens in silence to the prayers of a pure woman, and she, beyond all doubt, was one.
So then, from that very moment, every thought of replacing her by another queen abandoned him, as if her life, in leaving her, had drawn with it his own. And all his taste for life at all, and all desires whatever, suddenly left him in a body, as if out of disgust at his behaviour. And he sank into despair, and pined and waned like an old moon, and grew gradually dimmer, and thinner, and more gloomy, till there was hardly anything left of him at all, but skin and bone. And finally, seeing its opportunity, a burning fever arising from a chill entered in and took possession of all his limbs, as if to give him a foretaste of the flames of his own pyre.
And then at last, perceiving that Yama had caught him in his noose, and finding himself in the mouth of death, he summoned his prime minister, together with his son. And when they came, he said to them: Since I am on the very point of following my wife, as, had I gone before her, she would have followed me, sati5 that she was, there is no time to lose. Do thou, my son, get married, as quickly as thou canst, for the god of death has clutched us both, as if he was in a hurry, just at the very moment when we were thinking of procuring thee a wife. And as it is, I am sore afraid of going to meet my ancestors, who will angrily reproach me for placing them in jeopardy, by neglecting to provide for them in time. And when they ask me, saying: Where is thy son's son? what answer shall I make? And therefore, O my minister, I leave this son of mine and his marriage as a deposit in thy hands, which I shall require of thee in the other world. Postpone all other policy to the duty of finding him a wife: and if thou canst, let her resemble his mother, that was mine.
So having spoken, in a little while he died, leaving everybody in his kingdom wondering at his affection for his wife. For nobody knew the truth, which was, as it were, burned up and utterly annihilated by the fires that consumed the body of his wife and his own. And he left behind him a reputation for fidelity that was absolutely false. For none but the Deity can penetrate the disguise of hypocrisy. And yet, though he deceived all the subjects in his kingdom, he did not succeed in blinding the eyes of Dharma,6 who caught his soul in his noose, and doomed it, for his treachery, to be born again in the body of a worm.
So, then, when his funeral obsequies were over, and the due time prescribed by the shastras had elapsed, his son Arunodaya mounted the throne, and became king in his room.
And no sooner was the crown placed upon his head, and the water sprinkled over him, than the prime minister, who was named Gangádhara, came to him privately, and said: Maháráj, now there is yet another ceremony which remains, as it were, crying to be performed, with the least possible delay; and that is thine own marriage. And now it is for thee and me to seek out some maiden that will make a royal match for thee, and lead her round the fire, and so let thy father's spirit rest. And there cannot be any difficulty at all. For all the neighbouring kings, who possess daughters, are watching thee like clouds around a mountain top, ready to rain daughters, as it were, upon thy head; since thou art superior in power to them all. And as for the daughters, the painters and the rumours of thy beauty, have turned them all into so many abhisárikas, dying to run into thy arms without waiting to be asked; and the only danger is, that all but the one on whom thy choice shall fall will immediately abandon the body, out of jealousy and despair, as soon as it is made. For everybody knows that even Ananas and Rati7 were envious of thy father and thy mother; of whom thou art compounded into an essence twice as powerful as either was alone, so that not a day passes but my spies bring me news of miserable women who have deserted the body of their own accord, finding themselves, by reason of their caste or condition, cut off from all hope of ever becoming thy wife.
Then said Arunodaya: O Gangádhara, I am ready to marry in a moment any one of them: and yet, as I think, I shall never marry anyone at all. And Gangádhara said: Maháráj, thou speakest riddles, and I am slow to understand. And Arunodaya looked at him with a smile. And he said: Gangádhara, it is proper that a minister should know all his master's secrets, and now that thou art my minister, I will tell thee mine, and make thee my confidant in everything, as expediency demands. For then only will the business of our policy run on smoothly, when we pull exactly together, like a pair of bullocks in a cart. And whether it be with the women as thou sayest or not, there is a difficulty, unknown to thee, on my part. Then said the minister: What is that? And Arunodaya said: I am already more than half married, and, as it were, bound, by an indissoluble pledge, to an undiscoverable beauty; and unless she can be found, I am, as I told thee, likely to remain unmarried for the remainder of my life.
Then said the prime minister: Maháráj, everything can be found by one who looks for it in the proper place. And if thy beauty be discoverable, I will undertake to find her, at the forfeit of my head. And who, then, is she? Give me at least a clue; and thou shalt see, that maybe she is not hidden so very far away, after all.
And Arunodaya said: I will marry no other woman but the wife of my former birth. For I dream of her, and as it seems to me, have dreamed of her, and nothing else, ever since I was born. And so, now, I have revealed to thee a secret, which I never told to anyone but thee: and I leave thee to judge, whether he is able to be found, or not. And if thou canst show me that any one of these kings' daughters was my wife before, I will marry her again: but this is the indispensable condition; and no matter who she may be, the woman who does not fulfil it must marry some one other than myself. And now, go: and when thou hast meditated sufficiently on the matter, return to me at dawn, and take counsel with me, as to what is to be done. For, as thou seest, this marriage of mine is not likely to be easily achieved. And I resemble one searching on the seashore for a grain of sand, dropped there in the dead of night, a hundred years ago.
So then, that astounded prime minister gazed at Arunodaya for a while in silence, and took his dismissal, and went away like a man in a dream. And when he reached his home, he sat for a long time musing, like a picture painted on a wall. And then, all at once, he began to laugh. And he exclaimed: Ha! this then was the secret, and now at length I begin to understand, and all is explained. For this young king brahmachári,8 little as he suspects it, has been under my eye ever since he was born. And this, then, was the reason why he was perpetually wandering about alone, and lying for hours gazing at the lotuses in the forest pools, or looking at the sea waves, like a rock on the shore, differing totally from all others of his kind, who as a rule resemble must elephants, in utterly refusing to have anything to do with dancing girls or women of any kind, as it were, wilfully contradicting the design of the Creator, who beyond a doubt formed him on purpose to prevent Rati and Priti9 from quarrelling, by providing a second body for their common lord. And all the while I took him for a very yogi, he was, as it turns out, dreaming, not of emancipation, but this wife of his former birth: and hard as it is, I think that even emancipation would, of the two, be easier to attain. Well might he say, that she was difficult to find. For who ever got at the wife of his former birth, except in a dream. Aye! this is an obstacle to his marriage indeed, that even the Lord of the Elephant-Face would be puzzled to surmount or remove.
And after a while, he said again: Is it a mere fancy? Or can it be, that he really is haunted by some dim recollection of his former wife, since beyond a doubt the influences of pre-existence do sometimes persist, and like ships, sail without sinking over the dark ocean of oblivion, from one birth island to another? And what, then, is she like? For could I only discover what she looks like in his dreams, it might be that by policy or stratagem I could make shift to find her, or somebody so like her that he would never know the difference. I will go to him to-morrow and ask him to describe her, and he cannot well refuse. For how can he expect me to discover her, unless I know what she is like? Or can it be, that he does not even know himself? That would be better still. For then, if, with the assistance of the astrologers, I can manage to devise a scheme, so as to persuade him that I have lit upon that which he is looking for, how could he detect the imposition? There are only too many kings' daughters who would think that the very fruit of their birth was gained, by practising so innocent a deception as to pass for the wife of his former birth in order to become in very truth his wife in this. And if I cannot succeed in some dexterous trick of substitution, I shall be almost ready to abandon the body myself, for sheer exasperation. For even apart from the necessity of getting him married, there is not one of the surrounding kings who is not ready to throw a crore of gold pieces at my head, if only I will even promise to become his partisan against all the rest, and marry Arunodaya to some daughter of his own. Out upon it, that with kings' daughters lying thick as lotuses all round him, and ready and even eager to be plucked, this unhappy longing of the king for an unattainable párijáta flower should make them all of no more value than withered leaves! O Rider on the Mouse,10 come to my assistance, for without thy help we shall be swallowed by calamity, in the form of the utter extinction of this perverse king's kingdom and his race.
Now, just at this very moment, it happened, by the decree of destiny, that one of the kings of the Widyádharas,11 who was rightly named Mahídhara, for his home was on a mountain top that stood in a far-off island beyond the rising sun, was holding a swayamwara for all his hundred daughters. And for ninety-nine days each daughter chose her husband, one a day, from out of the suitors who flocked to the marriage in such numbers that the sky looked like a cart-wheel, with lines of Widyádharas assembling from all directions, like vultures, for its spokes. And finally the hundredth day, and with it, the turn of the youngest daughter came, to choose.
Now this daughter resembled a thorn, fixed by the Creator in the hearts of all her sisters, causing perpetual irritation, like a rebel chief in a united kingdom. For she stood aloof from them all, like a little finger that somehow or other refuses to bend into the closed hand, being not only the youngest, but the smallest, and the most perverse, and the loveliest of all, putting not only all her sisters but every other Widyádharí to the necessity of acknowledging, sore against their will, that the presence of her beauty robbed them of their own, reducing them to confusion, like so many impostors confronted by the true heir. And her nature was so totally dissimilar to that of everybody else, that she resembled a thing made by the Creator standing, as it were, upon his head, out of the essence of contradiction: since none of her own family could ever tell what she would or would nOt say, or do, or even where she was. And even her beauty was as wayward as she was herself. For one of her eyebrows was always, as it were, on the tiptoe of surprise, arrogantly arching a little higher than the other; and her eyes were very long, with corners that looked as if they were on the very point of turning upwards, which none the less they never did, as if expressly to disappoint and deride the expectation they aroused, and keep it hovering for ever in an agony of suspense. And her lips always seemed to smile even when they were not smiling, and her head was almost always poised a very little on one side, looking as if it were listening for the far-off mutter of the mischief that lay, as it were, slumbering in the thunder-cloud hanging low in the heaven of her huge dark eyes, whose lashes resembled the long grass that fringes the edge of a forest pool. And her limbs were so slender, and her colour was so pale, in the shadow of the masses of her sable hair, that had it not been for the indigo of her lotus eyes and the vermilion of her lips, she would have resembled a marble incarnation of the beauty of death, or a wraith of mist touched as it hovers in a dark valley by the ashy beam of a waning moon. And strange! her spell seemed made of moods that always changed, yet never varied, compounded half of shy timidity, and half of proud disdain, like an atmosphere of paradoxical fascination, formed of the rival fragrances of sandalwood and camphor, translated into the language of the soul.
So then, as those Widyádhara suitors waited in the hall, standing round in a ring, she came in slowly, with the garland of choosing in her hand. And beginning with the first she came to, she walked very deliberately all round that circle of excited wooers, going from one to the next in order, and examining each in turn. And in the dead silence, there was absolutely nothing heard but the faint clash of her golden anklets, as she moved round slowly on little hesitating feet, that trod, as it were, on everybody's heart. And as she went, those suitors, as she came to them and passed them, turned gradually from dark to pale, and then again to black, like the buttresses on the king's high-road, when torches pass along.12 And every Widyádhara's soul abandoned, so to say, his body, on finding that she left him to go on to the next, dooming him, as it were, to death by carrying further the fatal wreath.
So, then, having given to all, as if by way of boon, a bitter glimpse of beauty mixed with a momentary ray of hope, dashing the cup from each one's lip just as it thought it was going to taste, she came to the very end. And then, she stopped dead. And she looked at them all, for a single moment, over the wreath they all desired, and she raised it to her lips as if to scent its fragrance, saying, as it were, to all: Very sweet indeed is the thing beyond your reach. And then, with a little pout, she put it round her own neck. And she said, in the Arya metre:
Tell me, O breeze, is there syrup for the bees?
Only, alas! when kind flowers please.
And then, she went away, leaving all her lovers, as it were, in the lurch, like a flock of Chakrawákas when the sun has disappeared.
And they all stood, when she had gone, gazing at one another in silence, as motionless as though they had been painted on the walls that stood behind them. And then they all exclaimed, as if with a single voice: What! is not one of us all fit for this fastidious beauty's taste? And instantly that ring Of disappointed suitors broke up as they flew away, and vanished like a mist, for in their fury they would not even so much as wait to take leave of her father, counting it, as it were, a crime in him to be father of such a daughter, and to have lured them into shame.
And seeing them go, Mahídhara went himself to the apartments of his daughter. And he said to her in dudgeon: Out on thee! Makarandiká;13 for here have all the Widyádharas become my bitter enemies by reason of this insult. Has thy reason left thee? Or where wilt thou find a husband, if not even one of all the kings of the Widyádharas can please thy foolish fancy? Dost thou not understand, that a daughter who is not married disgraces her father's house?
Then said Makarandiká: Dear father, I am far too ugly to be married. And Mahídhara laughed, and he said: What new caprice is this? Thou ugly! Why, if thou art too ugly, being far the most beautiful of all, what of thy sisters, whose beauty all united is not equal to thine own, and yet have they all chosen? And Makarandiká laughed, and she exclaimed: What! can it be? What! shall the most beautiful of all be content with others' leavings, and choose only out of what they have all rejected? As if the whole world were not full to the very brim of husbands! Shall my choice be the refuse? Moreover, I do not want a Widyádhara for a husband at all. And Mahídhara said, with amazement: And why not a Widyádhara? Then said Makarandiká: Widyádharas are fickle, and roaming about in the air, come across all sorts of other women and make love to them, deceiving their own wives. But I will marry only such a husband as never will deceive me.
Then said her father, smiling: But, O thou very jealous maiden, where wilt thou discover him? For did not even Indra himself play Sachi false? Or dost thou think that mortal men are always constant, when even gods are not? Choose, if thou wilt, a mortal for thy husband, only to discover that Widyádharas are not more treacherous than they are. Thy husband will deceive thee, as it may be, no matter what his birth.
And lo! as he looked at her, jesting, he saw her suddenly turn paler, and still paler, as if the very thought resembled poison in her ears. And she said in a low voice: Better never to be married at all, than marry a deceiver: better far for me, and better far for him. And her father exclaimed, in astonishment: What! O Makarandiká! thou hast not even got a husband as yet at all; yet here thou art already, jealous without a cause! What will it be, when thou art actually married? Truly I fear for thy unhappy husband, whoever he may be. And yet, be very careful. Bethink thee, O daughter, that if thou dost choose a mortal, it will be at the cost of thy condition. For any Widyádharí becoming the wife of a mortal man loses all her magic sciences, and is levelled with himself.
And Makarandiká said with scorn: Thy warning is unnecessary, and there is not any risk. For it will be long before I place myself in danger of any such description from a husband of any kind.
So that haughty beauty spoke, ignorant of the future, not dreaming that her destiny in the form of a mortal husband was just about to laugh her vaunt to scorn. And leaving her father abruptly, she rose up into the air, and began to fly swiftly like a wild white swan away towards the western quarter, looking down upon the sea, that resembled a blue mirror of the sky that stretched above it, with foaming waves in place of clouds, and water instead of air: saying to herself: Only let me get away, where not a Widyádhara of them all is to be seen. And the wind caressed her limbs like a lover, stealing embraces as she went along, and whispering in the shell of her little ear: Be not alarmed, O vagrant beauty, if I reveal thy outline to the whole world, for there is nobody by to see. And she watched the sun go down before her, and went on all night long, with no companion but the new moon that sank into the sea in a little while, as if ashamed to rival her, leaving her alone with night. And at last, when dawn was just breaking, she saw below her this very temple, standing alone on the sandy shore between the forest and the sea. And a little further on, the King's palace was standing up like a tower, reddened by the young sun's rays. So, feeling tired, she swooped down to rest for a little while. And she settled on the edge of the palace roof, taking the form of a snowy bird, with a ruddy bill and legs, as if to mock and imitate the colour of the sun.
And at that very moment, Arunodaya came out upon the roof, with his prime minister behind him, like Winter following the god of Spring. And the very instant she set eyes on him, she became, as it were, a target for Love's arrow, as if, although invisible, he were there beside his friend.14 And she fell suddenly in love with the young king as he came towards her, and shook with such agitation, that she came within a very little of falling straight into the sea. And she murmured to herself, with emotion: Can this be a second dawn15 appearing just to confound the other? Or can it be Kámadewa, in a body more beautiful than his own? But if so, where is Rati? Or am I only dreaming, having fallen unawares asleep, thinking of husbands and my father's words?
So as she spoke, Arunodaya looked towards her, and presently he said aloud: See, Gangádhara, how yonder snowy sea-bird has come to me, as it were, for refuge, tired beyond a doubt by some long journey across the sea! Let us not go too near it, lest out of fright it may take to flight, before its wings are rested. And he sat down a little way off, on the very edge of the terrace, keeping his eye on Makarandiká, who laughed at his words in her sleeve, saying softly to herself: There is no fear, O handsome stranger, that I shall fly away, since thy arrival, so far from scaring me away, has nailed me to the spot. And the prime minister said meanwhile: Maháráj, here I am, according to thy appointment, to discuss thy marriage with thee, where nobody can overhear. And know, that since thou art absolutely bent on marrying no other than the wife of thy former birth, I do not despair of finding her, if she is able to be found. But who can find anything, unless he knows what it is like? For if not, he will not know that he has found it, when it lies before his eyes. So tell me, to begin with, what this wife of thine resembles; and then I will set to work and find her, without the loss of any time.
Then Arunodaya said slowly: O Gangádhara, how can I tell thee what I do not know myself? And Gangádhara said, in wonder: Maháráj, it cannot be. How wilt thou recognise her, not knowing what she looks like? And Arunodaya said again: I shall know her in an instant, the moment I set eyes on her. For at the very sight of her, love that depends on the forgotten associations of a previous existence, will suddenly shoot up in the darkness of my heart, like flame. For this is the only proof, and no other is required. And yet, there is something else, to give me as it were a clue. For though, strive as I may, I cannot even guess what she was like, yet my memory, as it seems, is not absolutely blank. For I remember, that she was the daughter of a pandit, and maybe herself a pandit; and I seem to listen in a dream, whenever I think about her, to the noise of innumerable pandits all shouting at the same time some name that I can never catch, mingling with the roar of the waves of the sea.
And when he ended, Gangádhara stared at him, in utter stupefaction, saying within himself: Beyond a doubt, this King is mad. And presently he said aloud: O King Arunodaya, who ever heard of a woman, suited for a king's wife, who had anything to do with pandits? What is there in common between pandits and the wives of kings? Certainly, thou art doomed to live and die unmarried: for a beauty who is a pandit is not to be found in the three worlds.
Then said Arunodaya: Gangádhara, who knows? But be that as it may, this is absolutely certain, that I will not marry any woman who was not the wife of my former birth. And so, if thou canst find her, well. And if not, then thy prophecy will be true, for I shall live and die without a wife.
And Gangádhara went away again, more at a loss than he was before. And when he reached his home, all at once he began to laugh, as if his reason had left him. And he said to himself: Haha! Out on this unhappy King, who hears the noise of pandits in the roaring of the sea! Why, even Maheshwara himself could not find a shout of laughter, to match the absurdity of this extraordinary jest. And he went on laughing all day long, till his family grew frightened and summoned the physicians, saying: He is possessed.
And meanwhile Makarandiká remained upon the terrace, watching Arunodaya, as if fascinated by a snake. And as she listened to their conversation, her heart beat with such exultation that it shook her like wind. And she said to herself: Surely I am favoured by the Deity. Well was it for me, that I scorned to choose a husband from among those miserable Widyádhara kings: for had I done so, I should have missed the very fruit of my birth. And now, by the favour of Ganapati, I have come here in the very nick of time: and I know all. And no other than myself shall be his wife. And indeed, beyond a doubt I was the very wife he looks for, since everything corresponds, and exactly as he said, love has suddenly burst out flaming in my heart, at the very first sight of him, suddenly recollecting its old forgotten state. But whether I was his wife or not, in any other birth, I will very certainly become his wife in this. And all the symptoms conspire in my favour. For not only is my right eye throbbing, but I actually stumbled in ignorance on his very name, before I ever heard it. And now, I will, as Gangádhara said, set to work immediately without losing any time: for I know, as they do not, exactly what his wife is like. And now, everything will turn out well, so long as he never discovers in his life that I overheard him, on this terrace, before he ever saw me. And that cannot be, for he never can learn it from anyone but me.
So as she spoke, Arunodaya suddenly recollected the coming of the bird, and looked round, and rejoiced, to find that it was still there. And he said aloud, as if expressly to chime in with her thoughts: Ha! so, then, thou art not gone, as I feared. O sea-bird, from what far-off land art thou arrived? For none of the birds that haunt my palace resemble thee in the least degree. Art thou also looking for thy mate, as I am? Or hast thou lost thy way, blown by the winds over the home of monsters and of gems?
And instantly the bird replied: O King Arunodaya, not so: for I am looking neither for a mate nor a way: but have come here expressly, sent by the god, to tell thee how to find thine own mate, and thine own way.
And then, as Arunodaya started to his feet, scarcely crediting his own ears, she went on with that human voice: Listen, and do not interrupt, for I have overstayed my time, obliged to wait till thy conversation ended and thy minister was gone, and I have far to go. And tell me, first. Is there a little ruined temple, near thy city on the north, standing alone upon the shore? And Arunodaya said: There is. Then said Makarandiká: Then it all corresponds, and tallies exactly with my instructions. For only last night, as the sun was going down, I passed by a lonely island in the middle of the sea. And there in the evening twilight, I saw the Lord of Obstacles dancing all alone, throwing up his trunk that was smeared with vermilion into the purple sky. And he called to me as I was going by, and said: Carry for me a message to King Arunodaya, for thou wilt see his palace in the morning, standing up out of the sea, ruddy as my trunk in the early dawn.
And tell him that I am pleased with his resolute perseverance; and by my favour he shall find the wife of his former birth. Let him go at midnight, on the fifteenth day of the light half of this very moon, into the ruined temple that stands on the shore of the sea, and I will put something in it that will fill his heart with joy.
And then, she rose from the terrace, and flew away across the sea; while Arunodaya stood still, gazing after her in wonder, till she dwindled to a speck and disappeared.
And then, he drew a long breath, and murmured to himself: Am I asleep or dreaming? Or can it really be, that the very Lord of Obstacles has been listening to my prayers, as well he might, considering their number, and taking pity on his devotee, has revealed to me the secret, by the means of this white bird: wishing to show Gangádhara, as if in jest, how easily the Deity laughs at obstacles that seem absolutely insurmountable, even to such a minister as mine?
So then he waited, with a soul that almost leaped from his body with impatience, for the wax of the moon, which seemed to stand still, as if on purpose to destroy him. And he sent, in the meanwhile, a message to Gangádhara, saying: Everything is easy to those favoured by the Deity. And I have found what I was seeking, even without thy assistance, as I will prove to thee, by ocular demonstration, on the day of the full moon.
And as he listened, Gangádhara was so utterly confounded, that he could hardly understand. And finally, he said to himself: Beyond a doubt, this kingdom will presently be ruined, for the King is out of his mind. And now I begin to perceive, that it will become my duty to remove him from the throne, in favour of his maternal uncle, who is waiting and watching to devour him like a crab,16 if only he can find his opportunity. Or is it only, after all, a device, to marry some girl that he has set his heart on, without consulting either policy or me? If so, let him beware! for he shall do penance for despising me, in full. But let me wait, in any case, for the moon to grow round. Yet what can the Lord of Herbs17 have to do with this matter, unless he possesses a medicine suited to the King's disease?
So then, at last, when the moon had gathered up all his digits but the last, as soon as he rose, Arunodaya went out of his palace to wander on the shore, with no companion but his sword. For he said to himself: What if it were all but a dream or a delusion? Then, were it to be known, I should become a very target for the ridicule of all the people in the city. So it is better to keep the secret to myself. And he roamed about the sand of the shore, near the temple, for hours, ready to curse both sun and moon together, the one for his delay in going down, and the other for taking such a time to climb into the sky. And finally, unable to wait any longer, he went directly, long ere midnight, to the temple, and stood for a while, exactly where yonder sleeper lies now, as if making up his mind. And at last, he came up between us, and peeped in, with a beating heart, and saw absolutely nothing inside, but emptiness and dark. And presently he said: Has that Lord of Obstacles deceived me, or is it too soon for his present to arrive? And how will she come? Yet if that sea-bird was either a liar or a dream, it will be time enough to go away, before dawn returns, at any hour of the night. And he sat down at my feet, leaning his back against me, and looking out to sea, over which the moon was slowly climbing, exactly as it does to-night. And worn out with agitation, and fatigue, and suspense, he went off to sleep unawares. And he looked as he lay in the moonlight like the God of Love resting, after he had conquered the three worlds.
So then, when at last he woke, he lay for a little while puzzled, and trying to remember where he was, and why. And so as he lay, he heard suddenly behind him in the temple the faint clash of anklets, saying to him as it were: Thou art sleeping, but I am waiting. And like a flash of lightning, his memory returned; and he started to his feet, and turned, and looked in at the temple door.
And lo! when he did so, there, in a ray of moonlight that fell in through the ruined wall, and clung to her affectionately, as though to say: Here, hiding in this dark cave, have I suddenly fallen on my sixteenth digit that was wanting to complete my orb; there stood a young woman, looking like the feminine incarnation of the realisation of his longing to find the wife of his former birth. And she was leaning against the wall, half in and half out of the shadow, with her head thrown back against it, so that her left breast stood out in the light of the moon as if to mock it, leaving the other dark; and the curve of her hip issued from the shadow and again was lost in it, like that of a wave that rises from the sea. And he saw her eyes shining, as they gazed at him in curiosity, like stars in a moonless night reflected in a pool, whose light serves only to make the darkness it is lost in more visible than before. And her attitude gave her the appearance of a statue fixed upon the wall that had suddenly emerged from it, and taken life, half doubtful, by reason of timidity, whether she should not re-enter it again. And she was dressed, like Jánaki, when the Ten-headed Demon seized her, in a robe of yellow silk, with golden bangles, and golden anklets, and a necklace of great pearls around her neck, like a row of little moons formed out of drops of the lunar ooze: and in her hair, which shone like the back of a great black bee, was a single champak blossom, that resembled an earthly star shedding fragrance as well as light. And her red lips looked as if the smile that was on the very point of opening like a flower had been checked in the very act, by the hesitation springing from a very little fear.
And Arunodaya gazed at her in silence, exactly as she did at him. And after a while, he murmured aloud, as if speaking to himself: Can this be in very truth the wife of my former birth, or only a thing seen in a dream?
And when he spoke, she started, and moved a very little from the wall, with one hand resting still against it, as if it was her refuge. And she said, in a low voice: I thought the dreamer was myself. Art thou some deity come to tempt me, and where am I, if it is reality and not a dream? And Arunodaya said: It is not I that am the deity, but thou. For who ever saw anything like thee in the world? And yet if thou art Shri, where is Wishnu? or if Rati, where is Love?
And she looked at him steadily, and after a little while, she said with a sigh: Alas! thou hast spoken truly: Where is Love?18 What! can it be? and dost thou not remember me? And Arunodaya said: How could I remember what I never saw before in my life? Then she said: What does this life matter? Hast thou then so utterly forgotten everything of the life before?
And as he gazed at her in perplexity, all at once she started from the wall and ran towards him, clapping her hands, and laughing, with her bangles and anklets and her girdle clashing, as if keeping time with her movements, and exclaiming: The forfeit! the forfeit! I have won! I have won! And he said, smiling as if against his will: What forfeit? What dost thou mean? And for answer, she threw herself into his arms, and began to kiss him, laughing in delight, and crying out: I said it, I said it. I have remembered, and thou hast forgotten. Did I not tell thee, thus it would be, when we met again in another birth? Come, cudgel thy dull memory, and listen while I help thee; and after, I will exact from thee the forfeit that we fixed. And Arunodaya said again: What forfeit? For I remember absolutely nothing of it all. And she said: Out on thee! O thou of no memory at all. What! is thy little pandit all forgotten? What! hast thou forgotten, what as I think could never be forgotten, how all the pandits shouted together at our marriage? And he exclaimed: Ha! pandits! Then she said: Ah! Dost thou actually begin to recollect? then I have hopes of thee. But as to the forfeit, wilt thou actually persist in obstinately forgetting all about it? Must I actually tell thee, and art thou not utterly ashamed? Art thou not ashamed, after all thy protestations, to look me in the face?
And as she gazed, with eyes filled to the brim with passionate affection that was not feigned, straight into his own, holding him with soft arms that resembled creepers, and, as it were, caressing him with the touch of her bosom and the perfume of the honey of her lips and her hair, taking him, as it were, prisoner by the sudden assault of irresistible flattery in the form of her own surrender, Arunodaya's head began to spin, lost as he was in a whirlpool of bewilderment springing half from her beauty's intoxicating spell, and half from ineffectual striving to recall at her bidding what she said, so that in his perplexity he could not even comprehend whether he recollected anything or not. And he murmured to himself: Surely she must be the wife I was looking for, for who else can she be? and certainly she is beautiful enough to be anybody's wife. And as he hesitated, balanced in the swing of indecision, she began to draw her forefinger over his eyebrows, each in turn, saying in a whisper: Aryaputra,19 this was the forfeit. Give me thy hand, and shut, for a while, thine eyes. And as he did so, saying to himself: Now I wonder what she will give me, all at once he uttered a cry of pain. For she had taken his little finger with her teeth, and bitten it hard. And as his eyes flew open, as it were of their own accord, she said, with a frown and a smile mixed together: Why didst thou forget me? Was it not agreed between us that the forgotten should exact from the forgetter whatever penalty he chose?
And at the reproach in her eyes, the heart of Arunodaya began as it were to smite him, saying: Surely thou art but churlish in returning her affection, and refusing to remember her: for she is well worthy to be remembered. And being totally unacquainted with woman, and her sweetness, and her snare, his youth and his sex began, as it were, to side with her against his reason and his doubt, saying to his soul: What more canst thou possibly require in a wife, than such an incarnation of charm and affection and intoxicating caress. And all at once, he took her and drew her towards him with one arm about her slender waist, that a hand might have grasped, and the other round her head, and he began to kiss her as fast as he could, with kisses that she returned him till her breath failed. And after a while, he said, in a low voice: Who art thou in this birth, if, as thou sayest, I was thy husband in the last? And hast thou fallen from the sky? For thou art altogether too different from the others to be but a woman.20 And what is thy name?
Then said Makarandiká: Thou art not absolutely wrong: for I am not a woman of the earth, but a Widyádharí, by name Makarandiká. And by and bye I will tell thee all about myself, and my coming here, to rediscover and regain thee; and learn of thee thine. But in the meanwhile, come outside this gloomy temple into the moonlight, where I can see thee. And she drew him out of the temple, and as they stood, looking at one another, she said: Dost thou know, that I am paying a great price for thee? See, a little while ago, I came hither flying through the air. And as I came, I said to myself, with regret: I am flying for the very last time; for to-morrow I shall forfeit all my magic sciences by marrying a mortal. And as my resolution wavered, at that very moment, I arrived, and saw thee, lying asleep in the moonlight, at the feet of Maheshwara yonder on the wall. And instantly, I exclaimed: Away with these miserable sciences, for what are they worth in comparison with him, or, worse, without him?
And Arunodaya exclaimed: What! wilt thou sacrifice all thy condition as a Widyádharí for such a one as me? Out, out upon such a price for such a worthless ware!
And for answer she took his hand, and put it on her heart, looking at him with eyes that shone not only with moonlight, but with a tear. And Arunodaya said, with emphasis: Thou must be my wife; for how could I think, having seen thee, of any other woman in the world, even in a dream.
And as he spoke he started, almost uttering a cry. For suddenly she clenched the hand she held with a grip that almost hurt it, and he felt the heart it lay on suddenly leap, as it were, and stop. And as he looked at her in wonder, he saw her turning paler and paler, till she seemed in that white moonlight about to become a stone image, in imitation of ours, just behind her, on the wall.
And he said in alarm: Art thou ill, or suffering, or what? Or dost thou regret thy sciences? And then, all at once, she laughed, and said: My sciences? Nay, nay, it is not that of which I am afraid. Come, it is nothing, and what am I but a fool? Let us go now to thy palace; and see, I will exert my power, for the very last time, in thy favour, and carry thee through the air. And she sat down on the step, saying: Come, thou art rather a large and a clumsy baby: yet sit thou on my lap. And she took him in her arms, and rose with him into the air, and they floated over the sea towards the palace, resembling for the moment myself and thee roaming in the sky.
And as they went, Arunodaya said within himself: Surely I am only dreaming; and of what is this Widyádharí made, that has claimed me for her own? Is it fire or something else?
But Makarandiká, as they floated, said to herself in ecstasy and exultation: Now, then, I have got him, and it will be my own fault, if I cannot so utterly bewitch him, as to cause him to forget all about his former wife, and take me, as why should I not have been? for her. And what do I care for her? For she may be the wife of that birth, but I am the wife of this. And why should the wife of the present count for less than the wife of the past?
1 (Pronounce daya as die, with accent on preceding o.) It means the rising of red dawn.
2 The Recorder, who keeps account of all the sins that each soul must answer for, at the end of every birth.
3 i.e., son of a nobleman, the term used by a queen in addressing her husband.
4 i.e., a wife who makes a god of her husband: the highest of all possible praises. Sawitri is the Hindoo Alcestis.
5 Sati, which means a good woman, is always understood by Europeans to refer to what is only the last manifestation of her quality, the burning herself on her dead lord's pyre. But the term does not necessarily contain any reference to that stern climax of her virtue.
6 Another name for Yama, the god of death, which we may here take as equivalent to "Justice."
7 i,e., the God of Love and his principal wife.
8 As we might say, bachelor, but the Hindoo expression is stricter, meaning, one who has taken a vow of virginity.
9 The two wives of Love.
10 i.e., Ganesha.
11 See Preface.
12 This is from Kalidas.
13 i.e., one made of the honey or syrup of flowers. (Note, that the first syllable rhymes with luck, and the third with fund.)
14 i.e., Spring, who is Love's companion.
15 This is an allusion to the King's name (see note, ante), the point of which will presently appear.
16 The crabs of Ceylon (presumably the same as those of southern India, whose shores I do not know) are the most extraordinary things I ever saw. They run like the wind, and jump, over immense spaces and chasms, from rock to rock, better than any horse.
17 i.e., the moon.
18 Love, in Sanskrit, means also recollection.
19 A name given only by a wife to her husband, implying the claim.
20 The English reader may be puzzled by the difficulty: how a Widyádharí could ever be a woman. But it is very simple on Hindoo principles. Widyádharas are constantly falling into human bodies by reason of curses, or guilt contracted.