Katame Debaah

Katame Debaah

KATAME DEBAAH

By

A.D.Sarkar


The British white town of Calcutta was not much damaged when the nabab's army attacked the fort. In typical Indian fashion the nabab did not ensure that the British did not again start a parallel government in

Bengal so one John Zephaniah Holwell made himself the Head of the de facto British government although the previous governor Drake who fled but occupied a ship named Fort William declared that he was the governor emloyed by John company. This immediately created confusion and undermined John Zephaniah Holwell.

In the meantime Raghu became a great friend of Mukhopaddhai mosai and they together went on making a lot of money because the British trade was not affected by the nabab's attack on Calcutta. Actually trade increased because the French, Dutch or other white sahibs started to declare themselves as British and flew the British flag. The sole reason was that they paid no taxes and that left them with funds to buy more goods than they would have done normally.

Nevertheless Raghu started to roam the negative coordinates as was his wont from time to time. Fortunately, mosai was prescient and pragmatic. He assured Raghu that the British will persevere and will take over India; from Waziristan to Assam; from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in the south. He explained to Raghu that the British were experts and experienced in warfare. If they found you weak and divided, they will demonise the ruler as the starting point as they are already doing so with Sirajuddaula. They are saying that he is a dissolute youth who is tyrannical to the people he rules. People go hungry because their meagre income is looted and they are punished by frequent flogging, gouging of eyes, chopping off of hands and legs etc. etc. Arbitrary killing is a common phenomenon under his rule. They will also say that the people of Hindustan are savages and, being the most civilised people in the whole world, it is their duty to bring education to the masses. Mukhopaddhai mosai pointed out that the British have built forts in Madras and also in the west apart from Calcutta. He predicted that they will attack the nabab any time and will win with superior force and cunning.

Raghu wondered where he got his information from but mosai said that as a matter of fact ,last month, on 16th October, 1756, one Robert Clive sailed from Fort St David in Madras. Actually, he is with a convoy of ten ships, five from the Admiralty and an equal number contributed by the Madras council. There were three companies of His Majesty's marines and another nine hundred European troops. Robert Clive was appointed the commander of the expedition, answerable directly to the council at Madras. He took with him 1,500 Tamil sepoys whom he trained himself on the European model.

Raghu was overwhelmed; “How do you know all this?”

Business contacts.” said Mukhopaddhai mosai. “I know people of importance even in Omichand's empire. You can imagine, they get to know many things and they tell me.”

Mosai let Raghu know that Clive's force was small compared with the suba's huge army so governor Pigot of Fort St David instructed Clive to sweeten the sword with diplomacy. Clive carried personal letters to Sirajuddaula from Indian potentates in the south. Governor Pigot himself wrote: ' My king in far away Britain has not had a moment's peace since he heard about the fate of his dear subjects in Calcutta which you sacked unlawfully. I am obliged to send a great sardar with troops and many ships to meet you in battle if need be. But you are wise. Please consider if it is prudent to engage in war which may never end; or is it better to do what is just and right in the sight of God?'

Mosai said it would be some time before the British would be ready to attack. In the meantime they must get on with their own lives to the best of their ability.

“We are going to be related soon,” said Mukhopaddhai one day as they were travelling on business. “Call me by my first name.”

“Oh no,” that will somewhat confuse things. “Everyone from the sahibs to santals call you mosai. I will do the same. But of course we will be related and be like brothers.”

The business of being related was that they arranged for Bankim and Malati to become husband and wife. Everybody approved of it. A marriage ceremony was an elaborate affair so the preparations already started but according to astrological charts, the date of marriage was fixed in the month of Baisakh which was April, 1757, some four months away.

The months passed quickly enough and on the day worked out by pandits according to astrological charts, Bankim accompanied by his family members and friends arrived at the parental home of his bride- to- be. They got married in a tent ,

called shamiyana in Hindi, one of the Indian languages, which was erected and decorated specially for the marriage

ceremony in the large yard inside the perimter of the house. Once declared as man and wife Malati travelled with her husband to his parental home as was the custom.

The groom's party went ahead walking to the landing stage at Catwa to cross the river. Raghu, Savitri and Gopal decided to see the married couple and Mukhopaddhai mosai off. They went in bullock carts towards the landing stage.

Raghu remained silent as the carts moved slowly towards the river. He roamed the negative coordinates; that familiar zigzag pattern he was in the habit of creating for himself. His daydreaming, however, ended

in an instant as he noticed something ominous and whispered in a concerned voice, “The Moghals, mosai; have you seen?”

“Hum.”

As they both looked apprehensively at the grandee and his horsemen, one of the riders came galloping towards them and shouted at the drivers of the bullock carts to stop. He glanced at Raghu and mosai who were by themselves in the leading cart and then into the one carrying Raghu's wife, daughter and son-in-law. Gopal at that moment was walking. He was ordered to get in the cart with his father. The horseman then raised his arm in the air and told them to follow him.

About fifty yards on they were all forced to get off the bullock carts when Miran accompanied by Muhammadi Beg looked at Malati in the way of inspection. Muhammadi Beg whirled his large truncheon which had a leather strap looped over his wrist. “Good stuff this Miran,” he said while still inspecting her body. The passengers of the carts and other men stood dumbfounded sensing the imminent catastrophe. Malati's mother did not understand Farsi, the Persian language, but she sensed what lay ahead and started to sob. Mukhopaddhai mosai said in broken Farsi, “Please Sirs, they are just married. We have to go to Palashi quickly because there are more rituals to complete. You may know that the marriage will not be valid until we get these rituals done.”

Miran rubbed his chin with his fingers and said simply, “Whose daughter is she?”

“Mine Sir,” said Raghu. He rubbed his hands and produced the expected sychophantic laugh but his mouth was dry. Raghu continued, “She is a very good girl your Excellency. My only daughter. This is Bankim.” He put his arm round him and said with pride, “Isn't he handsome and taller than us?”

“So you are the new husband?” asked Miran.

Bankim frowned and said with defiance in his voice, “I am.”

Muhammdi Beg came forward and lifted the young man by holding him up with his huge hands round his waist. “You insolent infidel,” he shouted. “You have no manners.”

“Let me go,” shouted Bankim while making a futile attempt to wriggle free.

Mukhopaddhai mosai approached Miran with folded palms. “Please Sir, he pleaded.

“The boy did not mean to be disrespectful.” He turned to his nephew who was now dropped on the ground. He said in Bengali “Say your Excellency.”

The nephew did what his uncle commanded immediately. He stood up and said to Miran “Your excellency forgive me

if I appeared to be disrespectful.”

“That's more like it tall and handsome dog,” and let the heavy truncheon drop flatly on the young man's back.

Bankim held his breath and did not betray the severe physical and mental pain he was suffering. He nurtured a wish for a long time that one day an opportunity might come when he would strike at these foreign tyrants and repossess India for the Indians. For, these Moghals were clearly foreigners as the now ethnically mixed Afghans were before them who ruled a substantial part of India. The countless hordes who came through the northern passes were not stopped by the Khatriya varna, class, whose clear duty it was to defend Bharat, India. Instead, they just whiled away their time by fighting between themselves for some imagined vainglory. He realised though very quickly that, for the moment, it was idle romanticism; tact was necessary if he was to protect his kin. He looked at Miran, did his salam, and asked, “Let my people go your excellency.”

Miran looked at them all and then said with a serious tone, “You can all go but the girl stays. She is going to join my harem..”

He went over to Malati and grabbed her by her left arm. “Come on beautiful, he said. “I will give you a palace to live in and eunuchs to guard you. Don't waste yourself on these vagabonds.”

A loud wail erupted from her mother. “Oh father, Oh my mother” she cried. “Is it right for you to remain silent? Come quickly. Save the honour of your granddaughter. Save her from fate far worse than death.”

Miran put his hands over his ears. “Can't stand this nonsense. Remove her. Remove the lot of them.”

At the command of Muhammadi Beg, armed horsemen moved towards the group

while Miran, now on foot, started to move away, dragging a struggling Malati with him.

She cried, “Father, help me, save me.”

Suddenly Gopal pounced on Miran. “Leave her alone,” he shouted, “I am telling you.” Mukhopaddhai mosai dragged the young man away. Miran kept on moving. Malati resisted and cried,”Father. Help me. Help me.”

Blood rushed into Raghu's head. He felt a throbbing pain in his temples. His muscles became taut and an uncontrollable anger overpowered him. He shouted, “Leave her be. Let her go.”

Miran was puzzled at the unprecedented

resistance by an ordinary group of people in his past such encounters. He looked at Raghu with an amount of trepidation as the man held his sacred thread between his thumbs and forefingers. Raghu looked up and shouted, “Dev Indra, the chief of all devas and devis, throw your thunderbolt at this monster. Kill him dev. Destroy him.”

Miran's entourage had a few sons of Moghal noblemen. They and even the ordinary horsemen went silent which unerved Miran. At his command, an interpreter explained to him that a curse was cast upon him by the girl's father. “Has an infidel's curse got to be taken seriously?” asked Miran loosening his grip on Malati slowly.

The interpreter said, “He is a Brahmin my Lord; they are the only ones who wear strands of thread across their chest. They say their curses never fail to materialise.”

Unexpectedly Miran raised his voice. “Nonsense,” he said. “Nonsense surely”

He rushed towards Raghu and hit him on the back with the blunt edge of his sword. Raghu fell face down. He cried slowly with pain but got up and, again holding his sacred thread with the thumbs and forefingers of both hands, faced the sky and whimpered, “Hear me ,Oh Indra dev. Throw your thunderbolt. Destroy this evil Moghal they call Miran.”

Muhammadi Beg's truncheon fell on Raghu; on his back; on his head; on his legs; repeatedly. The Brahmin wearing sacred threads fell unconscious on the ground. “Shall I finish him Miran?” asked Muhammadi Beg.

“No,” shouted one of the noblemen's sons. “Enough is enough,” said another.

Miran glanced at them. “We must punish him,” he muttered hesitatingly. “I am prepared to spare his life but he must be taught a lesson for his insolence. Do I not belong to the ruling elite!”

“Yes,” concurred Muhammadi Beg. “The insolent infidel must not be allowed to get off lightly. Let me gouge his eyes out.” He drew his knife.

“Light a fire,” he ordered one of the attendants and kicked him for good measure. “A hot iron is more efficient than a cold one.” He guffawed with laughter, but as he laughed he looked towards the south. They all did as the sky became dusty and the sound of galloping hoofs became louder. In no time at all appeared Khudadad Yar Lutf Khan of 2,000 horse, a General of the ruler of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. He was riding a horse and was accompanied by ten sowers, cavalrymen. They stopped in front of the Moghals and their victims for a minute or so and then moved to their right to make room for the nabab who appeared, mounted on his favourite white horse, behind a group of Pathan horsemen.The nabab was in the middle of Mir Madan and Mohan Lall, both mounted on tawny horses.

The young suba moved away from the group and his white horse neighed as he drew the reins and stopped in front of Miran. He dismounted quickly, looked at Malati, the other men and then at Raghu who was still unconscious but with his head on his wife's lap. “What is all this?” he snapped.

“I am punishing him!” snapped back Miran, visibly irritated at the intrusion.

“What is his crime?” queried the nabab fixing his eyes on Malati.

It was Mukhopaddhai mosai who came forward and made his dutiful salam to the suba. He then said humbly, “Permission to

speak my suba.” The suba raised his arm indicating permission given. “Sir,” began Mukhopaddhai mosai in his broken Farsi. “This is my nephew; this one is his wife and these are her relatives. They are newly wed. We are to proceed simply to Palashi to complete all the mandatory rituals of the act of marriage. These people have to return to their home in Agradip. They merely came up to the river bank to bid us farewell.

“Who is stopping you all from going to your homes?” asked the suba.

Miran came forward. “I am” he said with defiance.

“What for?” demanded the nabab with a vexed voice.

“That's my business,” replied Miran arrogantly.

The nabab shouted, “Don't be insolent.”

One of the noblemen's sons came forward. He said, “Miran simply wanted this girl for his harem. These people resisted obstinately instead of just co-operating.”

The nabab looked at Malati and then Raghu. He looked at Mukhopaddhai mosai and said sternly to Miran,”Let them go.”

“I will not,” responded Miran. “You have no right to interfere in my personal affairs,

and remember I am the son of His Excelleny Mir jafar, commander-in-Chief of the Bengal army; husband of your late grandfather's half-sister.

The nabab smiled. “You say I have no right. I am the suba!”

“Not for long. I can assure you,” replied Miran derisively.

The nabab said in a composed voice, “We will see.Perhaps I have been too lenient. I should have destroyed the lot of you a long time ago.”

Miran got on his horse quickly and made it trot backwards some 30 yards. He stopped, drew his sword and charged at Sirajuddaula. The nabab, a skilled horseman, moved swiftly out of the way and mounted his horse. Mir Madan threw his sword which the nabab caught and galloped a few yards away from Miran.

They faced each other and remained in their positions about 20 yards apart for a while. Miran's black horse started moving nearly sideways describing the arc of a circle. The nabab moved similarly but in the opposite direction. Raghu now partly conscious looked in awe. The nabab's white robe and the blood red garment of his adversary struck two contrasting figures. Their swords and jewels glistened in the sun, now oppressive. The noblemen's sons remained static in their positions as did everybody else on both sides.

Mukhopaddhai mosai shouted, “May your God help you suba.” Strangely, the nabab heard and acknowledged him with a slight bow. Muhammadi Beg rushed towards the Brahmin with his truncheon but a nobleman's son put his leg forward and the big man fell on the ground with a thud. The two combatants looked at him and the suba smiled.

This irritated Miran and he galloped towards Siraj. Their swords clanged. They charged at each other a few times. Then their swords clashed as the white and black horses stood close together. In the duel, the young nabab manipulated both his horse and sword skilfully. Miran kept on with his move clumsily and lost his sword. Siraj shouted, “Dismount.”

Miran obeyed immediately with a hint of panic in his face. The nabab followed suit and held the point of his sword against Miran's throat. “All I need to do is thrust this,” said Siraj blandly “and that will be the end of one conspirator.” Miran swallowed a few times. He moved back a few steps and did the salam.The nabab raised his sword to strike him. Miran fell on his knees and pleaded, “Please your excellency; please spare my life.” The noblemen's sons turned their heads away in disgust. Sirajuddaula threw the sword back at Mir Madan who caught it expertly by the handle and put it back in the scabbard.

The nabab said, “I want as many guards as necessary to escort the bride and her party to Palashi right up to the doorstep of her father-in-law's home. Some of you assist this wounded man.” Miran and Muhammadi Beg galloped away on their horses and the noblemen's sons followed separately. The nabab mounted his horse.

Mukhopaddhai mosai did salam and said, “You are kind your Excellency. Gopal and Bankim bowed and said, “Thank you suba.”

The nabab smiled at them and galloped away towards the fort at Catwa.The bride and the groom crossed the river in the waiting dinghi and headed for Palashi. The bullock carts moved back slowly towards Agradip. Once home, Gopal dressed his father's wounds and the village kaviraj, doctor, gave him some herbal medicine but Raghu remained unconscious most of the time.

The kaviraj had to be called in at the middle of the night. Raghu developed a high temperature so the kaviraj bathed his head wound and they both poured pitchers of cold water on him in the yard. The canopy was still there so the patient was made to rest on a mattress at one end of the yard. Gopal and the kaviraj fanned him alternately to keep the mosquitoes away and also to keep the patient cool.

As the sky lightened, the kaviraj said, “His temperature is down but we need to give puja to venerate devatas and address petitionary mantras to them.”

Mattresses were removed to light a wood fire in the centre of the yard. The purohit,

a brahmin, who carries out rites and rituals, poured ghee on it each time he began a mantra. He chose to chant hymns to ancient Rudra who later transformed to Shiva, also called Mahadev.

“Mahadev,” he began. “You are the father of the Maruts, the storm devas. Please come down from Mount Kailash; allow the sun to shine on us; dispel the disease from Raghu; dispel distress from his family. Om, Shanti, Om.

“Oh glorious. Oh mighty deva; help us to row across to that river bank which is far away from disease, where Raghu and his family will be safe. Om, Shanti, Om.

“Oh valiant Rudra, do bring your army of physicians who will heal Raghu of this distressful disease. Om, Shanti, Om.

Mahadev, where is your tender hand? Place it on Raghu, to cool, to heal, to take away the pain. Let me not incur your wrath by praising you falsely, by comparing you with other devatas. Oh Rudra, do bear with me. Om, Shanti, Om.

May your angry arrows be not aimed at us. May the evil design of our enemies pass us by. Be benevolent and have pity on us. Om, Shanti, Om.

Oh Shiva, tell us how to restrain your anger lest you hurt us. Spare a moment and accept our veneration and plea for Raghu. Om, Shanti, Om.”

“I shall return tomorrow,” said the purohit.

“I shall look in frequently,” said the kaviraj.

In the late afternoon Raghu opened his eyes and they wandered from his wife to is that pathhis son a few times. He pointed to his mouth and said very faintly, “Thirsty.”

He said something about Malati but his delivery was not very audible and the pattern of his speech not coherent. He fell

into a trance again and in it he wandered north through forests. “Where is that path?” he asked; the path which the atmas of his ancestors took time and time again, from time immemorial. He saw just sanyasis in their saffron robes and long knotted hair with their staff and kamandulu,the small hand pitcher usually filled with water. Raghu's ancestors walked briskly through the trees and over the mountains, then only to disappear in the flimsy clouds. Agroup of white horses came galloping from the sky and transformed into cloud. An unseen conch blew of its own ccord. Many devas and devis appeared and the clouds retreated quickly leaving the sky as blue as a tranquil ocean.

“I see ; I can see !” mumbled Raghu.

“He is dreaming I think,” commented Gopal anxiously.

Raghu saw a well trodden path but narrow;narrower than a single strand of hair. It seemed to him that his ancestors came along that path and stood looking at him. One of them said, “This is the ancient path through which our atmas travelled and yours will too but not yet.”

Raghu tossed his head from side to side a few times and mumbled, “Father, father.” The infinitely long, the infinitesimally narrow path appeared again and proceeded towards Raghu, touched him and then moved away. “It touched me! I found it!!” shouted Raghu in a clear voice and woke up.

Raghu was well next morning when the kaviraj came and the purohit rekindled the fire and recited mantras.The purohit was very well conversant with all the four parts of the Vedas. Raghu spent many hours with him to listen to him when he talked about the subject with interested people who came from as far away as Catwa and assembled at Raghu's house. Raghu said suddenly, “Purohit, tell me about the dialogue between Vidagdha Shakalya and Risi Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad.

Now vidagdha can be translated simply as learned but the meaning of the term, risi, is difficult to express in a single English word. A risi normally lives in a forest usually with his wife only. He is well versed in all the esoteric writings of ancient India. Somewhat like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle he is a preceptor, a guru par excellence.

Vidagdha Shakalya asked, “Ho Yajnavalkya, Katame Debaah-how many devatas?”

Risi Yajnavalkya answered without a moment's hesitation, “3003.”

Shakalya was unable to comprehend it.He said “Om. Truly, how many?”

The risi said again with complete confidence, “303.”

Vidagdha Sakalya queried the numbers The risi said that he has thought about the same puzzle for years. The answer has to be that as the phenomenal world became manifest there appeared sentient beings but also devas and devis. In the beginning there were 3003 although some scholars of the Upanisad say 3306. The risi decided that the numbers he quoted are more suitable to answer the question 'katame debaah' in a model he has proposed but he does not wish to discuss it at the moment and complicate things further than what they already are.

Shakalya did not pursue the query any further but he asked, “You say we should expect fewer devas and devis as time moves on. Is it correct to conclude that they die in the same manner as we do?”

“I think so.”

“How many devatas next?”

“33.”

“Next?”

“6.”

Vidagdha Shakalya asked, “How many after the six?”

“3.”

“Om. Truly, how many?”

“2.”

“Om. How many?”

“One.”

Upon being asked the risi named all the 33 devatas as follows:

There are 8 vasus, namely, fire, earth, air,

atmosphere, sky, sun, moon,the costellations. There are Indra and Prajapati.

The other 10 are the five senses and the five motor organs. These are, hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell, throat, hands, feet, the organ of procreation and the organ of evacuation.

The 21st deva is mana, mind. There are 12 adityas which are the 12 months of the year.

“Who is Indra?” asked Shakalya.

“Lightning,” replied the risi.

“Prajapati?”

“Animals.”

Vidagdha Shakalya, to the suppressed delight of guru Yajnavalkya, suggested that the risi has omitted to include six more devatas,which are as follows:

The three lokas, the regions where the

devatas reside.

Anna,food.

Mrityu, death.

Pran, life breath.

Risi Yajnavalkya was not sure if it was logical to think of lokas as devatas. Existence of Prajapati, that is animals, imply the presence of anna. He suggested that the one deva which exists to the end is Pran. Mrityu dies because Pran remains even when this phenomenal world ceases to be.

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