Chittadhar Hridaya

Chittadhar Hridaya

The house of Shankha Sunder, the business man, was humming with activity that day. Many young men came and went leaving behind their parting presents, while numerous women filed past the room carrying baskets full of boiled eggs, dried fish and wine -traditionally sent by friends and relatives as tokens of good luck to a person leaving on a long journey to Lhasa in Tibet. The gifts were received and identified by recording the names of each sender on pieces of paper and placed in appropriate baskets.

As evening fell the astrologer arrived to determine the auspicious time for departure. When he announced that 11:20 at night would be the favourable time, preparations for the farewell ritual got underway. A metal bowl and a pot of curd were placed on a heap of rice grains, while the lady of the house, Mrs. Latan Laxmi, wiping tears from her eyes, assembled the other puja items- the holy oil lamp, vermillion tikā powder, incense, flowers, boiled eggs, dried fish and wine.

The father and his son, Shashi Sunder, in the meanwhile spent some time in arranging business accounts, while their employees were busy packing the goods to be taken on the long horse-back
journey to Tibet. Everyone seemed anxious to have everything ready before departure time.

Shashi Sunder moved about from room to room restlessly, now sitting silently before his father and then hurrying to his room to talk to his wife Kumud Kumari. It was not impatience that he felt, but an emotional confusion in having to leave his home and family for the first time in his life. The thought of his wife’s sorrowful face and their newly-born son promised to make his leave-taking a painful one, but he struggled to maintain his manly spirit. Just then the family priest arrived, enquired about the appointed time and settled down to a quiet conversation with Shashi’s father.


During all these activities Kumud Kumari sat alone in her room lost in her thoughts. The lamp beside her flickered for want of oil but she was hardly aware of her immediate surroundings. Crosscurrents of distressing thoughts were passing through her mind. Her mother-in-law appeared to her as a foolish woman, her husband a man without feeling – totally unconcerned of his wife and child. Why do people run after money at the cost of domestic happiness? What is the value of money if this disrupted their married life? Men are cruel- they do not understand the inner feelings of a woman. Her patience and tolerance are too often taken for granted. She heaved a deep sigh and looked at her sleeping child. Her emotions seemed to overflow at the sight of the child, for drops of tears rolled down her face.

“Oh, what is to become of this child! Why must he leave us in this world of isolation? How long must I endure this torture of separation?” Her heart echoed these words over and over again, and embracing the sleeping child she wept bitterly. At that moment Shashi entered the room and said in a firm voice: “Look, you are still weeping. You are disrespecting this auspicious occasion by behaving in this way. Why do you make it difficult for me? I shall possibly be away for two years – no longer than that, I promise you. So why must you weep this way? You should be happy and wish me well in my business venture, but instead you obstruct me with your tears. You may need some money while I am away. Keep this with you.” Saying this Shashi dropped a small bag full of silver coins on her lap, looked back at her once more and left the room. This seemed to add fuel to the fire, for Kumud Kumari burst into tears again, this time sobbing loudly. “What does he mean by saying that I am obstructing him by weeping? Does he really expect me to be happy, smiling to see him leave? Only two years, says he, but two years is a
long time. This money I suppose is the price of my love. Why can’t a man really understand a woman’s heart?” so ran her desperate and put it away in one corner. She sighed heavily and started to sob
again. The lamp, as if unable to witness her sorrow any longer, flickered out, leaving the room in darkness.


Shortly later, the farewell ritual commenced when the other men to accompany Shashi to Lhasa arrived
after taking leave from their homes. The family priest chanted prayers invoking the gods to bless Shashi Sunder for his safe journey. The offerings of egg, fish, flowers and curd were made, while the gifts from friends and relatives were emptied one by one and a few coins dropped into each basket. Then the priest took the names of all the known deities sacred to the family and symbolic coin offerings were made to each. In conclusion, every member of the family starting from the eldest to the youngest approached Shashi to bid him farewell. Each was given a half-rupee coin as a mark of respect. Some of these coins were put into Shashi’s red cap as tokens of good luck.

Then came the turn of Kumud Kumari, but try as she might she could not advance towards her husband. She stood there like a statue, with her hand covering her mouth to suppress the irrepressible sobs which choked her throat, and her eyes were red and swollen with tears. Her mother-in-law sternly rebuked her for weeping and led her forward. She stretched out her hands without looking at her husband, and two coins were dropped into her palms. The feel of the coins seemed to pierce her heart for strangely enough, she, at that moment, was reminded of the exchange of gifts on the day of their marriage. She bowed her head to touch her husband’s feet, after which she was withdrawn from the scene to relieve the emotional tension of the final leave-taking.

The astrologer then appeared and reciting Tantric incantations, sprinkled holy water in all directions. Shashi Sunder then descended the stairs, accepting further offerings on each floor, and left the house through the main door where he dropped coins into the two water-filled pitchers placed on either side. As he walked away without looking back on the house, the image of his weeping wife embracing the child passed over his mind’s eye recurringly. It was only then that he felt the full impact of the separation.


One evening Kumud Kumari with her two year old son on her lap was reflecting on her past – her memory carrying her back to the days of her childhood, a few simple incidents in her life and finally
to her marriage. She had looked forward to a new and happy life after marriage, but the hope she once had no longer held out any promise. Her husband had been away for almost two years now and there was yet no indication of his returning in the near future. Her growing apprehension of a prolonged separation distressed her to the point of divorcing her from the normal realities of life. Her active imagination staged a tug-of-war in her mind, her dream of an ideal future conflicting with illusions of despair and frustration. When her husband comes back she will not welcome him with open arms nor will she allow her son to go to him. She will resent him until he feels fully sorry for the mental anguish he had caused her. But such a plan is soon transformed into meaningless fantasy, the practical and real seemed to elude her. Finally tired out by her brooding melancholia she fell asleep with her child still suckling at her breast. Towards the morning her sleep was disturbed by a strange dream. She dreamt that she was walking along a narrow road with her child in her arms when suddenly a herd of fierce-
looking buffaloes chased her. Looking back over her shoulder she fled for her life and instantly arrived on the bank of a swiftly flowing river. She ran on desperately along the river bank, and then up a steep hill where, to her horror, she found herself on the edge of a dark abyss, and unable to stop, she plunged headlong into its yawning depth. But before she struck the bottom, she woke up with a start, her face covered with cold sweat and her heart beating wildly.


That evening Sankha Sunder after his meal sat in his room writing a letter. His wife, sitting next to him with her grandson on her lap, said: “You should, I think, ask him to return to Nepal without much delay. I have had many bad dreams lately and I am not very happy about this.”

At this moment Kumud, after washing the dishes, came down to place a jug of drinking water in the room and overheard her mother-in-law’s remark. She immediately remembered her terrifying dream that morning and stood there in amazement listening to her mother-in-law speak those strange words. Before Kumud could leave the room, the family priest accompanied by an employee of another businessman in Tibet, entered the room without any warning.


Shankha Sunder although surprised by this unexpected visit welcomed them and asked them to sit down, while his wife stood up with her grandson and Kumud moved away to one corner. The visitors sat next to Shankha Sunder but did not venture to speak; both kept silent as if debating a dilemma in their minds. The suspense they created aroused deep suspicions in the minds of Shankha Sunder and his wife. They could not comprehend the purpose of their visit. The priest finally broke the silence as he spoke in a soft voice, “I see no point in further delaying the matter. The way of the world is inevitable, we must accept our fate.”

Kumud heard those words like a woman in a delirium; her head began to swim and her face turned white as a sheet. Although she failed to grasp any meaning in those vague words, her loudly beating heart signaled a premonition of something terrible. At this instant, the companion of the priest put his hand into his pocket and slowly produced a letter tied with white strings – the symbol of tragic news, the news of death.