Smritichitre

By Lakshmibai Tilak

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In Ahmednagar, an ascetic came to stay at our house. He always spoke of other-worldly things. ‘God is bliss. He alone is truth. All else is false. The world is an illusion. Man is voluntarily drowning in it. He does not know where he has come from or where he is going. It is all an illusion. But he is lured by the illusion and goes after it, abandoning God. Wives, children, money, all such attachments are pure illusion and must be abandoned.’ Then he would say, ‘Let us serve people together. If we sold your house in Rahuri, we could use the money to buy a shop and use the profits from it to serve the people. That would make the needy strong.’

I always listened very attentively to what the ascetic said. Mr Tilak had been feeling burdened by the house in Rahuri. He too began to say that if we sold the house we would be able to use the money for a lot of welfare work. One day, there was no water in the house. There was a severe shortage of water in Ahmednagar. I went to where Mr Tilak was resting. The ascetic was sitting by him. I placed an empty pot of water in front of the ascetic. ‘Here you are, Buwa. You want to serve humanity, don’t you? There’s not a drop of water in the house today. Perhaps you, Dattu and Tara can go fetch some. Of course, it’s all a dream. An illusion. So there’s no reason to take it seriously.’

Buwa began to show a disinclination for the task. So I gave him another dose of medicine.

‘See Buwa, when I am roasting bhakris and I burn my hand, the blisters I get don’t appear to my eyes like an illusion. I can’t bear the pain. But since everything is an illusion to you, fetching water should cause you no pain. What objection could you have to that?’

When Buwa saw that Mr Tilak agreed with my reasoning, he got up instantly. He fetched a couple of potsful of water, moaning and groaning all the way. Then I said to him, ‘I realize that you have a deeply illusion-filled eye on our house in Rahuri. You’d best go your way tomorrow.’

Buwa left the next day but that did not save the Rahuri house from its evil stars. A certain Christian man was oppressed by debt. It was a rule in the American Mission that a man in debt should not be given a job. If this man lost his job as a result of his indebtedness, his condition would be worse. Mr Tilak’s heart began to bleed. But what use was a bleeding heart? What did we have in the house that we could give the man? And so once again, the Rahuri house began dancing before Mr Tilak’s eyes.

One day, Mr Tilak announced that he was going to Rahuri. He returned two or three days later. The day after he came back, he gave me six hundred rupees to keep. ‘This is Dr Hume’s money. Tomorrow such-and-such man will come to fetch it. Get him to sign a receipt for debt repaid and give him five hundred rupees.’ I was determined to discover what was going on.
‘If the money belongs to Dr Hume, why should we get an acknowledgement of debt? What does it mean?’

‘It means that Hume Saheb wants to keep the debt he is giving a secret from Mrs Hume.’

The man who was supposed to come came the following day. I gave him the money and got him to sign the acknowledgement of debt received. I kept the remaining hundred rupees aside. Then I began to hear stories of the Rahuri house having been sold. It had gone in style, complete with a dowry comprising all the stuff in it: chairs, benches, shelves, tripods, lamps, cots, cradle, all the coir ropes that Chimbaba and I had woven. The baby went and so did the bathwater.

The well alone had cost five hundred rupees to dig and build. The well went and with it the farm and the house. But we now had one hundred rupees. Moreover, we were going to save the six rupees that we used to pay Shahji Bhil every month. That was no mean profit.

I said to Mr Tilak, ‘Where is the money you got for the house?’

‘It is safe. With Dr Hume. Now don’t trouble me.’

‘And all the stuff in the house?’

‘Where were we going to keep it once the house was sold?’

‘You mean we were in such dire straits that you had to sell off the lamps and the cradle as well? Sorry. That’s unacceptable. I must have the lamps and cradle back. What inauspicious nonsense is this!’

‘What idiotic ideas you have.’

‘But what was the need to sell all those things?’

‘Don’t you understand? We were paying six rupees a month to Shahji, weren’t we?’

Two days later, Mrs Hume came to see me. I said to her, ‘Madam, I believe Mr Tilak has kept our six hundred rupees with you.’

‘What six hundred rupees?’

‘The price of our Rahuri house.’

‘Not at all. Mr Tilak gave that money to that man to pay off his debts.’

My face was worth seeing then. I faced Mr Tilak with this when he came back. He said, ‘Yes, I gave the money to him.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’

‘I would have liked to. But would you have let me give the money to him then?’

And so we lost the house, and I a lot of water from my eyes. All that remained was the gleam of memories. The five hundred rupees too were lost. What remained with us till recently was the receipt of debt repaid.

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