CHAPTER - 10
When Jitendra returned from Mysore there was a problem waiting for him. It caused him a lot of anxiety.
It related to Fatima, Akbar Khan's daughter. There were two Muslim youths in Akbar Khan's village who were close relations to him. They both had been wanting to marry Fatima. They thought they had a claim on her because they all came of a common stock. But she had stubbornly refused to marry either the one or the other. They were rough characters of ill repute. They were persons with coarse manners, vulgar conduct, brutal behavior and frequenters of brothels. One of the reasons why Akbar Khan left the village was to protect the girl from their evil designs. The girl was ever in terror of them and she wouldn't like to be ever left alone. Both the fellows were a little better off than Akbar Khan and had lots of supporters and henchmen. The girl and her family felt a little safe only after they found refuge in the Ashram. But the two youths had found out where the girl was. And each without the knowledge of the other was hatching up plans to seize her and carry her off. Each was planning an outrage on her. Rape was uppermost in their minds.
One day when she was returning in her bicycle from a neighboring village after collecting the dues from a Milk Cooperative Society, one of the fellows intercepted her. It was a deserted spot far from the outskirts of the village. He attempted to molest her and forced his hands inside her clothes. She fought back. Fortunately when the fellow was about to overwhelm her, some passers-by happened to notice the struggle that was on, and came to the girl's rescue. The fellow took to heels and was presently out of sight. The girl, getting back on her bicycle, sped back in time to the safety of her home. That night she caught fever, kept muttering incoherently and could hardly sleep. For about a month she was not permitted to go alone anywhere. She was kept from stirring out of the Ashram premises.
When Jitendra learnt what had happened, he was much put out. He thought up the matter, but no solution was in sight. It was something too very grave. He was in a fix. He could ask the police to step in, but that would be no solution.
Two months had elapsed. And nothing happened. The girl was thought safe. Akbar Khan and the girl thought that the trouble-maker had come to his senses and withdrawn. But that was not true. He had only fallen back in order to prepare himself for a more discreet and deadlier attack. In the meantime the other fellow had become active.
There was an Urdu book shop in Haridwar. Fatima wanted to go and buy one or two Urdu books from the shop. She was an avid reader of Urdu romances. Akbar Khan accompanied her. The girl had selected and bought the books. Father and daughter were returning each on a bicycle. It was a cloudy evening and there was a drizzle. Suddenly the other fellow of the two fellows sprang on Akbar Khan from an ambush and started beating him up amid a shower of the dirtiest abuses. The old and withered Akbar Khan could hardly stand it. He sustained injuries and fell on the road. Before the girl could flee the brute caught her and pressed himself against her. Fumbling for her blouse he tore it into shreds. It was again a lonely spot. Again fortunately a passing bus suddenly stopped on sighting the incident. The passengers trooped out of the bus in great consternation and fury. When they tried to push him into the bus and thought of handing him over to law, he flourished a long knife. When the scared passengers retreated a step or two, the scoundrel made good his escape. Akbar Khan and Fatima were taken into the bus along with their bicycles. The bus was driven to the Ashram where Akbar Khan and Fatima were safely handed back to the Ashram staff. The two thanked the crew and the passengers. Jitendra was shocked and terribly upset.
Jitendra felt that the girl should be married off at once. Otherwise there were worse risks in store.
"Can't you find a decent boy for the girl, Akbar Khan? Have you anybody in view?"
"No. Swamiji, I have nobody in view. But I could find out some youngster if I go to places where Muslims live in large numbers. I know some places and a few marriage brokers. But they would ask for money, Swamiji".
Akbar Khan drew his breath hard and looked vacantly into space. He was too awfully worried. His unwinking eyes looked like dead. He looked at the Swamiji with an anguished face, he was near to breaking down.
"Don't worry about money, Akbar Khan. I will take care of it. Please go at once and find out two or three boys. They should be suitable matches. We will then ask the girl to choose".
There was a note of extreme urgency in Jitendra's voice.
Akbar Khan undertook the journey and didn't return for a week. When he returned, he reported failure. He was desperate and sadfaced. He had tried every source and could find no one. In certain places no eligible bachelor was available. In other places the one or two he could find laid down impossible conditions. No one was willing to contract a marriage from so poor a family as his.
Jitendra wanted to speak to the girl.
"Fatima, do you know anyone whom you would like to marry?"
"No, Swamiji, anyone you choose will be agreeable to me. But to be frank, Swamiji, I would like to stay single all my life, and faithfully serve the Ashram". Jitendra could see the worsening gloom on her face.
A fortnight passed. Jitendra slept badly. Often he stayed awake till midnight, wondering how he could get it over. What would the girl do when her parents were no more. They were already old and broken in health. She should be mated to some boy who would love her and protect her.
Raghunath, the disciple who was managing the bookstall, came and stood before the Swamiji, his arms folded against his chest in reverence. Jitendra looked up.
"Yes, Raghunath, what is the matter?"
Raghunath kept silent. Jitendra repeated the question twice or thrice. Raghunath was feeling nervous. He could not find speech. Then he spoke.
"If you have no objection, Swamiji, I am willing to marry Fatima".
Jitendra smiled, but still reflected.
"Do you think Fatima will agree? Does she love you?"
"Yes, Swamiji, we both love each other. But it is not romance. But it is intense mutual liking, just that, and nothing else, Swamiji. We have always kept our distance. We have never talked about marriage. We talk only about what concerns the bookstall".
"Will your parents agree?".
"I don't have parents, Swamiji".
"If you don't have parents there should be some one next of kin. Don't you have relatives interested in your future?"
"I have an uncle and aunt, Swamiji. But they are very educated and modern-minded. A very progressive couple. I will bring them over if the Swamiji wants to talk to them".
"No, Raghunath, you need not bring them over. Get their consent in writing".
Within a week the consent arrived by post.
In the meantime Jitendra talked to the girl in private. She had already been toying with the idea of taking Raghunath for her spouse. That she was only too glad of the idea strongly and unmistakably reflected in her face.
Akbar Khan and his wife felt joyous. They had absolutely no objection.
"We love Hinduism as much as we love Islam, Swamiji". Akbar Khan said in unconcealed exultation.
The period of discipleship of Raghunath was already drawing to a close. He was to leave the Ashram in a month.
The wedding was celebrated in Haridwar. The expenses were borne by the Ashram. Jitendra got Raghunath a decent job in a bank he knew. He presented the couple with a check for ten thousand rupees. He promised to help them whenever they felt in need of money.
The couple fell at his feet and took his blessings. They wept and wept till Jitendra comforted them and made them eat a small nice but a dainty feast. It was a feast for all the inmates of the Ashram.
Akbar Khan and his wife kept gazing at the Swamiji, their eyes wet with tears. Could there be a greater man on earth, a greater saint, a greater god?", They wondered.
Swami Jitendra advised them not to change their religions. She could continue to be a Muslim and he a Hindu. They should know that all religions pointed to the same God, they were all one, and they contained the same truths. Only they should learn contentment and happiness. They could learn by love. By ever growing love. By selfless love.
"Sacrifice each of you for the other. When you have children, sacrifice both of you all your self and everything for your children. Then you will see God. The God that is common to all. You will see Him in you. Then you will see yourselves as nothing but Him. That is the essence of religion. Go and be happy. Be happy for ever. God bless you".
Vashatkar had been regularly writing to Jitendra, but only the letters were beginning to sound more and more like the delirious ravings of a drunken man who had not the least grip over his senses, and knew not what he was talking. He was bursting with an impotent rage against the woman on whom he had placed all his reliance. He had fallen out with her. She had thrown him out of her house amid a hurricane of abuses and oaths. They had come very near to beating each other. But she had desisted at the last moment from physically assaulting him because she was already a very slender woman and at the moment was dieting on account of some ailments in the body. She was nothing before the bulk he had lately put on. And so that was the saving factor. But she had been behaving in a manner that was revolting to his self-esteem. But Vashatkar was not a very courageous man though he was a swashbuckler and believed in bravados. The woman, he said, had unjustly accused him of having seduced her sister. And that he had been having regularly an affair with her and with a few others. He was planning too to abduct one of her women-servants.
A good many painters and art-dealers to whom she was a favorite and some of the media-men to whom she had been distributing very generously her favors, had all now become his arch-rivals. But he assured Jitendra That he was not such an easy man to be thwarted or trifled with. He was a seasoned fighter and would fight to the last. He had been holding on very successfully to his trade as a painter amid the gales of wrath and opposition from his intriguing enemies and the whore of a woman who was marshaling all her forces against him. And that he would never relax his vengeance against her and would not rest till he split her body and soul apart. There were many fellow-artists who supported him and who took him to places they were accustomed to. What Vashatkar meant by this Jitendra did not know. But there was enough of it visible between the lines and the rest he could easily surmise. Vashatkar was now leading a much worse life than before and he was given to shameless bohemian orgies and an openly rakish life. Having become a sort of pauper, he had got into trouble with the police along with one or two of his intimates for their suspected liaison with some longtime smugglers. Some of this information came to Jitendra from his friends and relations in Benares too. And as usual all his letters ended with a lamentation on the paucity of funds he suffered from and a request for urgent dispatch of money. Jitendra made the remittances and sometimes very large ones. But he was too displeased.
Vashatkar's latest letter posed Jitendra a great problem. He had never known that Vashatkar was a debtor to a bank in Benares to a tune of about fifty thousand rupees which had remained unpaid for years and which, interest added, totaled up to a sum of ninety thousand rupees. Against this loan he had mortgaged his house in Benares which was quite a big and modern one. The bank had now obtained a court decree to attach the property, and the date of attachment and public auction had also been officially notified. It would take place in the next ten days.
Vashatkar had requested Jitendra in his letter to please sell the house at once, pay off the debt and send the balance to him urgently. He had also enclosed a deed of Power of Attorney conferring on Jitendra full and unlimited freedom in all the proceedings connected with the transaction. Jitendra had no time to wait. It became evident as days passed that the house wouldn't sell for more than forty thousand rupees because the prospective buyers suspected that there might still be undisclosed encumbrances on the property. Jitendra was left with no option except to buy the house himself. He bought it for a lakh of rupees in the name of the Ashram, paid up all the dues to the bank, and sent the remainder of the sale proceeds to Vashatkar by means of a bank-draft. Then the Ashram, on an auspicious day, took possession of the building. It had to be cleaned, whitewashed and done up.
There was in the building Vashatkar's large library. It contained very rare books on Art. A number of his Vashatkar’s paintings and remarkable copies of great masters he had made with his own hand were also there. Some of them hung on the walls and others were stacked on the floor along the walls. There was his well-equipped studio with costly outfits. There was a four- poster bed and valuable furniture. Jitendra decided to return all of them to Vashatkar. But till then they would remain in the building and in his custody. It was a very comfortable residence too. Jitendra whenever he went to Benares stayed part of the time in the house, reading and painting. And sometimes he slept the nights there. Jitendra made full use of the library.
The books in the library included complete writings of Walter Pater, Lives of the Artists by Vasari, Van Gogh's letters to Theo, Art-bulletins of the Louvre and other great museums of the world, books on Roman imperial Sculpture, Treatises on Renaissance Art, biographies of Rubens, Delacroix, Titian, Daumier, Rembrandt, Manet, Francis Goya, Courbet, Modigliani and others, more than forty albums of paintings by leading masters of Italy, France, Holland, Rumania, U. S. A. And Great Britain and other countries. There were books on Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian Art. There were also bundles of sheets containing Vashatkar's sketches and very enlightening notes on his pending projects. There were also essay collections of the latest research scholars on Tenebrism, Tachism, Fauvism, Illusionism, Impressionism and Classism and the like. On the whole the library was the testimony to an artist of extraordinary caliber. It had become a convenient den for Jitendra to study, to paint and think of Art.
One day as Jitendra was looking over certain papers and files in one of the steel almirahs in the first floor of the house, he happened to come across a copy of one mortgage deed by which Vashatkar had encumbered this house in favor of one woman by name Helen Rebecca who lived at Shahjahanpur which was about hundred miles or more from Benares. This was a second mortgage after he had borrowed money from the bank against this same property. It was quite possible that he would not have informed the woman that the house was already under hypothecation to a bank. He would have kept the bank too in ignorance of the second transaction. The second mortgage in favor of the woman was for a sum of rupees twenty thousand which he had borrowed in cash. The original mortgage deed was not available which meant that it was with the woman and that he had not yet discharged the debt. He had not made even part payment to the woman, for there was not any receipt from the woman to any such effect which Jitendra could find among those papers. And so Vashatkar had been playing a fraud. Jitendra thought he would pay up the debt and redeem the mortgage. The woman's address was there in the copy. He wrote an urgent letter asking the woman to come and meet him with the original mortgage deed at the Vasahatkar-house. He wanted to discharge the debt on behalf of Vashatkar, and get back the original document duly canceled by her. The woman arrived. She was a young woman of about twenty five. She had heard of Jitendra. Though a Christian, she had heard many of his lectures. She had read of his life. She had immense reverence for him. She would preserve his letter as a keepsake.
She told Jitendra at the very outset that she wanted to place before the Swamiji the full facts relating to how the mortgage deed came into existence. She said that she had not paid any money to Vashatkar. She was not therefore entitled to any money. The truth was that he had taken her virginity on the assurance that he would marry her. Later he refused. She begged him any number of times, fell at his feet and wept. Then she decided to commit suicide and that also she told him. He said he didn't care. Her parents too met him and tried to persuade him through repeated entreaties. But he wouldn't agree. Then he told them that if they troubled him any more he would put the police on all the three of them. Then naturally she had to forestall him. She went to the police and filed a complaint of rape against him. The police who seemed to have come across many of his misdeeds already lost no time in taking out criminal proceedings.
When he came to know of it he tried his best for a mutual settlement. But she sternly refused. Then he wrote her a letter saying that he would give her a sum of rupees twenty thousand as damages, and since he didn't have ready cash he would mortgage the house to her for the amount. She didn't reply to his letter. Then like one that had lost his senses he had executed the mortgage in her favor, registered the document and sent it on to her. He expected her to withdraw the police complaint. Before she could send him back the deed refusing to accede, he left India for Malaysia as he came to know that the police were after him with an arrest warrant. The woman told Jitendra that she would give him back the document canceling it and signing it. But she would not take any money, even a single paise. If the Swamiji wanted her to withdraw the police complaint, she would do that also.
Was she married? Yes, she was married. Her husband's name was Peter Joseph. Had she any children? Yes, she had one female child aged about three. Her name was Miranda. Would her husband agree to her giving back the document without taking any money? She said that she had already taken her husband's permission and that he too was of the same view. This man Vashatkar had taken only her virginity and not any money from her. Her virginity he could not return. She would prefer the criminal case pending against him to proceed. But for the sake of the Swamiji for whom she had boundless respect, she was prepared to abide by whatever he suggested. Jitendra insisted that she could take the twenty thousand rupees which she could use, and which she had every reason to accept. It would only be justice. But she was steadfast and would not be persuaded. Jitendra could not prevail upon the stubborn women.
Then he suggested to the woman to kindly withdraw her police complaint. The man was already in serious troubles in Malaysia, and at any time he would return to India. And he should not face fresh troubles here which might kill him. She agreed.
Then he told her he would light a candle in the hall. They should both kneel before it, and pray to Jesus begging Him to forgive the man. Jesus was the greatest Forgiver. He was a redeemer of Man from sin. She should also tell Jesus that she had forgiven him and that He should forgive him too. Then a candle was lighted and both knelt and prayed. Then Jitendra sent for one of his lawyers and instructed him to take the woman to the police station and the court, and arrange to withdraw all action against Vashatkar. It was done. Then the woman fell at Jitendra's feet and took his blessings and left.
But Jitendra put the sum of rupees twenty thousand in a bank in the name of the woman's child Miranda. The amount was to mature after twenty years when the bank would pay the amount to the child with interest. The Fixed Deposit receipt was sent to the woman by registered post with a letter thanking her profusely and invoking upon her the blessings of Jesus. Jitendra tore away the document which the woman had surrendered to him, and threw it into the waste bin.
Helen Rebecca was a woman without means. She had already been contending against a hard fate. She had told him her life. But her greatness had no bounds. There was Heaven in it, a revelation of God. Jitendra lost himself in a spate of sublime emotion.