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- The King of the Dark Chamber - 1/15 -


The King of the Dark Chamber

By Rabindranath Tagore

[Translated from Bengali to English by Kshitish Chandra Sen]

[New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914; Copyright, 1914, by Drama League of America, by The Macmillan Company]

I

[A street. A few wayfarers, and a CITY GUARD]

FIRST MAN. Ho, Sir!

CITY GUARD. What do you want?

SECOND MAN. Which way should we go? We are strangers here. Please tell us which street we should take.

CITY GUARD. Where do you want to go?

THIRD MAN. To where those big festivities are going to be held, you know. Which way do we go?

CITY GUARD. One street is quite as good as another here. Any street will lead you there. Go straight ahead, and you cannot miss the place. [Exit.]

FIRST MAN. Just hear what the fool says: "Any street will lead you there!" Where, then, would be the sense of having so many streets?

SECOND MAN. You needn't be so awfully put out at that, my man. A country is free to arrange its affairs in its own way. As for roads in our country--well, they are as good as non-existent; narrow and crooked lanes, a labyrinth of ruts and tracks. Our King does not believe in open thoroughfares; he thinks that streets are just so many openings for his subjects to fly away from his kingdom. It is quite the contrary here; nobody stands in your way, nobody objects to your going elsewhere if you like to; and yet the people are far from deserting this kingdom. With such streets our country would certainly have been depopulated in no time.

FIRST MAN. My dear Janardan, I have always noticed that this is a great fault in your character.

JANARDAN. What is?

FIRST MAN. That you are always having a fling at your country. How can you think that open highways may be good for a country? Look here, Kaundilya; here is a man who actually believes that open highways are the salvation of a country.

KAUNDILYA. There is no need, Bhavadatta, of my pointing out afresh that Janardan is blessed with an intelligence which is remarkably crooked, which is sure to land him in danger some day. If the King comes to hear of our worthy friend, he will make it a pretty hard job for him to find any one to do him his funeral rites when he is dead.

BHAVADATTA. One can't help feeling that life becomes a burden in this country; one misses the joys of privacy in these streets-- this jostling and brushing shoulders with strange people day and night makes one long for a bath. And nobody can tell exactly what kind of people you are meeting with in these public roads-- ugh!

KAUNDILYA. And it is Janardan who persuaded us to come to this precious country! We never had any second person like him in our family. You knew my father, of course; he was a great man, a pious man if ever there was one. He spent his whole life within a circle of a radius of 49 cubits drawn with a rigid adherence to the injunctions of the scriptures, and never for a single day did he cross this circle. After his death a serious difficulty arose--how cremate him within the limits of the 49 cubits and yet outside the house? At length the priests decided that though we could not go beyond the scriptural number, the only way out of the difficulty was to reverse the figure and make it 94 cubits; only thus could we cremate him outside the house without violating the sacred books. My word, that was strict observance! Ours is indeed no common country.

BHAVADATTA. And yet, though Janardan comes from the very same soil, he thinks it wise to declare that open highways are best for a country.

[Enter GRANDFATHER with a band of boys]

GRANDFATHER. Boys, we will have to vie with the wild breeze of the south to-day--and we are not going to be beaten. We will sing till we have flooded all streets with our mirth and song.

SONG.

/* The southern gate is unbarred. Come, my spring, come! Thou wilt swing at the swing of my heart, come, my spring, come! Come in the lisping leaves, in the youthful surrender of flowers; Come in the flute songs and the wistful sighs of the woodlands! Let your unfastened robe wildly flap in the drunken wind! Come, my spring, come! */

[Exeunt.]

[Enter a band of CITIZENS]

FIRST CITIZEN. After all, one cannot help wishing that the King had allowed himself to be seen at least this one day. What a great pity, to live in his kingdom and yet not to have seen him for a single day!

SECOND CITIZEN. If you only knew the real meaning of all this mystery! I could tell you if you would keep a secret.

FIRST CITIZEN. My dear fellow, we both live in the same quarter of the town, but have you ever known me letting out any man s secret? Of course, that matter of your brother's finding a hidden fortune while digging for a well--well, you know well enough why I had to give it out. You know all the facts.

SECOND CITIZEN. Of course I know. And it is because I know that I ask, could you keep a secret if I tell you? It may mean ruination to us all, you know, if you once let it out.

THIRD CITIZEN. You are a nice man, after all, Virupaksha! Why are you so anxious to bring down a disaster which as yet only may happen? Who will be responsible for keeping your secret all his life?

VIRUPAKSHA. It is only because the topic came up--well, then, I shall not say anything. I am not the man to say things for nothing. You had yourself brought up the question that the King never showed himself; and I only remarked that it was not for nothing that the King shut himself up from the public gaze.

FIRST CITIZEN. Pray do tell us why, Virupaksha.

VIRUPAKSHA. Of course I don't mind telling you--for we are all good friends, aren't we? There can be no harm. (With a low voice.) The King--is--hideous to look at, so he has made up his mind never to show himself to his subjects.

FIRST CITIZEN. Ha! that's it! It must be so. We have always wondered ... why, the mere sight of a King in all countries makes one's soul quake like an aspen leaf with fear; but why should our King never have been seen by any mortal soul? Even if he at least came out and consigned us all to the gibbet, we might be sure that our King was no hoax. After all, there is much in Virupaksha's explanation that sounds plausible enough.

THIRD CITIZEN. Not a bit--I don't believe in a syllable of it.

VIRUPAKSHA. What, Vishu, do you mean to say that I am a liar?

VISHU. I don't exactly mean that--but I cannot accept your theory. Excuse me, I cannot help if I seem a bit rude or churlish.

VIRUPAKSHA. Small wonder that you can't believe my words--you who think yourself sage enough to reject the opinions of your parents and superiors. How long do you think you could have stayed in this country if the King did not remain in hiding? You are no better than a flagrant heretic.

VISHU. My dear pillar of orthodoxy! Do you think any other King would have hesitated to cut off your tongue and make it food for dogs? And you have the face to say that our King is horrid to look at!

VIRUPAKSHA. Look here, Vishu. will you curb your tongue?

VISHU. It would be superfluous to point out whose tongue needs the curbing.

FIRST CITIZEN. Hush, my dear friends--this looks rather bad.... It seems as if they are resolved to put me in danger as well. I am not going to be a party to all this.[Exit.]

[Enter a number of men, dragging in GRANDFATHER, in boisterous exuberance]

SECOND CITIZEN. Grandpa, something strikes me to-day ...

GRANDFATHER. What is it?


The King of the Dark Chamber - 1/15

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