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How will you use it? But now that the deed had been followed by that unexpected moment of silence, a craving for life which he had not realized was in him drew him back from the abyss. A primitive instinct took possession of his senses and his limbs, drove him into the depths of the woods and the bamboo thickets, commanded him to flee and hide. A wareness of what was happening came to him only after he had reached a refuge and was safe from immediate danger.
As he collapsed exhausted, struggling for breath, his frenzy giving way to weakness and sobriety, he felt disappointment and revulsion at having escaped. But when his breathing slowed and his dizziness passed, this repugnance yielded to a defiant determination to live, and once more his heart gloried savagely in the deed. T he hunt for the killer began. Soon searchers were swarming through the woods. They beat the thickets throughout the day, and he evaded them only because he kept utterly still in his hiding place in the marsh, which no one dared penetrate too deeply for fear of tigers.
He slept a little, lay on the alert for a while, crawled on a bit, rested again, and by the third day had made his way beyond the hills, whence he pushed on toward the higher mountains. T he homeless life he led thereafter took him here and there. It made him harder and more callous, but also wiser and more resigned. Nevertheless, during the nights he repeatedly dreamed of Pravati and his former happiness, or what he had in the past called his happiness.
Through forest and swamp and briers, over rotting, collapsing bridges, he would be carrying something, a burden, a bale, something wrapped up, concealed, unknown. All he knew about it was that it was precious and that under no circumstances must he let it out of his hands; it was something valuable and imperiled, a treasure, perhaps something stolen, wrapped in a bright cloth with a russet and blue pattern, such as Pravati's holiday dress had been.
Laden with this pack, this treasure, or these stolen goods, he would be fleeing and skulking, amid toil and danger, creeping under low-hanging branches or overhanging rocks, stealing past snakes and crossing rivers full of crocodiles on vertiginous narrow planks, until at last he stopped in exhaustion, fumbled with the knot of the string that tied his pack, slowly unwrapped the cloth and spread it out, and the treasure he took out at last and held in shuddering hands was his own head.
H e led the stealthy life of a vagabond, no longer actually fleeing from people, but rather avoiding them. And one day his roaming led him through a hilly region of lush grass which looked lovely and serene and seemed to welcome him, as though he ought to know it. In one place he recognized a meadow with softly swaying grasses in flower, in another a willow grove which reminded him of the serene and innocent days when he had not yet known love and jealousy, hatred and revenge.
It was the pastureland where he had once tended the herd with his companions; that had been the most untroubled period of his youth. Now he looked back upon it across vast chasms of irrevocability. A sweet melancholy in his heart answered the voices that welcomed him here, the wind fluttering the silvery willows, the jolly song of the little brooks, the trilling of the birds, and the deep golden buzz of bumblebees.
It all sounded and smelled of refuge, home; never before, used as he was to the roaming herdsman's life, had he ever felt that a countryside was so homelike, so much part of him. A ccompanied and guided by these voices in his soul, with feelings like those of a soldier home from the wars, he wandered about this pleasant landscape, for the first time in many terrible months not a stranger, a fugitive, a candidate for death, but with an open heart, thinking of nothing, desiring nothing, surrendering utterly to the tranquil present, grateful and somewhat astonished at himself and at this new, unwonted, rapturous state of mind, this undemanding receptivity, this serenity without tensions, this new mode of taking delight in close observation.
He felt drawn to the forest which lay beyond the green meadows. In among the trees, amid the dusk speckled by sunlight, the feeling of returning home intensified, and led him along paths which his feet seemed to find by themselves, until he passed through a fern thicket, a dense little forest of ferns in the midst of the greater woods, and reached a tiny hut.
On the ground in front of the hut sat the motionless yogi whom he had once watched, and to whom he had brought milk and butter. D asa stopped, as if he had just awakened. Everything here was the same as it had been; here no time had passed, there had been no killing and suffering. Here, it seemed, time and life were hard as crystal, frozen in eternity. He stood looking at the old man, and there returned to his heart that admiration, love, and longing which he had felt upon his first sight of the yogi.
He looked at the hut and thought that it probably needed some repairs before the onset of the next rainy season. Then he ventured a few cautious steps forward. He entered the hut and peered around. There was little there, almost nothing: a pallet of leaves, a gourd containing some water, and an empty pouch made of bast. He took the pouch and went into the woods searching for food. He returned with fruit and the sweet pith of certain trees. Then he went off with the gourd and filled it with fresh water.
N ow he had done all that could be done here.
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There was so little a man needed to live. Dasa kneeled on the ground and sank into reveries. He was content with this silent repose and dreaming in the woods, content with himself, with the voice within him that had led him here where as a boy he had once sensed something like peace, happiness, and home.
A nd so he remained with the silent yogi. He renewed the pallet of leaves, found food for the two of them, repaired the old hut, and began building a second for himself a short distance away. The old man appeared to tolerate him, but Dasa could not quite make out whether he had actually taken notice of him. When he rose from his meditation, it was only in order to go to sleep in the hut, to eat a bite, or to walk a bit in the woods.
Dasa lived with him like a servant in the presence of a nobleman, or rather the way a small pet, a tame bird or a mongoose, say, lives along with human beings, useful and scarcely noticed. Since he had been a fugitive for so long, unsure of himself, suffering pangs of conscience, seeking concealment and perpetually fearing pursuit, this life of repose, the effortless small labors and the presence of a man who did not seem to notice him, did him a great deal of good for a while.
His sleep was not troubled by frightful dreams; for half and then whole days at a time he forgot what had happened. The future did not enter his mind, and if ever a longing or desire came to him, it was to remain where he was, to be accepted by the yogi and initiated into the secret of a hermit's life, to become a yogi himself and partake of the proud indifference of yoga.
He had begun to imitate the venerable ascetic's posture, to sit motionless like him with crossed legs, like him to gaze into an unknown and superreal world, and to cultivate apathy to everything around him. Whenever he made such attempts, he tired quickly; he found his limbs stiff and his back aching, was plagued by mosquitoes or bothered by all sorts of itches and twitches which compelled him to move, to scratch himself, and finally to stand up again. But several times he had felt something different, a sense of emptiness, lightness, and floating in air, such as sometimes comes in dreams in which we touch the ground only lightly now and then, gently pushing off from it to drift like a wisp of fluff.
At such moments he had an inkling of what it must be like to float about that way all the time, body and soul divesting themselves of all weight and sharing the movements of a greater, purer, sunnier life, exalted and absorbed by a beyond, by timelessness and immutability. But these intimations had lasted only a moment. And every time he plummeted back into his ordinary self, disappointed, he thought that he must persuade the master to become his teacher, to initiate him into his exercises and secret arts and make a yogi of him also. But how was he to do that? It did not seem as if the old man would ever notice him, that there would ever be an exchange of words between them.
Just as the yogi seemed beyond the day and hour, beyond the forest and hut, he also seemed beyond all words. N evertheless, one day he spoke a word. There came a time during which Dasa again dreamt night after night, often bewilderingly sweet and often bewilderingly dreadful dreams, either of his wife Pravati or the horrors of life as a fugitive.
And by day he made no progress, could not long endure sitting and practicing, could not help thinking about women and love. He tramped about the forest a great deal.
He blamed the weather for his condition; these were sultry days with sudden gusts of hot wind. O ne more such bad day came. The mosquitoes hummed. Dasa had had another of his anguished dreams that left him with a sense of fear and oppression. He no longer remembered it, but upon waking it seemed to him that it had been a wretched, outrageous, and shameful relapse into earlier states and stages of his life. All day long he moved restively about the hut, or squatted gloomily. He dabbed at odd tasks, several times sat down for meditation exercises, but would each time be seized by a feverish unrest.
His limbs twitched, he felt as if ants were crawling over his feet, had a burning sensation in the nape of his neck, and was unable to endure stillness for more than a few moments. Now and then he cast shy and ashamed glances at the old man, who sat in the perfect posture, eyes turned inward, face floating above his body in inviolable serenity like the head of a flower.
O n this day, when the yogi rose and turned toward the hut, Dasa went up to him. He had waited long for this moment, and now blocked his way and with the courage of fear addressed him. As you see, I am still young, but I have already tasted much suffering. Destiny has played cruelly with me. I was born to be a prince and cast out to become a herdsman. I became a herdsman, grew up, strong and happy as a young bull, innocent in my heart. Then my eyes were opened to women, and when I beheld the most beautiful of them, I put my life at her service.
Not to possess her would have killed me. I left my companions, the herdsmen. I sued for Pravati's hand, was granted it, became a son-in-law, and labored hard for her. But Pravati was mine and loved me, or so I thought. Every evening I returned to her arms, lay upon her heart. Then, behold, the Rajah came to the neighborhood, the same on whose account I had been cast out as a child. He came and took Pravati from me; I was condemned to see her in his arms. That was the greatest agony I have ever experienced; it changed me and my whole life.
I slew the Rajah. I killed and led the life of a criminal and fugitive. Every man's hand was against me; my life was not safe for an hour until I stumbled upon this place. I am a foolish man, reverend father; I am a killer and perhaps may still be caught and drawn and quartered. I can no longer endure this terrible life; I want to be done with it. T he yogi had listened quietly to this outburst, with downcast eyes.
Now he opened them and fixed his gaze upon Dasa's face, a bright, piercing, almost unbearably firm, composed, and lucid gaze. And while he studied Dasa's face, seemingly pondering his tale, his mouth slowly twisted into a smile, then a laugh. Soundlessly laughing, he shook his head, and said: "Maya! U tterly bewildered and shamed, Dasa stood stock still. The yogi, before his evening meal, took a short walk on the narrow path that led into the ferns. With quiet, rhythmic step he paced back and forth.
After several hundred paces, he returned and entered his hut. His face was once more as it had always been, turned toward something other than the world of appearances. What had been the meaning of the laugh breaking through that impassive countenance? Had that terrible laughter at Dasa's anguished confession and plea been benevolent or mocking, comforting or condemning, divine or demonic? Had it been merely the cynical bleat of an old man no longer able to take things seriously, or the amusement of a sage at another's folly?
Had it been rejection, farewell, dismissal? Or was it meant as advice, an invitation to Dasa to follow his example and join in his laughter? Dasa could not solve the riddle. Late into the night he continued to ponder the meaning of this laughter with which the old man seemed to have summed up his life, his happiness, and his misery. His thoughts chewed on it as if it were a tough root that somehow had a hidden savor. And likewise he chewed upon and pondered and mulled over the word that the old man had called out so loudly, so laughingly and gaily and with such incomprehensible amusement: "Maya!
Beautiful Pravati was Maya; love and its delights were Maya; all life was Maya. B ut although the yogi might be able to dismiss Dasa's life with laughter and the word Maya, Dasa himself could not. Much as he might wish to become a laughing yogi himself, and to see his own life as nothing but Maya, the whole of that life had been roused in him once more during these restive days and nights. He remembered now all the things he had nearly forgotten when he found refuge here after the stresses of his life as a fugitive. There seemed to him only the slightest hope that he would ever be able to learn the art of yoga, let alone to become as adept at it as the old man himself.
It had been an asylum; he had recuperated a bit and gathered strength, had come to his senses somewhat. That was something, was in fact a great deal. And perhaps out in the country the hunt for the Rajah's murderer had ended and he could continue his wanderings without any great danger. H e decided to do so. He would depart next day. The world was vast; he could not remain in this hiding place forever. H e had intended to leave at dawn. But when he awoke after a long sleep the sun was already high in the sky.
The yogi had begun his meditation, and Dasa did not want to leave without bidding good-by. Moreover, he still had a request to make. And so he waited, hour after hour, until the man rose, stretched his limbs, and began his pacing. Then Dasa once more blocked his way, bowed repeatedly, and obstinately remained until the master directed an inquiring look at him.
I shall no longer disturb your tranquility. But permit me a request this one last time, venerable father.
How will you use it?
When I told you about my life, you laughed and exclaimed, 'Maya! T he yogi turned toward the hut, his eyes commanding Dasa to follow. Picking up the water gourd, the old man held it out to Dasa, signing to him to wash his hands. Obediently, Dasa did so. Then the master poured the remainder of the water into the ferns, held the gourd out to Dasa once again, and asked him to fetch fresh water.
Dasa obeyed. He ran, emotions of parting tugging at his heart, for the last time down the little footpath to the spring. For the last time he carried the light husk with its smooth, worn rim to the little pool which so often reflected in scattered flecks of light the muzzles of deer, the arching of treetops, and the sweet blue of the sky.
Now, as he stooped over it, it reflected for the last time his own face in the russet dusk. He dipped the gourd slowly and thoughtfully into the water, feeling a weird sense of uncertainty. He could not understand why, or why it had hurt him, since he meant to leave anyhow, that the old man had not asked him to stay a while longer, or perhaps stay forever.
C rouching by the brink of the spring, he took a drink. Then he rose, holding the gourd carefully so as not to spill any of the water. He was about to return along the path when his ear caught a tone that both delighted and horrified him. This was the voice he had heard in so many of his dreams, that he had remembered with such bitter longing in many a waking hour. It coaxed so sweetly, sounded so charming, so childlike and loving in the dusk of the forest, that his heart shivered with fright and pleasure.
It was his wife Pravati's voice.
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He dropped the gourd and ran toward her. Smiling, somewhat abashed, she stood before him, looking up at him with her big doe's eyes. As he approached he saw that she wore red leather sandals and a beautiful, costly dress. There was a gold bracelet on her arm, and precious stones flashed in her black hair. He checked his stride. Was she still a rajah's concubine? Had he not killed Nala? Was she still going about with his gifts? How could she come before him adorned with these clasps and gems and dare to call his name?
B ut she was lovelier than ever, and before he had time to demand an explanation he could not resist taking her into his arms, pressing his forehead against her hair, raising her face and kissing her mouth; and as he did so he felt that everything had returned to him, that everything was his once more, all that he had ever possessed, his happiness, love, lust, joy in life, passion. All his thoughts had already moved far from the forest and the old hermit; the woods, the hermitage, meditation, and yoga had vanished, were forgotten.
He gave not another thought to the old man's gourd, which he was to bring back filled with water.
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It remained where he had dropped it by the spring as he rushed toward Pravati. And she, for her part, began hastily to tell him how it was she had come here, and all that had happened in the interval. H er story was astonishing, astonishing and delightful, like a fairy tale, and Dasa plunged into his new life as if it were a fairy tale. Pravati was his again; the odious Rajah Nala dead. The pursuit of the murderer had long since ceased.
But more than all that, Dasa, the prince who had become a herdsman, had been proclaimed the rightful heir and ruler. In the city an old herdsman and an old Brahman had revived the almost forgotten story of his expulsion and made it the talk of the country. He who had been hunted high and low to be tortured and executed as Nala's murderer was now being sought much more ardently throughout the land, so that he could be brought solemnly to his father's palace and installed as Rajah. I t was like a dream, and what pleased the amazed Dasa most was the pretty chance that of all the seekers sent about the country, it had been Pravati who had found him and been the first to salute him.
On the edge of the forest he found tents erected. The smell of smoke and roasting game filled the air. Pravati was joyously hailed by her retinue, and a great feast began at once when she presented Dasa, her husband. Among the throng was a man who had been Dasa's companion in his days as a herdsman. It was he who had led Pravati and the retinue here, with the thought that Dasa might be found at one of the places dear to him from earlier days.
The man laughed with pleasure when he recognized Dasa. He ran up to him, ready to embrace him or give him a friendly pat on the back. But his fellow herdsman had become a rajah, and he stopped as if suddenly numbed, then moved slowly and respectfully forward and bowed low. Dasa raised him, clasped him to his breast, affectionately called him by name, and asked how he could reward him. The herdsman wanted a heifer calf, and three were promptly assigned to him from the Rajah's best stock. M ore and more people were introduced to the new prince: officials, huntsmen, court Brahmans. He received their salutations.
A meal was served; music of drums, sitars, and nose-flutes sounded; and all the festivity and pomp seemed to Dasa like a dream. He could not fully believe in it. For the present the only reality seemed to him Pravati, his young wife, whom he again held in his arms. M oving by small daily stages, the procession approached the capital city. Runners had been sent ahead to announce that the young Rajah had been found and was on his way. The city resounded with the boom of gongs and drums as Dasa and his retinue approached. A white-clad parade of Brahmans came forward to meet him, headed by the successor of that Vasudeva who some twenty years before had sent Dasa to the herdsmen.
The old man had died only recently. The Brahmans hailed the new Rajah, sang hymns, and led him to the palace, where several great sacrificial fires had been lit. Dasa was shown into his new home. There were more welcomings, homages, benedictions, and speeches. Outside the palace, the city celebrated joyfully until late into the night. I nstructed daily by two Brahmans, Dasa quickly acquired the knowledge necessary to a ruler. He attended sacrifices, pronounced judgments, and practiced the arts of chivalry and war.
A Brahman named Gopala taught him politics. He explained the position of his house and its regal privileges, what claims his future sons would have, and who were his enemies. The principal one was Nala's mother who in the past had robbed Prince Dasa of his rights and had sought to take his life, and who now must certainly hate her son's murderer. She had fled to the protection of their neighbor, Prince Govinda, and was living in his palace. This Govinda and his house had been dangerous foes from time immemorial.
They had made war upon Dasa's forefathers and claimed certain parts of his territory. On the other hand the Prince of Gaipali, Dasa's neighbor to the south, had been friendly with his father and had always disliked Rajah Nala. Visiting him, lavishing gifts upon him, and inviting him to the next great hunt belonged among Dasa's important duties.
T he lady Pravati had rapidly adapted to the ways of the nobility. She had the bearing of a princess, and in her beautiful dresses and jewelry she looked splendid, as if she sprang from as fine a lineage as her husband. Year after year they lived together in harmonious love, and their happiness gave them a certain glow, like those whom the gods favor, so that the people adored them.
And when, after long waiting, Pravati at last bore him a beautiful boy to whom he gave his father's name, Ravana, his happiness was complete. All that he possessed, all the land and power, the estates and barns, dairies, cattle, and horses, acquired a fresh importance in his eyes, an added glory and value.
His wealth had pleased him because it could be lavished on Pravati, whose loveliness could be enhanced with apparel and jewelry. Now his rich possessions delighted him all the more, and seemed far more important, because he saw in them his son Ravana's inheritance and future happiness. P ravati's chief pleasures lay in festivals, parades, and pomp, luxury in dress and finery, and a large corps of servants.
Dasa preferred the joys of his garden. He had ordered rare and precious trees and flowers planted there, and stocked the grounds with parrots and other brilliantly plumaged birds. Feeding and talking with these pets became one of his daily pleasures. In addition, learning attracted him. He proved a grateful pupil of the Brahmans, learned to read and write, memorized many poems and proverbs, and kept a personal scribe who understood the art of making scrolls out of palm leaves. Under the scribe's skillful hands a modest library grew. The books were kept in a small opulent room with gilded paneling of precious woods, carved with reliefs representing incidents in the lives of the gods.
Here he sometimes invited his Brahmans, the foremost scholars and thinkers among the priests, to conduct disputations on sacred subjects: on the creation of the world and on great Vishnu's Maya, on the holy Vedas, the power of sacrifice, and the still greater power of penance, by virtue of which a mortal man can make the very gods tremble with fear of him.
Those Brahmans who had spoken best and advanced the most elegant arguments received fine gifts. As the prize for a successful disputation, some departed leading away a fine cow. On occasion there was something both ridiculous and touching when great scholars, who a few moments before had been reciting maxims from the Vedas along with brilliant exegeses of the same, or who had just proved the depth of their knowledge of all the heavens and seas, stalked off swollen with pride in their awards, or fell to bickering with one another over their prizes.
I n general, for all his happiness, his wealth, his garden, and his books, Prince Dasa at times could not help regarding everything that pertained to human life and human nature as both strange and dubious, at once touching and ridiculous, like those same sagacious and vain Brahmans, at once bright and dark, desirable and contemptible. When his gaze dwelt on the lotus flowers in the ponds of his garden, on the lovely iridescent plumage of his peacocks, pheasants, and rhinoceros birds, on the gilded carvings of his palace, these things sometimes seemed to him virtually divine, aglow with the fires of eternal life.
But other times, and even at the same times, he sensed in them something unreal, unreliable, questionable, a tendency toward perishability and dissolution, a readiness to relapse into formlessness, into chaos. Just as he himself had been a prince, became a herdsman, descended to the nadir of a murderer and outlaw, and ultimately became a prince once more, moved and guided by unknown powers, with all his tomorrows forever uncertain, so life's wayward Maya everywhere contained simultaneously nobility and baseness, eternity and death, grandeur and absurdity.
Even his beautiful, beloved Pravati had sometimes, for brief moments, appeared to him in a ludicrous light, stripped of her charm; she wore too many bracelets, had too much of pride and triumph in her eyes, and tried too hard to move majestically. E ven dearer to him than his garden and his books was his son Ravana, the fulfillment of his love and his life, the object of his tenderness and solicitude. He was a true prince, a lovely, delicate child, doe-eyed like his mother and inclined to pensiveness and reverie like his father. Often, when Dasa saw the boy standing for a long time in front of one of the ornamental trees in the garden, or sitting on a rug, absorbed in contemplation of a stone, a carved toy, or a feather, eyebrows slightly raised and eyes staring quietly, somewhat absently, it seemed to him that this son was very like himself.
Dasa realized fully how intensely he loved him the first time that he had to leave the boy for an indefinite period. O ne day a messenger arrived from the frontier region where his land bordered on that of his neighbor Govinda and reported that Govinda's men had launched a raid, stolen cattle, and even kidnapped a number of Dasa's subjects. Dasa immediately made his preparations. He took with him the colonel of his bodyguard and a few dozen horses and men, and set off in pursuit of the raiders.
The moment before he rode off, he took his small son into his arms and kissed him; and love flared in his heart like a fiery pang. The force of that pang surprised him; it affected him like some bidding from the unknown; and during the long ride his reflections on it ripened into understanding. For as he rode he pondered the reason he was sitting in the saddle and galloping so sternly and swiftly over the countryside. What power, he wondered, was causing him to undertake such efforts? Pondering, he realized that at the bottom of his heart it was of small concern to him that cattle and men should have been snatched from him somewhere on his borders.
Thievery and the flouting of his authority could not suffice to kindle his rage and spur him to action. It would have been more natural to him to have dismissed the news of the raid with a compassionate smile. But to have done so, he knew, would have been to commit a bitter injustice to the messenger. The poor fellow had run all the way with his news until he was ready to drop with exhaustion. No less would he have wronged the people who had been captured and who were now prisoners, carried away from their homes and their peaceful life into foreign slavery. Moreover, all his other subjects, though they had not been harmed in the least, would also have felt wronged.
They would have resented his passivity, not understanding why the prince could not protect his country better. They took it for granted that if violence were done to any of them they could count upon their ruler for aid and vengeance. H e realized that it was his duty to undertake this expedition of reprisal. But what is duty? How many duties there are that we so often neglect without the slightest compunction? What was the reason that this duty of vengeance was no trivial one, that he could not neglect it, and that in fact he was not performing it perfunctorily and halfheartedly, but with zest and passion?
As soon as the question arose in his mind, his heart answered it, for once again it quivered with that pang he had felt on parting from little Prince Ravana. If the Rajah, he realized, made no resistance when cattle and people were taken from him, robbery and violence would spread from the borders of his country closer and closer to the center, and ultimately the enemy would stand directly before him and would strike him where he was prone to the bitterest pain: in the person of his son. They would take his son, his successor, from him; they would carry the boy off and kill him, perhaps under torture; and that would be the most extreme suffering he could ever experience, even worse, far worse, than the death of Pravati herself.
So that was the reason he was riding off so zealously and was so dutiful a sovereign. Not from concern for the loss of cattle and land, not from kindness for his subjects, not from ambition to match his father's noble name, but out of intense, painful, irrational love for this child, and out of intense, irrational fear of the pain he would feel at the loss of this child.
T hus far he had come in understanding during that ride. He had not, however, managed to apprehend and punish Govinda's men. They escaped with their booty, and in order to show his determination and prove his courage he himself now had to raid across the border, damage one of his neighbor's villages, and carry off some cattle and a few slaves. H e had been away many days. On the homeward ride, a victor, he had again sunk into meditation, and returned home very quietly and rather sorrowful. For in the course of his meditations he had realized how entirely ensnared he was, without any hope of escaping; his whole nature and all his actions were caught and being strangled in a diabolic net.
While his leaning toward philosophy, his love for quiet contemplation and a life of innocence and inaction, were constantly growing, there was likewise growing from another source his love for Ravana, his anxiety about his son's life and future, an equally forceful compulsion to action and entanglement. Out of affection grew conflict, out of love war.
Already, in the effort to mete out justice, he had seized a herd, terrified a village, and forcibly carried off poor innocent people. Out of that, of course, would grow a new act of vengeance, new violence, and so on and on until his whole life and his whole country were plunged in warfare and violence and the clash of arms. It was this insight, or vision, which made him so silent and sorrowful upon his homecoming. H e had been right, for the hostile neighbor gave him no peace. The incursions and raids were repeated.
Dasa had to march out again for reprisals and defense, and when the enemy withdrew, his own soldiers and chasseurs had to be turned upon the neighboring people. Mounted and armed men were more and more a familiar sight in the capital. In a good many frontier villages there were now permanent garrisons of soldiers on guard. Military conferences and preparations troubled Dasa's days. He could not see what purpose this endless guerrilla warfare served; he grieved for the plight of the victims, for the lives of the dead.
He grieved because more and more he had to neglect his garden and his books. He grieved for the lost peace of his days and his heart. Often he spoke with Gopala, the Brahman, about these matters, and sometimes with his wife Pravati. S hould they not ask one of the respected neighboring princes to act as mediator? For his part he would gladly help to bring about peace by conciliation and surrendering a few pastures and villages. He was disappointed and somewhat angered when neither the Brahman nor Pravati would hear of anything of the kind. H is difference of opinion with Pravati on this question led to an extremely violent quarrel, and ended with a serious estrangement.
Insistently, he pleaded his points with her. But she behaved as if every word were directed not against the war and the useless killing, but solely against herself. In a verbose, furious retort she declared that it was precisely the enemy's aim to take advantage of Dasa's good nature and love of peace not to say his fear of war ; the enemy would persuade him to conclude one peace treaty after another, each paid for in small concessions of territory and population.
And in the end he would still not be satisfied, but as soon as Dasa was sufficiently weakened, would return to open war and seize everything that was left to him. She was not concerned about herds and villages, merits and demerits, but with the fate of the whole, their survival or annihilation. And if Dasa did not know what he owed to his dignity, his son, and his wife, she would have to be the one to teach him. Her eyes blazed; her voice shook; it was long since he had seen her so beautiful and so passionate, but he felt only sorrow.
M eanwhile the border raids and breaches of peace continued; they came to a temporary end only with the beginning of the rainy season. By now there were two factions at Dasa's court. One side, the peace party, was very small; aside from Dasa it numbered only a few of the older Brahmans. These were all learned men absorbed in their meditations. But the war party, the party of Pravati and Gopala, had the majority of priests and all the army officers on its side. The country armed feverishly, and it was known that the hostile neighbor was doing the same.
The chief huntsman instructed Prince Ravana in the art of the bow, and his mother took him along to every inspection of troops. D uring this period Dasa sometimes thought of the forest where he had lived for a while as a poor fugitive, and of the white-haired old hermit who lived there absorbed in contemplation.
Sometimes he felt a desire to call upon the yogi, to see him again and ask his advice. But he did not know whether the old man was still living, nor whether he would listen and give counsel. And even if he were alive and would advise, everything would nevertheless take its course. Nothing could be changed. Meditation and wisdom were good, were noble things, but apparently they throve only on the margin of life.
If you swam in the stream of life and struggled with its waves, your acts and suffering had nothing to do with wisdom. They came about of their own accord, were fated, and had to be done and suffered. Even the gods did not live in eternal peace and eternal wisdom. They too experienced danger and fear, struggle and battle; that he knew from the many tales of the gods. A nd so Dasa yielded. He no longer contended with Pravati. He reviewed the troops, saw the war coming, anticipated it in debilitating dreams, and as his body grew leaner, and his face darker, he saw his happiness fading, his gaiety shriveling.
There remained only his love for his son. That increased along with his anxiety, increased along with the arming and the drilling of soldiers. It was the flaming red flower in his parching garden. He wondered at how much emptiness and joylessness a man could endure, at how easy it was to grow accustomed to care and gloom, and he also wondered that so anxious and solicitous a love could so painfully dominate a life that had seemingly lost the capacity for passion.
Although his life might be meaningless, it was certainly not without a center; it revolved around his love for his son. It was on Ravana's account that he rose from his bed in the morning and spent his days in occupations and exertions directed solely toward war, and therefore repugnant to him. On Ravana's account he patiently conferred with his generals, and withstood majority opinion only to the extent that he prevailed on them to wait and see, not plunge recklessly into adventures.
J ust as his joys, his garden, and his books had gradually deserted him, so he was also deserted by those who for so many years had shaped his happiness and represented his pleasures. It had begun with politics, with Pravati's passionate speech excoriating his fear of sinning and love of peace, almost openly calling all that cowardice. She had spoken with flushed cheeks and in fiery phrases of heroism, a prince's honor, and the prospect of disgrace.
At that time, stunned and with a sense of giddiness, he had suddenly realized how far his wife had become estranged from him, or he from her. Ever since, the gulf between them had widened. It was still growing, and neither of them did anything to check its growth. Or rather, it should have fallen to Dasa to do something about it. For only he saw the gulf for what it was. In his imagination it more and more grew into the gulf of gulfs, became a cosmic abyss between man and woman, between yes and no, between soul and body.
In retrospect he thought he saw the whole thing with complete clarity. He remembered how Pravati, magically beautiful, had captivated him until he parted with his friends, gave up his carefree life as a herdsman, and for her sake lived as a servant in an alien world, the son-in-law in the house of unkind people who exploited his infatuation to extract labor from him. Then Nala had come along, and his misfortunes had begun. The wealthy, handsome Rajah with his fine clothes and tents, his horses and servants, had seduced his wife. That might have cost him little effort, for poor Pravati had not been accustomed to regal splendor.
But would she really have been led astray so easily and quickly if she had been faithful and virtuous at heart? Very well, the Rajah had seduced her, or simply taken her, and thus inflicted upon him the most horrible grief he had ever experienced. But he, Dasa, had taken revenge. He had killed the thief of his happiness, and had felt the killing as a moment of high triumph. But scarcely was the deed done than he had had to flee. For days, weeks, and months he had lived in swamp and forest, an outlaw, trusting no man.
A nd what had Pravati been doing all that time?
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