Shattered Hopes

RESOLUTELY Vikram again returned to the tree, took down the corpse, threw it across his shoulder, and began walking silently towards the burial ground. “O King,” said the Bethal of the corpse, mere tenacity of purpose avails nothing unless it bears fruit. When it fails, it can be pretty disastrous in its effects, as it was in the case of Nanda, whose tale I shall now tell you,” And he narrated the following story:

On the West Coast, there was a small fishing village with twenty households. In the middle of this village stood the temple of a goddess, who was said to aid the fishermen in their hunt and protect them from the sea’s anger. She was the sole hope of the entire village.

The most experienced and capable of the fishermen was elected as the village leader. Those born in the village usually spent their life there, employing themselves in fishing. But now and then, an enterprising young fellow would get a chance to become a sailor and go away across the seas. Most of those who became sailors got lost at sea sooner or later, and those who managed to survive amassed enough wealth to settle down in some city. In any case, those who turned sailors were lost to the village, and the elders never favoured the idea of their children becoming sailors.

Nanda was the second son of the leader of the village. He was only seven when his father died, but his elder brother Sunda was already old enough to fish independently, push his canoe over the sea, lay the net, repair it and so forth. He had learnt the art from his father. But Nanda, who had not yet started learning the craft, had to become an apprentice under Renuka, who was elected a new leader.

Renuka was fond of the boy because of his sharp intelligence and daring. Everyone in the village admired Nanda, and some said that he would make an excellent sailor when he grew up. But Nanda’s mother would at once exclaim, “No, no! I will never permit my little one to become a sailor!” She was afraid that she would lose him.

Renuka had a daughter who was somewhat younger than Nanda. Her name was Sundari, and she was a charming girl and a pet of the whole village.

One day, Renuka asked his daughter for fun, “Well, my dear, whom will you marry when you grow up?”

At once, she pointed at Nanda and said, “I shall marry him none else!”

This incident had a profound effect on young Nanda. He was fond of Sundari like everyone else. But when she said that she would marry only him, he saw his entire future in a flash. In a few years, Sundari would attain marriageable age. Then he would marry her and settle down. He must gain wealth for the sake of Sundari. If he left the village at once and became a sailor, he could return to a rich man in time to marry Sundari. He did not lack courage; what he wanted was the blessing of the goddess.

He, therefore, ran to the temple, knelt before the image of the goddess, and prayed: “O Mother, help me to become a master sailor and earn much wealth. I shall build a large temple on the shore to be visible for miles on the sea. I shall marry Sundari, and we will visit you every day and worship you!”

Then he got up and went to his mother. “O mother,” he said, “I’ve decided to go away and become a sailor. Give me your blessings.”

The mother was taken aback and begged her son not to go away. “My son,” she said, “you and your brother are like my two eyes. I shall be partly blind without you; you are too young to become a sailor. Moreover, I shall always worry about what happened to you, and life will become miserable. Even if you succeed as a sailor, you will not return; I know.”

“O mother,” said Nanda, “I swear to you that I will come back. Why I vowed to build a temple to the goddess.” The mother tried her best to change his mind but finally consented to his departure.

The goddess seemed to favour him. Though relatively young, Nanda managed to be hired as a sailor on a merchant ship. His smartness helped him to make a good sailor. He provided excellent service to those merchants who had engaged him several times. He piloted ships through storms which even veterans would be afraid of facing. He saved men and merchandise from perishing on the waters on numerous occasions. For all this, he was rewarded with numberless gifts and even a share in the profits.

Nanda lived as a sailor for eight years and amassed wealth, and then he returned home, only to learn that Sundari had already become his brother’s wife! All his hopes were shattered. Now that Sundari married his brother Sunda, the future looked blank to him. He had been looking upon Sundari as his wife all these years, and he could not marry another girl now.

Sundari, on the other hand, had forgotten Nanda long ago. She did not even remember that at one time, she had desired to become Nanda’s wife, and circumstances conspired to make her Sunda’s wife. Four years after Nanda’s departure, Renuka’s husband died, leaving his wife and daughter almost helpless since there was no other male member in the family. Both of them were reduced to starvation when Sunda, now the best fisherman in the village, came to their rescue. Sundari, who attained marriageable age, could not have found a better husband than Sunda, even if she wanted.

Nanda learned these facts and refrained from blaming anybody. But he still wanted Sundari. If only she would consent, he tried to take her away to a far-off place, make her his wife and live happily. After some hesitation, he secretly suggested this to Sundari.

But Sundari revealed it to her mother-in-law.

Nanda’s mother was greatly pained by the state of her son’s mind. She got Nanda alone and gave him a short sermon. “My boy,” she said, “where did you acquire ideas which are a dis- grace to our way of life? Perhaps the life of a sailor, which took you to all sorts of places, has ruined your sense of right and wrong. Is not your brother’s wife the same to you as me? Would you ruin your brother’s life for your happiness? Oh, I would have been much happier if you did not return at all, than that you should come back changed so! You have made good, earned wealth. You can thrive anywhere. I become miserable if you stay here and be unhappy. Go away!”

“Yes, mother,” Nanda said, his head bowed. “I will go away.”

The following day, Sunda was about to go fishing when Nanda approached him and said, “Brother, it is a long time since I went fishing. Today I want to take a boat and go upon the sea with you.”

The two brothers took two boats and rowed off.

The fishermen would return by sunset, and the women folk were waiting on the shore with food and water. Among them were Sundari and her mother-in-law.

All the fishermen returned except Nanda. Sunda and a few others went in search of him. After a long time, they came upon an upturned boat which Sunda recognised as the one taken by his brother. Of the brother, however, there was no trace. He had committed suicide.

Having narrated the story, Bethal said, “O King, I am not able to decide who was responsible for the shattering of Nanda’s hopes. Was it the goddess in whom Nanda put his faith? Was it Sundari who had raised false hopes in him without fulfilling them later? Or was it Nanda’s mother who foiled his attempt to make Sundari his own? Your head shall split if you know the answer and still refuse to speak.”

“The goddess was not to blame,” Vikram replied. “If Nanda desired the help of the goddess only to obtain Sundari for his wife, he would have prayed for that. But Nanda was too sure of Sundari to seek the help of the goddess on that account, and he prayed only for success in amassing wealth. Sundari was not to blame either. She did not know what she was saying when she said she would marry Nanda alone. Perhaps she would have married him if he had stayed in the village. The mother was equally blameless. She had advised him not to go away and become a sailor. If only he had obeyed her, he could have married Sundari without creating a serious situation. As a mother, it was her duty to see that both sons were happy. She could not sacrifice one of them for the sake of the other. Moreover, it was her duty to safeguard the honour of the family. I am certain that Nanda’s tragedy was caused by his ambition.”

The King’s silence thus broken, Bethal disappeared with the corpse and returned to the tree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *