The Truants and the Madman

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Before her husband had altogether vanished from her sphere of influence, Giribala had often heard from him about the wonderful histrionic powers of this woman, and in her jealous curiosity had greatly desired to see Lavanga on the stage. But she could not secure her husband's consent, because Gopinath was firm in his opinion that the theatre was a place not fit for any decent woman to visit.

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At last she paid for a seat, and sent Sudha to see this famous actress in one of her best parts. The account that she received from her on her return was far from flattering to Lavanga, either as to her personal appearance or as to her stage accomplishments. Since, for obvious reasons, she had great faith in Sudha's power of appreciation where it was due, she did not hesitate to believe in her description of Lavanga which was accompanied by mimicry of a ludicrous mannerism.

When at last her husband deserted her in his infatuation for this woman, she began to feel qualms of doubt. But as Sudha repeatedly asserted her former opinion with a greater vehemence, comparing Lavanga to a piece of burnt log dressed up in a woman's clothes, Giribala determined secretly to go to the theatre herself and settle this question for good.

And she did go there one night with all the excitement of a forbidden entry. Her very trepidation of heart lent a special charm to what she saw there. She gazed at the faces of the spectators, lit up with an unnatural shine of lamplight; and, with the magic of its music and the painted canvas of its scenery, the theatre seemed to her like a world where society was suddenly freed from its law of gravitation.

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Coming from her walled-up terrace and joyless home, she had entered a region where dreams and reality had clasped their hands in friendship, over the wine-cup of art. The bell rang, the orchestra music stopped, the audience sat still in their seats, the stage lights shone brighter, and the curtain was drawn up. Suddenly appeared in the light from the mystery of the unseen the shepherd girls of the Vrinda forest, and with the accompaniment of songs commenced their dance, punctuated with the uproarious applause of the audience.

The blood began to throb all over Giribala's body, and she forgot for the moment that her life was limited to her circumstances, and that she had not been set free in a world where all laws had melted in music. Sudha came occasionally to interrupt her with anxious whispers, urging her to hasten back home for fear of being detected. But she paid no heed to the warning, for her sense of fear had gone.

The play goes on. Krishna has given offence to his beloved Radha, and she in her wounded pride refuses to recognise him.


He is entreating her, abasing himself at her feet, but in vain. Giribala's heart seems to swell. She imagines herself as the offended Radha; and feels that she also has in her this woman's power to vindicate her pride. She had heard what a force was woman's beauty in the world, but to-night it became to her palpable.

At last the curtain dropped, the light became dim, the audience got ready to leave the theatre, but Giribala sat still like one in a dream. The thought that she would have to go home had vanished from her mind.

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She waited for the curtain to rise again and the eternal theme of Krishna's humiliation at the feet of Radha to continue. But Sudha came to remind her that the play had ended, and the lamps would soon be put out. It was late when Giribala came back home. A kerosene lamp was dimly burning in the melancholy solitude and silence of her room. Near her window upon her lonely bed a mosquito curtain was slightly moving in a gentle breeze. Her world seemed to her distasteful and mean, like a rotten fruit swept into the dustbin.

From now she regularly visited the theatre every Saturday. The fascination of her first sight of it lost much of its glamour. The painted vulgarity of the actresses and the falseness of their affectation became more and more evident, yet the habit grew upon her. Every time the curtain rose the window of her life's prison-house seemed to open before her, and the stage, bordered off from the world of reality by its gilded frame and scenic display, by its array of lights and even its flimsiness of conventionalism, appeared to her like a fairyland, where it was not impossible for herself to occupy the throne of the fairy queen.

When for the first time she saw her husband among the audience shouting his drunken admiration for a certain actress, she felt an intense disgust, and prayed in her mind that a day might come when she might have an opportunity to spurn him away with her contempt. But the opportunity seemed remoter every day, for Gopinath was hardly ever to be seen at his home now, being carried away, one knew not where, in the centre of a dust-storm of dissipation.


One evening in the month of March, in the light of the full moon, Giribala was sitting on her terrace dressed in her cream-coloured robe. It was her habit daily to deck herself with jewelry, as if for some festive occasion. For these costly gems were like wine to her—they sent heightened consciousness of beauty to her limbs; she felt like a plant in spring tingling with the impulse of flowers in all its branches.

She wore a pair of diamond bracelets on her arms, a necklace of rubies and pearls on her neck, and a ring with a big sapphire on the little finger of her left hand. Sudha was sitting near her bare feet, admiringly touching them with her hand, and expressing her wish that she were a man privileged to offer his life as homage to such a pair of feet.

Sudha gently hummed a love-song to her, and the evening wore on to night. Everybody in the household had finished the evening meal, and gone to sleep. Then suddenly Gopinath appeared reeking with scent and liquor, and Sudha, drawing her sari over her face, hastily ran away from the terrace. Giribala thought for a moment that her day had come at last.

She turned away her face, and sat silent. But the curtain in her stage did not rise, and no song of entreaty came from her hero with the words:. A gust of south wind like a sigh of the insulted romance of the poetic world scattered all over the terrace the smell of the night-blooming jasmines, and loosened some wisp of hair on Giribala's cheek.

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Gopinath began to search for them. He opened the drawers of the dressing-table, broke open the lid of the box that contained Giribala's toilet requisites, smashed the glass panes of her almirah, groped under the pillows and mattress of the bed, but the keys he could not find. Giribala stood near the door stiff and silent, like a marble image gazing at vacancy. Giribala did not answer, and Gopinath, pinning her to the wall, snatched away by force her bracelets, necklace and ring, and, giving her a parting kick, went away.

Nobody in the house woke up from his sleep, none in the neighbourhood knew of this outrage, the moonlight remained placid, and the peace of the night undisturbed. Hearts can be rent never to heal again amidst such serene silence. The next morning Giribala said she was going to see her father, and left home.

As Gopinath's present destination was not known, and she was not responsible to anybody else in the house, her absence was not noticed. Stripped of romance, paced like a crime novel, it engages a milieu which most of us, happily, will never need to see--the teen gangs on the cruel, poverty-stricken streets, the 'rats' in the gutters--and makes us give a damn. An extremely smart, talented first novel. Bleakly stunning and doggedly thought-provoking. It hooks you instantly and holds you there, in its unrelenting claws until the final page, leaving you spent in a good way and its message lingering within you, like the vampires who possess their victims within the book.

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