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4

One morning, Mr Bagchi was sitting by the side of the child's cradle. Mrs Bagchi had a headache and was lying on the bed. Madhavi was heating milk for the baby. Mr Bagchi broke the silence all of a sudden by remarking, "Old woman, as long as we live we will sing your praise; you saved our child."

Mrs Bagchi: This woman has arrived as a godsend to lighten our miseries. God knows what would have happened if she had not been here. Old woman, I have a request. I am a miserable woman. This time the child survived owing to your blessings. But I live under constant fear that fate may snatch away the child from us; I feel afraid even to lift the child. You take this child as your own. As your child it may live. We are unfortunate people; if the child lives with us it will continue to face some calamity or the other. You become its mother; take the baby to your own home or take it anywhere else. By entrusting the child to you I will be freed of all concerns. In truth, you are its mother; I am but an ogress.

Madhavi: Madam, God will take care of everything. Why do you feel so disheartened?

Mr Bagchi: No, no old mother, there is nothing wrong in this. My head tells me not to believe in such things, but my heart tells me otherwise. My own mother had sold me off as a child to a washer-woman; my three brothers had died, and my parents felt I lived only because I had been given away. You take care of this child, consider him as your own son. We will continue to provide for his maintenance. Occasionally, we will visit you. We are certain you can take better care of the child. I am an evil man. My profession is such, which forces me to commit sins; I am compelled to present false evidence, I am compelled to implicate innocent people. My soul has become so weak that I always fall prey to temptation. I know the wrong I inflict on others will return back to me; but my situation is such that I am helpless. If I do not do the bidding of my superiors, I will be removed. If English officers commit mistakes no one bothers, but if a Hindustani officer commits a mistake he is taken to task immediately. It would have been better if Hindustanis were not given important posts; their souls become depraved when they occupy top positions. Do you accept our proposal?

Madhavi: Sir, if you so wish, I will do whatever is within my means. I can only hope and pray to God to give the child a long life.

Madhavi felt as if the gates of paradise had opened for her, and the Goddesses were showering their blessings. She experienced an inner glow; there was so much peace in this affectionate service!

The baby, wrapped in a shawl, was still asleep. After heating the milk, Madhavi lifted the child to feed it but the very next moment she screamed in agony. The baby's body was cold and limp; the sight of the lifeless body wrung the heart, caused a sigh of despair to escape from the lips, and made tears to flow from the eyes. Whoever saw the baby then would never have been able to erase the image from the mind. Madhavi pressed the child to her bosom although she should have put it back in the cradle.

There was an uproar. The mother took up the child and wailed inconsolably. Could there be a greater irony? They had only moments earlier been discussing the child's welfare. Death takes delight in cheating. Death never arrives when people await it. When the sick get better, when they start taking food, when they get out of bed and take the first step after a long time, and when everyone feels that the danger is past and now is the time for celebrations, it is then that death strikes!

We are adept at creating a garden of hopes where we plant seeds of blood and wish to enjoy the fruits of nectar. We irrigate the plants with fire and, then, hope to revel in the cool shade. Madness!

The house was plunged in grief; the father wept, the mother writhed in sorrow, and Madhavi consoled them in turns. If it had been possible for her to revive the child by giving up her own life, she would have done so willingly. She had come with the intention of destroying the Bagchi household and, today, when her wishes were fulfilled, she should have experienced the greatest joy. But, instead, Madhavi was in agony; an agony much more unendurable than the one she had experienced when the prison gates had swallowed her own son. Madhavi had come to make the Bagchis weep, but she was leaving weeping herself. A mother's heart is truly a warehouse of compassion; even if you set it aflame, it will exude nothing but the fragrance of compassion; you crush it and only the juice of compassion will flow out. She is a Goddess; even the cruel games played by misfortunes cannot sully the purity and tranquility of her compassion.

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