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9.6: Tagore, Rabindranath. Chitra (1914)

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    Chitra

    A one-act play

    by Rabindranath Tagore

    1914

    The Characters

    GODS:
    MADANA (Eros).
    VASANTA (Lycoris).

    MORTALS:
    CHITRA, daughter of the King of Manipur.
    ARJUNA, a prince of the house of the Kurus. He is of the
    Kshatriya or "warrior caste," and during the action is living as
    a Hermit retired in the forest.

    VILLAGERS from an outlying district of Manipur.

    NOTE.—The dramatic poem "Chitra" has been performed in India
    without scenery—the actors being surrounded by the audience.
    Proposals for its production here having been made to him, he
    went through this translation and provided stage directions, but
    wished these omitted if it were printed as a book.

    Scene I

    Chitra

    Art thou the god with the five darts, the Lord of Love?

    Madana

    I am he who was the first born in the heart of the Creator. I
    bind in bonds of pain and bliss the lives of men and women!

    Chitra

    I know, I know what that pain is and those bonds.—And who art
    thou, my lord?

    Vasanta

    I am his friend—Vasanta—the King of the Seasons. Death and
    decrepitude would wear the world to the bone but that I follow
    them and constantly attack them. I am Eternal Youth.

    Chitra

    I bow to thee, Lord Vasanta.

    Madana

    But what stern vow is thine, fair stranger? Why dost thou wither
    thy fresh youth with penance and mortification? Such a sacrifice
    is not fit for the worship of love. Who art thou and what is thy
    prayer?

    Chitra

    I am Chitra, the daughter of the kingly house of Manipur. With
    godlike grace Lord Shiva promised to my royal grandsire an
    unbroken line of male descent. Nevertheless, the divine word
    proved powerless to change the spark of life in my mother's womb
    —so invincible was my nature, woman though I be.

    Madana

    I know, that is why thy father brings thee up as his son. He has
    taught thee the use of the bow and all the duties of a king.

    Chitra

    Yes, that is why I am dressed in man's attire and have left the
    seclusion of a woman's chamber. I know no feminine wiles for
    winning hearts. My hands are strong to bend the bow, but I have
    never learnt Cupid's archery, the play of eyes.

    Madana

    That requires no schooling, fair one. The eye does its work
    untaught, and he knows how well, who is struck in the heart.

    Chitra

    One day in search of game I roved alone to the forest on the bank
    of the Purna river. Tying my horse to a tree trunk I entered a
    dense thicket on the track of a deer. I found a narrow sinuous
    path meandering through the dusk of the entangled boughs, the
    foliage vibrated with the chirping of crickets, when of a sudden
    I came upon a man lying on a bed of dried leaves, across my path.
    I asked him haughtily to move aside, but he heeded not. Then
    with the sharp end of my bow I pricked him in contempt.
    Instantly he leapt up with straight, tall limbs, like a sudden
    tongue of fire from a heap of ashes. An amused smile flickered
    round the corners of his mouth, perhaps at the sight of my boyish
    countenance. Then for the first time in my life I felt myself a
    woman, and knew that a man was before me.

    Madana

    At the auspicious hour I teach the man and the woman this supreme
    lesson to know themselves. What happened after that?

    Chitra

    With fear and wonder I asked him "Who are you?" "I am Arjuna," he
    said, "of the great Kuru clan." I stood petrified like a statue,
    and forgot to do him obeisance. Was this indeed Arjuna, the one
    great idol of my dreams! Yes, I had long ago heard how he had
    vowed a twelve-years' celibacy. Many a day my young ambition had
    spurred me on to break my lance with him, to challenge him in
    disguise to single combat, and prove my skill in arms against
    him. Ah, foolish heart, whither fled thy presumption? Could I
    but exchange my youth with all its aspirations for the clod of
    earth under his feet, I should deem it a most precious grace. I
    know not in what whirlpool of thought I was lost, when suddenly I
    saw him vanish through the trees. O foolish woman, neither didst
    thou greet him, nor speak a word, nor beg forgiveness, but
    stoodest like a barbarian boor while he contemptuously walked
    away! . . . Next morning I laid aside my man's clothing. I
    donned bracelets, anklets, waist-chain, and a gown of purple red
    silk. The unaccustomed dress clung about my shrinking shame; but
    I hastened on my quest, and found Arjuna in the forest temple of
    Shiva.

    Madana

    Tell me the story to the end. I am the heart-born god, and I
    understand the mystery of these impulses.

    Chitra

    Only vaguely can I remember what things I said, and what answer I
    got. Do not ask me to tell you all. Shame fell on me like a
    thunderbolt, yet could not break me to pieces, so utterly hard,
    so like a man am I. His last words as I walked home pricked my
    ears like red hot needles. "I have taken the vow of celibacy. I
    am not fit to be thy husband!" Oh, the vow of a man! Surely
    thou knowest, thou god of love, that unnumbered saints and sages
    have surrendered the merits of their life-long penance at the
    feet of a woman. I broke my bow in two and burnt my arrows in
    the fire. I hated my strong, lithe arm, scored by drawing the
    bowstring. O Love, god Love, thou hast laid low in the dust the
    vain pride of my manlike strength; and all my man's training lies
    crushed under thy feet. Now teach me thy lessons; give me the
    power of the weak and the weapon of the unarmed hand.

    Madana

    I will be thy friend. I will bring the world-conquering Arjuna a
    captive before thee, to accept his rebellion's sentence at thy
    hand.

    Chitra

    Had I but the time needed, I could win his heart by slow degrees,
    and ask no help of the gods. I would stand by his side as a
    comrade, drive the fierce horses of his war-chariot, attend him
    in the pleasures of the chase, keep guard at night at the
    entrance of his tent, and help him in all the great duties of a
    Kshatriya, rescuing the weak, and meting out justice where it is
    due. Surely at last the day would have come for him to look at
    me and wonder, "What boy is this? Has one of my slaves in a
    former life followed me like my good deeds into this?" I am not
    the woman who nourishes her despair in lonely silence, feeding it
    with nightly tears and covering it with the daily patient smile,
    a widow from her birth. The flower of my desire shall never drop
    into the dust before it has ripened to fruit. But it is the
    labour of a life time to make one's true self known and honoured.
    Therefore I have come to thy door, thou world-vanquishing Love,
    and thou, Vasanta, youthful Lord of the Seasons, take from
    my young body this primal injustice, an unattractive plainness.
    For a single day make me superbly beautiful, even as beautiful as
    was the sudden blooming of love in my heart. Give me but one
    brief day of perfect beauty, and I will answer for the days that
    follow.

    Madana

    Lady, I grant thy prayer.

    Vasanta

    Not for the short span of a day, but for one whole year the charm
    of spring blossoms shall nestle round thy limbs.

    Scene II

    Arjuna

    WAS I dreaming or was what I saw by the lake truly there?
    Sitting on the mossy turf, I mused over bygone years in the
    sloping shadows of the evening, when slowly there came out from
    the folding darkness of foliage an apparition of beauty in the
    perfect form of a woman, and stood on a white slab of stone at
    the water's brink. It seemed that the heart of the earth must
    heave in joy under her bare white feet. Methought the vague
    veilings of her body should melt in ecstasy into air as the
    golden mist of dawn melts from off the snowy peak of the eastern
    hill. She bowed herself above the shining mirror of the lake and
    saw the reflection of her face. She started up in awe and stood
    still; then smiled, and with a careless sweep of her left arm
    unloosed her hair and let it trail on the earth at her feet. She
    bared her bosom and looked at her arms, so flawlessly modelled,
    and instinct with an exquisite caress. Bending her head she
    saw the sweet blossoming of her youth and the tender bloom and
    blush of her skin. She beamed with a glad surprise. So, if the
    white lotus bud on opening her eyes in the morning were to arch
    her neck and see her shadow in the water, would she wonder at
    herself the livelong day. But a moment after the smile passed
    from her face and a shade of sadness crept into her eyes. She
    bound up her tresses, drew her veil over her arms, and sighing
    slowly, walked away like a beauteous evening fading into the
    night. To me the supreme fulfilment of desire seemed to have
    been revealed in a flash and then to have vanished. . . . But who
    is it that pushes the door?

    Enter CHITRA, dressed as a woman.

    Ah! it is she. Quiet, my heart! . . . Fear me not, lady! I am
    a Kshatriya.

    Chitra

    Honoured sir, you are my guest. I live in this temple. I know
    not in what way I can show you hospitality.

    Arjuna

    Fair lady, the very sight of you is indeed the highest
    hospitality. If you will not take it amiss I would ask you a
    question.

    Chitra

    You have permission.

    Arjuna

    What stern vow keeps you immured in this solitary temple,
    depriving all mortals of a vision of so much loveliness?

    Chitra

    I harbour a secret desire in my heart, for the fulfilment of
    which I offer daily prayers to Lord Shiva.

    Arjuna

    Alas, what can you desire, you who are the desire of the whole
    world! From the easternmost hill on whose summit the morning sun
    first prints his fiery foot to the end of the sunset land have I
    travelled. I have seen whatever is most precious, beautiful and
    great on the earth. My knowledge shall be yours, only say for
    what or for whom you seek.

    Chitra

    He whom I seek is known to all.

    Arjuna

    Indeed! Who may this favourite of the gods be, whose fame has
    captured your heart?

    Chitra

    Sprung from the highest of all royal houses, the greatest of all
    heroes is he.

    Arjuna

    Lady, offer not such wealth of beauty as is yours on the altar of
    false reputation. Spurious fame spreads from tongue to tongue
    like the fog of the early dawn before the sun rises. Tell me who
    in the highest of kingly lines is the supreme hero?

    Chitra

    Hermit, you are jealous of other men's fame. Do you not know
    that all over the world the royal house of the Kurus is the most
    famous?

    Arjuna

    The house of the Kurus!

    Chitra

    And have you never heard of the greatest name of that far-famed
    house?

    Arjuna

    From your own lips let me hear it.

    Chitra

    Arjuna, the conqueror of the world. I have culled from the
    mouths of the multitude that imperishable name and hidden it with
    care in my maiden heart. Hermit, why do you look perturbed? Has
    that name only a deceitful glitter? Say so, and I will not
    hesitate to break this casket of my heart and throw the false gem
    to the dust.

    Arjuna

    Be his name and fame, his bravery and prowess false or true, for
    mercy's sake do not banish him from your heart—for he kneels at
    your feet even now.

    Chitra

    You, Arjuna!

    Arjuna

    Yes, I am he, the love-hungered guest at your door.

    Chitra

    Then it is not true that Arjuna has taken a vow of chastity for
    twelve long years?

    Arjuna

    But you have dissolved my vow even as the moon dissolves the
    night's vow of obscurity.

    Chitra

    Oh, shame upon you! What have you seen in me that makes you
    false to yourself? Whom do you seek in these dark eyes, in these
    milk-white arms, if you are ready to pay for her the price of
    your probity? Not my true self, I know. Surely this cannot be
    love, this is not man's highest homage to woman! Alas, that this
    frail disguise, the body, should make one blind to the light of
    the deathless spirit! Yes, now indeed, I know, Arjuna, the fame
    of your heroic manhood is false.

    Arjuna

    Ah, I feel how vain is fame, the pride of prowess! Everything
    seems to me a dream. You alone are perfect; you are the wealth
    of the world, the end of all poverty, the goal of all efforts,
    the one woman! Others there are who can be but slowly known.
    While to see you for a moment is to see perfect completeness
    once and for ever.

    Chitra

    Alas, it is not I, not I, Arjuna! It is the deceit of a god.
    Go, go, my hero, go. Woo not falsehood, offer not your great
    heart to an illusion. Go.

    Scene III

    Chitra

    No, impossible. To face that fervent gaze that almost grasps you
    like clutching hands of the hungry spirit within; to feel his
    heart struggling to break its bounds urging its passionate cry
    through the entire body—and then to send him away like a
    beggar—no, impossible.

    Enter MADANA and VASANTA.

    Ah, god of love, what fearful flame is this with which thou hast
    enveloped me! I burn, and I burn whatever I touch.

    Madana

    I desire to know what happened last night.

    Chitra

    At evening I lay down on a grassy bed strewn with the petals of
    spring flowers, and recollected the wonderful praise of my beauty
    I had heard from Arjuna;—drinking drop by drop the honey that I
    had stored during the long day. The history of my past life like
    that of my former existences was forgotten. I felt like a
    flower, which has but a few fleeting hours to listen to all the
    humming flatteries and whispered murmurs of the woodlands and
    then must lower its eyes from the Sky, bend its head and at a
    breath give itself up to the dust without a cry, thus ending the
    short story of a perfect moment that has neither past nor future.

    Vasanta

    A limitless life of glory can bloom and spend itself in a
    morning.

    Madana

    Like an endless meaning in the narrow span of a song.

    Chitra

    The southern breeze caressed me to sleep. From the flowering
    Malati bower overhead silent kisses dropped over my body.
    On my hair, my breast, my feet, each flower chose a bed to die
    on. I slept. And, suddenly in the depth of my sleep, I felt as
    if some intense eager look, like tapering fingers of flame,
    touched my slumbering body. I started up and saw the Hermit
    standing before me. The moon had moved to the west, peering
    through the leaves to espy this wonder of divine art wrought in a
    fragile human frame. The air was heavy with perfume; the silence
    of the night was vocal with the chirping of crickets; the
    reflections of the trees hung motionless in the lake; and with
    his staff in his hand he stood, tall and straight and still, like
    a forest tree. It seemed to me that I had, on opening my eyes,
    died to all realities of life and undergone a dream birth into a
    shadow land. Shame slipped to my feet like loosened clothes. I
    heard his call—"Beloved, my most beloved!" And all my forgotten
    lives united as one and responded to it. I said, "Take me, take
    all I am!" And I stretched out my arms to him. The moon set
    behind the trees. One curtain of darkness covered all. Heaven
    and earth, time and space, pleasure and pain, death and life
    merged together in an unbearable ecstasy. . . . With the first
    gleam of light, the first twitter of birds, I rose up and sat
    leaning on my left arm. He lay asleep with a vague smile about
    his lips like the crescent moon in the morning. The rosy red
    glow of the dawn fell upon his noble forehead. I sighed and
    stood up. I drew together the leafy lianas to screen the
    streaming sun from his face. I looked about me and saw the same
    old earth. I remembered what I used to be, and ran and ran like
    a deer afraid of her own shadow, through the forest path strewn
    with shephali flowers. I found a lonely nook, and sitting down
    covered my face with both hands, and tried to weep and cry. But
    no tears came to my eyes.

    Madana

    Alas, thou daughter of mortals! I stole from the divine
    Storehouse the fragrant wine of heaven, filled with it one
    earthly night to the brim, and placed it in thy hand to drink—
    yet still I hear this cry of anguish!

    Chitra [bitterly]

    Who drank it? The rarest completion of life's desire, the first
    union of love was proffered to me, but was wrested from my grasp?
    This borrowed beauty, this falsehood that enwraps me, will slip
    from me taking with it the only monument of that sweet union, as
    the petals fall from an overblown flower; and the woman ashamed
    of her naked poverty will sit weeping day and night. Lord Love,
    this cursed appearance companions me like a demon robbing me of
    all the prizes of love—all the kisses for which my heart is
    athirst.

    Madana

    Alas, how vain thy single night had been! The barque of joy came
    in sight, but the waves would not let it touch the shore.

    Chitra

    Heaven came so close to my hand that I forgot for a moment that
    it had not reached me. But when I woke in the morning from my
    dream I found that my body had become my own rival. It is my
    hateful task to deck her every day, to send her to my beloved and
    see her caressed by him. O god, take back thy boon!

    Madana

    But if I take it from you how can you stand before your lover?
    To snatch away the cup from his lips when he has scarcely drained
    his first draught of pleasure, would not that be cruel? With
    what resentful anger he must regard thee then?

    Chitra

    That would be better far than this. I will reveal my true self
    to him, a nobler thing than this disguise. If he rejects it, if
    he spurns me and breaks my heart, I will bear even that in
    silence.

    Vasanta

    Listen to my advice. When with the advent of autumn the
    flowering season is over then comes the triumph of fruitage. A
    time will come of itself when the heat-cloyed bloom of the body
    will droop and Arjuna will gladly accept the abiding fruitful
    truth in thee. O child, go back to thy mad festival.

    Scene IV

    Chitra

    Why do you watch me like that, my warrior?

    Arjuna

    I watch how you weave that garland. Skill and grace, the twin
    brother and sister, are dancing playfully on your finger tips. I
    am watching and thinking.

    Chitra

    What are you thinking, sir?

    Arjuna

    I am thinking that you, with this same lightness of touch and
    sweetness, are weaving my days of exile into an immortal wreath,
    to crown me when I return home.

    Chitra

    Home! But this love is not for a home!

    Arjuna

    Not for a home?

    Chitra

    No. Never talk of that. Take to your home what is abiding and
    strong. Leave the little wild flower where it was born; leave it
    beautifully to die at the day's end among all fading blossoms and
    decaying leaves. Do not take it to your palace hall to fling it
    on the stony floor which knows no pity for things that fade and
    are forgotten.

    Arjuna

    Is ours that kind of love?

    Chitra

    Yes, no other! Why regret it? That which was meant for idle
    days should never outlive them. Joy turns into pain when the
    door by which it should depart is shut against it. Take it and
    keep it as long as it lasts. Let not the satiety of your evening
    claim more than the desire of your morning could earn. . . . The
    day is done. Put this garland on. I am tired. Take me in your
    arms, my love. Let all vain bickerings of discontent die away at
    the sweet meeting of our lips.

    Arjuna

    Hush! Listen, my beloved, the sound of prayer bells from the
    distant village temple steals upon the evening air across the
    silent trees!

    Scene V

    Vasanta

    I cannot keep pace with thee, my friend! I am tired. It is a
    hard task to keep alive the fire thou hast kindled. Sleep
    overtakes me, the fan drops from my hand, and cold ashes cover
    the glow of the fire. I start up again from my slumber and with
    all my might rescue the weary flame. But this can go on no
    longer.

    Madana

    I know, thou art as fickle as a child. Ever restless is thy play
    in heaven and on earth. Things that thou for days buildest up
    with endless detail thou dost shatter in a moment without regret.
    But this work of ours is nearly finished. Pleasure-winged days
    fly fast, and the year, almost at its end, swoons in rapturous
    bliss.

    Scene VI

    Arjuna

    I woke in the morning and found that my dreams had distilled a
    gem. I have no casket to inclose it, no king's crown whereon to
    fix it, no chain from which to hang it, and yet have not the
    heart to throw it away. My Kshatriya's right arm, idly occupied
    in holding it, forgets its duties.

    Enter CHITRA.

    Chitra

    Tell me your thoughts, sir!

    Arjuna

    My mind is busy with thoughts of hunting today. See, how the
    rain pours in torrents and fiercely beats upon the hillside. The
    dark shadow of the clouds hangs heavily over the forest, and the
    swollen stream, like reckless youth, overleaps all barriers with
    mocking laughter. On such rainy days we five brothers would go
    to the Chitraka forest to chase wild beasts. Those were glad
    times. Our hearts danced to the drumbeat of rumbling clouds. The
    woods resounded with the screams of peacocks. Timid deer could
    not hear our approaching steps for the patter of rain and the
    noise of waterfalls; the leopards would leave their tracks on the
    wet earth, betraying their lairs. Our sport over, we dared each
    other to swim across turbulent streams on our way back home. The
    restless spirit is on me. I long to go hunting.

    Chitra

    First run down the quarry you are now following. Are you quite
    certain that the enchanted deer you pursue must needs be caught?
    No, not yet. Like a dream the wild creature eludes you when it
    seems most nearly yours. Look how the wind is chased by the mad
    rain that discharges a thousand arrows after it. Yet it goes
    free and unconquered. Our sport is like that, my love! You give
    chase to the fleet-footed spirit of beauty, aiming at her every
    dart you have in your hands. Yet this magic deer runs ever free
    and untouched.

    Arjuna

    My love, have you no home where kind hearts are waiting for your
    return? A home which you once made sweet with your gentle
    service and whose light went out when you left it for this
    wilderness?

    Chitra

    Why these questions? Are the hours of unthinking pleasure over?
    Do you not know that I am no more than what you see before you?
    For me there is no vista beyond. The dew that hangs on the tip
    of a Kinsuka petal has neither name nor destination. It offers
    no answer to any question. She whom you love is like that
    perfect bead of dew.

    Arjuna

    Has she no tie with the world? Can she be merely like a fragment
    of heaven dropped on the earth through the carelessness of a
    wanton god?

    Chitra

    Yes.

    Arjuna

    Ah, that is why I always seem about to lose you. My heart is
    unsatisfied, my mind knows no peace. Come closer to me,
    unattainable one! Surrender yourself to the bonds of name and
    home and parentage. Let my heart feel you on all sides and live
    with you in the peaceful security of love.

    Chitra

    Why this vain effort to catch and keep the tints of the clouds,
    the dance of the waves, the smell of the flowers?

    Arjuna

    Mistress mine, do not hope to pacify love with airy nothings.
    Give me something to clasp, something that can last longer than
    pleasure, that can endure even through suffering.

    Chitra

    Hero mine, the year is not yet full, and you are tired already!
    Now I know that it is Heaven's blessing that has made the
    flower's term of life short. Could this body of mine have
    drooped and died with the flowers of last spring it surely would
    have died with honour. Yet, its days are numbered, my love.
    Spare it not, press it dry of honey, for fear your beggar's heart
    come back to it again and again with unsated desire, like a
    thirsty bee when summer blossoms lie dead in the dust.

    Scene VII

    Madana

    Tonight is thy last night.

    Vasanta

    The loveliness of your body will return tomorrow to the
    inexhaustible stores of the spring. The ruddy tint of thy lips
    freed from the memory of Arjuna's kisses, will bud anew as a pair
    of fresh asoka leaves, and the soft, white glow of thy skin will
    be born again in a hundred fragrant jasmine flowers.

    Chitra

    O gods, grant me this my prayer! Tonight, in its last hour let
    my beauty flash its brightest, like the final flicker of a dying
    flame.

    Madana

    Thou shalt have thy wish.

    Scene VIII

    Villagers

    Who will protect us now?

    Arjuna

    Why, by what danger are you threatened?

    Villagers

    The robbers are pouring from the northern hills like a mountain
    flood to devastate our village.

    Arjuna

    Have you in this kingdom no warden?

    Villagers

    Princess Chitra was the terror of all evil doers. While she was
    in this happy land we feared natural deaths, but had no other
    fears. Now she has gone on a pilgrimage, and none knows where to
    find her.

    Arjuna

    Is the warden of this country a woman?

    Villagers

    Yes, she is our father and mother in one.
    [Exeunt.]

    Enter CHITRA.

    Chitra

    Why are you sitting all alone?

    Arjuna

    I am trying to imagine what kind of woman Princess Chitra may be.
    I hear so many stories of her from all sorts of men.

    Chitra

    Ah, but she is not beautiful. She has no such lovely eyes as
    mine, dark as death. She can pierce any target she will, but not
    our hero's heart.

    Arjuna

    They say that in valour she is a man, and a woman in tenderness.

    Chitra

    That, indeed, is her greatest misfortune. When a woman is merely
    a woman; when she winds herself round and round men's hearts with
    her smiles and sobs and services and caressing endearments; then
    she is happy. Of what use to her are learning and great
    achievements? Could you have seen her only yesterday in the
    court of the Lord Shiva's temple by the forest path, you would
    have passed by without deigning to look at her. But have you
    grown so weary of woman's beauty that you seek in her for a man's
    strength?

    With green leaves wet from the spray of the foaming waterfall, I
    have made our noonday bed in a cavern dark as night. There the
    cool of the soft green mosses thick on the black and dripping
    stone, kisses your eyes to sleep. Let me guide you thither.

    Arjuna

    Not today, beloved.

    Chitra

    Why not today?

    Arjuna

    I have heard that a horde of robbers has neared the plains.
    Needs must I go and prepare my weapons to protect the frightened
    villagers.

    Chitra

    You need have no fear for them. Before she started on her
    pilgrimage, Princess Chitra had set strong guards at all the
    frontier passes.

    Arjuna

    Yet permit me for a short while to set about a Kshatriya's work.
    With new glory will I ennoble this idle arm, and make of it a
    pillow more worthy of your head.

    Chitra

    What if I refuse to let you go, if I keep you entwined in my
    arms? Would you rudely snatch yourself free and leave me? Go
    then! But you must know that the liana, once broken in two,
    never joins again. Go, if your thirst is quenched. But, if not,
    then remember that the goddess of pleasure is fickle, and waits
    for no man. Sit for a while, my lord! Tell me what uneasy
    thoughts tease you. Who occupied your mind today? Is it Chitra?

    Arjuna

    Yes, it is Chitra. I wonder in fulfilment of what vow she has
    gone on her pilgrimage. Of what could she stand in need?

    Chitra

    Her needs? Why, what has she ever had, the unfortunate creature?
    Her very qualities are as prison walls, shutting her woman's
    heart in a bare cell. She is obscured, she is unfulfilled. Her
    womanly love must content itself dressed in rags; beauty is
    denied her. She is like the spirit of a cheerless morning,
    sitting upon the stony mountain peak, all her light blotted out
    by dark clouds. Do not ask me of her life. It will never sound
    sweet to man's ear.

    Arjuna

    I am eager to learn all about her. I am like a traveller come to
    a strange city at midnight. Domes and towers and garden-trees
    look vague and shadowy, and the dull moan of the sea comes
    fitfully through the silence of sleep. Wistfully he waits for
    the morning to reveal to him all the strange wonders. Oh, tell
    me her story.

    Chitra

    What more is there to tell?

    Arjuna

    I seem to see her, in my mind's eye, riding on a white horse,
    proudly holding the reins in her left hand, and in her right a
    bow, and like the Goddess of Victory dispensing glad hope all
    round her. Like a watchful lioness she protects the litter at
    her dugs with a fierce love. Woman's arms, though adorned with
    naught but unfettered strength, are beautiful! My heart is
    restless, fair one, like a serpent reviving from his long
    winter's sleep. Come, let us both race on swift horses side by
    side, like twin orbs of light sweeping through space. Out from
    this slumbrous prison of green gloom, this dank, dense cover of
    perfumed intoxication, choking breath.

    Chitra

    Arjuna, tell me true, if, now at once, by some magic I could
    shake myself free from this voluptuous softness, this timid bloom
    of beauty shrinking from the rude and healthy touch of the world,
    and fling it from my body like borrowed clothes, would you be
    able to bear it? If I stand up straight and strong with the
    strength of a daring heart spurning the wiles and arts of twining
    weakness, if I hold my head high like a tall young mountain fir,
    no longer trailing in the dust like a liana, shall I then appeal
    to man's eye? No, no, you could not endure it. It is better
    that I should keep spread about me all the dainty playthings of
    fugitive youth, and wait for you in patience. When it pleases
    you to return, I will smilingly pour out for you the wine of
    pleasure in the cup of this beauteous body. When you are tired
    and satiated with this wine, you can go to work or play; and when
    I grow old I will accept humbly and gratefully whatever corner is
    left for me. Would it please your heroic soul if the playmate of
    the night aspired to be the helpmeet of the day, if the left arm
    learnt to share the burden of the proud right arm?

    Arjuna

    I never seem to know you aright. You seem to me like a goddess
    hidden within a golden image. I cannot touch you, I cannot pay
    you my dues in return for your priceless gifts. Thus my love is
    incomplete. Sometimes in the enigmatic depth of your sad look,
    in your playful words mocking at their own meaning, I gain
    glimpses of a being trying to rend asunder the languorous grace
    of her body, to emerge in a chaste fire of pain through a
    vaporous veil of smiles. Illusion is the first appearance of
    Truth. She advances towards her lover in disguise. But a time
    comes when she throws off her ornaments and veils and stands
    clothed in naked dignity. I grope for that ultimate you, that
    bare simplicity of truth.

    Why these tears, my love? Why cover your face with your hands?
    Have I pained you, my darling? Forget what I said. I will be
    content with the present. Let each separate moment of beauty
    come to me like a bird of mystery from its unseen nest in the
    dark bearing a message of music. Let me for ever sit with
    my hope on the brink of its realization, and thus end my days.

    Scene IX

    CHITRA and ARJUNA

    Chitra [cloaked]

    My lord, has the cup been drained to the last drop? Is this,
    indeed, the end? No, when all is done something still remains,
    and that is my last sacrifice at your feet.

    I brought from the garden of heaven flowers of incomparable
    beauty with which to worship you, god of my heart. If the rites
    are over, if the flowers have faded, let me throw them out of the
    temple [unveiling in her original male attire]. Now, look
    at your worshipper with gracious eyes.

    I am not beautifully perfect as the flowers with which I
    worshipped. I have many flaws and blemishes. I am a
    traveller in the great world-path, my garments are dirty,
    and my feet are bleeding with thorns. Where should I achieve
    flower-beauty, the unsullied loveliness of a moment's life? The
    gift that I proudly bring you is the heart of a woman. Here have
    all pains and joys gathered, the hopes and fears and shames of a
    daughter of the dust; here love springs up struggling toward
    immortal life. Herein lies an imperfection which yet is noble
    and grand. If the flower-service is finished, my master, accept
    this as your servant for the days to come!

    I am Chitra, the king's daughter. Perhaps you will remember the
    day when a woman came to you in the temple of Shiva, her body
    loaded with ornaments and finery. That shameless woman came to
    court you as though she were a man. You rejected her; you did
    well. My lord, I am that woman. She was my disguise. Then by
    the boon of gods I obtained for a year the most radiant form that
    a mortal ever wore, and wearied my hero's heart with the burden
    of that deceit. Most surely I am not that woman.

    I am Chitra. No goddess to be worshipped, nor yet the
    object of common pity to be brushed aside like a moth with
    indifference. If you deign to keep me by your side in the path
    of danger and daring, if you allow me to share the great duties
    of your life, then you will know my true self. If your babe,
    whom I am nourishing in my womb be born a son, I shall myself
    teach him to be a second Arjuna, and send him to you when the
    time comes, and then at last you will truly know me. Today I can
    only offer you Chitra, the daughter of a king.

    Arjuna

    Beloved, my life is full.

    Biography

    Rabindranath Tagore, with a long white beard, stares wistfully into the distance in a black and white photograph

    This photograph is in the public domain.

    Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941), born in Calcutta, was the first non-European winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In addition to being a masterful playwright, poet, and novelist, he was also a skilled artist. Tagore's impact on global literature cannot be understated. Several major writers -- including William Butler Yeats, Pablo Neruda, and Salmon Rushdie -- were inspired by the works of Tagore. Many statues and museums across the world are named in his honor.