Translation: Jugal Kalita
Joyantee was born in nobility; she was married to nobility, too. As a child, she grew up in a world of plenty and unbounded happiness, and following her marriage, she was always surrounded by articles of luxury. She never had to face adversity-neither in her father's home nor in her father-in-law's. But, a daughter of an aristocratic Brahmin family of Rongpoore, she was markedly unlike noble daughters and daughters-in-law of the time. Like other noble women, she was not a pampered woman; neither did she wallow in laziness nor did she spend her time admiring herself in expensive clothes, engaging in meaningless gossips and tete-a-tetes, and eating and sleeping.
In her father's comfortable home, under the watchful eyes of her talented mother, she had become quite adept in all the necessary activities of day-to-day life. There is a saying in Assamese, attributed to the Daak, a historical wise man reputed for pithy sayings, which goes as the follows:
Tills a powerful ox well the soil, Begets a talented mother a daughter as talented.
Joyantee illustrated the truth of this saying. She had diligently mastered all the crafts in which daughters of aristocratic families of Assam were required to be proficient. She was very talented; all the citizens of the fair city of Rongpoore genuinely admired, and marveled at her many and varied talents.
During those days, expertise in the fine art of weaving colorful and beautifully patterned cloths of cotton and fine silk was the hallmark of Assamese ladies in good standing. Joyantee followed the footsteps of her accomplished mother who was an expert weaver; Joyantee wove the most elegant cloths in Rongpoore-the fine cloths she created had the most beautiful embroidered borders seen anywhere. With a melodious voice, she regularly and competently led folk and religious bands in weddings and other social gatherings. She had the essence as well as details of religious tomes such as the Daxam, the Kirtan, the Ghoxaa, and the Ratnaawali on the tip of her tongue and could effortlessly explain the lofty ideas contained in them.
Moreover, she was an exquisite beauty. Her matchless beauty was radiant particularly after a nice and cleansing bath when she gorgeously styled her beautiful hair, decorated her forehead with a dot of vermilion, adorned a pair of expensive keroos on her ears, and a sparkling necklace around her neck. On such occasions, she also wore sets of bangles on her forearm, and wore a set of riha and mekhela of white paat-the very fine Assamese silk. She looked incomparably beautiful when bejewled and stylishly attired in such a manner, she would sit cross-legged with folded hands and pray to the sun god in the open sunshine.
In summary, although barely sixteen years old, Lady Joyantee, the wife of Romaanaath Borua, evidently belonged to a superior class of human beings in which very few could aspire to be. In truth, in all of Rongpoore, the capital of Old Assam, Lady Joyantee was unparalleled in beauty, talents, and virtuousness she possessed and the fortune that God had bestowed upon her.
Almost a century ago, the prosperous country of Assam was brutally attacked from the East, miserably defeated and thoroughly plundered by the Burmese three times in short succession. The third attack was extremely vicious. The country of Assam was deprived of its prized independence and forced into subjugation. The blazing sun of nationalistic pride that had shined on the Ahom kings of Assam set permanently. After six hundred years of peaceful and progressive rule over Assam, the descendents of the great conqueror Sukafa were reduced to paupers. From the middle of March in the year 1820 AD to late January of 1826 AD, the people of Assam became hapless victims of the tyrannical killings, and egregious lootings of the cruel Burmese. Finally, the rise of the British imperial sun over prostrate Assam ended the deep, dark night of repression after almost five tumultuous years.
The situation of Assam at the time was indescribably pitiable. Because of the continuous torture and pillage by the Burmese, Assam's progress in education, agriculture, commerce, and industry was halted. In addition, there was not a modicum of happiness and peace among the people living under constant trepidation.
The Burmese mercilessly killed one in three in Assam. They despotically slaughtered-husbands in front of wives, fathers in front of sons, babies in front of mothers. They outright burnt hundreds of prosperous villages and holy temples. Thousands of women were raped. Assam, a beautiful garden of Nature, which was once inhabited by wise men, sages, ascetics, and mythical gods became a devastated burial ground. Our story pertains to an incident on a fateful day during this period.
During this chaotic state of the country, nobody was assured of life or property. King Chandrakanta Singh, like a coward, fled from the capital being mortally afraid of the vastly superior Burmese army. Therefore, the Burmese commander Mingimaha Tilooa automatically stepped in to become the Emperor of Assam. Thereafter Assam shivered under the heinous torture, and unmitigated pillage by the Burmese.
Romaanaath Borua, Joyantee's husband, was at a complete loss regarding what to do and where to go. Most of his friends, relatives, servants and helpers had already run away due to fear for their lives. Others escaped to the dense forests of Assam to risk living in the company of vicious animals. Romaanaath saw that it was impossible for him to live in his motherland with his life, dignity, wealth and subordinates. At this stage, he saw no other way of surviving except fleeing, with his beloved wife, to neighboring Bengal to the west. He decided to bid adieu to his motherland and leave downstream on the mighty river Luit toward Bengal in a week.
Before they could leave, one day, at noon, Romaanaath Borua was resting on his bed with closed eyes; he was beginning to fall asleep. Lady Joyantee had finished her housework and was sitting at her husband's side, gently and lovingly fanning him with a bamboo fan. Suddenly, they heard a loud noise coming from someone banging on their front door. Joyantee asked her servants aloud about the source of the sound. Since she didn't get any reply, she herself walked to the door and saw that three armed Burmese soldiers were hitting the door with their heavy clubs and had already smashed it into pieces. Joyantee became horrified, and she started shaking violently. It was not clear where the servants and helpers in the house had run away. In a matter of seconds, the Burmese entered the house, tied up Joyantee and Romaanaath and started looting the house of all its valuables.
Observing the disturbed condition of the kingdom, Romaanaath Borua had sent all the valuable jewelry and other expensive goods to his mother's home in Guwahati, about a couple of hundred miles away to the west. So, the Burmese looters did not find much of valuables to take. As a result, they became angry. Their eyes glowed ferociously and they ground their teeth in exasperation. The first Burmese looked at the second and growled, ``These people are cunning. They have hidden all their expensive jewelry.'' The second Burmese did not respond to the first, but took his long leather belt and, with all his might, hit Romaanaath three times on the back, and yelled at him, ``Where have you hidden all your money and expensive possessions, you son of a bitch? Show them to us right away. Otherwise, we will set fire to the house, and burn the two of you inside right now.''
The powerful strikes of the scourge caused Romaanaath Borua's back to bleed profusely; he started crying, shrieking and tossing about in tremendous pain. Seeing her husband in such a pathetic condition, Joyantee started crying also, and with folded hands, she tearfully requested the robbers, ``Please take pity on me, sirs and fathers; please don't hit my husband any more. I swear in the name of the Almighty, we do not have any valuables left at the moment. Whatever money, jewelry and ornaments we had, we sent them to the homes of our relatives in Guwahati because we were planning to leave Rongpoore. So, even if you cut us into a hundred pieces, you will not find anything at all. So, our fathers, please do not torture us any more; it is not going to serve any purpose. Please take whatever you find and allow us to live. I am praying at your feet, please do not hurt my husband any more. I have a beautiful necklace on my neck and a pair of expensive bangles in my hands. Please take these and let my husband go.''
Saying this, she took the bangles and the necklace off and gave them to the Burmese. Hearing her plaintive entreaties, the three Burmese men started laughing derisively. ``We are not young children, you tramp! Show us immediately your hidden treasures. Otherwise, we will crack this whip so hard that your hide will tear, too. Then we will tie both of you inside the house, set it on fire and burn you both alive to ashes.''
Without paying any heed to the sobbing Joyantee, the roughnecks kept torturing Romaanaath Borua with continuous whipping and striking. Finally, when the Burmese saw that they could not get any valuables even after inflicting a great deal of torture, the first Burmese looked at the other and said, ``Come on now, let's take these two with us. The man is quite healthy and well-built. Let us put all our belongings on his back and let him carry them like a beast of burden. Later, when we reach home we will cut him into pieces.''
`` The woman is an exquisite beauty. Back in our country, we will present her to the king as a gift. The king will be extremely pleased to get the gift of such a beautiful woman.''
The second Burmese expressed his objection to what the first said, ``Brother, what's wrong with you? Whenever we find something valuable, you want to present it to the king. Why? Why should we give everything to the king? This beauty is mine to enjoy. You two take all the jewelry and valuables you want, but she is mine.''
Hearing this the third Burmese started bellowing, ``Whom does she belong to? You? No! I am not going to allow that. I will see who has the courage to take her away from me. She is absolutely mine. There cannot be any questions about it.''
When the two men started fighting loudly and excitedly over the woman, the first Burmese became the voice of reason and calmed the other by saying, ``We will decide on this later. Let's not fight over it now.'' Then they loaded their loot on the back of Romaanaath Borua, tied him and his wife to a leash, and started their onward journey. Joyantee started praying to the almighty Lord Krishna who protects the faithful. Tears flowed down her cheeks.
As this sorry group went onward for a few hours, Joyantee, who had always been the epitome of honesty, piety, and simplicity, suddenly thought of a cunning plan to save herself and her husband. Skillfully controlling her feelings of anger and sadness, she looked ardently at her captors and spoke with a sweet, ingratiating voice, ``Oh, dear! You three completely own us now. You are marching us to your own country for ever. So, there is no point in trying to save our fortune. When we have to leave our village and our country for ever, who is going to enjoy our hidden treasures and fortune? Whatever God Almighty has preordained for me by fate will happen to me; I am resigned to it. But if you promise not to kill my husband, please take us back home. I will show you the exact spot on the ground where we have hidden boxes and boxes of gold and silver jewelry.'' The looters had been amply charmed by Joyantee's spectacular beauty from the time they had laid their eyes on her. And, now, her sweet, entreating voice and the prospect of obtaining enormous wealth fully defeated their guard. Immediately, they agreed to walk all the way back to Romaanaath's house to collect the fortune that they thought was their due.
Once back home, Joyantee pointed to a tall flowering plant and said, ``All our boxes of wealth are right here, at a depth of four arm's length below the ground.'' As soon as they heard this, the Burmese secured Romaanaath to the tree, and started digging the ground feverishly with their hoes. The robbers thought Joyantee, being a woman, was too weak to act in her own defense, and did not have the courage to run away all by herself. So, they did not care to tie her up. Also, they thought if she attempted to run away, it would not take any time for three athletic men to capture her.
After half an hour of diligent digging in turns, there was a hole about four arm's length deep. But, there was no sign of the hidden treasures. The first robber glared at Joyantee and angrily inquired, ``You bitch! Are you playing tricks with us? We have dug a hole as deep as the neck. Where are the money and the jewelry?'' Joyantee replied with feigned earnestness, ``You have to dig just a little bit more. I swear we hid everything there. In any case, the two of us are your captives anyway. You can kill us whenever you want. Why should I lie then?'' The Burmese who was inside the hole at that moment and was digging was sure she was telling the truth and started digging again with renewed enthusiasm. The two others on the ground carelessly lay their swords on the ground and were chatting noisily.
All of a sudden, like lightning, Joyantee struck. She jumped at them, took them by surprise, and pushed them with all her might into the hole on the ground which was more than a neck deep. Without allowing them a fraction of a moment to react, she took one of the sharp swords lying on the ground, struck them with it and decapitated them in a frenzy. Then, with swift strokes of the sword, she severed the rope which had tied Romaanaath to the tree and freed him. Finally, she started dancing exuberantly as if she was in an delirium which overtook her inexplicably.
The sudden and complete change of the situation seemed like a pleasantly welcome dream to Romaanaath. Barely a moment earlier, he had sighly resigned himself to his luckless fate and had stoically expected to lose his life any moment at the hands of the powerfully built Burmese soldiers; he had given up every hope. And, ironically, the next moment, as a well-deserved punishment for their wickedness, their decapitated torsos were quivering headless in the pit they had dug themselves. A moment earlier, Joyantee, trembling in deathly fear, was crying ceaselessly, wetting her riha. Now, a moment later, inspired by the taste of blood, she was dancing in mad ecstasy swinging the sword in her hand, as if she were in the thick of a bloody battle. A moment ago, Romaanaath was securedly tied to a tree, and was patiently waiting to be a sacrificial victim. Now a moment later, he was undeniably free.
Romaanaath could hardly believe that the woman dancing maddeningly in front of his own eyes was his peaceful, demure and normally fearful wife. Was this a dream or reality? Romaanaath could not decide either way; his eyes became hazy, he closed them and sat down. Moments later, he reopened them and realized that it was not a cruel hoax. It was true that the headless bodies of the wicked robbers were at the bottom of the pit, and that he was not shackled any more. And, his dear wife Joyantee was dancing like an angry mythical goddess with her flowing hair fluttering in the air; her lissome body was covered with streaks of bright red blood all over, and she was nimbly waving the murderous sword in her delicate hands. Romaanaath clearly saw that the object of his life's love had lost all knowledge of external reality and was in a fathomless frenzy.
With the help of several people, Romaanaath Borua who was extremely frightened, left Rongpoore for Guwahati that very night. In Guwahati, he treated Joyantee with excellent medical care with the assistance of his brother and friends. But, in spite of all his love and care, Joyantee did not recuperate. Finally, Death, who takes away all worldly pain and grief, offered a place in His cradle to this virtuous and talented woman. Till the very sad end, the severely delusional Joyantee continued chanting, ``I am blessed; I freed my husband from the tyrants all by myself; he is alive, he is alive!''
Laksminath Bezbarua is regarded as one of the foremost Assamese writer of all times. His writings appeared in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Translated from Assamese by Jugal Kalita. Jugal Kalita teaches Computer Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The translator thanks Yvonne Dilts, Hal Render, and Probal Tahbildar, for their comments on earlier versions of the translation.