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Cb chapter15


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The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Chapter 15

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Chapter 15

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  • 1. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniChapter15p.179- The Final Test187 Chapter 15 Page 179 When Anand came to, Nisha was kneeling by him in the pale silver light of a moon about to set, patting his face. He tried to jerk upright, but she pushed him back, and he was too weak to resist. “Rest a moment,” she said, “or you might get dizzy and faint again.” He managed to force his stiff, disobedient lips to form a question. “Where’s the conch?” “Right here, on your chest,” Nisha said. She guided his hand until it closed around the conch. “Did you put it there?” Nisha shook her head. “You must have clutched it to you as you fell.” 1 PageFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 1
  • 2. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni But Anand knew better. The conch chooses to be lost or to be found, to stay or to go, he thought. He picked it up carefully and looked at it, his heart beating with joy. His vision was still blurry, but he could tell that the conch looked small and ordinary again. He fumbled with his pouch – why, he was a uncoordinated as a baby – and finally managed to slip the conch inside. Chapter 15 Page 180 Thank you for choosing to stay with me, he said in his mind. “You’re welcome,” the conch said. “Not that I had a plethora of choices. Slimy red was never a contender, so it had to be you or Miss Mule Head –and I distinctly remember her calling me a shell. A shell, if you please!” “Slimy Red” refers to Surabhanu who dies in the form of a scarlet snake. Anand could feel his dry lips crack as a smile broke across his face. “Look!’ Nisha was pulling at his hand. There was a large fissure beside him, empty of snow and burned black. 2 “Did you see what happened?” he asked. PageFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 2
  • 3. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni She hesitated. “I’m not sure. I thought I saw a great fire, or perhaps it was lightning, come from your mouth. The snake creature burst into flame – but there was too much smoke, I couldn’t really tell. It howled and took off for the sky, or maybe it was sucked down into the earth.” They stared at the fissure. Was Surabhanu really destroyed? Anand couldn’t quite believe it. As though she sensed his thoughts, Nisha said, “I think he’s gone for good, but you’d better not waste any time.” She started to cough and couldn’t stop. Anand could see that her face had grown pale, and in spite of the cold there were beads of sweat on her upper lip. When she spoke again, her words came in gasps, as though she had run out of breath. “You’d better get the conch to the foot of the peak.” Reluctantly, Anand pushed himself up on to his knees. His arms and legs felt too weak to bear his weight, and he ached all over, as though he’d been thrown against the Chapter 15 Page 181 side of the mountain. He knew there was something else he should be asking Nisha, but his head was so heavy he couldn’t remember it. When he held out his arm to pull her up, she shook her head. “Aren’t you coming with me?” he asked, surprised. Nisha shook her head with a grimace. “My leg – I can’t move it very well. It hurts a lot even when I’m sitting, but if I try to put any weight on it, it’s just terrible. I could barely drag myself over to you.” She pulled the edge of her dress back from her knee. Even in the half dark, Anand could see the unnatural angle at which her leg was bent. Dismayed, he 3 cried, “But wasn’t it healed?” PageFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 3
  • 4. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni “I think that was temporary, and it went away when Surabhanu left. Or maybe it was never healed. Maybe it was all an illusion, a trick of his to get me to do what he wanted. In any case, I’d rather have both legs broken than be in his power.” She gave a shudder. “I’m awfully sorry for what I did to you.” “I know you couldn’t help it,” Anand interrupted. “I know how that is. It’s horrible, isn’t it, when you have no control over your arms and legs – even your words? But –“ Nisha swayed and gave a small moan. “I’m sorry, I think I’ve got to lie down. Can you take…him…with you?” She pointed to the small golden-brown mass of fur that lay unmoving at the foot of the cliff. “I tried to wake him,” she said tiredly, “but I couldn’t. Maybe the Healers can help him.” Chapter 15 Page 182 Abhaydatta! How could he have forgotten him even for a moment? Anand ran to the mongoose and picked him up. The small, limp body weighed almost nothing. For a moment, with a sinking of his heart. He thought there was no life left in the creature. Then he saw its chest rise and fall in the faintest of movements. Anand couldn’t stop his tears. He wasn’t completely sure yet that the 4 mongoose was, indeed, the Master Healer – it seemed so impossible. And yet, Page hadn’t almost everything that had happened to him in the last few weeksFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 4
  • 5. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni been impossible, too? As he stared at the mongoose, memories flooded him. How many times had the old man protected Nisha and him, seen to their comfort even when he himself was under stress or in danger! How many times had he forgiven Anand his stupidities and doubts! Even at the very fast, he had thrown himself fearlessly at the snake just to save Anand’s life! “I won’t let you die,” he whispered fiercely, “I won’t!” Stumbling, with the mongoose cradled in his arms, he made for the peak. Yes, there was the flat rectangular rock, shaped like a step, at its foot, just as Abhaydatta had described. With a rapidly beating heart, he stood upon it. All through the dangers of the journey, at moments when he felt so overwhelmed that he wanted to give up, Anand had kept himself going by imagining this moment. In his mind’s eye, Abhaydatta would stand on the rock, with Anand and Nisha on either side of him, and raise the conch above his head. As the light of the rising sun haloed Chapter 15 Page 183 the conch and streaked his white head with gold, he would call to his brother Healers. With a sound like thunder or cheers from a thousand throats, an opening in the shape of a giant gate would appear in the mountain’s side. Plumed horses and jewelled elephants would march out in a procession to carry the Master Healer and his companions in triumph through the valley. The fantasy changed a little each time Anand daydreamed it, but in no version of it had he stood on the rock alone to announce his arrival. 5 But it was no use wishing for what could not be. He cleared his throat. “Open Page the pass, Healers. I have brought you that for which you have been waiting.”For Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 5
  • 6. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni There was no reply. Had he got the words wrong? Perhaps there was some formula, some proper and reverential way to announce the conch’s presence. He put his hand on the conch for help, but it was silent. What had it said? Only when humans had done all they could do was it allowed to use its power to help. Anand would just have to try again. “Are you there?” he called. “Can you hear me? Brothers of the conch – I have brought back to you that which was stolen. Open the gate and let us in.” Still there was no answer. The moon had disappeared, and in the faint glow of the stars the stretches of ice around Anand looked barren, a wasteland where nothing lived. He felt like a fool, standing in front of a wall of rock, calling to people who perhaps did not even exist. He wanted to give up and turn around. Chapter 15 Page 184 The mongoose stirred in his arms and gave a small, shuddering moan. No! Anand said to himself. Doubting things – that had always been his weakness. All through this journey he’d doubted the words of the Master Healer and trusted his own intelligence, the little, tinny voice of logic that said this isn’t real. And each time it had led him into one trouble after another, had caused him to almost ruin everything. He would not doubt any longer. The animal in his arms was real; the girl with the broken leg, lying on the icy path behind him, waiting for him to succeed, was real. As real as anything in this secret, baffling landscape could be. Equally real was the fact that he was the only one left who could help them. And if that meant shouting at a mountain till he lost his voice, Anand would do it. “My companion are hurt and in need of your help,” he shouted once more. “We’ve risked our lives to bring you the conch, without which you, too, cannot survive. Let us into the valley, please!” The silence stretched out for an interminable moment. Then a voice spoke from somewhere in the mountain peak. Anand strained to understand the 6 muffled, booming words. PageFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 6
  • 7. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni “Put the conch down on the step, boy, and return to where you came from.” Anand couldn’t believe his ears. After all they had done, risking their lives, the ungrateful speaker wanted him to hand over the conch, turn around, and go back? As though he’d merely strolled up from a village down the road! Chapter 15 Page 185 Didn’t they even care that Abhaydatta, a member of their own Brotherhood, was injured almost to death? And even if they hadn’t been hurt and exhausted, didn’t the Conch Bearer and his companions deserve better treatment than this? Didn’t Anand, who had, after all, vanquished Surabhanu, deserve a few accolades? Anger surged in him. For a moment he was tempted to raise the conch once again to his lips, teach the insolent speaker a lesson. “Ah, Anand, think with care! What does he want you to do?” The cool voice of the conch felt to Anand like he was sucking on an ice chip on a blazing summer’s day in Kolkata. It cleared his head. “Thank you,” he said to it. “Thank you for warning me that this is another test. The voice wants to see if I get angry, if I lose control.” He smiled a tight smile. “Well, it isn’t going to happen.” “I am not going to leave,” he called out to the invisible voice. “We have fought too hard and risked everything – our bodies and minds, even our spirits – to get here. The reason we came was not for ourselves but to help the Brotherhood, I would remind you. So, I won’t give up the conch. Not until you help my companions. Not until you let us into the valley.” He raised the mongoose’s body up high. “Abhaydatta promised us this.” There was a pause, as though the voice had not expected this response. Then it said, “It is easy to speak of promises, boy, using the name of one who is no longer with us. But only the deserving are allowed to pass beyond this point. However, since you have come this far, Chapter 15 Page 186 7 We will give you a chance. We will ask you a question,and give you until Page daybreak for your reply. If you are able to answer correctly, you may enterFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 7
  • 8. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni the Silver Valley.” Hot words of argument rose to Anand’s lips. He wanted to tell that cold, superior voice exactly how deserving he was. Hadn’t Abhaydatta himself come to his home and asked him for help in his quest? Hand’t Anand duelled with the evil genius Surabhanu, who had fooled and foiled the Brotherhood, and won? Wasn’t he the one the conch spoke to? “And the one who doesn’t listen when I speak,” the conch said, its words cool but also hard, like stones in a riverbed that might cut an unwary traveller’s feet. Anand bit his lip. What a fool I am! I almost fell into the trap again, didn’t I? This time the conch’s voice was like the whisper of a hummingbird’s wings. “It’s a wise fool who knows his own folly.” Anand drew himself up to his full height and turned to the impassive rock face. “Speak your question, and I will do my best to answer it.”Honesty Loyalty Compassion “Very well,” the voice said. Or was it a chorus of voices? “Which of these three virtues is the most important: honesty, loyalty, or compassion? Remember, by daybreak – which is one hour away – you must bring us your answer.” “But can you not help my companions before then?” Anand cried. “They are in pain, and Abhaydatta has been poisoned. Another hour might be too late.” Chapter 15 Page 187 “We do not know why you keep speaking the name of Abhaydatta,” the voice said. “He is gone. That creature in your hands is only a mongoose, and may be beyond saving already. And the girl – she is of no importance to us. However, to ease your mind, we will wrap them in a sleep cloud while you wrestle with the question we have given you. They will not feel pain, nor will they degenerate further. But if your answer is the wrong one, you must promise to ask no more of us. You must give us the conch and leave. “ 8 Page The voice spoke in a tone of finality. Anand knew it would be of no use tryingFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 8
  • 9. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni to bargain further. “I promise ,” he said. He glanced at the sky. Was it his imagination, or was it already glowing light in the East? He turned his mind to the question, the final test that he hadn’t expected. 9 PageFor Teaching and Learning in the Classroom Only Page 9