At the Society's Chambers
Professor : Gentlemen, I believe we are here in full strength.
It is gratifying to find so much enthusiasm still abroad for the
dispassionate acquisition of knowledge. I trust it is not a short-lived fervour; I trust we shall not soon have to declare our
society extinct from constitutional inability to form a quorum.
Jurist : I believe this is a society for the discussion of all
things discussable and the discovery of all things discoverable. Am I
right in my supposition?
Professor : Your definition is rather wide, but it may pass.
Jurist : In that case I suggest that the first subject we should
discuss is whether this society should come into existence at all
and should not rather adjourn its birth sine die.
Professor : Gentlemen, I think we should not be damped.
Even this should not damp us. I believe it is nothing worse than
the Indian spirit of scepticism — not malaria, not inertia, not
even spiritual cramp. Courage, let us not shirk even this dangerous inquiry.
Jurist : Let me explain. My suggestion is dictated not by the
spirit of academical doubt, but by the more mundane love of
safety. Have you reflected, Professor, that there are other
dangers abroad besides the chance of automatic dissolution ? Is
it not conceivable that we may be dissolved as an association
for unlawful objects or arrested as a gang of dacoits?
Professor : Good Heavens! My dear sir! And yet — I don't
know. As a member of a society pledged to regard truth from all
possible directions, I cannot rule it out as an impossibility. But
if we have none but unobjectionable members —
Jurist : Pardon me, Professor. How do you know who is an
unobjectionable member or who is objectionable? As a Professor you are
acquainted with hundreds of students. It is possible
one of them might stray in here of an evening. He might be
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arrested. He might turn approver. And what would his statement be ? Why,
that Prof. So-and-So was leader of a gang of
political dacoits, that the Society met at such a number in
Harrison Road, that they were accustomed to arrange their nefarious enterprises
there under cover of intellectual conversation
and that you were the receiver of the booty. And then there
would be the Andamans where you would probably get more
physical exercise in one week than you have done in all your life,
Professor. There are other joys, Professor, the whipping triangle,
handcuffs, laphsy.¹ Is it worth while?
The Professor gazes in horrified silence at the Jurist, then with a flash of
hope : He might recant.
Jurist : That is only an off chance. I would not rely on it.
You see he would be laying himself open to an unanswerable
accusation of perjury, while, if he persisted in his story, he would
be perfectly safe.
Professor : But surely some corroboration, some documentary evidence
Jurist : Certainly; why not? He would point out your house; it would be proved that it was your house. He would identify
these rooms, it would be proved that we all met here. Then,
Professor, do you never use the word kāj in your letters? Do you
scrupulously avoid any reference to bibāha?
Professor : It is quite possible I may use both.
Jurist : And yet you say, where is the documentary evidence ?
One such letter coinciding with your absence from Calcutta!
The Andamans, Professor, the Andamans!
Professor : I will scrupulously avoid both in future.
Jurist : There are other words in the Bengali language. In
any case, if you escaped any special charge, you would be sure to be rearrested
on the general charge of conspiracy?
Professor (exasperated) : Proofs, sir, the proofs!
Jurist : Quite easy. We shall merely have to prove association. Have you
no student who may be either mixed up or liable
to be suspected of being mixed up in a dacoity or a conspiracy ?
Professor : Association for a criminal object, sir!
Jurist : That could be assumed from the closeness of your
¹A broth served to prisoners in varied
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intimacy. The burden of proving your association innocent
would then fall upon you. I challenge you to prove your association even with
me innocent. All you can prove is that your
other acquaintances did not know its criminal object.
Professor : I shall keep a diary of all my words and actions.
Jurist : It could easily be shown that it was kept with an eye
to this contingency. Do not do it, Professor. You might put in
things unknown to you which would be damning evidence against
you in the hands of a skilful lawyer. If many names of suspects
occurred in it, it would be itself the basis of his case and the key-stone of his theory.
The Professor collapses
Jurist : In any case you would have a year or more in hājut.
Do you know what hājut is like, Professor? There would be
laphsy there too; there would be the joys of solitary confinement; you would have to sit for hours on your haunches, to which you
are not accustomed; there would be parades of various kinds; warders with boots to whom you are supposed, I believe, to
salaam; daily physical researches on yourself in a nude condition. To the last
rapture I do not object; but you, Professor, are constitutionally modest.
Jurist : Gentlemen, allow me again. I seem to have disconcerted and
appalled this nascent society. It was far from my intention. The case I have
put is an extreme and highly hypothetical
one. My object is to put you on your mettle and induce you to
adopt all reasonable precautions.
The Practical Man
: We can be careful to exclude
Jurist : My dear sir! The very way to invite suspicion. The
police would first learn the existence of a society. On inquiry
they would find out that special care was taken to exclude detectives. We would
have only ourselves to thank for the house-search and arrests that would follow.
Professor (reviving) : I would recommend paying a member
of C.I.D. to attend our meetings.
The Extremist (scornfully) : Why only one, Professor? Why
not the whole damned department?
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Professor : My dear Biren, pray take care of your words.
They are highly irregular and seditious and may bring about your
forfeiture under the Press Act. No, not all. There is such a thing
as moderation. Besides, your proposal is as extravagant as your
expressions. Do you realise that it would amount to subsidising
one third of the literate population of India
Jurist : Such an extraordinary procedure would attract suspicion. It
might be thought you were a particularly adroit, ingenious and hardened
conspirator using this apparent frankness
to cover up your nefarious secret operations. What are the declared objects of
Professor : Self-improvement —
Jurist : A very dangerous term. Pray drop it.
Professor : The discovery of truth —
Scientist : I object. Truth is a highly explosive substance.
I am not sure that the police would not be justified in carrying it
away as an incriminatory document along with the Gita and
Seeley's Expansion of England.
Professor : And discussion and question on all questionable
things, subjects or persons.
Extremist (unpleasantly) : Take care! That is obviously an
innuendo, reference, allusion or metaphor intended or calculated
to bring the Government into contempt or hatred.
Professor (innocently) : Good Lord, so it is! (in despair)
We'll have to give it up.
Jurist : Why not add a second object, to present and offer
addresses of loyalty and depute congratulatory deputations to
high officials on every occasion possible or impossible ? That, I
think, would cure everything.
He sits back triumphantly and invites admiration. Applause.
: A very attractive proposal. Dear me, this
Extremist (wrathfully) : There is such a thing as truth and
Professor (warmly) : Truth ? Are we not loyal ? Do you dare
to say we are Anarchists?
Extremist : I decline membership.
Professor : Well, Biren, well! Perhaps you had better. But
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you can drop in and have a cup of tea whenever we meet. What
do you say? I think I too should have made my mark as a political leader!
He beams seraphically on the society, which breaks up with
shouts of Rule, Britannia!