When I first met Satish he appeared to me like a constellation ofstars, his eyes shining, his tapering fingers like flames of fire, hisface glowing with a youthful radiance. I was surprised to find thatmost of his fellow-students hated him, for no other fault than that heresembled himself more than he resembled others. Because with men, aswell as with some insects, taking the colour of the surroundings isoften the best means of self-protection.
The students in the hostel where I lived could easily guess myreverence for Satish. This caused them discomfort, and they nevermissed an opportunity of reviling him in my hearing. If you have aspeck of grit in your eye it is best not to rub it. And when wordssmart it is best to leave them unanswered.
But one day the calumny against Satish was so gross that I could notremain silent.
Yet the trouble was that I hardly knew anything about Satish. We neverhad even a word between us, while some of the other students were hisclose neighbours, and some his distant relatives. These affirmed,with assurance, that what they said was true; and I affirmed, witheven greater assurance, that it was incredible. Then all the residentsof the hostel bared their arms, and cried: ‘What impertinence!’
That night I was vexed to tears. Next day, in an interval betweenlectures, when Satish was reading a book lying at full length on thegrass in College Square, I went up to him without any introduction,and spoke to him in a confused manner, scarcely knowing what I said.Satish shut his book, and looked in my face. Those who have not seenhis eyes will not know what that look was like.
Satish said to me: ‘Those who libel me do so, not because they love toknow the truth, but because they love to believe evil of me. Thereforeit is useless to try to prove to them that the calumny is untrue.’
‘But,’ I said,‘the liars must be — ’
‘They are not liars,’ interrupted Satish.
‘I have a neighbour,’ he went on, ‘who has epileptic fits. Last winterI gave him a blanket. My servant came to me in a furious temper, andtold me that the boy only feigned the disease. These students whomalign me are like that servant of mine. They believe what they say.Possibly my fate has awarded me an extra blanket which they thinkwould have suited them better.’
I asked him a question: ‘Is it true what they say, that you are anatheist?’
He said: ‘Yes.’
I bent my head to the ground. I had been arguing with myfellow-students that Satish could not possibly be an atheist.
I had received two severe blows at the outset of my short acquaintancewith Satish. I had imagined that he was a Brahman, but I had come toknow that Satish belonged to a Bania family, and I in whose veinsflowed a bluer blood was bound duly to despise all Banias. Secondly, Ihad a rooted belief that atheists were worse than murderers, nay,worse even than beef-eaters.