Category Archives: Rabindranath Tagore

The Postmaster

After watching Satyajit Ray’s adaptation of The Postmaster, a short story by Rabindranath Tagore, and I am forced to think how little I had understood of Ratan’s plight, and the subtext, when it was taught to us in school. I wonder if the opinions were even our own. Then the only interpretation that flew was the teacher’s. We weren’t encouraged to apply our brains much those days. So many years down the line I don’t even remember who taught it. That’s what memories are. Fleeting and evasive, just beyond your grasp when you need them. You seem to remember some things while forgetting others. That’s where people come in. You ask them what they remember of an incident or something that happened, and you will be amazed to hear the stories, real and imagined. Everyone thinks they remember it correctly, the way it happened. But it is the prism of perspective that colours everything we view.

Chandana Banerjee as the young Ratan is outstanding. I couldn’t have expected more. She brought Tagore’s Ratan to life. I have no love lost for the postmaster but it was portrayed well by Anil Chatterjee. Incredible acting. The fish out of water-ness and his loneliness were apparent. I can’t exactly call him unfeeling or unkind but in the end he thought only of saving himself. That is human nature, the survival instinct kicking in. I won’t reveal much that may spoil your reading or watching. But I shall say this, you will be surprised by what you feel once you have finished watching or reading it.

It’s a pity I found subtitles only for a part of the story.  It wasn’t that big a problem because I do understand a bit of Bengali, especially when it is spoken slowly, it being similar somewhat to Odia and all.

The Postmaster is one of three short films collectively titled Teen Kanya. I have only seen The Postmaster which is so nuanced that even though you don’t understand the language completely, by dint of what’s unfolding on the screen, the feeling will find its way to you. What the director was trying to convey  is in tandem with what the writer was trying to say. Do you know how rare that is?

I loved the black and white minimalist cinematography where every single thing that unfolded on screen added something to the story. Nothing was extraneous. I found this podcast online where Anita Desai narrates The Postmaster which is followed by a discussion. Listen to it now. It is of course thousand times better than me reading the text. Needless to say I love and admire Anita Desai having read her The Village by the Sea when I was young (for school again) and the book has stayed with me all these years.

It’s been a while since I read Tagore. It’s time to reacquaint myself with his prose. And what better time than the monsoons, when loneliness and desolation walk hand in hand.

Tagore’s The Post Office and the living

I lay on the bed
for the better part of the day 
looking listlessly  out of the window
the wire mesh blocking the view
partitioning the sky into small squares.
Sleep eluded me
pain overpowered me
I longed to die.
I felt my heart thudding
hanging on to dear life.
Death laughing sardonically
watching with cold glee
whispering in a thin voice

your time is yet to come.

Continue reading Tagore’s The Post Office and the living

Reflections on reading The Wife’s Letter

Coming home to Tagore is always a revelation. I have probably owned this fine collection of short stories for over a decade now. My aunt had funded it when she saw me lurking in the aisle of the book corridor in Big Bazaar back when it still sold books, along with stationery. How little I must have understood of women’s plight and their predicaments, when I was a teenager if not a child, is dawning on me now. A great story is that which reveals itself anew whenever you pick it up to read. In short something which has repeat value. Tagore is a genius; every sentence has its place and importance in the narrative.

I never pick up Tagore lightly because I can never shrug off his words casually and carry on with my life pretending to be unaltered when the soul has registered change. Reading Tagore needs complete involvement of the brain and the heart, and I need to be on stable ground otherwise it would be tough to balance the emotions when I’m on uneven terrain. The emotions generated on reading the text will overwhelm me and teetering on the edge of a precipice isn’t good for my health.

Reading The Wife’s Letter I had to stop at a few sentences to completely understand them (I am not sure if it is brain fog or ageing in action) and compare it to the real world experience I have had in the last decade. My first hand experience might be very limited but observed or heard second hand experience is so much more. Women talk. Women share. Stories of friends, acquaintances, neighbours, stories from the media. A woman has empathy for all the women of the world (barring duplicitous mother-in-laws and conniving frenemies).

There is no doubt about that Tagore understood the female psyche and portrayed it in his writings better than any man could. I am really looking forward to reading another translation of Chokher Bali soon. Continue reading Reflections on reading The Wife’s Letter

Upagupta

 

  Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay sleep in
the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
Lamps were all out, doors were all shut, and
stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.
Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets,
touching his breast of a sudden?
He woke up startled, and a light from a woman’s
lamp fell on his forgiving eyes.
It was dancing girl, starred with jewels,
Wearing a pale blue mantle, drunk with the wine
of her youth.
She lowered her lamp and saw young face
austerely beautiful.
“Forgive me, young ascetic,” said the woman,
“Graciously come to my house. The dusty earth
is not fit bed for you.”
The young ascetic answered, “Woman,
go on your way;
When the time is ripe I will come to you.”
Suddenly the black night showed its teeth
in a flash of lightening.
The storm growled from the corner of the sky, and
The woman trembled in fear of some unknown danger.
* * *
A year has not yet passed.
It was evening of a day in April,
in spring season.
The branches of the way side trees were full of blossom.
Gay notes of a flute came floating in the
warm spring air from a far.
The citizens had gone to the woods for the
festival of flowers.
From the mid sky gazed the full moon on the
shadows of the silent town.
The young ascetic was walking along the lonely street,
While overhead the love-sick koels uttered from the
mango branches their sleepless plaint.
Upagupta passed through the city gates, and
stood at the base of the rampart.
Was that a woman lying at his feet in the
shadow of the mango grove?
Stuck with black prestilence, her body
spotted with sores of small-pox,
She had been hurriedly removed from the town
To avoid her poisonous contagion.
The ascetic sat by her side, took her head
on his knees,
And moistened her lips with water, and
smeared her body with sandal balm.
“Who are you, merciful one?” asked the woman.
“The time, at last, has come to visit you, and
I am here,” replied the young ascetic.
Rabindranath Tagore
We had this poem in our English Literature syllabus. The well thumbed Wings of Poesy ,the  poetry book which contains the above poem still exists. I can’t help but go back to that time,to the naive thirteen year old with a million crazy ideas and romantic dreams of becoming a writer someday and living in the country. Whenever I read the poem I am transported back into school,sitting in my assigned seat in class, listening to the lilting voice of our teacher and taking notes when required. It’s as if nothing has changed but everything has changed,on the outside at least.