Tagore Translations

Playlets by Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore wrote several playlets for young people. These reveal the lighter side of the poet. Two of these have been translated from Bengali by Somdatta Mandal

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Aryans and Non-Aryans

Adwaita Charan Chattopadhyay and Chintamani Kundu.

Adwaita: Who are you?

Chintamani: I’m an Aryan, a Hindu.

Adwaita: What is your name?

Chintamani: Sri Chintamani Kundu.

Adwaita: What is your intention?

Chintamani: I want to contribute to your paper.

Adwaita: What would you like to contribute?

Chintamani: I’m an Aryan. I would like to write about the Aryan religion.

Adwaita: Sir, what is this thing that you call Aryan?

Chintamani: (surprised) Sir, you don’t know who an Aryan is? I’m an Aryan, my father Sri Nakur Kundu is an Aryan, his father, Late Nafar Kundu is an Aryan, his father —

Adwaita: I see! What is your religion?

Chintamani: That is a tough question! If I can put it in a nutshell, the religion of the non-Aryans is not that of the Aryans.

Adwaita: Now, who are the non-Aryans?

Chintamani: Those who are not Aryans are non-Aryans. I’m not a non-Aryan, my father Sri Nakur Kundu isn’t a non-Aryan, his father Late Nafar Kundu wasn’t a non-Aryan, his father—

Adwaita: Say no more! So, since Sri Nakur Kundu isn’t my father and since I have no relationship with Nafar Kundu, I’m a non-Aryan.

Chintamani: I can’t say that for sure.

Adwaita: (annoyed) What kind of talk is that? What do you mean that you can’t say for certain? Can’t you say for certain that Nakur isn’t my father? What caste are you? What could I have to do with the likes of you?

Chintamani: I’m not talking about caste, I’m talking about dynasty. You too have been born in the world-famous Aryan dynasty –

Adwaita: I born in the same dynasty in which your father Nakur Kundu was born? How dare you—the son of a peasant—even imagine such a thing?  

Chintamani: Yes, sir. You might not be an Aryan, but I, and my respected father are Aryans. Alas! Where could my glorious ancestors be? Where are Kashyap, Bharadwaj, Bhrigu? What kind of talk is that?

Adwaita: What rot this man speaks? Kashyap happens to be my ancestor. We are all part of the Kashyap clan how can Kashyap, Bharadwaj, Bhrigu be your ancestors?

Chintamani: You know nothing about these issues, so there is no point in discussing these things with you. I’m afraid this is all the tragic consequence of English education.

Adwaita: Hasn’t English education affected you?

Chintamani: Sir, you can’t blame me for such a thing. Because of the Aryan blood coursing through my veins, I ran away from school at quite an early age.

Enter Harihar Babu and several other writers.

Adwaita: Please come in. Have you got it all in writing?

Harihar: Yes. Here it is.

Chintamani: Sir, what have you been writing about?

Harihar: Lots of things.

Chintamani: Have you written anything about the Aryans?

Harihar: No.

Chintamani: About the science of the Aryans?

Harihar: The Europeans are Aryans and their science –

Chintamani: The Europeans are a very inferior race and compared to the knowledge that our Aryan forefathers had, they are really illiterate. I can prove this. Even now all descendants of Aryans invoke Aswathama before massaging oil over their bodies and then pour oil thrice on the earth. Do you know why they do so?

Harihar: No.

Chintamani: Do you?

Adwaita: No.

Chintamani: Do you?

First Writer: No.

Chintamani: If you don’t, then why talk about science? Do you know why Aryans click their fingers when they yawn?

All: (in unison) No, none of us do.

Chintamani: Really? Do you know the reason why our Aryan women beat the hand-fan on the floor if the fan touches the body of the person they are fanning?

All: No, not at all.

Chintamani: See, you know nothing. Without discussing these issues at all, without any sort of enquiry into such matters you persist in saying that European science is the best. And yet you don’t even know why Aryans sneeze, yawn or massage oil.

Harihar: All right, sir. You tell us. Why must oil be poured on the ground before it is poured over the body?

Chintamani: Magnetism! Nothing else. This is what is known in English as magnetism.

Harihar: (surprised) Have you read anything about magnetism in English science?

Chintamani: Nothing. No need for that. There is no need to study English to learn science or anything else. What do our Aryans say? There are three forces in nature – life force, causality and positivism. Just before bath the slippery force of oil being added to these forces creates physical negativity within our body. This is nothing but magnetism. Just think — the practice of wiping the body with a towel prevalent among Englishmen since the nineteenth century has been practiced by our Aryans for thousands of years for they have been using the gamcha for the same purpose since then.

The Writers: (with surprise) Wow! How commendable! What scientific skill the Aryans have! What great research our Aryan Kundu Sir has undertaken!

Harihar: We have fallen into the hands of a real idiot today! But there is no point in annoying him. He writes for several newspapers. I have heard that this Aryan Kundu is quite adept at cursing gentlemen a lot. That is why he is famous.

Chintamani: Look over there. That Aryan Brahmin is plucking flowers early in the morning. Why do you think is he doing such a thing?

Adwaita: To give them to the god during prayers.

Chintamani: Shame, shame. You don’t bother to get to the bottom of things. When the sages  permitted the plucking of flowers at dawn it became obvious that they were aware of the presence of oxygen in the air. Since they knew of this, there is no doubt that they also knew of the presence of other gases too. In this manner we can clearly prove by moving from point to point that they were aware of all that was subsequently discovered by modern European chemistry. Why do we click our fingers when we yawn? That is also magnetism. When the rising gases combine with positivism, then the negative force conducted by the physical force exceeds the life force, causality and the positive force by its own power. Then the three qualities of sattwa, rajah and tama (excellence, essence of activity and lowest attributes) achieve exceptional attributes. During this phase, the heat caused in the air as a result of the friction between the middle finger and the thumb combines with the heat of the nervous system and solar heat to prevent the ultimate destruction of physical heat. If this can’t be called science, what can it be called? Isn’t it curious that none of our Aryan sages ever read any book by Darwin.?

The Writers: Amazing! Blessed be the achievements of the Aryans. All this time we couldn’t understand such theories.

Harihar: (to himself) But even today I don’t understand anything.

Chintamani: If you are wondering about the hitting of the hand fan on the floor, then that too is magnetism. Expansion, expulsion, repulsion and attraction – these physical acts add up to —

Adwaita: Spare us, spare us Sir. My head is reeling. You can write about the hitting of the hand fan in my newspaper. You have said enough already. Let me get you a paan.

Chintamani: No, sir. I haven’t come here to have a paan. You aren’t following Aryan customs and actions. The spiritual force flowing in our Aryan veins for generations, that force –

Adwaita: Enough, enough! I won’t give you a paan; you need not have one. If you permit me I will get you some tobacco instead.

Chintamani: Tobacco! What destruction! What a thought! It is even worse. Do you know why high caste people don’t smoke the hookah used by lower caste people? Why doesn’t one caste consume food touched by another caste? Why did the Aryan in earlier times not even tread over the shadow of a non-Aryan?  Don’t you think there is a science behind it? Of course, there is. Let me explain it all to you. That too is magnetism. The three kinds of bodily radiance – excellent, mediocre and base –

Adwaita: Stop, stop. I won’t give you tobacco. You need not smoke the hookah. No need for paan or for tobacco do what is convenient for you, something that will retain your bodily radiance.

The Writers: Shame on you, Adwaita babu. You did not allow us to listen to the learned words of Sri Kundu, the best of the Aryans.

First Writer: (to the second writer) Sri Kundu has such exceptional reasoning skills and knowledge. But, did you understand anything?

Second Writer: No, nothing. Let us ask him properly once again. Sir, you spoke of causality, reason and many other forces, what are they?

Chintamani: They are nothing than what is known in English as force and magnetism.

The Writers: (in unison) Oh, we’ve understood.

Harihar: Sir, I am none the wiser!

The Writers: (disgusted) You still can’t understand anything? Magnetism, force — these are easy concepts. You know what magnetism is. You know what force is. This is also the same thing. We know all of this because of the exceptional scientific enquiry pursued by the Aryans.

First Writer: If you have to understand these things clearly then you need to know all sorts of scriptures. Haven’t you read the scriptures?

Chintamani: No, I haven’t. My father and I, and Nafar Kundu are Aryans – that’s why I don’t consider it necessary to study the scriptures.

Second Writer: That’s true. But you’ve certainly read science very well.

Chintamani: Not at all. I’ve acquired the theories of sneezing, coughing, breaking the knuckles of the fingers and other specific scientific theories from my imagination. It wasn’t necessary for me to study science. You will probably not believe it, but swearing on the Aryan holy books I can say that I have studied neither Aryan scriptures nor scientific discourse. Everything that I know is the product of my imagination.

Harihar: Yes, but you certainly don’t need not swear by it. No one will ever accuse you of studying!

[Translated from “Arya O Anarya” (Chaitra 1292 B.S.) by Somdatta Mandal]

Testing the Student  

The student is called Sri Madhusudan and Sri Kalachand Master is his tutor.

Enter the guardian.

Guardian: Kalachand babu, how is Madhusudan faring in his studies?

Kalachand: Sir, Madhusudan is very naughty but good in his studies. I never have to repeat anything twice to him. He never forgets what I have taught him once.

Guardian: Really! So let me put him to a test today.

Kalachand: Sure, go ahead.

Madhusudan: (to himself) Yesterday Mastermoshai beat me so badly that my back is still hurting. I will have my revenge today. I am going to have him thrown out.

Guardian: So now Modho, do you remember all that you’ve been taught till now?

Madhusudan: I remember whatever Mastermoshai has taught me.

Guardian: OK. Tell me then — what is a plant?

Madhusudan: Something that comes out of the earth.

Guardian: Give me an example.

Madhusudan: An earthworm!

Kalachand: (with eyes flashing) What did you just say?

Guardian: Shhh Sir…, don’t tell him anything now.

To Madhusudan

You have studied poetry; so, tell me, what blooms in the garden?

Madhusudan: Thorns.

Kalachand takes out a cane.

Why sir, why are you caning me? Am I lying?

 Guardian: All right. Who destroyed Siraj-a-Daulah? What does history teach us?

Madhusudan: Insects.

He is caned again.

Sir, I am being caned for no reason at all! Not only Siraj-a-Daulah, but my entire history book has been eaten up by insects. Have a look.

 He shows the book. Kalachand Master scratches his head.

Guardian: Do you remember any of the grammar you’ve been taught?

Madhusudan: Yes.

Guardian: What is a ‘subject’? Explain it with the help of examples.

Madhusudan: Okay. The subject is Joy Munshi who lives in the other village.

Guardian: Can you tell me why?

Madhusudan: He is a doer, busy with many virtuous rituals and activities.

Kalachand: (angrily) You must be off your head!

He canes him on his back.

Madhusudan: (startled) Sir, it’s not the head I am talking about, it’s my back.

Guardian: Tell me, what is the best way of compounding words?  

Madhusudan: I don’t know.

Kalachand babu canes him again.

I know the answer to this one very well. It’s the grammar of the cane.

The guardian laughs. Kalachand babu is not amused at all.

Guardian: Have you learnt your maths lesson?

Madhusudan: Yes, I have.

Guardian: All right. Suppose you are given six and a half pieces of sweets and told to eat as many as you can in five minutes. Whatever remains will have to be given to your younger brother. If you need two minutes to eat one sweet, how many will you end up giving to your brother?

Madhusudan: Not a single piece.

Kalachand: How come?

Madhusudan: I’ll eat all of them. I wouldn’t want to give the sweets to anybody!

Guardian: All right. Suppose a banyan tree grows a quarter of an inch each day. If the tree was ten inches tall on the first of the month of Baisakh, how tall will it be on the first of Baisakh the next year?

Madhusudan:  If the tree grows crooked then I won’t be able to say; but if it grows straight then we’ll be able to measure it and find out its exact height; but in the meantime if it dries up then there is nothing to be done.

Kalachand: Your brain won’t function at all till you get a good beating. Rascal, it’s only when I’ll beat you black and blue, that you’ll straighten up.

Madhusudan: Sir, even very straight things will bend if you keep beating them.

Guardian: Kalachand babu, you’re mistaken. Physical abuse won’t get you far. There is a saying that you cannot flog a donkey and turn it into a horse, but sometimes a flogged horse can turn into a donkey. Most students are capable of learning, but most teachers aren’t capable of teaching. But it’s the pupil who gets the beating. Please take yourself and your cane away and leave with your cane and let Madhusudan’s back rest for a few days, and then I myself will start teaching him.

Madhusudan: (to himself) Oh, I am so relieved!

Kalachand: Sir, I am so thankful. Only a labourer will enjoy teaching this boy—all it amounts to is manual labour. After working on him for thirty days all I get is only five rupees, while the same labour in tilling the earth would fetch me at least ten rupees per day!

[Translated from “Chhatrer Pariksha” in the Hasyakoutuk ]

Hasyakoutuk(1914) by Tagore

Somdatta Mandal is a former Professor of English and ex-Chairperson, Department of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships like the Fulbright Research and Teaching Fellowships, British Council Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship, Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio, Italy, Salzburg Seminar and Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Enrichment Fellowship, she has been published widely both nationally and internationally. She has also an award from Sahitya Akademi for the All India Indian Literature Golden Jubilee (1957-2007) Literary Translation Competition in the Fiction category for translating short stories series ‘Lalu’ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.



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