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Tagore Translations

A Hymn By Rabindranth

‘On This Auspicious Day’ is a trans-creation of a Brahmo hymn, Aaji Shubhodine Pitaar Bhabone, by Rabindranath Tagore. Written in 1883, this song was first published in TatwaBodhini Patrika, a magazine brought out by the splinter group from Brahmo Sabha led by Tagore’s father, Debendranath Tagore.

A Bengali Rendition of the song by Debabrata Biswas
ON THIS AUSPICIOUS DAY

On this auspicious day, let us go to our 
Father’s heavenly abode. 
Let us go. Let us go, you and I. 

The level of contentment in His blissful
Home is unfathomable to us. 

The three worlds are in ecstasy with
Festivities that spill over with joy.

Let us join the celestials singing in praise of him
Let us go there. Let us go, you and I.

Tagore like his father and grandfather was a Brahmo. The Brahmo festival, Maghotsav, is celebrated at the end of January, by the Bengali calendar on the 11th of Magh. Brahmo Samaj grew out of Brahmo Sabha. These were attempts at a reform movement on Hinduism initiated in the early part of the nineteenth century Calcutta by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dwarakanath Tagore, the poet’s grandfather.

(Trans-created for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial support from Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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Musings Tagore Translations

Two Birds: Musings on Tagore

Ratnottama Sengupta muses as she translates Tagore’s song, Khachar Pakhi Chilo (1892, The caged bird was)

TWO BIRDS

In a coop of gold, lived Cage Bird,
In the forest dwelt Free Bird --
How did the twain meet on a dawn?
What had Fate ordained?

"Dear One in cage," Free Bird called out,
"Come, let's fly into the wood."
"You come inside," chirped Cage Bird,
"The enclosure can be our home!"
"No!" Free Bird cried, "the chains are not for me!"
"Alas!" Cage Bird sighed, 
"How can I live in the holt!"

Free Bird sat outside and sang
All the forest songs he loved.
Cage Bird parroted all 
The tricks it had been taught -
'Twas as if they spoke two tongues!
Free Bird pleaded, "Dear one!
For me sing one Forest song!""
Cage Bird said, "You better rote
Songs of the cage, loved one!"
"No!" Free Bird wailed, 
"I do not parrot cliches!"
"Alas," sobbed Cage Bird,
"How do I sing what I've never heard!"

The Free Bird chimed, "Deep is the blue 
Of the sky above,
There's no bar in its expanse!"
"See!" Cage Bird twittered,
"How well-netted is the aviary
on all its four sides!"
"Let go of yourself!" Free Bird whistled,
"In the clouds above, just once!"
"This cosy corner is so very tranquil!"
Cage Bird chirped, "Why not 
Submit to its peace?"
"No! Where will I then fly?"
"Alas! Where in the clouds 
Will I find a perch?"

Thus the two birds loved each other
But could not unite.
Through the gaps their beaks would kiss
Their eyes bespoke their longing
But neither could understand
Nor express to the other
Their biding constraints.
They flapped their wings
They stretched their arms
"Come to me dear, let me
Hold you to my heart!"
"No!" the Free Bird feared,
"The door might snap shut!"
"Alas!" lamented the Caged Bird
"I have no might to fly!"
Birds in a large cage in Saratchandra’s home. Photo Courtesy: Ratnottama Sengupta

Growing up in a Vaishnav family where kirtan was a part of daily life, I had always loved this song Rabindranath Tagore composed in the kirtan style. In my later years I thought the Universal Poet had penned the Natya Geeti — song drama — in the context of the Freedom Struggle. No, I learnt in an essay by the poet: it was penned in 1892 to put into words a more universal philosophy — the duality that is part of every human existence. 
Difficult to comprehend? Perhaps not, once we obliterate the sameness of the two birds and attribute gender markers to them. Tagore himself thought of the caged bird as the woman in every man, and the free bird as the man in every woman. Perhaps that is why it is structured along the lines of the traditional Shuk Shari samvad — a conversational song between between two birds (parrots perhaps?) — wherein Shuk is a follower of the masculine, Purushottam Krishna, and Shari of Radha, the essence of femininity. However, I was prompted to look up the poem recently when I saw a large birdcage in a corner of Saratchandra Chatterjee’s house in Deulti some 60 km from Kolkata. It was pretty routine, apparently, for households then to have aviaries ‘domesticating’ finches, canaries, parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds and other feathered pets — much like today’s people with pet dogs and cats. But I was struck by a different thought: Did the two birds represent the two stalwarts of Bengali Literature who lived at the same time? Did one look inside homes and scan woes besetting the happiness of their human relationships? And did the other take off from his perch on a branch of the tree rooted in terra firma, to swim in the boundless ocean above? Even today, one draws you out into the vast expanse while the other pulls you homeward. Together? They give us a  universe…

Notes:

Kirtan is devotional music.

Tagore (1861 to 1941) and Saratchandra (1876-1938) were contemporaries. While Saratchandra wrote stories based on real life to expose and reform social ills, Tagore’s work was more philosophically inclined, though he has written of such societal issues too.

In 1894, Rabindranath wrote in Aadhunik Saahitya while commenting on the works of the poet Biharilal Chakraborty –

“… There is an independently moving masculine entity within our nature, which is intolerant to bondage alongside a feminine one which preffers to be enclosed and secured within the walls of the home. Both of them remain united in an inseparable fashion. One is eager to develop significantly his undying strength in a diverse way by savouring ever-new tastes of life, exploring ever-new realms and manifestations and the other remains encircled within innumerable prejudices and traditional practices, enthralled with her habitual deliberations. One takes you out into the vast expanse and the other seems to pull towards home. One is a forest bird (or the free bird of the translation by Ratnottama Sengupta) and the other is a caged bird. This forest bird is the one that sings much. Although, its song expresses with its diverse melodies the whimper and its craving for unrestricted freedom.”

Rabindranath Tagore was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

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Tagore Translations

Colour the World by Tagore

Rangiye Diye Jao (Colour the World) written in 1927 by Tagore is a part of Gitabitan, the maestro’s largest compendium of songs. It has been trans-created by Ratnottama Sengupta.

Gitabitan, houses 2232 songs by Tagore.
Colour the World

Colour the world before you bid adieu --
Before you go
Dye the world in your hues,
In your notes,
In the youthful verve
Of your smiles...
Colour the world before
Bidding adieu...

May those hues steep my soul,
May the hues stay in my heart --
To colour every action henceforth,
To light up the path when darkness falls,
To stay awake when slumber engulfs...

Dye the Earth with this melody of yours,
Bathe it in tears but
Make it recall --
The joyous ring that wrapped us all.
Dye the Earth before you go...
Colour it, before bidding adieu --

Wake me up before you leave,
Let my bloodstream
Ripple to your name --
Like the stars that
Shine through night,
Like the stream that
Breaks free of rocks,
Like the bolt that
Rips the clouds,
Like the rhythm that throbs
The axis of the world...
Rock me gently with your hands
Before bidding adieu --

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

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Tagore Translations

Robert Burns & Tagore in Harmony

A translation of Purano Sei Diner (1885), Tagore’s youthful adaptation of Robert’s Burn’s Auld Lang Syne(1788) to an Indian context.

Tagore’s song sung by Bengali legendary singer, Debabrata Biswas
Can Old Days Ever be Forgot? 

Can old days ever be forgot, O my friend! 
The things we saw, we shared together, can they be forgot?
Come, my friend, come once again into my heart.
We’ll talk of our joys and sorrows, and we’ll relax. 
We have swung, picked flowers in the dawn, 
Played the flute, sung together under the bokul*. 
Oh, we parted in between, scattered here and there. 
Now that we’ve met again, my friend, come into my hearth.

*Bokul is a tree with fragrant flowers, commonly known as medlar in English.

We present here the version created by Robert Burns based on an old Scottish song. It is popularly sung during the new year.

Auld Lang Syne
By Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

     Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
     For auld lang syne.
     We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
     For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

     Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit,
Sin' auld lang syne.

     Chorus

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.

     Chorus

And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

     Chorus
Auld Lang Syne in Scottish and English

(Translated for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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Tagore Translations

Morichika or Mirage by Tagore

Morichika or ‘Mirage’ is one on Tagore’s early poems. It was first published in 1886 in a collection called Kori O Komal (Sharp and Flat).

Mirage
Come, leave your bed of flowers, O friend —
Beat the hard ground with your foot. 
How long will you isolate yourself weaving 
Dreams of starry blooms in an unreal sky!
Look, a storm is brewing in the distance —
Your world will be washed away with tears.
Flames of God’s lightning jinx will ignite the 
Fires of purity to arouse you from stupor. 
Come let us both go and live with people,
Enlightened by their joys and sorrows —
Let us share their laughter and sadness
Holding hands, stay fearless when in doubt. 
Let us not dwell in this redolent mirage as
It terrorises with its transient evanescence. 
Tagore’s translation on ‘Morichika’ in Poems. Source: Bichitra

Later Tagore translated this poem to English himself. That was published in 1942 by a collection entitled Poems edited by Krishna Kripalalni, Amiya Chakravarty, Nirmal Chandra Chattopadhyay and Pulinbehari Sen published after his death by Visva Bharati.

Here is an excerpt of what Tagore wrote about Kori O Komal in his Jibonsmriti (1912, autobiographical memoirs by the poet) which reflects his outlook and the mood of the poem.

Translation: Man falls into a stupor when due to his own reluctance to make an effort, he can neither understand himself nor face reality. I have always struggled to emerge out of this stupor. I cannot reconcile myself to the current situation where nameless intellectuals are inebriated with patriotism and are involved in spineless political rallies and news campaigns which exhibit both the lack of a national identity and concern for mass welfare. (Excerpted from a screenshot of Jibonsmriti sent by Anasuya Bhar)

(These translations for Borderless Journal are by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar. Also, thanks to Anasuya Bhar for the images from Bichitra and Jibonsmriti and the extensive research on the poem.)

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Tagore Translations

The Song of Advent by Tagore

Written in 1908 in Shantiniketan, the lyrics of this song describe what is traditionally known as the sarat season ( or early autumn) when the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated. It appeared as a part of the collection called Geetanjali (Songs of Offering).

Shiuli flowers. Courtesy: Creative Commons
The Song of Advent

Wonder fills my senses.
My heart yearns for your presence.
Your dawn-coloured foot falls under the shiuli bowers
On dew strewn grass carpeted with fallen flowers.
Wonder fills my senses.
Light and shade play hide-and-seek in the woods, like lace.
What do the blooms say as they gaze awestruck at your face!
Shed your veil so that we can welcome you,
Remove the wisp of cloth with both your hands.
Sylvan nymphs blow on melodious conches from their doorways.
The universe welcomes your advent with music from celestial strings.
Within my being, I sense the tinkling of gold anklets.
All thoughts, all tasks are eased by the nectar of your presence —
Wonder fills my senses.

The woman welcomed in the poem is the Goddess Durga who descends from heaven for a five-day-long celebration. Interestingly, Tagore’s family were proponents of Brahmoism, a reform on Hinduism which adopted more Christian doctrines and rejected idol worship.

Suchitra Mitra’s rendition of the Rabindrasangeet in Bengali

(This poem has been translated for Borderless Journal by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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Tagore Translations

Travels & Holidays: Humour from Rabindranath

Translated from the original Bengali by Somdatta Mandal

Translator’s Note

The earliest journeys of Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) were in his mind and he has left us accounts of these as well as of the later physical journeys in various travel writings – letters, diaries, poems, songs, and essays. Right from his childhood he made innumerable trips both within India and abroad. Apart from his regular full-fledged travelogues, we find many lesser known but interesting experiences of his travel. Included below are four such entries. The first essay is a trip to Hazaribagh with his nephew and niece. The second entry is a hilarious letter about his second visit to Darjeeling. The third a letter that narrates his trip to Satara in Maharashtra State, one of the towns where his elder brother Satyendranath Tagore served in the Civil Service. The last one is from Balia in Uttar Pradesh where Rabindranath complains that he is tired of travelling and wants to settle down peacefully as a bird in its nest.

Tagore in London, 1879. Courtesy: Creative Commons

In 1885, under his sister-in-law Jnanadanandini’s editorial venture, a children’s magazine called Balak was published from the Tagore household in Calcutta. Though the life-span of this magazine was less than a year and only eleven issues were totally published, it contained different writings of the young Rabindranath, who would handle a lot of things for the publication. This magazine was later merged with Bharati and edited by his elder sister Swarnakumari Devi. Among the different entries that Rabindranath contributed for Balak and published in Vol. 3, Ashar 1292 B.S. (July-August 1885) was an essay called “Dus Diner Chhuti” (Ten Days’ Holiday) that narrates his trip to Hazaribagh that year during the school holidays. The two children referred to in this article were Surendranath and Indira, son and daughter of his elder brother Satyendranath and Jnadadanandini Devi. The sketch of the bungalow below is also done by him.

An illustration accompanying the essay ‘Dus Diner Chhuti’ (Ten Days’ Holiday). First published in Balak magazine. Somdatta Mandal suggests it could be the handiwork of the Kobiguru.

Trip to Hazaribagh – First published in Balak Magazine

Two children have made me homeless in this summer heat! Their school has been closed for ten days but that’s not just the reason. There would not be so much chaos in the house even if twelve suns appeared on the horizon. The older brother blunted the tips of all the pens he found within his reach, drew pictures on whatever paper he found; tried out the sharpness of a knife on his existing thigh; took out the machine from the watch he found and tried to rectify it; undid the bindings of all the books within his reach; climbed up on my shoulders if he found the opportunity – and so on! He moved on parapet walls in places where there were stairs for climbing; though everyone in the whole world believed in getting out of a car only when it stopped, he thought it was his only duty to jump out of a running car.

Everyone accepted the fact that the sun was too hot during the summer but the human child that I am talking about probably did not differentiate much between sunshine and moonlight. So during the school vacation, the difference in belief and behaviour between him and other ordinary people created a sort of revolution in the neighbourhood. The news that recently the elder brother has got leave for ten days spread everywhere. People were not so overwhelmed even when they received the news of the English-Russian war.

In the meantime, his younger sister came to me off and on and demanded – “Uncle–.” It would be nice if he called me ‘Uncle’ but I would receive new names at least three times in a day – names which were not heard in any civilized country. These naughty children also scattered and turned my own possessions upside down. My own name also did not have a proper address. I could not make them understand that my own name was my personal possession. Anyhow, the small girl (not that she was too small) came and pleaded, “Uncle, come with us to Hazaribagh.” After a lot of thought I did not say anything else and ventured out on this summer day.

One cannot see much in a vacation of eight or ten days but at least we can peek at nature outside. At least one can stand beneath the open expanse of the blue sky and the vast open green fields for a few seconds and feel free. We live in the city and occasionally it becomes essential to prove that the world is not built entirely with bricks, wood and mortar. So, four of us began our journey. I have already acquainted you with the boy and the girl. I need to introduce the other person. He was a fat, round and simple man. He was older than all of us but even younger than these children. His fair and stout figure was full of humour and he seemed like a ripe and juicy fruit. Just like the bubbles in a huge pot of rice being cooked, his humour came out from his nose and eyes. There are some people who resembled the ‘sandesh’ – the sweetmeat without a covering, without anything hard inside, without thorns – just a smooth, juicy blend of cottage cheese and sugar. Our innocent and harmless companion was that kind of a very edible man.

We boarded the train at Howrah at night. The swaying of the train confused one’s sleep – the sleeping conscience and the dream and waking up all got mixed up. There were occasional series of lights, sound of gongs, shouting, and calling the name of a station in a strange intonation. Again after three strikes of a gong all the sounds would subside within a few seconds and everything would become dark and quiet except for the continuous sound of the train wheels moving in the dark. Keeping in tune with that sound all the strange dreams would keep on dancing in my head all night. We had to change trains at Madhupur Station at four o’clock in the morning. As the darkness faded away, I sat at the train window and looked outside at the early morning light. This was a new country! It seemed that due to some disturbance our flat land had cracked and was torn apart. It was rough, broken and full of big and small sal trees and there were high and low undulations everywhere. There were plenty of sal trees but they did not endear each other as they did in Bengal. Each tree stood independently on its own soil. In Bengal all the trees, plants and creepers entwined each other in a familial bonding, but I did not notice that in this hard soil here. Maybe the people here were also like that. We did not notice much habitation. Only occasionally one or two huts stood friendless here and there. In the wet and salubrious climate of Bengal, trees and plants, men and men, houses and houses all stick to each other, but here in this rough and dry place everything seemed to be standing independently on their own.

The train moved on continuously. In the cracked fields one could sometimes see the sand of dry river beds and in those river beds huge black rocks and stones lay like skeletons of the earth. Sometimes a few hills stood up like severed heads. The hills in the distance were dark blue in colour. The blue clouds in the sky that came to play with the earth seemed to get caught up here. They had raised their wings to fly back to the sky but could not do so because they were tied up. The maidens from the sky came and embraced them. I saw one dark man with a broad face, with his wild hair tied up in a knot, standing there with a stick in his hand. The plough was attached to the back of two buffaloes; they had not begun tilling yet, and they stood still looking at the train. Occasionally there were some clear plots of land encircled with fencing made of ghritakumari plants and with a brick well that was constructed in the centre. The whole region looked very dry. The thin, tall and white dry grass looked like grey hair. The short leafless berry plants were shriveled, dry, and dark. In the distance a few palm trees stood with their small heads and one long leg. Occasionally a peepul or a mango tree was also visible. A lone old roofless cottage with its broken frame stood in the middle of the dry land and looked at its own shadow. Nearby there was a stump of a huge burnt tree.

We reached Giridih station at six o’clock in the morning. There were no more train lines after that and so we had to take carriage drawn by human beings from here. Could we call this a car? It was a small cage over four wheels. As we began our journey in the morning, the four of us started chirping inside it like four fledglings. The young brother and sister began to talk about many things and also pester me with joy. Our stout companion mingled with the children and turned into such a child that by just looking at them my own age was reduced by fourteen years and eight months. At first we went to the Giridih Dak Bungalow and refreshed ourselves. There was no sign of grass anywhere as far as we could see. There were a few trees in between and waves of red earth everywhere. A lean pony was tied under the tree; after looking all around it didn’t know what to eat. Having nothing to do it stood scratching its back on the wooden post. A goat was tied to another tree with a long rope and after a lot of research it stood breaking a sort of green plant with ease.

We resumed our journey from here. There were coal mines in Giridih but we could not see it due to lack of time. The road was hilly. We could see a great distance both in front and behind us. The long and winding road lay on the dry and empty terrain like a serpent basking in the sun. The car was pushed on the uphill road with a lot of effort and then it would slide smoothly downhill. As we went along we saw hills on the way. There were tall and thin sal trees, termite heaps, stumps of trees that had been cut down. At certain places some hills were covered with only tall, thin and leafless trees. The starving trees seemed to spread their lean dry fingers towards the sky and the mountains seemed as if they had been pierced by hundreds of arrows like the bed of arrows on which Bhisma rested on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The sky was overcast and it began to drizzle. The coolies were letting out loud shouts while pulling the carriage and when their steps occasionally hit pebbles on the road, the carriage would suddenly shake up. Somewhere on the way the road ended and we saw a huge bed of sand with a narrow river in the distance. On asking the coolies we were told that it was the Barakar River. The carriage was pulled across the river and taken to the road on the other side. There were shallow ponds on both sides of the road and four or five buffalos leaning their heads on one another, dipped half their bodies in the water to relaxed themselves and gave us very casual glances.

When evening descended we got down from the carriage and went walking for the rest of the way. We saw two hills in the distance and the road went up and down through them. Whichever way we looked, there were no people, no human habitation, no grains, no tilled land. On all sides the undulated earth stood silent and barren like a hard ocean. The golden hue of dusk in the horizon cast dark shadows on us. Though there were no human beings or animals around us, there was a feeling that this huge earth was preparing for a huge person to come and sleep on its bosom. Like a sentinel someone was guarding the place with fingers on his lips and so everyone felt scared to breathe. The shadow of a traveller with luggage on his horseback came along from a distance and gradually crossed our path.

The night somehow passed between sleep and waking and tossing and turning sides. Upon waking up we saw a thick forest on the left hand side. There were creepers on the trees and the ground was covered with different kinds of shrubs. Above the forest we could see the blue peaks of distant hills. There were huge rocks and among their crevices were a few trees, their hungry roots growing long and spreading out on all sides. It seemed as if they wanted to break the rock in search of food and grasp it with their strong grip. Where did the forest on the left disappear all on a sudden?

There were fields stretching at a distance. Cows were grazing. They looked as small as goats. Farmers were tilling their land with the plough attached to bovine shoulders. Sometimes, they twisted the cows’ and buffaloes’ tails. The tilled lands rose like steps on the hills. We had come close to Hazaribagh. One or two of the hills stood as relics of some great natural revolution.

We reached the dak bungalow at Hazaribagh at three o’clock in the afternoon. The town of Hazaribagh looked very clean amidst the wide landscape. There was no city-centric ambience here – no narrow lanes, dirt, drains, jostling, commotion, traffic, dust, mud, flies or mosquitoes. Amid the fields, trees and hills the town was absolutely clean. The giant houses in Kolkata are proud as stone – they stand treading the earth below, but here it was different. Here the clean and small thatched roof houses stand quietly in friendship with nature; they do not have glamour, they don’t exert might. The town seemed to be like a nest in the trees. There was deep silence and peace everywhere. We hear that even the Bengalis who live here do not quarrel among themselves. If this was true, then there would be no enmity between the crow and the eagle or between the cat and the dog.

One day was gone. It was afternoon now. I sat alone quietly in a couch on the verandah of the dak bungalow. The sky was blue. Two thin pieces of clouds sailed by. A mild breeze blew an earthy, grassy smell. There was a squirrel on the roof of the verandah. Two shalik birds (mynahs) were hopping about on the verandah and shaking their tails. I could hear the sound of cow bells as they from the adjacent road. People were moving in different ways. Some carried luggage on their shoulders and walked with open umbrellas on their heads; some were chasing a couple of cows, and some moved slowly riding on the back of a pony. There was no commotion, no hurry, and no sign of worry on their faces. It seemed that human life here did not pant rapidly like a fast railway engine or move with screeching noises emanating from the wheels of a heavily laden bullock cart. Life here moved in the manner of a gentle breeze blowing beneath the shade of trees.

The courthouse was in front of us. But even the court was not that rigid here. While the two lawyers in their black coats fought with each other inside, two papaya birds sat outside on the peepul tree and conversed among themselves constantly. The people who came here seeking justice sat in a group in the shade of the mango tree and laughed loudly among themselves. I could hear them. Sometimes, the midday gong started ringing in the courthouse. Its sound seemed very serious in this leisurely ambience and slow rhythm of life. The occasional sound of the gong was a reminder that time did not flow by in the casual slow cadence of life here. Standing in between it seemed to pronounce in its iron tone, “I am awake, even if others are not.” But the writer’s condition was not exactly the same. I felt sleepy. It was not a deep sleep. I realised that though the all-pervading stillness of nature and beauty encircled me with great care, my senses were failing to capture the details.

I spoke whatever I had to say about Hazaribagh (some might be thinking that I could have spoken much less) except that I did not mention that we became newly acquainted with the children of one of my friends. Upen Babu read the Akshanmanjari so we had to treat him with respect. I had mistakenly confused the alphabet sequence and he had instantly corrected it. That is why I was grateful to him. But in spite of many entreaties his sweet-looking naughty sister did not speak to us. I threatened to write an article and take revenge on her, so according to that promise I am spreading the word today letting the whole world know about her shy and coy words, and how she would run away whenever guests came to her house.  I also cannot keep it a secret how we had received sweet sandesh and even sweeter welcome from our friend.

In order to save time on our return journey we came down in a two-wheeled small carriage. If nothing else happened, at least it reduced our longevity as the whole body got shaken up with the bones and the joints fighting against each other. As the body went on jerking and dancing like mad, the five elements with which it was composed gave us a tough time. I could hold it together somehow but nothing much beyond that. With so much of revolution in the whole body, I could not hold books in my hands, the cap on my head, the spectacles on my nose, food in my stomach.  To add to all that was the scorching heat of the sun. I had left home with the full sixteen annas of my body intact but when I returned, I could not even account for twelve annas of it. The ten days’ holiday is over. Ah!!

More Humour: Letters from Tagore

I

Darjeeling

September 1887

Here we have reached Darjeeling. On the way Be_____ behaved very well. Didn’t cry much. Shouted a lot, created commotion, made various noises with her mouth, turned her wrists and even called birds, though we couldn’t see birds anywhere. There was a lot of trouble in boarding the steamer at Sara_____ Ghat. It was ten o’clock at night – hundreds of pieces of luggage, a few coolies, five women and only one man[1]. After crossing the river, we boarded a small train – in it there were four berths and we were six people. The ladies along with their luggage were put up in the ladies’ compartment. Though it sounds pretty simple, the actual process wasn’t so. There was a lot of calling, shouting, and running around but even then Na___ said that I did nothing. That means that the image of a terribly annoyed grown up human being was the only one suitable for a man. But no gentleman of twenty-six years has done what I have done in the last two days – opened so many boxes and closed them, pushed them under the benches, again pulled them out from there, run here and there behind so many boxes and bundles, so many boxes and bundles have chased me like a curse, so many have been lost, so many regained, so many not found and so much attempt made to recover the lost ones. I am surely suffering from box-phobia – my teeth start chattering whenever I see boxes.

When I look all around me, I see boxes, just boxes – small, big, medium, light and heavy, made of wood, tin, leather, and cloth—one below me, one above me, one next to me and one behind me – then all my natural strength to call, shout and run around totally disappears. And then my blank look, dry face and poor countenance makes me seem like a mere coward; so whatever Na____r have said about me is correct. Anyhow, let it be. After that I went and slept in another coach.

Two other Bengalis were there in that coach. They were coming from Dhaka; one of them was almost totally bald and his language was very different. He asked me whether my father was in Darjeeling. If Lakshmi was around she would have replied to him in his incorrect Bangla but I did not have such an instantaneous answer.

The way from Siliguri to Darjeeling was filled with continuous exciting comments from S_____: “Oh my god!”, “How strange,” “How wonderful!” – She kept on nudging me and saying: “R_____ look, look.” What to do, I had to look at whatever she pointed out – sometimes trees, sometimes clouds, sometimes an indomitable flat-nosed girl from the hills, sometimes such things which passed by because the train was moving forward and S______ lamenting that R_____ could not see them. The train kept on moving. Gradually there was cold, then clouds, then running noses, then sneezing, then shawls, blankets, quilts, thick socks, chilly feet, cold hands, blue faces, sore throats and just after that Darjeeling. Again those boxes, those bags, those beddings, and those bundles! Luggage upon luggage, coolies after coolies! It took me about two hours to retrieve our luggage from the brake-van, identify them, put them upon the heads of coolies, show the receipts to the sahib, have arguments with him, unable to find some things and then make necessary arrangements to retrieve them.

II

Calcutta

June 1889

As soon as the train departed Be___ looked all around and sat seriously thinking from where we arrive in this world, where we move, what the intention of life was. Thinking about all these issues I saw her yawning frequently and after a little while she put her head on the ayah’s lap, spread out her legs and went to sleep. I too kept on thinking both about pleasant as well as unpleasant ideas about life but could not sleep. So I started humming the Bhairavi raga on my own. Once you hear the melody of the Bhairavi raga, you develop a strange attitude towards life. It seems as if a routine mechanical hand is constantly winding the organ and from that pain of friction a deep and sad raga emerges from the centre of the whole world. The light of the early morning sun seems to fade. the trees listen quietly as the sky seems to be engulfed by a world full of tears. In other words, if one looks at the distant sky, it seems as if a pair of tearful blue eyes are staring at you.

Near the backyard of the station we saw our sugarcane fields, lines of trees, the tennis field, houses with glass windows; for a few moments my heart felt sad. This was really strange! When I lived here, I did not have much sympathy for this house – I cannot even say that I was very emotional when I left it. But when I saw it for a split second from the window of the running train, the way the lonely house was standing with its playground and empty rooms, then my entire heart went and pounced upon that house – a sound inside my chest from left to right – the train passed by quickly, the sugarcane field disappeared, everything ended, only the strings of the heart got fixed on a lower scale. But the engine of the train didn’t bother much about these things; it went on moving at the same speed over the rails; it doesn’t have the time to notice who was going where. It only drank water, belched smoke, gave loud shouts and went on rolling. Its movement could be beautifully compared to the motion of life, but it was so old and hackneyed that I just mentioned it and stopped. Once we came near Khandala the sky was full of clouds and rain. The mountain tops looked blurred because of the clouds – as if someone had drawn some mountains and then later rubbed them with an eraser – a few outlines were visible and in some places the pencil marks had got smudged.

At last, the bell rang for the train to leave. From a distance one could see its sleepless red eyes; the earth started quivering, the people working at the station emerged with their shoes and sandals from different rooms — their decorative jackets and round caps with metallic labels on their heads; the huge lantern in their hands radiated light in all directions; the servants stood alert taking care of all their belongings. Be____ went on sleeping. We boarded the train. Be____ started being restless for no reason. Though there was no sunshine, we started feeling hot as the day advanced. But time didn’t seem to move. It seemed that we had to touch every minute and push it forward. Fortunately, after travelling for some time it started raining heavily. Shutting the windows all around us, it was a pleasant experience to watch the clouds and the rain through the glass panes. At one place I was amazed to see the activities of the river in this monsoon season. It had swelled up and ran at full speed, digging its head on the stones, encircling them, then flowing over them and creating a sort of commotion. I hadn’t seen such wildness anywhere else. In the afternoon when we came and had our food at Sohagpur, the rain had stopped by then. When the train started again, the sun with its bright redness was setting among the clouds. I thought that all the other passengers were spending their time quite comfortably by eating, gossiping playing or reading and therefore were not bothered about the existence of time at all; whereas I was swimming upon time, its entire expanse was hitting me on my face and body … The train reached Howrah in due time. One by one we saw different people – first the sweeper of our house, the Jo___, after that Sa___. After that we dumped the rolled up luggage, my dented tin suitcase and a big basket (which contained milk bottle, different utensils, tin pot, bundles etc.) on the roof of the second class carriage, we reached home.

A commotion, gathering of people, salute of the durwans, obeisance of the servants, the greetings of the clerks, all the contradictory opinions about who had reduced and who had gained weight among us, the exuberance that S___ and company had with Be___, people surrounding the table during tea, bath, food, etc.

III

Balia

Tuesday, February 1893

I do not feel like travelling any more. I really wish to sit down in one quiet corner in a relaxed mood of adda. India has two parts – one part is domestic, and the other ascetic; some do not move out from the corner of their house at all, and some are totally homeless. I have both these parts of India within me. The nook at home pulls, and the outside world also beckons me. I wish to travel a lot and see everything and again my perturbed and tired mind gets lured by a nest. The feelings are like that of a bird. It has a small nest to live in and the huge open sky to fly. I love the nook only to pacify my mind. Within my mind I feel a desire to work untiringly and I am perturbed when it gets deterred at every step in such a way when I am among people — it keeps on constantly hurting me from within a cage. It can think freely in solitude, it can look all around, and express all its feelings in a satisfactory manner. It wants eternal rest day and night. Just as the creator is alone within his own creation, it also wants to live alone in its world of emotions.


[1] The people in this trip included Rabindranath, Mrinalini Devi, Madhurilata, Soudamini Devi, Swarnakumari Devi, Hironmoyee Devi, Sarala Devi and a maidservant. This was his second trip to Darjeeling.  He had started for Darjeeling for the first time on 19th October 1882. The details of this travel are found in Swarnakumari Devi’s article “Darjeeling Patra” published in Bharati and Balak.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

Somdatta Mandal is a critic and translator and a former Professor of English at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India.

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Excerpt Tagore Translations

Kobi & Rani: Letters from Japan, Europe and America

Rabindranath Tagore’s selected letters to Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis had been published in 1938 under the title Pathe-O-Pather Prante. The sixty letters included in this volume had been personally selected by him from among the five hundred plus letters he had written to her. This volume was translated by Somdatta Mandal and included in the book ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore (Bolpur: Birutjatio Sahitya Sammilani, 2020). Selections from some of these letters had been included in borderless journal in its September 2021 issue. A few more letters have been selected here for the benefit of the readers.

Letter 33

Yesterday I reached the Japanese port named Moji. Tomorrow I will reach Kobe. A bird builds its nest with straw and twigs; it does not take long for it to leave that nest and go away. We build our nests mainly with things of the mind, with work, studies and thoughts and an invisible shelter starts growing around us. Just as the seat of the plane moulds itself according to the pressure and shape of the body, the mind while moving along also creates differently shaped holes, and when it sits in that hole it gets stuck there. Later when it has to leave it does not like that at all. Something like that happened to me on this ship. In this cabin there is a writing desk on one side, and a bed on the other. Apart from this, there is a chest of drawers with a mirror, a cupboard to hang clothes and an attached bathroom. After crossing these, there is another cabin where my boxes, trunks etc. are kept. Within this my mind has arranged its own furniture. Because there is little space, my shelter is very intense and every necessary item is within my reach. After getting down from here, I was in Hsu’s house[1] in Shanghai for two days; I did not like it, it made me very tired. The main reason was that the mind did not get the measurements of the body in a new place; it was being hit on all sides and to add to that there was hospitality, welcome and chaos day in and out.

There is newness of thought and imagination everyday but the external newness tries to prevent them. We have imbibed new substances of life in their entirety and have understood that the newness exists within them. I have known for a long time that we do not have to leave them to look for something new. Like other valuable things one has to mediate to seek the new.  This means you have to make it old and then attain it. If you think that you have suddenly found something, then that is not true because within a few days its actual emaciated state is revealed. Nowadays man is engrossed in securing this cheap newness and that is why he wants change at every moment. Science is helping him in this obsession for change, so he does not get the time to sink deep and search for the forever new. This is why a base knowledge from text-books has spread everywhere in the education system. No one has the time to seek the ultimate truth in its real form. This is why obscenities that affect the mind in a strong way are being found in literature. Those who lack the time and have less power find this to be a cheap means of getting quick entertainment. The mind that has grown inert and has had its life strength reduced requires strong stimulation – its roots are starving.

                                                                                    Yours,

                                                                                    9 Chaitra, 1335( B.S.)

You will be surprised to know that when I was writing this letter I was feeling very sleepy. I was warding it off and progressing with my writing. Even now I have not overcome that drowsiness. But it is morning now, it is eleven o’clock – let me go and take my bath.

Letter 34

I have come to Tokyo last night and have put up in a famous hotel. It is not that less famous hotels are cheap or unsuitable for relaxation, but since it is my misfortune that I am also famous, I have to tolerate an equal amount of oppression. It is easy to hide in a small place, but the places to hide in this world are closed for me. Once upon a time I could not even imagine that it would be essential for me to hide from the public for self-defence. Those were the days when I was alone in the boat on the shoals of the Padma. So I haven’t developed the habit of warding off people and anyone can come and keep on pulling me. This morning when I was tired and was sitting down someone came and convinced me with a lot of words. He made me sit in a car and took me to their house inside the lane. In the end I realized that all this excitement was because they wanted to be photographed with me.

In our house we were first born amidst a simple lifestyle and were encircled by love and care from our own people. Then I was a totally private person and there was a very personal thing called a barrier. Gradually with age the relationship with the outside world started to increase. But however much it increased it had a simple measure and there was a balance between the private and the public self. Ultimately through the hands of fate my fame as an exceptional person began to grow and I became more public than I was private. The barrier which I was entitled to became insufficient now. Like an extremely ripe fruit the hard upper shell of my body has split up into seven pieces, and now any kind of bird with any sort of motive can come and peck at me and there is no one to prevent them. There is no harm if they really benefit from it. If they want to satiate their own greed through me, let them do it; but if you think about it, this creates a serious harm not only for me but also for their own selves. My heart is upset by the little demands, and I waste my strength available for doing sufficient work. Moreover, when I realize that I have become the vehicle of other people’s interests, and that those interests are trivial, then I feel reproached. I keep on wishing to return to my traditional and non-famous small house and take shelter among people who are willing to pay a price just for my existence. But at the same time I often meet people who are unknown to me, but who have accepted me within their heart even from a distance. They do not ask anything from me, do not judge me according to my fame, but accept me out of their own happiness. There is nothing more fortunate than this. This time when I was being tortured by my fellow countrymen with a cheap reception in the city of Kobe, then the wife of the English consul here came to meet me. After speaking to her a lot of my sorrow disappeared. I realized that for some people my work has been deeply successful and they do not want anything more than whatever they have received from me without my knowledge.

Today I have three invitations in Tokyo and it will extend from one o’clock in the afternoon till dinner at night. I will then travel to Yokohama by car. After that tomorrow I will have lunch with the Indians who invited me and then leave for Canada at three o’clock. After that I don’t know.

                                                                                                              Yours,

27 March, 1929.

Letter 43

Throughout my life I had to inwardly keep hold of a pursuit. That pursuit is to remove the veil, to keep myself far away from everything. It is the pursuit of releasing me from myself as a person. Stationing myself at one place, I often try to realize that each day this person is troubled with both sad and happy thoughts of work, which is equivalent to letting myself drift within an uncountable flow into another sphere without any fixed destination. This can be seen clearly when it is identified as an independent object, but if we try to associate and become one with it then that knowledge becomes false. I desperately need this realization and that is why I desire it so much. My mind is situated at the crossroads and all its doors are open, so all kinds of winds reach it and all kinds of guests enter the inner chambers. There is a place within man’s life which is that of pain, and all the feelings are located there. That is why only intimacy can enter it. Part of our domestic existence is to spend life with them both in pleasure and pain. Everything has to be tolerated within its limits. But my God, my jeevandebata, decided to make me a poet and that is why has kept my inner chambers unguarded. I don’t have a back door and there are main entrances on all sides. That is why both invited and uninvited people keep coming and going within my inner chambers. Therefore, the chords of the instrument of pain are always tuned to the highest pitch. If the music stops, then my own work would be left undone. I have to know the world through painful experiences; otherwise, what should I express? Unlike scientists and philosophers I do not have vast knowledge and my expression is that of my heart. Though these feelings are the tools of expression for a writer, it is necessary to leave them behind and move away. This is because if we don’t move to a distance, we are unable to perceive the whole at once and reveal it. Being too much engrossed in the world gives rise to blindness and guards the object that is to be seen. Besides this, the small object becomes large and the large one is lost. The great advantage of the domestic world is that it carries its own weight, but the small objects do become a burden. They are the most meaningless things but they create the greatest pressure. The main reason is that their weight rests upon falsehood. When the mind seems to be overwhelmed by bad dreams, it is also an illusion. If we encircle the world with that little ‘me’, then in that small world the small wears the mask of the great and creates anxiety in the mind. If whatever is really great, meaning that its boundaries cross that little ‘me’, is brought in front of the small, then the smaller one’s false intensity is dismissed and shrinks into littleness. Then one feels like laughing at what causes one to cry. That is why removing the big ‘me’ from my life becomes the greatest thing to pursue; and if that is done, the greatest insult to our existence is lost. The humiliation of existence is to live in a small cage that befits birds and animals. In this cage called ‘myself’ we are tied and beaten up, and that becomes a useless burden. That is why it is essential for Rabindranath to seat Rabindranath Tagore at least at a distance: otherwise, he gets to be humiliated by himself at every step. The sorrow of death brings in stoicism, and I have felt the freedom of stoicism several times, but the real stoicism is brought about by accepting the great truth. There is greatness within me and he is the observer; what is small within me is the consumer.  If both of them are combined, then the pleasure of vision is destroyed and the happiness of consummation is spoilt. If you keep pushing your work externally like a pushcart then it moves smoothly, but if you carry that pushcart on your shoulders then you get exhausted. I have taken up a work called Visva-Bharati, and it becomes simpler if I don’t bear the burden and dissociate it from myself. A work is either a success or a failure depending upon the circumstances but if it does not touch ‘myself’ then that work brings in freedom for itself and also for me. Our greatest prayer to the one who is the greatest is asato ma sadgamayo (take me away from whatever is false and lead me towards eternal truth). How will this prayer be successful? If His arrival within me is complete, if I see Him truly within me, then the torture of that ‘me’ can also be pacified.

I don’t know when you will receive this letter. I will be happy if you receive it on your birthday. If you don’t get it there will not be much harm in stretching your birthday by another day. It is not possible always to express all the innermost thoughts but they have to be spoken for the sake of myself.  That is why I wrote this letter on the occasion of your birthday; because freedom is the main mantra of every birth, and it is freedom from darkness to light.

                                                                                                                Yours,

                                           6 Kartick, 1336 (B.S.) 

Letter 48

I am writing this letter to you from Copenhagen, after having fallen into a whirlwind that does not let me pause even for a while. I am moving along garnering knowledge about strangers, but there is no time to store that knowledge. Moreover, I have a forgetful mind, and there is no lock and key in the storehouse of my memory. As soon as something accumulates, instantly something else comes and replaces it. Some just sink in, some get distorted and become hazy. I do not of course consider this to be a complete loss – if you cannot discard then you cannot earn; if you have to store it then you will have to sit firmly without any movement. For a long time, I have constantly ridden the chariot of my mind from one road to another and did not have the time to lock it up in the garage. Instead of fame, I would have found a lot of things if I had gone and sat firmly at the entrance of the museum. Just think of this simple fact: If I had the intelligence to remember everything then at least I would have passed all my examinations and could have left with pride by saluting the world and by gathering accolades. If I want to speak about something, I cannot quote references and so in intellectual gatherings I try to overcome the deficiencies of my education by covering them up naively with my own talk. Since I cannot think of paraphrases and parallel passages in seminars where poetry is being discussed, I try to retain my prestige by composing poems myself. I can clearly visualize that you are reading this and laughing out loudly both physically and also in your mind. You are saying that it is just empty politeness, a bundle of pride. There is no way out. Due to societal norms one can truly praise others but not oneself. So one has to praise oneself in the mind and instead of reduction it leads to more sin. The fact is that once you come abroad from your homeland your self-glorification becomes enhanced a great deal. Someone who doesn’t even have the fortune of having cold water is suddenly given champagne. Then I feel like calling your professors and telling them, ‘O, you masters! Don’t make the sudden mistake of considering me as your student. Don’t mark the papers that I have written in the same way as you mark your examination scripts, because they are demanded by the professors here.’ You know that by nature I am very polite but my tutors at home have beaten me to make me feel proud. This is why I often feel ashamed in my mind. But let me tell you the truth. I have received a lot of fame and respect, but even then my mind always looks across the Indian Ocean. Khuku[2] has written from Santiniketan, “Yesterday there were heavy showers and this morning the sunshine is like liquid gold.” These words were like the sudden touch of a golden wand. My mind became agitated; it said, all right, this is acceptable. I will go to those teachers again. If they make me stand up on the bench, then at least that ray of sunlight like liquid gold will come in through the open window and fall upon my brow and that will be my prize. In the meantime the letters of Bhanusingha[3] have been published once again and I have received them. The letters are full of the monsoon clouds and autumn sunshine of Santiniketan. Reading the letters in such a far off country makes them even clearer. For a brief while I forgot where I was. What a vast difference! The difference between what is good here and what is good there is like the difference between the music here and there. European music is big and strong and varied. It emanates from the victory of men; its sound resonates from all sides and creates a great impact on the heart. We have to congratulate it. But the raga that comes out from the flute of the shepherd in our country, it calls my lone mind to accompany him on the path which is full of shadows from bamboo groves, where the village belle walks with a pitcher full of water at her waist, the doves call from the branches of the mango trees and from a distance the special song of the boatman can be heard. All these excite the mind and blur the vision with a few unnecessary teardrops. They are extremely ordinary and that is why they can easily find a place in our minds. The letter which I wrote on that day seems to be written for today. But there is no way for me to revoke my reply. That day’s post office is closed. So let me end this letter with a deep sigh. I have several engagements and many other things before me.

                                                                                                            Yours,

8 August, 1930.

Letter 49

There is a word prevalent in Bengali called ‘Samoyik Patra’ that means periodicals. But there is no way by which we can hold back time and send them through letters. I do not know when the news of my painting exhibition in Germany reached you and now I got to know from your letter that all of you did not get the news at all. So probably the time for receiving the news is also over. On the other hand, my trip to Germany will be over today and I will go to Geneva tomorrow. Even before you receive this letter you must have already heard the news that my paintings have been received quite well in Germany. The National Gallery in Berlin has taken five of my paintings. I hope you understand the impact of this news. If Lord Indra suddenly sent his horse Ucchaishraba to take me to heaven, then I could compete with my own pictures. But I don’t know why I am not excited about discussing these things. Maybe there is some hidden hostility in my mind, and so there is almost no relation between my country and my paintings. When I write poems then an emotional link is automatically created with the message of Bengal. But when I paint the lines or the colours, they do not come with the identity of any particular state. So they belong to those who like them. Just because I am a Bengali does not automatically turn it into a Bengali thing. This is why I have eagerly donated these pictures to the West. The people of my country probably have come to know that I am not a special category of a human being and so in their mind they have been antagonized towards me. They do not feel any qualms of conscience about saying bad things about me. Let my paintings prove that I am not a hundred percent Bengali but belong equally to Europe as well.

I visited many places which I had known earlier and also delivered lectures there. But unlike my last trip, this time I have entered the inner spirit of Germany. I have come closer to them. Not that they have sufficient love for nationalism in the world, but by being rejected by other races of Europe, they have become strong nationalists in their hearts. Of course I cannot understand why they have a special liking for me. Whatever it might be, they have extraordinary strength, great intelligence and also the capacity to make all things equal. I feel that no other European race has so much strength in all aspects. I understand why France cannot get over the terror of Germany. These people are extremely irascible. After the nudge of poverty their strength has increased many-fold.

The enthusiasm for world nationalism has been brought forward in Geneva. The right tune has not been played in the League of Nations – it may not be played at all – but on its own that city has become the epicentre of the whole world. Those who believe in the unity of the world will automatically come and get united here. In that case I believe that a great power for the welfare of the world has been inaugurated here.

                                                                                                          Yours,

                                                                                           18August, 1930.

Letter 50

After planning to leave for quite some time, the day of my departure has ultimately come near. It has been almost one year. I liked it as long as I was in Europe. After reaching America my mind got suppressed and my health was also affected. The external world in America is too bold, aggressive and restless and so after being continuously shaken up, a sort of stoicism creeps in. I am in that condition now, and for quite some time have become eager to get some shelter within my inner self. After many incidents my mind had become outward-oriented, and the truth of the self was growing rusty without use. It was during this period that I came to America and saw how man has tried to develop his society with unnecessary failures. They have decorated rubbish with the glamour of wealth and spend their days and night behind them, thus creating an indecent burden upon the world. Within all this crass materialism, when the mind becomes restless the eternal longings within man express themselves. Just as cows are herded together to be taken back to their shelter in the evening, in a similar way I am calling my scattered self to return to the deep recesses of the mind. Maybe a shadow of the evening has descended on the late afternoon of my life and the strength of my mind, which had disseminated my endeavours in different kinds of work to the outside world, is also coming to an end. The guard at the entrance of the mansion has already rung the bell signalling that the main door will be closed, and so we cannot do without lighting a lamp in the andarmahal – the inner chambers.

         I haven’t written anything for a long time and I don’t feel the urge to do so. This means that the power of expression has also reached the end; it doesn’t have any extra portion in its coffers and therefore easily stop all dues from the outside world. I am not feeling bad about it. If the fruit starts growing inside, then there is no loss if the petals of the flower fall down.

         I shall begin my journey on the 9th of January in the ship called Narkanda (P&O) and will reach home at the end of the month.

                                                                                                           Yours,

                                                                                 29 December, 1930.


[1] Hsu-Tse Mu, Professor of Literature at the National University, Peking. In 1924 he had accompanied the poet during his China tour as an interpreter. [Mukhopadhyay, Rabindrajiboni, Vol.III, p. 166].

[2] Khuku was the nickname of Amita Sen, a noted Rabindrasangeet singer; Rabindranath adored her. She joined Sangeet Bhavan as a teacher but died very young.

[3] Rabindranath wrote a series of letters to a young girl called Ranu Adhikari. He signed the letters as ‘Robi Dada’ or sometimes as ‘Bhanu Dada’ which was the penname of the poet as Bhanusingha.

About the book:   Pathe O Pather Prante (On the Road and Beyond It) included in ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore was a prolific letter writer and Rani Mahalanobis is the only person to whom he wrote more than five hundred letters, the maximum number written to any individual person. In 1938, in the third volume of the series entitled “Patradhara”[5], Rabindranath selected sixty letters written at different periods of time to her. This he titled Pathe O Pather Prante and it was published from Visva-Bharati Publications Department in Kolkata.

Incidentally, we find the first ten letters of this series as a supplement to the narrative where Rani’s memoir Kobir Shonge Europey ends in 1926. Since it was published much later, Rani has also included some of these letters in her memoir. The rest of the letters selected from those written up to 1938 describe various moods of the Poet for a period of twelve years. They include philosophical musings, his observations on the changing of seasons, news about the incidents and functions taking place in Santiniketan during Rani’s absence, and especially his views on his new-found interest in sketching and painting. In other words, unlike those written to Indira Devi and Ranu Adhikari, these letters are interesting because they cover multifarious topics and issues and reveal the Poet’s tone of intimacy with Rani. As per Prashantakumar Pal’s biography,

Rani Mahalanobis used to suffer from a sort of non-infectious tuberculosis, so for her fever was almost a regular affair. Naturally Rabindranath would get worried – he would suggest different medicines – and write innumerable long letters, which according to him would help Rani forget some of her physical ailments. (Rabijibani, vol.IX, p.297. Translation mine)

The sixty letters included in this volume also vary in length. Some are quite short, while others are lengthy. Again some of the letters are dated with the Bengali month and year, whereas others are dated according to the English calendar. A few of the letters do not have any dates at all. Also some of them seem quite sketchy, and do not have the usual beginning, middle or end. The reason for this becomes clear when we get to know that Tagore had drastically edited several sections of these letters, especially places which revealed his innermost self.

About the author:

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

About the translator:

Somdatta Mandal is Former Professor of English at Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships and awards, her areas of interest are American Literature, contemporary fiction, film and culture studies, Diaspora studies and translation. She has edited three volumes of travel writing —Indian Travel Narratives(2010), Journeys: Indian Travel Writing (2013), and Indian Travel Narratives: New Perspectives (2021) and has translated from Bengali to English different kinds of Indian travelogues, with special focus on men and women in colonial times. Among them are: The Westward Traveller by Durgabati Ghose (2010), Wanderlust: Travels of the Tagore Family (2014), which records vignettes of travel by nineteen members of the Tagore family spanning more than 150 years, A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das, which is the first woman’s travel narrative from Bengal published in 1885(2015), Crossing Many Seas(2018) by Chitrita Devi, Gleanings of the Road (2018) by Rabindranath Tagore, and The Journey of a Bengali Woman to Japan and Other Essays (2019) by Hariprabha Takeda. Two other translated volumes on Rabindranath Tagore have been published recently, ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore (2020) and The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs (2021).

Categories
Tagore Translations

Abhisar by Rabindranath Tagore

Abhisar, translated as ‘The Tryst’, was written by Rabindranath in 1899. It is a story poem based on Upagupta, a Buddhist monk who lived in the 300 BCE and was revered by Emperor Ashoka and is still said to have a following in Myanmar.

THE Tryst

Sanyasi Upagupta
Was asleep under the shade of 
       The city ramparts of Mathura —
A breeze had blown off the lamps and flares.
The palace doors were shut. 
The stars of the night 
          Had disappeared behind clouds.

Whose foot adorned with anklets
          Suddenly rang on his chest? 
Startled, the sanyasi woke up.
His dreams fled. 
A dim light shone 
       on his forgiving eyes. 

The court dancer was going for a tryst with her lover,
        Intoxicated with her own vernal bloom. 
Dressed in a deep blue saree,
Her ornaments tinkled — 
As her foot fell on the monk, 
         Basabdatta halted.

With her lantern, she examined 
      his young radiant form —
A calm enduring tender face, 
A glance gleaming with compassion,
A white moon-like forehead 
       aglow with gracious peace.

The woman spoke in a gentle voice,
        Her eyes drooping with embarrassment, 
“Pardon me, O youthful one, 
I will be grateful if you come to my home. 
The ground here is hard and rough.
        This is not right the place to sleep.”

The sanyasi responded with kind words,
           “It is not yet time for me 
To visit O graceful one, 
Please go your way in prosperity. 
When the time is right, I will myself
            Come to your bower.”
                      
Eventually, a fiery spark thundered,
          Opened a monstrous mouth.
The young woman shivered with alarm.
As a terrifying destructive wind howled,
A lightening ripped a cruel smile
            Across the sky.

                 *

The year was not out. 
     It was an evening in Chaitra. 
The breeze fluttered with restlessness
The trees along the path were laden with buds. 
The King’s garden was flush with blooms of bakul,
       Parul and rajanigandha. 

From afar, wafting with the draft
      Was the mesmerising timbre of a flute.
The city was empty as everyone had left for
The festival of flowers in the honeyed woods. 
The full moon smiled at the town
      Emptied of people and protectors. 

On the lonely moonlit path, 
        The sanyasi walked alone
Under leafy branches, from where
Cuckoos cooed repeatedly —
After so many days, was it time for him
      To fulfil his tryst with the beloved? 

Crossing the town, the wise one 
        Went beyond the city walls. 
He stood beside the moat —
In the shade of the mango grove,
Who was that young woman 
         Lying near his foot? 

Her body was blistered with sores
         From a deadly disease —
As she darkened with the blight,
The citizens threw her out 
Beyond the city moat, fearing the
             Poison within her

The sanyasi sat down by her. 
        And put her stiff head on his lap —
He poured water into her chapped lips,
He chanted a mantra on her head,
Covered her body with a soothing
       Cool sandal paste. 

Bakul blooms were falling, the cuckoos were calling, 
       The night was filled with moonlight. 
“Who are you, o compassionate soul?”
The woman asked. The sanyasi replied,
“Tonight is that time. O Basabdatta,
         I have come for our tryst.”





Sanyasi-- a monk or mendicant, in this case a Buddhist Bhikshu

Chaitra -- spring when the old year ends and new starts in the Bengali Calendar. 

Tagore had translated this poem in English for a collection called Fruit-Gathering, brought out in 1916 by Macmillan. The eighty-six translated poems by Tagore in this edition were from a few selected collections in Bengali: Gitimala, Gitali, Utsarga, Kheya, Naivedya, Gitanjali, Katha and Balaka.

1916 edition of Macmillans’ Fruit-Gathering

(This poem has been translated for Borderless Journal by Mitali Chakravarty and edited by Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Excerpt Tagore Translations

Letters From Tagore

Rabindranath’s introduction to his correspondence with Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and a few letters dealing with death, his sense of loss on the death of a favourite and about his encounter with a German anthropologist, translated by Somdatta Mandal and included as a part of Kobi &Rani

Title: ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore

Translator: Somdatta Mandal

Publisher: Birutjatio Sahitya Sammilani, Bolpur, W.B., 2021

On the Road and Beyond It

Introduction by Tagore

The earth expresses itself by moving in two ways. One is by rotating by itself, and the other through a larger movement by going around the sun. In the earth’s yearly cycle, we see the change of seasons, and different kinds of fruits and crops fill up the granary of man. Its diurnal course results in the play of light and shade on land and water, the change of nature’s moods in the sky, the play of colours every morning and evening on the horizon; different tones of voices between waking up and going to sleep.

These two different movements can be compared with two kinds of literature – first the ordinary one meant for the general public and the other, more intimate, one, that of letters. Usually ordinary literature draws a huge reading public, and moves far away from the limits of personal life to distant countries. By contrast, the literature of letters reveals the close periphery of a world known to the writer that includes shades of daily experience, its sights and sounds, and along with it, its instantaneous moods and feelings. At least, this is more or less true of the letters published in this series called ‘Patradhara.’

 Most of the letters published under the title Chinnapatra in this ‘Patradhara’ series have been selected from the letters I wrote to my niece Indira. At that time, I was wandering around the villages of Bengal; every second different village scenes were startling my wayfaring mind with their new appearances, and these were getting reflected in the letters. Those who have the habit of always speaking quickly open their mouths whenever they find anything funny and interesting. Once we try to package and express within the form of literature, the emotions that arise within and change their nature. We are constantly confronting different things from all parts of the world but it is not worth broadcasting them through loudspeakers. The easiest way to retain them is by confronting known people behind the crowd.

The second set of letters in ‘Patradhara’ was written to a young girl. Most of them were written from Santiniketan so the moving pictures of life there constantly flow through them. In these letters we do not have any grave news; the childishness of that girl, who is innocent about domestic affairs, is reflected through a jovial atmosphere; and along with this is the writer’s jocular benevolence. There is no way in which a mature writer can express permanently all that can be said in an ordinary light-hearted way.

 The third section of ‘Patradhara’ has been named Pathe O PatherPrante (On the Road and Beyond It). There is a story behind it. When I went to travel in Europe in 1926, I received invitations from various countries. During that period Rathindranath was sick and confined in a hospital in Berlin. So the responsibility for accompanying me fell on Prasanta Mahalanobis and his wife Rani who was also with him. Sometimes without speaking a single word and sometimes speaking too much, she took the entire responsibility upon her shoulders. She had to rectify all the problems that two inexperienced male travellers created while making proper arrangements for travel. Packing all our things, arranging them, keeping a count of the luggage and moving with them safely during our travels, coping with the sometimes careless and sometimes appropriate demands of the foreign authorities in those few months, Rani handled everything exceptionally well. I had been travelling in new railway coaches, ship’s cabins, living in hotel rooms, and at every step during these repeatedly changing situations, had been interacting with new people. By submitting all the unexpected problems to be resolved by her, I had shamelessly spent my days in peace while receiving a lot of care and nursing from her. At the end, when we completed our European tour and boarded a ship from a Greek port to go home, they kept on staying abroad. As I moved towards my homeland, I continued to keep our companionship alive through letters. Some of those letters, and also those written later, have now been collected here as the third series of ‘Patradhara.’ The constant debates going on all around regarding new experiences have also been expressed through these letters. But the value of narrating our European tour, which has not been published anywhere, is enormous.

 All the thoughts that go on within the mind and want to be expressed in our writings remain alive till death. But in our mental life the flow of ideas that are expressed in perpetual motion reach a saturation point at a certain period of time. When the mind is full, then apart from the essential words, a lot is left as excess. Those who love to socialize express those excess words in gatherings, those who are introverted express their feelings in their diaries, and people like me who like to write express their thoughts to someone for whom the road to writing is easily open through letters. In the end as one keeps on moving in time, the excess of emotions reaches its nadir and the mind reaches such a state that the urge to write dies. Today I have reached that point of time in my life when I am silent. I have crossed that stage when I wrote letters voluntarily, with some of them strewn about unnecessarily like multi-coloured shells and snails on a sea beach. I see them from a distance just like the inquisitive vision of external readers. The present mind which rarely speaks now is feeling envious of those times when emotions would rush out incessantly; of course some joyous moments also accompanied them. When grains ripen, it becomes time to gather them and put them inside the barn. Today I could like to gather the harvest from that season which was full of words.

                                                                                                  Rabindranath Tagore

                                                                                                  May/June 1938

Letter 4

I had thought that I would post your letter when the ship halted at Aden. Now I received the news that the ship will not halt anywhere between Suez and Colombo. So I am thinking of writing a little more.

The thought of death is not leaving my mind. In our world we are somehow connected to one another through our different selves, sometimes deeply and sometimes lightly. All of those are included in my life. I am not reluctant regarding anything in this world; this means I live quite intensively. But the more life is extended, the more happiness and sorrow also occur. The arrows of death find greater space to come and hurt you if your heart is extended. The true worship of life is immortality, which means living in a way that is beyond death. On many occasions the indifference that arises upon the death of someone you love means that the soul is hurt: it then wants to desert everything and live within something that does not erode or dissolve. I find this same message in the first chapter of my father’s life story. When death confronts life, it asks this question: “Is there anything left inside after what I have taken away? If nothing is left, then you are completely befooled.” Life wants life; it does not want to be cheated by death in any way. Once it clearly understands that it has been cheated, in an instant it eagerly states, “Something that cannot fetch me immortality is of no use to me.” Man says this so many times and forgets it so often.

                                                                                                            Yours,

                                                                                                            7 December 1926.

Letter 6

I cannot forget Santosh[1]. I think of my own life – I have been living for such a long time – how I have experienced sadness and happiness, hopes and desires, trials and pursuits, and how I have passed through so much difficult historical terrain. Compared to this, Santosh’s life was so limited. His life ended just after he had completed his youth. Even then, the picture of his life is clearly expressed. It is without any excitement but not meaningless. There are so many people all around us who are in service, who are running a household, but all of that is meaningless. Their days pass by in a heap – one upon the other. But taken together they don’t form a clear shape. Santosh’s life was not as formless as that. I remember how he came back some time ago after completing his education in America. He came and created his own space at Santiniketan. There are many other teachers working here. They work just as they would do elsewhere and some work maybe a little bit more than that. But with all the respect in his young heart, Santosh established himself with his entire life. Of course there was the necessity of earning his livelihood but his spiritual connection was stronger. The work we do every day for our personal necessities does not have any excess; it gets absorbed within itself and ends there. But Santosh associated his own life with a mission that was beyond his personal needs. I had very clearly seen the results of it because he led a simple, transparent and respectful life without excesses. But if I knew Santosh only from the work he did, then I would be mistaken. I knew him with my entire vision. It is not that the entire vision is sometimes deformed by love: it achieves a wholeness as well. My intelligence does not disregard the proofs, but my strength of vision also respects his direct sense of responsibility. Sometimes there is a conflict between these two and then the mystery becomes very difficult and sad. This dichotomy is present in the idea of death itself – our heart simply does not want to accept it as the extreme. But there is no end to the opposite proofs– the tug of war between the two makes this so extremely painful. My poem “Jete nahi dibo” (“I won’t let you go”) is one of such pain.

Today on behalf of all the middle class passengers of the ship, a white man had come to me with a request. They want to hear something from me this afternoon. I would not have suddenly agreed to this request if they had been first class passengers, but the egos of the second class passengers are much lighter. We can see human beings in them. Now it is almost time to go there.

Letter 7

Today is our fourth day on the ocean. We will reach Colombo on the morning of the 16th. But I will not have the peace of returning home. The long train journey is divided into many sections. Also, what Pupe[2] has now learnt to call “malpatro” (luggage), is great in number. They are large in volume and the containers are in a pitiable condition. There are some boxes which right from the beginning of the journey have permanently lost contact with their keys and there is no way out except to be tied up with strings. There are some boxes which have had their whole bodies damaged by being hit constantly; some other boxes look like patients who have eaten too much and are waiting to vomit and feel relieved. But Rathi is sympathetic towards them – he treats them like patients in a hospital on the battlefield. Whatever it may be, we are still travelling towards our country, and dark and deep greenery seems to be visible on the last leg our journey. Here the sky is full of beneficial sunshine just as it is in our own country. The moon is growing fuller day by day; I can visualize it swinging through the leaves of the sal trees murmuring in the wind. I imagine depositing the entire load of my stay abroad at the entrance of Uttarayan[3] and then quickly resuming the willing sojourns of my mind. But alas, I also know for sure that we do not reside in heaven and that wherever I go, after pushing my way forth after the desires of many other people, I have only a narrow path left for fulfilling my own desires. The only minor advantage is that, in spite of the path being narrow, I have trodden on it for a long time and have become used to it. In spite of the crowd, it is somewhat possible to walk there on your own.

Among our fellow passengers, there is a German anthropologist who is going to India along with his wife.[4] He has heard the name of our professor. He told me, “I have heard that he is a professor of physics. So I understand that he researches the mathematical side of anthropology; we are working on the human side.” What he means by the human side can be understood by his diligence. He is going to collect information about the wild and tribal communities in south and central India. Much of their lifestyle is still unknown and difficult to know; I have not even heard their names. They live discreetly in very difficult terrain. He wants to enter their territory in a latent or concealed manner in case they are afraid and suspect him. He does not want to live in a tent and instead has taken a sack to spend the nights in. There are snakes, wild animals, and the chance of falling sick due to an irregular routine and unhealthy food. In other words, he is taking a risk with his life. They have left their small child under the care of relatives. His wife has accompanied him on this trip in case he falls sick in the jungle. In the meantime, in order to expedite her husband’s work, she is preparing notes throughout the day with the help of maps and books. The people for whom they are willingly prepared to undergo hardship and to overlook all sorts of danger are not their relatives, nor are they civilized. Except for information about the human race there is no precious object to be recovered from them. These people have ventured to open the doors of information of the whole world, and we are rolling ourselves on torn mats by lying down on the mud floor of the earth. It is best to leave this space for them — God has sent many messengers to clear it up.

About the book:   Pathe O Pather Prante (On the Road and Beyond It) included in ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore was a prolific letter writer and Rani Mahalanobis is the only person to whom he wrote more than five hundred letters, the maximum number written to any individual person. In 1938, in the third volume of the series entitled “Patradhara”[5], Rabindranath selected sixty letters written at different periods of time to her. This he titled Pathe O Pather Prante and it was published from Visva-Bharati Publications Department in Kolkata.

Incidentally, we find the first ten letters of this series as a supplement to the narrative where Rani’s memoir Kobir Shonge Europey ends in 1926. Since it was published much later, Rani has also included some of these letters in her memoir. The rest of the letters selected from those written up to 1938 describe various moods of the Poet for a period of twelve years. They include philosophical musings, his observations on the changing of seasons, news about the incidents and functions taking place in Santiniketan during Rani’s absence, and especially his views on his new-found interest in sketching and painting. In other words, unlike those written to Indira Devi and Ranu Adhikari, these letters are interesting because they cover multifarious topics and issues and reveal the Poet’s tone of intimacy with Rani. As per Prashantakumar Pal’s biography,

Rani Mahalanobis used to suffer from a sort of non-infectious tuberculosis, so for her fever was almost a regular affair. Naturally Rabindranath would get worried – he would suggest different medicines – and write innumerable long letters, which according to him would help Rani forget some of her physical ailments. (Rabijibani, vol.IX, p.297. Translation mine)

The sixty letters included in this volume also vary in length. Some are quite short, while others are lengthy. Again some of the letters are dated with the Bengali month and year, whereas others are dated according to the English calendar. A few of the letters do not have any dates at all. Also some of them seem quite sketchy, and do not have the usual beginning, middle or end. The reason for this becomes clear when we get to know that Tagore had drastically edited several sections of these letters, especially places which revealed his innermost self.

About the Author

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

About the translator

Somdatta Mandal is Former Professor of English at Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships and awards, her areas of interest are American Literature, contemporary fiction, film and culture studies, Diaspora studies and translation. She has edited three volumes of travel writing —Indian Travel Narratives (2010), Journeys: Indian Travel Writing (2013), and Indian Travel Narratives: New Perspectives (2021) and has translated from Bengali to English different kinds of Indian travelogues, with special focus on men and women in colonial times. Among them are: The Westward Traveller by Durgabati Ghose (2010), Wanderlust: Travels of the Tagore Family (2014), which records vignettes of travel by nineteen members of the Tagore family spanning more than 150 years, A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das, which is the first woman’s travel narrative from Bengal published in 1885(2015), Crossing Many Seas(2018) by Chitrita Devi, Gleanings of the Road (2018) by Rabindranath Tagore, and The Journey of a Bengali Woman to Japan and Other Essays (2019) by Hariprabha Takeda. Two other translated volumes on Rabindranath Tagore have been published recently, ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore (2020) and The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs (2021).


[1] Santosh Chandra Majumdar was the eldest son of Rabindranath Tagore’s friend Shrish Chandra Majumdar. After passing his entrance examination along with Rathindranath, he went to America and upon returning in 1910 joined the Brahmacharyashram in Santiniketan on a monthly salary of two hundred Rupees. He actively took part in teaching, sports arrangements and hospitality of the guests. He served both Tagore and his institution wholeheartedly till his death in October 1926.  Rabindranath received the news of Santosh’s untimely death after reaching Aden.

[2]Pupe or Pupu was the pet name of Nandini, the adopted daughter of Rathindranath.

[3]One of the houses in which the poet lived at Santiniketan.

[4]The name of this anthropologist was Christoph Von Furer Heimendorf. He stayed in Hyderabad and South India for a long time to carry out research on remote backward tribes. Later he became famous for it.  See Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Rabindrajiboni Vol.III, p. 293.

[5]The first volume consisted of selected letters written to his niece Indira Devi when he was wandering around the villages of Bengal and was titled “Chinnapatra”. The second set of letters was written from Santiniketan to a young girl named Ranu Adhikari.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL