Environment and man — are they separate or is man a part of nature? Different writers have interpreted nature and its forces in different ways over a period of time, in glory, in storm and at battle. Explore some of our selections on nature on World Environment Day… Enjoy our oeuvre.
Bhaskar Parichha gives us a glimpse of the life of Wangari Muta Maathai founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has — through networks of rural women — has planted over 30 million trees. Click here to read.
Kumar Bhimsingha by Swarnakumari Devi, the sister of Rabindranath Tagore, was published in Bharati & Balok, a magazine run by the Tagore family, in Boisakh 1293 of the Bengali calendar, April 1887 according to the Gregorian one. It has been translated by Chaitali Sengupta.
The king of Mewar, Rana Raj Singha, was resting alone in his sleeping chamber. Dusk had set in. As per the orders of the king, the servants had kept only one fire-lit lamp. The rest had all been extinguished. The soft light had created an ambience that gave a pleasant hue to the king’s thoughts. The day of the coronation was almost upon them, the day when prince Jayasingha would be anointed his heir, the next king of Mewar.
Rana Raj Singha’s mind was full only with the thoughts of how elated his royal queen would be on that special day and the happiness of the crown prince. He was not bothered about his subjects’ reactions at all. The gates of his royal chamber opened slowly, and his second queen Kamal Kumari entered inside. Startled, the king sat up on his bed, surprised to find her there. He indicated she sit on a seat near him. Once she was seated, the king asked, “You, at this late hour?”
The queen replied, “There’s no option left for me. You never show up, when I ask for you.”
A bit embarrassed, the king remembered that throughout the day, a couple of messages did come from the queen, requesting him to visit her in the inner chambers of the palace. Slowly, he said, “My dear queen, I forgot.”
Her mind hissed, yes indeed, such is my fate, that you’ve regularly forgotten me, there’s nothing new in it. Keeping her face expressionless, she only asked, “I just came to confirm; are the rumours that are brewing true, my King?”
Something forced the king not to come out with a direct reply. He simply asked, “Which rumours do you mean?”
The Queen responded: “Rumours, that says that your throne is going to be taken over by Jayasingha, during your kingship. Looks like our land is following the Muslim rulers in this regard.”
This sneering remark, aimed at Jayasingha was not lost upon the king. He said, “Rumours are gossip. Not the truth. My throne is not being usurped by Jayasingha; on the contrary, I’m bestowing it upon him.”
The queen laughed harshly. “Ah, so you’re passing the throne to him. Why such a haste to abdicate and retire, may I ask?”
Holding his surging anger in check, the king replied, “My dear queen, there’s no reason to laugh like that. A king must think a hundred times and act with deep consideration. Just think, the well-being and suffering of his subjects are so much dependent on his decisions. If I, the reigning monarch, do not take a decision now, then there is a chance is that in my absence, the question of succession would lead to a fight among the brothers, and ruin the kingdom.”
The Queen said: “But my observation is, that in trying to find a solution, you’re in fact, instigating one brother to fight the other. In the name of protecting your kingdom, you’re leading it towards destruction. If you wish to decide on your successor, in your presence, then, pray, why do you not declare your eldest son as the next king? Why are you usurping his rightful eligibility to the throne unlawfully and relinquishing it to the younger one?”
The words rang true, but they did not please the king. Sometimes, it was difficult to bear the truth. With supreme irritation, the king said, “Bhimsingha and Jayasingha were both born almost at the same time. The difference is their time of birth is so minute, that on the basis of that, Bhimsingha cannot claim to be the successor to the throne, just by virtue of being elder by a few seconds. They’re born on the same day, at the same time. Under the circumstance, the one who is more capable has a right to inherit the throne. I believe Jayasingha to be more capable of the two.”
Laughing, the queen said, “It seems like you want to turn the wheel of time; or, else, why would you accept the younger one, to be equal to the eldest one? I’m happy that just your mere words did not change the dictates of time. Even if a person is marginally older by birth, he deserves to be considered as the eldest. Lav and Kush were twins; but then why, did Lav succeed his father to the throne? Besides, let me ask you, on what grounds do you think Jayasingha is more deserving than Bhimsingha? Is Bhimsingha any less than Jayasingha in terms of bravery, honesty, intelligence, prowess? Who is admired by the army? Whose honesty enchants the nobles in your court? Whom do the subjects want as their future king? You’ll get your answer, if only you ask others. However, if you believe Jayasingha to be more deserving since he’s born of your favourite consort, and is, hence, your dear prince, of course, that is a different story.”
Her words, like sharp quills, invaded his heart. Angered, he said, “So be it.”
The queen, too, could hardly restrain her anger. “Then say that clearly. Why be pretentious and hide behind false words? Being a king, are you afraid to voice the truth?”
The king answered, “Nobody ever wanted to know the truth from me. None can claim that I’ve been untruthful.”
The queen replied, “Do you remember the day they’re born?”
She paused, her words were caught in the web of time, as she travelled back almost twenty years, remembering that day. The difference between the simple, trusting, young bride of yesteryears and today’s middle-aged woman, neglected, exploited, devoid of husband’s attention, was too great. The young Kamal Kumari of those days, who after giving birth to her first born, had waited with love and patience, for her husband to come, and to take her son in his arms, exulting in happiness. In the expectancy of his arrival, she completely forgot the pains of childbirth and in her heart, there flowed a stream of bliss. But when the moments changed to minutes, and then to hours, and still the King did not come, she felt neglected and hurt. Dejected and sad, she heard one of the maidservants saying, “Queen Chanchal Kumari, too, has given birth to a prince around the same time. The king is with her and he has tied the amulet of immortality, on the feet of the newborn. Later, he will come here.”
It had been a tradition of the Royal house of Mewar that at the birth of the firstborn, the king tied the amulet of immortality on the tiny feet. It was a symbol, whereby the king declared his firstborn, to be his successor. On hearing, that the king had unfairly put the precious amulet on the feet of his younger prince, instead of his elder one, a raging fire swelled fiercely in her heart. The tears from a mother’s eyes anointed the newborn on that day.
The queen clearly understood that her husband didn’t love her anymore. In the past too, such thoughts had assailed her, like frail doubts, but they never lasted long. She had reprimanded herself for doubting her husband. But, that day, the doubts that had only temporarily intruded, took root as the truth in her mind. Shell-shocked, the queen felt like dying.
When her husband came finally, to visit the newborn, she did not utter a word. Within a few days, she heard rumours within the palace walls, that claimed that because of the mistake on the part of the servants, who miscalculated the time of birth of Chanchal Kumari’s firstborn, the king had tied the amulet on her boy, thinking him to be the eldest.
Kamal Kumari did not have the heart to judge the veracity of this rumour. She had no trust on the king’s love for her, and his proximity only became another cause of pain and agony for her. How on earth would one engage in such talks with him? Many a times, she’d attempted to broach this subject, to question him, and each time, her misery had been so immense, that she came back before she could get her answers.
But after so many years, when she had almost no reason to disbelieve his very reason for tying the amulet on Jayasingha’s feet, she stomped with wifely hurt. She only remembered that she was Bhimsingha’s mother. She felt that it was only because he was born of her ill-fated womb, his luck forsook him, meting out grievous injustice by depriving him of his natural right. Deadly anger replaced the feeling of hurt then, and she stood against the king, to fight for justice, to fight for her son’s rights.
When the incidents around his birth flashed before her eyes, once again, it made her weaker; the fire of anger that lighted her eyes, at once turned tearfully misty, with the remembered hurt. But, not for long. Soon enough, the queen spoke angry words: “If you aren’t afraid to speak the truth, then why could you not come up with the real reason for tying the amulet on the feet of your younger son, when all the while, it was your eldest son, who deserved it?”
Angered, the king replied, “It’s not my duty to explain my decisions or the reasons behind them to the subjects. And if people misinterpret my actions, I can hardly be blamed. Right? If I’d hidden the truth on that day, fearing the public backlash, then I’d have hesitated to give him the throne, even today. If people had any wrong assumptions, let it be dismissed by this action of mine. This is my kingdom, and I reserve the right of bestowing it to whomsoever I please. I’m neither afraid of the public and nor should they have any right to comment on this.”
Unable to tolerate further, the queen stood up from her seat, and in an agitated voice, said, “No, don’t you dare think like that, O King. It might be your kingdom, but you’ve no right to bestow it upon anyone you deem fit. You may be the judge, but that doesn’t give you the right to be unjust. Your kingship doesn’t give you the right to break laws. And if a king does that, then he’s not a king – he is a despot, an unrighteous ruler. Such a king’s bounty will surely not be accepted by my son. The day he claims this kingdom as his rightful domain, it’ll be his. Even if you wish to bestow the kingdom upon him now, he will not accept it from you. Remember when your unfair decision results in bloodshed. It will take the lives of millions of innocent people, bringing huge destruction to this land. When bloodshed between brothers will bring the legacy of Mewar to ignominy, don’t blame them or others. Do remember then, O king, that this is the consequence of your sin. You’re a descendant of the famous Raghu clan, whose patriarch King Dashrath didn’t hesitate to banish his favorite son Rama to forest just to uphold justice. Despite being born into such an illustrious family, today, you defamed your family name. But, as long as this world exists, and the planets revolve, you will not be able to suppress justice with injustice. Truth shall triumph, O king, you would not be able to stop its march.”
Her words were clearly laced with deep hatred. Having spoken them out, the proud woman went out of the king’s bedchamber, in slow, graceful steps. She didn’t meet Bhimsingha that night and decided to have a talk with him the next morning.
The queen departed. She left behind a cacophony of censure and her words continued reverberating in the Rana’s head, pounding like thunderbolts. His mind echoed back the words of his queen: “You are the descendant of the famous Raghu clan, whose patriarch King Dashrath didn’t hesitate to banish his favorite son Rama to forest…” He felt dizzy. His majesty, the great Rana Raj Singha became as restless as a small child. “Oh, what have I done? I’ve compromised truth at the feet of fraternal love, despite being born in a family that upheld truth at all costs. Oh God, was this the purpose of my unlucky birth, only to tarnish the unsullied name of my family?”
It was, as if his closed eyes, were suddenly opened. Never before, had he thought about the matter in this manner. In his mind, since Bhimsingha and Jayasingha, both were born on the same day, neither of them had precedence on the throne. It was his kingdom, and he thought to bestow it upon whom he deemed fit. Blinded by one-sided love, he had, so far, failed to ponder upon the other aspect of the issue. But, today, he was cured off such an illusion, such an oversight, in a harsh way.
The night passed sleeplessly in a restless state. At the crack of dawn, he asked the guard, “Ask Prince Bhimsingha to come here at once.”
“Prince Bhimsingha?” The guard expressed surprise, for they all knew Jayasingha to be the crown prince. Checking his surprise, he went out to inform Bhimsingha.
The fact that he has been called to meet his father surprised Bhimsingha no less. It was a novel occasion, for he could hardly remember ever to be called by the king, his father. He thought, “Is this some new trick? Is he calling me to attend upon Jayasingha, to be his servant? But does he not understand that, as long as Bhimsingha has faith in his own prowess and bravery, the throne can never belong to Jayasingha.”
Remembering his father’s partiality angered him afresh. He was in a dilemma. He pondered on how he could turn down the invitation to meet him. However, he decided not to disobey the royal command. “On the other hand, today, in his presence, I’m going to speak out my heart,” he thought.
His heart seething with anger, Bhimsingha went to his father. But his anger melted as he glanced at the king looking for an escape route. Depression was written large on the king’s face and his eyes, although troubled, were deep with love as he looked at Bhimsingha. Anger and revengeful feelings vanished in a moment. In its place, there was a strange emotion of unexpressed pain.
The king, too, was surprised to see Bhimsingha’s calm, forbearing, respectful demeanor, just the very opposite of the image he’d conceived in his mind, in which Bhimsingha seethed with deep seated anger, frowning to demand fairness from him. Bhimsingha behaved like a loving son. Seeing his son’s respectful demeanour towards his father, embarrassed the king. His son’s respect, forbearance and calmness filled the king’s heart with deep contrition, a feeling which no amount of anger on Bhimsingha’s part would have aroused in the Rana’s troubled heart. In deep shame and repentance, the king could hardly glance at him.
Slowly, he said, “Son Bhimsingha!”
His affectionate tone surprised Bhimsingha. Never before, had the king expressed such tenderness towards him. Slight and neglect had been his lot from his father. The memory of a day when both the brothers were playing in the garden invaded his consciousness. The Rana had caressed Jayasingha fondly, but for him he had not spared a word of endearment. Hurt with his behavior, the boy had left the place, found his mother’s lap to shed his tears, without telling her the reason of his sorrow. Growing up, at every step, he’d observed the unfairness of his father. And by bestowing his throne to Jayasingha, he’d, finally, shown the height of unfairness. It had led him to believe that the king did not love him.
And so, after long years, when the king called him with such tenderness in his voice, it roused strong emotions in his heart, overwhelming him. In a trembling voice, he replied, “Father.”
All these years, Bhimsingha had addressed him as Maharaja, the king. Looking at him, the king confessed, “Son, I’ve wronged you grossly, please forgive me.”
Tears coursed down Bhimsingha’s eyes, tears of hurt and pride. The fact, that his father realised and acknowledged his unfair behaviour towards him, washed away his hurt. In his heart, he said, “I’ve lost your affection, for I stayed away, aloof from you, doubting your affection for me. For this reason, I seek your forgiveness, forgive me, father.”
He stood speechless in front of the king; the Rana, observing his silence, continued, “I know it is difficult for you to forgive me, but I’ll atone for the crime I committed, and thereby ask forgiveness from my conscience, from my God. You’re my firstborn; to you, shall I bestow my throne, on your head, the crown shall glitter. But even if I do so, Jayasingha would always stand as a barrier on your path, an impediment. It is because of my fault that he’s dreaming of possessing that which is not his. The greed of the kingdom would turn him to cause anarchy in the land. And there is, but only one solution to this problem.”
Saying so, he unsheathed the sword that glittered brightly against the rays of the sun. Holding it in front of Bhimsingha, he said, “Take this, and pierce this sword through his heart. Let one death ward-off thousands of deaths, let justice prevail at the downfall of injustice. Don’t panic, on the face of cold responsibility. No relationship is important enough.” His voice shook, as he uttered the words, realising their onus, in essence, within his heart.
Like a statue, carved in stone, Bhimsingha stood. In a flash, he understood what the king was going through. To uphold his duty, he was sacrificing his most valuable, loved treasure. Bhimsingha witnessed the intense loftiness of his father’s ideals. His greatness impressed his to the core. His love for his father increased a thousand-fold. Bhimsingha clearly understood, that in piercing the heart of his brother, he would in fact, be stabbing his father. He could hardly say anything. His mind only whispered, “You’re a god, a divine being.”
Watching him standing quietly, the king again reiterated, “Son, don’t shiver at this thought. You’d be committing this act to uphold justice, for the well-being of the land, there’s no sin in this act of yours. And even if you commit a sin, it would be not yours, it would be mine. Follow my command and fulfil it.”
Bhimsingha took the sword from his hand and kept it at the king’s feet. He said, “Father, take back your sword. I’ve no need for it. You’d indeed wronged me, but you’ve repented profusely for it. You’ve fulfilled your duty to the letter. Now let me fulfil mine. I’ll make sure, that there will not be a drop of bloodshed because of me; that Jayasingha would not commit anything untoward because of me. The right that you’ve bestowed upon me today, I grant that right to Jayasingha. From today onward, this kingdom shall rightfully be his. I’ll leave Mewar, to prevent myself from getting tempted, in future, by the greed of attaining the throne. Carrying the affection and the lofty ideals that you imparted to me today in my heart, I’ll leave my motherland Mewar tonight. If I fail to do this, let me not be known as your son.”
Not giving him a moment to respond or desist, Bhimsingha touched his father’s feet and was gone. Astounded, the king stood there.
That very day, Bhimsingha himself crowned Jayasingha. Then, along with his loved soldiers and nobles, he left Mewar. He never came back. Many years later, when his companions returned to Mewar, they carried with them, the news of his death.
Swarnakumari Devi (1855-1932) was five years older to her sibling, Rabindranath Tagore. She was one of the first women writers of Bengal. She was also a social activist who fought for women’s liberation. Among Bengali women writers, she was one of the first to gain prominence. She helped orphans and widows. She opened an organisation to help women and opposed the evil of sati. In the 5 July 1932 issue of the Bengali newspaper, Amrita Bazar Patrika, just days after her death, she is remembered as “one of the most outstanding Bengali women of the age” who “did her best for the amelioration of the condition of the womanhood of Bengal.”
Chaitali Sengupta is a writer, translator and journalist from the Netherlands. Her published works include two translations “Quiet whispers of our heart” and “A thousands words of heart”. Recently her first prose poem collection Cross- Stitched words was published. Her poems have also been anthologized in many international collections and she writes for many print and online journals.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
A story about Man and Nature written in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore in 1928, translated by Chaitali Sengupta.
It is often said that human life is a culmination of various other life forms in this world. In our daily lives, most often, we come across diverse characteristics of other animals in a human being. Honestly said, in the character of a human, we see a blend of attributes usually found in animals. The domesticity of a cow and the ferocity of a tiger reside in the same human; it is, as if, the snake and the mongoose are both put together. It is somewhat like the melody that is created when the entire range of notes come together. Only then, a raga is formed. However, in a raga, one note can be more prominent than the other.
In the character of my nephew Bolai, I believe the affinity for flora and fauna, perhaps, reigned supreme. He was an observant child rather than an active one. Even at an early age, he’d quietly observe Nature around him. The dark, billowing clouds in layers, on the eastern sky would collect and pour. They would moisten his heart and bring forth the untamed breeze of the forests. It was, as if, his entire being could hear the pitter-patter of the rain.
He seemed to want to fill his being with rays of the departing sun, perhaps, in an attempt to collect something precious from it. In the end of Magh (the month of January), when the trees would be laden with the tiny fruits, an intrinsic, deep happiness, a joy defying description awakened in him. His inner nature would blossom forth, expand and take on a deeper shade of colour, much like those flowering Sal trees, with the advent of Falgun (the month of February). In those moments, he had a deep urge to sit in solitude, in conversation with himself, piecing together the various tales he’d heard. Like the story of that very old pair of birds, who had made their nest in the deep crevice of the ancient banyan tree. He never talked much, this wide-eyed, staring boy. In the silence of his being, his thoughts ran deep.
Once, I took him along on a trip to the mountains. His joy was immense, when he saw the lush carpet of the green grass, sprawling across the valley from our house at the top. In his mind, the grass carpet on the slope was not an inanimate, lifeless thing; he felt it to be a living one, that rolled playfully down. Often, he would roll down the slope, become a part of the grass, enjoy it tickling his back. He giggled aloud.
After a rain-washed night, when the first rays of sun gently broke free, and its golden light kissed the tops of the clustering deodar trees, he would tip-toe out of our home, alone. He would walk to those tall trees, and stand in awe, watching the motionless mighty trunks. In them, he’d envision a living spirit, a human presence, as it were. The spirits who wouldn’t talk but would know all our secrets like our ancestral grandfathers, from times immemorial.
His deep-thinking eyes weren’t always heavenwards. Many a times, I’d seen him roaming in my garden, his eyes on the ground, as if in quest something new or unusual. His curiosity knew no bounds, when he discovered new seedlings piercing out of the soil. Each day, bending down, he would talk to them, as if asking, “What’s next? Now what?” Those were, like his eternally incomplete stories — like those new, tender leaves, with whom he shared a strange affinity, verging on companionship.
And they, too, would be eager to ask him questions. Perhaps, they asked him his name. Or, about his mother, where was she? In his mind, Bolai perhaps would reply, “But I don’t have a mother.”
When someone plucked a flower from the tree, it hurt him. He realised soon enough that his concern or hurt was not at all important to others. He tried to hide his pain. When the young boys of his age threw stones at the trees, trying to bring down amlokis (gooseberries) from fully laden branches, he ran away from the scene. To tease him further, his companions would walk through the garden, thrashing the row of shrubs on both sides with their sticks; they would tear the branch of the bakul tree (Minnesap species) — he felt like crying but couldn’t. Then, others might have thought of him as mad. The worst days in his life were when the grasscutter came to mow the grass in the garden.
For he would have noticed the small tendrils of creepers, rousing their heads within the patch of grass, and those purple-yellow tiny nameless flowers, embedded with them. Here and there, the kantakari (wild eggplant) shrubs, with small bluish flowers sporting a speck of gold in their hearts. Those creepers of kalmegh (bitter medicinal plant) near the fence borders, and the anantamul (a medicinal plant) displaying their leaves; the sprouting neem that blossomed forth out of the seeds dropped by birds, how beautiful they looked! And all these were brutally mowed down by the cruel grass mowing machine. Nobody listened to their pleas or protests, for these were not the most sought-after plants in the garden.
Somedays, Bolai would come to his aunt, sit on her lap and wrapping his small arms around her neck. He would only say, “Why don’t you ask those grasscutters not to kill my plants?”
His aunt replied, “Bolai, don’t be a fool. These are overgrown weeds, almost a jungle, these must be cleaned.”
Bolai had by then understood that there were some pains, some sorrows, that were exclusively his own. Those never resonated with others.
Bolai probably was truly born in that age and time, when the universe first swam out of the womb of the ocean, taking its first breath, eons of years ago. At a time, when on the newly formed layers of mud, the nascent forests rose and cried out for the first time. Then, there were no birds, no noise, no life — only layers of rocks, slime and water. Those tall trees, heralding other life forms on the path of time, calling out to the glowing sun, with their raised hands, saying, “I’ll live, I’ll exist, I’ll survive, like the eternal traveler, through the cycles of death, through days and nights, rain and shine, I’ll progress on the path of my growth, my evolution.”
Those murmurings of trees can be heard still, through the forests and the hills; on the tendrils of their leaves the life force of Earth murmurs, “I’ll live, I’ll exist.” These mute trees, like foster mothers of the Earth, have milked the heavens for endless time, to gather life’s nectar, it’s radiance, for this planet. And endlessly, they raise their eager heads to the air, expressing their soul’s call, saying, “I’ll live.” In some strange, miraculous way, Bolai could hear that calling in the blood that coursed through him. The very thought had made us laugh.
One fine morning, as I was reading the newspaper, Bolai came up and took me to the garden. Pointing out to a small shrub, he asked me, “Uncle, what’s that plant?”
It was a small shoot of a simul (silk cotton) tree, growing through the crack of our gravel road. Bolai had made a mistake by bringing me there.
The sapling was a tiny one, just like the first babbling of a child; it was then that Bolai noticed it. Thereafter, Bolai had himself tended to the plant, watering it, checking it earnestly to monitor its growth, each morning and evening. Though the silk cotton plant grows fast, it could not keep pace with Bolai’s eager wait. When it grew to a certain height, Bolai observing the beauty of its rich leaves, was certain it was a tree of a special kind. His observation was quite similar to that of a mother who after observing the first hint of intellect in a child, marks him as a wonder. Bolai, too, had thought that he’d astonish me with his tree.
I said, “I’ve to tell the gardener to uproot the tree.”
Bolai was aghast. Those words were terrible for him. He said, “No Uncle, I beg of you, please don’t get it uprooted.”
“I truly don’t understand you,” I told him. “It stands right on the middle of the path. It’ll spread cotton all over, once it grows bigger. It’ll be a nuisance.”
Bolai realised it was no use arguing with me. The motherless boy then went to his aunt. Sitting on her lap, with his arms around her neck, he sobbingly said, “Aunt, please tell uncle not to uproot the tree.”
His plan worked. His aunt called me and said, “Oh listen, please let his plant be.”
I let it be. Had he not shown me the sapling, I would have surely not noticed it. But now, I notice it every day. Within a year, the tree grew taller shamelessly. As for Bolai, he reserved his best adoration for this tree.
The tree continued to grow in a ridiculous manner, without paying any respect at all to anyone around. It grew to its full height, standing on that inappropriate spot. Whoever saw it, wondered why it was placed there. A couple of times more I proposed to uproot it. I tempted Bolai with my offer of nice, high quality rose saplings. I also proposed, “If you still opt for the silk-cotton tree, then let me get you a fresh sapling. We can plant it next to the fence. It’ll look pretty there.”
But any talk of uprooting it, alarmed Bolai. And his aunt said, “Oh, it doesn’t look that bad there.”
When Bolai was an infant, my sister in-law had passed away. The grief, perhaps, made my elder brother careless; he went abroad to study engineering. Motherless, this child grew up in my childless home, in the lap of his aunt, my wife. Ten years later, my brother returned and took Bolai to Shimla to school him so that he could accompany his father abroad. He was given western education in Shimla.
Bolai cried inconsolably as he left our home, turning it into an empty house.
Two years passed. During this time, Bolai’s aunt, saddened by his absence, dried her tears in solitude, and spent her time in Bolai’s room, arranging and rearranging a single torn shoe that he wore, a damaged rubber ball he played with and that picture book of animals. She wondered if Bolai had outgrown all these by now.
In between, the wretched silk cotton tree continued to grow shamelessly; so tall it had grown, that it was now absolutely mandatory to cut it down. I chopped it down one day.
Very soon after this, Bolai’s letter reached us from Shimla. “Aunt, do send me a photograph of my silk-cotton tree.”
Before going overseas, Bolai was supposed to come and meet us once. But since that had now been cancelled, Bolai wished to take his friend’s photograph along.
His aunt called me, saying, “Listen, please bring a photographer.”
I asked, “Why?”
She showed me the letter in Bolai’s childish handwriting.
I said, “That tree has already been chopped off.”
Bolai’s aunt didn’t touch food for the next couple of days and stopped communicating with me for even longer. When Bolai’s father had taken him away from her, it was the severing of her umbilical cord; but when Bolai’s uncle uprooted his favorite tree forever, it shattered her world and deeply wounded her heart.
For, that tree was, to her, a reflection of Bolai, his substitute image.
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.
Chaitali Sengupta is a published writer, translator, journalist from the Netherlands. Her works have been regularly published in both Dutch and Indian literary platforms, her poems also been anthologized in many acclaimed collections.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
A part of Bichitro Probondho(Strange Essays) by Rabindranath Tagore, this essay was written in 1885. It has been translated from Bengali by Chaitali Sengupta from Netherlands
The stillness inside the library can be compared to the thousand-year-old roar of the mighty ocean that has now been tamed to sleep. A deep, peaceful slumber of a baby. A place where language is on hold, its rhythmic tide is locked and the brightest light in our souls is imprisoned behind the black and white words. I wonder, what would happen, if one day, the words revolt, breaking free of the bondage? Just as the Himalayas contain in its frozen ice a thousand floods, in the same way this library too preserves the best of human emotion in its breast.
Humans have been able to fence in electricity with iron wires, but who knew that man would lock words behind silence? Who knew that he could trap music, boundless hopes, the happiness of an awakened soul and the prophecy of the oracles in the pages full of words? That he would imprison the past in the present? And create a bridge upon the infinite ocean of time just with the help of a mere book?
We stand at the crossroads of a hundred roads in the library. Some paths lead to the boundless sea, some to the topmost peak, and yet another meanders to the inner crevices of the human heart. There’s no barrier, no matter where you wish to go. Man has created his salvation within the small perimeter of a book.
In this library, one can very well listen to the rise and fall of human emotions, like the echoing of the sea resonating through the conch shells. The living and the dead co-exist in close proximity here and opposition is a close relative of compliance. Trust and doubt, research and discovery are mates here. The popular and less popular live together amidst great peace and harmony. None ignore the other with contempt.
Crossing several rivers, oceans, mountains the voice of humans have reached here, galloping through several ages of time. Come, come here, for here we’re singing the birth song of light.
The Great One, who after discovering heavens, had given out a clarion call to all humans — ‘You all are the sons of heaven, this earth is your heavenly abode’ — it is his voice and millions of other similar voices, that reverberate within these walls through the years.
Have we then, from the foot of Bengal, got nothing to say, no message to give out to the human civilization? In the unified music of the world would Bengal’s contribution be only silence?
Doesn’t the sea at our footsteps speak out to us anymore? Doesn’t the Ganga bring forth the song of Kailas for us? And the vast blue canopy- isn’t it anymore there above us? And the galaxy of stars there, are they not for us?
Each day brings messages to us from far away countries from past and present. In response, are we only going to produce a few flimsy English newspapers? The countries around the globe are writing their names with the ink of immortality. Would we, Bengalis, be happy to put our names only on the application papers? Humanity is putting up a stiff fight against the preordained destiny; with the bugle calls, soldiers are being called upon. At a time like this, are we only going to be immersed in petty affairs?
Bengal’s heart is full after a long silence. Let her once speak out, in her own tongue. Her voice would indeed add melody to the music of the world.
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.
Chaitali Sengupta is a published writer, translator, journalist from the Netherlands. She is involved in various literary & journalistic writing, translation projects for Dutch newspapers (Eindhoven News, HOWDO) and online platforms, both in the Netherlands and in India. Her works have been extensively published in many literary platforms like Muse India, Indian periodical, Borderless Journal, Setu Bilingual, The Asian Age. Her recently translated work “Quiet Whispers of our Heart” (Orange Publishers, 2020) received good reviews and was launched in the International Book Fair, Kolkata, India.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Angry clouds gather in the west corner of the sky. Thunder crashes, once in the overcast skies and then in her bosom. Scanning the sky with her nervous eyes, Ms. Bose switches on the TV, her mind in complete turmoil now. Her twenty two year old daughter has not yet returned home and it is past 12 o clock at night. Earlier in the day the KNMI weather bureau had issued a code orange weather warning for Noord- Holland, Friesland and Groningen. Uprooted trees, damaged roofs, closure of roads and highways, her mind briskly translates the Dutch teletext into English, a habit, like so many others, she yet cannot get over, despite her 23 years of stay in the low lands.
“Auto slaat over de kop, A20 afgesloten tot nader bericht.(Car overturns; A20 closed until further notice)” The words jump at her from the screen and she reaches for her mobile, punching Piu’s number frantically, sending silent prayers to the Gods above that she picks it up this time. How would she come home if that highway remains closed? And whose car it was that had overturned, she wonders? Fear dizzies her.
While the ringtone burrows into her ears, her mind goes through the scene from the morning.
Is it necessary to go today, of all days, to the youth day evening party, she had asked, even though she knew the answer she would get. “There is a warning for extreme weather,” she reminded her daughter using Bangla, using which she breathed easily. “You may get stuck. It is not safe to drive…”
With an exaggerated sigh her 24-year-old daughter, Anamika Bose — Anna to the native tongue and Piu to her — refused to listen. “Really Ma, you can’t let weather dictate our lives. I’ll be there before the storms strike.”
It irritated her, this pert brightness in Piu’s voice, but she forced herself to be calm. Incase there is a need, she had continued in her simple way, would she call her parents’ friends, the Rays, who lived only a few blocks away from where the party was held. I am a grown up girl, Mum, quite capable of looking after myself, she heard Piu snap as she gathered her large bag, stashed her foundation and cream into it and moved out of the bedroom after giving herself a last hurried look in the mirror. While Ms. Bose sat rigid at the edge of the bed, Piu added from the door, “I’ve my mobile, I’ll call you as soon as I reach, Ma. Besides, Martijn is there. He’ll take care of me.”
Martijn. Blue-eyed, tall, white with a sharp European nose. And a few years younger to Piu. She still remembers the silence that had bristled around Piu’s announcement at their dinner table couple of months back.
“Martijn and I, we ’re going steady, wij zijn nu 8 maanden bij elkaar (We’ve been together for eight months now)! It’s serious, and I intend to move in with him soon,” said she, her face gleaming with satisfation.
In the silence that ensued she saw her husband nodding his head and preteding to be interested, encouraging further conversation. “Martijn? The one whom you introduced me at the Kunst Akademie?”
It had prompted Piu to talk in great deatil about Martijn’s love for art pieces and a whole lot more half of which she doesn’t remember anymore. What she remembers is that strange heaviness running through her limbs and those many words swirling around in her head. In her maternal confusion she had only heard herself speaking about the difference in their ages. He’s a couple of years younger to you, she had tried to begin cautiously.
Piu cut her off, offended and almost furious. “What is age, Ma? A number, een getal. Has got nothing to do with love!”
He has dropped college and you are a topper in the university, she had struggled to put the words in their correct mould and had failed miserably in her agaitation. On what basis have you taken this decision Piu?
She knew the collision that her words would produce. But with those very definite notions of womanhood that she had been raised with, those set of dictates that explained who is considered a good woman and how she is to behave, she ignored the outcome, going ahead. It all feels good to you now, Piu. A couple of years later you’ll regret it…
She felt the brittleness in the air around before her daughter spoke up. “Why is it so impossible to talk with you, Ma? You never understand.” Piu’s voice was stretched thin, her hands pushing the plate away. “You’re forever distrusting, forever finding faults with me, my decisions. Whatever I do, it is never right for you.” She picked up her plate, threw the leftover food in the bin and before storming out of the room, had turned to her father, saying, “I hate it here, you know Baba (father). Can’t take it anymore, this perpetual interference.”
The edges of her daughter’s words had cut her to the deep and the bleeding had begun. Can a mother be an enemy to her own daughter, she thought? Her husband moved back to the kitchen with a look of vaccum in his eyes and repeated the same words, like an ancient mantra. “While in Rome, be like Romans. Don’t bring your prejudices into her life, it won’t work. Try and be a part of the society where you are living…”
And hadn’t she tried? To be a part of this society?
She had adopted this land, learnt the language, exchanged her nationality, included mashed potato & veggies-stamppot — in their winter menu, gone to the barbeque party with her neighbors in summer and tried to relish the olliebollens in the winter. Given up adorning her parting with vermilion in public and had gotten used to to wearing trousers in place of her comfortable cotton saris. And yet that link with the land had refused to form; that much awaited bonding remained as elusive as on that very first day when she had landed in Schiphol, a timid bundle of nerves, following her young husband in silent excitement, her eyes wide with wonder and bright with hopes.
That first year was the year of change for both of them. But while the changes transformed her simple husband to a meticulous, ambitious person, all that the new changes did for her was to nurture a dissatisfaction with her own, lonely life.
The harder she tried to fit into the society, the more was her need to recoil back and belong to that old world she had left behind. The inordinate laxity prevalent in this western society, the permissive lifestyle, the non-existence of permanent relationship between man and woman had awakened a kind of wary incomprehension in her in those early years. Later she had tried to strike a balance between her deep-rooted Indian beliefs and modern European outlook. But in the new enviornment, she had found the new ways of life to clash with the importance of values she was raised with.
Once when her colleague Ineke from the small wereldwinkel (shop) where she went twice a week had wanted to know how was it possible for her to be still connected to the land she left twenty two years ago, she had just smiled, covering up her frustration of not being able to coin the exact expression in Dutch to her colleague. How was she to explain that her family in that crumbling, old home in Kolkata was still her rock and that she considered the place she left twenty three years back still as her home?
Disruptive, angry winds lashed out at the house like a furious animal kept in chains. Where did she go wrong, she wondered, standing in front of the telephone table and trying to connect with her husband who was at the moment travelling out of Holland. Her very desire to pass on to her child her heritage and to help her to grow so that she could create a space to call her own — was this desire so unfair, one that she didn’t deserve to yearn for? The phone kept ringing somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic, but instead of her husband’s voice she reached his voicemail. Knowing that it was useless to leave a message, she put the phone down. She had to find Piu herself, she knew. But how?
Her back slumping, she walked up the stairs to her own room, watching her own shadow, a silhouette of loneliness and regret. A cup of strong masala tea, that was what she needed now, as she felt the dull, familiar ache returning and pressing on her temples. As she filled water from the tap in her small water kettle, she could not stop thinking about Martijn.
What was it in him that she didn’t like, that she didn’t trust? The way he addressed her by name? The way he held Piu’s hands in front of her? The way he casually spent the night with Piu in her home? Something that she as Piu’s mother found most inappropriate?
Once when she had tried to raise the point to Piu, her daughter had tried to explain hard. “It’s not your fault, Ma, I don’t blame you, she had tried to be sympathetic in her thoughts. It’s all because of that ‘closet culture’ you were raised in, where parents decide their children’s future. It is still so prevalent. You are so used to find happiness in marriage by arrangement. How would you understand the importance of the freedom of choice Ma? You never knew any other man in your life other than Baba.”
She watches the water come to boil; She tries to be honest with herself. No, it wasn’t that she mistrusted Martijn. What she did not, could not bring herself to trust was these modern, temporary, impermanent relationships between man and woman, relationships that needed to be ‘worked out’. “It’s up to us to work out the relationship,” Piu had concluded, finally having no patience left for her mother’s litany on the need to keep the best part of her heritage.
She had then wanted to ask Piu how did one ‘work out’ a marriage, was that a sum, a calculation, or a formula that needed to be worked out? But watching the glittering stars of hope in her daughter’s eyes, the question had died on her lips.
She checked the weather outside, lifting the curtains. The dark outside her window was shattered by the unrelenting zig-zag of lightening. Closing the curtains, she walked back to the sofa, carrying the tea cup in both hands. She felt tired, exhausted, and the pain behind her temple pulled at her eyelids. But she could not sleep. What if Piu phones..? Or anyone else…from the police station…just anyone…?
And that’s what gave her the idea. Although she knew it would infuriate Piu, she still wanted to try. She lifted the mobile and punched Piu’s friend’s number. A couple of rings as she sat stiffened and then a high-strung voice mumbled, “MetMyra.(Myra speaking)”. Gripping the mobile in her hand she asks after Piu. “I cannot reach her,” she says, asking her if she could pass on her message. A couple of minutes later the mobile rings. It was Piu. Finally.
“I’m sorry I missed your calls, Ma. Was so busy.”
“You should have called, Piu. I’m alone here, sitting and worrying…when will you be back? Your father is also not here…”
“Why did you have to call Myra, Ma? You know I hate you calling up my friends,” she went on as though her mother hadn’t spoken. “I told you I’ll be fine. Will be staying over at Martijn’s tonight. Don’t worry, I’m fine.Will call you later.”
“Listen, I was saying, the Ray’s are there, nearby, if you need…”
But she has hung up already. Disconnected herself.
Chaitali Senguptais a published writer, translator, journalist from the Netherlands. She is involved in various literary & translation projects for several literary and social platforms in the Netherlands and in India. Her works have been extensively published in many Indian literary platforms like Muse India, The Telegraph, Indian Periodical, Eindhoven News, The Asian Age, Borderless Journal, Setu bilingual. Her recently translated work “Quiet Whispers of our Heart” (Orange Publishers, 2020) received good reviews and was launched in the International book fair, Kolkata, India.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Chaitali Sengupta is a published writer, translator, journalist from the Netherlands. She is involved in various literary & journalistic writing & translation projects for Dutch media houses, online platforms & various social organizations in the Netherlands and in India. Her recently published translated work “Quiet Whispers of our Heart” received rare reviews and popular acclaim.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.