Tagore Stories in Translation: Bolai

A story about Man and Nature written in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore in 1928, translated by Chaitali Sengupta.

Simul tree, also known as Rokto Simul in Bengali. Photo Credit: Wiki

It is often said that human life is a culmination of the 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 life of a human, we see a blend of those characteristics usually prevalent 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 created when the entire range of notes come together. Only then, raga is formed. However, within a raga, there surely can be the prominence of one note over the other.

In the character of my nephew Bolai, I believe the affinity for the flora and the fauna, perhaps, reigned supreme. He was an observant child rather than an active one. Even at an early age, he’d rather 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 rains.

He seemed to want to fill his being with rays of the departing sun, perhaps, in an attempt to accumulate something precious out of it. In the end of Magh, (the month of January) when the trees would be laden with the tiny fruits, an intrinsic, deep happiness within him, 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 to a trip to the mountains. His joy was immense, when he saw the lush carpet of the green grass, sprawling down to 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, becoming a part of the grass, enjoying 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 those 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 e 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 only because 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 grasscutter 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 the 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. Silk cotton plant, although grows fast, yet it seemed not to keep pace with Bolai’s eager wait. When it grew to a certain height, by observing the beauty of its rich leaves, Bolai 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 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 at its being 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 from abroad and took Bolai to Shimla to impart western education to him. Later, he was supposed to go abroad.

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.

Amloki tree

Author’s Bio:

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.

Translator’s Bio:

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.




The Library by Tagore

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

Rabindranath Tagore

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.

Author’s bio

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.

Translator’s bio

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.





By Chaitali Sengupta

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, “Met Myra.(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 Sengupta is 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.




Autumnal Awakening

by Chaitali Sengupta


In the throngs of those trees,


where shadows separate, and

the mustard sun blaze…

You could have been there.

(Or, I thought so.)

But now, I know better.

For, you’re gone.

And there, where the mustard sun blazed

only yellowing

leaves of autumn

litter with my past.



When the summer ends

and the leaves fall…

gracefully, without any regrets,

any desires…

any attachments…

any afterthoughts…

Yet, whispering the promise

of return,

with another season,

another riot of colors,

another etching,

another dream,

another awakening into autumn…

like a poem, that says

permanence is an illusion.


“I can’t breathe”

Each one, with a stone in our hand

seek the other out

in darkness. We fumble not. No.

Each one

with a stone in our hand

seek the other out.

Only to kill.

For we know not

anymore, how to co-exist.

And though our fates

are common and bound,

we’ve become people

who choose

not to hear,

the cry that rends the air,

“I can’t breathe.”



Despite the virus,

Despite the fear,

Despite the deaths,

The flowers bloom.

The birds chirp.

The sky is blue and pink.

The days are longer.

The sun warmer.

The spring gifting

her wondrous colors.

And teaching us

the power of life.


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.