Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Climbing Sri Pada

I climbed Sri Pada on the 10th of January of the year 2023. I was still calling the mountain Adam’s Peak when I went up it, but on the way down I decided that it was more respectful to call it by the name the locals use. I had first glimpsed the mountain during my first visit to Sri Lanka, a year earlier. I saw it through a car window in the distance. “One day I will return and climb it,” I told myself, but I never imagined that I would do so just twelve months later. I often create lists of ‘things to do’ and items on those lists tend to remain on those lists for decades. I can be slow at compiling these lists and I found myself in the position of having to scratch out the words ‘Climb Sri Pada’ before I had even added them. Life is full of such ironies, luckily or unluckily.

Climbing mountains is one of the greatest delights of my existence, but the number of mountains I climb per year is low, on average just one, and I attribute my lack of drive to the typical mountaineer’s ‘peak lassitude’, which isn’t like the ‘peak performance’ of other kinds of athletes. You go up a mountain, stand on the summit and take a good look, then you climb down and look up, to see where you have been, and it is the theory of the climb, which has just been done in practice, that seems to be so exhausting. That’s my theory, anyway, or maybe it’s not quite deserving of the name ‘theory’. Perhaps it’s just a speculation or an excuse. But as I’ve always said, an excuse is as good a reason as any. I climbed Sri Pada and am still enjoying my fatigue.

Having arrived in Colombo by modern jet aeroplane, as one usually does, I caught a bus to the village of Maskeliya in the Central Province of the island, or rather a series of buses, as I couldn’t work out how to catch a direct bus there.

In fact, I first went to Kandy, a city on the way, or almost on the way, and stayed in a pleasant and cheap hotel for one night. I went to the Royal Bar for a meal and a drink, one of my favourite pubs in the world, and a place with strong nostalgic overtones for me. It’s a restored colonial building and I often feel like a restored colonial man, so it matches me perfectly. What I mean by this is that I’m getting old and cranky, but my foundations are solid, and my façade can be regarded as a noble one. There was a power cut while I was sitting at a chair on a balcony that overlooks an inner courtyard and the chef wasn’t able to prepare hummus in the dark, so I made do with chips and ketchup.

Sri Lanka was still reeling from the effects of economic mismanagement. I was expecting food and fuel shortages and disruption of public transport, as well as frequent power cuts, but I experienced little inconvenience, and I wouldn’t complain even if I had. Stiff upper lip and all that. A few days later, my British legs were stiffer than any lip has any right to be. But now I am jumping ahead. I couldn’t jump anywhere when my legs were stiff. I could hardly walk. But now I am drifting off the point, just as I drifted off the route when I was hiking to the base of the mountain. I am jumping ahead again. Let me go back a little and let me explain that all the inconvenience I didn’t experience because of economic mismanagement is still there, adversely affecting the people of the island, even if visitors don’t notice it. It’s important to be aware, even if the only thing we’re aware of is that we aren’t really aware.

From Kandy I caught a bus to Hatton. Every seat of this bus was occupied, and I had to stand. I wasn’t alone in standing, many other passengers were doing the same thing, and it was only the pressure from all these other standing bodies that prevented me from falling over on the winding road to the town of Hatton. I say ‘road’ but in fact it was just a series of bends that climb higher into the hills, an impressive drop on one side, no barriers, and a driver who liked to accelerate on those bends, presumably to teach them a lesson, or to teach us a lesson, about inertia and maybe some other laws of physics. It is cheaper than paying to use a rollercoaster and rather more sociable.

But the landscapes are beautiful. Tea plantations on undulating slopes with mountains in the background, and plenty of lakes. We reached Hatton and I tried to find another bus that would carry me the remaining distance to Maskeliya but I failed in this endeavour and caught a tuk-tuk with a talkative driver who acted as a tour guide on the way. “That’s a mountain over there, don’t know its name, and down there you can see a lake, not sure what it’s called, and reflected in the water is that very mountain. Imagine!”

At the time I had no idea that Hatton was the birthplace of one of my mightiest heroes, the explorer Eric Shipton, a man who climbed for real all the mountains I just gape at in picture books, and who probably found genuine evidence of the yeti, unless he was playing a prank and made the footprints himself. Who knows?

The tuk-tuk arrived in Maskeliya, which turned out to be a small place in which all the restaurants were closed, and it was impossible to secure a cup of tea or coffee. The fact we were surrounded by tea plantations and innumerable coffee bushes meant little, for all the tea and coffee was exported to Britain. I should have had a cup before I left my own country, I was informed. I replied that I had come from India where tea and coffee are daily occurrences, or even hourly occurrences, if necessary. There are numerous similarities between India and Sri Lanka, but also some differences. No snow-covered mountains on the island, for instance, therefore no yetis.

My tuk-tuk driver dropped me off on a dusty street full of holes over which his vehicle had been bouncing like a distorted rubber ball, and I found the place where I was staying. I was warmly greeted by my hosts and their two dogs. My room was above a garage and this building was the very last one in the village. I was given a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits to celebrate my arrival in such an obscure location. So, there was tea to be had in Maskeliya after all! I found it to have a pleasant but unorthodox flavour.

After I had drunk half a pot of the stuff, I was told it was coffee. So, there was coffee to be had in Maskeliya after all! Coffee that tastes like tea. Or rather, coffee that tastes like tea that doesn’t taste quite like tea. I learn something new every day, or nearly every day, even if it’s only that I don’t learn something new every day but only once a week. Does that make sense? I won’t say the altitude had affected my mind, because although we were quite high, we weren’t really very high. Maskeliya has an elevation of approximately 1205 metres. Nothing to write home about. But I only have an elevation of 1.74 metres, so who am I to pass judgement? I drank more of the tea.

For a few days, I prepared myself mentally and physically for the coming climb. I played with the dogs and read some books. One of the dogs had a habit of sunning himself on the roof of the house and I couldn’t work out how he got up there, onto the corrugated iron. Maybe he turned into a monkey by the light of the moon and turned back to a dog once he reached the roof. Magic is always a useful explanation for such mysteries.

At least it is useful until we know better. And often that ‘better’ turns out to be worse. Whatever the solution to the mystery, he was a nice dog and that’s what ultimately counts. An abacus also counts, but rarely ultimately, because it is limited by the number of beads on its wires. I went for a walk at a waterfall on the far side of the enormous lake that dominates the region horizontally, in the same way that Sri Pada dominates the region vertically. That was also part of my preparation. I drank more coffee.

During my walk to the waterfall, it began raining and I ran for shelter. It’s a terrible thing to get wet on the way to a plummeting column of water that fills the air with spray and wets the onlookers. Almost as if the sky is trying to spoil the surprise. I found shelter too, in a lookout point with a roof. Two young men were sheltering there and they had a drum with them and they invited me to play it, which I did, while they did a peculiar dance. Perhaps it was the opposite of a rain dance? I didn’t think to ask, but I should have. The rain stopped. We left the shelter and went our separate ways. I ambled along a narrow path to the top of the waterfall and looked down.

Lots of gushing water making a roar. The world is God’s bathroom and he had left the tap on. That’s what it was like, a little anyway. I ambled back the way I had come and caught a bus to Maskeliya. An old man waiting at the stop thanked me for being British. It was the British, he told me, who brought tea to Sri Lanka. Before we came along, they only had mango juice and coconut water to drink. Appalling! I am uncomfortable when I am thanked for being British, and it does happen, more often than one might suppose. When the bus arrived, he was too emotional to board it and decided to wait for the next one. Personally, I like mango and coconut.

The day of the big climb arrived, or rather the night, for I had to depart my comfortable room at 2:30 in the morning and sit in a less comfortable tuk-tuk for an even less comfortable ride to a mountain that I could very uncomfortably climb to the top. I later wrote a poem about my climb which asked the question, why do I climb mountains at night in order to see the sunrise? The punchline of my poem was that I didn’t know the answer until I reached the top and then it dawned on me. Many or most poems don’t have punchlines, mine do. But this doesn’t mean mine are in the right. Sometimes I imagine they are punch drunk and that’s surely wrong. Punch can be made with mango and coconut as added ingredients, but probably not with tea.

The tuk-tuk stopped and I dismounted and began my hike to the base of the mountain. There are several routes to the base of Sri Pada. Some are easier than others, and some of the easier ones are much longer than the harder ones, making them harder in some ways. That’s mountains for you. I walked up a stony path and into a forest. I began to suspect that this was the dry bed of a stream rather than a proper path and I thought of my own dry bed in my room in Maskeliya. Too late, I was committed to the climb. It was a forest where leopards and elephants roam, but I didn’t know that until later, for there was no sign of them as I trudged up the inclines.

After a few hours I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn. The mountain should have loomed above me, but it wasn’t to be seen. That was weird, but I am used to getting lost on hikes and climbs. I even get lost in cities when I have maps. I’m not saying that I am a terrible navigator, but I would be very unlikely to employ myself as a guide to anywhere. I decided to push on in order to see how lost I actually was. The only way of doing this efficiently is to become even more lost and then compare the degrees of lostness, if lostness is a real word, which probably it isn’t. Ah well! I noticed a light far ahead that was a beacon of hope, and I increased my speed.

The light belonged to the isolated hut of a tea picker. At least I assumed the hut was a worker’s shelter, but it might have been something else, of course. I had hiked out of the forest and into a tea plantation. Yes, I had taken a wrong turn somewhere, and now I needed to go back and find that somewhere. But if I looked for it, I probably wouldn’t find it. Best not to look for it and stumble on it by pure chance. That was my strategy.

And it worked. I wandered off the path again, the wrong path, and luckily managed to end up by accident on the right path. The Buddha told us to follow the middle path, but there were only two paths here. I would worry about this at the top of Sri Pada, where there is a shrine to him. Incidentally I am extremely interested in Buddhism, it’s a religion I find most compelling, the one with the most reasonable ideas, but what do I know?

I can’t honestly say that my attempt to climb Sri Pada was a pilgrimage as well as a minor adventure. It would be nice to make that claim, but it would be dishonest. Maybe one day I will return in a more spiritual frame of mind and try again. I finally reached the 5500 steps that led up the side of the mountain and I climbed them and was rather astonished to find tea shops on the way, tea shops open all night. So, this is where the tea really went! Then I asked myself, how are these shops supplied? The tea must be carried up on foot, step by step, as there’s no other way of doing it, unless it is dropped by parachute, which is so improbable an option we can disregard it.

Five thousand five hundred steps up and five thousand five hundred steps down makes eleven thousand in total, and that’s a lot of steps. At first it seemed easy, because it was easy, then it began to seem more difficult, because it was more difficult. When things are exactly the way they seem, I find that it focuses my mind acutely. My legs were tired halfway to the top, but I told them to take heart and not let down the other parts of my body, which still wanted to get to the summit and were relying on them. I also told my heart to take heart. It didn’t really require that advice, as it happens.

Finally, I reached the top. The sun came up. It came up effortlessly, without the need for steps. The sun is five billion years old but acts like a youth, setting a good example to us all. Funny how it sets this example when it is rising. But I am wandering off the point, and the point is not a path. I took off my boots and approached the shrine, which stands on a small area at the very apex of Sri Pada and overlooks the other mountains and hills in every direction. Inside this shrine is the footprint, but it has been covered over with a golden seal in the shape of a foot and I can’t report on what it actually looks like. I also rang the bell that has been provided for the use of summiteers.

I don’t know if ‘summiteers’ is a real word. I could check but I worry that it might not exist in the lexicons and then I would feel obliged to change it, and I don’t want to do that. Musketeers is a real word, so I don’t see why lexicons should feel a need to pick on summiteers. If they picked on musketeers, they’d soon be sorry! The bell at the summit of Sri Pada should be rung the number of times the ringer has climbed the mountain. I rang it once. Then I began the long descent. I found this harder than the climb because my knees were sore, and my legs were shaky. They wibbled and wobbled like jellies in the shape of limbs, a very cunning pair of jellies no doubt, but a feeble set of legs. Nonetheless, down I managed to go, slowly, surely, puffingly.

On the descent, two boars crossed my path. They were very casual, a more nonchalant couple of wild pigs can hardly be imagined. They trotted out of the undergrowth on one side, stopped to admire the view, then carried on into dense undergrowth on the other side. I noticed that their legs didn’t wibble or wobble. It’s true that I might not be able to tell a wibble from a wobble when it comes to a pig because I’m not a trained vet. I’m not even a wild vet. I am no kind of vet. That goes without saying. I went without saying too, downwards again, until at long last I reached the bottom, exhausted.

All the photographs have been provided by Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Taking an unexpected turn

By Nitya Pandey

In the world of short-lived relationships, I used to believe that taking chances with strangers was a folly.

While trying to learn Korean, something that I did during the pandemic while locked up in my hometown, I chanced upon a post on a language learning community. A woman, not much older than me, from Incheon in South Korea, was looking for a language partner, who could help her with English. In return, she was happy to help out the partner with Korean. She was fairly comfortable with English, just that she needed somebody to have conversations with to build fluency.

In one of my rare bouts of extraversion, I told her that I would love to be her partner, the only caveat being that I was just starting out with Korean and would therefore need a lot of help. She agreed.

My efforts with learning a third language (English and Hindi being the first two) had turned out to be major disasters in the past, with multiple failed attempts at mastering French and Italian. I thought that my journey with Korean too, would not be very different. Writing it off as a fleeting distraction, I was sure that I would turn to other things once the world opened up. But…

With the days of handwritten letters and pen pals being a thing of the past, I never thought that this exchange would be anything more than a dusty memory, locked away in my mind’s attic after a few months.

Avid planners that both of us were, we started by laying down a pretty elaborate map to conquer the languages ‘foreign’ to us, painstakingly chalking out the routes we’d take, the pit stops we’d make and the milestones we’d cross together. We were both equally excited to embark on this journey, with all the prep work done successfully– books bought, stationary stocked and motivational quotes ready on the walls to fire us up. We took the first steps cautiously, like accidental travelers thrown together by the circumstances. We had no choice but to lean heavily on each other. With mutual support fueling our desire to keep moving, we gradually broke into short walks and came to enjoy them. We were soon walking about in abandon, with our conversations peppered with Korean and English phrases, slang and more.

A few months in, we started sharing glimpses into our lives: the spaces we lived in, the people we loved, the films we adored, the music that inspired us, the food we loved and the places we wanted to travel to. She had studied in Moscow, been all over Europe and Southeast Asia, being a textile trader and now lived in South Korea. I, on the other hand, had lived all my life in India with a few years spent in Colombo. She preferred films to books and cats to dogs, unlike me.  I loved collecting old books and postcards, a pursuit she couldn’t fathom in this day and age.

I often wonder about the point when we made the transition from unfamiliarity to friendship to sisterhood. I started calling her Unnie (Korean for a woman/sister older than you) and we started speaking in Banmal (casual Korean) instead of formal Korean. She would try out my mother’s recipes that I shared while I would listen to Korean music and watch films she recommended. She agreed to give reading fiction a shot and ended up crying over characters who fell on hard times. I used to help her make posters for a pet shelter that she volunteered for while she helped me build study material for English lessons that I would take for an NGO. I shared snippets of the refreshing monsoons and chai while she sent me pictures of the remarkable cherry blossoms, the snow piling up and steaming bowls of ramen.

We were soon sharing our hopes and dreams across the countless miles that separated us, across cultures that had moulded us into two very different people. We had grown to find a ‘home’ in each other; long conversations in Konglish (a mix of Korean and English) about joys and sorrows of moving jobs, leaving our families behind, losing a pet and thinking about the kind of future we wanted for ourselves. Calming my frantic soul, Unnie had opened a new world of living and of simply ‘being’. Learning to be my own woman, I could have never imagined that a stranger, I hadn’t met and who lived countries apart, would become a cherished part of my life.

A year down, I still wonder about the stroke of fate that got two kindred spirits together, trying to navigate their way though the confused age of late 20s and 30s. Wrapped in the wind, feeling aflutter, I am learning to take chances, bet on people and drench myself in the ‘kaleidoscope of experiences’ that life brings.


Nitya Pandey is an Organisational Learning Advisor with a degree in History. An avid Austen fan, she loves all sorts of fiction and prefers staying in to read over weekends. She likes to journal her experiences as a way of capturing some of her cherished memories and has a fascination with all things ‘old’– forts, art, books, music and cinema.


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.


                                                                                                            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.