Title: Farewell Song
Author: Rabindranath Tagore
Translator: Radha Chakravarty
Publisher: Penguin, Hesperus Press
‘I may go away from Shillong, but the month of Agrahayan can’t suddenly slip away from the almanac! Do you know what I shall do in Calcutta?’
‘What will you do?’
‘While Mashima makes arrangements for the wedding, I must prepare for the days that are to follow. People forget that conjugal life is an art, to be created anew each day. Do you remember, Banya, how King Aja had described Indumati in Raghuvamsha?’
‘‘‘My favourite pupil has artistry in her blood,’ ’ quoted Labanya.
‘Such artistry of the blood belongs to conjugal life,’ declared Amit. ‘Barbarians generally imagine the wedding ceremony to be the real moment of union, which is why the idea of union is often so utterly neglected afterwards.’
‘Please explain the art of union as you imagine it in your heart. If you want me to be your disciple, then let today be the first lesson.’
‘Very well, then, listen. The poet creates rhythm out of deliberately placed obstructions. Union, too, should be rendered beautiful by means of deliberately placed obstacles. To cheapen a precious thing so that it is to be had for the asking is to cheat your own self. For the pleasure of paying a high price is by no means negligible.’
‘Let’s hear how the price is to be calculated.’
‘Wait! Let me describe what my heart has visualized. Beside the Ganga, there will be a garden-estate on the other side of Diamond Harbour. A small steam-launch would take us to Calcutta and back, within a couple of hours.’
‘But why the need to travel to Calcutta?’
‘Now there is no need to, please be assured. I do visit the bar- library, not to engage in trade but to play chess.The attorneys have realized that I have no need for work and, therefore, no interest in it. When a case comes up, concerning some mutual dispute, they hand me the brief but nothing more than that. But right after marriage, I’ll show you what it means to set to work, not in search of a livelihood but in search of life. At the heart of the mango lies the seed, neither sweet, nor soft, nor edible; yet the entire mango depends on it, takes shape from it. You understand, don’t you, why the stony seed of Calcutta is necessary? To keep something hard at the core of all the sweetness of our love.’
‘I understand. In that case, I need it, too. I must also visit Calcutta, from ten to five.’
‘What’s wrong with that? But it should be for work, and not in order to explore the neighbourhood.’
‘What work can I take up, tell me? Without any wages?’
‘No, no, a job without wages is neither work nor play: it’s mostly all about shirking. If you wish, you can easily become a professor in a women’s college.’
‘Very well, that shall be my wish.What then?’
‘I can visualize it clearly: the shore of the Ganga. From the lowest level of the paved bathing area rises an ancient banyan tree, laden with aerial roots. While cruising down the Ganga to Ceylon, Dhanpati may have tethered his boat to this same banyan tree and cooked his dinner under its shade. To the south is the moss-encrusted paved bathing ghat, the stone cracked in many places, eroded in patches. At that ghat is tethered our slim, elegant boat, painted green and white. On its blue flag, inscribed in white lettering, is the name of the boat. Please tell me what the name should be.’
‘Should I? Let it be named Mitali, for friendship.’
‘Just the right name: Mitali. I had thought of Sagari, in fact I was rather proud of having thought up such a name. But you have defeated me, I must admit.Through the garden flows a narrow channel, bearing the pulsebeat of the Ganga. You live on one side of the channel, and I live just across, on the other side.’
‘Would you swim across every evening, and must I await you at my window, with a lighted lamp?’
‘I’ll swim across in my imagination, crossing a narrow wooden footbridge. Your house is named Manasi, the desired one; and you must give a name to my house.’
‘Just the right name. Atop my house, I shall place a lamp to suit the name. A red light will burn there on the evenings when we meet, and a blue one on nights of separation. When I return from Calcutta, I shall daily expect a letter from you. It should sometimes reach me, sometimes not. If I don’t receive it by eight in the evening, I shall curse my ill-fortune and try to read Bertrand Russell’s textbook on logic. It will be our rule, that I must never visit you uninvited.’
‘And can I visit you?’
‘Ideally, both of us should follow the same rule, but if you occasionally break it, I shall not find it intolerable.’
‘If the rule is not to be observed in the breaking, what would be the condition of your house! Perhaps I should visit you in a burkha.’
‘That’s all very well, but I want my letter of invitation. The letter need contain nothing but a few lines of verse, taken from some poem.’
‘And will there be no invitations for me?Am I to be discriminated against?’
‘You are invited once a month, on the night when the moon is at its full, after fourteen days of fragmented existence.’
‘Now offer your favourite pupil an example of the kind of letter to be written.’
‘Very well.’ He produced a notebook from his pocket and wrote, first in English, then in Bengali:
Blow gently over my garden
Wind of the southern sea
In the hour my love cometh
And calleth me
Labanya did not return the piece of paper to him.
‘Now for an example of the kind of letter you would write. Let’s see how much you have gained from your lessons.’
Labanya was about to write on a piece of paper. ‘No,’ insistedAmit, ‘you must write in this notebook of mine.’
Labanya wrote, in Sanskrit, and then in English:
Mita, twamasi mama jivanam, twamasi mama bhushanam,
Twamasi mama bhavajaladhiratnam.
Mita, you are my life, my adornment,
The jewel in the ocean of my world.
‘The amazing thing is, I have written the words of a woman, and you the words of a man,’ remarked Amit, putting the notebook in his pocket. ‘There is nothing incongruous about it. Whether the wood comes from a red silk cotton tree or from a bakul tree, when set alight, the fire looks the same.’
About the Book
Rabindranath Tagore reinvented the Bengali novel with Farewell Song, blurring the lines between prose and poetry and creating an effervescent blend of romance and satire. Through Amit and Labanya and a brilliantly etched social milieu, the novel addresses contemporary debates about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing, the nature of love and conjugality and the influence of Western culture on Bengali society. Set against the idyllic backdrop of Shillong and the mannered world of elite Calcutta society, this sparkling novel expresses the complex vision and the mastery of style that characterised Tagore’s later works.
About the Author
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Renaissance man, reshaped Bengal’s literature and music, and became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature, thereby freeing it from traditional models based on classical Sanskrit. He was highly influential in introducing the best of Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and was a living institution for India, especially for Bengal.
About the Translator:
Radha Chakravarty is a writer, critic and translator based in New Delhi, India. She has co-edited The Essential Tagore and translated Rabindranath Tagore’s major works including Chokher Bali, Gora, Farewell Song, Four Chapters, The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children and Boyhood Days. She has also translated other Bengali writers from India and Bangladesh, such as Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Mahasweta Devi, Anita Agnihotri, Selina Hossain, Hasan Azizul Haq and Syed Shamsul Huq. She is the author of Feminism and Contemporary Women Writers and Novelist Tagore. Her latest books in translation are Our Santiniketan by Mahasweta Devi and Four Chapters by Tagore. Nominated for the Crossword Translation Award, she also is also a widely published poet. She taught Comparative Literature & Translation at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.