Bengalis, scattered over two countries and elsewhere, are full of contradictions. They were never a martial race, but were at the forefront of violent struggles to dislodge the British, and later, during the Naxalite movement. Hindus and Muslims lived largely in peace over centuries there, but one of the worst communal riots in history happened in Bengal. Bengalis are often brilliant individually, but are collectively marginalised in most spheres.

This blog is an attempt to understand the people and their mind.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The post office (Continued)

[This is the Act Two of Rabindranath Tagore’s immortal play Daakghar. The first was posted on 15 October 2010.]


Yogurt vendor: Doi! Doi! Tasty doi!
Amal: Doiwallah! Doiwallah! Oh Doiwallah!
Yogurt vendor: Are you calling me? Do want to buy some curds?
Amal: How can I? I have no money.
Yogurt vendor: What a strange child you are! If you don’t want to buy any yogurt, why stop me? Time is running out!
Amal: If I could go away with you, I would.
Yogurt vendor: With me?
Amal: Yes. You go to so many places, with your street cries – it gives me a strange feeling. 
Yogurt vendor: [Putting down the pots of yogurt] What are you doing here, my child?
Amal: The doctor has told me not to leave the house. So I sit here through the day.
Yogurt vendor: Oh dear! What’s wrong with you?
Amal: I don’t know. I haven’t read anything, so I don’t understand what’s wrong with me. Doiwallah, where are you coming from?
Yogurt vendor: I come from our village.
Amal: Your village? Is it f-a-r away?
Yogurt vendor: It’s is at the foot of the distant Panchmura hills, by the side of the river Shyamali.
Amal: Panchmura hills, Shyamali river – who knows? – perhaps I have seen your village. But I don’t remember when.
Yogurt vendor: You have seen the place? Have you been to our village at the foothills?
Amal: No, I have never been there. But somehow, I feel I have seen the place. Your village is beside a red, gravelled road, beneath shadows of tall, ancient trees. Isn’t it?
Yogurt vendor: Yes, you are absolutely right.
Amal: Where cattle graze on the hillside … 
Yogurt vendor: What a surprise! Cattle graze in our village, of course they do!
Amal:  Girls collect water from the river and carry the pots on their heads – they are in red saris.
Yogurt vendor: Once again, you are right! Wonderful! Girls from our milkmen’s hamlet do collect water from the river. Maybe, every one of them doesn’t wear red – but my child, you must have been to our village sometime?
Amal: Believe me, Doiwallah! I’ve never been there. Can I go with you when the doctor allows me?
Yogurt vendor: Of course, you can, my child! I’ll certainly take you over there.
Amal: Please teach me how to sell curds; just as you … carrying pots strung to a pole that rests on your shoulder … travelling to faraway places, just as you do.
Yogurt vendor: Oh no! Why should you sell curds, my child? You’ll read big books and become a pundit.
Amal: No, no, I don’t want to become a pundit. I’ll start from your milkmen’s village beside the gravelled red road under the old banyan tree … I’ll go around selling yogurt to villages far away. The way you call out – “Doi, doi, mishti doi!” Please teach me the tune, Doiwallah.
Yogurt vendor: Oh dear! Is it a tune to be taught?
Amal: But I love it. My mind flies away when I hear a bird’s trill from the other end of the sky. The same way, when I heard you calling from the crossroads through rows of trees, I felt … I don’t know what I felt.
Yogurt vendor: Please take this pot, my child!
Amal: But I don’t have any money.
Yogurt vendor: No, no, no. Please don’t talk about money. How happy I would be, if you ate a little of my yogurt.
Amal: But I am holding you back.
Yogurt vendor: No baba, not at all! You have not delayed me, I haven’t lost anything. I’ve learnt from you what a wonderful thing selling curds can be.   [The vendor leaves]
Amal:  [Imitating the Yogurt vendor’s tune] Doi! Doi! Mishti doi! Yogurt from homes of milkmen who live beside the Shyamali river … at the foothills of Panchmura. The men milk their cows on the slopes of the hill early in the morning; the women set curds in the evenings. It’s that curd. Doi! Doi! Tasty doi! Over there, the guard is going round. Guard! Guard! Will you please come and talk to me?

The Guard enters

Guard: Why are you calling me? Aren’t you scared of me?
Amal: Why? Why should I be?
Guard: What if I took you away?
Amal: Where would you take me? Far away? Even beyond those hills?
Guard: If I took you all the way to the king?
Amal:  To the king? Please do take me. But the doctor has told me not to leave the house. No one can take me anywhere – I’ll have to be here alone, through days and nights.         
Guard: The doctor has forbidden you? I’m sorry. Well, I understand. Your look so pale! There are dark patches under your eyes. I can see the veins in your arms.
Amal: Won’t you ring the bell, Guard?
Guard: It isn’t time yet.
Amal:  One says the time is running out, and the other says, it isn’t time yet. But wouldn’t it be time if you rang the bell?
Guard: How could it be? I can ring the bell only when it is time to ring the bell.
Amal: I love the sound of your gong, I really love it. In the afternoon, when everyone has finished their meals, when uncle has gone away on work, aunt has drifted off to sleep while reading the Ramayana, our tiny puppy is sleeping in the shadows in that corner of the courtyard, burying his head in his tail, your bell rings – ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong. Why does it ring?
Guard: The gong says: time doesn’t wait … it is flowing away … flowing away.
Amal: Where does time flow away to? To which place?
Guard: No one knows.
Amal:  Has nobody gone there? I would love to go away with time, to the land that no one knows of, that faraway place.
Guard: Everyone will have to go there, son.
Amal:  Me too?
Guard: Yes, of course!
Amal:  But the doctor has asked me not to go anywhere.
Guard: Someday, perhaps the doctor himself will take you there.
Amal:  No, no. You don’t know him, he only keeps people indoors.
Guard: But there is a better doctor, who makes people free.
Amal:  When will the better doctor come and see me? I can’t stay here any longer. 
Guard: You shouldn’t say such things, son.
Amal:  No, I am not running away, I have been asked to stay here and I won’t go away, but I hear your bell: ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong – and it gives me a strange feeling. Guard!
Guard: Yes, son?
Amal:  On the other side of the road, a flag is flying over a large building. So many people are going in and coming out of the building – what’s happening there?
Guard: A new post office is being set up there.
Amal:  A post office? Who is setting up the post office?
Guard: Who can set up a post office? Only the king. This boy is very interesting!
Amal:  Does the king send letters to his post office?
Guard: Of course, he does! Wait and see, someday, you too will get a letter from him.
Amal:  There will be a letter even for me? But I am only a small boy!
Guard: The king writes this small letters to small boys.
Amal:  It would be wonderful. When will I receive a letter? How do you know the king will write even to me?
Guard: Otherwise, would he set up a post office – flying such a huge golden flag – right in front of your open window? I quite enjoy the conversation with this kid!
Amal:  Well, if the raja writes to me, who would bring in his letter?
Guard: He has so many postmen. Haven’t you seen them? They go around wearing golden rosettes on their chest.
Amal:  Where do they go?
Guard: To people’s houses, to different countries. Oh! I cannot help but laughing at these questions!
Amal:  When I grow up, I’ll become one of raja’s postmen.
Guard: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! A postman? Isn’t it a great honour to be a postman? It’s mighty important to go around houses, to the rich and the poor – rain or shine – delivering letters!
Amal:  Why are you laughing? I think it’s the most wonderful thing one can do. Of course, your work is even better – when everything is silent under the hot afternoon sun, your bell rings – ding-dong, ding-dong. Or in some nights, when I wake up in my bed to find that the oil-lamp has burnt itself out, the sound of your gong floats in through a strange darkness outside – ding-dong … ding-dong …!
Guard: There comes the village headman. If he finds me talking with you, I’ll be in trouble.
Amal:  Where, where is the headman?
Guard: Over there, still quite far away. He is carrying a huge umbrella made of leaves. 
Amal:  Has the raja made him a headman?
Guard: Oh, no, no! He only claims to be a headman. People are scared of him because if they don’t listen to him, he makes life difficult for them. His only occupation is making trouble for others. Let me go now, I’ve things to do. I’ll come again tomorrow in morning and give you all the news about the town. [The guard leaves]
Amal:  It would be nice if the raja writes to me every day. I’ll read the letters sitting beside this window. But I can’t read. Who will read the letters for me? Aunt reads only the Ramayana. Will she able to read the king’s handwriting? If no one can read the letters, I will preserve the whole bunch of them carefully. I’ll read them when I grow up. But what if the postman can’t find me? Headman sir, oh headman sir! Will you please come to me?

The headman enters

Headman: Who dares to call me? Where is this monkey from?
Amal:  Sir, you are the headman, everyone obeys you.
Headman: [pleased] Yes, of course. Most certainly! People do obey me!
Amal: Does the raja’s postman listen to you?
Headman: Would he survive if he didn’t? How dare he disobey me?
Amal: Please tell the postman my name is Amal. I sit by the side of this window.
Headman: But what for?
Amal: If there is a letter for me …
Headman: Letter for you? Who’ll write to you?
Amal: If the raja does?
Headman: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! This boy is not a simple child. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! The raja will write to you! Of course, he will. Aren’t you his best friend? I hear he has fallen ill because he didn’t see you for a few days! It won’t take much longer, the letter should reach you any moment.
Amal: Morol moshai! Why are you talking like that? Are you angry with me?
Headman: Oh dear! Do I have the nerve to be angry with you? You exchange letters with the king! I can see: Madhav Datta has got too big for his boots. Maybe, he has made a little money, and his family members talk about nothing but the king and the queen. Wait and see, I’ll teach him a lesson. Listen to me, you young brat! I’ll see to it that the king’s letter reaches your house.
Amal:  No, no, Sir, please don’t do anything.
Headman: Why not? I’ll inform the Maharaj about you; then he won’t be able to wait, he’ll send soldiers straight away to enquire about you. No! Look at Madhav Datta’s audacity! He’d pay the price if the king came to know …. [The headman leaves.]
Amal:  Who are you – your anklets ringing so sweetly! – will you please stop for a while?

A little girl enters

Girl: How can I? Time is running out!
Amal:  You don’t want to stop? And I too don’t want to stay here any longer.
Girl: You remind me of the morning star – what’s wrong with you?
Amal:  I don’t know … the doctor’s asked me not to leave the house.
Girl: Oh! Please don’t go out then. You must listen to the doctor and be a good boy. Let no one say you are naughty. You feel restless because you have been looking out, perhaps I should shut this half open door.
Amal:  No, no, please don’t. Everything is closed around me except this door. But I didn’t see you earlier! Please tell me who you are.
Girl: I am Sudha.
Amal:  Sudha?
Sudha: Don’t you know me? My mother is a gardener here.
Amal: What do you do?
Sudha: I gather flowers in my basket and make garlands with them. I’m going to pick flowers now.
Amal: Going to pick flowers? That’s why your feet are dancing so merrily; as you go along, your anklets are singing. If I could go with you, I would pluck flowers for you from the high branches – so high, that you can’t even see them.
Sudha: How can you? Do you know more about flowers than I?
Amal:  I know, yes, I do. I know about the seven Champa brothers. I think, if they let me go, I’ll walk into a dense forest, where no one can find their way.  I’ll become a blooming champa flower on one of the thin branches on which little manua birds swing. Will you be my sister, flower Parul?
Sudha:  You must be crazy! How can I be your sister Parul? I am Sudha, daughter of the gardener Sashi. Every day, I have to thread so many garlands. I would have been delighted to sit here, like you.
Amal: Then what would you do through the days?
Sudha: I have a doll, she is a shopkeeper’s wife. I’d get her married. I have a kitten called Meni; with her …. Oh! I must go now, the time is running out. If I am late there’ll be no flowers.
Amal: Please be with me for some more time, I love to be with you.
Sudha: All right. Be a nice boy and sit here quietly, don’t be naughty, I’ll be with you for a while when I get back after gathering flowers.
Amal:  Will you give me a flower?
Sudha: How can I give you a flower just like that? You have to pay for it.
Amal: I’ll pay when I grow up. I will go beyond that waterfall in search of work; I will pay you before I leave.
Sudha: That should be fine.
Amal: So you will come back after gathering flowers?
Sudha: Yes, I will.
Amal: You will surely come?
Sudha: Yes, I will.
Amal: You won’t forget me, will you? My name is Amal. Will you remember my name?
Sudha: No, I won’t forget. You’ll see, I will remember you. [Sudha leaves]

A group of boys enter

Amal:  Where are you going, friends? Why don’t you come here for a few moments?
Boys: We are going to play.
Amal:  What games are you going to play, friends?
Boys: We’ll play tilling-the-land.
First boy: [Showing a stick] This will be our plough.
Second boy: We two will be the oxen.
Amal:  Will you play throughout the day?
Boys: Yes, the w-h-o-l-e day.
Amal:  And then you’ll come home walking along the river?
Boys: Yes, we’ll return in the evening.
Amal:  Please do return by this road by my house.
Boys: Why don’t you come out and play with us?
Amal:  The doctor has told me not to leave the house.
Boys: The doctor! And you follow his instructions? We must go now, it’s getting late.
Amal:  Please don’t go away. Please play on the road in front of my window for some time. Let me watch you play.
Boys:   Here? What shall we play with?
Amal:  Here are my toys, take them all. I don’t enjoy playing in the house …  all alone. My toys lie scattered on the floor; they’re of no use to me.
Boys: Wow! Such wonderful toys … this is a ship … this is a witch … and look at this, such a smart soldier. Are you really giving us all these? Won’t you feel bad?
Amal:  No, I won’t, I am giving you all my toys.
Boys: But we won’t give them back.
Amal:  No, you don’t have to.
Boys:   No one will scold us?
Amal:  No, no one will. But every morning, please come here and play for sometime in front of my door with these toys. And when they become old, I’ll get new ones for you.
Boys: Wonderful! We’ll come here every morning and play …. Please arrange the soldiers … we’ll play out a battle …. But where do we find the guns? Over there, a stick is lying on the ground. Let’s break it into pieces; they will be our guns …. But friend, you are drifting into sleep!
Amal:  Yes, I feel sleepy. I don’t know why I feel sleepy so often. I have been sitting here for a long time, I can sit no more; my back is aching.
Boys: The morning isn’t over yet, and you already feel sleepy? Listen, there, the bell rings.
Amal:  Yes, I can hear the bell – ding-dong, ding-dong! It’s telling me to go to bed.
Boys: If you are going to bed, we’ll go. We will come again tomorrow in the morning.
Amal:  Before you go away, I want to ask you something. You go to so many places: have you met the postmen of the king’s post office?
Boys: Yes, of course, we have. We know them very well.
Amal:  Who are they? What are their names?
Boys: One of them is the Postman Rain. Another is called Autumn. There are so many of them!
Amal:  Suppose there is a letter for me. Will they be able to find me?
Boys: Yes of course! If the letter is addressed to you, they’ll surely trace you out.
Amal:  When you’re here tomorrow, please call one of them and show me.
Boys: Yes, we will.


  1. Superbly done, Santanu da! I've no words of appreciation! It’s flowing like a stream, natural and unfettered and the lines capture Tagore’s spirit so magically! I’m transported to Amal's world in a twinkle...there's a lump in my throat... i saw Bahurupee's production in 1974 I think, with my parents at Rabindra Sadan. Chaiti Ghosal played Amal's role so perfectly! At times I feel if this is only a sham kind of an empathy, a false craving for a pristine and lost world of Amal, high on mushy sentimentalism that I would like to show-off to the world as I fleetingly browse over these timeless classics… am I really bothered about the few Amals who crowd my life, even those who are inside me and yours, vying for a little attention and space?

    When can we have your next installment?

  2. Thank you, Kaushik. I don't know what to say.

    Re your last question, the answer is next Sunday.