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.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The post office

Rabindranath Tagore


Madhav Datta:  Oh! What a problem! When he was not here, we had no worries. He’s come from nowhere and filled my house. If he is no more, this house perhaps won’t be a home any more! Doctor, do you think he would …
Doctor:             If he is destined to live, he would … live long. But if one goes by the medical texts, then …
Madhav Datta:  What do you mean, doctor?
Doctor:            According to our shastra, Paittikan sannipatajan kafbatsamudbhavan
Madhav Datta:  Please, please don’t recite those lines, they’re so unnerving. Tell me what’s to be done.
Doctor:             [After inhaling snuff] He has to be treated with extreme caution.
Madhav Datta:  Of course, he has to be …, but what exactly should we do?
Doctor:             I have already told you, you shouldn’t let him to go out at all.
Madhav Datta:  He is only a child, keeping him indoors would be too difficult.
Doctor:            What can be done about it? In autumn, both the sun and the wind are poison for him, because, the shastra says, Apasmare jware kaashe kamalayan haleemake
Madhav Datta:  Please, let’s not get into that again; so he has to be kept in the house, there is no way out?
Doctor:            No way, as Pavane tapane chaiwa
Madhav Datta:  Sir, what shall I do with your chaiwa? Please leave it, and tell me what is to be done. But your prescriptions are tough on the child. The poor boy suffers in silence, but I find it heartbreaking to watch his suffering as he takes your medicines.
Doctor:             And the more he suffers, the better it is for him. That is why the Maharshi Chavan has said, Bhesajan hitabakyancha tiktan ashufalapradan. Allow me to leave, Datta moshai. [The doctor leaves.]

[Grandfather enters]

Madhav Datta:  Oh no! There comes the grandfather. What a disaster!
Grandfather:      Why? What’s so scary about me?
Madhav Datta:  You are the one who teaches the boys to be reckless.
Grandfather:      You are not a child, and you don’t have a child either – and you’re too old to behave recklessly – why do you worry?
Madhav Datta:  I have brought home a child.
Grandfather:      Really?
Madhav Datta:  My wife was desperate to adopt a son.
Grandfather:      I have been hearing it for some time, but weren’t you against it?
Madhav Datta:  You know, I have worked hard and saved some money. Even the thought that someone else’s child would spend it, just like that, used to upset me. But this boy has changed it all …
Grandfather:      And now, the more you spend on him, the more you think: Oh! Spending like this! How fortunate my money is!
Madhav Datta:  Earlier, earning money was more of an addiction for me – I couldn’t live without it. But now, it is such a pleasure. I am happy that whatever I earn will go to him.
Grandfather:      Good, that is very good. But where did you find the child?
Madhav Datta:  He is from my wife’s village. He was an infant when he lost his mother. And recently, his father too died.
Grandfather:      Oh! Then he needs me.
Madhav Datta:  The doctor says his slender body is so full of diseases that he has little chance of survival. The only way to save him is to keep him confined within the four walls of the house, protected from the sun and the autumn breeze. And in this old age, your passion is to take children out of their homes. I have good reasons to be scared of you.
Grandfather:      You aren’t far from the truth. I have become as awful as the autumn sun and breeze. But I do know a few tricks to keep children home too. I have some work. After I have finished with them, I’ll come back and make friends with this boy. [Grandfather exits]

[Amal Gupta enters]

Amal:                Pishemoshai!
Madhav Datta:  Yes, Amal.
Amal:                 Can’t I go even to that square and play there?
Madhav Datta:  No, baba.
Amal:                    Only to that corner, where pishima grinds daal in her grinding stone. See! A squirrel is nibbling at the broken seeds of daal, standing on its tail. Can’t I go there?
Madhav Datta:  No, baba.
Amal:                    I wish I were a squirrel. But pishemoshai, why don’t you let me go out?
Madhav Datta:  The doctor says you’ll fall ill if you go out, doesn’t he?
Amal:                    Yes, but how does he know what is good for me?
Madhav Datta:  How could you say that, Amal? If he doesn’t know, who does? After all, he has read so many books.
Amal:                    Does one come to know everything by reading books?
Madhav Datta:  Don’t you know even that?
Amal:                    [Sighs] How would I know? I haven’t read even one book.
Madhav Datta:  Listen! Wise men are like you. They too don’t leave their houses.
Amal:                    Don’t they?
Madhav Datta:  No, how can they? They go on reading books, they don’t care for anything else. Amal babu, you too will become a wise man when you grow up: you’ll sit at home and read really big tomes – everyone will be amazed.
Amal:                    No, no, pishemoshai, please: I don’t want to be a pundit, I’ll never be one.
Madhav Datta:  That is funny! I would give everything to become a scholar.
Amal:                    I will only look around and see everything. Everything …
Madhav Datta:  Strange! What do you want to see? And are there so many things to see?
Amal:                    From our window, I can see a hill far away. I wish I could go to the other side of the hill.
Madhav Datta:  What a crazy idea! Go to the other side of the hill just like that, for no reason? There is no sense in what you say. The hill stands so tall, like a gigantic wall. Shouldn’t we realise that we must not cross it over? Otherwise, there was no point in collecting so many huge rocks at one place and making such a grand show.
Amal:                    Pishemoshai, do you really think it’s telling us not to go beyond? I am sure as the earth cannot talk, she is raising her arm at the blue sky and calling us. Even faraway people can hear the call in lonely afternoons, sitting besides their windows. Don’t wise men hear it?
Madhav Datta:  They are not crazy like you. Neither do they want to hear any such thing.
Amal:                    Yesterday, I met someone who too was crazy, like me.
Madhav Datta:  Really? What was he like?
Amal:                    He was holding a stick across his shoulder. At the end of the stick was tied a small bundle. He had a water pot in his left hand. Wearing an pair of torn naagra shoes, he was going towards the hill, across that field. I called him and asked, ‘Where are you going?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll reach somewhere.’ I asked, ‘Why are you going?’ He replied, ‘In search of work.’ Tell me, pishemoshai, does one have to search for work?
Madhav Datta:  Of course, one has to. So many people go around in search of work.
Amal:                    That’s nice. I too will go around, looking for work.
Madhav Datta:  What if you didn’t find any?
Amal:                    If I didn’t find any work, I would search again … then, the man in naagras went away, and I went on looking at him, standing at the door. There, can you see the stream of water flowing below the fig tree? He put his stick down and slowly washed his feet in the flowing water. Then he untied his bundle and took out some powdered gram. He mixed the gram with water from the stream and started eating. After finishing his meal, he tied up the bundle again and put it back on his shoulder. Then he pulled up his dhoti, waded through the water and went over to the other side of the stream. I have told pishima, ‘One day, I will go to the stream and eat powdered gram.’
Madhav Datta:  And what did your pishima say?
Amal:                    She said, ‘First you get well. Then, one day, I’ll take you to the stream and we’ll eat powdered gram sitting beside it.’ When will I get well, pishemoshai?
Madhav Datta:  It won’t take much longer, baba.
Amal:                    Not much longer? I’ll go as soon as I am all right.
Madhav Datta:  Where will you go?
Amal:                    I will walk in knee-deep waters across many streams. When people take their afternoon siesta behind closed doors, I will only wander about in far away places, looking for work.
Madhav Datta:  That will be fine. First get well and then …
Amal:                    And then, please don’t ask me to become a wise man, pishemoshai!
Madhav Datta:  Tell me what you want to be.
Amal:                    Now I don’t remember anything. I will think about it and tell you later.
Madhav Datta:  But you should not call strangers from unknown places and talk to them.
Amal:                    I love talking to people from other places.
Madhav Datta:  What if he took you away?
Amal:                    It would be great fun. But no one takes me away, everyone asks me to sit at home.
Madhav Datta:  I have some work, I’ll go now. But, baba, please don’t go out of the house.
Amal:                    I won’t. But pishemoshai, I will be in this room by the side of the road.