Hello folks! How’s 2017 treating you so far? Already 2 down and 10 to go – winter is giving way to spring and red blossoms are popping up from every nook and corner…
Oops! There I go rambling when it is Story Club time. But I have reason – it’s the author poet storyteller musician artist philosopher Rabindranath Tagore’s influence! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I hope to re-visit one of his numerous masterpieces in short fiction The Kabuliwala. Just contemplating about his works can inspire the most unimaginative of minds.
Before moving on to the story, just a few words about the man himself. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) or Gurudev as he was (and is) addressed, is also sometimes referred as the ‘Bard of the Bengal’. He became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. In 1915 King George V knighted him but he renounced it in 1919 in protest of Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Although a supporter of Gandhi, Tagore stayed out of politics. In fact, he was opposed to nationalism and militarism. He believed in spiritual values and exhorted the creation of a new world culture founded in multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance. In 1921, Tagore established Viswabharati University at Santiniketan with the money from the Nobel Prize and royalty from his books. He gave all his money from Nobel Prize and royalty money from his books to this University.
Home-schooled, he began writing from about 8 years of age. He first published a book under a pseudonym when he was about 16 years of age. Born in a wealthy family, Tagore was sent to London to study law. But he returned to India after about 2 years without acquiring a degree. He began writing in Bengali and I have grown up hearing that one lifetime is not enough to read all that he wrote during his life. Tagore was a prolific composer, with 2,230 songs to his credit. His compositions are the national anthem of two countries – India and Bangladesh. I believe his work also inspired Sri Lanka’s national anthem.
No Bengali movie is complete without at least one of Tagore’s songs. He seems to have written a poem, composed a song for every season, every situation, and every emotion. Tagore also wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, and dramas. His travelogues, essays, and lectures have been compiled into several volumes.
I have not read many of his works in Bengali but like I said his songs are everywhere. I have read Gitanjali (literally – Song Offerings), the book for which he awarded the Nobel Prize, which deals with divine love.
Here’s one of them:
Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost it’s way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.
Where the mind is led forward by Thee
into ever widening thought and action.
In to that heaven of freedom, my Father,
Let my country awake!
Perhaps this could well serve as a world anthem!
At sixty, Tagore took up drawing and painting and many successful exhibitions of his works have been held all over the world. His manuscripts were a work of art – the scribbles, cross outs and word layouts formed interesting and artistic patterns. However, he himself was not very pleased with his own work. In 1900s, he wrote to Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (another world famous Bengali polymath), “You will be surprised to hear that I am sitting with a sketchbook drawing. Needless to say, the pictures are not intended for any salon in Paris, they cause me not the least suspicion that the national gallery of any country will suddenly decide to raise taxes to acquire them. But, just as a mother lavishes most affection on her ugliest son, so I feel secretly drawn to the very skill that comes to me least easily.”
Here are some of his other quotes:
You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.
The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.
Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.
Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.
Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.
My all time favorite prayer:
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.
And one more
If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.
When I conceived the idea for a Story Club and I seemed to be floundering alone (as I still am 😉 it was his song that came to my rescue – it still continues to inspire me to plod on, regardless. If you have time to spare, do listen to it – lyrics are given in English.
Of Tagore’s prose, his short stories are particularly highly regarded and widely read. What I like best about his short stories is that they speak of the average person, his little joys and tragedies. This is also true about this month’s story, which I hope you have read – if not do read and jump right in – link is given above.
Kabuliwala is a story about a man from Kabul (hence the name of the story – the one from Kabul) who comes to India to make a living selling exotic dry fruits. The innocent bond between a strange man and a little girl, their lighthearted banter is what draws us to the story. It charms us, ensnares us and just as we have formed an attachment to the pair comes the crux of the story – a master storyteller at work.
If you have read the story, I quite sure you would not have remain untouched by heartwarming and yet heartbreaking way Tagore unveiled a father’s love for his daughter. I particularly appreciated the empathy one father feels for another – if only we were more attuned to the sufferings and emotions of our fellow travelers on this difficult journey of life.
Like Mini, the little girl of the story, I have sort of grown up with the story. I have read English and Hindi translations of the story as part of school curriculum, onscreen versions – in Bengali and Hindi. And never has it failed to bring a lump to my throat. But each time I have seen it with different eyes and taken away a little something new. Perhaps that is a sign of my growing up or perhaps it is the greatness of a master storyteller who skillfully unfolds the layers one by one.
Kabuliwala could be just a simple story of a Bengali family, their way of life, prejudices, customs and traditions, as I thought it was when I was in my early teens.
Or it could open ones eyes to the story behind peoples lives, shake us out of our obsession with the self and see the person in front of us as more than just a service provider, an employee, a professional and ‘see’ him first as a human. It nudges us to be kinder, warmer, more supportive and appreciative of the others journey to get through the battle of life.
And yet when I re-read it just a few days ago, I felt the utter helplessness of a man, ill-prepared to be a father – one who feels all the emotions but is totally out of sync with reality. He is so completely engaged in the battle for providing for his family that the other realities and eventualities escape him. He seems to be stuck in a time warp, an alternate reality – where everything stops until he has done what he set out to do. It’s sort of like cooking lunch for a family with utter disregard for lunchtime.
The story makes me more kindly disposed towards my spouse as well. I see him with new eyes – poor chap is quite quite clueless 😀
I end with this message from Gurudev:
Go not to the temple to put flowers upon the feet of God, first fill your own house with the fragrance of love.
Go not to the temple to light candles before the altar of God, first remove the darkness of sin from your heart.
Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer first learn to bow in humility before your fellow men.
Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees, first bend down to lift someone who is down trodden.
Go not to the temple to ask for forgiveness for your sins, first forgive from your heart those who have sinned against you.
Thanks for reading. If anyone wishes to join the Story Club (including this one) most welcome. Just post a review and link back to this post. Or you could host the next month’s Story Club.
Rules are simple:
- Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
- Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
- Bloggers should post on their blog while non-bloggers may email me – firstname.lastname@example.org
- The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before.
- And of course have fun!
Look forward to reading from you – have a great day.