Monday, June 19, 2017

GUEST POST : Rabindranath Tagore the Storyteller by Dr. Sunanda Bhattacharya

(Pleased to present to you the first 'Guest Post' in my blog: a short, informative and engaging essay on Rabindranath Tagore the storyteller.)

By Dr. Sunanda Bhattacharya
Department of English
Women’s College, Shillong

Storytelling is something that one is familiar with from one's early days of life. It is an art that when handled with extraordinary skill surpasses time and space. A good storyteller is capable of weaving magic and wonder through the stories, which has a lasting impression in one's mind. 

One such storyteller is Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who remains one of the greatest storytellers of all times. His stories are an assortment of different themes, characters, and situations. He created stories revolving around common human experiences reflecting the different shades of life. In "The Cabuliwallah" one meets Rahmun, a father who has left his home and family in Afghanistan. Like all fathers, he too is extremely fond of his daughter. He carries with him a piece of paper that "bore the impression of a little hand" which belonged to his daughter. Mini a little girl in the story reminded him of his daughter and he showers his affection on her. When he is offered payment by Mini's father for the fruits, nuts, and raisins he brought for her, he refuses to take saying that he too has a daughter in his homeland just like Mini. He says: "I too have one like her in my home. I think of her, and bring fruits to your child – not to make a profit for myself". The words not only have an impact on Mini's father, but also the reader who identifies with the delicate deep emotions expressed by Rahmun, an emotion that any father would harbor for his daughter.

When one meets Phatik Chakravorti in "Home Coming" one is at once captured by the boy's innocence and mischief. This lively boy is uprooted from his natural environment in the village and is shifted to the city of Calcutta. Pahtik was excited to go with his uncle; but once there, the indifferent, hostile attitude of his aunt coupled with his failure to adjust in the city ultimately brings his doom. Fourteen-year-old Phatik yearned for love but received none from his aunt. Tagore brings out the trauma of this free child of nature in such a manner that it leaves one teary-eyed. In an alien space, Phatik is lost completely. "The cramped atmosphere of neglect oppressed Phatik so much that he felt that he could hardly breathe". He could fit himself neither at his uncle's home nor in the city school. Tagore here seems to warn all that if one is denied his natural environment to thrive and grow there lurks the danger of being annihilated.

"The Parrot's Training" is another brilliant piece of a short story by Tagore, where he critiques the system of education prevalent in India. The "ignorant" bird is synonymous of the learners who are taught the routine syllabus during education. The pundits tell the Raja that "the first thing necessary for this bird's education was a suitable cage". There was a particular "method" that was "followed in instructing the bird" which immensely pleased the Raja. Tagore's sarcasm garbed in humour is obvious when he says: "The method was so stupendous that the bird looked ridiculously unimportant in comparison". Gradually the wings of the bird were "clipped". The bird trapped in the "golden cage" was stuffed with information and "every creature…connected with the cage flourished…excepting only the bird". The entire "Education Department" of the Raja kept themselves busy with the education of the bird. This is symbolic of the kind of education that one receives – an education that restricts the learner's imagination and creative freedom. The "sound principle of education" followed by the Raja, in reality, killed the bird. One day the Raja is informed that the "bird's education has been completed". He asks "[d]oes it hop?... ‘Never' … Does it fly? ‘No'". Tagore speaks about this kind of "parrot learning" in connection with his own education. Because he felt strongly about it, he came up with his own university Visva-Bharati. 

"The Patriot", a short story by Tagore focuses on nationalism and patriotism through the characters of Girindra and Kalika who are husband and wife. Kalika is involved in the freedom struggle of India and when the story opens one is told that she is an active participant "in picketing British cloth in Burrabazar". The setting is that moment in Indian history which saw the peak of India's struggle for freedom from British dominance. Because her husband refuses to subscribe to her way of thinking she calls him "unpatriotic". Girindra knows that he loves his motherland but he does not wish to be a part of that "brand of nationalism, professed by [Kalika's] own party". He refuses to "wear Khaddar". This is because he by nature "shrink[s] from all conscious display of sectarian marks about [his] person".

One day an incident takes place which is revealing in itself. A sweeper is beaten up badly by a group of people just because he accidentally "came in contact with somebody, or something". The poor man along with his little grandson pleads with the group but without success. Girindra desperately wanted to rescue the man by taking him in his car. But Kalika threatened him that she will leave the car if the sweeper travels with them.  Kalika fails to rise above the social divisions prevalent in Indian society. Who then is a patriot? Tagore here compels one to think for oneself and comprehend the difference between Kalika an active participant in the cause of nationalism and Girindra. One here understands that India will be really free when Indians rise above divisions of caste and class. Tagore had once said: "The real problem in India is that we must make the whole country a creation of our own. A creation in which all the communities and individuals will participate."

Rabindranath Tagore the storyteller has crafted a huge number of short stories. He uses them to focus on different issues whether it is nationalism, education, or social injustice in India. In them, one finds diverse human experiences of love, joy, trauma, and pain…in short, his stories reflect life.     

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