Thursday, 12 March 2015

Tagore And Some Letters, Unsent...

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Letter Writing.

An activity, which resonates with lending expression to emotion.

An activity, which reminds us of the times of joy.

An activity, which reminds us of moments of sorrow.

An activity, which provides a sense of relief and contentment.


Yet, there are some letters which long to be penned.

Yet, there remain some letters which never live to see the blots of ink on paper.


It is these #UnsentLetters, which are closest to the heart.

It is these #UnsentLetters, which state the matters of fact, whilst in silence.


Such a story was penned by the great luminary, Rabindranath Tagore.

Such a tale gave voice to the inexistent letter, in the first place.

Such a heart-rending narration lent a vivid manifestation, to an emotion unexpressed.


Whenever the thought of #UnsentLetters crosses the mind, I am reminded of this gem of a fable from a respected Indian Nobel Laureate.

The Postmaster is narrated thus. 


The postmaster first took charge in the village of Ulapur. It was a dwarf village, with an indigo factory nearby, and the proprietor got a post office established.

The postmaster was a native of Calcutta. He felt like a fish out of water in this remote village. His office and living room were housed in a gloomy thatched shed, near to a green, slimy pond, surrounded on all sides by dense vegetation.

The labourers in the indigo factory had no leisure time on their hands; moreover, they were hardly desirable companions for decent folk. A Calcutta boy is not adept in the art of associating with others. Among strangers, he appears either proud or ill at ease. Irrespective, the postmaster had but little company; nor had he much to do.

At times, he tried his hand at writing a verse or two. The movement of the leaves and the clouds of the sky were enough to fill life with joy. Such were the emotions to which he sought expression. But, God knows that the poor fellow would have felt as if he had received the gift of a new life, if some genie of the Arabian Nights had swept away the trees, leaves and all in one night, and replaced them with a macadamized road, hiding the clouds from view with rows of tall houses.

The postmaster's salary was meagre. He had to cook his own meals, which he used to share with Ratan, an orphan girl of the village, who did odd jobs for him.

When in the evening, the smoke began to curl up from the village cowsheds, and the sparrows chirped in every bush; when the mendicants of the BaĆ¼l sect sang their shrill songs in their daily meeting place, when any poet, who had attempted to observe the movement of the leaves in the dense bamboo thickets, would have felt a ghostly shiver run down his back, the postmaster would light his modest lamp, and call out to Ratan.

Ratan would sit outside waiting for this call, and, instead of coming in at once, would reply, "Did you call me, Sir?"

"What are you doing?" the postmaster would ask.

"I must be going to light the kitchen fire" would be the answer.

And the postmaster would say, "Oh, let the kitchen fire be for awhile; light me my pipe first."

At last Ratan would enter, with puffed cheeks, vigorously blowing into a flame a live coal to light the tobacco. This would give the postmaster an opportunity to converse. "Well, Ratan," perhaps he would begin, "do you remember anything about your mother?" That was a fertile subject. Ratan partly remembered, and partly didn't. Her father had been fonder of her than her mother; him she recollected more vividly. He used to come home in the evening after his work, and one or two evenings stood out more clearly than others, like frames in her memory.

Ratan would sit on the floor near the postmaster's feet, as memories crowded in upon her. She recalled a little brother that she had, and how on some bygone cloudy day she had played at fishing with him on the edge of the pond, with a twig for a make-believe fishing-rod. Such little incidents would drive out more crucial events from her mind. Thus, as they talked, it would often get very late, and the postmaster would feel too lazy to do any cooking at all. Ratan would then hastily light the fire, and toast some unleavened bread, which, with the cold remnants of the morning meal, would be enough for their supper.

On some evenings, seated at his desk in one corner of the big empty shed, the postmaster too would recall memories of his own home, of his mother and his sister, of those for whom in his exile his heart was sad, memories which were always haunting him, but of which he could not talk about with the men of the factory, though he found himself naturally recalling them aloud in the presence of the simple little girl. And so it came about that the girl would allude to his people as a mother, brother, and sister as if she had known them all her life. In fact, she had a complete picture of each one of them painted in her little heart.

One noon, there was a cool soft breeze blowing; the smell of the damp grass and leaves in the hot sun felt like the warm breathing of the tired earth on one's body. A persistent bird went on all the afternoon repeating the burden of its one complaint in Nature's chamber.

The postmaster had nothing to do. The shimmer of the freshly washed leaves, and the banked-up remnants of the retreating rain-clouds were sights to see; and the postmaster was watching them and thinking to himself: "Oh, if only some kindred soul were near - just one loving human being whom I could hold near my heart!" This was exactly, he went on to think, what that bird was trying to say, and it was the same feeling which the murmuring leaves were striving to express. But no one knows or would believe, that such an idea might also take possession of an ill-paid village postmaster in the deep, silent mid-day interval of his work.

The postmaster sighed, and called out to Ratan. Ratan was, at that time, sprawling beneath the guava tree, busily engaged in eating unripe guavas. At the voice of her master, she ran up breathlessly, saying, "Were you calling me, Dada?" "I was thinking," said the postmaster, "of teaching you to read." And then for the rest of the afternoon he taught her the alphabet.

Thus, in a very short time, Ratan had got as far as the double consonants.

It seemed as though the showers of the season would never end. Canals, ditches, and hollows were all overflowing with water. Day and night the patter of rain were to be heard, accompanied by the croaking of frogs. The village roads became impassable.

One heavily clouded morning, the postmaster's little pupil had been long waiting outside the door for her call, but, not hearing it as usual, she took up her dog - eared book, and slowly entered the room. She found her master stretched out on his bed, and, thinking that he was resting, she was about to retire on tip-toe, when she suddenly heard her name. "Ratan!" She turned at once and asked: "Were you sleeping, Dada?" The postmaster in a plaintive voice said: "I am not well. Feel my head; is it very hot?"

In the loneliness of his exile, and in the gloom of the rains, his ailing body needed a little tender nursing. He longed to remember the touch on the forehead of soft hands with tinkling bracelets, to imagine the presence of loving womanhood, the nearness of mother and sister. And the exile was not disappointed. Ratan ceased to be a little girl. She at once stepped into the skin of mother, called in the village doctor, gave the patient his pills at the proper intervals, sat up all night by his pillow, cooked his meal for him, and every now and then asked: "Are you feeling a little better, Dada?"

It was some time before the postmaster, with a weakened body, was able to leave his bed. "No more of this," said he with determination. "I must get a transfer." He at once wrote off to Calcutta an application for a transfer, on the ground of the unhealthiness of the place.

Relieved from her duties as nurse, Ratan again took up her old place outside the door. But she no longer heard the same old call. She would sometimes peep inside furtively to find the postmaster sitting on his chair, or stretched on his bed, and staring absent-mindedly into the air. While Ratan was awaiting her call, the postmaster was awaiting a reply to his application. The girl read her old lessons over and over again, her great fear was lest, when the call came, she might be found wanting in the double consonants. At last, after a week, the call did come one evening. With an overflowing heart Ratan rushed into the room with her "Were you calling me, Dada?"

The postmaster said: "I am going away tomorrow, Ratan."

"Where are you going, Dada?"

"I am going home."

"When will you come back?"

"I am not coming back."

Ratan asked no other question. The postmaster, of his own accord, went on to tell her that his application for a transfer had been rejected, so he had resigned his post and was going home.

For a long time neither of them spoke another word. The lamp went on dimly burning, and from a leak in one corner of the thatch water dripped steadily into an earthen vessel on the floor beneath it.

After a while Ratan rose, and went off to the kitchen to prepare the meal; but she was not so quick about it as on other days. Many new things to think of had entered her little brain. When the postmaster had finished his supper, the girl suddenly asked him: "Dada, will you take me home?"

The postmaster laughed. "What an idea!" said he; but he did not think it necessary to explain to the girl wherein lay the absurdity.

That whole night, in her waking and in her dreams, the postmaster's laughing reply haunted her - "What an idea!"

On getting up in the morning, the postmaster found his bath ready. He had stuck to his habit of bathing in water drawn and kept in pitchers, instead of taking a plunge in the river as was the custom of the village. For some reason or other, the girl could not ask him, the time of his departure, so she had fetched the water from the river long before sunrise, that it should be ready as early as he might want it. After the bath came a call for Ratan. She entered noiselessly and looked silently at her master's face for orders. Her master said, "You need not be anxious about me going away, Ratan; I shall tell my successor to look after you." These words were kindly meant, no doubt: but inscrutable are the ways of a woman's heart!

Ratan had borne many a scolding from her master without complaint, but these kind words she could not bear. She burst out weeping, and said: "No, no, you need not tell anybody anything at all about me; I don't want to stay here."

The postmaster was dumbfounded. He had never seen Ratan like this before.

The new incumbent duly arrived, and the postmaster, having given over charge, prepared to depart. Just before starting he called Ratan and said: "Here is something for you; I hope it will keep you for some little time." He brought out from his pocket the whole of his month's salary, retaining only a trifle for his travelling expenses. Then Ratan fell at his feet and cried: "Oh, Dada, I pray, don't give me anything, don't in any way bear trouble about me," and then she ran away, out of sight.

The postmaster heaved a sigh, took up his carpet bag, put his umbrella over his shoulder, and, accompanied by a man carrying his tin trunk, he slowly made for the boat.

When he got in and the boat was under way, and the rain-swollen river, like a stream of tears welling up from the earth, swirled and sobbed at her bows, then he felt a pain at heart; the grief-stricken face of a village girl seemed to represent for him the great unspoken pervading grief of Mother Earth herself. At one time, he had an impulse to go back, and bring away along with him that lonesome waif, forsaken of the world. But the wind had just filled the sails, the boat had got well into the middle of the turbulent current, the village was left behind, and its outlying burning-ground came in sight.

So the traveller, borne on the breast of the swift-flowing river, consoled himself with philosophical reflections on the numberless meetings and partings going on in the world—on death, the great parting, from which none returns.

But Ratan had no philosophy. She was wandering about the post office in a flood of tears. It may be that she had still a lurking hope in some corner of her heart that her Dada would return, and that is why she could not tear herself away. Alas for our foolish human nature! Its fond mistakes are persistent. The dictates of reason take a long time to assert their own sway. The surest proofs meanwhile are disbelieved. False hope is clung to with all one's might and main, till a day comes when it has sucked the heart dry and it forcibly breaks through its bonds and departs. After that comes the misery of awakening, and then once again the longing to get back into the maze of the same mistakes.


This post has been written as a part of the IndiSpire initiative launched by IndiBlogger.
The IndiSpiring thought was #UnsentLetters...


  1. Beautifully, powerful and touching. Pain is an emotion that kills yet weaved with such talent.

    1. Such is the power of a silent expression, Vishal.
      Pain is shattering, yet it provides a certain relief.
      Keep Visiting. :)

  2. Beautiful and touching story of hope, expectation and pain borne in silence.


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