Rabindra Nath Tagore
[Rabindranath Tagore’s Chhinnapatra (literally, The torn letter) is a collection of letters written by him to a niece when he was between 26 and 34 years of age. Tagore wrote them while he was travelling extensively in East and North Bengal and in Orissa on family business.
In a book on Tagore, Kabir Swadharma (The poet’s own religion), a noted scholar, Sourindra Mitra wrote: “There is no dearth of famous and great books in the treasure trove of Bengali literature, but there is only one about which the term “intimate” can be used.” Mitra felt Chhinnapatra is a book that is intimate in the way Walt Whitman described one of his own books of poetry: “Who touches this touches a man”.
This is the third letter from Chinnapatra that I have translated and posted here.]
Been floating on the river the whole day …. What surprises me is that although I have gone along this waterway many a time, felt the special delight of being on this boat between the two banks [of the Padma], when I am back on the land for a couple of days, the memories seem to fade away.
I sit quietly, with captivating scenery on either side – hamlets, wharfs, fields showing up and vanishing; clouds floating in the sky and polychrome flowers blossoming in the fading lights of the dusk; the boat moving, deckhands fishing, the incessant, adoringly fluid sound of the water; as darkness descends, the vast stretch of water becomes absolutely still like a sleeping child, all the stars in the wide open sky wake up and watch from above; late in some nights when sleep evades me, I wake up and gaze into the two dark banks of the river dead to the world, jackals howling intermittently from the wildernesses bordering villages, and the noise of clumps of earth splashing water as the fierce silent stream of the Padma steadily chips off its banks.
As I watch the changing landscape, a stream of fancy flows through my mind, and on its two banks two banks, new desires take shape. Perhaps what lies before my eyes isn’t really fascinating, maybe, a tawny treeless sandbank stretches to the horizon, and on it edge is tied an empty boat – a faint river is flowing along under the shadow of a gloomy sky – I cannot express how I feel when I watch the picture … I think the desire that was born in me when I read the Arabian Nights – when Sindbad the merchant explored new lands and I, imprisoned in a storeroom under the watchful eyes of domestic helps, used to wander along with him – the desire that was born at that time still seems to be alive – whenever I see a lonely boat anchored on the riverbank I become restless. I am absolutely certain that if as a child I hadn’t read the Arabian Nights or the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, if I hadn’t heard fairy tales, such thoughts wouldn’t have crossed my mind while looking at the riverbank; the world would have looked different to me.
The mind of this tiny man is a massive mélange of reality and imagination. One doesn’t know what gets tangled with what else – how many stories, pictures, anecdotes, insignificant and important events have got knotted to each other – still getting tangled every day. If you could unravel the life of a man, so many minor and major stories would emerge.
438 words, Translated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015, Kolkata