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বর্ষার চিঠি/ Borshar Chithi/ Letter written on a rainy day

বর্ষার চিঠি

সুহৃদ্‌বর, আপনি তো সিন্ধুদেশের মরুভূমির মধ্যে বাস করছেন। সেই অনাবৃষ্টির দেশে বসে একবার কলকাতার বাদলাটা কল্পনা করুন।

এবারকার চিঠিতে আপনাকে কেবল বাংলার বর্ষাটা স্মরণ করিয়ে দিলুম– আপনি বসে বসে ভাবুন। ভরা পুকুর, আমবাগান, ভিজে কাক ও আষাঢ়ে গল্প মনে করুন। আর যদি গঙ্গার তীর মনে পড়ে, তবে সেই স্রোতের উপর মেঘের ছায়া, জলের উপর জলবিন্দুর নৃত্য, ওপারের বনের শিয়রে মেঘের উপর মেঘের ঘটা, মেঘের তলে অশথগাছের মধ্যে শিবের দ্বাদশ মন্দির স্মরণ করুন। মনে করুন পিছল ঘাটে ভিজে ঘোমটায় বধূ জল তুলছে; বাঁশঝাড়ের তলা দিয়ে, পাঠশাল ও গয়লাবাড়ির সামনে দিয়ে সংকীর্ণ পথে ভিজতে ভিজতে জলের কলস নিয়ে তারা ঘরে ফিরে যাচ্ছে; খুঁটিতে বাঁধা গোরু গোয়ালে যাবার জন্যে হাম্বারবে চিৎকার করছে; আর মনে করুন, বিস্তীর্ণ মাঠে তরঙ্গায়িত শস্যের উপর পা ফেলে ফেলে বৃষ্টিধারা দূর থেকে কেমন ধীরে ধীরে চলে আসছে; প্রথমে মাঠের সীমান্তস্থিত মেঘের মতো আমবাগান, তার পরে এক-একটি করে বাঁশঝাড়, এক-একটি করে কুটির, এক-একটি করে গ্রাম বর্ষার শুভ্র আঁচলের আড়ালে ঝাপসা হয়ে মিলিয়ে আসছে, কুটিরের দুয়ারে বসে ছোটো ছোটো মেয়েরা হাততালি দিয়ে ডাকছে “আয় বৃষ্টি হেনে, ছাগল দেব মেনে’– অবশেষে বর্ষা আপনার জালের মধ্যে সমস্ত মাঠ, সমস্ত বন, সমস্ত গ্রাম ঘিরে ফেলেছে; কেবল অবিশ্রান্ত বৃষ্টি– বাঁশঝাড়ে, আমবাগানে, কুঁড়ে ঘরে, নদীর জলে, নৌকোর হালের নিকটে আসীন গুটিসুটি জড়োসড়ো কম্বলমোড়া মাঝির মাথায় অবিশ্রাম ঝরঝর বৃষ্টি পড়ছে। আর কলকাতায় বৃষ্টি পড়ছে আহিরিটোলায়, কাঁশারিপাড়ায়, টেরিটির বাজারে, বড়বাজারে, শোভাবাজারে, হরিকৃষ্ণর গলি, মতিকৃষ্ণর গলি, রামকৃষ্ণর গলিতে, জিগ্‌জ্যাগ্‌ লেনে– খোলার চালে, কোঠার ছাতে, দোকানে, ট্রামের গাড়িতে, ছ্যাকরা গাড়ির গাড়োয়ানের মাথায় ইত্যাদি।

কিন্তু আজকাল ব্যাঙ ডাকে না কেন? আমি কলকাতার কথা বলছি। ছেলেবেলায় মেঘের ঘটা হলেই ব্যাঙের ডাক শুনতুম– কিন্তু আজকাল পাশ্চাত্য সভ্যতা এল, সার্বভৌমিকতা এবং “ঊনবিংশ শতাব্দী’ এল, পোলিটিকল্‌ অ্যাজিটেশন, খোলা ভাঁটি এবং স্বায়ত্তশাসন এল, কিন্তু ব্যাঙ গেল কোথায়? হায় হায়, কোথায় ব্যাস বশিষ্ঠ, কোথায় গৌতম শাক্যসিংহ, কোথায় ব্যাঙের ডাক!

ছেলেবেলায় যেমন বর্ষা দেখতেম, তেমন ঘনিয়ে বর্ষাও এখন হয় না। বর্ষার তেমন সমারোহ নেই যেন, বর্ষা এখন যেন ইকনমিতে মন দিয়েছে– নমোনমো করে জল ছিটিয়ে চলে যায়– কেবল খানিকটা কাদা, খানিকটা ছাঁট, খানিকটা অসুবিধে মাত্র– একখানা ছেঁড়া ছাতা ও চীনে বাজারের জুতোয় বর্ষা কাটানো যায়– কিন্তু আগেকার মতো সে বজ্র বিদ্যুৎ বৃষ্টি বাতাসের মাতামাতি দেখি নে। আগেকার বর্ষার একটা নৃত্য ও গান ছিল, একটা ছন্দ ও তাল ছিল– এখন যেন প্রকৃতির বর্ষার মধ্যেও বয়স প্রবেশ করেছে, হিসাব কিতাব ও ভাবনা ঢুকেছে, শ্লেষ্মা শঙ্কা ও সাবধানের প্রাদুর্ভাব হয়েছে। লোকে বলছে, সে আমারই বয়সের দোষ।

তা হবে! সকল বয়সেরই একটা কাল আছে,আমার সে বয়স গেছে হয়তো। যৌবনের যেমন বসন্ত, বার্ধক্যের যেমন শরৎ, বাল্যকালের তেমনি বর্ষা। ছেলেবেলায় আমরা যেমন গৃহ ভালোবাসি এমন আর কোনো কালেই নয়। বর্ষাকাল ঘরে থাকবার কাল, কল্পনা করবার কাল, গল্প শোনবার কাল,ভাইবোনে মিলে খেলা করবার কাল। বর্ষার অন্ধকারের মধ্যে অসম্ভব উপকথাগুলো কেমন যেন সত্যি হয়ে দাঁড়ায়। ঘনবৃষ্টিধারার আবরণে পৃথিবীর আপিসের কাজগুলো সমস্ত ঢাকা পড়ে যায়। রাস্তায় পথিক কম, ভিড় কম, হাটে হাটে কাজের লোকের ঘোরতর ব্যস্ত ভাব আর দেখা যায় না– ঘরে ঘরে দ্বাররুদ্ধ, দোকানপসারের উপর আচ্ছাদন পড়েছে– উদরানলের ইস্টিম প্রভাবে মনুষ্যসমাজ যে রকম হাঁসফাঁস ক’রে কাজ করে সেই হাঁসফাঁসানি বর্ষাকালে চোখে পড়ে না এইজন্যে মনুষ্যসমাজের সাংসারিক আবর্তের বাইরে বসে উপকথাগুলিকে সহজেই সত্য মনে করা যায়, কেউ তার ব্যাঘাত করে না। বিশেষত মেঘ বৃষ্টি বিদ্যুতের মধ্যে উপকথার উপকরণ আছে যেন। যেমন মেঘ ও বৃষ্টিধারা আবরণের কাজ করে– তেমনি বৃষ্টির ক্রমিক একঘেয়ে শব্দও একপ্রকার আবরণ। আমরা আপনার মনে যখন থাকি তখন অনেক কথা বিশ্বাস করি– তখন আমরা নির্বোধ, আমরা পাগল, আমরা শিশু; সংসারের সংস্রবে আসলেই তবে আমরা সম্ভব-অসম্ভব বিচার করি, আমাদের বুদ্ধি জেগে ওঠে, আমাদের বয়স ফিরে পাই। আমরা অবসর পেলেই আপনার সঙ্গে পাগলামি করি, আপনাকে নিয়ে খেলা করি– তাতে আমাদের কেউ পাগল বলে না, শিশু বলে না– সংসারের সঙ্গে পাগলামি বা খেলা করলেই আমাদের নাম খারাপ হয়ে যায়। একটু ভেবে দেখলেই দেখা যায় বুদ্ধি বিচার তর্ক বা চিন্তার শৃঙ্খলা– এ আমাদের সহজ ভাব নয়, এ আমাদের যেন সংসারে বেরোবার আপিসের কাপড়– দ্বিতীয় ব্যক্তির সঙ্গে দেখা করবার সময়েই তার আবশ্যক– আপনার ঘরে এলেই ছেড়ে ফেলি। আমরা স্বভাব-শিশু, স্বভাব-পাগল, বুদ্ধিমান সেজে সংসারে বিচরণ করি। আমরা আপনার মনে বসে যা ভাবি– অলক্ষ্যে আমাদের মনের উপর অহরহ যে-সকল চিন্তা ভিড় করে– সেগুলো যদি কোনো উপায়ে প্রকাশ পেত! সংসারের একটু সাড়া পেয়েছি কী, একটু পায়ের শব্দ শুনেছি কী অমনি চকিতের মধ্যে বেশ পরিবর্তন করে নিই– এত দ্রুত যে আমরা নিজেও এ পরিবর্তনপ্রণালী দেখতে পাই নে! তাই বলছিলেম যদি কোনোমতে আমরা আপনার মনে থাকতে পাই তা হলে আমরা অনেক অসম্ভবকে বিশ্বাস করতে পারি। সেইজন্যে গভীর অন্ধকার রাত্রে যা সম্ভব বলে বোধ হয় দিনের আলোতে তার অনেকগুলি কোনোমতে সম্ভব বোধ হয় না– কিন্তু এমনি আমাদের ভোলা মন যে, রোজ দিনের বেলায় যা অবিশ্বাস করি রোজ রাত্রে তাই বিশ্বাস করি। রাত্রিকে রোজ সকালে অবিশ্বাস করি, সকালকে রোজ রাত্রে অবিশ্বাস করি! আসল কথা এই, আমাদের বিশ্বাস স্বাধীন, সংসারের মধ্যে পড়ে সে বাঁধা পড়েছে– আমরা দায়ে পড়েই অবিশ্বাস করি– একটু আড়াল পেলে, একটু ছুটি পেলে, একটু সুবিধা পেলেই আমরা যা-তা বিশ্বাস করে বসি, আবার তাড়া খেলেই গণ্ডির মধ্যে প্রবেশ করি। নিতান্ত আপনার কাছে থাকলে তাড়া দেবার লোক কেউ থাকে না। বর্ষাধারার ক্রমিক ঝর্ঝর শব্দ সংসারের সহস্র শব্দ হতে আমাদের ঢেকে রাখে– আমরা অবিশ্রাম ঝর্ঝর শব্দের আচ্ছাদনের মধ্যে নিশ্চিন্ত হয়ে বসে বিশ্রাম করবার স্বাধীনততা উপভোগ করি। এইজন্যেই বর্ষাকাল উপকথার কাল। এইজন্য আষাঢ় মাসের সঙ্গেই আষাঢ়ে গল্পের যোগ। এইজন্যই বলছিলাম, বর্ষাকাল বালকের কাল– বর্ষাকালে তরুলতার শ্যামল কোমলতার মতো আমাদের স্বাভাবিক শৈশব স্ফূর্তি পেয়ে ওঠে– বর্ষার দিনে আমাদের ছেলেবেলার কথাই মনে পড়ে।

তাই মনে পড়ে, বর্ষার দিন আমাদের দীর্ঘ বারান্দায় আমরা ছুটে বেড়াতাম– বাতাসে দুমদাম করে দরজা পড়ত, প্রকাণ্ড তেঁতুলগাছ তার সমস্ত অন্ধকার নিয়ে নড়ত, উঠোনে একহাঁটু জল দাঁড়াত, ছাতের উপরকার চারটে টিনের নল থেকে স্থূল জলধারা উঠোনের জলের উপর প্রচণ্ড শব্দে পড়ত ও ফেনিয়ে উঠত, চারটে জলধারাকে দিক্‌হস্তীর শূঁড় বলে বনে হত। তখন আমাদের পুকুরের ধারের কেয়াগাছে ফুল ফুটত। (এখন সে গাছ আর নেই)। বৃষ্টিতে ক্রমে পুকুরের ঘাটের এক-এক সিঁড়ি যখন অদৃশ্য হয়ে যেত ও অবশেষে পুকুর ভেসে গিয়ে বাগানে জল দাঁড়াত– বাগানের মাঝে মাঝে বেলফুলের গাছের ঝাঁকড়া মাথাগুলো জলের উপর জেগে থাকত এবং পুকুরের বড়ো বড়ো মাছ পালিয়ে এসে বাগানের জলমগ্ন গাছের মধ্যে খেলিয়ে বেড়াত, তখন হাঁটুর কাপড় তুলে কল্পনায় বাগানময় জলে দাপাদাপি করে বেড়াতেম। বর্ষার দিনে ইস্কুলের কথা মনে হলে প্রাণ কী অন্ধকারই হয়ে যেত, এবং বর্ষাকালের সন্ধেবেলায় যখন বারান্দা থেকে সহসা গলির মোড়ে মাস্টার মহাশয়ের ছাতা দেখা দিত তখন যা মনে হত তা যদি মাস্টারমশায় টের পেতেন তা হলে–। শুনেছি এখনকার অনেক ছেলে মাস্টারমশায় টের পেতেন তা হলে–। শুনেছি এখনকার অনেক ছেলে মাস্টারমশায়কে প্রিয়তম বন্ধুর মতো জ্ঞান করে, এবং ইস্কুলে যাবার নাম শুনে নেচে ওঠে। শুভলক্ষণ বোধ হয়। কিন্তু তাই বলে যে ছেলে খেলা ভালোবাসে না, বর্ষা ভালোবাসে না, গৃহ ভালোবাসে না এবং ছুটি একেবারেই ভালোবাসে না– অর্থাৎ ব্যাকরণ ও ভূগোলবিবরণ ছাড়া এই বিশাল বিশ্বসংসারে আর কিছুই ভালোবাসে না, তেমন ছেলের সংখ্যা বৃদ্ধি হওয়াও কিছু নয়। তেমন ছেলে আজকাল অনেক দেখা যাচ্ছে। তবে হয়তো প্রখর সভ্যতা, বুদ্ধি ও বিদ্যার তাত লেগে ছেলেমানুষের সংখ্যা আমাদের দেশে কমে এসেছে, পরিপক্কতার প্রাদুর্ভাব বেড়ে উঠেছে। আমাদেরই কেউ কেউ ইঁচড়ে-পাকা বলত, এখন যে-রকম দেখছি তাতে ইঁচড়ের চিহ্নও দেখা যায় না, গোড়াগুড়িই কাঁঠাল।

  বালক, শ্রাবণ, ১২৯২

 

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Photo: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/children-play-rain-bangladesh/

 

 

 

 

LETTER WRITTEN ON A RAINY DAY

 

Dear Friend, you live in the deserts of Sindh. Imagine for once if you will, the monsoon in Kolkata as you sit in that rainless land.

I am only going to remind you of the wet season in Bengal with this letter – you can muse upon it. Try and remember the ponds, filled to overflowing, the mango groves, the wet crows and the tall tales of a rainy afternoon. And if you recall the banks of the Ganga, then think too of the shadows of clouds on the currents, the dance of water drops on the river, the clouds gathering in their ranks above the forests on the opposite bank and the temple to the twelve Shivas beneath the pipal trees under the clouds. Imagine the women, fetching water in wet sarees at the slippery paved edge; they return, walking under the bamboos, along the narrow path that passes in front of the village school and the milkman’s house, getting wetter as they bring their filled water pots home; the cow tied at a post that lows plaintively wanting to return to shelter; and also imagine how the slanting rain slowly comes towards us in sheets, stepping across the waves of crops in distant fields; the nearest things are the clouds of mango groves at the end of the field, then lie a few bamboo clumps, a couple of houses, then one by one the villages fade away under the white sheet of rain, little children sit on door steps and clap as they sing, ‘Rain, rain come again!’ Eventually the rain covers all the fields, forests and villages with its spell; then it is only rain – on bamboo clumps, mango groves, humble huts, the river, the miserable boatman who sits wrapped in a blanket near the oars – it pours down on all without pause. And in Kolkata it is raining in Ahiritolla, in Kansharipara, on Territybazar, on Burrabazar and Shova bazaar, on Harikrishna’s alley and Motikrishna’s alley, on Ramkrishna’s lane and on Zigzag Lane – on tiled roof, on the roofs of the kothas, on shops, trams and on the heads of the men who drive the horse drawn carriages.

 

By the way, why don’t the frogs croak any more? I am talking about Kolkata. In my childhood we heard frogs croaking whenever there were clouds – but then western ways came, along came universality and the ‘nineteenth century’, political agitations, brickworks and self rule, but where did the frogs go? Alas where have Vyasa and Vashisht gone, where is Gautama the Sakya lion, where are the calls of the frogs!

 

It does not even rain with the sort of fanfare that it used to when I watched in my childhood. The rains just do not have the same kind of pomp, as if they too have turned their mind to economy – a little sprinkle of water and they are gone – leaving behind just a little mud, an errant spray, a slight inconvenience – one can spend a wet season with a torn umbrella and a pair of cheap Chinese sandals – but I never see the tremendous uproar of thunder, lightning, rain and winds. There was a sense of drama and music to the rains in the days past, a rhythm and a beat – whereas now it seems that even rain is aging, it has learned to calculate and think, it too is cowed by apprehensions of phlegm and is grown cautious. People say, it is all the fault of my advanced years.

 

It could well be! All ages have a use by date, possibly I have passed mine. Just as spring belongs to youth and autumn to old age, the rains belong to childhood. We never love our homes in the same way we are attached to them as children. The rainy season is a time for staying at home, for imagining things, for listening to stories, for playing with our siblings. Even the most impossible of tall tales take on life during the rains. All the mundane chores on the planet are veiled from us by sheets of dense raindrops.There are not many people on the roads, the crowds are gone, people no longer seem as earnestly busy as they used to be – the main doors to the houses are barred, the merchandise is covered against the weather – the impatient speed seen in people driven by a buildup of steam in their internal organs is not noticed during the rains and one can sit, removed from the daily grind and imagine the legends to be true without being disturbed. The ingredients for legends are most certainly hidden in clouds, rain and lightning. Just as clouds and rain act as a veil – so does the constant monotonous sound of rain. When we are left to our own thoughts we can believe a great number of things – then we allow ourselves to be foolish, mad and childish. It is only when we return to people that we start thinking about the impossibility of things, our senses come to the fore and we are reminded of our age. Given the chance we can be ourselves, mad and playful – but there is no one to call us insane or childish – but do those things amidst people and you get labelled instantly. If one thinks about it, intelligence, the ability to discern or regimented thoughts are not natural to us, they are more like office clothes for life – needed only when one is meeting another person – to be discarded when we return home. We are by nature children and naturally mad, we wander through life disguised as clever. The things we think about, the thoughts that crowd our minds without us being aware of them – if only they could be expressed. The moment we hear a little sound from the outer world, a foot step from outside, we change ourselves in a trice – so rapidly that we do not notice the mode of change ourselves. That is why I was saying that if we are allowed to stay with our own thoughts, we can believe in many impossible things. And thus many of things that seem possible in the darkness of night seem largely impossible in the cold light of day – but we are so forgetful that we believe at night the same things that we discount during the day. We disbelieve the existence of night at dawn and we doubt dawn at night. The truth is that our beliefs are independent, they are caught up in living – we lose belief under those pressures and when we get the slightest chance, a little break, a holiday from reality, we go back to believing all manner of things, till pushed back into the cage again. Only when we are left to ourselves do we have freedom from these pressures. The incessant dripping of rain shields us from the thousand sounds of daily living – we sit within the shelter of the continuous downpour unworried and able to rest in freedom. This is why the rains are the time of legends. This is why the month of AshaDh is associated with AshaDhey golpo or tall tales. This is why I was saying that the rainy season is the time of the child – the green softness of the trees in the rainy season encourages the child within us to awaken – we remember our own childhood on rainy days.

 

That is why I remember, we used to run on the long verandahs on rainy days – the doors slamming in the wind, the great tamarind tree shaking its dark shadows all over, water standing a foot deep in the courtyard; four tin pipes would bring water down in great thick snakes from the roof to splash noisily into the courtyard; I used to think of them as the four trunks of the elephants who guard the four compass points. At that time, there were flowering screw pine trees by our pond. That tree is now gone. When the steps leading to the pond were gradually being covered one at a time by the rain and eventually the pond flooded into the garden – the bushy heads of the jasmine shrubs stayed above the water and large fish would swim among the submerged trees of the garden after escaping the pond, I would pull my clothing up and jump about in that water in my imagination. When I thought of going to school on rainy days, my heart would sink and if ever on rainy evenings I caught sight of the teacher’s umbrella from the balcony – the things that came to mind; if only he knew, I wonder what he would have done. I have heard that many of today’s students think of their teachers as dear friends and dance in joy when they hear they are to go to school. This must be a good sign. But that does not mean that it is a good thing that the number of boys who do not love to play games, who do not love the rain, who do not like their own homes and who hate holidays – in short the type of boy who loves nothing in this vast wide world but his grammar books and his geography texts, should be growing. We are noticing an increase in the numbers of such boys. But it is possible that the heat given off by great progress, intelligence and education has helped in reducing the number of youthful people in our country and has led to an increase in maturity. Some people used to call us precocious like unseasonal jackfruit, but today they all seem to be born knowing everything they need to, already ripe as the mature fruit itself.

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Madhurilata Tagore and her father Part 2

                                                                      Image

  Rathindranath(boy on left), Madhurilata(seated), Meera and Renuka

 

The groom’s family agreed to lower their demand for a dowry to Rupees ten thousand from the ir previous demand for Rupees twenty thousand.

23rd March 1901 – we find the financially stretched desperate poet writing to Priyanath Sen;

“It is difficult to say anything about Bela’s dowry. I will try to come up with the sum of ten thousand rupees. That will be in cash and in instalments. This arrangement will not suit me but I will have to agree to it if the need arises. There is very little cash and my father will never agree to the proposal of taking out a loan; thus I cannot raise the topic of a large dowry at this point in time. My father usually blesses the newly married couples with about four to five thousand rupees the day after the wedding has been held. No one has ever needed to remind him about this. I cannot broach the demand for twenty thousand rupees with him at all.”

The desperation of a father pushed the poet to write to Sen again on 24th March;

“I have written to you explicitly clarifying my position regarding the dowry. I feel it is futile to make any efforts where I know they will come to naught. I am not prepared to take on this task at the expense of angering my father and displeasing my family members.”

It is clear that he had to discuss the dowry demands in great detail. Letters of this time speak of talks with the groom’s brothers and the reduction of the sum to half the original amount stated.

But the situation came to an impasse over when the money would be handed over to the groom’s family. At this point Rabindranath Tagore himself decided to appeal to the prospective groom’s sense of fairness and wrote to him in secret. This letter was dated 24th April, 1901. A fuller understanding of the anguish the poet had to bear as a result of these negotiations is easily gained by reading the letter.

 

Shilaidaha, Kumarkhali, EBSR

Dear,        

Your late father was a close friend of our family. He held me in the kind of affection one feels for a brother and thus I feel I have the right to address you in this familiar manner.

Priyanath Sen has presented you with a proposal to marry my daughter; I have seen your letters regarding the matter and discussions have been held with your brothers.                             

I was keen about the proposed alliance for various reasons and would count myself as fortunate if this marriage was to take place. But I feel that I must discuss the issue with you instead of sitting back in silence, since if this marriage should take place by the grace of God, the relationship between us will be continuous and our mutual happiness and fortune or lack thereof will be celebrated together.

My father gifts all the new members of our family with a dowry on the day after the wedding. I do not wish to repeat the amount of dowry that has been decided upon after discussions. But I must raise a point with you that is related to this gift. I hope you will accept this with generosity.

According to the custom of our family, the son-in-laws must adopt the Brahmo faith a day or two before the marriage. When your brother Avinash suggested at Priyanath Sen’s house that the dowry should be given to you on the day you convert to the Brahmo religion, I had agreed to the suggestion without giving It any further thought. When I told my father about this that night, he expressed great astonishment and said, ‘The couple will be given the dowry as a gift and blessing, but why is the dowry being demanded before the wedding has taken place? Do they not trust me?’

I could not give him a suitable answer and it was immediately apparent to me that the demand showed disrespect and insulted my father.

I am coming to you with this information without going through the usual channels. This is because I feel that it is not your intention to cause us the shame and anguish we have felt. If we are to establish any future relationship it cannot begin on a foundation of suspicion and disrespect. That would only cause hurt and insult further down the line. I will make my final decision only after hearing from you.

If any of your relations are irritated because I wrote to you directly about all this then I hope you will think over the situation and not misunderstand me.

Irrespective of whether my wishes are fulfilled regarding the marriage, I hope you accept my most sincere blessings.

Yours

Sri Rabindranath Thakur                                                                  11th Baishakh, 1308

 

Letter to Victoria Ocampo

To Victoria Ocampo
(Ocampo was Tagore’s hostess in Argentina from November 1924 to early January 1925, when he sailed for Europe. )

S.S. Giulio Cesare
13 January 1925

Dear Vijaya,

I am drifting farther and farther from your shore making it possible for me to recall the memories of my everyday surroundings at San Isidro against a background of separation. I am not a born traveller – I have not the energy and strength needed to know a strange country and help the mind to gather materials from new experiences to build a nest in a new land. Therefore when I am away from my own land I seek individuals who may represent to me the country to which they belong. For me the spirit of Latin America will forever live in my memory in your form. You helped rescue me from the regimented hospitality of a reception committee and allowed me to feel through you the pulse of your country. Unfortunately the language barrier prevented free communication of minds between us, for you never felt fully at home in the only European language I happen to know. It was unfortunate because you have a richness of mind which naturally longs to offer its own wealth to those you accept as your friends. I completely understand the pain which you must have suffered for being unable to express your deeper thoughts to me and to remove the fog that screened off the world of your intellect from my vision. I am deeply sorry that it has not been possible for me to have an acquaintance of your complete personality – the difficulty being enhanced by the literary richness of your mind. For such a mind has its aristocratic code of honour about its manner of self-expression choosing to remain silenced than send out threadbare thoughts. But never think for a moment that I failed to recognize that you had a mind. To me it was more like a distant star rather than a dark planet. When we were together we mostly toyed with words and tried to laugh away our best opportunities to see each other clearly. Such laughter can cloud our minds, raising superfluous dust and blurring our view. One thing most of my friends fail to understand is that where I am real I am profoundly serious. Our reality is like treasure, it is not left exposed in the outer chamber of our personal self. It waits to be explored and only in our serious moments [can it] be approached. You have often found me homesick – it was not so much for India, it was for that abiding reality in me in which I can have my inner freedom. It becomes totally obscured when for some reason or other my attention is too much directed upon my own personal self. My true home is there where from my surroundings comes the call to me to bring out the best that I have, for that inevitably leads me to the touch with the universal. My mind must have a nest to which the voice of the sky can descend freely, the sky that has no other allurements but light and freedom. Whenever there is the least sign of the nest becoming a jealous rival of the sky, my mind, like a migrant bird, tries to take its flight to a distant shore. When my freedom of light is obstructed for some length of time I feel as if I am bearing the burden of a disguise, like the morning in its disguise of a mist. I do not see myself – and this obscurity, like a nightmare, seems to suffocate me with its heavy emptiness. I have often said to you that I am not free to give up my freedom – for this freedom is claimed by my Master for his own service. There have been times when I did forget this and allowed myself to drift into some easy captivity – but every time it ended in catastrophe and I was driven by an angry power to the open, across broken walls.

I can tell you all this because I know you love me. I trust my providence. I feel certain – and I say this in all humility – that he has chosen me for some special mission of his own and nor merely for the purpose of linking the endless chain of generations. Therefore I believe that your love may in some way, help me in my fulfillment. It will sound egoistic, only because the voice of our ego has in it the same masterful cry of insistence as the voice of that which infinitely surpasses it. I assure you, that through me a claim comes which is not mine. A child’s claim upon its mother has a sublime origin – it is not a claim of an individual, it is that of humanity. Those who come on some special errand of God are like that child; if they ever attract love and service it should be for a higher end than merely their own enjoyment. Not only love, but hurts and insults, neglect and rejection come not to grind them into dust but to kindle their life into a brighter flame.

Your friendship has come to me unexpectedly. It will grow to its fullness of truth when you know and accept my real being and see clearly the deeper meaning of my life. I have lost most of my friends because they asked for me for themselves, and when I said I was not free to give myself away– they thought I was proud. I have deeply suffered from this over and over again – and therefore I always feel nervous whenever a new gift of friendship comes my way. But I have accepted my destiny and if you have the courage to accept it as well, we shall be friends forever.

Shri Rabindranath Thakur
[signed in Bengali]

17 January

Tomorrow we shall reach Barcelona and the day after Genoa. I am about to leave my easy chair in my cabin. That chair has been my real nest for these two weeks giving me rest and privacy and a feeling that my happiness is of value to somebody. I do not know when it will be possible for me to write to you again but I shall always remember you.

(This chair had been given to the poet by Ocampo who requested that the doors to his cabin be removed in order to allow the chair to be placed inside. It can be seen in Rabindra Bhavan)

Tagore Letter Renouncing Knighthood

mss.36-i_3

Today is the 94th anniversary of the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre, when thousands of unarmed people were fired upon by British troops consisting of Gurkha and Baluchi soldiers. It was the Massacre that ended the Raj as its direct effect was to strengthen the infant Swadeshi Movement. Rabindranath Tagore heard of the massacre on the 22 May 1919. He tried to arrange a protest meeting in Calcutta and finally decided to renounce his knighthood as “a symbolic act of protest”. In the repudiation letter, dated 30 May 1919 and addressed to the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, he wrote “I … wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings”

Below is the entire letter.

Your Excellency,

The enormity of the measures taken by the Government in the Punjab for quelling some local disturbances has, with a rude shock, revealed to our minds the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India. The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments, barring some conspicuous exceptions, recent and remote. Considering that such treatment has been meted out to a population, disarmed and resourceless, by a power which has the most terribly efficient organisation for destruction of human lives, we must strongly assert that it can claim no political expediency, far less moral justification. The accounts of the insults and sufferings by our brothers in Punjab have trickled through the gagged silence, reaching every corner of India, and the universal agony of indignation roused in the hearts of our people has been ignored by our rulers—possibly congratulating themselves for what they imagine as salutary lessons. This callousness has been praised by most of the Anglo-Indian papers, which have in some cases gone to the brutal length of making fun of our sufferings, without receiving the least check from the same authority—relentlessly careful in smothering every cry of pain and expression of judgement from the organs representing the sufferers. Knowing that our appeals have been in vain and that the passion of vengeance is blinding the nobler vision of statesmanship in our Government, which could so easily afford to be magnanimous as befitting its physical strength and moral tradition, the very least that I can do for my country is to take all consequences upon myself in giving voice to the protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of terror. The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen, who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.
These are the reasons which have painfully compelled me to ask Your Excellency, with due deference and regret, to relieve me of my title of Knighthood, which I had the honour to accept from His Majesty the King at the hands of your predecessor, for whose nobleness of heart I still entertain great admiration.

Yours faithfully,

Rabindranath Tagore