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1891

KALIGRAM, 1891.


I am feeling listlessly comfortable and delightfully irresponsible.

This is the prevailing mood all round here. There is a river but it has no
current to speak of, and, lying snugly tucked up in its coverlet of
floating weeds, seems to think--"Since it is possible to get on without
getting along, why should I bestir myself to stir?" So the sedge which
lines the banks knows hardly any disturbance until the fishermen come with
their nets.

Four or five large-sized boats are moored near by, alongside each other.
On the upper deck of one the boatman is fast asleep, rolled up in a sheet
from head to foot. On another, the boatman--also basking in the
sun--leisurely twists some yarn into rope. On the lower deck in a third,
an oldish-looking, bare-bodied fellow is leaning over an oar, staring
vacantly at our boat.

Along the bank there are various other people, but why they come or go,
with the slowest of idle steps, or remain seated on their haunches
embracing their knees, or keep on gazing at nothing in particular, no one
can guess.

The only signs of activity are to be seen amongst the ducks, who, quacking
clamorously, thrust their heads under and bob up again to shake off the
water with equal energy, as if they repeatedly tried to explore the
mysteries below the surface, and every time, shaking their heads, had to
report, "Nothing there! Nothing there!"

The days here drowse all their twelve hours in the sun, and silently sleep
away the other twelve, wrapped in the mantle of darkness. The only thing
you want to do in a place like this is to gaze and gaze on the landscape,
swinging your fancies to and fro, alternately humming a tune and nodding
dreamily, as the mother on a winter's noonday, her back to the sun, rocks
and croons her baby to sleep.


KALIGRAM, 1891.


Yesterday, while I was giving audience to my tenants, five or six boys
made their appearance and stood in a primly proper row before me. Before I
could put any question their spokesman, in the choicest of high-flown
language, started: "Sire! the grace of the Almighty and the good fortune
of your benighted children have once more brought about your lordship's
auspicious arrival into this locality." He went on in this strain for
nearly half an hour. Here and there he would get his lesson wrong, pause,
look up at the sky, correct himself, and then go on again. I gathered that
their school was short of benches and stools. "For want of these
wood-built seats," as he put it, "we know not where to sit ourselves,
where to seat our revered teachers, or what to offer our most respected
inspector when he comes on a visit."

I could hardly repress a smile at this torrent of eloquence gushing from
such a bit of a fellow, which sounded specially out of place here, where
the ryots are given to stating their profoundly vital wants in plain and
direct vernacular, of which even the more unusual words get sadly twisted
out of shape. The clerks and ryots, however, seemed duly impressed, and
likewise envious, as though deploring their parents' omission to endow
them with so splendid a means of appealing to the Zamindar.

I interrupted the young orator before he had done, promising to arrange
for the necessary number of benches and stools. Nothing daunted, he
allowed me to have my say, then took up his discourse where he had left
it, finished it to the last word, saluted me profoundly, and marched off
his contingent. He probably would not have minded had I refused to supply
the seats, but after all his trouble in getting it by heart he would have
resented bitterly being robbed of any part of his speech. So, though it
kept more important business waiting, I had to hear him out.


NEARING SHAZADPUR,

January 1891.


We left the little river of Kaligram, sluggish as the circulation in a
dying man, and dropped down the current of a briskly flowing stream which
led to a region where land and water seemed to merge in each other, river
and bank without distinction of garb, like brother and sister in infancy.

The river lost its coating of sliminess, scattered its current in many
directions, and spread out, finally, into a beel (marsh), with here
a patch of grassy land and there a stretch of transparent water, reminding
me of the youth of this globe when through the limitless waters land had
just begun to raise its head, the separate provinces of solid and fluid as
yet undefined.

Round about where we have moored, the bamboo poles of fishermen are
planted. Kites hover ready to snatch up fish from the nets. On the ooze at
the water's edge stand the saintly-looking paddy birds in meditation. All
kinds of waterfowl abound. Patches of weeds float on the water. Here and
there rice-fields, untilled, untended,[1] rise from the moist, clay soil.
Mosquitoes swarm over the still waters....

[Footnote 1: On the rich river-side silt, rice seed is simply scattered
and the harvest reaped when ripe; nothing else has to be done.]

We start again at dawn this morning and pass through Kachikata, where the
waters of the beel find an outlet in a winding channel only six or
seven yards wide, through which they rush swiftly. To get our unwieldy
house-boat through is indeed an adventure. The current hurries it along at
lightning speed, keeping the crew busy using their oars as poles to
prevent the boat being dashed against the banks. We thus come out again
into the open river.

The sky had been heavily clouded, a damp wind blowing, with occasional
showers of rain. The crew were all shivering with cold. Such wet and
gloomy days in the cold weather are eminently disagreeable, and I have
spent a wretched lifeless morning. At two in the afternoon the sun came
out, and since then it has been delightful. The banks are now high and
covered with peaceful groves and the dwellings of men, secluded and full
of beauty.

The river winds in and out, an unknown little stream in the inmost
zenana of Bengal, neither lazy nor fussy; lavishing the wealth of
her affection on both sides, she prattles about common joys and sorrows
and the household news of the village girls, who come for water, and sit
by her side, assiduously rubbing their bodies to a glowing freshness with
their moistened towels.

This evening we have moored our boat in a lonely bend. The sky is clear.
The moon is at its full. Not another boat is to be seen. The moonlight
glimmers on the ripples. Solitude reigns on the banks. The distant village
sleeps, nestling within a thick fringe of trees. The shrill, sustained
chirp of the cicadas is the only sound.


SHAZADPUR,

February 1891.


Just in front of my window, on the other side of the stream, a band of
gypsies have ensconced themselves, putting up bamboo frameworks covered
over with split-bamboo mats and pieces of cloth. There are only three of
these little structures, so low that you cannot stand upright inside.
Their life is lived in the open, and they only creep under these shelters
at night, to sleep huddled together.

That is always the gypsies' way: no home anywhere, no landlord to pay rent
to, wandering about as it pleases them with their children, their pigs,
and a dog or two; and on them the police keep a vigilant eye.

I frequently watch the doings of the family nearest me. They are dark but
good-looking, with fine, strongly-built bodies, like north-west country
folk. Their women are handsome, and have tall, slim, well-knit figures;
and with their free and easy movements, and natural independent airs, they
look to me like swarthy Englishwomen.

The man has just put the cooking-pot on the fire, and is now splitting
bamboos and weaving baskets. The woman first holds up a little mirror to
her face, then puts a deal of pains into wiping and rubbing it, over and
over again, with a moist piece of cloth; and then, the folds of her upper
garment adjusted and tidied, she goes, all spick and span, up to her man
and sits beside him, helping him now and then in his work.

These are truly children of the soil, born on it somewhere, bred by the
wayside, here, there, and everywhere, dying anywhere. Night and day under
the open sky, in the open air, on the bare ground, they lead a unique kind
of life; and yet work, love, children, and household duties--everything is
there.

They are not idle for a moment, but always doing something. Her own
particular task over, one woman plumps herself down behind another, unties
the knot of her hair and cleans and arranges it for her; and whether at
the same time they fall to talking over the domestic affairs of the three
little mat-covered households I cannot say for certain from this distance,
but shrewdly suspect it.

This morning a great disturbance invaded the peaceful gypsy settlement. It
was about half-past eight or nine. They were spreading out over the mat
roofs tattered quilts and sundry other rags, which serve them for beds, in
order to sun and air them. The pigs with their litters, lying in a hollow
all of a heap and looking like a dab of mud, had been routed out by the
two canine members of the family, who fell upon them and sent them roaming
in search of their breakfasts, squealing their annoyance at being
interrupted in enjoyment of the sun after the cold night. I was writing my
letter and absently looking out now and then when the hubbub suddenly
commenced.

I rose and went to the window, and found a crowd gathered round the gypsy
hermitage. A superior-looking personage was flourishing a stick and
indulging in the strongest language. The headman of the gypsies, cowed and
nervous, was apparently trying to offer explanations. I gathered that some
suspicious happenings in the locality had led to this visitation by a
police officer.

The woman, so far, had remained sitting, busily scraping lengths of split
bamboo as serenely as if she had been alone and no sort of row going on.
Suddenly, however, she sprang to her feet, advanced on the police officer,
gesticulated violently with her arms right in his face, and gave him, in
strident tones, a piece of her mind. In the twinkling of an eye
three-quarters of the officer's excitement had subsided; he tried to put
in a word or two of mild protest but did not get a chance, and so departed
crestfallen, a different man.

After he had retreated to a safe distance, he turned and shouted back:
"All I say is, you'll have to clear out from here!"

I thought my neighbours opposite would forthwith pack up their mats and
bamboos and move away with their bundles, pigs, and children. But there is
no sign of it yet. They are still nonchalantly engaged in splitting
bamboos, cooking food, or completing a toilet.


SHAZADPUR,

February 1891.


The post office is in a part of our estate office building,--this is very
convenient, for we get our letters as soon as they arrive. Some evenings
the postmaster comes up to have a chat with me. I enjoy listening to his
yarns.

He talks of the most impossible things in the gravest possible manner.

Yesterday he was telling me in what great reverence people of this
locality hold the sacred river Ganges. If one of their relatives dies, he
said, and they have not the means of taking the ashes to the Ganges, they
powder a piece of bone from his funeral pyre and keep it till they come
across some one who, some time or other, has drunk of the Ganges. To him
they administer some of this powder, hidden in the usual offering of
pán[1], and thus are content to imagine that a portion of the
remains of their deceased relative has gained purifying contact with the
sacred water.

[Footnote 1: Spices wrapped in betel leaf.]

I smiled as I remarked: "This surely must be an invention."

He pondered deeply before he admitted after a pause: "Yes, it may be."


ON THE WAY.

February 1891.


We have got past the big rivers and just turned into a little one.

The village women are standing in the water, bathing or washing clothes;
and some, in their dripping saris, with veils pulled well over
their faces, move homeward with their water vessels filled and clasped
against the left flank, the right arm swinging free. Children, covered all
over with clay, are sporting boisterously, splashing water on each other,
while one of them shouts a song, regardless of the tune.

Over the high banks, the cottage roofs and the tops of the bamboo clumps
are visible. The sky has cleared and the sun is shining. Remnants of
clouds cling to the horizon like fluffs of cotton wool. The breeze is
warmer.

There are not many boats in this little river; only a few dinghies, laden
with dry branches and twigs, are moving leisurely along to the tired
plash! plash! of their oars. At the river's edge the fishermen's nets are
hung out to dry between bamboo poles. And work everywhere seems to be over
for the day.


CHUHALI.

June 1891.


I had been sitting out on the deck for more than a quarter of an hour when
heavy clouds rose in the west. They came up, black, tumbled, and tattered,
with streaks of lurid light showing through here and there. The little
boats scurried off into the smaller arm of the river and clung with their
anchors safely to its banks. The reapers took up the cut sheaves on their
heads and hied homewards; the cows followed, and behind them frisked the
calves waving their tails.

Then came an angry roar. Torn-off scraps of cloud hurried up from the
west, like panting messengers of evil tidings. Finally, lightning and
thunder, rain and storm, came on altogether and executed a mad dervish
dance. The bamboo clumps seemed to howl as the raging wind swept the
ground with them, now to the east, now to the west. Over all, the storm
droned like a giant snake-charmer's pipe, and to its rhythm swayed
hundreds and thousands of crested waves, like so many hooded snakes. The
thunder was incessant, as though a whole world was being pounded to pieces
away there behind the clouds.

With my chin resting on the ledge of an open window facing away from the
wind, I allowed my thoughts to take part in this terrible revelry; they
leapt into the open like a pack of schoolboys suddenly set free. When,
however, I got a thorough drenching from the spray of the rain, I had to
shut up the window and my poetising, and retire quietly into the darkness
inside, like a caged bird.


SHAZADPUR.

June 1891.


From the bank to which the boat is tied a kind of scent rises out of the
grass, and the heat of the ground, given off in gasps, actually touches my
body. I feel that the warm, living Earth is breathing upon me, and that
she, also, must feel my breath.

The young shoots of rice are waving in the breeze, and the ducks are in
turn thrusting their heads beneath the water and preening their feathers.
There is no sound save the faint, mournful creaking of the gangway against
the boat, as she imperceptibly swings to and fro in the current.

Not far off there is a ferry. A motley crowd has assembled under the
banyan tree awaiting the boat's return; and as soon as it arrives, they
eagerly scramble in. I enjoy watching this for hours together. It is
market-day in the village on the other bank; that is why the ferry is so
busy. Some carry bundles of hay, some baskets, some sacks; some are going
to the market, others coming from it. Thus, in this silent noonday, the
stream of human activity slowly flows across the river between two
villages.

I sat wondering: Why is there always this deep shade of melancholy over
the fields arid river banks, the sky and the sunshine of our country? And
I came to the conclusion that it is because with us Nature is obviously
the more important thing. The sky is free, the fields limitless; and the
sun merges them into one blazing whole. In the midst of this, man seems so
trivial. He comes and goes, like the ferry-boat, from this shore to the
other; the babbling hum of his talk, the fitful echo of his song, is
heard; the slight movement of his pursuit of his own petty desires is seen
in the world's market-places: but how feeble, how temporary, how
tragically meaningless it all seems amidst the immense aloofness of the
Universe!

The contrast between the beautiful, broad, unalloyed peace of
Nature--calm, passive, silent, unfathomable,--and our own everyday
worries--paltry, sorrow-laden, strife-tormented, puts me beside myself as
I keep staring at the hazy, distant, blue line of trees which fringe the
fields across the river.

Where Nature is ever hidden, and cowers under mist and cloud, snow and
darkness, there man feels himself master; he regards his desires, his
works, as permanent; he wants to perpetuate them, he looks towards
posterity, he raises monuments, he writes biographies; he even goes the
length of erecting tombstones over the dead. So busy is he that he has not
time to consider how many monuments crumble, how often names are
forgotten!


SHAZADPUR.

June 1891.


There was a great, big mast lying on the river bank, and some little
village urchins, with never a scrap of clothing, decided, after a long
consultation, that if it could be rolled along to the accompaniment of a
sufficient amount of vociferous clamour, it would be a new and altogether
satisfactory kind of game. The decision was no sooner come to than acted
upon, with a "Shabash, brothers! All together! Heave ho!" And at
every turn it rolled, there was uproarious laughter.

The demeanour of one girl in the party was very different. She was playing
with the boys for want of other companions, but she clearly viewed with
disfavour these loud and strenuous games. At last she stepped up to the
mast and, without a word, deliberately sat on it.

So rare a game to come to so abrupt a stop! Some of the players seemed to
resign themselves to giving it up as a bad job; and retiring a little way
off, they sulkily glared at the girl in her impassive gravity. One made as
if he would push her off, but even this did not disturb the careless ease
of her pose. The eldest lad came up to her and pointed to other equally
suitable places for taking a rest; at which she energetically shook her
head, and putting her hands in her lap, steadied herself down still more
firmly on her seat. Then at last they had recourse to physical argument
and were completely successful.

Once again joyful shouts rent the skies, and the mast rolled along so
gloriously that even the girl had to cast aside her pride and her
dignified exclusiveness and make a pretence of joining in the unmeaning
excitement. But one could see all the time that she was sure boys never
know how to play properly, and are always so childish! If only she had the
regulation yellow earthen doll handy, with its big, black top-knot, would
she ever have deigned to join in this silly game with these foolish boys?

All of a sudden the idea of another splendid pastime occurred to the boys.
Two of them got hold of a third by the arms and legs and began to swing
him. This must have been great fun, for they all waxed enthusiastic over
it. But it was more than the girl could stand, so she disdainfully left
the playground and marched off home.

Then there was an accident. The boy who was being swung was let fall. He
left his companions in a pet, and went and lay down on the grass with his
arms crossed under his head, desiring to convey thereby that never again
would he have anything to do with this bad, hard world, but would forever
lie, alone by himself, with his arms under his head, and count the stars
and watch the play of the clouds.

The eldest boy, unable to bear the idea of such untimely
world-renunciation, ran up to the disconsolate one and taking his head on
his own knees repentantly coaxed him. "Come, my little brother! Do get up,
little brother! Have we hurt you, little brother?" And before long I found
them playing, like two pups, at catching and snatching away each other's
hands! Two minutes had hardly passed before the little fellow was swinging
again.


SHAZADPUR,

June 1891.


I had a most extraordinary dream last night. The whole of Calcutta seemed
enveloped in some awful mystery, the houses being only dimly visible
through a dense, dark mist, within the veil of which there were strange
doings.

I was going along Park Street in a hackney carriage, and as I passed St.
Xavier's College I found it had started growing rapidly and was fast
getting impossibly high within its enveloping haze. Then it was borne in
on me that a band of magicians had come to Calcutta who, if they were paid
for it, could bring about many such wonders.

When I arrived at our Jorasanko house, I found these magicians had turned
up there too. They were ugly-looking, of a Mongolian type, with scanty
moustaches and a few long hairs sticking out of their chins. They could
make men grow. Some of the girls wanted to be made taller, and the
magician sprinkled some powder over their heads and they promptly shot up.
To every one I met I kept repeating: "This is most extraordinary,--just
like a dream!"

Then some one proposed that our house should be made to grow. The
magicians agreed, and as a preliminary began to take down some portions.
The dismantling over, they demanded money, or else they would not go on.
The cashier strongly objected. How could payment be made before the work
was completed? At this the magicians got wild and twisted up the building
most fearsomely, so that men and brickwork got mixed together, bodies
inside walls and only head and shoulders showing.

It had altogether the look of a thoroughly devilish business, as I told my
eldest brother. "You see," said I, "the kind of thing it is. We had better
call upon God to help us!" But try as I might to anathematise them in the
name of God, my heart felt like breaking and no words would come. Then I
awoke.

A curious dream, was it not? Calcutta in the hands of Satan and growing
diabolically, within the darkness of an unholy mist!


SHAZADPUR,

June 1891.


The schoolmasters of this place paid me a visit yesterday.

They stayed on and on, while for the life of me I could not find a word to
say. I managed a question or so every five minutes, to which they offered
the briefest replies; and then I sat vacantly, twirling my pen, and
scratching my head.

At last I ventured on a question about the crops, but being schoolmasters
they knew nothing whatever about crops.

About their pupils I had already asked them everything I could think of,
so I had to start over again: How many boys had they in the school? One
said eighty, another said a hundred and seventy-five. I hoped that this
might lead to an argument, but no, they made up their difference.

Why, after an hour and a half, they should have thought of taking leave, I
cannot tell. They might have done so with as good a reason an hour
earlier, or, for the matter of that, twelve hours later! Their decision
was clearly arrived at empirically, entirely without method.


SHAZADPUR,

July 1891.


There is another boat at this landing-place, and on the shore in front of
it a crowd of village women. Some are evidently embarking on a journey and
the others seeing them off; infants, veils, and grey hairs are all mixed
up in the gathering.

One girl in particular attracts my attention. She must be about eleven or
twelve; but, buxom and sturdy, she might pass for fourteen or fifteen. She
has a winsome face--very dark, but very pretty. Her hair is cut short like
a boy's, which well becomes her simple, frank, and alert expression. She
has a child in her arms and is staring at me with unabashed curiosity, and
certainly no lack of straightforwardness or intelligence in her glance.
Her half-boyish, half-girlish manner is singularly attractive--a novel
blend of masculine nonchalance and feminine charm. I had no idea there
were such types among our village women in Bengal.

None of this family, apparently, is troubled with too much bashfulness.
One of them has unfastened her hair in the sun and is combing it out with
her ringers, while conversing about their domestic affairs at the top of
her voice with another, on board. I gather she has no other children
except a girl, a foolish creature who knows neither how to behave or talk,
nor even the difference between kin and stranger. I also learn that
Gopal's son-in-law has turned out a ne'er-do-well, and that his daughter
refuses to go to her husband.

When, at length, it was time to start, they escorted my short-haired
damsel, with plump shapely arms, her gold bangles and her guileless,
radiant face, into the boat. I could divine that she was returning from
her father's to her husband's home. They all stood there, following the
boat with their gaze as it cast off, one or two wiping their eyes with the
loose end of their saris. A little girl, with her hair tightly tied
into a knot, clung to the neck of an older woman and silently wept on her
shoulder. Perhaps she was losing a darling Didimani [1] who joined in her
doll games and also slapped her when she was naughty....

[Footnote 1: An elder sister is often called sister-jewel
(Didimani).]

The quiet floating away of a boat on the stream seems to add to the pathos
of a separation--it is so like death--the departing one lost to sight,
those left behind returning to their daily life, wiping their eyes. True,
the pang lasts but a while, and is perhaps already wearing off both in
those who have gone and those who remain,--pain being temporary, oblivion
permanent. But none the less it is not the forgetting, but the pain which
is true; and every now and then, in separation or in death, we realise how
terribly true.


ON BOARD A CANAL STEAMER GOING TO CUTTACK,

August 1891.


My bag left behind, my clothes daily get more and more intolerably
disreputable,--this thought continually uppermost is not compatible with a
due sense of self-respect. With the bag I could have faced the world of
men head erect and spirits high; without it, I fain would skulk in
corners, away from the glances of the crowd. I go to bed in these clothes
and in them I appear in the morning, and on the top of that the steamer is
full of soot, and the unbearable heat of the day keeps one unpleasantly
moist.

Apart from this, I am having quite a time of it on board the steamer. My
fellow-passengers are of inexhaustible variety. There is one, Aghore Babu,
who cannot allude to anything, animate or inanimate, except in terms of
personal abuse. There is another, a lover of music, who persists in
attempting variations on the Bhairab[1] mode at dead of night, convincing
me of the untimeliness of his performance in more senses than one.

[Footnote: A Raga, or mode of Indian classical music, supposed to be
appropriate to the early dawn.]

The steamer has been aground in a narrow ditch of a canal ever since last
evening, and it is now past nine in the morning. I spent the night in a
corner of the crowded deck, more dead than alive. I had asked the steward
to fry some luchis for my dinner, and he brought me some
nondescript slabs of fried dough with no vegetable accompaniments to eat
them with. On my expressing a pained surprise, he was all contrition and
offered to make me some hotch-potch at once. But the night being already
far advanced, I declined his offer, managed to swallow a few mouthfuls of
the stuff dry, and then, all lights on and the deck packed with
passengers, laid myself down to sleep.

Mosquitoes hovered above, cockroaches wandered around. There was a
fellow-sleeper stretched crosswise at my feet whose body my soles every
now and then came up against. Four or five noses were engaged in snoring.
Several mosquito-tormented, sleepless wretches were consoling themselves
by pulls at their hubble-bubble pipes; and above all, there rose those
variations on the mode Bhairab! Finally, at half-past three in the
morning, some fussy busy-bodies began loudly inciting each other to get
up. In despair, I also left my bed and dropped into my deck-chair to await
the dawn. Thus passed that variegated nightmare of a night.

One of the hands tells me that the steamer has stuck so fast that it may
take the whole day to get her off. I inquire of another whether any
Calcutta-bound steamer will be passing, and get the smiling reply that
this is the only boat on this line, and I may come back in her, if I like,
after she has reached Cuttack! By a stroke of luck, after a great deal of
tugging and hauling, they have just got her afloat at about ten o'clock.


TIRAN.

7th September 1891.


The landing-place at Balia makes a pretty picture with its fine big trees
on either side, and on the whole the canal somehow reminds me of the
little river at Poona. On thinking it over I am sure I should have liked
the canal much better had it really been a river.

Cocoanut palms as well as mangoes and other shady trees line its banks,
which, turfed with beautifully green grass, slope gently down to the
water, and are sprinkled over with sensitive plants in flower. Here and
there are screwpine groves, and through gaps in the border of trees
glimpses can be caught of endless fields, stretching away into the
distance, their crops so soft and velvety after the rains that the eye
seems to sink into their depths. Then again, there are the little villages
under their clusters of cocoanut and date palms, nestling under the moist
cool shade of the low seasonal clouds.

Through all these the canal, with its gentle current, winds gracefully
between its clean, grassy banks, fringed, in its narrower stretches, with
clusters of water-lilies with reeds growing among them. And yet the mind
keeps fretting at the idea that after all it is nothing but an artificial
canal.

The murmur of its waters does not reach back to the beginning of time. It
knows naught of the mysteries of some distant, inaccessible mountain cave.
It has not flowed for ages, graced with an old-world feminine name, giving
the villages on its sides the milk of its breast. Even old artificial
lakes have acquired a greater dignity.

However when, a hundred years hence, the trees on its banks will have
grown statelier; its brand-new milestones been worn down and moss-covered
into mellowness; the date 1871, inscribed on its lock-gates, left behind
at a respectable distance; then, if I am reborn as my great-grandson and
come again to inspect the Cuttack estates along this canal, I may feel
differently towards it.


SHELIDAH,

October 1891.


Boat after boat touches at the landing-place, and after a whole year
exiles are returning home from distant fields of work for the Poojah
vacation, their boxes, baskets, and bundles loaded with presents. I notice
one who, as his boat nears the shore, changes into a freshly folded and
crinkled muslin dhoti, dons over his cotton tunic a China silk
coat, carefully adjusts round his neck a neatly twisted scarf, and walks
off towards the village, umbrella held aloft.

Rustling waves pass over the rice-fields. Mango and cocoanut tree-tops
rise into the sky, and beyond them there are fluffy clouds on the horizon.
The fringes of the palm leaves wave in the breeze. The reeds on the
sand-bank are on the point of flowering. It is altogether an exhilarating
scene.

The feelings of the man who has just arrived home, the eager expectancy of
his folk awaiting him, this autumn sky, this world, the gentle morning
breeze, the universal responsive tremor in tree and shrub and in the
wavelets on the river, conspire to overwhelm this lonely youth, gazing
from his window, with unutterable joys and sorrows.

Glimpses of the world received from wayside windows bring new desires, or
rather, make old desires take on new forms. The day before yesterday, as I
was sitting at the window of the boat, a little fisher-dinghy floated
past, the boatman singing a song--not a very tuneful song. But it reminded
me of a night, years ago, when I was a child. We were going along the
Padma in a boat. I awoke one night at about 2 o'clock, and, on raising the
window and putting out my head, I saw the waters without a ripple,
gleaming in the moonlight, and a youth in a little dinghy paddling along
all by himself and singing, oh so sweetly,--such sweet melody I had never
heard before.

A sudden longing came upon me to go back to the day of that song; to be
allowed to make another essay at life, this time not to leave it thus
empty and unsatisfied; but with a poet's song on my lips to float about
the world on the crest of the rising tide, to sing it to men and subdue
their hearts; to see for myself what the world holds and where; to let men
know me, to get to know them; to burst forth through the world in life and
youth like the eager rushing breezes; and then return home to a fulfilled
and fruitful old age to spend it as a poet should.

Not a very lofty ideal, is it? To benefit the world would have been much
higher, no doubt; but being on the whole what I am, that ambition does not
even occur to me. I cannot make up my mind to sacrifice this precious gift
of life in a self-wrought famine, and disappoint the world and the hearts
of men by fasts and meditations and constant argument. I count it enough
to live and die as a man, loving and trusting the world, unable to look on
it either as a delusion of the Creator or a snare of the Devil. It is not
for me to strive to be wafted away into the airiness of an Angel.


SHELIDAH,

2nd Kartik (October) 1891.


When I come to the country I cease to view man as separate from the rest.
As the river runs through many a clime, so does the stream of men babble
on, winding through woods and villages and towns. It is not a true
contrast that men may come and men may go, but I go on for ever.
Humanity, with all its confluent streams, big and small, flows on and on,
just as does the river, from its source in birth to its sea of death;--two
dark mysteries at either end, and between them various play and work and
chatter unceasing.

Over there the cultivators sing in the fields: here the fishing-boats
float by. The day wears on and the heat of the sun increases. Some bathers
are still in the river, others are finished and are taking home their
filled water-vessels. Thus, past both banks of the river, hundreds of
years have hummed their way, while the refrain rises in a mournful chorus:
I go on for ever!

Amid the noonday silence some youthful cowherd is heard calling at the top
of his voice for his companion; some boat splashes its way homewards; the
ripples lap against the empty jar which some village woman rests on the
water before dipping it; and with these mingle several other less definite
sounds,--the twittering of birds, the humming of bees, the plaintive
creaking of the house-boat as it gently swings to and fro,--the whole
making a tender lullaby, as of a mother trying to quiet a suffering child.
"Fret not," she sings, as she soothingly pats its fevered forehead. "Worry
not; weep no more. Let be your strugglings and grabbings and fightings;
forget a while, sleep a while."


SHELIDAH,

3rd Kartik (October) 1891.


It was the Kojagar full moon, and I was slowly pacing the riverside
conversing with myself. It could hardly be called a conversation, as I was
doing all the talking and my imaginary companion all the listening. The
poor fellow had no chance of speaking up for himself, for was not mine the
power to compel him helplessly to answer like a fool?

But what a night it was! How often have I tried to write of such, but
never got it done! There was not a line of ripple on the river; and from
away over there, where the farthest shore of the distant main stream is
seen beyond the other edge of the midway belt of sand, right up to this
shore, glimmers a broad band of moonlight. Not a human being, not a boat
in sight; not a tree, nor blade of grass on the fresh-formed island
sand-bank.

It seemed as though a desolate moon was rising upon a devastated earth; a
random river wandering through a lifeless solitude; a long-drawn
fairy-tale coming to a close over a deserted world,--all the kings and the
princesses, their ministers and friends and their golden castles vanished,
leaving the Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers and the Unending Moor, over
which the adventurous princes fared forth, wanly gleaming in the pale
moonlight. I was pacing up and down like the last pulse-beats of this
dying world. Every one else seemed to be on the opposite shore--the shore
of life--where the British Government and the Nineteenth Century hold
sway, and tea and cigarettes.

Rabindranath Tagore

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