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"The Cabuliwallah" is one of the most famous of the Poet's "Short Stories." It has been often translated. The present translation is by the late Sister Nivedita, and her simple, vivid style should be noticed by the Indian student reader. It is a good example of modern English, with its short sentences, its careful choice of words, and its luminous clearness of meaning.

Cabuliwallah. A man from Cabul or Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

embarked. Like a ship putting out to sea on a new voyage.

Bhola. Mini's attendant.

Protap Singh. Rabindranath Tagore pictures himself as engaged in writing a novel, full of wild adventures. These names are made up to suit the story.

so precarious. The writer amusingly imagines the hero and heroine actually swinging by the rope until he can get back to his desk and finish writing about how they escaped.

Abdurrahman. The Amir of Kabul.

Frontier policy. The question about guarding the North-West of India against invasion.

without demur. Without making any objection, or asking for more money.

judicious bribery. He gave her little presents, judging well what she would like best.

new fangled. The parents had not talked about such things, as old-fashioned people would have certainly done.

euphemism. This means, in Greek, "fair speech." Here it means a pleasant word used instead of the unpleasant word "jail."

kings went forth. During the hot weather the kings of ancient India used to stay at home: they would begin to fight again at the beginning of the cold weather.

my heart would go out. That is to say, he would long to see such places.

fall to weaving. This is an English idiom, like "set to": it means to begin.

conjure themselves. Just as the conjurer makes all kinds of things appear before the eyes.

vegetable existence. Vegetables are rooted to the ground. So Rabindranath is rooted to his desk and cannot make long journeys.

As it was indefinite. Because there was no actual reason for it. Indefinite here means vague.

forbid the man the house. This is a brief way of saying forbid the man to enter the house.

bebagged. This word is made up for the occasion, and means "laden with bags." Compare the words bedewed, besmeared.

just where. The word "just" has become very commonly used in modern English. It means "exactly," "merely" or "at the very moment." Compare "He had just gone out." "It was just a joke."

Scarcely on speaking terms. Rabindranath Tagore is here making a joke; "not to be on speaking terms" means usually "to be displeased with." Mini had become so eager to talk with her girl friends that she had almost neglected her father.

Durga. The Durga Festival in Bengal is supposed to represent the time when Parvati, or Durga, left her father's home in the Himalayas, called Kailas, and went to live with her husband, Siva.

Bhairavi. One of the musical tunes which denotes separation.

chandeliers. The glass ornamental hangings on which candles were lighted in great houses at weddings.

better-omened. It was not considered a good omen, or good fortune, to meet a criminal on a wedding day.

dispersed. Used up.

Parbati. Another allusion to the Goddess Durga and her home in the Himalayas.

apparition. This word comes from the same root as the word to "appear." It means a sudden or strange sight. It often means a ghost. Mini had so changed that when she appeared in her wedding dress she startled him, as if he had seen a ghost.

make friends with her anew. His own daughter would not know him at first.

Saw before him the barren mountains. His memory was so strong that it made him forget the crowded Calcutta street and think of his home in the mountains.


every one seconded the proposal. All were so eagerly in favour that they wanted to speak at once in support of it.

regal dignity. His position as a king of the other boys.

fertile brain. Full of inventions and plans.

manoeuvre. A French word meaning a plan of battle.

point of honour. He would feel himself disgraced if he gave way.

Mother Earth. Earth is here pictured as a person. There is a well-known story of a giant who gained fresh power every time his body touched the earth, which was his Mother.

Furies. These were supposed to be certain demons, who pursued guilty men with loud cries.

the servant was master. Notice the play of words here. The "servant" and "master" change places.

critical juncture. At this exact moment when things were so dangerous.

Dada. The usual Bengal word for "Brother."

no love was lost. This is a mild way of saying that they disliked one another.

on pins and needles. Exceedingly restless; like some one standing on sharp points.

in perpetuity. The phrase is a mock legal one, meaning "for all time."

by no means pleased. She was very displeased, because she had already children of her own. In English a phrase is often put in a negative way to imply a very strong positive statement. Thus "by no means happy" may mean "very unhappy."

committing such an indiscretion. Doing such an unwise thing.

indecent haste. A mock humorous expression, meaning "very quickly."

craves for recognition. Wishes to be noticed and loved.

physical love. Just as a young animal clings to its mother for protection.

animal instinct. The phrase repeats in another form what was said before, in the words "a kind of physical love."

pursed her lips. Drew her lips tight like the mouth of a purse which is tightened by pulling the string.

as if expecting some one. He was looking for his mother.

very critical. Very dangerous. The danger point of the illness might be reached at any moment and death might come.

By the mark. When a shallow place comes at sea, or on a great river, one of the sailors throws a piece of lead, with a string tied to it, into the water, and then looks at the mark on the string. He calls out that the depth is "three" or "four" fathoms according to the mark.

plumb-line. The line with a lead weight.

plumbing. To plumb is to get to the bottom of a piece of water. Here Phatik is pictured as himself going deeper and deeper into the sea of death, which none can fathom.

the holidays. The Bengali word for "holiday" means also "release." It is as though he were saying, "My release has come." This cannot be represented in the English.


In this story Rabindranath Tagore begins with some amusing sentences about the dull, matter of fact character of modern scientific people, who cannot enjoy a fairy story without asking "Is it true?" The Poet implies that there are deeper truths than modern science has yet discovered. The ending of the present story will show this more clearly.

sovereign truth. There is a play upon the word "sovereign" which can mean "kingly" and also "supreme."

exacting. There is further play here with the words "exact" and "exacting." "Exact" means precise and "exacting" means making others precise.

legendary haze. The ancient legends are very obscure, just like an object seen through a mist.

knowledge. Mere book knowledge,—knowledge of outside things.

truth. Inner truth such as comes from the heart of man and cannot be reasoned or disputed.

half past seven. The time when his tutor was due.

no other need. As if God would continue the rain merely to keep his tutor away!

If not. Though it might not have been caused by his prayers, still for some reason the rain did continue.

nor did my teacher. Supply the words "give up."

punishment to fit the crime. An amusing reference to the doctrine of karma, which states that each deed will have its due reward or punishment.

as me. Strictly speaking it should be "I" not "me" but he is writing not too strictly.

I hope no child. The author here amusingly pretends that the child's way of getting out of his lessons was too shocking for young boys in the junior school to read about.

I will marry my daughter to him. The verb to "marry" in English can be used in two senses:—
(1) To wed some one: to take in marriage.
(2) To get some one wedded: to give in marriage.
The later sense is used here.

in the dawn of some indefinite time. In some past existence long ago.

If my grandmother were an author. Here Rabindranath returns to his mocking humour. A modern author, he says, would be obliged to explain all sorts of details in the story.

hue and cry. This is a phrase used for the noise and bustle that is made when people are searching for a thief.

Her readers. Referring back to the Grandmother.

in an underhand way. Under the disguise of a fairy story.

grandmother again. That is, in the old conditions when people were not too exacting about accuracy.

luckless grandson. A humorous way of referring to himself. The author had the misfortune to be born in the modern age of science.

Seven wings. The word "wings" is here used, not for "wings" like those of birds, but for the sides of a large building, projecting out at an angle from the main building.

But what is the use.... The author here breaks off the story, as though it were useless to go on any further in these modern days when every thing has to be scientifically proved.

Some "what then?" Some future existence about which explanations might be asked.

no grandmother of a grandmother. No one, however old.

never admits defeat. Refuses to believe in death.

teacherless evening. Evening on which the teacher did not come.

chamber of the great end. Death itself is referred to; it is the end of human life on earth and what is beyond death is shut out from us.

incantation. Sacred verses or mantras.


found two masters. The wife was his master now, as well as her husband.

make for safety. Get to some place where he could not be caught.

will be a judge some day. The baby seemed so wise to Raicharan, that he thought he would certainly grow up to be a judge.

epoch in human history. It seemed to Raicharan as though some great event had happened which ought to be recorded.

wrestler's trick. The writer, in fun, makes Raicharan's skill depend on doing just what the wrestler tries to avoid, i.e. being thrown on his back.

swallowed down. Washed them away in a flood.

little despot. The baby, who was able to make Raicharan do exactly what he liked.

The silent ceremonial. The author pictures the sunset as like some splendid kingly ceremony, where every gorgeous colour can be seen.

"Pitty fow." "Pretty flower." The baby can only lisp the words.

He was promoted from a horse into a groom. He was no longer asked by the baby to be a "horse" in his games, but to look after this toy carriage, as a groom would.

with all sorts of curious noises. He began to imitate the sounds of birds.

destined to be a judge. The baby could see through Raicharan's attempts to deceive, as a judge would see through false evidence.

wavelets. The little waves seemed like so many thousand little children running away in fun or mischief.

there was no one there. These words are repeated again and again to give the sense of utter loss and desolation.

overwhelming resentment. His own baby seemed to have been given to him in order to tempt him to forget his little Master. Raicharan was angry to think that any one could imagine such forgetfulness to be possible.

The little Master could not cast off the spell. Could not keep away from the servant who loved him so much. He fancies his little Master has come back to life again in this new little baby, drawn as it were by some enchantment of love.

accumulated. Gathered together: referring to the idea of karma.

personal appearance. He spent a long time in arranging his clothes and making himself look handsome.

country manners. Country people have habits and ways of speaking which seem absurd to town people.

a kind of condescension. As if he were superior and Raicharan were beneath him.

mendicant quack. A beggar dealing in herbs and medicines and charms.

hungry, eager eyes. As if she could never gaze long enough upon him.

the magistrate in him. The magistrate's way of looking at things.

magisterial conscience. His instincts as a judge, who must condemn the guilty.


Ratikanta. He is represented throughout as a typical hanger-on of the rich family, selfish and flattering.

Victor Hugo. The most famous of Victor Hugo's stories is called "Les Miserables." Its opening scene of San Valjean and the saintly Bishop is very well known in literature.

deep-laid plot. Notice how throughout this story the different members of this wealthy house appear to be unable to take account of unselfish motives.

this is sheer kidnapping. Adhar Babu believes that Haralal has acquired some hypnotic influence over Venu and is trying to rob him of his money.

brokers and middlemen. Those who bought the grain from the peasants and sold it to the English firm.

any security. A money payment which would be forfeited if anything went wrong.

a note of hand. A paper signed by Venugopal saying that he owed so much money.

filed a suit. Brought an action in the law courts against the father to recover the money lent to the son.

Currency notes. Notes of twenty, fifty, a hundred rupees,—such as could be changed for money.

theft the night before. Adhar Babu had already missed the things that Venu had taken away.

it's a paying business. Adhar Babu imagines that Venu and Haralal have become partners in order to swindle other people.

with your connivance. With your secret knowledge and approval.

Deliverance was in the infinite sky. He felt that all the evils, which were pressing close around him, were broken through and that he had come out beyond them into the clear light of truth. It was like coming out of some narrow confined place into the open sky.


Subhashini. Sweetly speaking.

Sukheshini. With lovely hair.

Suhashini. Sweetly smiling.

process of translation. To change the unspoken language of thought into the spoken language of words is like translating the mother tongue into a foreign language. Much of the beauty is lost.

that speech of the dark eyes. Nature was speaking in every part of her own great being, in the same silent way as those dark eyes of Subha were speaking.

without any common language. The cows had the common language of looks with which to talk to Subha. But Pratap, who could speak, had not learnt Subha's language of looks.

they become public property. Everyone can amuse himself by talking with them in idle moments.

water nymph. Referring to the legends, common in all countries, of water fairies or mermaids living at the bottom of a river or beneath the sea and dwelling in wonderful palaces.

tide from the central places of the sea. When the moon is full, the tide rises to its highest point: it seems to start from some central place far out at sea and to come rolling and surging in.

silent troubled Mother. Nature, with her full tide and full moon, seems troubled and longing to break out into speech, just as Subha longed to do.

they have caught your bridegroom. Pratap employs the word "caught" from his favourite pursuit of fishing. The bridegroom has been caught just like a fish.

did her best to kill her natural beauty. Her hair was much more beautiful when left in its natural way, instead of being all bound up in a net.

The God ... the great man. These words refer to the bridegroom himself, who wields such mighty powers of choice or refusal. They are ironical.


like a fish out of water. Completely out of place, because he was used to city life.

macadamised road. He would have infinitely preferred the streets and shops and crowded markets of Calcutta.

smoke ... from the village cowsheds. Such as is used to drive away the mosquitoes.

Baül. A religious sect in Bengal whose members sing songs and often go about begging.

No more of this. He was afraid he might become too deeply attached to Ratan if he stayed.

Its fond mistakes are persistent. We continually try to deceive ourselves that what we wish to be true is true. When at last we find out the truth, we could almost wish we had not done so.


Like a rudderless boat. Notice how the metaphor is kept up to the end of the sentence.

The writ of Fate. They said that if she was to die, she was to die, and nothing could prevent it.

profiting their Brahmin guest. She would believe this to be an act of merit for which she would be rewarded.

out of his repertory. Out of the stock of plays he recited when he belonged to the theatrical troupe.

hearing sacred names. This also, she believed, would bring her merit.

forcing house. Like some glass conservatory used for exotic flowers.

exact stature. The manager wished him to take the parts of women who are smaller than men.

came to adequate revelation. Were now abundantly apparent.

twice-born bird. Once born in the egg and once after the breaking of the egg. The goose in the story was the messenger between Nala and Damayanti.

the tiger has no wish to become a mouse. A reference to a folk story of a saint who turned a pet mouse into a tiger.

German silver. A kind of cheap silver containing much alloy in it.

to look for your Damayanti. To find Satish a wife.


do the duty of the father. By disciplining and punishing the child.

crippling his patrimony. Injuring the estate.

this is preposterous. The natural thing would be for the property to be divided between the two brothers and their descendants, but by this will only one son was recognized and one set of grandsons.

given to the grandsons. To Shyama Charan's and Bhavani's sons. According to this preposterous will Bhavani was left out altogether, and also his son.

Shyama Charan's treachery. She fully believed that he had stolen the will and put this false one in its place.

Noto used to get reprimands. Used to be blamed for wishing to save this waste of money. Of course the whole thing was imaginary, but it gave Bhavani the pleased feeling of being generous.

traditional extravagance. Such as had always been displayed in former days when the family was prosperous.

Some imaginary dog. She would say that some dog had run off with the food which she had prepared.

Bhavani had confessed. Rashmani, Noto and Bhavani himself were all alike ready to keep up the illusion that the old magnificence was still there, if only this or that accident had not deprived them of its display.

invisible ink. Ink which is invisible when first written with, but when heated becomes visible.

Baba, wait a little. In Bengal daughters are often called Ma (mother) and sons Baba (father).

it became absurdly easy. Because, after this, both the mother and her son could join in the pretence together.

lacking in proper enthusiasm. Did not care much about the subject.

more than compensated. The pleasure of telling the news was greater than the pain of knowing that such a sacrilege was going to take place.

with all the more deadly force. The thrower being up above, the speed would increase all the more on the downward flight of the missile.

requiring expensive fodder. Vanity can feed itself on the idea of self importance.

to graze at large. Merely to feed on what is before it. He gave it extra food by paying for a number of flatterers, just as a horse is stall-fed with extra supplies of food.

turned round on him. His vanity would be offended and he would be his enemy instead of his helper.

forced extravagance. Kalipada had been forced by the sneers of the students to give far more than he could afford.

draw tears from the eyes. An amusing way of saying that no burglar would ever dream of trying to rob such a room.

laid their impious hands. Had grossly insulted.

let him climb down first. An English metaphor meaning "let him be humble."

he discovered the truth. The truth that he was a near relative of Kalipada.

grandchild's privilege. Especially in Bengal, a grandchild is allowed the liberty of making jokes with his grandfather.

he found it easy. He loved his mother so much that when he found anyone pleased with things which she had made he enjoyed seeing them use these things rather than himself.


the days before the flood. The word "antediluvian" meaning "before the flood," is used sometimes in English for things very ancient and out of date. There is a play upon this here.

dazzling outburst. Just as, at a firework display, pitch darkness follows the last firework.

drawing his heavy cheques. To "draw a cheque" is to take so much from a credit account in the bank. The words are humorously used here of taking something from the public belief about the greatness of the Babus of Nayanjore.

and er-er. He hesitates a little as he mentions the ladies.

Thakur Dada. Grandfather.

my moral character was flawless. Note how the author shows the conceit of this young man. Compare, lower down, the phrase "because I was so good."

poet Bhabavuti. The poet means that there must be some one in this vast universe of time and space who is the match for the hero of his poem.

Chota Lât Sahib. The story refers to the time when Calcutta was the Capital of India. The Burra Lât Sahib was the Viceroy, the Chota Lât Sahib was the Lieutenant-Governor.

walking backward. As a mark of respect. He was continually bowing and then stepping back. This kind of ceremonial bowing was commoner in earlier days than it is now.

tall silk hat. These were only worn in India at State functions and their use in this country by Englishmen is becoming more and more rare. But in earlier days they were not uncommon. They are black in colour and shining.

ugly modern custom. The author dislikes the passing away of an old beautiful custom of reverence towards old men.

becoming an epic. Becoming legendary by its additions. An epic poem often goes on describing an incident with all kinds of marvellous events added to it, till it becomes a very long story.

Rabindranath Tagore

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