When our work becomes our deity
It demands all our devotion
It occupies the altar
Within the stony walls of its temple
Slowly our life becomes dreary and dry
There light doesn’t go
And air doesn’t pass
There is no space
There is no joy
There are only money and fame to chase
Who knows in what obsession
We become blind to this inevitable doom.
Once I had become trapped in such a delusion
I was rushing to that ultimate ruin
I had lost my world.
On the strings of dawn and dusk
The golden music played by the blue sky
Never reached my windows.
Only on the pages of the calendar
Seasons came and seasons went
The invitation of their new flowers and foliage
Never reached my address.
What deep cry was hidden in my heart
I had no time to hear.
Carrying the burden of a starving soul
In my carriage of work
I was passing along a bleak desert road.
I had to attend three to four meetings every day
In the dailies and weeklies I had to roar.
When there was a meeting in Beadon square
I was the main speaker.
I had to write heaps of reports
Then there were fights to be fought
In senates and syndicates
On top of it all there was my office
Working thus without any rest
I couldn’t know how my days passed.
My friends used to say,
‘Man, what are you doing?
Going at this rate
Soon you will die.’
I used to reply, ‘Dear friends,
Do you think I do all these
According to my own sweet will?
If I ever become lax
There will be somewhere some trouble
Which will make my workload double –
Will you please suggest
What should I do in the circumstances?’
I was busy all the time
As if the responsibility to run the entire world
Rested only on my shoulders.
The other day working day and night
I finished the last year’s report
For the selection of a new secretary
An election was to be held
Campaigning for votes
At least for three weeks
I was to work very hard
I became like a tree in winter
When after shedding its leaves
It is reduced to a skeleton of branches
From dawn to dusk
Without taking any food or drink
I kept sitting at the same table
My job was to post letters after letters
When I was told my meal was ready
I did not respond
Pressed again to eat
I lost my temper and shouted,
‘I have no time even to die
Let alone of taking my food.’
Excepting a few chattering sparrows
When the neighbourhood became silent by half past two
The postman came and delivered me some letters.
Thinking that it was urgent
I opened one of them and found
Without any punctuation marks
There were a few uneven lines
Written in an untrained hand
At the end was written – Manorama -
It must be the writer’s name.
I couldn’t read further
It seemed to be a petition from a widow
Begging for some help
As usual it must be full of lies.
I tore it to shreds and resumed my work.
Working in a fast and furious speed
I completely forgot where the sun rises –
Was it in the east or was it in the west?
Right at that moment
In the election I was defeated
My enemies captured my seat.
What followed in the papers
Was the mutual bandying of abusive words.
Suddenly in the midst of my work
Now I found some spare time on my hand
Reclining on an easy chair I thought
What should I do with that time
When in the southern breeze
A piece of a torn letter was blown to my lap.
In an absent mind I picked it up
And I read, ‘Have you forgotten your Monu?’
Monu? Was she Manorama of my boyhood days?
In a moment suddenly my empty world was filled
And my lost spring drowned me like a flood.
She had been my neighbour for long
Her anklets jingled on her feet
As if she had lost her way
And had come to shine like the morning star
At the dawn of my life
Like dew she had dropped
On my sheuli-like innocent childhood
Like the first burst of light she charmed my eyes.
I clearly remember
As soon as I woke up from sleep
I used to rush to their house
Playing with her I began my day
She had a shock of hair spread on her back
And a pair of eyes – gentle, deep and dark
Her voice was sweet as honey.
With limitless patience
She used to bear with all my naughtiness.
How can I forget -
I used to swing from the highest branch of the tree
And showed as if I might fall down
In a tearful voice
Anxiously she would request me to come down.
When by my father I was caned
She used to cry feeling my pain
And tried hard to hide all my faults.
When we grew up
She used to take her Bengali lessons from me.
Looking in awe at my thick English volumes
She thought I had become very learned
And to me no subject was at all difficult.
At this time there was a dispute
Over the right of way along a lane
To the place of immersion of the idol
There was a skirmish
Between the servants of either side
It ended in a criminal case
None was ready to compromise.
Our doors were closed
Our sky became gloomy
The festive season brought on a storm
And caused the immersion of my idol.
We couldn’t meet any more
From each other we went far
And I realized in whose hand
The strings of my soul had first rung
In a morning tune.
Like the evening star shines
Against the backdrop of the darkening sky
In deep pain her face shone in my mind.
I also realized
To me how much was she.
The flame of love became fully alight
When we went out of sight.
Many years thereafter passed
When after passing the exam
I went back to my village.
Their house had been sold
I failed to find the address
Where Monu’s husband had taken her
After their marriage?
From her unknown abode after so long
What message Monu sent in her letter?
Has she been hurt by the cruel world,
Is it death? What loss has she suffered?
Is it some atrocity she wanted to communicate?
Did she seek some consolation from her childhood friend?
‘Have you forgotten your Monu?’
This question will always remain in my life
Like a drop of tear in my eyes.
In my life I shall answer many letters
But this letter will remain unanswered forever
Like a burning flame in my bosom.
Translation of the poem Chhinna Patra from the collection Palataka (The Fugitive) by Rabindranath Tagore.The original poem is at http://www.rabindra-rachanabali.nltr.org/node/10904