Theme: Love


When she was only twenty-three
Binu fell ill
Too many doctors, too much of medicines
Made her sickness
More mental than physical
Accumulated were
Too many phials
Too many containers
Of various sizes and names
Till after a year and a half's medication
She was reduced to a mere skeleton
And it was prescribed at last
She should go to some place for a change.
This gave her first opportunity
To travel by train
An occasion
To leave her in-law's house
For the very first time.
In the overcrowded family life
We met only on occasions
Behind others
It was out of the usual rhythm
Our meetings were sparse and incoherent
Consisting of muffled laughter
And broken conversations.
Today all of a sudden
The whole world with all its lights
Seemed to welcome us
Like a newly wed bride and groom.
With a pair of large eyes
Set in her emaciated face
When she looked at me
It was like the solemn rite
Of looking at the new groom
By his new bride.
From the other side of the railway line
When beggars begged
She opened her purse
Brought out some coins
Threw them at random
Packing in papers.
Her pleasure was too much
How could she bear its burden
If she didn't share others' pain?
It was like floating in a raft
On the stream of eternal love
Breaking away from our homestead's shore.
As if to make this journey a success
We were to make gifts and hold prayers
For the well being of the entire world.
Today Binu only thought
Exclusively I belonged to her
There was none else
None of her in-laws
Crowding around us.
And this thought
Filled her with great pleasure.

At Bilaspur station
We were to change train
We had to get down in a hurry.
To wait for long six hours
In the waiting room
Seemed to me a great botheration.
Binu told, 'Why, it's great fun.'
Today her delight
Knows no limit.
The call of the way has made her restless
She is so happy
To her it doesn't make any difference
If she moves on or sits still.
Opening the door of the waiting room
She told me, 'Look, look,
There goes a horse-drawn cart.
Have you also seen
That calf, how soft and silken it looks
And its mother, full of affection in her eyes!
By the side of the railway line
On the tank's high bank
A walled house stands
Under the shades of a tree
It must be the stationmaster's residence
How happy they must be!

In the waiting room
I spread a bed and told,
'Binu, take some rest and have some sleep.'
On the platform I sat on a chair,
Bought an English novel
And started reading.
Many trains both goods and passenger passed
Three hours' time was thus spent
When from the door of the waiting room
Binu called me,
'I have a few words with you.'
Inside the room I found
There was an up-country woman
Who looked at my face
And after saluting me
Kept waiting in the veranda.
Binu told me, 'Her name is Rukmini.
She lives in one of those shanties
That stand in a row by the tank
Her husband is a railway porter;
A few years ago their crops failed
And they left their home
To escape the zamindar's fury.
They had seven bighas of land in a village
Situated by some river of certain name -'
Here I intervened
And told her smiling,
'Be brief,
Or else before you finish the narration
Of the story of Rukmini's life
It will be time for our train.

If you tell in a nutshell
It will cause nobody any harm.'
This made Binu furious
And she told me frowning,
No, I shall never be brief.
Here you don't have to worry for office
So what is the hurry
You will have to hear
From the beginning to the end.'
I had to forget the novel
With great patience
I listened
The long story of the porter's life.
The gist
And what was most important
Was tagged at its end -
The porter's daughter was to be given in marriage
Some ornaments are essentially needed.
It will cost rupees twenty-five at least.
This is bothering Rukmini too much.
So this time
It is to be my worry
To remove the worries
Of the porter's wife.
Who knew
Before even boarding the train
I was to give her in a lump sum
Twenty-five rupees!

How very strange it is
Who has heard such a thing?
She must be of some low caste
Totally untouchable
Cleans the waiting room
And I have to give her twenty-five rupees!
'Well, well I'll see to it.
But I have only a hundred-rupee note
I have no small change.'
Binu told me, 'Get it changed at the station.'
'I'll do as you say.'
Saying this
I took the woman away from Binu
And scolded her thoroughly -
'Let me see how you save your job,
It's your habit to cheat the passengers,
I shall stop your nefarious practice!'
At this she fell on my feet crying
And I sent her away
Giving her only two rupees.

The candle went out
Plunging my life in a gloom
And after two months I returned.
When I came to Bilaspur
I was all alone.
In her last moment Binu had told me,
'Whatever I forget,
I shall not forget the last two months of my life
I shall bear their memory on my forehead
As the vermilion mark
On the forehead of the luckiest wife,
You made these two months so happy
I take my leave with this memory.'

O God, you know my mind,
Today I want to tell Binu
These two months
How I cheated her in my offerings
By twenty-five rupees!
Even if I give Rukmini its manifold
Today I cannot set it right.
The memory she has carried with her
The memory of the last two months of her life
I made it so empty!

Getting down at Bilaspur
I asked one and all,
'Where is Rukmini?'
All were astonished, -
Who knows who is Rukmini.
As I said, 'She is the wife of porter Jhomru'
All of them said,
'They are not here anymore.'
When I asked,
'Where may I meet her?'
The head clerk at the station
Got annoyed and told,
'Who keeps such information?'
The ticket collector had a hearty laugh
He said, 'About a month back
They went away to Darjeeling
Or to Khosrubag or to Arakan.'
As often as I ask
'Does anybody know their present address?'
All get annoyed so much
About their address who cares?
How do I make them understand
She may be of no consequence to them
It is her that I need today most
Only she can unburden me of my deception.
'These two months you have filled me
With so much joy'
How do I bear these last words of Binu
I shall remain ever in debt
My deception has now become the ultimate truth.

Translation of - Phanki - one of the most famous love poems by Rabindranath Tagore from the collection Palataka (The Fugitive). Recordings of recitation of this poem by Soumitra Chatterji, hero in the Apu trilogy and other films of Satyajit Ray, as well as by Partha Ghosh are great favorites. The original poem may be viewed at


More By  :  Kumud Biswas

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