Theme: Poverty


Translation from Bengali works of Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Laureate of 1913.
Read translator's note at the end of the poem. 

  At Kinu Milkman’s Lane
  I stay quite to my bane
  In a building two storied,
  On the ground floor the gate is grilled;
  In my room wayside
  Walls eroded, do not hide
  Their brickwork, with sand shed
  Here and there, and graffiti of damp displayed.
  A portrait of Lord Ganesh
  On a canvas no way fresh,
  Who helps us achieve a score
  Or so supposed, is fixed on the door.
  Besides me, another creature
  There, on the same rent, does feature;
  A lizard it is;
  Difference, it gets its meal more at ease. 

 A junior clerk at a merchant office,
 My salary twenty five rupees.
 With their son’s tuition blessed,
 At Datta’s my meal is dished.
 At Sealdah station
 I spend the evenings for no emotion,
 But to save the cost of light;
 Bear with the engines’ sibilant or such plight,
As they whistle, the passengers’ hurry,
 And the porters’ scurry.
 Ten thirty as the clock will show,
 To my dark recess I’ll go.

 Lives in a village my auntie
 By the river Dhaleswari;
 Daughter of her brother-in-law,
 The hour was without flaw
 For her wed with this destitute
 That auntie planned astute.
 Indeed the hour brought luck
 As judged by the almanac;
 That very hour I did abscond;
 Thus the lass eluded my bond;
 And I backed to square one
 Her passage to my abode to shun
 To my dismay;
 Though she visits my mind every day
 Clad in a Dhakai Sari
 Forehead with vermillion smeary.

 At the thick of monsoon,
 Again, no way a boon,
 Cost rises for tram ride
 With salary cuts by its side;
 The nabs of the street
 Mango skin, fish fins, kitten corpse et al greet
 To pile and ferment
 Their pungency to vent.
 The umbrella with many a hole
 As my fined salary, meets no goal. 

 Attired for the office,
 Gopikanta Gonsai still does not miss
 His sense of humour
 From which I’m far.
 The dark of the rainy day
 Makes its way
 Into my damp room
 To trap me in a morbid doom,
 With a world in limbo
 As days and nights go.

 At the turn of the lane
 Stays Kantababu who would fain
 To dress his long hair,
 Posh, his round eyes stare –
 Plays cornet as his hobby
 In the loath of this lane shabby;
 At times at dead of night
 Or at dawn’s twilight;
 Even in the light and shade
 As in the afternoon the day will fade;

 Or of a sudden in the evening
 Sindhu Baroan (*) would spring   (* an Indian Raga)
 To flood the whole sky
 With eternal separation-al sigh,
 At once it is obvious,
 This lane is a falsity enormous;
 Like the drunk’s rigmarole –
 Suddenly the message does unroll –
 Between Akbar Badsha and Haripada clerk
 Stands no dividing mark.
 The music’s compassion
 To the same utopia leads on.
 The bruised umbrella and the royal one
 Both for the same fate done.

 Where this music holds true
 In the eternal dusk that never knew
 A break in the flow
 Of Dhaleswari, and waits so
 One at the yard,
 That the river’s shore neared,
 By the Tamals (*) shaded deep;        (* a type of Indian tree)
 She, through her veil keeps peep
 Clad in Dhakai Sari
 Forehead with vermillion smeary. (**)      

(** As per Bengali ritual the Bridegroom smears the forehead of the Bride with vermillion at the nuptial hour)

Poem ‘Bansi’ (=Flute) of the book Parishesh (=The End) written in 1932.
Translator’s note:
Many take Tagore as an aristocrat who was by succession a Zemindar (=landlord), away from the hard realities faced by the common people close to the poverty line. This poem negates this idea and shows his deep insight into the tragedy of the deprived class of the society. Those who think that his sympathy for the poor was a poetic luxury, will be well advised to visit particularly Sriniketan, close to Santiniketan, where his Visva Bharati University (=World University) situates, for a glimpse of the fantastic work he did for development of rural economy by way of promotion of vocational training on various crafts side by side with his mass educational programmes within all the constraints of his time. This may be convincing that he was not a ‘ivory tower’ poet. 


More By  :  Rajat Das Gupta

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