07 July 2008

The Postmaster by Rabindranath Tagore

I've figured that it always helps people studying literature, when there is a comprehensive set of ideas they can start from. I've always loved studying literature and spending detailed, organized time analyzing my readings. It helps! The insights it gathers and presents to a person is invaluable.

In the small village of Ulapur, an Englishman who owns an indigo factory near it manages to get a post office established. A postmaster from Calcutta gets separated from his family and transferred to this village. From the noise of the city, he comes to a deserted village with just scattered glimpses of people.

Tagore, a lover of nature, uses it to describe the surroundings. The postmaster’s office has a green, slimy pond, surrounded by dense vegetation. The way he describes this shows that postmaster is not in a position to appreciate his closeness to nature.

There are three central themes to this story.

Firstly, the story revolves around ‘longing and separation’; starting and ending with this. The postmaster is taken away from his family and brought to a remote village. He was in a village, where its busy people were no company, and he was left with not much work to do. He tries to pacify his longing emotions by writing poetry. However, the fact that he tries to write something external to him, like nature, makes it an impossible venture.

An orphan girl of the village, Ratan, helps him with his daily chores. He speaks to her about his mother and sister in the evenings, and would keep enquiring about her family. He would speak with sadness of all those “memories which were always haunting him”.

Secondly, ‘companionship’, and thirdly ‘dependency’ can be seen through how the relationship between the postmaster and Ratan grows through the course of this story. Ratan did not have many memories of her family to be recalled. There were only fragments, like pictures, of her father coming home in the evening, and her little brother whom she played with, fishing on the edge of the pond.

Once she met the postmaster, ‘Dada’, she spent her days with him. She would sit outside his shed, being only a call away from him, and doing all the small chores. Dada would share his meals with her. Then in the evenings, she would listen to him talking about his relatives and in imagination make them her own.

Tagore translates the longing ringing in Dada’s heart to nature, when he says, “A persistent bird repeated all the afternoon the burden of its one complaint in Nature’s audience chamber.” A man, who initially failed his attempt at verse, thinks of this as parallel to his emotions. Poetry is something that comes from the inner overflow of emotions. He hopes for the presence of a loving human being he could hold close to his heart.

The same theme of longing is discussed in Kamala Das’ poem, “Hot Noon in Malabar”. However, the situation is flipped. She is ripped from Malabar, a town life, to the noises and solitude of a city, Bombay. She says:

“To be here, far away, is torture. Wild feet

Stirring up the dust, this hot noon, at my

Home in Malabar, and I so far away....”

The postmaster can’t stand the quietude of Ulapur. He longs for the noises of traffic and life in Calcutta.

One evening, he tells Ratan that he is going to teach her to read. She grows closer to him. She sees him as her only relative. She grows dependent.

But, as the season’s rain seemed like it would never end, like the constant patter on the roof, Dada was troubled by his heart’s exile. He falls sick in his solitude. Ratan takes care of him, and he recovers just taking her presence for granted. But, he then decides that he has to leave this village. He writes an application of transfer, based on the unhealthiness of the village. The transfer is rejected.

He tells Ratan that he has resigned and will be leaving the village. She asks him to take her with him. He thinks of it as an absurd idea and she is haunted by his reaction. Next morning, she fills a bucket of water for him. He bathes and waits for the next postmaster to arrive.

He consoles Ratan saying that he would inform the postmaster about her. He even offers her some money to keep. She refuses both and expresses that she doesn’t want to stay there any more.

Ratan has lived a life of loneliness. Dada was her only companion, and the only one who seemed to understand her. She is broken, when he has to leave without her.

He leaves as soon, as the new postmaster arrives. He hesitates for a moment as the boat leaves, but it is too late for him to take her with him. Tagore illustrates the two ways a human mind works. The postmaster uses the element of philosophy to console himself. He tells himself that meeting, attachment, and departing are all part of life. It will all settle with the passage of time. The wind that fills the sails of the boat indicates the reason the postmaster fills his heart with, as he separates himself from the village.

However, Ratan stands outside the office “with tears streaming from her eyes.” She has succumbed to a common human folly, as Tagore expresses, of hope. She has been separated from her only bond and now longs for it to return. Tagore ends by saying that humans often fall into hope than seeing the reason, and long before we realize, disappointment becomes too hard to handle.

This short story was eloquently presented in Satyajit Ray’s Teen Kanya (three short stories on two girls and woman, by Rabindranath Tagore).

The Postmaster

1. A Post Office in Ulapur: A remote village, with no need for a post office. An Englishman, owner of the indigo factory near the villages, manages to set it up.

2. Postman transferred – a man from the city, is brought to quiet village. He becomes lonely because he has not company or much work to do.

3. He tries to write poetry, but fails. Because he is not writing about what he feels, but something outside of him.

4. He meets a small orphan girl, Ratan. Both of them give each other company. He shares his meals with her. She does all small chores for him. He talks to her about his family.

5. One day, he decides a good way to use time is to teach her to read. Ratan grows closer to him, but he is still longing to go back to the city.

6. He falls ill, and she takes care of him. He then decides to transfer and get away from this village. He applies for transfer, on the pretext of his unhealthiness and the village’s lack of hygiene.

7. His transfer is rejected and he resigns his job to return home. He tells Ratan this. She asks him to take her with him. He shuns the idea. She gets hurt.

8. She fetched bathing water ready for him in the morning. He tells Ratan that he would tell the next postmaster to take care of her. But, she is deeply hurt and asks him not to tell anyone. She even refuses the money he gives her.

9. He leaves. And when on the boat, for a moment he feels that he should go back and get her. But, he philosophizes and says that people meet and have to depart.

10. Ratan is in no position to reason. She stands outside the office in deep hope that he will come back. Finish with Tagore’s opinion on hope, and the human mind’s mistake. He says that humans will keep hoping, and disappointment becomes harder to handle.

Themes:

  1. Longing and Separation: The story starts and ends with this, The postmaster is taken away from his family and brought to a remote village. He spends his evening with Ratan speaking about his family: “memories which were always haunting him”. He also falls sick from his heart’s exile and loneliness. The story also ends with this. Ratan gets separated from him. She stands with streaming tears and longs for him to come back, “wandering about the post office with tears streaming from her eyes”.
  2. Companionship, explain about the postmaster’s and Ratan’s relationship.
  3. Also explain how they depend on each other.
  4. The contrast between the city and the village, best from the postmaster’s point of view.

Ideas:

  1. Philosophy – abstract study of life, reasoning the happenings. He consoles himself saying everything is part of life.
  2. Hope – she is no position to reason. She sinks deep into hope. Tagore states this as a common human mistake.

Also add that Tagore is primarily a nature writer. So, bring out the references of how he uses nature to illustrate the emotion.

21 comments:

Rakesh said...

The concluding lines of the story is a soul stirring enlightening one. I have lost my english book and cant recall the lines exactly.. could you please get me those lines? It goes like "Alas for the human nature. It's mistakes are persistent..." Get me the entire paragraph, please.

Vik said...

I am left with tears superceding Ratan s place. Hats off to the story which is full of emotions.

Rakesh said...

girl, won't you get me the lines, please?

Confuscious Writes said...

When he was on the boat and it had set sail, when the swollen flood-waters of the river started to heave like the Earth's brimming tears, the postmaster felt a huge anguish: the image of a simple young village-girl's grief-stricken face seemed to speak a great inarticulate universal sorrow. He felt sharp desire to go back: should he not fetch that orphaned girl, whom the world had abandoned? But the wind was filling the sails by then, the swollen river was flowing fiercely, the village had been left behind, the riverside burning-ground was in view. Detached by the current of the river, he reflected philosophically that in life there are many separations, many deaths. What point was there in going back? Who belonged to whom in this world?

But Ratan had no such philosophy to console her. All she could do was wander near the post office, weeping copiously. Maybe a faint hope lingered in her mind that Dadababu might return; and this was enough to tie her to the spot, prevent her from going far. O poor, unthinking human heart! Error will not go away, logic and reason are slow to penetrate. We cling with both arms to false hope, refusing to believe the weightest proofs against it, embracing it with all our strength. In the end it escapes, ripping our veins and draining our heart's blood; until, regaining consciousness, we rush to fall into snares of delusion all over again.

Abhenav Tripathi said...

the story is all about the sentiments which at the end can not stand before the the human nature of leaving one whom we love d most..........
wel this work done by rabindra ji is one of the best works done in indian literature..........
the character of ratan is one of the most caring and pathetic character which generates sympathy for girls who are left alone in this world alone..........
THE STORY IS WORTH READING
THE POST MASTER

Rufus said...

Hello Samyuktha,
Your commentary on 'The Postmaster' makes interesting reading. So much so that, i'm tempted to give a link to your analysis in my academic blog for the benefit of my students.
Hope u dont mind.
Regards,
Rufus
English lecturer @
http://rufusonline.blogspot.com/

poochy said...

i think the story is good but i hate the ending

nikita said...

the entire story is displayed with the realities and subtlities of life and the end is owerflowing with confused human feelings, which every mortal posseses.
The final goodbye even enlightens us as to how ignorant the post master has been towards the young girls presence and feelings ,and yet the last paragraph shows that the postmaster too is attatched to the little girl,through the hesitation experienced before leaving.

Personally what i really appreciate is how tagore ji has mixed realism with philosophy and how the little girl's innocent shattering at separation is compared to the more adult philosophies of the post master.

kav said...

i was about cry when i heard the last line

sakshi said...

Even I sympahties towards Ratan. The poor human heart.Its a great story which describe the rude male haert.

umesh prasad singh said...

post-master by tagore is a revolutionary step towards rejuvenation and decoration of ideas in purism and pluralism to a highest realism and emancipatory note of existence.the sensibility of literary perception and investigative theory in this celebrated work advocates the liteary imagination and cult in innovation as well.it has a post-modernistic effulgece in this literary piece of work.

mayuri said...

I think the story is amazing and is a heart touching story. I was completely indulged in the story when i went through it . It gives us an extraordinary image of a lonely man and a poor girl, and both of them have been harrased by their fates. But the ending isnt good because i like only stories with a happy ending. :)

priyasha said...

in my opinion this story has a lot of feelings of the two protagonists and it has been exposed in a very clarifying way.also the difference between the city and village life has also been very well illuminated.the enhancement given to the emotions of the young girl ratan is extremely touching.the ending should have been more towards an optimistic way.
priyasha

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lekhana said...

can i know more about the life has more separations and deaths related to this story

shalini said...

it is a heart touching story and amongst the best stories of the world . wish it had an happy ending

Anonymous said...

Hey,

This is a question for the webmaster/admin here at beautifulmind-sam.blogspot.com.

Can I use some of the information from your blog post right above if I provide a backlink back to your site?

Thanks,
Mark

Samyuktha P.C. said...

Hi Mark,

yes you can use the article with a backlink and credit. no problem.

Samyuktha

hasini said...

the post master..
I think reader can get some ideas about the city life and village life,mainly writer discuss the human sensitivity and human nature.the world is depend over the relationship and human do not like to spend a loneliness life.that truth theory constate of this story.
post master and ratan both of them do not like to spend a loneliness.they like to live with own relationship .every body like to get kindness of others .ratan got it.. but..?? how many ratans are in this world with loneliness......

hasini said...

I think reader can get some ideas about the city life and village life,mainly writer discuss the human sensitivity and human nature.the world is depend over the relationship and human do not like to spend a loneliness life.that truth theory constate of this story.
post master and ratan both of them do not like to spend a loneliness.they like to live with own relationship .every body like to get kindness of others .ratan got it.. but..?? how many ratans are in this world with loneliness......

hasini said...

I think reader can get some ideas about the city life and village life,mainly writer discuss the human sensitivity and human nature.the world is depend over the relationship and human do not like to spend a loneliness life.that truth theory constate of this story.
post master and ratan both of them do not like to spend a loneliness.they like to live with own relationship .every body like to get kindness of others .ratan got it.. but..?? how many ratans are in this world with loneliness......