Friday, May 02, 2008

My Boyhood Days - Rabindranath Tagore



It is a nostalgic recollection of childhood days spent in absolute indolence. It is a portrait of the society and culture of old Bengal.

The author has put to paper fond memories of another era, the era which he relished as a child and the passing of which he witnessed during his growing years.

Young women in Palanquins carried by 4 – 8 servants, hackney carriages all over the city, the wrestlers who entertained people, Badam tree in courtyard, the ghost on the tree, women covered in veils, rumours about the presence of ghosts in the dark corridors, the palatial bungalows, times when dacoity was respected, games of olden days like top spinning, hunting for a tiger in a jungle, street plays, water of the Ganges, the luxury of servants and caretakers…many more…

Tagore was not very happy about the changes that times brought with them. The factories on the banks of the Hoogly that encroached into the fertile plains, the disappearance of horse drawn carriages and palanquins with the onslaught of motor cars, the retreating of street plays and wrestlers before modern cinema…
There are frequent occurrences of a poignant comparison of the “good old days” with ghouls of modern Bengal.

The tone in which the author expresses his displeasure however is not one filled with anger or frustration or fury but a tone full of poignance. A silent weeping of sorts…

As soon as the day of sunlight is over, the day of electric light begins. There is not much work done in it, but there is no rest, for the fire continues, as it were, to smoulder in the charcoal after the blazing wood has burnt itself out…

The work is also full of admissions of mediocrity and naiveté. Tagore writes of how disinterested he was in studies, of how late in his life he started to learn A, B, C, D, of the fact that he did not possess any special talent…of how he spent his early life in a village idling, passing time doing nothing…

My exercise books of all kinds kept from beginning to end, the unrelieved whiteness of a widow’s cloth. Confronted by such unprecedented determination not to study, my class teacher complained to Mr… (I love this para for the beauty Tagore has brought out in the language.)

As we grow, as we gain more exposure or become more sophisticated and smarter, we see more clearly how naïve or dumb we were in the past. We feel ashamed or embarrassed of our past. We even try to obliterate our past. I know a friend who tore away a photograph of childhood, taken when she was dressed as Shakuntala or some mythological character wearing make up and costumes that were quite anachronic!

I have grown up to understand that it takes courage and a high level of self esteem to accept our past or respect it. We don’t need to be proud of our past. We just need to have the courage not to disown it, to acknowledge it, as a part of ourselves, to accept it… no matter how crude, unpolished, unrefined we might have been during those primitive times. Because that is where the roots hold the soil and that is where you will want to return to after you have finished the world tour…
Even if you don’t return, one must not forget the path traversed after reaching the destination, however beaten, rugged the path might have been…

Back to the book…
There were some lines that struck me as beautiful and true.
As one swims to pluck the lotus, it floats further and further away on the waves raised by one’s own arms and remains always out of reach…

There is a God who compasses the humiliation of those who ignore their own limitations…:-)

Another interesting thing I observed in all works of old times is this.
The mention of places or locations is never without a reference to direction; south facing balcony, east facing window, room towards north, terrace towards west. What a perfect sense of direction people had those days! Direction seemed so important to people those days! Or was it merely easier since the Sun was always in sight and there were such open spaces?
In today’s times, for some reason, the knowledge of direction does not seem important to us. Also it is difficult to tell the east from the west in the midst of cluttered walls and buildings.
Directionless. That’s what we are! Literally and figuratively. How about that??

Tagore’s humour is as subtle as his poignance. It almost escapes you.

The crows are pecking at the scattered grains. Our dog Johnny’s sense of duty is aroused and he drives them away barking…:-)

2 comments:

Anupama Kondayya said...

I am going to pick this up soon :).

I don't know if you have read it already but do go through Babus Of Nayanjore by Tagore...I loved it to the core when I read it way back then...just do a Google Search and you should be able to read it online...

Thanks for this post....one can always use recommendations for good books :). And thanks also for allllllllll those comments on my blog. I feel flattered :)

Sowmya said...

Yes. I have read Babus Of Nayanjore. It is good. I have the complete works of Tagore in 4 Omnibuses. Will take 2 years to finish reading all of them. :)