The Tagore family, with over three hundred years of history, has been one of the leading families of Kolkata and is regarded as a key influence during the Bengal Renaissance. The family has produced several persons who have contributed substantially in the fields of business, social and religious reformation, literature, art, and music. The entire Tagore family consisted of members who were itinerant travellers. It began with Prince Dwarakanath Tagore (1794-1846), who was the second person among the educated Indians after Raja Rammohan Roy to sail to England in 1842. His business enterprises extended to fields unexplored in those days and he had a fleet of cargo boats for trading between India and England. To improve his business connections and gain further concessions from the Company, he went to England in 1844 accompanied by his youngest son, Nagendranath (1829-1858). Soon after landing in London, Dwarakannath became a favourite of Queen Victoria and of the court circle. There are many amusing stories told about his exploits in England and France, some of which have been narrated in letters written by Nabin Babu, who was his nephew and acted as a sort of secretary. Nagendranath’s diary describes vividly and in very chaste English the social life of the aristocracy of England in the early Victorian age as seen through the eyes of an Indian. There is also an interesting description of his adventurous journey across the country from Bombay to Calcutta at a time when India was in a very disturbed condition on the eve of the Sepoy Mutiny. The members of this illustrious family had wanderlust ingrained in themselves and they travelled in different parts of the country and outside it for various reasons. On several occasions they recorded their travels in diaries or memoirs; at other occasions nothing was written down or published.
The following section offers vignettes of travel undertaken by five members of the Tagore household (known in common parlance as the Jorasanko Thakurbari) -- beginning with Rabindranath’s father Debendranath Tagore, his sister in law Jnanadanandini Devi, Rabindranath himself, his nephew Abanindranath Tagore and his son Rathindranath Tagore. The places visited are often not that significant as are the purpose and experiences narrated in each of these pieces. Written in different narrative styles, they justify the protean form of travel writing per se. Taken as a whole, these short pieces offer ample insight into the lifestyles of one of the most illustrious and reputed households in Kolkata from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century.
[Debendranath Tagore (1817 -1905) began his life in extreme luxury and indulgence but gradually changed into that of an ascetic and a spiritual one. One of the founders of the Brahmo religion in 1848, his journey in the role of ‘Maharshi’, the great ascetic, was an attempt to spread the Brahmo faith and his spirit of detachment led him to travel extensively to various places, especially in different parts of the Himalayas. He published the Tattabodhini Patrika (1843) and apart from his autobiography, wrote several other prose pieces which also reveal his wanderlust. “Moulmein Bhraman” is one such interesting travel piece narrating his sojourn to Burma in September/October of 1850.]
Moulmein Bhraman (Travel to Moulmein)
After a year, the splendour of autumn revealed once again and the desire to travel blossomed in my mind. I could not make up my mind where to go for a trip this time. I thought I would make a trip on the river and so went to the bank of the Ganges to look for a suitable boat. I saw that several khalasis -- the dockyard workers – of a huge steamer were busy at their work. It seemed that this steamer would soon set sail.
“When would this steamer go to Allahabad?” I asked them.
In reply they said, “Within two or three days this will venture into the sea.”
On hearing that this steamer will go to the sea I thought that this was the easiest way my desire for a sea journey could be fulfilled. I went to the captain instantly and rented a cabin and in due time embarked on that steamer and began my sea journey.
I had never seen the blue colour of the sea water before this. I kept on watching the beautiful sights by day and night amid the continuous bright blue waves and remained immersed in the glory of the eternal spirit. After entering the sea and swaying with the waves for one night, the ship dropped anchor at three o’clock next afternoon. In front of us I saw a stretch of white sand and something that looked like a sort of human habitation. So I took a boat and went to see it. As I was wandering around the place I saw a few Bengali men from Chittagong with totems around their necks coming towards me. I asked them, “How come you are here? What do you do? ”
“We do business here. We have procured the idol of Goddess Durga in this month of Ashwin,” they replied.
I was really surprised to hear that they celebrate Durga puja here in Khaekfu town of Burma. The Durga puja was held even here?
From there I came back to the ship and started towards Moulmein. When the ship left the sea and entered the MoulmeinRiver, I remembered the scene of leaving the Gangasagar island and entering the GangesRiver. But this river did not offer any such good scenery. The water was muddy and full of crocodiles; no one bathed in it. The ship came and dropped anchor at Moulmein. Here a Madrasi resident called Mudeliar came and greeted me. He came on his own and introduced himself. He was a high level government official and a true gentleman. He took me to his house and I remained a guest there and accepted his hospitality for the few days I stayed at Moulmein. I stayed very comfortably in his house.
The streets in the city of Moulmein were wide and clean. The shops that lined both sides of the street selling different kinds of things were all manned by women. I bough a box and some very fine silk clothes from them. Going around the marketplace I entered the fish market at one time. I saw big fish for sale being displayed on huge tables. I asked, “What are these big fish called?” They replied, “Crocodiles.” So the Burmese people ate crocodiles; they just spoke verbally about ahimsa and the Buddhist religion but their stomachs were filled with crocodiles!
One evening when I was wandering in the wide streets of Moulmein, I saw a man walking towards me. When he came close I understood that he was a Bengali. I was quite surprised to see a Bengali man there. From where did this Bengali arrive across the ocean? It seemed that there were no places where the Bengalis did not go. I asked him, “From where have you come?”
“I was in trouble and so came here,” he replied.
Instantly I understood his trouble. I asked him further, “How many years of trouble?”
“Seven years,” he replied again.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing much. I just duplicated some papers of a company. Now my term is over, but I cannot go home because I do not have the money.”
I offered to give him the passage money. But how will he go home? He had set up a business had got married, and was living quite comfortably. Would he ever go back to our country to show his shameful black face there?
Mudeliar told me that there was a mountain cave here which people went to visit. If I wished he would accompany me there. I agreed. On the first moon night he brought a long boat during the high tide. There was a wooden cabin in the centre of that boat. That night, Mudeliar, I, the captain of the ship and seven or eight other people boarded the boat and it left at two o’clock at night. We sat up for the whole night in that boat. The foreigners kept on singing English songs and also requested me to sing Bengali songs. So I kept on singing Brahma-sangeet occasionally. No one understood anything. They did not like them and went on laughing. We travelled for about twenty-seven miles that night and reached our destination at four o’clock in the morning.
Our boat reached the shore. Everything was still dark. On the shore I saw a cottage full of trees and creepers from which light was coming out. I got curious and ventured alone to that unknown place in the darkness. On reaching there I found it was a tiny cottage. Inside several bald headed priests in yellow ochre robes were placing candles in different parts of the room. I was quite surprised to see people resembling the priests of Kashi here. How did they come here? Later I came to know that they were the leaders of the Buddhist monks and known as Phungis. I hid myself and watched their play with the lamps but suddenly one of them saw me and took me inside the room. They gave me a mat to sit and water to wash my feet. I had come to their house so this was their way of entertaining guests. According to the Buddhists, serving guests was a very holy activity.
I returned to the boat in early dawn. The sun rose. Mudeliar and the other invited guests came and joined us. This made us fifty in number. Mudeliar fed all of us there. He had arranged for several elephants; about two or four people got on each elephant and proceeded towards the dense jungle. There were small hills all around and in between the dense jungle. There was no other way of travelling here except on elephant back. We reached the entrance of the cave in the mountain around three o’clock in the afternoon. We descended from the back of the elephants and started to walk in the waist-deep jungle. The entrance to the cave was small; we had to crawl in. After crawling in a little we could stand up straight. It was very slippery inside and we kept on slipping and falling down. So we started walking very cautiously. It was pitch dark inside. Though it was three in the afternoon it seemed like three at night. I was scared that if we lost our way in the tunnel we could not come out. We would then have to wander inside the cave for the whole day. So wherever I went, I kept an eye on the faint light at the entrance of the cave. All the fifty of us spread ourselves in various parts of the cave and everyone had sulfur powder in their hands. Then each person put a little sulfur powder in the little holes in the cave next to where he was standing. After everyone’s place was defined, the captain lit his share of the sulfur powder. Instantly each one of us lit matches and ignited our portion. Now the cave was lit simultaneously at fifty different places like fireworks and we could see the inside clearly. What a huge cave it was! On looking up to the ceiling our vision could not gauge its height. We saw the different natural formations that had been caused by rainwater seepage inside and was really surprised.
Later we came out and had a picnic in the forest and then came back to Moulmein. On our way back we heard different musical instruments being played together. Locating that sound we went forward and saw a few Burmese people dancing with all kinds of bodily gestures. Our captain and the foreigners also joined them and started to dance in a similar manner. They found great pleasure. A Burmese lady was standing at the entrance of her house. She watched the mimicry of the foreigners and went and whispered something in the men’s ears. They stopped their singing and dancing immediately and all of them suddenly left the scene and disappeared somewhere. The captain went on entreating them to resume their dance but they did not listen. It was amazing to see how much hold the Burmese women had over their men.
We came back to Moulmein. I went to meet a high level Burmese official at his house. He received me very politely. There was a huge room and in its four corners sat four young women stitching something. When I sat down he said “Ada.” One of the girls instantly came and handed me a round box full of betel leaves. On opening it I found it to contain different condiments. This was the local Buddhist custom of receiving guests. He then gifted me some excellent saplings resembling the Ashok flower. I had brought them home and planted them in my garden but they did not survive in spite of great care. The fruit of this tree is very popular with the Burmese. If someone had sixteen rupees then he would spend the entire amount to buy that fruit. We disliked their favourite fruit because of its smell.
[Jnanadanandini Debi (1850 – 1941) was the wife of Satyendranath Tagore, the second son of Debendranath Tagore. She was very talented among the women in the Tagore household, and apart from writing and editing a children’s magazine, she was the pioneer to introduce new dress codes for women so that they could travel from the antahpur, the inner courts of the house, to the outside world. In the summer of 1877 a pregnant Jnanadanandini boarded the ship for England along with her three children, a Gujarati and a Muslim servant. Her husband, keen to train up his wife and children in English manners, could not accompany them so sent them to Liverpool along with a known English couple. Though her husband joined her later, she was extremely brave and stayed in England for about two and a half years. Before her no Bengali lady had ventured to cross the kalapani without any male company.
Though she did not write a full fledged travelogue herself, Indira Devi Chaudhurani in her book Puratani wrote about her mother’s travel to England as “Bilater Katha.” In the preface she stated: “Whatever has been published about my mother in this book is really her autobiography; i.e. I have just written whatever she had personally narrated to me. It is not me reminiscing about her.” The following translation from Puratani is selected from the section “Bilater Katha” (About Vilayet) and partly from a section preceding it which I call ‘Prelude’.]Prelude
I cannot recollect now which city after which city we were transferred to after Bombay. But I know that we were in Poona the year before my eldest son Surendranath was born, because my sister in law Swarnakumari Debi’s first son and second child Jyotsnanath Ghoshal was born in Poona and he was one year older than Suren. …My eldest son Suren was born in Poona in July 1872. When he grew up, he himself would joke that he was two things which the Englishmen could not tolerate – Bengali Babu and Poona Brahmin!
There was a mountain called Singhagarh near Pune that was associated with the history of the Peshwas. I remember taking the young Suren there for an outing. It was a wonderful sight to watch him play around wearing a zari cap on his head.
My daughter Indira was born in Kaladgi town of Bijapur in December 1873. I was very sick then and remember that an English lady had taken great care of her. My daughter had to be nursed by a Muslim ayah called Amina. I did not like to go out leaving the small children in the care of servants and ayahs and for this sometimes my husband would be unhappy. Even now I do not like when young women do that. I scold them. In the west the Hindusthani servants called young girls by the name ‘Bibi’. So from then everyone in my family calls her by the name ‘Bibi.’ My son was very fair and compared to him the girl was dark. Initially my husband would chide her for her dark skin though later he loved her very much. Everyone adored and loved me initially when I came home with the two children. Daughter-in-laws were not loved till they gave birth to sons. Barren wives were not loved also. My mother in law would wash herself in the evening, sit down on a wooden bed and order the servants to bring one particular person’s son or daughter. The maid would hold the child in her arms and she would look at him or her from a distance without taking them in her lap. She would call only the beautiful ones, not the others. So I would think that if Ma called my children then I would know that they are beautiful.
We had gone to Hyderabad and Shikarpur in Sindh. Those places were hot and dry. There was a saying by the Englishmen that if God had created sugar then why did He also need to create hell? In the evening after my husband’s work was over, we would go for boat rides on the River Sindh. A Sikh boy who accompanied us would sing in the evening – “Gagan mein thal ravichand deepak baney/ Taraka mandal chamke motire.” It was wonderful. Suren had a servant whom everyone would pester by asking him ‘kya wastey’—‘for what’? In the end he would reply, ‘pet ka wastey’ – ‘for my stomach’. The people there were good archers. One would try and hit an arrow in someone else’s hand with his arrow. So Suren had also learnt to be a good archer.
There was scarcity of water in that country. So they dug deep wells. They tied small pitchers on a rope like a garland and fixed that over a wheel. When the wheel turned the pitchers full of water came at the opening of the well and the water fell into a narrow drain that lead to the agricultural fields. There was a fish called ‘palla’ which was very famous – like our hilsa. The fishermen would float on empty vessels and drag their nets along. The fish caught would be kept inside those vessels. I had an ayah who would say, “Palla macchi khaha/ Sindh muluk chodke nehi jana.” -- Have palla fish and you will never leave Sindh and go elsewhere. The rich people there were called ‘mir’. Their wives lived in purdah and never came out in public. My husband knew so many men but we never saw their wives. When Miss Carpenter came someone took him inside the house in the middle of the night so that no one got to know about it.
One of my sons was probably born in Sindh. I had named him Kabindra, pet name Chobie. As far as I remember I went to England approximately in 1877 in a pregnant condition along with these three children. During that time an English couple was going to England and my husband sent me along with them, probably to learn their language and manners. This was because my husband was a great admirer of English civilization. But I suffered a lot due to seasickness and spent most of the time lying down. At that time we had a servant from Surat called Rama. Besides that a Muslim servant went along with us to England and then came back home. He took great care of us in the ship.
My husband wrote to our relative Srijukto Gyanendramohan Tagore about our travel to England. They sent people to the ship to receive us. He had converted to Christianity to marry the daughter of Krishna Bandyopadhyay who was a Christian, and hence his father Prasanna Kumar Tagore had disowned him. Since then he lived with his family in England. He had two daughters, Balendrabala and Satyendrabala, a.k.a Bala and Satu. Gyanendramohan was very fair. As a doted son his father got him married at an early age to a very pretty girl from Jessore. He had become too much devoted to that wife; he would fan her to sleep and stay close to her night and day. He was very perturbed when this wife died and a priest named Krishna Bandyopadhyay would go on comforting him and eventually converted him to Christianity. It is said that he had once gone to meet his father before he died but he could not enter the house because all the doors were shut upon his face.
Because Prasanna Kumar Tagore was very short in height, the following three or four generations of his extended family were also pretty short. Both Bala and Satu were very short and except for their hair and large eyes, they were not that good looking. They would wear English dresses prevalent of the times. Among the different Englishmen invited to their house – probably for marriage negotiations – one of them had secretly confided to me, “How could I marry them, they have no flesh and are as thin as sticks.” Both Bala and Satu remained unmarried till the end. Long after the death of others, Satu had come to Kolkata to consult Maharaja Jatindramohan about property-related issues. Though Gyanendramohan had been deprived of his father’s property, he did have some wealth from which he sustained himself. In the end one of his friends told the lawyer Ramsden that if he took the name of Tagore then he could inherit his property.
Upon reaching England we first stayed in his house and he was very happy to see my sons and stated that they had become quite suitable for the Tagore houshold. He even gave them toys. Later he arranged for our stay elsewhere. I had become friends with two English ladies called Miss Sharp and Miss Donkins. Miss Sharp was pretty old but would always be dressed up like a young maiden. She had a maid who helped her curl her grey hair. I had assumed that she was about my age but later got to know that she was around 40/50. I remember I went with her to Brighton. There we would stroll by the seaside. At that point of time I could speak a little English. I was so astonished to see snowfall in England for the first time that I ran outside in a thin silk sari and started picking up the snow as it fell. Everyone asked me not to go out at that time. As a result I fell very sick. There was a swelling in the upper arm and a scab inside. Lord Lister, the same man who later invented the antiseptic, had treated me at that time. A long time later, after I returned to India the scab got healed after I applied a particular medicinal oil prescribed by Gurucharan Kabiraj. In England, I had to keep my arm in a sling for a long time and in the end could not even raise it beyond a certain height.
The premature son that was born in England did not have his head fully formed and so he died soon. I had asked him to be put in a grave next to Dwarakanath Tagore. Last year my daughter in law Hemlata and others visited that place. In addition to that my young son called Chobie also died in England. I think our servant Rama who took him out for stroll everyday made him walk too fast. I still feel sad for him. I remember how he loved to mention the flower called ‘Lily of the Valley’.
Miss Donkins, the English lady, helped me a lot during the sickness of my children. She was a domestic woman and always going around helping others. When the condition of the children became very serious, she even rushed out in her nightdress to call the doctor.
We lived in England in different rented houses for almost two and a half years. My husband once came to England and brought Robi along with him. Bala would play the piano, Robi would sing, and this would make him happy. Both of them went along really well. I would comb Rabi’s hair neatly. After that he earned a lot of praise when he learnt to sing. The children would hear, ‘Papa is coming, Papa is coming.’ But seeing all the white fathers of the other children and finding him to be dark, Bibi went and hid behind the door and said, “That’s not my Papa.” It took a lot of time for them to get friendly with their Papa. Some days later we went to France together. The blue water of the Mediterranean was very beautiful. The sea is called ‘Mer’ in French and mother, which is called ‘Me’re’ is also pronounced in the same way. They would compare both of them. We stayed in a hotel in Nice. There I would send the children to the hotel waiters to ask for milk or water so that they could learn a little French.
We had brought a small white dog from there and named him Nicois. I remember when we came to India some small children feared his barking and would jump up on the bed. But in reality he wasn’t naughty and didn’t bite anyone. I also remember while travelling in a train we put him in a basket and hid it under the bench, but as soon as the train stopped at a station and the guard approached us he would bark and announce his existence. In the hotel some white women would look at my daughter’s hair and compare it with black silk. So Bibi would come and ask me whether it was true or not. I had also given her a small doll; she had a box of clothes for changing its dresses. Bibi would keep the doll on the dining table and the hotel bearers would remove it from there in order to tease her.
I loved the French national song ‘Marseillaise.’ I still faintly remember it. When I left one house and moved into another one, the first landlady got very annoyed and said, “Will you get such good food there?” I could speak a little French. One person asked me whether I could speak French so I told him, “Je ne parle pas francais.” He then said, “But just now you spoke.” I remember another thing. Whenever you wanted to know the location of a street, you had to say, “Par ou’ faut-il prendre pour aller” – that place. There was a book by Ollendorf from which one could learn simple French for conversation. I don’t know how I spent my time in a foreign land with young children and with such little knowledge. I also keep on thinking how he had sent me alone in such a state. Of course the people there took pity and behaved well with me.
In England I had been to Tunbridge Wells, Brighton and Torquay. The children would play on the beach with buckets and sand. Among the Indians there was the quite pretty lady Mabel Dutt (who later became the wife of my husband’s friend Taraknath Palit). Her father Kshetra Dutt had married an English woman. They would visit us once in a while. One day she ahd left some wine in her glass and Bibi drank that up. I scolded her a lot because she had some problems with her tongue. Mabel was a little older than my children and would tell them bedtime stories. They still remember that they had heard the story of Beelzebub. Then there was Annie Chakrabarty. Her father Goodib (Suryakumar) Chakrabarty had gone to Englandf along with Dwarakanath Tagore and had returned as a doctor after marrying a Malaysian woman. I have mentioned earlier that his eldest daughter had become a nun with the name of Sister Benedicta. This Annie was the other daughter and she had matrilineal features in her body. She came to India, married a barrister called Parry Ray, and lived a long happily married life along with many children. She was an expert in socializing. We were friends with her for a long time. I hear that she is still alive after her husband’s death but living a crippled life, so I have no contacts with her.
My body is also old and weak. I cannot hear or see properly. I forget everything and that is very painful for me. So narrating chronological events of my earlier life has become almost impossible. But even then my daughter doesn’t let me go, so I try to answer her questions as much as I can. Thus one gets to know only certain things in disconnected ways.
[The earliest journeys of Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) were in his mind and he has left us accounts of these as well as of the later physical journeys in various travel writings – letters, diaries, poems, songs, and essays. All of these are written in Bengali. Right from his childhood he made innumerable trips both within India and abroad.
In 1885, under Jnanadanandini’s editorial venture, a children’s magazine called Balak was published from the Tagore household in Calcutta. Though the life-span of this magazine was less than a year and only eleven issues were totally published, it contained different writings of the young Rabindranath, who would handle a lot of things for the publication. This magazine was later merged with Bharati and edited by his elder sister Swarnakumari Devi. Among the different entries that Rabindranath contributed for Balak are two interesting travel pieces. One travelogue published in Vol. 3, Ashar 1292 B.S. (July-August 1885) called “Dus Diner Chhuti” (Ten Days’ Holiday) narrates his trip to Hazaribagh that year during the school holidays. The second one called “Borof Pora” (Snowfall) describes his first experience of snowfall in England in the winter of 1878 when he was living in Brighton along with his brother Satyendranath’s family.]
Dus Diner Chhuti (Ten Days’ Holiday)
Two children have made me homeless in this summer heat! Their school has been closed for ten days but that’s not just the reason. There would not be so much chaos in the house even if twelve suns appeared on the horizon. The older brother blunted the tips of all the pens he found within his reach, drew pictures on whatever paper he found; tried out the sharpness of a knife on his existing thigh; took out the machine from the watch he found and tried to rectify it; undid the bindings of all the books within his reach; climbed up on my shoulders if he found the opportunity – and so on! He moved on parapet walls in places where there were stairs for climbing; though everyone in the whole world believed in getting out of a car only when it stopped, he thought it was his only duty to jump out of a running car. Everyone accepted the fact that the sun was too hot during the summer but the human child that I am talking about probably did not differentiate much between sunshine and moonlight. So during the school vacation, the difference in belief and behaviour between him and the other ordinary people created a sort of revolution in the neighbourhood. Recently the elder brother has got such a leave for ten days and this news spread everywhere. People were not so overwhelmed even when they received the news of the English-Russian war. In the meantime his younger sister came to me off and on and demanded – “Uncle--.” It would be nice if he called me ‘Uncle’ but I would receive new names at least three times in a day – names which were not heard in any civilized country. These naughty children also scattered and turned my own possessions upside down. My own name also did not have a proper address. I could not make them understand that my own name was my personal possession. Anyhow, the small girl (not that she was too small) came and pleaded, “Uncle, come with us to Hazaribagh.” After a lot of thought I did not say anything else and ventured out on this summer day.
One cannot see much in a vacation of eight or ten days but at least we can peek at nature outside. At least one can stand beneath the open expanse of the blue sky and the vast open green fields for a few seconds and feel free. We live in the city and occasionally it becomes essential to prove that the world is not built entirely with bricks, wood and mortar. So, four of us began our journey. I have already acquainted you with the boy and the girl. I need to introduce the other person. He was a fat, round and simple man. He was older than all of us but even younger than these children. His fair and stout figure was full of humour and he seemed like a ripe and juicy fruit. Just like the bubbles in a huge pot of rice being cooked, his humour came out from his nose and eyes. There are some people who resembled the ‘sandesh’ – the sweetmeat without a covering, without anything hard inside, without thorns – just a smooth, juicy blend of cottage cheese and sugar. Our innocent and harmless companion was that kind of a very edible man.
We boarded the train at Howrah at night. The swaying of the train confused one’s sleep – the sleeping conscience and the dream and waking up all got mixed up. There were occasional series of lights, sound of gongs, shouting, and calling the name of a station in a strange intonation. Again after three strikes of a gong all the sounds would subside within a few seconds and everything would become dark and quiet except for the continuous sound of the train wheels moving in the dark. Keeping in tune with that sound all the strange dreams would keep on dancing in my head all night. We had to change trains at Madhupur Station at four o’clock in the morning. As the darkness faded away, I sat at the train window and looked outside at the early morning light. This was a new country! It seemed that due to some disturbance our flat land had cracked and was torn apart. It was rough, broken and full of big and small sal trees and there were high and low undulations everywhere. There were plenty of sal trees but they did not endear each other as they did in Bengal. Each tree stood independently on its own soil. In Bengal all the trees, plants and creepers entwined each other in a familial bonding, but I did not notice that in this hard soil here. Maybe the people here were also like that. We did not notice much habitation. Only occasionally one or two huts stood friendless here and there. In the wet and salubrious climate of Bengal, trees and plants, men and men, houses and houses all stick to each other, but here in this rough and dry place everything seemed to be standing independently on their own.
The train moved on continuously. In the cracked fields one could sometimes see the sand of dry river beds and in those river beds huge black rocks and stones lay like skeletons of the earth. Sometimes a few hills stood up like severed heads. The hills in the distance were dark blue in colour. The blue clouds in the sky that came to play with the earth seemed to get caught up here. They had raised their wings to fly back to the sky but could not do so because they were tied up. The maidens from the sky came and embraced them. I saw one dark man with a broad face, with his wild hair tied up in a knot, standing there with a stick in his hand. The plough was attached to the back of two buffaloes; they had not begun tilling yet, and they stood still looking at the train. Occasionally there were some clear plots of land encircled with fencing made of ghritakumari plants and with a brick well constructed in the centre. The whole region looked very dry. The thin, tall and white dry grass looked like grey hair. The short leafless berry plants were shriveled, dry, and dark. In the distance a few palm trees stood with their small heads and one long leg. Occasionally a peepul or a mango tree was also visible. A lone old roofless cottage with its broken frame stood in the middle of the dry land and looked at its own shadow. Nearby there was a stump of a huge burnt tree.
We reached Giridih station at six o’clock in the morning. There were no more train lines after that and so we had to take carriage drawn by human beings from here. Could we call this a car? It was a small cage over four wheels. As we began our journey in the morning, the four of us started chirping inside it like four fledglings. The young brother and sister began to talk about many things and also pester me with joy. Our stout companion mingled with the children and turned into such a child that by just looking at them my own age was reduced by fourteen years and eight months. At first we went to the Giridih Dak Bungalow and refreshed ourselves. There was no sign of grass anywhere as far as we could see. There were a few trees in between and waves of red earth everywhere. A lean pony was tied under the tree; after looking all around it didn’t know what to eat. Having nothing to do it stood scratching its back on the wooden post. A goat was tied to another tree with a long rope and after a lot of research it stood breaking a sort of green plant with ease.
We resumed our journey from here. There were coal mines in Giridih but we could not see it due to lack of time. The road was hilly. We could see a great distance both in front and behind us. The long and winding road lay on the dry and empty terrain like a serpent basking in the sun. The car was pushed on the uphill road with a lot of effort and then it would slide smoothly downhill. As we went along we saw hills on the way. There were tall and thin sal trees, termite heaps, stumps of trees that had been cut down. At certain places some hills were covered with only tall, thin and leafless trees. The starving trees seemed to spread their lean dry fingers towards the sky and the mountains seemed as if they had been pierced by hundreds of arrows like the bed of arrows on which Bhisma rested on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The sky was overcast and it began to drizzle. The coolies were letting out loud shouts while pulling the carriage and when their steps occasionally hit pebbles on the road, the carriage would suddenly shake up. Somewhere on the way the road ended and we saw a huge bed of sand with a narrow river in the distance. On asking the coolies we were told that it was the BarakarRiver. The carriage was pulled across the river and taken to the road on the other side. There were shallow ponds on both sides of the road and four or five buffalos leaning their heads on one another, dipped half their bodies in the water to relaxed themselves and gave us very casual glances.
When evening descended we got down from the carriage and went walking for the rest of the way. We saw two hills in the distance and the road went up and down through them. Whichever way we looked, there were no people, no human habitation, no grains, no tilled land. On all sides the undulated earth stood silent and barren like a hard ocean. The golden hue of dusk in the horizon cast dark shadows on us. Though there were no human beings or animals around us, there was a feeling that this huge earth was preparing for a huge person to come and sleep on its bosom. Like a sentinel someone was guarding the place with fingers on his lips and so everyone felt scared to breathe. The shadow of a traveller with luggage on his horseback came along from a distance and gradually crossed our path.
The night somehow passed between sleep and waking and tossing and turning sides. Upon waking up we saw a thick forest on the left hand side. There were creepers on the trees and the ground was covered with different kinds of shrubs. Above the forest we could see the blue peaks of distant hills. There were huge rocks and among their crevices were a few trees, their hungry roots growing long and spreading out on all sides. It seemed as if they wanted to break the rock in search of food and grasp it with their strong grip. Where did the forest on the left disappear all on a sudden? There were fields stretching at a distance. Cows were grazing there and they looked as small as goats. The farmers were tilling their land with the plough on the buffalo or cow’s shoulders and by twisting their tails. On the left hand side the tilled land rose like steps on the hills. We had come close to Hazaribagh. On the way one or two hills stood as relics of some great natural revolution.
We reached the dak bungalow at Hazaribagh at three o’clock in the afternoon. The town of Hazaribagh looked very clean amidst the wide landscape. There was no city-centric ambience here – no narrow lanes, dirt, drains, jostling, commotion, traffic, dust, mud, flies or mosquitoes. Amid the fields, trees and hills the town was absolutely clean. The giant houses in Kolkata are proud as stone – they stand treading the earth below, but here it was different. Here the clean and small thatched roof houses stand quietly in friendship with nature; they do not have glamour, they don’t exert might. The town seemed to be like a nest in the trees. There was deep silence and peace everywhere. We hear that even the Bengalis who live here do not quarrel among themselves. If this was true then there would be no enmity between the crow and the eagle or between the cat and the dog.
One day was gone. It was afternoon now. I sat alone quietly in a couch on the verandah of the dak bungalow. The sky was blue. Two pieces of thin clouds were sailing by. A mild breeze was blowing and brought in an earthy, grassy smell. There was a squirrel on the roof of the verandah. Two shalik birds were hopping about on the verandah and shaking their tails. I could hear the sound of the cow bells as they were driven by on the adjacent road. People were moving in different ways – some carried luggage on their shoulders and walked with open umbrellas on their heads, some were chasing a couple of cows, some moved slowly riding on the back of a pony. There was no commotion, no hurry, and no sign of worry on their faces. It seemed that human life here did not pant rapidly like a fast railway engine or moved with the screeching noises emanating from the wheels of a heavily laden bullock cart. Life here moves in the manner of a gentle breeze blowing beneath the shade of trees. The court house was in front of us. But even the court was not that rigid here. While the two lawyers in their black coats fought with each other inside, two papaya birds sat outside on the peepul tree and conversed among themselves constantly. The people who came here seeking justice sat in a group in the shade of the mango tree and laughed loudly among themselves. I could hear them from here. Sometimes the midday gong started ringing in the courthouse. Its sound seemed very serious in this leisurely ambience and slow rhythm of life. The occasional sound of the gong was a reminder that time had not flowed by in the casual slow place of lifestyle here. Standing in between it seemed to pronounce in its iron tone, “I am awake, even if others are not.” But the writer’s condition was not exactly the same. I felt sleepy. It was not a deep sleep. I could realize that the quiet nature and beauty all around had encircled me with great care but my senses were failing me in the details.
I spoke whatever I had to say about Hazaribagh (some might be thinking that I could have spoken much less) except that I did not mention that we became newly acquainted with the children of one of my friends. Upen Babu read the Akshanmanjari so we had to treat him with respect. I had mistakenly confused the alphabet sequence and he had instantly corrected it. That is why I was grateful to him. But in spite of many entreaties his sweet-looking naughty sister did not speak to us. I threatened to write an article and take revenge on her, so according to that promise I am spreading the word today letting the whole world know about her shy and coy words, and how she would run away whenever guests came to her house. I also cannot keep it a secret how we had received sweet sandesh and even sweeter welcome from our friend.
In order to save time on our return journey we came down in a two-wheeled small carriage. If nothing else happened, at least it reduced our longevity as the whole body got shaken up with the bones and the joints fighting against each other. As the body went on jerking and dancing like mad, the five elements with which it was composed gave us a tough time. I could hold it together somehow but nothing much beyond that. With so much of revolution in the whole body, I could not hold books in my hands, the cap on my head, the spectacles on my nose, food in my stomach. To add to all that was the scorching heat of the sun. I had left home with the full sixteen annas of my body intact but when I returned, I could not even account for twelve annas of it. The ten days’ holiday is over. Ah!!
[Abanindranath Tagore (1871 -1951) was the youngest son of Gunendranath Tagore and the favourite nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. He was popularly known as Aban Thakur. He was the principal artist of the BengalSchool and the first major exponent of Swadeshi values in Indian art. He was also a noted writer, particularly for children. Apart from painting, he ‘wrote’ pictures and hence each and every writing of his had a unique blend of prose and rhymed poetry. Once he was travelling to Kurseong in North Bengal and by habit put into rhythm whatever he saw from the window of the train. The little vignettes of ‘Haoa Badal” added up into this unique canvas and thus turned into a unique travel narrative.]
Haoa Badal (A Change of Climate)
Because I cannot wake up in the morning I had bought an alarm clock myself and kept it near my headboard. The clock regularly shouts and wakes me up at sunrise, just as a leader tries to wake up the entire nation from slumber. Rising up in that manner I find that I don’t like the morning, I don’t like to work, I get a headache. After waking up, sleep seems to engulf both my body and mind even more. So rising up in this manner became fruitless; finding that my body and mind became unwell, I left my alarm clock to guard my room and went and rented a house in the mountains. There the call of an unknown bird woke me up at dawn, my heart was filled with happiness, the body gained agility and I got back the easiness and freedom that I had long lost.
The large English alphabets E.B.S.R were written in black and white on the yellow ochre and chocolate coloured walls; thin spikes of wooden fencing and in between that a narrow path made of gravel and stony coal bound tight by two narrow steel wires. The engine that stood in between them suddenly let out a whistle and called the distant sky, the meadows and the tin roofs. The long line of coaches suddenly got surprised and went on towards the district to see what was the matter.
E B S R
The big patches of hard, corrugated tin and mountainous sloping roofs; the dew and rain that fall from the rough sky like dry onion peels have created a colour of red chilli paste. Under that roof a series of covered rooms are taking people to foreign lands – the son of a groom, the son of a businessman, the administrator’s son – so many sons of parents along with bundles, men and women, luggage. The bullock carts stand in rows along the roadside, lift up their neck and look at it in wonder; the rich woman’s son only sits dumb and watches his mother’s golden chain, and the poor woman’s son stretches out his lean hand through the window and tells him –‘paise, paise, paan, biri, cigarette.’
Soap factory, soorky mill, oil mill, straight chimneys standing between them; a few coconut trees, some leaning to the right, some to the left, none of them have more than two and a half leaves, and that too half dried! Who knows whose farmhouse this is that hasn’t been repaired for years? An old domestic house repaired with patched up modern tiled roofs, a very long lake, some of it filled up with garbage, some of it covered with green hyacinth, and in between that, the evening light -- opaque and red like the colour of onion peels -- has fallen on the still water.
The rustling sound of iron and below that the still water of the Padma as dark and quiet as the night. Endless stretch with no edges or banks – cannot find the beginning or the end – only I can see in the distance a lone boat midstream – it is sleepy, has dropped anchor, and is still.
The fields on both sides have told us that the night is over – the train is panting and running to see what the station clock says.
Series of green woven carpets and on top of that a huge tortoise shell made of tin. At night it gets drenched in the dew and makes T.E. sounds – receiving the green signal the small engine starts to jump the Himalayas with small boxes packed with people. The full tea kettle on the platform table raises its neck to see what the steam engine was trying to do.
The engine gives a whistle and tells a sloped roof at a distance that it wants to see how big these mountains are. The unconquered mountain peaks hide behind the clouds and say – O, my God, I am not there.
Dark deep forest feels like nighttime during the day. The sun rays fall on the floor of the forest, the moon rays on the top of the trees. The trees have grown like beautiful vines as told in fables, the flowers of night bloom in the morning.
The woodcutter with his bullock cart loaded with wood has halted next to the forest at the base of the mountain. The small prince, wearing a woolen coat and ollster, and travelling in the running train is going for a hunting adventure on his fairy steed with his eyes looking through the gaps in between.
The blue of the sky has trickled down the mountain slope, the blue of the mountain has spread itself on the edge of the forest, the blue of the forest is moving across the sandy bed dreaming of the endless water of the ocean.
The morning fog is cold and slow moving – does not want to leave the field. The stream of the river on the sandy bed is slow moving – does not want to leave the foothills. The train goes on running – does not want to stop.
The mind says it is afternoon, the forest says it is midnight. Amid the gaps in the forest the sky says it is autumn; the crickets on the leaves of trees say that the monsoon is not over, the rain has not stopped and the clouds are stuck everywhere.
A broken house locked near the forest at the foothill. A stray dog is scratching its ears on its verandah.
The train came and suddenly stopped here, thinking of something.
The little prince in the coat and ollster threw an orange from inside and said – ‘doggie uncle.’ Instantly the engine let out a whistle and the train gradually danced on its way and moved towards the forest.
The locked house ran away; even the trees ran to the forest. The dog sat exactly where it was and without moving at all went on scratching its ears.
The forest was known, rows of trees were guarding it. After this the forest of fables began. On their way the trees turn themselves around and ran down to the fields of the terai. On their way back the trees ran up the steep path. There the moonlight fell on the tree tops and the afternoon sunlight fell on their roots. The night flowers bloom here in the morning. From there a wood picker queen stood and saw the train with its small carriages going through the forest and how it whistles and stops at a bend in the mountain. The prince peeped through the carriage window and saw how the wood picker walked and gradually disappeared in the shadow of the forest.
A narrow ladder made of flat iron and below it a narrow strip of pathway fixed with nails. A large stone held it in place with its back so that it doesn’t slip and fall in the deep gorge below. Along with the mountain the train ran safely on its track; the pines whispered and the hilly bamboos sighed and stretched out their arms continuously controlling the train at every bend.
Except the station office there is nothing nearby. Seeing a man suddenly with a flag in his hand, the coaches slide down backwards a little and enter the forest and halt there. The cold winter mist climbs up slowly from below the mountain to see what has happened.
The forest is totally empty. The sunshine is sparkling on the golden and silver trees. The heaped stones on the rail track have mixed themselves with sand and mortar and seem to be basking in the sun.
A steel piece in the shape of a spade is bathing in the sunshine; it is lying on its side at the edge of the mountain where one engine is pulling the coaches by the tuft on their heads; another one is pushing them on their back and saying, “You’ll fall down, come on let’s go.”
Two narrow wire ropes inside the forest are lying down forever. The engines and the coaches play both day and night by going up and down over them.
A few wooden rooms like cages, but no one knows how long they have been sitting there. The shades of the trees wait to see what falls in the trap; the breeze on a cloudy day blows here and there –
Nothing is visible and moving through that darkness the train suddenly comes inside a room where the word ‘Mahanadi’ is written in bold letters on the wall. No sound of falling water. Only a water trough built at the juncture of the mountain.
The little engine leaves the compartments behind and runs to drink water.
Unknown waves arise in front—two parallel straight iron lines were carrying compartments full of passengers, but in spite of running so much it was never reaching the end of the path.
The blue sandalwood of the mountains was pouring down the sand at the bottom, weaving dreams on the blue sky. Added to it was the river full of last year’s monsoon water dreaming of its urge to blend with the blue water of the ocean.
The still blue water was as silent as the night. It does not find the shore, does not find the beginning or end. Only the middle of the ocean, only a sleepy and lone boatman sailing his boat –
There was no river filled with monsoon water, the sand at the foot of the hills encased it in its heart and the autumn sun sparkled on the water which had limitless deep blue thoughts submerged beneath it.
The swaying of the flowers from the ancient times, their quivering in the northern mountains – as blue as the aparajita, the dew drenched blue malati, the deep blue shadow of the lotus!
The swans rise in groups and fly near the brightly lit autumn clouds and then sit on the dam quietly like anther group of sleeping birds.
The clouds from the mountains rise in the north and the fog from all sides; within it there are four minarets built of stone as simple as alif, the first letter of the alphabet. A tune from one of these minarets -- a human voice calling “La Illah Illallah” -- echoes back from the northern mountain peak one after another during the morning, evening and night.
Waves of stationary snow peaks in the north and in the south at the foothills – as far as one can see -- there are only seas of clouds and mist, and in between them one black stone and entwining it a forest creeper.
The stone gazes at the golden radiance of the peak of Kanchandzonga morning and evening, and dreams. The forest creeper looks at the foothills and dreams of the green forest and paddy fields beneath the sea of clouds. These two dreams blend into one and emerge in the form of a golden leaf beside a secret waterfall.
The cold air from the north whispers something in the ears of the Kanchandzonga peak; the clouds from below come and inform it of the green forest, the heart of the golden leaf hanging from the green stem peeps above the stone; the waterfall endlessly reminds us of the call of the deep black water.
Hour after hour the light of dawn sits quietly in front of the mountain like a bird shivering in the cold; one snow peak rested against the sky and sat meditating quietly about the lost sun – one stone of the waterfall was hanging towards a small river in the terai jungle, and another leafless tree in winter was watching it quietly – a whole group of tea garden coolies had come and assembled like coloured butterflies.
A little tune – human beings do not keep track of that excellent raga. In the deep forest the waterfall on the mountain slope falls night and day and wets the stones; an unknown bird sits on that stone and sings in this new dawn. The sky listens to that and wakes up from its sleep, the light gradually radiates – the song of the strange bird stops, only its small tune travels through the clouds and echoes on each rock in the mountains far away. The hue of colour intoxicates the day; the night extinguishes its lamp in the new morning and goes back into the past. This results in dewdrops lying on the flowers on either sides of the forest path. Who knows how long it was when the first dawn appeared on the side of this waterfall! Since that day one after another a bird appears there and sings the same morning tune. Night arrives one after another and after shedding tears, leaves the mountain in the new morning.
The forest on top can be seen vaguely through the mist – a waterfall descends from this shady place towards the forest below. The men on top are washing their dirty clothes in the water, the person below is a butcher sitting next to a rock and sharpening his knife. A monkey sits on the branches of the green guava tree between both of them and looks at the narrow curved line of light below where the waterfall turns into a big river. He is quietly thinking of something.
As far as one can see below the mountain there are oceans of clouds; the waves of snow clapped mountains in the north and amid that a black stone; and clasped around its neck is a forest fern. The snow looks at the golden peak day and night and has dreamt a golden dream; the fern looks through the huge sea of clouds towards the green fields hidden below it and dreams about it. Both these dreams merge together into a golden leaf and come out near the waterfall in the secret deep wood. The cold wind from the north whispers the story of the snow-capped mountains in their ears, the clouds from below come and informs them about the green forest and moves towards the golden leaf on the green stem and looks here and there in the morning light. The waterfall goes on sounding its call day and night through its dark deep water.
Last night there was no moon. The men in the mountains got together and celebrated the festival of lights; the fireworks and sound of drum beats had repeatedly broken the midnight silence of the mountains; had destroyed its peace. No one saw when one by one the sparks from the fireworks got extinguished and the Diwali night ended; the morning light came down from the Himalayan peaks and stood near the doors of the people who were tired after the festival. The faint footsteps of dawn lay on the dust road, the clouds from the sky came down in everyone’s absence and settled on this human pathway. Leaving a pink hue it took its white pallu far away – there at the end of the Diwali night waves of light were coming in the morning.
The precious stone was hiding below in the mine. The stone on the road reflected the sunrays and created the illusion of a precious stone and said, ‘Why don’t you pick me up?’ So I went on picking gravel from the road. The other tourists went on breaking leaves and flowers and they think I am crazy. Can’t they hear the cry coming out of the stones in the dry waterfall? A hill resident has picked up a piece of coal that had fallen down on the road from someone’s basket and he is walking with that piece firmly held in his hand. And here I am carrying a piece of stone that has been mourning the death of the waterfall. The mountain has identified both of us pretty well.
The mountain shopkeeper has built a neat hut with a few pieces of rusted tin and planks of broken boxes. The house was at the crossing of the road with a small garden at the edge of a dry waterfall – with a few marigold plants in it – where a hen was moving around with a few chicks – and along with them moved a white pigeon who has forgotten to fly. The snow peaks of the mountains were visible above the tin roof. A cold wind blew occasionally from that direction – the migratory birds spread their wings in this northerly wind and flew away across the mountains to far off distant lands in search of a green island in the SouthSea. The pet pigeon quietly went back to sleep in the tiny little coop made out of a kerosene box by hiding its face in its snowy white wings.
I look at human faces from this side and that and find the same face without any changes. But this path was different. I saw a different scene while going and another sight when I returned, so each time this hilly path appeared new to me.
There were difficult and unconquerable mountains in front and behind us. In between them the narrow path of the tea garden went and sank inside the dense night mist. Behind that misty curtain, a shenai tune from an unknown village down below is narrating the marriage ceremony of a bride and groom who do not know each other. The morning breeze suddenly opened the curtain of mist. There was a tiny village on the slopes of the green mountain full of sunshine. It suddenly appeared before our eyes with its roads and houses. A group of people were coming on a narrow path of red soil and along with them the musician was constantly playing on his flute. One person was scattering dry flowers and behind him came a dead body covered with a sheet. The morning sun fell on the corner of a small colourful cap over the white sheet and dazzled.
Pink skirt and blue veil, blue skirt and over it a jazzy veil – the hill women went and sat over the green bushes in the tea garden just like coloured butterflies. The light of the blue sky had spread a thick layer of purple colour in the lower hills; on the upper slopes it was covered with a light green veil – the entire tea garden looked as if someone had carefully wrapped an ochre sari with round green prints around the mountain. At the turn of the road leading to the tea shrubs there was a bamboo grove and in between the two leaves one could sight the Dhabalgiri. There an ancient black rock, clasped by a neglected tea shrub that had shed all its leaves in winter and with its fruits and flowers on its branches, was looking northwards. Next to it the small pink, blue and yellow flowers in the grass looked as if the stars from the sky had come down on the path to be next to the green leaves of the tea garden.
Men and women came down to the weekly market from difficult places where the mountain tops were covered with snow. They had leather caps on their head, woolen blankets on their body and a local fan made from the tails of mountain cows, hung from their waist. The woman walked with a basket on her back in which she carried two children. The man beated a drum while walking. The rough wind of the snowy mountains had tanned their faces to a dark brown colour. Residing in the upper parts of the mountains, they were straight and simple people like simple deodar trees. The people from the lower hills looked smaller compared to them. The loud sound of the drum echoed on the tin roofs of the small shops and when the men started to dance they twirled round and round resembling a cyclonic wind; when the women started to sing, the cry of the strong wind suddenly pacified the noise of the bazaar.
No one here liked these hill dances. The boys played foreign tunes on their flutes; the women learnt theatre songs from the cinema house at the side of the road and sang them out of tune while breaking stones – “This is how we will hold the bow and send poisoned arrows…” So these hill dancers came to the bazaar but went around with empty hands.
There was a tiny wild plant on the stone hot with sunshine and it sent its shadow from far above. The cold touch of a waterfall was caught in that small shadow; the distant mountains soothed their eyes on dark, new wild flowers that had just blossomed – a very enchanting sight. The houses of the hill people had cast big shadows on the path; those shadows stuck on the wings of a pair of black and white ducks.
In the mountain in front of us, the morning light sat quietly for hours behind a pair of young bamboo trees just like a bird shivering in the cold. One snow peak looked quietly at the sky and dreamt of the lost sun; another peak bend quietly towards a small river in the terai jungle; another hill plant with flowers quietly looked at the tea garden where a group of girls worked like coloured butterflies.
The mountains in the east were still in the heavy fog; on top the entire northern sky was getting the colour of a lemon flower; like a yellow precious stone a liquid aura came and embraced the mountain. As soon as the deodar woods woke up from sleep in the morning breeze, the mountains on all sides got covered with thick clouds. Daylight returned to the far eastern horizon across the northern mountain where the moon had cast a pale light at night.
In the early morning the bird from the waterfall came secretly and woke us up from sleep. It did not surrender its beauty or its colour to anybody; it only surrendered its melody and we had to identify her by it. In the faint light of the new moon in the dark forest, a small waterfall had encircled a tiny rock like a necklace. The early morning bird came so early that its beauty was not reflected in the waterfall – the latter only identified the thirsty bird by its melody. Many unknown birds come and sit on the rocks in the waterfall. The blind and dumb stones feel the touch of their feet and identify their own birds in this manner.
We foreign people have left all our luggage at home and are enjoying the mountains alone; but the people living here are always moving around the hilly path with huge luggage belonging to who knows whom!
On the hilly road going towards the hotel the feet move very fast; once the limits of the hotel are crossed, the mind seems to run towards the snow covered mountains, crossing one bend after another; the feet then gradually want to stay back and tells the mind to stop.
While returning home the feet want to win the running race but the mind does not want to leave the waterfall in the mountain behind. Then it asks the feet to slow down their speed. After reaching home, the feet tell the mind, “Now sit down and write pictures; the mind says there is no hurry, you rest yourself first and then we will see.”
My companion’s travel was limited to the chimney, the tea garden factory, SifaiFalls and Mahanadi. According to the mileage it would be four times my distance but till today my companion could not get hold of a fraction of Mahanadi. On the other hand I pick up so many things from the path while walking just a few steps that everyday my breast pocket gets filled up. My companion travels straight ahead towards the destination without looking anywhere else; I move on touching all the things that were left behind, digressing and following him.
Even in this winter there was a heavy shower last night. The trees and plants have worn washed and fresh green clothes and have come out for celebrations. The waterfall has forgotten of the sea today and instead is talking to the pine trees about the clouds.
There are so many colours on the snowy mountains day and night. The darkness of the night pales it but no colour or paleness can stick to it for long – they remain as white as always. Storms rage over the green mountain ranges, the fog comes over and over again and covers them; but the mountains remain as green as they were; nothing changes their colour. Man loves diversity so he runs to see the different colours upon the whiteness. Seeing the white clouds on these colours he forgets how the bare mountains look and does not want to see it.
A tuft of sun-burnt grass on the top of the mountain looks down below from the blue sky and sees a cloud full of water gradually approaching it from below.
The padam tree on the roadside is waiting for the sunrise at the beginning of winter and dreaming of a tiny pink bud. The black mountain on the other side, wearing the discarded turban of the snow peaks on its head and turning its back towards them, is sitting seriously and looking at the padam tree.
Next to the bazaar, a vegetable vendor is standing in front of her door in the shadow of the evening and calling – “Pokhi, Pohki!” It was not understood whether Pokhi was a baby goat or a boy from the hills wearing a small cap covering his ears, or a young girl wearing a blue skirt and a yellow veil. I only got to know that he or she was born in the winter fog and today in this cold foggy winter evening had gone out to play in some corner of the hill and had not come back yet. The day was ending and the orange ball was hiding behind milk white clouds covering up everything. In the distant mountain, through the clear clouds, the silhouette of a dark tree on the setting sun looks like a painting on a golden frame and lighter than a butterfly’s wing; the sun dangles like the golden earrings behind the coloured veil of the mountain belle. Suddenly from within the clouds a gramophone sings a swadeshi song called “Amaar janmabhoomi – my birthplace” in its harsh voice.
The northern sky is covered with the grey coloured light of the moon. Below it in the dense blue darkness of the winter night the mountain makes its appearance wearing a dress of spring. The winter tree arrived in the morning wearing a dress of tender green leaves and suddenly stopped and looked at the mountain; the birds have become quiet this morning and have forgotten to sing.
The clouds above and the clouds below, and between them two mountains have bent low on two sides of a river. It was not visible who had cast the fishing net in the river, but a pretty mountain girl came to give us fish from there. Seeing her you tend to forget whom to forget – those who look at me everyday through the two curtains of forgetting and remembering.
Polo is being played on the mountains and groups of women from the hills came to watch it. Everyone is wearing fancy new clothes and in the evening they go back happily. Only one girl came holding her brother and sister in both her hands along with a young child on her back. She had dry and ruffled hair and covered herself with a faded shawl. Her dress was her smile and with that tune she brightened up the path covered with mist.
Once the mountain was out of sight the sunset told its secret to the cold mist. Like falling rose petals the misty night wrapped up those words in its white and water-drenched pallu and started on its romantic journey through the shady path.
A golden boat in the dark night – the new moon carried the dreams gradually, hit a rock on the mountain and then submerged itself in the deep sea of light.
The pine forest near the waterfall breathed and informed the polestar, which was drooping like winter dew on a chrysanthemum, about this event. Early in the morning the bee came and informed the golden sapling at the top of the mountain whether the sun would meet the sunflower throughout the day.
At the end of the day, the bride from the north covered her face with cold and mist and was going for a rendezvous towards the sunset. Looking at the forest of sunflowers basking in the raw golden rays of sunrise in the eastern mountains it stopped suddenly.
One sunflower tried to hold back the morning light by covering it with a layer of mist. The evening goddess could not wear the red hue of the sun.
The charioteer of the sun lost his way in the early morning mist. The sun’s yellow rays left the lower mountains and climbed the peaks of the northern mountains early in the morning. Standing thee he wanted to know the direction of the sunset over the thick layers of clouds.
The early morning came through the mist and anointed a stray nutmeg leaf lying on the path with its own coloured scarf. The bamboo leaves, standing next to the new flower in the rose vine at the corner of the path were talking a lot about it.
The sun was behind the white flower of the tea shrub. The early morning clouds went on searching mountain after mountain peaks but still did not get to see the sun.
The call from a minaret on the clouds reached both the believers and the non-believers in the marketplace. The mountains echoed this call once, twice, thrice for three nights. The mountains were feeling cold. Beneath the clouds and snowy mountains where the sun broke through the clouds and reached the tiny village of Ambuti, a woman from the hills sat drying her wet hair in front of her house which was surrounded by a bamboo grove. The sunrays came and lied down quietly on the ground like a huge snow tiger with black and white stripes.
The doel bird came inside the bamboo grove to eat flies; as soon as it heard the footsteps it crossed the waterfall and the tea garden slopes and fled straight towards Ambutia village. Throughout the entire journey the fly came and repeated this to the ear and started pestering the traveller with gratitude.
The early morning eyes of the sky turned into two black-bordered blue winged butterflies and while flying over the tea garden fell in love with the grass and got stuck there. The cold mist at night came and put both the butterfly and the grass to eternal sleep. The early morning light came to wake them up and saw that the old tea shrub that stood on the side of the road had guarded them; the petals of the tea flowers that bloomed in the morning and stared at the snow peaks were wet with dew!
The forest pine stood quietly and saw the moonlight on the mountain peaks; the eternal pain of the evening star spread across the blue sky.
The mountain was forgotten but not particular stone. The waterfall that merged with the sea and never came back and played with it had left it there; the mountain had left that lap for the flowers in the garden. Only that lone stone was left behind with indelible marks of the waterfall’s footsteps. Who knew when the lost waterfall would see it while travelling in the sky and come down in a chariot of clouds. Since that time a green garland encircled the stone forever.
As soon as the blue sky informed the early morning sunflower of light, the heavy mist of the first winter engulfed everything from all sides. The evening sky in that misty evening saw how the setting sun gradually laid down its fiery flag of victory at the feet of the mist laden flowers of the morning.
[Born in Calcutta, Rathindranath Tagore (1888-1961) was the eldest son of Rabindranath. He was educated at Santiniketan and also privately under the guidance of his father and at the University of Illinois, USA, where he obtained his B.Sc. in Agriculture in 1909. At the request of Yusuf Meherally in 1958 he published a book of reminiscences called On the Edge of Time. This included articles and somewhat disconnected anecdotes he wrote at different times and as he himself stated in the preface, the book would be “of some help to those who are interested in the life and works of my father.” This book was also later translated by him in Bengali under the title of Pitri Smriti. Several of the pieces in this volume narrate his journey with his father to the United States and different parts of Europe in 1912. The selected excerpts included here narrate his first trip to the USA and his return from there.]
He [Father] thought that in order to resuscitate rural life, agriculture, which is the basic economic resource of the people, must be improved. He, therefore, desired that Santosh and I must go abroad to get technical training in agriculture and animal husbandry so that after our return we could help him.
Just then an opportunity came. An association had been formed to help students go to foreign countries to study science and industry. Father heard that the first batch of students would be sailing for Japan and the U.S.A. very soon. He asked us to get ready to join this party. We were to go on to the U.S.A. and study in a University which provided training in agriculture.
Thus in the month of April, 1906, a group of sixteen young men from Bengal ventured forth in quest of education in a cargo boat bound for the Far East. Their only resources were a concession passage provided by a benevolent society and a bunch of introduction letters. But the lack of material resources did not in any way cool the wild ardour and reckless spirit of this group, fresh from the political battleground of the Swadeshi movement. Most of them wanted to acquire the technical knowledge and skill needed for modern industry and aspired to revive trade and commerce in India. They had neither money nor preliminary training and their ignorance of the foreign countries whither they were bound was colossal. As a young boy of eighteen I did not find the company uncongenial though strange and so utterly different from what we had been used to at Santiniketan.
Drifting from port to port along the coast of Malay and China we managed to reach Japan after about five weeks. Our admiration for Japan in those days was boundless. We looked upon every Japanese as a hero. Had they not helped to kill the spectre of the ‘foreign devil’ in the Orient for good? Therefore we were overjoyed to arrive in Japan at the moment when they were celebrating their victory. I had a vivid recollection of how we had celebrated the victory of Japan over the Russians a few weeks ago in Santiniketan. We were conscious of the epoch-making character of this victory for Asia and readily joined in the round of festivities held in Tokyo. All the parks and public squares were tastefully decorated with piles of guns and ammunition captured from the enemy. Every day we would walk round and round these places with awe and veneration. Our regard for the Japanese rose to a still higher degree when we found that on tram-cars and other public conveyances the people, in particular women and old men, would leave their seats to make room for us, all the time making deep obeisances, because we hailed from the country of Buddha’s birth. We might have expected arrogance after such a military victory but not this touching reverence for a spiritual ideal and it confirmed our faith in the unity of Asia, so nobly preached by the Japanese writer, Kakuzo Okakura.
Most of my companions thought they had come far enough from home, and their adventures ended on reaching Japan. But after many an amusing attempt to get passed by the American authorities, the two of us who had come from Santiniketan managed to get steerage passages on an American Pacific liner. The American laws allowed only a small percentage of immigrants from Asia to land on the western coast. The poor doctor in charge of emigration had therefore to find some excuse for rejecting the others. After having been thus refused on the plea of an eye disease, I went to consult a Japanese specialist. On learning the reason for my visit he laughed aloud, and said he would give me a prescription not for treatment but for fooling the American doctor. It was nothing but a problem of mathematics. He asked me to appear before the doctor every day – the man could not possibly remember all the faces as he had to examine thousands every day – and it was only a question of luck how soon I would get included in the ten percent quota. I was indeed lucky to get approved on the third day.
A third class passage in the steerage was an experience worth having in those days. We were herded together, twenty-eight in a cabin, lined with five tiers of bunks. This cabin also served as the dining room. The congestion, the filth and the wretched food that was supplied, defy description. But the worst torture that we suffered during our seventeen days’ passage across the Pacific was the type of American men and women (there was no segregation of the sexes) whom we had to associate with. We had a few Japanese passengers also. One day a Japanese had inadvertently occupied the usual seat of an American at the dining-table. The giant of a fellow not only abused the diminutive Japanese in the filthiest language but pulled out a knife and showed fight. Our amour propre was terribly hurt when instead of standing up to it the Japanese left the room. In a few moments, however, he was back with a contingent of his fellow-countrymen and announced that now that they were equal in number to the Yankees they were prepared to fight. The honour of Asia was thus saved.
My First Glimpse of the U.S.A.
On the second day we went up to the tiny deck allotted to us to get a breath of fresh air. But the supercilious way in which the first class passengers looked down upon this sorry lot of humanity huddled together was more than we could bear and we hastened back to our hovel to nurse our wounded pride. During the remaining days never once did we attempt to go up again. It was a godsend that I had the collected edition of my father’s works, edited by Prof. Mohit Chandra Sen and published shortly before we sailed. By the time the voyage ended we had got almost every line by heart. We hardly knew when we had stopped at Honolulu, as, on account of an epidemic in the islands, the passengers were not allowed to go ashore. A great many days after, we guessed from the conduct of our fellow-passengers that the end of the voyage was in sight. Trusting that at last the voyage was over, one evening we packed our things and lay down but hardly had any sleep for the excitement of arriving at San Francisco the next morning. While it was still dark we crept up on deck and kept our eyes glued to the horizon towards which the boat was moving. A beautiful dawn broke with a fantail of such brilliant colours as only the pacific can boast of. We soon noticed that every officer had his binocular steadily pointed shoreward. An ominous silence hovered over the ship. Whisperings and nodding of heads; then more binoculars brought out. Another long spell of silence. Those of us on deck became nervous and suspicious. With a lurch the boat turned round. It was then that we saw what had seemed a mystery a few moments ago; the charred remains of a few skyscrapers and the thick black clouds of smoke slowly spreading along the horizon in long serpentine coils and smirching the brilliant sky with their foulness. The boat stopped before the Golden Gate – no longer the golden gate leading to the Queen of Cities, but the gate leading to hell if any hell on earth can be imagined. Where the city had stood there were now heaped ruins, charred corpses and bewildered and famished animals roving about on roads twisted out of shape. Thus we learnt of the great earthquake and the fire that had devastated the city, and a shiver of horror ran through the boat. In those days the wireless had not been invented and we had no previous warning of the disaster. This was the welcome we received from America, two kids hugging to our breasts a solitary letter of introduction to somebody at Berkeley, which had been razed to the dust during the previous night.
The trains were busy transporting the fleeing population of the ruined city to safer places inland. The captain allowed us to stay on the boat for three days after which, standing long hours in a queue, we managed to get two berths on a train bound for Chicago. Somebody had told us that there was a good agricultural college at the University of Illinois. Chicago being in the state of Illinois, we thought the university could not be too far from it. When the train started I found the upper berth was occupied by an injured lady. During the night she died and was taken away. In the morning while going across the mountains we struck a blizzard and the train was snow-bound. The passengers got out and amused themselves playing snowballs until after some hours the driver whistled us to come back. An ice-breaker engine had come to the rescue and cleared the tracks.
At Chicago we enquired about the location of the StateUniversity and handed over to the telegraph girl a message addressed to the Secretary of the Y.M.C.A requesting him kindly to meet two students from India arriving that day. We congratulated ourselves on our brain-wave. There ought to be a Y.M.C.A in the place and it must have a Secretary. But alas, we found no one who could possibly have any remote connection with the organization at the station at Champaign. After a few days when we did meet the Secretary we discovered that the telegram was delivered to him but the message was changed to read ‘Two students from Indiana’. The girl at the telegraph office had made the correction herself doubting the existence of any place called India. Indiana being a neighbouring State the Secretary had not bothered about giving a reception to the two students at the station.
The United States in 1906 cared too little for the outside world. We found in our University just a handful of foreign students and these were mostly from the Philippines and Mexico. All of them felt ill at ease – their American fellow students being either too inquisitive or too indifferent.
I tried to get the few foreigners together and started a cosmopolitan club. Fortunately we were able to secure the sympathy of some of our professors without whose help it would have been impossible for us to obtain a footing or any kind of status in the University. The one on whom we cane to rely most was Dr. A.R. Seymour, Professor of the Romance languages. He not only helped the Cosmopolitan Club to get firmly established at the University – but all the foreign students whatever their nationality found a genuine friend in him. …The general outlook of the students – I can speak only for the period I was there – was extremely narrow and parochial in this Middle WestUniversity. There was nothing of the freedom of mind and spirit of adventure which is generally associated with Universities. It seemed strange to us that the University should be considered a congenial ground for the propaganda of missionaries and even evangelists. Once I was horrified to witness the exploits of the evangelist Billy Sunday, notorious for his flamboyant methods and platform antics, at a meeting largely attended by students. Next day, after I had written a mild protest which the editor surprisingly printed in the daily newspaper of the University, the Illini, I was assailed from all quarters. When it was getting too hot for me and I was thinking of leaving the University, the paper published an editorial strongly supporting my views. This biting criticism of the attitude of the student community was written by a senior student – an assistant editor of the Illini by the name of Carl Van Doren. I was immensely pleased to get this unexpected support from a fellow student quite unknown to me. Long afterwards I was delighted to find that Carl Van Doren had become one of the foremost literary critics in America.
By the summer of 1909 I had finished my studies at the University of Illinois and on my way home spent a few months in Europe. In London I had the unique opportunity of staying with Surendranath Banerjea in a flat in Clement’s Inn. …Towards the end of 1909 I returned home. The house at Shelidah was being got ready for me – I was to look after the estates. I could at the same time have a farm of my own and carry on agricultural experiments as I pleased. The prospect could not be better for a young man with plenty of energy.
 Sri Murugesam Mudeliar was the then Commisariat contractor of the military outpost at Moulmein.
 The fact was that the man had been banished here. Usually political prisoners were interned in Moulmein prior to 1848. But after 1848 Port Blair in the Andaman Islands was made the new place for banishment and imprisonment. This narrative is dated 1850.
 The local name of this famous cave was Kha-yon-gu, and FarmCave in English. It was situated in the north east part of Moulmein town and was approachable through the AtaranRiver.
 This was on the 4th of November, 1850.
 In the Burmese language a guest was called ai the(y), which was pronounced like ‘aah’ and which when suddenly heard sounded like ‘ada’.
 The durian looks somewhat like a jackfruit but is leaner and smaller in size.
 A good many of them became the heads if big industrial concerns later on.
Published in Parabaas May, 2013.