Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Tagore's Poem

A poem by Rabindranath Tagore, (1861 AD to 1941 AD) Nobel Laureate of 1913.

Translator: RAJAT DAS GUPTA, Calcutta
rajatdasgupta@yahoo.com & rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in

Poem No:1 of the book Patraput (Folded leaf) written on 4 May, 1935.

[Translator’s note: The poem is based on the association of the Poet once with a party who went for a trek on the mountain. There was a lot of reveling with the Poet’s participation, as is usual in such excursions, which the poem indicates. At the end, the spell of the ineffable natural beauty on the mountain captured all, and drowned the Poet into its fathomless ecstasy. Tagore’s mobility between the mundane, including very refined practical jokes, to the supreme aesthetic and spiritual intuitions was indeed amazing. I am tempted to refer here quite elaborately to Maitrayee Devi’s book ‘Tagore By Fireside’ (a translation by herself of her original book in Bengali ‘Mangpute Rabindranath’ i.e. Rabindranath at Mangpu, a hill station near Darjeeling which was the workplace of her husband) based on her diary she maintained while Tagore was her guest intermittently between 1938 to 1940. Her book is a unique literature of its kind. In no other writing one gets Tagore so closely as in this book, through the eyes of Maitrayee Devi. Following incidents/quotes from this book will hopefully be found relevant to this poem..

Once at Mangpu, Tagore conspired with a few of his associates to play a practical joke on a female relative of Maitrayee, whom all of them (including Tagore) addressed as Mashi (which in Bengali is the address for one’s mother’s sister, but may be applied to any woman around their age. For jest it is applied to much younger girls also, as in this case). Mashi was terribly afraid of insects which were then abundant while it was monsoon time. In the morning the Poet predicted the girl that it would be a bad day for her, pretending that it was his astrological reading. On persistence of the girl for more details of the impending mishap, the Poet replied that it might be of any kind which could not be precisely foreseen. Then in the words of Maitrayee Devi:]

“Early in the evening, at about dinner-time, I was waiting to give the Poet some medicine, when I suddenly heard a piercing shriek and a loud crash of falling crockery. I ran into the dining room to find Mashi standing on a chair, thoroughly distraught, with the dining table in complete disorder, while the others, whom the Poet used to call his three lords, were eating a huge beetle with much gusto. Then it came out that the beetle was made of chocolate. The great lord ordered it from a confectioner’s in Darjeeling, and then by previous unanimous agreement it was placed ready on Mashi’s plate neatly covered with a serviette. I came back to the Poet’s room and found him laughing to himself to his heart’s content.

‘Mashi, didn’t I predict that the day would end badly for you?’
‘Extraordinary! You were also in this conspiracy?’ ‘Really, I am also in it, am I? That is too bad, it really has gone too far – please do not release the news to the Associated Press, for the Poet Emperor (the Poet is referred in India as the Poet Emperor, the World Poet, The Great Poet etc.) would lose his prestige altogether, specially in our Guru-ridden country! Had I sat on a high pedestal, behaving like a proper preceptor and now and then showered sermons from on high, who would have been the loser? Those who fix themselves on the top of the ladder do not realize how much they lose.’

Words, that are limited by fixed meanings, seem inadequate to express how all the fine and sensitive touches of his personality revealed themselves to us, how we found him at once detached and absorbed. Even when absorbed in deep thought, engrossed in serious writing, he would return to us in a moment. He was interested in our smallest pleasures and pains, the trivial problems of our everybody life, watching over us with affection and anxiety. He did not stand like an onlooker on the bank, but came right into the middle of our life stream and felt its flow. Yet, in a moment he would be off on a voyage to some far away region. At one moment he would talk on the ordinary topics and regale everyone with humorous conversation, but the next moment he would relapse into a silence that would change the whole aspect of his personality, as if a door had closed, leaving us outside it, to gaze into a mystery we never could aspire to reach. Sometimes, in moments like this, we have felt, at least I have felt, that I should not speak at all, even if there should be something urgent to say. The tranquility that emanated from him at such times cannot be transmitted to my readers through the medium of language. Sometimes he would sit for hours without moving a hair, a hush would descend over the trees, over the dark masses of the bushes; at such times all noise, even the voices inside the house, would disappear from consciousness, something would reach out to me from an absolute stillness. I longed to sit at the feet of my Guru at those tranquil hours, but it was not an easy thing at the beginning; for ordinary persons like us to be able to sit in perfect stillness for a while needs training. One’s back would start itching, or toe would go to slip, something or other would tickle somewhere, making it absolutely necessary to change position. In the beginning, I was amazed to see him sit in the same position for hours, forgetting the existence of a body. Sometimes in the early hours of dawn, I have found him sitting thus, quite unmindful of the centipedes that were crawling up and down his arm. And then I would be confronted with a problem, not knowing whether to brush them away or leave them undisturbed. I found it impossible to express not only what he was, but also how I saw him. I can take down a little of his conversation, but how can I explain that eloquence of his silence, which was deeper expression of his personality, as I felt sitting there in an ineffable companionship, filled with a glow of well-being that baffles all description?”

Amidst the muddle of all weal and woe
That does with the stream of life flow,
Sudden encounter there has been
With moments of fulfillment hardly seen –
As in a mass of pebbles, a rare
Pick of a glistening sapphire.
So many times I thought
In Bharati’s (*) garland have those caught, (*)
But dared not,
Lest my poesy would fall short;
My artistic zeal
Their innate beauty would kill.

At Darjeeling we went for a trot
Stayed in a concealed cot
Down the main road –
On the porter’s back our load
Of all stores to keep our revel,
Like Esraj (**), food chests et al, we set for Sinchel (**)
To spend the night on that peak
Our enjoyment to seek.
On the mendicant mount,
Our mirth wouldn’t count.
Shaky Nabagopal rode a pony
And was indeed funny –
More he feared,
More the boys jeered.
Of that clime they were the lord,
All the way echoed their laughter and discord.
The vacuum of the hill
We few would fill
With our wits
And delighting feats –
With our ingenuity high
The solemnity to defy;
Such was our conviction
As we trekked on.

At last when our up climb ended
The afternoon Sun had descended,
Hoping amusement profuse,
Our unguarded cacophony we did muse
Would overflow our night
With nectarous delight.

At the peak under the sky infinite,
The Sun right on the horizon to prelude the night
Down the wide valley there
Zigzags the silvery river,
At the Western sky lines
The angels’ playfield shines
With the golden pot’s outpour,
Its ecstasy to capture the Earth to its core.
Reticence fell on the revelers,
All stood in amazed peers;
The Esraj lay aground silent
Earth’s din held to perceive that supreme moment.

Not born in the Vedic age
None could gage
A solemn hymn to the gale
Down that superb dale.
Right then we looked behind
The full Moon to find;
With friend’s beaming smile –
Heaven’s Poet Laureate to beguile
With his mystic literal
Just composed with its ineffable spell.

Daily the maestro plays his lute,
Unwitting, perceives the absolute,
One day all of a sudden,
The silver string resonates with the golden
When none is around,
That never before he found.
The music that day thrived
In eternal silence it dived
That very day;
His lute, the maestro scraps away.

When the ineffable tune did play,
On this Earth was my stay –
“Wonderful” – to say.


(*) Bharati is the Goddess of Learning, also referred as Saraswati, whose worship is performed particularly by the student community in Bengal, the time for is generally in the month of February.
(**) Esraj- a stringed musical instrument, like violin.

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