The Alleyway, by Rabindranath Tagore

One day, this concrete-laden alleyway of ours set out—twisting her way right and left again and again—to find something. But she would get stuck at every move–a house on the right, a house on the left, a house right across.

From what little she could see by glancing above, a streak of the sky revealed itself—as narrow and as skewed as herself.

She asked that filtered slice of sky, “Tell me sister, of which city are you the blue alley?”

In the afternoon, she would catch a glimpse of the sun for just a moment and think, “I couldn’t understand any of that.”

Thick monsoon clouds cast shadows over the two rows of houses, as if someone had scratched out the rays of light from the alleyway’s notebook with a pencil. Rain slid through the concrete, swooshing the snaky stream away with a snake charmer’s drum beats. The road became slippery, the umbrellas of pedestrians hit each other, and the water from an open drain suddenly splashed up to an umbrella, stunning its carrier.

Overwhelmed, the alleyway uttered, “There wasn’t any problem when it was parched dry. Why this sudden pouring trouble?”

                                                                                                   ***

At the end of spring the southern wind looks delinquent, raising swirls of dust and sweeping torn pieces of paper. The alleyway says, bewildered, “Which god’s drunken dance is this?”

She knows that all the garbage that gathers around her every day—fish scales, stove ash, vegetable peels, dead rats—are reality. With those around, she never thinks, “Why all this?”

Yet when the autumn sun slants itself on the balcony of a house, when the notes of Bhairavi float from the puja nahabat*, she thinks for a second, “Perhaps something big really lies beyond this concrete track.”

The day yawns; sunlight drops from the shoulders of the houses to rest in a corner of the alleyway, just like the slipping away of the end of a housewife’s sari. The clock strikes nine; the maidservant walks by, tucking to her waist a basket of vegetables she bought from the market; the smell and smoke of cooking envelopes the alleyway; office goers get busy.

And the alleyway thinks again, “All of reality is contained within this concrete road. What I had thought of as something big must be just a dream.”

* Music room or a tower from which live music is played/performed during festive occasions.

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh
Image courtesy: Flickr

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15 thoughts on “The Alleyway, by Rabindranath Tagore

  1. Yes, Bhas. Even the dark voice of reality can read like poetry if you can catch the sudden ray of light. And to see the white from the black… Tagore has given us this gift of sight.

  2. Since I live in a small town, I’ve only seen alleyways like this on television or pictures. But you brought it to life for me. Thank you for translating this for us. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Bernita. This is from a book called “Lipika” by Tagore. These are brief, reflective pieces. The book is one of my all-time favourites. Susan, I couldn’t agree with you more on Tagore. Lotus, thanks for the kind words. My translation can, at the best, only be an approximation of Tagore’s own words . I am glad you liked it :)Yoda, that was my reaction, too, after I read that piece of Tagore’s (the original, I mean). He sure has a special vision to look at mundane things, doesn’t he?Esther, I am glad to share this with you. Come to India, you won’t find a dearth of alleyways like these 😉

  4. What a beautiful passage Bhaswati. I love the descriptions. Inspirational for nascent writers like myself.I finally finished my carnival story. 3K, so come by when you have the time.

  5. Thanks, Scott, though I can hardly take the credit. I am glad you liked it. I will look to share more of Tagore’s shorter writings here. As for you, nascent or not, you are talented. Your wonderful way with words sparkles in each of your blog posts. I will soon hop over to read the carnival story. Thanks for the heads up!

  6. That is such a beautiful piece of writing, and I have to think your translation was vital in creating that beauty.Thanks, Bhaswati. For more than a moment, I was there.

  7. BS, thanks for the kind words. Glad to share. Many thanks, Jason. I tried. It’s amazing how great writers like Tagore can breathe life into the most “lifeless” of things. Who would think a narrow, neglected alleyway could be looked at in this manner?

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