First Sorrow by Rabindranath Tagore

The path by the shadow of the forest is now covered with grass.

On that deserted road, someone called me from behind.

“Don’t you recognise me?”

I turned back to look at him.

“I remember you, but do not recall your name.”

He said, “I am the sorrow who came to you when you were twenty-five.”

The corner of his eyes revealed a spark of ray, just like moonlight on a lake.

I stood there, surprised.

“Back then, you appeared like a dark monsoon cloud. Now, you look like a golden idol. Have you lost the tears of that day?” I asked.

He didn’t say anything, just smiled. I realized everything was contained in that smile.

The clouds of the rainy day had learned to smile like bright sunny days of the summer.

I asked him, “Have you preserved my youth of twenty-five?”

“Yes, I made it my necklace. Not even a single petal of the spring’s garland had fallen.”

I said, “See, how I have shriveled with age. But my youth is still adorning your neck, as fresh as ever.”

He slowly put that necklace around my neck and said, “Do you remember, that day you had said, you don’t need consolation, you only want sorrow?”

I shrugged a little. “Yes, I did. But it has been so long; I had forgotten about it.”

“But the one within you hadn’t forgotten. Now, you must accept me,” he said.

I held his hand and said, “How wonderful you look!”

He smiled and said, “That which was once sorrow, is now peace.”

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh


Holiday Preparations by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh

Puja holidays draw near.
Sunshine is draped in the colour of Champa.
The air ripples with dew,
Shiuli’s fragrance lingers
like the delicate caress of someone’s cool hands.
White clouds make the sky lazy—
seeing which, the mind relaxes.

Mastermoshai continues to teach
the primitive story of coal
While a student sits on the bench and paddles his feet,
his mind awash with images—
The cracked ghat of Kamal pond,
And the fruit-laden custard apple tree of the Bhanjas.
And he sees in his mind’s eyes, the zigzag path
that leads from the milkmen’s neighbourhood

by the side of the haat,
into the tishi fields, next to the river.

At the economics class in college
the bespectacled, medal-winning student
jots down a list–
which recent novel to buy,
which shop will give on credit—
the sari with the “Do Remember” border,
shakha washed in gold,
a pair of red velvet chappals, handcrafted in Dilli
and a silk cloth-bound poetry book,
printed on antique paper—
the title of which eludes him.

In the three-storied Bhawanipore hosue
Thin and heavy voices converge in confabs —
Will it be Mount Abu or Madurai this time
Or perhaps Dalhousie or Puri
Or shall it be the tried and tested Darjeeling.
And I see on the auburn road
leading to the station
Kid goats on lease from the city
five or six of them — tied with ropes.
Their futile cries rend the
kaash tasselled silent autumn sky.
As if they have somehow understood
Their puja holidays are near.


Mastermoshai = Respectful term for teacher (Bengali)
Champa, Shiuli = Flowers
Ghat = Bank
Haat = Weekly village market
Tishi = Linseed
Shakha = White bangle made of a particular stone. Is worn by married Bengali women.
Chappal = Footwear


ছুটির আয়োজন

কাছে এল পূজার ছুটি।
রোদ্‌দুরে লেগেছে চাঁপাফুলের রঙ।
হাওয়া উঠছে শিশিরে শির্‌শিরিয়ে,
শিউলির গন্ধ এসে লাগে
যেন কার ঠাণ্ডা হাতের কোমল সেবা।
আকাশের কোণে কোণে
সাদা মেঘের আলস্য,
দেখে মন লাগে না কাজে।

মাস্টারমশায় পড়িয়ে চলেন
পাথুরে কয়লার আদিম কথা,
ছেলেটা বেঞ্চিতে পা দোলায়,
ছবি দেখে আপন মনে–
কমলদিঘির ফাটল-ধরা ঘাট
আর ভঞ্জদের পাঁচিল-ঘেঁষা
আতাগাছের ফলে-ভরা ডাল।
আর দেখে সে মনে মনে তিসির খেতে
গোয়ালপাড়ার ভিতর দিয়ে
রাস্তা গেছে এঁকেবেঁকে হাটের পাশে
নদীর ধারে।

কলেজের ইকনমিক্‌স্‌-ক্লাসে
খাতায় ফর্দ নিচ্ছে টুকে
চশমা-চোখে মেডেল-পাওয়া ছাত্র–
হালের লেখা কোন্‌ উপন্যাস কিনতে হবে,
ধারে মিলবে কোন্‌ দোকানে
“মনে-রেখো’ পাড়ের শাড়ি,
সোনায় জড়ানো শাঁখা,
দিল্লির-কাজ-করা লাল মখমলের চটি।
আর চাই রেশমে-বাঁধাই-করা
অ্যাণ্টিক কাগজে ছাপা কবিতার বই,
এখনো তার নাম মনে পড়ছে না।

ভবানীপুরের তেতালা বাড়িতে
আলাপ চলছে সরু মোটা গলায়–
এবার আবুপাহাড় না মাদুরা
না ড্যাল্‌হৌসি কিম্বা পুরী
না সেই চিরকেলে চেনা লোকের দার্জিলিঙ।
আর দেখছি সামনে দিয়ে
স্টেশনে যাবার রাঙা রাস্তায়
শহরের-দাদন-দেওয়া দড়িবাঁধা ছাগল-ছানা
পাঁচটা ছটা ক’রে।
তাদের নিষ্ফল কান্নার স্বর ছড়িয়ে পড়ে
কাশের-ঝালর-দোলা শরতের শান্ত আকাশে।
কেমন ক’রে বুঝেছে তারা
এল তাদের পূজার ছুটির দিন।



, ,

The Path to Walk on, by Rabindranath Tagore

This, indeed, is the path to walk on.

It has wound its way through the woods to the fields, through the fields to the riverbank, next to the banyan tree; then it courses its way through the villages. As it moves further, beside the lush fields, amid the shadows of the mango orchards, by the bank of the Padma River, I cannot tell in which village it would wind up.

So many have passed by me on this path, some joining my company, others seen from afar; some with a veil over their heads, others without any; some walking to fetch water, others returning with water.


The day has retreated and darkness descends.

Once this path had seemed personal, intimately mine; now I see I carried a summon to walk on it only once, no more.

Past the lime trees, the pond, the riverbank, the cowsheds, the paddy mounds, the familiar glances, the known words, the acquainted circles, there won’t be any returning to say “Hey, there!”

This is the path to walk on, not one to return from.

This hazy evening, I turned back once and found the path to be an ode to many a forgotten footstep, all entwined in the notes of Bhairavi.

This path has summarized the stories of all its travelers in a single dirt trail; the one track that traverses between sunrise and sunset, from one golden gate to another.


“Dear walking path, don’t keep all the stories you have accumulated through the ages tied quietly into your dust strand. I am pressing my ears against your dust, whisper them to me.”

The path remains silent, pointing its index finger toward the dark curtain of night.

“Dear walking path, where have the worries and desires of all the travelers gone?”

The mute path doesn’t talk. It just lays down signals between sunrise and sunset.

“Dear walking path, the feet that embraced your bosom like a shower of wildflowers, are they nowhere today?”

Does the path know its end—where forgotten flowers and silent songs reach, where starlight illumines a Diwali of resplendent pain.

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh


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

Friend, True North, Ocean of Life

The day darkens as the sun’s about to set
Clouds swarm the sky, it’s the moon they want to get
Cloud overtakes cloud and colour cloaks colour
The dong-dong of temple bell rings loud and clear
Rain pours on that side, hazy goes the green
On this side of the horizon, a million gem stones shine
The cloudy breeze brings back a song of my childhood
Rain falls pitter patter, on the river comes a flood.

(Rain Falls Pitter Patter, Rabindranath Tagore)

That’s how you came into my life–in the playful guise of a grandfather sharing this eternal childhood ballad with the five-year-old me. This was the first of your poems I uttered–in a recitation competition for children. Ma taught me the poem and also your name, but back then, your name meant no more than a big, tough-to-pronounce word. You knew better; you drew the innocent heart in with the pitter-patter of rain and a million gem stones. Don’t I also remember the poem in which you talk about a little boy imagining playing hide-and-seek with his mother by becoming a champa flower? The boy’s wish, to quietly watch Mother go through her day–doing her worship ritual, reading the scripture in the afternoon, lighting the evening lamp on her way to the cattleshed–even as he remains hidden from her view, is something with which every child heart would commune. How did you know that, wise grandfather?

Even as the sea beckons at the river to join it, your ocean kept splashing gently across the humble stream of my life. Every Wednesday evening during my growing-up years, Ma would tune in to a radio station to listen to a fifteen-minute broadcast of your songs, sung by various artistes. I understood little of the words then, but your melody had made me a captive for life. In time, the words resonated too:

“My freedom is in the sky’s bright light,
My freedom is in dust and in the green of the grass.”

Your songs of freedom gave me the key to unlock the realm of unbounded freedom; of liberation that’s found in the blue of the sky, the green of the grass, in the hearts of all people, and in work that defies all danger and sadness.

Your immortal call of “Walk alone if no one heeds thy call,”has been the beacon that has guided many a lives through darkness, even after nearly fifteen decades since you called the earth your abode.

Slowly, your picture started becoming clear to me. As we paid homage to you on your birth anniversary in junior school, I was entranced by your music. When I sang in the chorus for Chandalika, it felt like swinging rapturously amid a musical joy ride–from the boistrous song of the curd-seller to the meditative melody of the Buddhist monk. Later, as I grew up, I wouldn’t tire of wondering how you brought about such magnificent diversity in your nearly three thousand songs. I haven’t stopped being amazed.

More songs, more memories, more of my little stream meeting the ocean that you were. I remember many a summer afternoon, sitting on the floor with Grandma, who would prod me to sing your songs to her. She had her favourites, no less. The one where you cried for peace with your disenchanted opening lines, “The world, fervid with violence, sees new skirmishes daily.”And the song of the seeker that goes like,

“Who is the crazy one that makes me wander from one neighbourhood to another?
What tune is it that rings in the air so melodiously?”

And then came the poetry, the novels, the short stories. All bearing your heartfelt understanding of humanity, nature, and the timeless mystique that governs the day-to-day functioning of the universe.

“In what way has the sun’s rays touched my life today
How has the morning bird’s song penetrated the cave’s darkness
I can hardly fathom how life has awakened after so long!

Life has awakened,
And water surges forth,
I am unable to hold back my desires and emotions any longer.”

(The Waterfall Awakens, Rabindranath Tagore)

Sanchaita, your anthology of selected poems, became my guiding star through many a difficult times. As I saw my feelings manifesting in your eloquent poetic expression, I wondered how you found access to my innermost being. How did you, dear true North?

In Gora, you taught me what nationalism and political consciousness really meant, without ever being didactic about it. I am stunned to see how relevant it reads even today, so many decades since you penned it. But isn’t timeless your middle name?

Photographer: Eve Andersson

And how could I ever forget little Mini’s innocent-yet-demanding interactions with the unforgettable Kabuliwala? How effortlessly you made two such disparate characters bond. And the poignancy as Mini grows out of her carefree childhood even as the Kabuliwala yearns for the innocence of her toddler days, years later?

In my adulthood, you continued to enmesh me into your infinite realm. The songs became more prominent, and every time I sang them, my heart felt emancipated. What’s it with your words, mystic sage?

“The sky is laden with stars and the sun,
The earth full of life,
In the midst of it all, I have found my place,
Amazed I am, and thus bursts forth my song.”

The songs continue. In the middle of a chore, on seeing a fresh morning, or without any reason at all. How did you entwine them with the beat of my life, dearest friend?

Today, on your 145th birthday, am I paying you homage? Nah, I hardly can. I can’t even claim you as mine. For as you would have said, how can the stream claim the ocean? It can only aspire to merge with the ocean. And like my mother says, even oceans have limits, but Rabindranath is limitless.

You belong to the green of the grass, the song of the morning bird, the pain of the kabuliwala. And to the whole of humanity.

As I remember my life’s journey holding your hands, I only aspire for my country and the world, what you would have.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

, ,