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    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
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  • Repetition: A Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Palash Baran Pal [Parabaas Translation] : Rabindranath Tagore
    translated from Bengali to English by Palash Baran Pal




    Repetition

    Rabindranath Tagore

    Translated from the Bengali by Palash Baran Pal




    The news from the frontier was not very inspiring. The king, with a heavy heart, went to the garden for a walk.

    He saw a little boy and a little girl playing under a tree near the boundary wall.

    The king asked them, "What are you playing?"

    They said, "Today we are playing: Ram and Sita's exile."1

    The king sat down.

    The boy said, "Here is our forest, we are making our hut here."

    He had gathered a heap of boughs and twigs, grass and hay. Very busy.

    And the girl, she was cooking leaves in toy-utensils without any fire. Ram will take his meal, and Sita could not spare a moment in the arrangements.

    The king said, "I see everything, except the demons.2 Where are they?"

    The boy admitted that their forest had some serious shortcomings.

    The king said, "All right, I will be the demon."

    The boy examined him carefully from top to bottom. Then he said, "But you will have to lose."

    The king said, "I am very good at that. Test it yourselves."

    That day, the killing of the demon was accomplished so nicely that the boy did not want to let the king go. The king had to die the deaths of ten or tweleve demons within a short while. He got tired of dying.

    The birds sang the same songs they had sung in the Panchavati forest in the age of Ram and Sita; the morning sun hummed the same soft tunes in the string of green leaves as it did on that ancient day.

    The king heaved a sigh of relief.

    He called the minister and asked him, "Whose are they, the boy and the girl?"

    The minister replied, "The girl is my daughter, Ruchira. And the boy is Koushik, a petty Brahmin's son, his father is just a priest."

    The king said, "When the time comes, let this girl be married to that boy. This is what I wish."

    The minister did not dare to reply. He bowed his head down in silence.

    • 2 •

    The king sent Koushik to the top scholar of the country for education. All students of noble blood studied there. Ruchira studied there too.

    The day when Kaushik came to attend his grammar school, the professor was not exactly pleased. Others felt scandalized as well. But, such was the royal will.

    The most troubled one was Ruchira. The boys in the class whispered in one another's ears. She blushed, tears flowed down her cheeks.

    If Koushik pushed a book towards her, she flung it away. If he spoke to her regarding the lessons in the class, she didn't respond.

    The professor was very pleased with Ruchi. His affection knew no bounds. He nurtured a promise deep inside his heart that Ruchi would surpass Koushik in everything. And Ruchi was also determined.

    It seemed that it would be easy, because Koushik studied without any involvement. He was interested in swimming, in singing, in playing music, in walking through the woods.

    The professor rebuked him, "Why don't you have any love for learning?"

    Koushik said, "My love is not only for learning, but for many other things as well."

    The professor said, "Stay away from those other subjects that you love."

    Koushik said, "Then my love for learning will also be gone."

    • 3 •

    Thus some time went by.

    The king asked the professor, "Who's the best among your students?"

    The professor said, "Ruchira."

    The king asked, "What about Koushik?"

    The professor said, "I don't think he has learned anything at all."

    The king said, "I want Ruchi to be married to Koushik."

    The professor smiled, and said, "It is something like the proposal of marriage between the dawn and the dusk."

    The king called the minister and said, "There is no point in delaying Koushik's wedding with your daughter."

    The minister said, "My Lord, my daughter is unwilling in this marriage."

    The king said, "Does a woman's word reflect her mind?"

    The minister said, "But her tears are giving evidence."

    The king said, "Does she consider Koushik unworthy of her?"

    The minister said, "Yes, in fact she does."

    The king said, "Let there be a test of their knowledge in front of me. If Koushik wins, the marriage must be settled without a second word."

    On the following day, the minister told the king, "My daughter accepts the challenge."

    • 4 •

    The court was ready: the king on the throne, Koushik at his feet.

    The professor himself appeared with Ruchi. Koushik stood up from his seat, bowed to the professor and greeted Ruchi. Ruchi paid no heed.

    Koushik had never debated with Ruchi before, not even as a part of the school formalities. Other students also, out of disdain, never allowed him a chance to debate with them. So today, when sharp satire, mingled with solid arguments, shone like the glittering sun on the tip of an arrow, the professor was astonished, and was annoyed. Ruchi sweated; she lost her arguments. Koushik took her to the edge of defeat.

    The professor was struck dumb with rage, and tears started flowing from Ruchi's eyes.

    The king told the minister "Now finalize the date of the wedding."

    Koushik rose from his seat, and said to the king with folded hands, "You will have to excuse me, I am not willing to enter into this marriage."

    The king was surprised. He said, "So you will not take the prize for your victory?"

    Koushik said, "Let the victory remain mine, but let the prize go to someone else."

    The professor said, "My Lord, let me have another year's time. After that, let there be a final test."

    The proposal was accepted.

    • 5 •

    Koushik left the school. Some days he was seen in the morning in the shadows of the woods, and some days in the evening at the peak of the hill.

    On the other side, the professor devoted all his attention to educating Ruchi. But, did her attention respond?

    The professor was exasperated. He warned Ruchi, "You'll have to be ashamed for the second time if you do not get your act together."

    And Ruchi began to behave as if she was meditating to get ashamed once more. As Aparna3 meditated without food, Ruchi meditated without her studies. Her books of philosophy remained untouched, even the books of literature were opened once in a blue moon.

    The professor was angry. He said, "By the names of all the great sages, I promise not to accept any more girl student in the future. I can understand the Vedas, and yet a woman's mind is still a mystery to me."

    Once the minister came to the king and said, "A marriage proposal has come from Bhabadatta's family. They are unparalleled in all respects. I am asking for My Lord's permission."

    The kind asked, "What does your daughter say?"

    The minister said, "Does a woman's word reflect her mind?"

    The king asked, "What evidence are her tears bearing today?"

    The minister remained silent.

    • 6 •

    The king came and sat in his garden. He called the minister and said, "Send your daughter to me."

    Ruchira came and offered her respects by touching the king's feet.

    The king said, "My child, do you remember the game of Ram and Sita in exile?"

    Ruchira stood still, with a bowed head, and a gentle smile on her face.

    The king said, "Today I have a longing to see the game once more."

    Ruchira pulled the veil of her dress on one side of her face and remained silent.

    The king said, "The forest is there, Ram is also there. But I heard, my child, that we cannot find a Sita. You can solve the problem if you wish."

    Ruchira did not utter a single word. She touched the king's feet again.

    The king said, "But, my child, I cannot play the demon's role this time."

    Ruchira stared at the king with a pleasant face.

    The king said, "This time, your professor will play the role of the demon."


    Notes:


    1. The allusion here is to the story of the epic work "Ramayana", in which the prince Ram had to go to exile in a forest with his wife because of a sinister plot laid by his stepmother so that he could not become the king.(Back to text)
    2. While in the forest exile, Ram and his companions were attacked by several demons, according to the Ramayana.(Back to text)
    3. A mythical character who fasted while she meditated to get Lord Shiva as her husband.(Back to text)

    The translator thanks Shoili Pal for careful reading of an earlier draft.




    Published in Parabaas, May 7, 2021.



    The original, titled Punorabritti (পুনরাবৃত্তি) by Rabindranath Tagore was first published in the Bengali magazine Prabasi (প্রবাসী) in Joisthyo, 1329 (May-June, 1922) and later collected in lipikaa; লিপিকা) (`Brief Writings') in August 1922.


    Illustrated bySanchari Mukherjee. Sanchari is currently based in Delhi.

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