• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Rabindranath Tagore | Essay
  • Conceptual development of Tagore's short stories : Rabin Pal

    During the celebration of Tagore's seventieth Birthday, in 1931, a number of famous fiction writers (such as John Bojer, Theodore Dreiser, Andre Gide, Knut Hamsun, Hermann Hesse, Selma Lagerlof, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Mann, Upton Sinclair, Stefan Zweig etc.) paid homage to him, but none of them uttered a single word about Tagore's short stories. Alberto Moravia and Graham Green later expressed their ignorance about this Bengali short-story writer. However, the first English biographer of Tagore, Ernest Rhys [1] wrote a chapter on Tagore's short stories in his book in 1915. Rhys was of the opinion that when compared to Flaubert, 'Tagore (was) more imaginative, more suggestive of the moods and hidden spirits of the creatures and places he evokes with the tale-writer's talisman.' and 'His stories, finally, if we can judge by the imperfect English versions we have, are written in a style of their own, here and there reminding one a little of Hawthorne in his most elusive vein, or Turgenev in his romantic tales.' Edward Thompson accepted 'his genius as a short story writer' and wrote in TLS that 'opinion may vary as to Tagore's poems; but surely there can be no difference as to the merit of his stories.' [2] Dependable (Noted??) Bengali fiction writer and professor, Narayan Gangopadhyay commented that Rabindranath elevated his own stories in international standards and if one judge impartially his place undoubtedly would be among the three renowned short story writers of the world (ie, Poe, Maupassant, Chekhov) [3]

    Sisir Kumar Das is of opinion that 'the short story as a viable form did not emerge in Bengali till the year 1891 when Rabindranath wrote six short stories' for the journal Hitabadi. [4] Elsewhere he referred that Tagore is the first Bengali Writer who used the term 'Choto Galpo' and in the last part of nineteenth century there were 'Galpo', 'Kshudra Galpo', 'Kshudra Katha' used in journals. Swarna Kumari Devi used 'Nabo Kahini' or 'Choto Choto Galpo' and she drew attention on the comparable briefness of the story. Hiranmoyee Devi used 'Galpo Salpo'. [5] During seventies and Eighties we find Majlisi Galpo (Ram Gati Nayaratna, 1877-78), Galpo Rachana (Anonymus, 1878-79), Baro Galpo Noi (Anonymus, 1884-85), Pujar Galpo (Anonymus, 1886-87), Galpo Swalpo (SwarnaKumari Devi, 1888-89), Bhuter Galpo (Anonymus, 1889-90) which indicates the search for a justified genre. In America (as Baltimore Saturday Visitor for Poe), England (as Coverlay Papers, Black wood) and Bengal (as Hitabadi for Tagore) short story-form got a careful rearing from newspapers and journals. In the early period of Sahitya (started in 1890), editor Suresh Samajpati made ample efforts towards the progress of this form when he requested Pramatha Chawdhuri to translate The Etruscan Vase by Prosper Merimee (Sahitya, 1928, Aswin), started discussions on contemporary foreign short stories (as Kipling's in 1306, Jaistha), introduced a regular section ons foreign stories, and also short biographies of eminent writers (such as Tolstoy, Bret Harte). The stories of Rabindranath were discussed by the editor himself. In Sadhana Tagore wrote 36 short stories and there was an article titled কি রূপে গল্প তৈরি হয় ('how a short story is framed') (Kartik 1299) by Jyotirindranath Tagore.

    If we pay attention to the name of Tagore's short story collections we find: Chhoto Galpo (1300), Bichitra Galpo, 1st part (1301), Bichitra Galpo, 2nd part (1301), Katha Chatustoi (1301), Galpo dasak (1302), Galpo Guchha, 1st part (1307) Galpo (1307), Karmafal (1310), Galpo Saptak, Poila Nomber (1920), Lipika (1922), Tin Sangi (1941), Se (1937), Galpo Salpo (1941) etc. From this list it appears that initially he had used the term 'short story', but later he became a bit hesitant and focused on the varities of this particular form. Sometimes a book contained only one story (e.g., Karmophal), sometimes the title was according to a particular story (e.g. Poila Nombor), or a common theme running across several stories (as in Teen Songi, Three Companions). 'Asambhob katha' was once included in 'Bichitra Prabandha', a collection of essays; 'Nastonir' was placed once in Fiction section of Rabindra Granthabali (Collected Works), later was included in Galpo Guchha (Collection of Short Stories). This hesitation is quite natural in such a formative period. It is also worth remembering that Washington Irving mentioned his short stories as story, tale, sketches and Poe referred some of his own stories as tales, articles, sketches, and parables. While the terms used by Hawthorne and Turgenev were 'tales' and 'sketches', respectively, Melville used both 'tales' and 'sketches'.

    Mention must be made of the conceptualisation as well as perspectives of his own in general. Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay requested Tagore to compose a full fledged theory of Short Story, [6] but he was not interested. Rather, he expressed his conceptual notion in several occasion. One such example was in a portion of the poem Barsha Japon (Sonar Tori) (Completed in 1892)

          ইচ্ছে করে অবিরত        আপনার মনোমত
                    গল্প লিখি একেকটি করে।
         ছোট প্রাণ, ছোট ব্যথা,        ছোট ছোট দুঃখ কথা,
                    নিতান্তই সহজ সরল,
         সহস্র বিস্মৃতি রাশি        প্রত্যহ যেতেছে ভাসি,
                   তারি দু-চারিটি অশ্রুজল।
         নাহি বর্ণনার ছটা,        ঘটনার ঘন-ঘটা
                    নাহি তত্ত্ব নাহি উপদেশ
         অন্তরে অতৃপ্তি রবে,        সাঙ্গ করি মনে হবে
                    শেষ হয়ে হইল না শেষ।

    Following my own bent,
    Write story after story —
    Small lives, humble distress,
    Tales of humdrum grief and pain,
    Simple, clear straight forwardness;
    Of the thousands of tears streaming daily
    A few saved from oblivion;
    No elaborate description,
    Plain steady narration,
    No theory or philosophy,
    No story quite resolved,
    Not ending at the end,
    But leaving the heart uneasy.
                    (Translation by William Radice)

    Tagore's intentions at that time were the following: (a) his short stories would deal with some insignificant lives and their humble distresses, (b) they will be simple, clear and straight forward, and (c) at the end of the reading the reader would feel a sense of incompleteness. In 'Lipika' there is a short piece named 'Galpo' (Probashi, Baisakh 1327, 'Galpo balo' was in the Patrika). When he was 78, he wrote 'Choto Galpo' (Sanibarer Chithi, Falgun 1346) which was abridged and included in 'Tin Sangee' as 'Sesh Katha'. In the first story, he was of opinion that 'মানুষের জীবন হল গল্প' এবং 'হিতকথার সঙ্গে সন্ধি স্থাপনের চেষ্টা করলে গল্প-ও যায় কেটে, হিতকথাও পড়ে খসে।' (Human life is like a short story and any attempt at compromise between the story element and didacticism destroys both.) [7]

    In the 2nd one Tagore compares ছোটগল্প with বড়োগল্প। He commented that Short Story is not meant for carrying loads, but it hits the mind with a light leap. (ছোটগল্প সেই জাতের; বোঝা বইবার জন্য সে নয়, একেবারে সে মার লাগায় মর্মে লঘু লম্ফে) Long story is like a pre-historic animal — vitality is not matched with the body and it is too much loaded. (বড়ো গল্প.... প্রগলভ বাণীবাহন.... প্রাণের পরিমাণ যত দেহের পরিমাণ তার চার গুণ.... মাল বোঝাই ওয়ালা) Here Tagore also opines that in a short story usually there is not a gap between the beginning and end, its shape is in many cases round. (ছোটগল্পের আদি ও অন্তের মাঝখানে বিশেষ একটা ছেদ থাকে না — ওর আকৃতিটা গোল।) Any conscious reader would observe that from the Sabujpatra period (ie from 1914) his short story is not of 'ছোট প্রাণ ছোট ব্যথা', on the other hand experience and social problems are dominant In 'Laboratory' of 'Tin Sangee' plot is forceful, in 'Sesh Katha' plot and characterisation are proportioned but plot of 'Rabibar' is not at all forceful. Ofcourse these three stories are not conclusive. Tagore was consulting Pramatha Chaudhuri whether small stories might be called 'Kathika' instead of 'Kathanu' or 'Galpo Swalpa' (Bhadra 1326) Chithi Patra, 5th vol, Pg. 261. [8]

    Some comments of Tagore on short stories of other writers would indirectly drew our attention to the subject. Some are mostly formal, tricky and satisfying. Style of Jagadish Gupta was totally different from Tagore's, but reading 'Binodini' (Paush 1334) his first book of stories Tagore wrote - 'I became happy seeing the particular form and flavor of short-story in your writing.' ('ছোট গল্পের বিশেষ রূপ ও রস তোমার লেখায় পরিস্ফুট দেখিয়া সুখী হইলাম।') Tarasankar's Chhalanamoyee (1936) pleased him much and watched delicate touch in composition (রচনার সূক্ষ্ম স্পর্শ) and reality of writing (কলমের বাস্তবতা)। 'Dienir Bansi' (ডাইনীর বাঁশি) was also much appreciated and he told others that the element and treatment here are free from foreign influence.

    Tagore praised Premendra Mitra for his power and unperturbed flow of writing (অস্খলিত গতি লেখনী). Tagore had a liking for Pramatha Chawdhuri and requested to write short stories, if continued, it would be a different style of its own, (নিজের ধাঁচার একটা জিনিস) and here the image is made of steel (ইস্পাতে গড়া মূর্তি), stories properly polished, dazzling and sharp (পালিশ করা, ঝকঝকে, তীক্ষ্ণ). But Pramatha's short story does not remind us of Chekhov as Tagore opined in 11th June, 1939.

    Rabindranath during his long literary tenure talked on several occasions of his own creation. Many a time lyricality of his stories are discused by Tagore and by several critics and Pramatha Nath Bisi had shown that during Shilaidah period main components are alike in poetry and Short Story. [9] Buddhadeva Bose also discussed in detail and observed that there are some stories whose nature is of poetry. In such context the story becomes a song with constant rejection of the density of reality. He referred Lipika, prose poems of Baudelair and Turgenev. [10]

    Alert reader will observe that Technical varietis are limitless in the world of his short stories. Let me refer some of these items. He has stories of incidents (দেনাপাওনা, ব্যবধান), stories of impression (এক রাত্রি, ক্ষুধিত পাষাণ), stories of characters (রামকানাইয়ের নির্বুদ্ধিতা, তারাপ্রসন্নের কীর্তি). Varieties of plots are there. As Staircase plot (আদি মধ্য অন্তযুক্ত কাহিনী) (দেনাপাওনা) Rocket plot (আঘাতের আকস্মিকতাযুক্ত) (অধ্যাপক), loose plot (মেঘ ও রৌদ্র). Sometimes he tried to reach a feeling with a story (একরাত্রি) or the story develops from a point of life (খোকাবাবুর প্রত্যাবর্তন) or the begining and end of a story reaches in a same point (দর্পহরণ) or there is a story inside the main story (পাত্র ও পাত্রী) or constructs a present frame and proceeds towards past (দুরাশা) we get stories where the writer is omniscient (দেনাপাওনা) or self expressive (সম্পাদক) or of a letter-pattern (স্ত্রীর পত্র). The begining of a few stories with features of a Character (তারাপ্রসন্নর কীর্তি) or with a dialogue (নিশীথে) or with a mere statement (মহামায়া) or with a desciption of nature (মেঘ ও রৌদ্র). If we look at the end part we find suggestiveness (ছুটি) and in some cases there are whip crack endings (শাস্তি)

    Rabindranath is simply amazing in creating imageries. Here are a few of examples — (a) অন্ধকার যেন বিকাশোন্মুখ কুঁড়ির আবরণ পুটের মতো ফাটিয়া চারিদিকে নামিয়া পড়িত। (ঘাটের কথা) (the darkness would fall away like the burst galyx of a blossoming bud...) (Translation : Supriya Chaudhuri) (b) ভয়ংকরী পদ্মা তখন হেমন্তের বিবরলীন ভুজঙ্গিনীর মতো কৃশনির্জীব ভাবে সুদীর্ঘ শীতনিদ্রায় নিবিষ্ট ছিল। (নিশীথে) (The awesome river had started her long winter-sleep, lifeless and inert as a hibernating snake) (Translation : William Radice) (c) দেখিল এক অঞ্জলি পারদকে মুষ্টির মধ্যে শক্ত করিয়া ধরা যেমন দুঃসাধ্য এই মুষ্টিমেয় স্ত্রীটুকুকেও কঠিন করিয়া ধরিয়া রাখা তেমনি অসম্ভব। (শাস্তি) (He realised that it was as impossible to hold his tiny wife firmly in his grasp as it would be to clasp a fistful of quicksilver, it was as if she escaped through the spaces between his fingers.) (Translation : Supriya Chaudhuri)

    In his last two books of Short Story Tagore at advanced age main tained his experimentation in a number of manners. Stories in She (Sixteen) were originally told and like told stories 'the ideas are dependent on the words', and Shey 'is very much a modern fantasy' and the ides of 'becoming the story' is central here. The translator, Aparna Chaudhuri informs us that there are two chief sets of poems — tiger poems and tuneless poems in this collection. It is a 'serial story' and 'elements of conventional fantasy are strongly suppressed'. There were songs, ছড়া, poems and twenty six line drawings and 20 plates scattered through. Sankha Ghosh told us that 'The story begins to move away from fantasy towards social satire', and the 'story moves from anonymity towards names'. [11] The Last collection of stories 'Galpo Swalpo' which is also interchained told stories where the writer in a funny tone continues a chain of Kathakota and that is between Kusmi and his grand father. These are a few sketches of characters, fairy tales, fragment memory or subdued comments on society and time. Here also the role of poetry plays with narration. Here he consciously climinates Sanskritized words and prefers simple conversational style. He told Rani Chanda — 'If this experiment fails, I won't have limit of grief'. [12]

    Edward Thompson in 1946 conjectured that 'Much of Tagore's permanent fame will rest on these stories and there are scopes to reveal inthis area.' [13] Needless to say, proper translation, selection of his stories to be placed before the non-Bengali and European readers. There must be Comparative Studies of the stories also with those of his European Contemporaries. I am sorry to say that such enterprises are very few still now. This is not chauvinism. I hope conceptual and experimental development of Tagore's Short Stories would be cultivated in ensuing time.


    [1] Rabindranath Tagore, A Biographical study - Ernest Rhys, Macmillan and Co, Ltd. 1915, Pg 54, 67.

    [2] His son E. P. Thompson mentioned that 'It is therefore surprising to find among the MS drafts of Thompson's 'Tagore' a whole section on the stories which was not included in the published book. Thompson also was trying to persuade Alexander Korda to make films of several stories, commencing with 'Chitrangada' and 'Hungry Stones' (Alien Homage, E. P. Thompson, Pg. 24, Oxford University Press, 1998)

    [3] Katha Kovid Rabindranath - Narayan Gangopadhyay, P.40, Bak Sahitya (Pvt.) Limited, Bhadra 1392. (কথাকোবিদ রবীন্দ্রনাথ - নারায়ণ গঙ্গোপাধ্যায়, পৃ. ৪০, বাক্‌সাহিত্য প্রাইভেট লিমিটেড, ভাদ্র ১৩৯২।)

    [4] A History of Indian Literature : 1800-1910 — Sisir Kumar Das, Sahitya Akademi, Reprint 2000, Pg. 306.

    [5] Bangla Choto Galpo 1873-1923 — Sisir Kumar Das, Bookland Private Limited, 1963 edition, Pg. 70-71. (বাংলা ছোটো গল্প ১৮৭৩-১৯২৩ — শিশির কুমার দাস, বুকল্যাণ্ড প্রাইভেট লিমিটেড, ১৯৬৩ সংস্করণ, পৃ. ৭০-৭১।)

    [6] Probhat Granthaboli, 4th Part, Letter to Tagore, No. 5. (প্রভাত গ্রন্থাবলী, ৪র্থ অংশ, রবীন্দ্রনাথকে চিঠি, সংখ্যা ৫।)

    [7] 'Lipika' reminds us Turgenev's 'Poems in Prose' (1879-1882), a short 'Kathika' which he called 'Senela'. After his demise (1883) Tagore started writing similar 'Kathika' named 'Puspanjali' in 'Bharati' (1292, Baisakh) Later when he was sixty he compiled those with some others in 'Lipika' (1922) Ujjal Kumar Majumdar in an article compares Tagore's stories with those of Turgenev in contexts of taste of nature, gracefulness of the villagers, inter relations of human beings and animals. Some allegonical compositions are also pointed. (Chotogalper Viswapot O Rabindranather Galpo - Rabindranath : Sristir Ujjal Srote — Ujjal Kumar Mazumdar, Ananda Publishers, 1st Edition, Baisakh 1400) (ছোটোগল্পের বিশ্বপট ও রবীন্দ্রনাথের গল্প - রবীন্দ্রনাথ : সৃষ্টির উজ্জ্বল স্রোতে — উজ্জ্বল কুমার মজুমদার, আনন্দ পাবলিশার্স, ১ম সংস্করণ, বৈশাখ ১৪০০)।

    [8] His last short story book was titled 'Galpo Swalpo'. Compositions of 'Lipika' were terned by Tagore himself as 'Kathika' (গলি বলে একটা কথিকা পাঠিয়েচি, সেটা কি ঠিকমত ঠিক জায়গায় পৌঁচেচে? চিঠিপত্র ৫ম খণ্ড, পৃ. ৩১) (Chithipatra 5th vol. Pg. 31) Or, 'আমার সেই কথিকাগুলো তোমরা অনেককাল হল শুনচ - নতুন কিছুই নয়' (To Charuchandra Bandyopadhyay, Chithipatra 14th Vol., Pg. 95) But else where he terned compositions of 'Lipika' as গদ্যকবিতা, বিশুদ্ধ গদ্য কবিতা (মংপুতে রবীন্দ্রনাথ - মৈত্রেয়ী দেবী, পৃ. ২৪) (Mongpute Rabindranath - Maitreyi Devi, Pg. 24)

    [9] Rabindranather Chotogalpo - Pramathanath Bisi, Mitra & Ghosh, Falgun, 1378. Pg. 33) (রবীন্দ্রনাথের ছোটোগল্প - প্রমথনাথ বিশি, মিত্র ও ঘোষ, ফাল্গুন, ১৩৭৮, পৃ. ৩৩)

    [10] Rabindranath : Kathasahitya - Buddhadeva Bose, New Age, May 1955 Pg. 53, 55, 59. (রবীন্দ্রনাথ : কথাসাহিত্য - বুদ্ধদেব বসু, নিউ এজ, মে ১৯৫৫, পৃ. ৫৩, ৫৫, ৫৯।)

    [11] Translator's Note by Aparna Chaudhuri, Introduction by Sankho Ghosh, He (Shey), Penguin Books, 2007.

    [12] Alapchari Rabindranath - Rani Chanda, Pg. 78. (আলাপচারী রবীন্দ্রনাথ - রানী চন্দ, পৃ. ৭৮)

    [13] Rabindranath Tagore : Poet and Dramatist - Edward Thompson, 1979 edition, Riddhi-India, Pg. 103.

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