The Cornet

     Rabindranath Tagore

Translated from the original Bengali by

Nandini Gupta

Kinu Goala’si lane.
Bottom floor of a two-storied house—
Windows with iron bars             open onto the street.
Rotting walls with peeling plaster,
Are bespattered with damp-marks.
Pasted on the door is
a picture of Ganesh, God of success,
          cut out from longcloth rolls.
Apart from me,          there’s another resident
Sharing the room and the rent—
A house lizard.
His situation a little different –
He does not want for food.

The juniormost clerk in a merchant office,
             My salary is twenty five rupees.
The Duttas give me my meals,
                 I tutor their children.
I spend the evenings at the Sealdah station
                 Saving on electricity.
The chugging of engines,
The whistling of trains
The jostling of crowds
The shouting of coolies.
Till it turns half past ten
And I return to my room ---lonely silent dark.

On the banks of the Dhaleshwari
             is my aunt’s village—
Her brother-in-law’s daughter
             Was to have married this humble self
On a truly auspicious moment:
             For at that moment I fled.
The girl, leastways, was spared, So was I.
Home she did not come,     but ever so often
Into my mind          she comes and goes
Wearing a dhakaiii sari, and sindooriii in her hair.

The rains set in.
I spend more on tramfare
Sometimes I lose pay.
Mango skins and seed,
Jackfruit pulp
Fish bones, skin
Dead kittens
This, that,
Accumulate and fester
In the crannies of the lane.
My umbrella riddled with holes,
Begins to resemble             my fines-infested salary,
My work clothes are always misty
Much like          Gopikanto Goshai’siv mind.
The shadows of dark clouds creep into the dank room
            And hover paralysed and insensate
Like an animal in a trap.
Day and night      I feel shackled
           To some half-dead world.

At the head of the lane lives Kantobabu,
His long hair carefully brushed
His eyes large, his ways fine and dandy
Playing the cornet is his hobby.
At times, music stirs up the
Gruesome air in this lane,
Sometimes at midnight,
        Or in the dawn’s half light
In the glistening light and shade
        Of a late afternoon.

Suddenly the notes of sindhu-barwa
                    soar into the dusk
The sky rings
with the eternal pain and longing of parting.
And I know at once;
This lane is but a lie
Intolerable, as the raving of a lunatic.
It comes to me then,
Nothing lies between Badsha Akbar
             and Haripada the clerk.
The ragged umbrella and the royal parasol
Both ascend             towards the same deliverance
Perched on the plaintive notes of the cornet.

Where this music is real: there
Ever in the twilight,             the Dhaleshwari flows on
Tamal trees cast               deep shadows on its banks—
And there, in the courtyard,
             She waits
Wearing a dhakai sari, and sindoor in her hair.

25 AshaaD, BE 1339      

i Kinu the milkman: The lane probably gets its local name from the milkman plying his business there.

ii Traditional sarees from Dhaka, worn commonly by Bengali married women.

iii Vermillion worn by Bengali married women on the parting of the hair to indicate her marital status.

iv Goshai typically refers to a Vaishnavite, typically immersed in the appreciation of the divine love of Radha and Krishna.

Published in Parabaas August, 2010

The original poem Bnashi was first collected in Parishesh, and later in the second edition of Punashcha (Phalgun, BE 1340).

Translated by Nandini Gupta.

Illustration by Nilanjana Basu.

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