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The Horse

Rabindranath Tagore

Translated from the Bengali by Palash Baran Pal

When the act of creation was coming to an end and the final whistle was about to be blown, an idea transpired in Lord Brahma's head.

He called the storekeeper and said, "Hey storekeeper, bring fair amounts of all five elements to my workshop. I will create a new animal."

The storekeeper folded his hands and said, "Grandfather, when you created the elephant, the whale, the anaconda, the lion and the tiger, in all your excitement you did not pay any attention to stocktaking. The supplies of all the strong and heavy elements are almost completely drained. There is very little left of earth, water and fire. Only air and space are left, and they are there in plenty."

The four-headed Brahma twirled His four mustaches for a while and said, "Well, bring me whatever you have, let me see what I can do."

This time, when He created the new animal, He was really stingy with the earth, water and fire. He did not give horns to the new animal, and no claws either. The teeth that He gave were good for chewing but not for biting. He gave it a small amount of fire so that the animal could be of some use in battlefields, but not enough to make the animal interested in fighting. This animal is the horse. It does not lay eggs but there is a heresay about these eggs,1 so it can be called a twice-born animal.2

No matter what He did with the other elements, the creator was very generous with air and space. As a result, the animal was almost totally obsessed with freedom. It wanted to run faster than the wind, as if it dared to cross the endless sky. Other animals ran when a reason appeared. But this one ran for no reason, as if it wanted to run away from its own self. It did not want to grab anything from others or to kill others --- it only wanted to flee: as if to become ecstatic with flight, intoxicated with flight, and finally vanish into nothingness. Wise people say that this is exactly what happens when air and space completely overshadow earth, water and fire in one's nature.

Brahma was very pleased. To some animals, He gave forests as their home. To some animals, He gave caves. But to this animal, He gave open fields, because He loved to see it running.

Man lived by the side of the field. Whatever things he scrounged for himself became a big burden to carry. When he saw the horse running in the field, he thought, "If we can somehow harness this animal, it would be a big help for our marketing trips."

He lassoed the horse one day. He put a saddle on its back, and a bridle with a bit in its mouth. He whipped the animal on its shoulders and kicked it with spurred shoes. In addition, there were assaults on its torso.

If the horse were left free in the fields it might get away, so man put walls around it. The tiger had forests, it stayed in the forest. The lion had caves, no one claimed it. But the horse had the open field, and it ended up in a stable. The elemental air and space ushered the animal towards freedom, but could not save it from the shackles.

When it became unbearable, the horse started kicking the walls of the stable. Its legs got more injured than the walls. Still, the plastering of the walls was damaged and the walls looked ugly.

Man got very irritated by this. He said, "This is ungratefulness at its height. I provide fodder for the horse. I pay a hefty salary to a lad to look after it around the clock, and yet I cannot win the animal's heart."

To win the heart, the stable lads used their clubs with such vigor that the horse did not even have the strength to lift its legs for kicking. Man called his neighbors and said, "There is no other animal that is as devoted to its master as this one of mine." The neighbors said in an appreciative tone, "You are right. It is as cool as ice. Cool like your own disposition."3

The horse did not have appropriate teeth or claws or horns to begin with. Now, it could not even kick the walls, or even the air. So, in order to clear the mind, it raised its head to the sky and started neighing. That disturbed man in his sleep. The neighbors also thought that the sound did not have the tone of deep gratitude. So a lot of appliances were designed to keep the animal's mouth shut. But the cries cannot be stopped unless breathing is. So a muffled groan kept coming out of its mouth from time to time.

One day that sound reached Brahma's ears. He woke up from his meditation and looked at the open field on earth. There was no sign of the horse there.

The Grandfather called Yama, the god of death, and said, "It must be your doing. You have consumed my horse."

Yama said, "Creator, you always put me on top of your list of suspects. Why don't you take a look at the neighborhood of man?"

Brahma saw a very small space, enclosed by walls, and the horse standing in the middle, neighing faintly.

His heart melted. He told man, "If you don't set this animal free, I will give it claws and teeth like the tiger's, and the animal will be useless to you."

Man said, "That would be a shame! That would only indulge violence. But Grandpa, whatever you say, this animal of yours is not worth setting free. I have spent a lot of money to build the stable only to help the animal. A grand stable, you must agree."

Brahma said stubbornly, "You have to set it free."

Man said, "Fine, I will. But only for a week. If, after that, you still insist that your open field is better for the animal than my stable, I will concede."

Man let the animal in the field. But, before doing so, he tied its two front legs with a sturdy rope. The horse could only move with a gait that was worse than a frog's leaps.

Brahma lived far away in heaven. He could see the movement of the horse, but could not see the rope that tied its legs. He blushed at the clownish gait of the animal of his own creation and said, "I made a mistake."

Man folded his hands and said, "What shall I do now with this creature? If you have fields in your heavenly abode, I can send it there."

Brahma said hurriedly, "No no, take it back to your stable."

Man said, "But, Revered Creator, that will be a big burden for mankind to bear."

Brahma said, "That is what humanity is all about."


1. In Bengali, "horse's egg" is an idiomatic expression for something absurd and impossible.(Back to text)
2. In Bengali, there is a word that can be used for birds and reptiles, whose etymological meaning is "twice-born": first in the form of an egg, and second when the egg fertilizes. (Back to text)
3. The Bengali word in the original, "dharma", can be used to mean either "disposition" or "religion".(Back to text)

The translator thanks Shoili Pal and Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra for their critical comments on an earlier draft.

Published in Parabaas, May 7, 2021.

The original, titled [Ghora, ঘোড়া] by Rabindranath Tagore was first published in the Bengali magazine Sabuj Patra (সবুজ পত্র) in Boishakh, 1326 (April-May, 1919) and later collected in lipikaa (লিপিকা) (`Brief Writings') in August 1922.

Translated by Palash Baran Pal [পলাশ বরণ পাল]. (b. 1955) is a physicist by profession. He mainly writes research articles in his field of research, but ... (more)

Illustrated bySanchari Mukherjee. Sanchari is currently working at Delhi.

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