Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rebindranath Tagore-Three Stories -First Asian Nobel Prize Winner

"The Parrot's Tale" (1918, 4 pages)
"My Lord Baby" (1917, 5 pages)
"The Babus of Nayanjore" (1915, 5 pages)

Three Wonderful Works by 
Rabindranath Tagore

On an impulse in July of last year I pulled up a list of all the Nobel Prize winners for literature.   The prize was first awarded to a person from Asian when, in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore ( Kolkata-fka Calcutta-India 1861 to 1941) received the award.    Tagore was a prolific writer of short stories.   I read and posted on one of his better known stories "Hungry Stones"  (There is some background information on  Tagore in that post.)   Since then I have posted on two more of his short stories.  

Tagore was a man of great learning and wisdom.        The short story is a relatively new literary form but the stories of  Tagore have their roots in a tradition that goes back to the ancient religious texts of South Asia.    Some of his shorter works may fit more into the category of parable than short story.   If you think about it, a parable is a reservoir of wisdom and the production of an original one strikes me as a greater accomplishment than most short stories.   I think a part of the source of the real greatness of the South Asian Short Story lies in the precedents set by Tagore.    Most of the authors I have read in this period are deeply into the reading life, both in Euro-centered texts as well as South Asian.   Of course up until the last few decades, only those born into wealth had a real opportunity to produce literary works.   Today I will just post briefly in three more of his shorter works.   (I read them all online and will provide links at the end of the post.   They are all translated from Bengali.)

"The Parrot's Tale" is closer to a parable than a short story.    By parable I mean a simple story told to illustrate a moral purpose, though the parables of Tagore I have read, including "The Parrot's Tale" contain strong elements of social criticsm also.
Here is how the story opens:

"Once there was a bird. It was an utterly foolish bird. It sang songs, but did not read the scriptures. It flew, it jumped, but did not have the faintest sense of etiquette.
The King said, ``Such birds! They are of no use at all. They only eat the fruits in the orchards and the royal fruit-market runs a deficit.''
He called the minister, and commanded, ``Educate it.''

The project of education the bird is turned over to one of the nephews of the king.   He assembles a blue ribbon committee of highly thought of personages and after some time they conclude that as a very first step the bird needs a bigger cage as his current cage is just so small the bird will not be able to focus on his education.   A goldsmith is brought in and he makes a very beautiful cage for the bird.   He leaves with a large bag of coins.    Then  it is decided the bird needs books to read.    Scribes are hired to produce for the bird all of the great texts of the land.   The scribes are so well paid that there families are enriched for future generations.   A large staff was hired to maintain and clean the gold bird cage.   Soon nay sayers arise and tell the king that the bird is not being educated, he is just an excuse for others to get rich.    The king forms another committee to study the issue, all of whose members are very well paid.  The king goes to visit the bird himself.   At first the king is distracted by the huge reception he receives (at great public expense) and almost forgets to even see the bird.   Then he goes to the cage.   There is no food, no water in  cage but there are many shreds of books.   The method of education is to tear off a piece of a book and force it down the mouth of the bird.   The king is advised this is a brilliant method and he gives everyone extra gold.  It is noticed the bird does not seem interested in his lessons and even wants to leave his cage.   The goldsmith fashions a chain for the bird and a surgeon clips his wings.   The ending of  the story is very brilliant and I will tell no more.   I think we can say Tagore was not very impressed with the educational system in the India of the British Raj as administered by its Indian employees.  

"The Babus of Nayanjore" (the title refers to a family) is a very well done social satire.    I see it as clearly a short story by modern definitions.   It centers on an older man from a once wealthy family living now reduced to close economic terms but still trying to seem wealthy.    His friends and neighbors know he is no longer rich but they act toward him as if he is still wealthy.    The fun of the stories begin when a brash young man decided to make fun of the man.    He learns a valuable lesson and his life ends up being changed forever.   I liked this story very much.

"My Lord Baby" is my favorite Tagore story so far.   Like many South Asian stories it deals with the rich and their servants.     I really think anyone who reads it will want to read more Tagore.   I know I do.    As the story opens we meet a man whose job is to take care of the baby son of a wealthy family.     The man totally loves the boy, he calls him "My Lord Baby" .   Even though he has a wife (who has never had a child) his life is totally wrapped up in the boy.   As the boy grows so grows the man's love for him.    Then something terrible happens.   I will leave the rest of the plot untold.    The story perfectly fits the form of a short story as set out in Frank O'Connor's The Lonely Voice-A Study of the Short Story.   It begins with a very clear exposition of the circumstances of the people in the story,   there is a powerful development in the story which produces great drama.   "My Lord Baby" is  about a man from  a submerged population group (servants of children-we have them here in the Philippines-the Yaya) and  deals directly with the causes and consequences of  loneliness.    I found this story deeply moving.  

"My Lord Baby" and "The Babus of Nayanjore" can be read HERE (along with a number of other works by Tagore.)

All of these stories are translated from Bengali.

The stories of Tagore are a great world  class cultural treasure.  They should be considered part of the canon.

Mel u  

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