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, April 12, 2012

"The Postmaster" by Rabindranath Tagore

"The Post Master" by Rabindranath Tagore  (1914, 12 pages)

Irish Short Story Week
March 11 to July 1

Nobel Prize Winners Only 
April 6 to April 13

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week which now includes Latin American works by authors of Irish descent, there will be an Irish-Argentine day, and Kiwi Irish.  I will be adding a recurring feature on Flash Fiction, perhaps tied in with my series on Emerging Irish Women Writers.   To join in (I will do a post spotlighting all the blogs and web pages of those who have joined us in early July and I now include a link to all participant posts on each of my posts.)  To join in in you need just do a post on one or more Irish short stories or a work of related non-fiction and let me know about it.  Guests posts are very welcome (there have been three great ones so far and more are in the works).  If you are interested in this please contact me.   If you have any suggestions, questions or even complaints please leave a comment.

Each of the five Nobel Prize winning authors I have posted on this week has an a lot on influence beyond just the literary world.    George Bernard Shaw and Kenzaburo Oe have worked for social justice.  Samuel Becket and William Butler Yeats have opened up the minds of millions who have never read them through their influence on the culture of the world.  However, none of them even have come close to the real influence on the whole world of Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941-Indian-was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize when he received the award in 1913).  I have posted on a good number of the short stories of Tagore (I am proud to be the source of the most English languages posts of the stories of Tagore that you will find anywhere on the Internet

Tagore has a very strong connection with Irish literary culture which I will talk about in a bit.

 Tagore (1861 to 1941) was born in Calcutta, Indian into a family whose wealth and life style can now only be seen in movies.    His father owned an estate so huge that at one point in his life Tagore traveled through it on a luxurious barge and was met on the river bank by tenants paying token rents to him.   Tagore was raised mostly by servants as his mother died young and his father was very busy administrating the vast estates he owned.   Tagore was educated in classical Indian literature and at age eight began to write poetry and ended up reshaping the Bengali Language.   Later in his life he founded a school and devoted himself entirely to his writing and teachings.   His moral authority became so great that he was able to write the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh, give Gandhi the title of Mahatma (teacher),  and in fact in his life had a status as a moral leader on a par with  Gandi.   He traveled to England and met William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound and other notable literary figures.   This was in a period when western writers were fascinated by Indian thinkers and Yeats wrote the preface for one of his first translations in English.   He is considered prior to WWII and perhaps even now the most widely read Indian author both in the west and in India.     Einstein said he profited greatly from his conversation on metaphysics with Tagore, Gandhi came  to him for moral counseling.   In 1915 he was knighted by George the V but he repudiated his knighthood following the 1919 Jallianwata Massacare.  He was a strong advocate of the end of British rule in India.  

William Butler Yeats and his wife attended a series of lecturers Tagore gave in London.  Yeats was fascinated by Tagore.  Georgie Yeats was touched on such a deep level by Tagore that he appeared as a kind of spokesman in her automatic writing and this helped shaped the mature poetic vision of Yeats.   Hopefully before ISSW2 events I will post more on Georgie Yeats and her automatic writing.  

There is no literary tradition older than that of India.   There are speculative reasons to think there was an oral literary culture in Ireland 5000 years ago (about the same time that Indian literary culture arose).  The difference is that in India there is an unbroken chain from the works of Salmon Rushdie back 5000 years but in Ireland the chain is broken and we have no sources.   I also think, getting off topic a bit, that the roots of magic realism go back to very old Indian literature.

"The Postmaster" is about a man sent by the government postal service to be the postmaster in the village of Ulapur, a far cry from his home town of Calcutta.  (I will post a link where you can download this and other stories at the end of this post.)   "Our postmaster belonged to Calcutta.  He felt like a fish out of water in this remote village".   He is an educated man and can find no friends among the men there, most of whom work at an indigo factory.   He is very lonely.  His only real human contact is a young woman who is his servant.  She slowly falls in love with the man, but he never sees it.  He is blinded by the caste differences and sees any idea of a relationship with the woman as absurd.   He becomes more and more homesick.   He requests to be reassigned to Calcutta and when he is turned down he resigns.   There is really moving scene that embodies tremendous emotional intelligence at the end of the story which I will leave untold.

There is a curious chain between Yeats, Tagore and Oe.  Tagore influences Yeats who in turn influences Oe, from Japan. 

You can download this and other stories by Tagore here.

"The Postmaster" is a beautiful very wise and moving story, as has been all of the works by Tagore I have read.    It was translated from Bengali but there is no translator credit in the work I read.

Mel u

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