Nature and Childhood in Tagore’s Selected Short Stories
Memory is who we are. Childhood memories are always exclusive. Most importantly, a childhood spent in the lap of nature or close to nature is a blessing. Nature is the organic force: a sense sublime that keeps our inner spirit alive and lively.
These days' teenagers, born and brought up in major cities, practically live a caged and routine life devoid of the touch of sun, rain, and lush green. Conversely, the people who have good juvenile memories, especially those who lived in the village, reflect on those cherish memories to survive in the boring, chaotic, and self-centred city life. Indeed, we are shaped and moulded by retrospection and introspection of our memories.
The wild and mysterious nature usher the spring of life. A child is part of it. Environmentalists proclaim, Children get sensory stimulation from nature and can create companion and communion with it in their way. Nature is as sensitive as a child. I spent my childhood in touch with Mother Nature and can think of her impact on me as she used to cheer me up, uplift me, and help me connect with the universe. The trees, sun, moon, cows, goats, paddy fields, ponds, and rivers were my constant companions then, and I used to fuse with them in my delight and sorrow. Life was so wild and free-flowing before. However, by brooding over nature, a sense of philosophy brewed in me
For Rabindranath, school was a box and a killing machine of the human spirit. Being confined in his studies at home and school, he could not endure this torture. A poetic soul like him always craved the touch of innocent, mystic, and wily and wild nature. At tender age- looking through the windows and roaming around the terrace of the Jorashanko Thakur Bari-the would-be poet used to color his imagination and thoughts on nature. The beautiful and fascinating calm and the wide-open sky-looked upon from the roof- gave him the enigmatic sense of freedom.
His autobiography "My Reminiscences" delineates all his 'companionship with the trees' that used to offer him a deep 'sense of music' in crafting poetry and distinct literary voice. At the age of twelve, he wandered with his father along the beautiful countryside of India which created a lasting effect and wonder on his creative mind and soul. Yet, long later, his journey by the Padma and his stay in North Bengal of then East Bengal showered him with all the insights and ingredients of his creative writings.
For example, his short stories- "Chuti", "Bolai", "Atithi", "Suva", and "Postmaster"- are notable specimens to study the relationship between Nature and children. Through these stories, Rabi Thakur has drawn a friendly albeit intricate spiritual relationship of men with Nature.
Besides the innate and inherent relationship with Mother Nature has an insurmountable effect on the youthful protagonists of his stories. In most cases, the protagonists of Tagore's short stories resemble the childhood and adolescent life of the writer himself.
We can easily associate the joys and pains of the characters with that of our Rabi Thakur. Nonetheless, the beautiful natural landscape he depicts is remarkable and foreshadows a humble and benign representation of 19th century Bengal.
In the story "Chuti", Phatik Chakraborty comes to Calcutta with his uncle (mama) from his village by leaving his mother, younger brother Makhon, and a host of comrades. Gradually, he became fed up with the oppressive city life and enquired his uncle, "Mama, when will I go home to my mother?" Mother is his home, his love, and his abode- the village it is, the Mother Nature.
Remarkably, it seems like I am that Phatik who had once been exiled in Dhaka from his homeland and now constantly yearns for going back home. As Rober Frost writes "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."But can Phatik (or me) go home and reconcile with his mother and Mother Nature?
"Bolai", likewise, tells the heart-rending story of relationship of a young lad with nature and mother (kakima). Hither, the protagonist is in love with a Silk-cotton (Shimul) tree which is later cut down by his kaka as Bolai leaves for West to pursue education. Bolai once pleaded and begged his Kaka not to uproot this tree. But alas! Bolai's deep love and feelings towards that tree get shattered.
I wonder how beautifully- though having a profound tragic undertone- Tagore tells my childhood story. Once my young Nayantara plant was also uprooted by strangers, and I felt almost dead then. In remorse, I cried for few days losing my close companion. I recall, I stopped taking food too. I felt like none other than grief-stricken Bolai.
In "Atithi," the majestic and sublime description of the scenic boat journey manifests and outlines all the awe-inspiring and serene beauties of surrounding nature. Amidst this serenity, the boundless Tarapada-the wanderer-is in deep attachment with the profusion of nature. But he cannot stay at any human place for a long time. Thus, nature becomes his literal dwelling place, and he turns into the 'son of nature.' Not any human love can confine him; even he elopes denying the love of Charu too. He does not abide by any rules; instead, he creates his rules like Mother Nature.
Suvashini, in the story 'Suva' cannot talk. For that, even her mother ignores her and she becomes a burden for the family. Having been rejected by the greater society, she alternatively makes a bond with two domestic cows-Sarbbashi and Panguli. She loves to talk with them, hugs them, and spend quality time with them.
Suva proves that language is not a barrier if it is the language of the heart. She loves to spend time near the waterside. The only other friend that she cares about is the idle Pratap. Suva created her world of joy and fun though she cannot utter a single word. She is also forced to sever from her root as she is married off. But who will understand her languages like Sarbbashi and Panguli?
"Postmaster" is a unique story of love and attachment. Apart from excessive rain and gloomy weather, the newly appointed Postmaster finds Ratan, the infant girl, an exotic part of nature, and like pals, they start to reciprocate love and care for each other. But the Postmaster, overwhelmed by climate, decides to leave. Ratan wished that one-day Postmaster would take her with him. He denied; though, he felt guilty. He comforts his culpability with logic and reason. But how will Ratan console herself? Thus, Tagore ends the story with unique philosophical queries.
These stories remind me to ruminate and wonder about my pet cat and dog. I left them while leaving my village at the age of ten. Like Tagore's characters, I did not want to leave them either. They even somehow managed to come to the launch ghat on my way to Dhaka. My wonder! I saw them even crying. I cannot imagine pets crying out of love for their caregivers.
But I had to sever my tie with them by embracing frustrating city life. The city did not accept me with a good vibe and a warm heart. I badly missed my village and the unpretentious companions. Till now, I feel unmatched in this self-centred, selfish, and chaotic city. I crave a wide-open sky and vast playground but in vain. The village nature was once my everyday playmate, caregiver, and nurse as she was to the Tagore's characters.
Rabindranath Thakur is a magician. He understood the true pulse of nature and young people. His sense and sensibility in understanding human nature are immense. He is not only a nature poet but a psychologist too. He urges people 'to stand out in the open' and thus understand the 'music of the universe.'
His stories help me connect with my childhood, and my sweet memories become the source of delight in my hard times. My specific remembrance of the precious memories of my childhood in this Covid pandemic heals me a lot, and credit goes to Tagore as I revisited his stories.
Lastly, I can proclaim: 'Loving nature means loving ourselves and our existence.'
The writer is a teacher of English Literature