The first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore is not an unknown figure to anyone who has even the mildest interest in English literature. One of the well-known Rabindranath Tagore poems is Gitanjali but he is also popular for his novels, Gora and Ghaire Baire. Other than poems and novels, Tagore also wrote short stories, dance dramas, songs and essays. These 7 short stories by Rabindranath Tagore are must-read. These heart wrenching stories explore human relationships and give a glimpse of Calcutta in early 19th century.
#1 Kabuliwallah (Kabuliwallah)
One of the most popular Tagore stories, Kabuliwallah is set in the early 20th century in Calcutta. The story explores the bond shared by a little girl called Mini and a Kabuliwallah (a generic term used for traders who used to come to India every year from Kabul for trade). Mini is a 5 year old girl who befriends Rahmun, a fruit seller. Rahmun comes everyday to meet Mini and Mini anxiously waits for him. Unfortunately, Rahmun is jailed for few years and over the time Mini forgets him. He returns to Mini’s house to find that she is getting married and no longer remembers him. Love and affection are the central themes of this simple yet heartwarming story.
#2 The Homecoming
‘The Homecoming’ is a tale of a 14-year-old mischievous child, Phatik Chakraborty, who lives in a village with his mother and Makhan. Phatik’s mother thinks of Phatik as a nuisance and a liar. One day, Phatik’s uncle, Bishamber, comes to visit them and suggests to take Phatik to the city. Both Phatik and his mother are overjoyed. Unfortunately, Phatik is not welcomed by his aunt as she thinks of his as a burden. Poor Phatik falls ill but but does not want to go to his uncle’s house because he doesn’t want to be a burden. The ending of the story is open-ended; it is for reader to decide the fate of Phatik. The Homecoming is a heart wrenching short story by Tagore that shows how delicate a child’s mind is.
#3 The Postmaster (Post Master)
Revolving around the themes of longing, separation and companionship, this touching story revolves around a postmaster and an orphan girl. The postmaster is transferred to remote village from Calcutta and misses his life back in the city. An orphan girl, Ratan, helps him with daily chores. Soon Ratan starts calling Postmaster her dada (elder brother) and a bond is formed between the two. Unfortunately, the postmaster falls sick. Ratan becomes his nurse but the postmaster begins to feel more unhappy in the village and applies for his transfer. When his transfer application is rejected, he resigns from his job and returns back to his home. Ratan, sadly, once again becomes an orphan.
#4 The Hungry Stones (Ksudita Pasan)
The Hungry Stones is completely different from other short stories of Rabindranath Tagore. A supernatural story that explores the realism and imagination. The narrator of the story is traveling with his kinsman and meets Srijut while waiting at a junction for a train. Srijut begins to tell his story about the time when he was a tax collector at Barich. Near his office, stood a palace that was about 250 years old and was deserted. Karim Khan, an old clerk, at Srijut’s office tells him not to visit the palace after dark or stay at the palace. Srijut ignores old man and decides to stay at the palace. Soon he is visited by fair maiden every night. Every morning, he wakes from a dreadful nightmare but returns to the palace every night. Whether Srijut’s story is a reality or figment of imagination is left for reader to decide.
#5 The Broken Nest (Nastanirh)
The Broken Nest is heart wrenching story that explores husband-wife relationship. Bhupati has inherited family wealth but he is more interested in writing. He runs a printing press with his brother-in-law and Bhupati is married to Charulata (Charu). Even though he loves her but he has no time for her. Sensing her loneliness, Bhupati invites his cousin Amol. Amol is preparing to go to Oxford for his higher studies and begins to teache Charu music. Soon, Charu and Amol start spending time together. Bhupati’s brother in law cheats Bhupati and runs away with the money. When Bhupati tells Amol about the loss, Amol realizes how Charu no longer cares for Bhupati but for him. Overcome with guilt, Amol leaves for London and marries a girl leaving Charu heartbroken. When Bhupati realizes his wife no longer loves him and has feelings for Amol, he tries to win her back but realizes its too late. In the end, Charu and Bhupati part ways.
#6 A Wife’s Letter (Strir Patra)
One of my favorite short stories by Rabindranath Tagore, A Wife’s Letter explores the condition of women in 19th and early 20th century. Mrinal is married to a wealthy family in Calcutta. She is intelligent and outspoken which annoys her husband and in-laws. Soon, her sister-in-laws’ sister, Bindu, comes to stay with them. Even though the family does not want Bindu to stay, Mrinal fights for her. After some time, to get rid of Bindu, Mrinal’s in-laws decide to get Bindu married. It is soon disclosed that Bindu’s husband is mad. Mrinal is not able to get Bindu back at her home but keeps in touch with Bindu through her brother Shorot. Mrinal decides to go to Puri to visit the Jaganath temple and asks her brother to bring Bindu to the railway station. Unfortunately, Bindu commits suicide. In the end, Mrinal is watching the waves from her dharamshala’s window and writing a letter to her husband and telling him that she will not return.
#7 Giribala (Maanbhanjan)
Another one of Tagore stories that explores the relationship of a husband-wife. Giribala is married to a wealthy zamidar‘s son, Gopinath at a young age. Initially, the two like each other but the distant begins to grow once they both get old. Soon Gopinath’s father passes away and Gopinath begins to misuse the wealth left to him by his father. He soon starts going to the theatre everyday and soon gets infatuated by Latika. When Giribala hears about Latika, she decides to go and see the actress but it is the theatre that captures the eyes of Giribala. She starts going to theatre everyday. Meanwhile, Latika is working on a new play but the director is not happy with her performance. In fit of rage, Gopinath and the director fight and soon Gopinath and Latika elope. After few months, they hear about a new actress who has taken the place of Latika. Curious to know who she is, they both travel back to Calcutta only to find that the new actress is none other than Giribala.
We hope these short stories of Rabindranath Tagore gave you glimpse of Calcutta in British Raj. These are just some of the best short stories by Rabindranath Tagore. Aparichita, House Number One, Inheritance, The Wedding Garland and The Babus of Nyanjore are few other short stories by Tagore that I would recommend you to read.