Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories

Article excerpt

Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories translated and introduced by Mohammad A. Quayum (New Delhi: Macmillan, 2011)

Amidst a number of publications commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, Asia's first Nobel Laureate in Literature (1913), Mohammad Quayum's translation of Tagore's short stories from the Bengali original deserves especial mention. Quayum's brief, succinct biographical essay and comprehensive introduction set up the context to these nineteen stories of myriad variety, written across a range of time (1891-1941). Quayum's careful selection confirms that Tagore was indeed the 'Master Poet' (Kaviguru) who virtually pioneered the short story genre in Bengali literature during the late nineteenth century.

The predominant context of the selected stories is late nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury colonial Bengal. Tagore's patriotism is evident in his vivid portrayal of the landscape of rural Bengal, its sights and sounds, culture and custom. However, the selection is also significant in illustrating the ways in which Tagore subtly transcended the bordered context of Bengali life and culture to articulate his humanist philosophy of the fundamental values of self-respect and co-existence of humankind. Written with a tinge of pathos, or subtle humour and irony, the stories assert Tagore's empathy for the poor and the downtrodden, his disapproval of gender hierarchy and caste discrimination, and his opposition to the narrow utilitarian pursuit of the material at the expense of truth, creativity, morality and spirituality. Consequently, characters such as Ratan (The Postmaster), Nirupama (Assets and Debts), Hemanta (Sacrifice), Chandara (Punishment), Balai (Balai), Kamala and Habir Khan (A Woman's Conversion to Islam) exemplify Tagore the reformist who relentlessly argued against societal inequalities and injustices.

Though written more than a century ago, Tagore's stories could not be more relevant to a twenty-first century readership. His vision of synthesis and intercultural alliance offers a panacea to our contemporary world riddled with factionalism and fundamentalism. In Quayum's words:

Tagore believed in a dialogic, interactive world, in which communities and nations would bear a deep sense of sympathy, generosity and mutuality towards one another, and shun exclusivity, parochialism and idolatry of geography for a centrifugal outlook, principle of universality and reciprocal recognitions. …

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