AD's English Literature : Main Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s "Postmaster": Loneliness and the Search for Meaning in the World

Monday, January 5, 2015

Main Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s "Postmaster": Loneliness and the Search for Meaning in the World


Loneliness and the search for meaning in the world are the main themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s Postmaster, although other themes are subsumed in these two notions. Postmaster’s love and compassion for the young girl and the young girl’s musing by herself late into the night every night suggests loneliness. Postmaster understands implicitly what it may be like to be that lonely, to live that loner’s life. Read More Short Stories Ratan, who has no life, no home, and no job, lacks Postmaster’s perspective on life; she sees only her own immediate desire to stay at home, with no thought towards what may be haunting the young heart she matures night after night.

Now coming to the story we find, in the small village of Ulapur, an Englishman who owns an indigo factory near it manages to get a post office established. The village was very small. His office and living room were in a dark thatched shed near a slimy pond surrounded on all sides by a dense growth. Read More Rabindranath Tagore The postmaster's office has a green, slimy pond, surrounded by dense vegetation. A postmaster from Calcutta gets separated from his family and transferred to this village. Postmaster didn’t like this village because he belonged to Calcutta. From the noise of the city, he comes to a deserted village with just scattered glimpses of people. 


 Postmaster represents many subjects: wisdom, reflection, compassion, and loneliness itself. Through the dialogue, Tagore reveals Postmaster as a man searching desperately for something to cling to in his life, for some meaning. Read More Rabindranath Tagore After trying to explain the reason why the city babu needs the business, a lighted hovel, was much more meaningful than the dank, dark den of a village nook, he sees the futility of relating his fears to someone of a younger soul, and he grows reflective.  Read More Short Stories . The story revolves around 'longing and separation'; starting and ending with this. The postmaster is taken away from his family and brought to a remote village. He was in a village, where its busy people were no company, and he was left with not much work to do. He tries to pacify his longing emotions by writing poetry. However, the fact that he tries to write something external to him, like nature, makes it an impossible venture. 

Once at a time the postmaster tried his hand at writing a verse or two. The movements of the leaves and the clouds of the sky were enough to fill his life with joy. His salary was small an orphan girl of the village helped him by managed his domestic works. The name of the girl was rattan. One evening postmaster called Ratan and told her to stop her kitchen work for awhile and prepare his tobacco. When Ratan came with puffed out cheeks, postmaster asked her about her parents and brother. Ratan answered sitting on the floor near the postmaster’s feet. An orphan girl of the village, Ratan, helps him with his daily chores. He speaks to her about his mother and sister in the evenings, and would keep enquiring about her family. He would speak with sadness of all those "memories which were always haunting him". Read More Rabindranath Tagore

Tragicomically wrought, the thoughts of Postmaster reveal his ironic sensibility, and also cleverly introduce the notion of Love and longing. Rural Bengal, where the Post office is located, is a strongly secluded country, and life there is one that almost every person who has ever attended more than one city night would have learned. Read More Short Stories Tagore pokes fun at the meaning of longing, and at the human need to cling to a higher being in order to find meaning in the present life, by replacing all the emotional references and words in the passage with the word “Ratan,” which translates to “innocence and experience.” Love is nothing, Postmaster seems to be thinking. Many people do go about the world unquestioning, never asking about the meaning of life or ever asking the question of whether Love exists, but here, Tagore slyly brings the question to the fore.

Companionship and dependency can be seen through how the relationship between the postmaster and Ratan grows through the course of this story. Ratan did not have many memories of her family to be recalled. Read More Rabindranath Tagore  There were only fragments, like pictures, of her father coming home in the evening, and her little brother whom she played with, fishing on the edge of the pond.  Once she met the postmaster, she spent her days with him. She would sit outside his shed, being only a call away from him, and doing all the small chores. Postmaster would share his meals with her. Then in the evenings, she would listen to him talking about his relatives and in imagination make them her own.

Tagore translates the longing ringing in Postmaster's heart to nature, when he says, "A persistent bird repeated all the afternoon the burden of its one complaint in Nature's audience chamber." A man, who initially failed his attempt at verse, thinks of this as parallel to his emotions. Poetry is something that comes from the inner overflow of emotions. He hopes for the presence of a loving human being he could hold close to his heart. 

 After a few days seated at his desk in the corner of the big empty shed postmaster remembered of his own home, of his mother and sister. Read More Short Stories When they were taking about them Ratan had known them all her life. One noon, during a break in the rains, there was a cool soft breeze blowing. A bird went on all the afternoon repeating the burden of its complaint in nature’s audience chamber. The postmaster was watching and thinking to himself that if only some kindred soul were near. Suddenly he called Ratan and told her that he was thinking of teaching her to read. One evening, he tells Ratan that he is going to teach her to read. She grows closer to him. She sees him as her only relative. She grows dependent. 


But, as the season's rain seemed like it would never end, like the constant patter on the roof, Postmaster was troubled by his heart's exile.  The postmaster can't stand the quietude of Ulapur. He longs for the noises of traffic and life in Calcutta.  After a few days Ratan had been long waiting outside the door for her call. But not hearing it usual she entered the room. He falls sick in his solitude. Ratan takes care of him, and he recovers just taking her presence for granted. But, he then decides that he has to leave this village. He writes an application of transfer, based on the unhealthiness of the village. Read More Rabindranath Tagore The transfer is rejected. Postmaster told that he was not well. Listing the news of his illness Ratan called in the village doctor, gave the patient his pills at the proper intervals and sat up all night by his pillow. Read More Short Stories It was some time before the postmaster was able to leave his sickbed and told her that his application for a transfer had been rejected, so he had resigned his post and was going home. He tells Ratan that he has resigned and will be leaving the village. She asks him to take her with him. He thinks of it as an absurd idea and she is haunted by his reaction. Next morning, she fills a bucket of water for him. He bathes and waits for the next postmaster to arrive. Ratan asked no other question. She went off to the kitchen. When postmaster finished his dinner, the girl suddenly wanted to go with him. But postmaster denied here proposal. So the girl felt a pain at heart. Next day just before starting postmaster gave his month’s salary to Ratan. But she didn’t take it. He consoles Ratan saying that he would inform the postmaster about her. He even offers her some money to keep. She refuses both and expresses that she doesn't want to stay there anymore. Ratan has lived a life of loneliness. Postmaster was her only companion, and the only one who seemed to understand her. She is broken, when he has to leave without her.   
 Postmaster got in and the boat was under way. He felt a pain of heart. At one time he had an impulse to go back and bring away her along with him. But he can’t do it. He leaves as soon, as the new postmaster arrives. He hesitates for a moment as the boat leaves, but it is too late for him to take her with him. Tagore illustrates the two ways a human mind works. Read More Rabindranath Tagore The postmaster uses the element of philosophy to console himself. He tells himself that meeting, attachment, and departing are all part of life. It will all settle with the passage of time. The wind that fills the sails of the boat indicates the reason the postmaster fills his heart with, as he separates himself from the village. Suddenly he thought that on the numberless meetings and partings going on in the world –on death, the great parting, from which none returns. However, Ratan stands outside the office "with tears streaming from her eyes." She has succumbed to a common human folly, as Tagore expresses, of hope. She has been separated from her only bond and now longs for it to return.

Tagore ends by saying that humans often fall into hope than seeing the reason, and long before we realize, disappointment becomes too hard to handle. Ratan the little orphaned girl is interested in nothing beyond her own needs and family, while the little woman who is a bit older seems weathered in her temperament, more eager to understand the larger world around her. Read More Short Stories Most unsettling, perhaps, yet tragic in its sterility, is Ratan’s love for Postmaster. Ratan complains to Postmaster that there could be nothing upon which the patron could base his decision because she has no marks in his mind. This comment reveals ignorance about human nature, and a certain naïveté that comes from inexperience. Ratan, it would seem, has lived a very unsheltered life. She needs a shelter and Tagore infuses the situation with tragedy by having the Postmaster helpless in this situation.

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