An Analysis of Rabindranath Tagore’s "The Hungry Stone" as a Supernatural Story


With the progress of civilization we have learnt many things-- explored newer worlds, yet the mystery of death remains vogue. We have the infinite query – what’s after death? The rhythm of life and its saga, its pleasures and sorrows are trapped into the eerie patter of the mystery of death. Rabindranath Tagore’s supernatural stories depict this aspect. His Hungry Stones, Nisithe, Sampatti Samarpan etc are few of the exquisite examples.


            The artistic beauty of The Hungry Stones as a supernatural story is that it creates an atmosphere at once metaphysical yet factual, at once imaginative yet probable. It satiates the readers about their momentary disbelief of the supernatural atmosphere by dragging readers into the opacity of the poet’s abysmal conscience. Supernaturalism can only be felt by the sixth sense. The Hungry Stones pervades a mysterious romantic atmosphere that becomes a subject of extra sensual feeling – a sixth sense. In fact, the entire story of The Hungry Stones is the pure fabrication of the sub-conscious mind of the collector of cotton duties at Barich. Driven by the solitary Palace and its mighty opacity, he hears the story of the palace built by Emperor Mohmud Shah II about 250 years ago. He listens footfall on the steps of Sustra river, confuses himself in simultaneous murmur of the Persian damsels taking their baths, lost utterly into the song of bulbuls from the edges in the corridors, and muses himself in the strange unearthly music of the cackle of storks in the gardens.

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The story of The Hungry Stones is a weird experience of a cotton-collector in a medieval pleasure-palace who resides a few days there. This collector of the cotton duties, a disposer of all things, is the narrator of his own story and the two fellow passengers are the listeners. The scene is at the waiting room in a rail station. It is then 10 p.m and the author and his kinsman are about to lie down for a comfortable doze, when the extra ordinary third person spins the yarn of his story.

            The cotton collector relates his experience in his tale. Driven and derided by the vision of the Persian Maiden and her cry: “Take me away, give me my deliverance; break down the doors of this rooted illusion, this deep sleep, this futile dream. Put me on your horse, take me in your embrace – carry me away through the forest, over the mountains, across the river into your own sunlit room. Give me my deliverance!” the collector losses his self control and finds the world around him trivial meaningless, and contemptible. He is fascinated by the weird spells cast by the marble demon. Karim Khan, a clerk to the collector’s office might have an explanation in metaphysical terms: “There was a time once when many flames of unfulfilled desire and demented lust had teemed and flared inside that place. Every block of stone within it is still hungry, still a thirst, from the curse of that anguished and frustrated longing. Whenever they find a living human being within their grasp, they seek to devour him like ravening demons”. Both the cotton collector and the old clerk Karim Khan realize that there is fatal attraction towards the haunted palace which begets split personality and insanity. One can be tempted to draw a parallel to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher. D.H.Lawrence’s observation in the context of Poe’s story is also applicable here: “It is the souls of living men that subtly impregnate stones, houses, mountains, continents, and give them their subtlest form. People only become subject to stones after having lost their integral souls”.
            (Twentieth century Interpretations of The House of Usher – D.H. Lawrence)

            A great many of literature has been produced taking the subject of supernaturalism. In Bengali texts Tagore is identified as the architect of psychoanalytical supernatural stories. In him scarcely we find any weird or ape or apparitions’ sudden arrival – rather his is the stories of the man distorted into his self about the two extreme ends – the reality and extra terrestrial footprints. His is the stories of no-ghosts, rather a psychological landscape, deriving its form and colour from the mental states of the central figure. In other words, the author exploits the ‘flow of consciousness’ to communicate the drama of indecision, despair, inactivity or mental vacuity. In The Hungry Stones the alluring dreams of Persian Damsel and its irresistible attractive longing on the part of the collector of cotton duties might be a fascination as ‘all is false’. The story ends in a twist if the story is a pure fabrication or something that can be relied. Nevertheless, a lifelong rupture between theosophist kinsman and the author is the outcome.      



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