English Translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Short Story ‘Subha’ (A Short Excerpt)
On the auspicious occasion of the birth anniversary of Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore, the bard of my soul, the illustrious Nobel laureate of Bengal, my humble tribute, a short excerpt from my upcoming Tagore translation book, ‘The Broken Home and Other Stories’, a collection where I have translated in English two of his novellas and six short stories of his magnum opus work of fiction, ‘Galpaguchchho.’ One of the stories of this collection, ‘Subha’ is a heart-rending tale of a mute girl, steeped in deep pathos and also a level of mysticism which was the trademark of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry and prose. I sincerely pray I have been able to do a wee bit of justice to him through my humble translation. This short excerpt, I hope, will give the readers the impetus to read the full story along with the other stories and novellas of the collection, when it hits the stands, hopefully soon.
“The name of the village was Chandipur. A river flowed along the village, a small river, not expanded enough, like the easy, domesticated daughter. The slim, dainty river worked on its daily chores of maintaining its usual route tirelessly, while it sustained a smooth, unperturbed relation with the villages situated in its both sides. The upper side of its banks was dense with the dwellings of people, with the shaded canopy of trees, and in the lower side, the river, the wealth of the village flowed on in swift, enraptured movements, carrying on with its countless acts of benevolence.
Just on the upper banks of the river, stood Banikantha’s home, with a bamboo fence, a shaded outhouse, a cow-shed, stacks of hay, an orchard of tamarind, mangoes, jackfruits and bananas, attracting a steady stream of passengers who travelled the region in a boat. It was not known if any of them noticed the mute girl amidst such domestic abundance, but she sat at the river bank at regular intervals throughout the day, whenever she found some time from her daily chores.
The loving, endearing nature around compensated for her lack of words, and spoke on her behalf. The lyrical surge of the river, the sounds and chaos of the people, the boatman’s song, the sweet chirping of the birds, the rustle of the young leaves merged together with the movements and undulations of the surroundings. Like the gushing waves of the ocean, they rushed towards the ever-discreet shores of the little girl’s heart. These varied sounds and characteristic movements of nature appealed to the mute girl as her own essential language; as if they were a seamless extension of her large, expressive eyes. They were the subtle hint, the music, the cries and the sighs originating in the quaint grasslands where crickets chirped, spreading out to the boundless starry skies.
In the noon, the boatmen and the fishermen went home for their lunch, the village folks slept inside their homes, the boats stopped sailing, the birds stopped chirping temporarily, and the world around was seeped in a sudden silence. Amid the quiet serenity around, a wordless rendezvous took place between a mute girl and the mute mother nature who were faced with each other, one in its vast, expanding sunlight, and the other, under the small canopy of trees.
Subha did really have a close circle of friends and companions; they were Sarbasi and Panguli, the two cows living in their cow-shed. Though they had never ever heard Subha utter their names, but they recognized her footsteps unfailingly. They understood the silent, melancholy tune of her unspoken words, the intensity of her expressions more easily than the spoken language of other humans. They understood the precious moments between them as she loved and cuddled them, scolded them, pleaded to them.
When Subha visited the cow-shed, she flung her arms around the neck of Sarbasi and gave her a tight hug, while pressing her cheeks against the cow’s ears. Panguli, on her part, would look at her with her tender, affectionate eyes and lick her body as a gesture of love. She would routinely visit the cow-shed at least three times in a day, besides her irregular arrivals. When she was admonished in the house severely, she would pay an untimely visit to her two mute friends. They would be able to feel her anguish from looking at her quiet, tolerant, melancholy eyes, cling to her body and rub their horns against her arms, in a desperate, wordless attempt to give her some solace.
Read other essays on Tagore
The Broken Home, English Translation of Tagore’s ‘Nastanirh’
Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet Prophet
Two Tagore Songs of ‘Puja’ Parjaay in Translation
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