Short stories by Rabindranath Tagore are pithy, engrossing and appealing gems that expose various facets of society and humanity in a very subtle manner. Almost all his stories leave a deep impression on mind, the names of characters may slip but the basic plot remains etched on the psyche for a long time. I can read and re-read Living or Dead, Profit and Loss, The Postmaster any number of times, with same interest.
Today, after a long hiatus, I have returned to Tagore’s Short Stories, with “The Riddle Solved”. The story is set in Jhikrakota, where Krishna Gopal Sircar has renunciated the world by moving to Kashi, and his son Bipin Bihari has been handed over the Zamindari, recently.
To tell you the truth, the very name Sircar had hooked me onto the story, as it is my surname too and I was curious to find out more about the Sarkar Zamindar. However, as is true with most of the works of Tagore, the story builds up word by word. And soon I had forgotten about the names of characters and got interested in their daily lives.
Bipin Babu is a zealous landlord and believes in keeping tenants under check. He is neither easy going nor as benevolent as his father. Here, I had inkling as if the story was running on the same plot as Accursed House and anticipated a tiff between the landlord and tenants. Though, as the story progressed, I realized that the two plots were exact opposites. In Accursed House, the successor was too kind hearted and earned suspicion of tenants for his excessive good behavior towards them. Whereas in The Riddle Solved, Bipin Babu got embroiled in a legal case, because of his excessive harshness towards his tenants, especially against a Mohammedan family of Asimuddin and his mother Mirza Bibi.
Here, Tagore gives a hint of communal differences as Asimuddin and Bipin, both behave in a rude, hostile manner, refuse to buckle down and end up fighting a court case against each other. However, in the nick of time, Krishna Gopal boldly confesses the actual reason for being so benevolent with Asimuddin and Mirza Bibi, in front of his son and sacrifices his pious reputation to resolve the case amicably.
The story ends with Ram Taran Babu’s caustic remarks about Krishna Gopal’s pretense of being a religious compassionate pious man, while in reality, he was as evil as everyone else. Though, whether, this confession was the reality or just another noble attempt by a kind hearted man, is open to scrutiny, by any sensitive reader. I think, the last paragraph is a masterstroke by Tagore, as he sows a seed of doubt in reader’s mind and also makes a dig at the prevalent hypocritical mindset of society.
Needless to say, the story is engrossing though a bit predictable and common place. Yet, it is compelling in its simplicity.
I would recommend you to read both The Riddle Solved by Tagore and The Accursed House by Gabriou, in quick succession, as both of them are almost similar in setting and plot, and yet vastly different from each other, may say, different shades of same color.