Love has the uncanny ability to ensnare unsuspecting men and women, bringing them in close proximity in the most unusual circumstances, and then letting an incongruous spark doing the rest!
Something similar happens in Rabindranath Tagore’s short story ‘The Postmaster’, where a young Calcutta boy is posted in an obscure, small village, Ulapur. The village is populated with Indigo agents and employees, who neither had time nor inclination to mix up with an arrogant, moody, sombre educated man!
Forced to eke out a solitary living and desperate for human company, he opens his heart to the only avid listener available, an orphan girl, about twelve or thirteen years of age, named Ratan. She is an unlucky girl, standing alone at the threshold of youth, with no possibility of marriage or a friendly alliance.
Ratan does housework and odd jobs for the Postmaster, in return of a little food. And, as her work demands her to remain in close vicinity of the young Babu, they soon develop a comfortable companionship, feeling at ease with each other, slipping into casual conversation, sharing details about their respective families, and some heartfelt emotions, thus slowly developing a strange yet intimate relationship.
But, as in Tagore’s typical style, none of them shows any inclination towards external show of emotions or delve on the physical aspect of their close liaison. In fact, till the very end, it remains unknown whether their feelings were indeed love or just a passing infatuation or even a platonic affection misinterpreted as romantic mooring! The story ends ambiguously, with longing and separation ruling the roost.
However, despite its sombre end, I liked the story for its irony. Here, the author tries to bring together two individuals, who have nothing in common. One is a pedantic city boy, the other an illiterate village belle. One feels romantic on seeing green leaves, is stirred by beauty of the moon, while the other believes love is equivalent to caring for a sick man, and dutifully serving your lover. The relationship is flawed from the very beginning. It is doomed to fail, yet it grips both the protagonists in a strange bond till the very end.
Further, the story prominently focuses on a very well established aspect of love. Man and woman interpret it in different manner. A man craves for company and is happy to find it in any form, a beloved, a friend or even a servile dependent. But a woman can never be reckless in finding love. She is by nature monogamous and gets emotionally involved with her partner in a way that she is ready to negate her very existence for her lover. But, man likes to remain a free bird, and at the very first sight of a bond, flies away.
In a way, Ratan is in the wrong end from the very beginning. She is just a victim of destiny, which played havoc with her life, by making her an orphan. And, when she has abandoned all hopes of being married, fate brings her face to face with a man, she admires and falls in love with.
On the other hand, the Postmaster is a man lost in thoughts. He considers himself aloof and poetic, but actually he has just been forced to be the kind of man, he comes across as. In other circumstances, he would be quite a different person, for whom Ratan would have no meaning at all.
In a nutshell, The Postmaster is essentially the expression of those unsolved mysteries, those unanswerable queries, those tough dilemmas, we all encounter at certain point of our lives. A hesitation to owe your feelings often result in a permanent loss. The story could have ended happily, if only the protagonists could have been a little honest each other. However, much remains unsaid in this psuedo romantic tale, ending in separation and longing.
Here, Love is explored in a very different way, minus all the sweet nothings. Tagore in his signature humane style, acted out a heavenly drama on the hard earthy plane. The story is short, crisp, at times funny and mostly sombre. But more than anything, I liked the ironical and satirical tone, which made the story readable and entertaining.