The Castaway by Rabindranath Tagore

The Castaway is yet another short story by Tagore that I have just finished reading. The story revolves around a Zamindar family, relaxing leisurely in Chandernagore, to aid in healing of their daughter-in-law Kiran.

The story begins with a small discussion between Kiran and her husband Sharat, wherein they discuss whether they should stay for some more time in this retreat, or return to their village. Kiran is interested in going back, however Sharat wants her to remain there for some more time for recuperation.

Their friendly banter continues, as a sudden event, brings about a major change in their household. It so happens that a Brahmin youth, Neelkant, is caught in the raging Ganges and ends up coming to their household.

The benevolent family accepts the young lad, as a member of their own. And, soon Neelkant becomes close to Kiran, who lavishly adorns the young man with choicest gifts and food.

Before long, Sharat realizes that Neel is anything but a simple child, his wife has taken him for. He is a reckless brat, and most probably stubborn and oblivious to beating, due to his experience in theatre. He almost regrets his decision to take the boy under his wings, however remains mum due to his wife.

Meanwhile, Neelkant continues to enjoy his carefree life, feeling happy for the first time in his life.

However, the scenario changes when Sharat’s younger brother, Satish comes to stay with them. For the first time, Neel feels neglected by Kiran, as she is on friendly terms with her brother-in-law and is now spending her entire free time with him. Neel finds himself loitering around as if he is not at all important or even visible to the family. One thing leads to another and finally he flees, after committing a crime in the household.

The story is perfect potpourri of the traditional and modern values, that the society of that time was undergoing. It highlights the prevalent customs in Bengal, where leisurely outings to have a change of air for the sick person, were quite commonplace. The attitude of Sharat and his mother is though modern, still their disapproval of Neel’s antics hints at the social conditioning. As the boy has worked for theatres, he does not command much respect by mother and son, who firmly believe in retaining purity of Brahmanical traditions.

On the other hand, Tagore, also hints at a possibility of infatuation of Neel towards Kiran. Though, the matter is handled in a very delicate yet mature manner by the writer. He nowhere indulges in any verbal communication of the sort, yet the rivalry between Neel and Satish, in claiming Kiran’s attention and affection, points towards this angle.

And, finally the act of theft, is a brilliant move by the writer, as it prominently displayed the mental turmoil, teenagers usually undergo, precisely because they are out of sync with their emotions and hardly voice their opinion in a clear manner. A play on child psychology is very evident in this episode.

All in all, the story is yet another gem by Tagore. A must read for all his fans.

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