Selected Short Stories
In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and he remains one of the most important voices of Bengali culture to this day.These short stories, written mostly in the 1890s, vividly portray Bengali life and culture. Tagore’s treatment of caste culture, bureaucracy and poverty paint a vivid portrait of nineteenth-century India, and all are interwoven with Tagore’s perceptive eye for detail, strong sense of humanity and deep affinity for the natural world.Tagore’s stories continue to rise above geographic and cultural boundaries to capture the imaginations of readers around the world.
SELECTED SHORT STORIES
History of Collins (#ulink_bf4341bc-a4a1-51e1-8e98-9b97e661c3b6)
In 1819, millworker William Collins from Glasgow, Scotland, set up a company for printing and publishing pamphlets, sermons, hymn books and prayer books. That company was Collins and was to mark the birth of HarperCollins Publishers as we know it today. The long tradition of Collins dictionary publishing can be traced back to the ﬁrst dictionary William published in 1824, Greek and English Lexicon. Indeed, from 1840 onwards, he began to produce illustrated dictionaries and even obtained a licence to print and publish the Bible.
Soon after, William published the ﬁrst Collins novel, Ready Reckoner; however, it was the time of the Long Depression, where harvests were poor, prices were high, potato crops had failed and violence was erupting in Europe. As a result, many factories across the country were forced to close down and William chose to retire in 1846, partly due to the hardships he was facing.
Aged 30, William’s son, William II took over the business. A keen humanitarian with a warm heart and a generous spirit, William II was truly ‘Victorian’ in his outlook. He introduced new, up-to-date steam presses and published affordable editions of Shakespeare’s works and ThePilgrim’s Progress, making them available to the masses for the ﬁrst time. A new demand for educational books meant that success came with the publication of travel books, scientiﬁc books, encyclopaedias and dictionaries. This demand to be educated led to the later publication of atlases and Collins also held the monopoly on scripture writing at the time.
In the 1860s Collins began to expand and diversify and the idea of ‘books for the millions’ was developed. Affordable editions of classical literature were published and in 1903 Collins introduced 10 titles in their Collins Handy Illustrated Pocket Novels. These proved so popular that a few years later this had increased to an output of 50 volumes, selling nearly half a million in their year of publication. In the same year, The Everyman’s Library was also instituted, with the idea of publishing an affordable library of the most important classical works, biographies, religious and philosophical treatments, plays, poems, travel and adventure. This series eclipsed all competition at the time and the introduction of paperback books in the 1950s helped to open that market and marked a high point in the industry.
HarperCollins is and has always been a champion of the classics and the current Collins Classics series follows in this tradition – publishing classical literature that is affordable and available to all. Beautifully packaged, highly collectible and intended to be reread and enjoyed at every opportunity.
Life & Times (#ulink_5d9735b9-ae8a-5b21-b98d-5cbd86fed26d)
About the Author
Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) is regarded as the father of Indian modern literature. He was a polymath and all-round creative talent who became something of a celebrity in the West during the second half of his lifetime. In 1878 Tagore moved to England with the intention of obtaining a degree. However, he was ill-suited to formal education and returned to India in 1880, having failed in his academic ambitions. Despite this, his exposure to English literature, including Shakespeare, had made a lasting impression on Tagore, and he resolved to fuse the European concept of the novel with elements of Indian culture and society.
Tagore came from a very wealthy Indian family, which explains his position to travel and to indulge his creative interests in a country where poverty and hardship were the lot of the common man. Despite his privileged background, he had strong empathy for his fellow human beings, which is largely why he was able to write stories and poems with humility and connection. This empathy came from managing his vast ancestral estates, where he would travel to collect rents and interact with the tenants. This exposed him to traditional storytelling and songs, as well as philosophical and religious ideas. This fertile environment, combined with his intellectual curiosity and imagination, resulted in prolific creativity.
Selected Short Stories
Tagore’s stories are typically like a hybrid between fairytales and fables, as they incorporate elements of the traditional Indian belief system with philosophical insight. Many are short in length, simply because they have no need to be any longer. In fact, they are already filled with superfluous detail, so it would be quite possible to condense them further.
From a literary point of view, it is difficult to assess their merits, as the works we read in the West are merely translations. The stories themselves and their allegory survive intact, but the use of language is largely lost, primarily because the translator naturally gives a subjective interpretation of Tagore’s words and subsequent choice of English words. Also, the English language has a far richer vocabulary than Bengali, so an inevitable ambiguity results in terms of the literary forming of prose. Further complicating the issue is that Tagore also translated some of his own material into English.
Of course, Tagore’s tales also possess a distinctly Indian flavour in terms of their content and the behaviour of the characters. This exoticness certainly played its part in cementing Tagore’s appeal to the Western readership. In India, his fame was largely confined to the region in which he lived, and even then, only among the elite who were able to read.
Tagore and Kipling
It is difficult to discuss Tagore without comparing him with Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936). Kipling was also Indian, born of Caucasian stock, whose life ran parallel with that of Tagore. He too wrote many short stories and poems focused on the Indian subcontinent, which inevitably have a very similar feel. It would be fair to say that both writers shared a similar gift for the narrative and both were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; Kipling in 1907 and Tagore in 1913.
While Kipling was among the Anglo-Indian population who administered the British Empire in India, Tagore was a native Indian who resented the colonial presence. He wasn’t overtly political in his activities, but he wasn’t afraid to let his feelings be known, either. He died during World War II and so missed seeing India gain its independence by only a few years.
Kipling is sometimes seen as intrinsically racist and had a particular dislike for Bengalis, of which Tagore was one. As a consequence, there was no love lost between the two literary giants. Tagore had interactions with other white writers, but he ignored Kipling as if he were a pariah. Kipling could not, or would not, acknowledge Tagore’s work as having any literary worth, because his prejudice was so strong. He suggested that Tagore was a pretentious pseudo-intellectual, incapable of writing anything of value. Kipling’s view was typically imperialist due to his upbringing. He had been conditioned to believe that ‘good’ Indians were those who knew their place as servants to the ruling elite, so his racism towards Tagore was amplified by his indignation that a native Indian had risen to the same literary heights as himself. Like all racists, Kipling evidently needed to feel superior to mask his own insecurities, so Tagore’s success presented a psychological impasse to him as it didn’t fit with his model of the way things should be ordered to make him feel self-confident.
In truth, both writers offered an unlikely overlap in literary approach and content, as if they were mirrors reflecting the same influences, but with slightly different perspectives. In many respects Tagore may be seen as the wiser and more intelligent of the two, for he was drawn to writing his own poetry from an early age and was far more open-minded and accommodating of disparate cultural influences. Kipling used writing as a form of escapism, so that it became a place to hide and express his emotions, having suffered a rather unfortunate childhood. The fundamental difference was that Tagore intellectualised the human condition and essentially put himself within the characters so that they were imbued with empathy and sympathy. Kipling lacked the capacity to do this, so that his characters are more stereotyped and lack the complexity observed in real people.
Of course, Tagore was also much more than a writer. He was a talented poet, playwright, artist and songwriter. He applied himself on the basis that he was first and foremost a creative soul, so that this core could be tasked with any medium and achieve success. His intellectual curiosity undoubtedly assisted in this end, too, because it provided Tagore with an intimate understanding of the medium and themes upon which to fashion the creative process. Then, there was the simple willingness to try. So many people prevent themselves from being creative because they perpetuate a lack of self-belief borne on their fear of failure. They fail to realise that creative success actually emerges from the process of failure. In other words, we hone our skills by learning from our mistakes, so that every new attempt takes us closer to our objective. Tagore possessed that innate quality that might be described as enjoyment of the process. By not caring about the outcome, he freed his body and mind from fear and subsequently produced consistent results.
Aside from his creative endeavours, Tagore was also a humanitarian and spokesman for the common man. Perhaps his greatest moment came when he renounced his British knighthood in 1919 in indignation at a massacre of Indian men, women and children that occurred in the city of Amritsar. A British officer had feared an insurrection due to the increasing movement against the colonial regime. He ordered his men to fire indiscriminately on a crowd of Indians who had met in the public garden. Several hundred died in the incident, which became known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Tagore was so ashamed by his official association with the British that he returned his knighthood in protest. By doing so, he rendered himself ordinary again, so that he could stand alongside the victims who had evidently been regarded as so insignificant that their lives had no perceived value to the British. It was about as big a statement against the British mindset as anyone could make, and it only served to elevate Tagore’s reputation as a man of the people. He had won the moral high ground, which would eventually result in India’s independence in 1947.
Of course, he would not have been in a position to make this statement had he not had his creative successes in the first place, so the two went hand-in-hand. The British had awarded Tagore the knighthood as a move to show that they were able to respect the native Indian, well aware of increasing unrest at their colonial presence. This backfired, though, as they had inadvertently given Tagore the means to symbolically demonstrate the national feeling towards the British. It was a classic case of having been hoisted by one’s own petard, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it.
As Tagore’s writings were centred on the cosmology of the Indian race, he became a personification of India – a kind of spiritual envoy. When he died, at the age of 80, his reputation was such that the date of his death is still mourned to this day. It seemed only right that two of his songs should be used as the national anthems for India and Bangladesh, as lasting reminders of his influence.
Title Page (#ube9d9458-0ab2-5ac9-b920-370237ac533d)
History of Collins (#ub615451a-116d-5bbc-bda5-538221dd3561)
Life & Times (#u0351b548-0471-5553-b3b3-64f95a4897a3)
The Hungry Stones (#uc3a8e68f-6f9e-522f-b684-9f5d222eb2ab)
The Cabuliwallah (#uccc7db75-17ba-542c-9cda-78dbe9240d15)
The Home-Coming (#uf575e607-fc89-50e7-89a4-506dbdecafb0)
Once there was a King (#ucc3b4f14-b97a-5762-8045-7b4db5f9532b)
The Child’s Return (#litres_trial_promo)
Master Mashai (#litres_trial_promo)
The Postmaster (#litres_trial_promo)
The Castaway (#litres_trial_promo)
The Son of Rashmani (#litres_trial_promo)
The Babus of Nayanjore (#litres_trial_promo)
Classic Literature: Words and Phrases adapted from the Collins English Dictionary (#litres_trial_promo)
About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)
The Hungry Stones (#ulink_4b359805-4704-5b20-b726-b77614577f2a)
My kinsman and myself were returning to Calcutta from our Puja trip when we met the man in a train. From his dress and bearing we took him at first for an up-country Mahomedan, but we were puzzled as we heard him talk. He discoursed upon all subjects so confidently that you might think the Disposer of All Things consulted him at all times in all that He did. Hitherto we had been perfectly happy, as we did not know that secret and unheard-of forces were at work, that the Russians had advanced close to us, that the English had deep and secret policies, that confusion among the native chiefs had come to a head. But our newly-acquired friend said with a sly smile: “There happen more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are reported in your newspapers.” As we had never stirred out of our homes before, the demeanour of the man struck us dumb with wonder. Be the topic ever so trivial, he would quote science, or comment on the Vedas, or repeat quatrains from some Persian poet; and as we had no pretence to a knowledge of science or the Vedas or Persian, our admiration for him went on increasing, and my kinsman, a theosophist, was firmly convinced that our fellow-passenger must have been supernaturally inspired by some strange “magnetism” or “occult power,” by an “astral body” or something of that kind. He listened to the tritest saying that fell from the lips of our extraordinary companion with devotional rapture, and secretly took down notes of his conversation. I fancy that the extraordinary man saw this, and was a little pleased !with it.
When the train reached the junction, we assembled in the waiting room for the connection. It was then 10 P.M., and as the train, we heard, was likely to be very late, owing to something wrong in the lines, I spread my bed on the table and was about to lie down for a comfortable doze, when the extraordinary person deliberately set about spinning the following yarn. Of course, I could get no sleep that night.
When, owing to a disagreement about some questions of administrative policy, I threw up my post at Junagarh, and entered the service of the Nizam of Hydria, they appointed me at once, as a strong young man, collector of cotton duties at Barich.