Kabuliwala : short story by Rabindranath Tagore

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      People of all countries and cultures have certain feelings in common. A father feels the same way about his daughter whether he is from Bengal or Kabul. In Kabuliwala : The Vendor from Kabul we find the assertion of faith in the universal character of humanity. Probably the most famous of Tagore's stories. It was made into a Bengali film in 1957 under the direction of Tapan Sinha and a Hindi film in 1961 under the direction of Hemen Gupta.


Short Story :-
      Ever since my five-year-old Mini has learnt to speak, she has created a problem. She cannot stop talking even for a moment. Not a moment does she waste in silence. Her mother often scolded her in order to shut her up. But although I was a busy man working on a novel, I never had the heart to do so. So Mini would always come to me with her queries and there would ensue lively discussions between us.

      One day I was at a stage of writing when my hero and heroine were in a situation of the greatest suspense. Just then Mini came rushing in.

"Father, our gatekeeper is stupid. He calls a kak (Bengali for crow) a kaua (Hindi equivalent)".

      What could I as her father do? How could I explain to her the concept of the various languages that exist in this world? But even before I could decide on where to start, Mini had already started off on another subject altogether.

"Bhola was telling me how it rains... He told me that there is a huge elephant hidden behind the clouds. It fills its trunk with water and pours it over us. That is how we have the rains. Isn't Bhola clever, father?"

      Before I had the time to think about a suitable reply, there came another question.

"Father, what is mother to you?"

      To this I could only reply: "Go out and play Mini, I have work to do." But Mini just sat down below my desk in front of a window from which one could see the road, and started to play an imaginary game. Suddenly she left her game and turned towards the window. "Kabuliwala! O Kabuliwala!" she started yelling.

Kabuliwala: the most famous of Tagore's stories. It was made into a Bengali film in 1957 under the direction of Tapan Sinha and a Hindi film in 1961 under the direction of Hemen Gupta.
Kabuliwala

      I too looked out to see a huge and hefty Kabuliwala' (One who is from Kabul) walk slowly by. He was wearing the usual loose dress and a turban that men from Afghanistan usually wore. There was a huge thaila or sack on his back and a few boxes of grapes in one hand.

      Just as I feared, the Kabuliwala heard her call and turned around to see where the cry was coming from. But the minute she saw the Kabuliwala's face, Mini turned around and was off to hide - maybe she believed that the sack that the Kabuliwala carried held some live children like her. I knew that now there would be no way in which my novel could be completed and sure enough, within a few seconds, the Kabuliwala was standing there at the gate, smiling and saluting.

      I knew that the only way in which I could get on with my work was to buy something from the man and send him away. So, I went up to the Kabuliwala and bought some dry fruits, but soon I found myself in a conversation with him, chatting about the Russians, the English and also about other policies of the government.

      Eventually, when it was time for the Kabuliwala to leave, he turned to me and said, "Babu, where is that khonkhi (little girl)?"

      I knew that he had to get my little daughter get over her fear of Kabuliwalas and therefore he called out to her.

      Mini did come out, but she clung on to me, refusing to come any closer to the Kabuliwala. He offered her some nuts and raisins, but Mini hung back. That was how their first meeting went.

      After a few days, one morning when I was about to leave the house, I was surprised to see Mini and the Kabuliwala sitting in the courtyard and chatting. Mini was laughing and talking and the Kabuliwala was responding in broken Bengali. It seemed to me that in all the five years of her life, she had never got a listener more patient than the man from Afghanistan - other than myself, of course!

      I saw that the corner of her small sari was stuffed with all sorts of dry fruits and nuts. I handed an eight-anna piece to the Kabuliwala, saying: Why are you giving her all these?" The Kabuliwala seemed to accept the money, but later Mini's mother found out that he had quietly given it back to Mini.

      The Kabuliwala began to come almost every day and bribe Mini with his gifts of nuts and raisins. Soon Mini lost her fear and the two of them became the best of friends. I would hear them talk for hours. There were a few standard jokes that they exchanged regularly.

      Mini would ask her new-found friend, "Kabuliwala, what do you have in your sack?"

      The Kabuliwala would add a nasal twang to his voice and reply, "Hathi, an elephant, khonkhi."

      Again, the Kabuliwala would often ask: "Khonkhi, won't you ever be going to your shosur bari (father-in-law's house)

      Unlike most Bengali girls of her age, Mini did not exactly know what marriage and going to one's sasurbari meant. Being somewhat modern in outlook, her mother and I had not yet made her wise as to it. But Mini did not let Kabuliwala see that she was out of her depth. She countered his query with: "Well, what about you? Will you be going there?"

      Now the word sasur-bari or 'father-in-law's place' is slang for 'jail' because both are places where one can stay free of cost. So the minute Mini asked the question, the Kabuliwala replied, "Hami sasur ke marbe (I will beat up my father-in law)" Mini went into peals of laughter imagining the predicament of an unknown creature named sasur.

      While I took great pleasure in seeing the Kabuliwala and my daughter have their chats, her mother was scared that he would one day kidnap her daughter and sell her off to Afghanistan. Nevertheless Mini and the Kabuliwala's friendship kept growing over the months.

      Soon it was January and it was time for the Kabuliwala to go back home. This was the period when he would go to all his debtors and start collecting their debts. Though this was a pretty busy time for him, he would still manage to find the time to come and meet Mini some time in the day. If he was unable to come during the day, he would surely pay hera visit in the evening.

      A few days later, I was busy writing at my desk when suddenly I heard a row from the streets. I looked out and saw the Kabuliwala, with his hands tied up, being dragged away by two policemen. I rushed out to know what was happening. When I reached the three men, I could see that the Kabuliwala's shirtfront was bloodstained and that one of the policemen was carrying a bloodied knife. "This Kabuliwala claims", said the policeman, "that he had sold know what marriage and going to one's sasurbari meant. Being Somewhat modern in outlook, her mother and I had not yet made her wise as to it. But Mini did not let Kabuliwala see that she was out of her depth. She countered his query with: "Well, what about you? Will you be going there?"

      Now the word shosur-bari or 'father-in-law's place' is slang for 'jail' because both are places where one can stay free of cost. So the minute Mini asked the question, the Kabuliwala eplied, "Ami shosur ka marbo (I will beat up my father-in- law)!" Mini went into peals of laughter imagining the predicament of an unknown creature named shosur.

      While I took great pleasure in seeing the Kabuliwala and my daughter have their chats, her mother was scared that he would one day kidnap her daughter and sell her off to Afghanistan. Nevertheless Mini and the Kabuliwala's friendship kept growing over the months.

      Soon it was January and it was time for the Kabuliwala to go back home. This was the period when he would go to all his debtors and start collecting their debts. Though this was a pretty busy time for him, he would still manage to find the time to come and meet Mini some time in the day. If he was unable to come during the day, he would surely pay her a visit in the evening.

      A few days later, I was busy writing at my desk when suddenly I heard a row from the streets. I looked out and saw the Kabuliwala, with his hands tied up, being dragged away by two policemen. I rushed out to know what was happening. When I reached the three men, I could see that the Kabuliwala's shirtfront was bloodstained and that one of the policemen was carrying a bloodied knife. "This Kabuliwala claims", said the policeman, "that he had sold today, of all the days, the auspicious day of my daughter's marriage.

"I see," I hurriedly replied. "We are very busy today, can you come and meet me some other time?"

      The Kabuliwala did not look very disappointed. What he said was: "May I see your daughter once before I go?"

      I realized that the Kabuliwala had perhaps not realized that Mini had grown up in all these years. Did he expect the child he knew to come running out and greet him in her usual way? However I remembered that I had to get the man out of my house and said, "Everyone is very busy today. Come back some other time!"

      Now the Kabuliwala turned sadly away. The disappointment on the face of such a huge man made me feel very sorry for him. Just as I was about to ask him to come back, I saw that the Kabuliwala was coming back on his own.

"I will come back some other day to meet you, Babuji, but could you please give this to your little child?" he asked as he took out a small bag of dry fruits. He had obviously got it especially for Mini. I immediately took out some money and was about to hand it over to the Kabuliwala, when he stopped me, "No, Babu, no. I do want any money. You see, back in Afghanistan I too have a little girl like yours. It is remembering her face that I come here to give your daughter some nuts. I do not come here to make sales."

      He brought out a small and crumpled piece of paper from the front of his loose, flowing robe. Most carefully he spread it out on the table before me.

      I saw that on the paper there was the imprint of a small palm. It was not a photograph or oil painting. A child's hand had been anointed with ink and pressed palm down on the paper. It had made a mark - a mark of remembrance - a memento - and that's what the Kabuliwala had kept next to his chest when he sold his nuts in a land so far away from his home. A small palm print had kept the heart inside his huge body soft and alive.

      I felt tears filling my eyes. I forgot the difference in the positions of the Kabuliwala and myself. All I could think of was that the Kabuliwala too was a father like me. I sent word inside to send Mini out to meet the Kabuliwala. Mini's mother objected from within the house but I paid no heed.

      Finally, Mini arrived. Seeing her all grown up and dressed as a bride, the Kabuliwala was a little taken aback but tried to joke like before: "Khonkhi, I see that you are now going to your shosur bari!"

      Mini now knew what the Kabuliwala meant and turned away shyly and silently. The old joke did not work any more. Perhaps it dawned on the Kabuliwala that his daughter too must have grown up and he would have to start making friends with her all over again. And who knows what had happened to her in all this while. As Mini walked off, the huge Kabuliwala sat down on the floor with a big sigh.

      I gave him some money. "With this, go back home to your daughter", I advised. "Your joy at seeing your daughter again will bring blessings upon my daughter."

      Giving that money to the Kabuliwala meant that I had to strike off some of the planned heads of wedding expenditure such as lighting and band. Mini's mother was not too happy at this. But I knew that the blessings of another father would make my daughter's wedding brighter.

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