Khoka Babur Pratyavartan : story by Tagore

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      The faithful man-servants of yesteryears are now impossible to find. Often it was not just feudal obligations but genuine attachment that bound them to their masters. In Khokababur Pratyavartan - The Young Master's Return : Tagore shows how dedicated an old servant can be to the child of the family he works for.

      To stone for a moment's mistake, Raicharan makes a personal sacrifice that is rare and heart-rending. Tagore's childhood at Jorasanko had been spent under a regime of faithful family servants. In his own zamindari days too he had come across common folk with tremendous dedication to their master.

Tagore's childhood at Jorasanko had been spent under a regime of faithful family servants. In his own zamindari days too he had come across common folk with tremendous dedication to their master.
Khokababur Pratyavartan


Short Story :-

1

Raicharan had come from the district of Jessore in Bengal (now in Bangladesh) at the age of twelve to be a domestic servant of a Babu or gentleman in the city. He was then a slim youth with large eyes and a smooth complexion. He was a Kayastha, and so was the family of his employer. The main duty that Raicharan had was to take care of a one-year-old child.

That child was now a grown-up man, a government officer called Anukul Babu and Raicharan was still at his service.

Anukul Babu had a wife and a small child of his own. Raicharan was also married but his wife stayed at the village and they had no child as yet. Raicharan was totally devoted to the family of Anukul Babu. He was especially attached to the toddler whom he called Khoka Babu, Khoka being the Bengali word for a boy child.

From his baby days Raicharan used to rock him, fling him up in the air and catch him, sing to him and entertain him. The baby was absolutely thrilled to see Raicharan.

When the baby was old enough to crawl, Raicharan was most impressed. "Ma, your son is going to be a Judge one day", he kept telling Anukul Babu's wife, whom Raicharan called Ma as was the custom. When the baby learnt to take his first tumbling steps and call people by names such as Ma, Pichi (Pishi being paternal aunt), Raicharan was overwhelmed. The baby called him Channo (from Charan) and Raicharan could never get over that. What wonderful intelligence, he told everybody he could find.

He happily gave the toddler rides on his back, and wrestled with him, pretending to be utterly defeated every time.

Then Anukul Babu got transferred to a town on the banks of the river Padma (now in Bangladesh). Raicharan now had a new duty - taking Khoka Babu out in his perambulator or pram. Dressed in zari-bordered cap and satin dress, wearing gold bangles and silver anklets, Khoka Babu began to go out with Channo regularly on his drives.

Monsoon arrived. The Padma swelled up and rushed wildly along its muddy banks which often broke down under the pressure of rushing water. One cloudy day, Raicharan's tiny master - his Khoka Babu - refused to stay indoors. Raicharan had to take him out on his pram. Pushing the cart along the roadside, he went past the fields and arrived at the river bank. At one bend of the river, there stood a Kadam tree laden with flowers. Khoka Babu pointed at it and ordered, "Channo, phu (phul or flower)." Raicharan was not at all keen to wade through the mud and get to the tree. He tried to divert Khoka Babu's attention by showing him (imaginary) birds but in the end he had to give in to his demands.

"Sit quietly then in the pram while I go get the flowers", he said. "Don't you go near the waters.

He raised his dhoti above his knees and turning his back towards the child, walked towards the Kadam tree. But the very fact that Raicharan had asked Khoka Babu not to go near the waters, diverted the child's attention from flower to water. He got out of the pram and toddled along to the river bank. He picked up a long piece of grass and pretending it was a fishing rod, bent over the bank to fish.

There was a splash. But along the river Padma at the time of monsoon, there are such sounds all the time. Raicharan, who had climbed the tree, went on plucking the flowers. Once he got down and came back to the pram, he found it empty. He looked around. There was no one in sight. In a second his blood grew cold, "Khoka Babu! My good Khoka Babul" he screamed out of the depths of his broken heart.

There was no reply. The river rushed by as usual. In the evening when Anukul Babu's worried wife sent people out on search, they found Raicharan screaming wildly and running around the muddy. banks like a mad man.

Brought back, he slammed down at the feet of Anukul Babu's wife. To all her questions, he has just one answer, "Ma, I do not know."

Most people understood that it was the doing of the river Padma. Some suspected outsiders. But Anukul Babu's wife felt that it was Raicharan who had taken her child away for the sake of the gold and silver ornaments he had on. Anukul Babu tried to cure her of this suspicion, but failed.

2

Raicharan went back to his village in Jessore. Within a year, he had a son although he lost his wife. Raicharan felt as if it was a sin to have a son while he had let his master's son float away in the river. He hated his son and it would have died, but for the care of his sister, the baby's Pishi or paternal aunt. She called it Phelna (Bengali for a worthless something to be thrown away).

Phelna too learnt to crawl and toddle - just like Khoka Babu had done. When he cried, Raicharan felt that somewhere - in some unknown place - his Khoka Babu was feeling lost and crying out for him. Phelna too called his Pishi as 'Pichi' and hearing that, Raicharan had a strange feeling. "Khoka Babu has not been able to forget me! It is he who has taken birth in my humble hut."

He remembered the terrible suspicion Anukul Babu's wife had had. He now felt that it was somehow justified. There was no reason why he should have a son now when he had not had one for so many years. There was no explanation why his son would be crawling about, toddling around, calling out Pichi, and showing all the signs of a future Judge - just as Khoka Babu had done. It was none other than Khoka Babu who had returned - to him!

Then onwards Raicharan was most caring and concerned towards his son. He dressed him up in sari-bordered caps and melted his dead wife's few ornaments to make gold bangles and silver anklets for Phelna. He did not allow any kid of the neighbourhood to play with Phelna, and himself became his constant companion and playmate. People began to laugh at the way he was treating his son as if he was the son of a Nawab or prince. But Raicharan paid no attention to them. When Phelna grew a little older, Raicharan took up a job again in Kolkata. He lived very humbly but sent Phelna to school, and fed and clothed him in a style much above his own. He said to himself. "Khoka Babu, you are not going to suffer because you have chosen to come to your Channo."

Twelve years went by. Raicharan's son had grown up into a good-looking and healthy youth with a taste for stylish clothes and comfortable living. Raicharan had kept it a secret that he was Phelna' s father. So Phelna's friends sometimes made gentle fun of Raicharan who was a country bumpkin to them. Phelna did love his father, but in a condescending way. Raicharan himself did not behave to him exactly like a father. He seemed rather to be serving him.

Raicharan was growing old. He had sold off whatever little property he had had in the village, and that money too was running out. Phelna had begun to complain about the food and clothes Raicharan could provide for him.

3

Raicharan suddenly gave up his job and went to the small town where Anukul Babu was then posted.

Anukul Babu had not had a second child. His wife was still nurturing her grief in her bosom. She hankered for a child and wasted money on herbs and cures that promised to make her a mother again. Anukul Babu was moved to see Raicharan grown so old. He made a thousand enquiries about his present condition and wanted to re-employ him.

All Raicharan wanted was to see 'Ma' again. Anukul Babu's wife did not look pleased to see Raicharan. But Raicharan ignored that and said to her with folded palms: "Ma, it was indeed I who had stolen your son. It was not Padma or anyone else. It was I - ungrateful and unworthy".

"What are you saying?" Anukul Babu spoke out, shocked. "Where is he?"

"He is with me and I will bring him the day after tomorrow."

The day after, a Sunday, Anukul Babu and his wife waited impatiently for Raicharan, and he did turn up - with Phelna.

Anukul Babu's wife asked no questions, made no queries, but simply took Phelna on her lap. Laughing and crying, gazing into his eyes, smelling his forehead, she was beyond herself with joy. Anukul Babu too felt affection surging up in his bosom. Indeed, there was a pleasant-looking youth before them, with no signs of a poor upbringing on him. Even then Anukul Babu asked, "Is there any proof?"

"Is there ever a proof of such black deeds? God alone knows that I stole your son. No one on earth does."

Anukul Babu decided that it was not advisable to be finicky about proofs when his wife had accepted the youth so whole-heartedly. Besides, where would poor Raicharan get such a youth and why should he unnecessarily trick him?"

Talking to the youth, he discovered that he had been staying with Raicharan from his childhood but Raicharan had never behaved exactly like his father with him, but more like his servant. Thrusting away all suspicion from his mind, Anukul Babu said: "But Raicharan, you must never come anywhere near us again."

Folding his palms, in a thick, choked voice Raicharan said, "Master, where will I go at this age?"

"Let him stay", said Anukul Babu's wife. "I forgive him."

A stickler for what is correct, Anukul Babu said, "His offense is not fit to be forgiven."

"It was not I who committed that offense."

"Who was it then?"

"My fate!"

But such an explanation does not satisfy any educated person. Anukul Babu refused to show mercy.

"I don't have anyone else in the world", pleaded Raicharan

Phelna had by now gathered that he was the son of a prominent government official. Raicharan had stolen him and brought him up as his son - which was an insult. He felt somewhat angry but said in a generous manner to Anukul Babu, "Baba (father), forgive him. If you do not let him stay in the house, at least send him some money every month."

After this, Raicharan did not say a single word. He gazed into his son's face one last time, touched everyone's feet, and went out. He got mixed and lost in the vast population of the earth. When at the end of the month Anukul Babu sent money at his village address, it came back. No one by that name lived there any more.

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