The Postmaster: by Rabindranath Tagore || Short Story

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      In The Postmaster : a young man from Kolkata is posted to a rural area and finds life dull and boring. Orphaned girl-child Ratan draws water for him and cooks for him. The postmaster occupies his leisure in teaching her how to read and write. This creates in Ratan a desire for self-improvement as well as an affection for her teacher and employer. The Postmaster falls ill and she nurses him devotedly. But he seeks and gets a transfer and Ratan feels abandoned. This too is part of the Ray film Teen Kanya (1961).

The first posting that the Postmaster got was in the newly established Post Office at the tiny village of Ulapur. There was an indigo plantation nearby and its Englishman planter had got this Post Office set up after a lot of effort.
The Postmaster

Short Story :-

      The first posting that the Postmaster got was in the newly established Post Office at the tiny village of Ulapur. There was an indigo plantation nearby and its Englishman planter had got this Post Office set up after a lot of effort.

The Postmaster hailed from the city of Kolkata and felt like a fish out of water in this village. His office was in a huge and dark mud hut near a pond that had jungle all around it and was itself green with vegetation. The employees at the plantation were very busy and anyway, not fit company for the city-bred young man. Nor did he know the art of mixing with village people. On the other hand, he did not have too much work to handle. He tried his hand at writing poetry. Although he sang the praise of nature in his poems, he would have been much relieved to find buildings rather than trees all around him.

His salary was very meager. He had to cook for himself and had an orphan girl doing other tasks for him in exchange for a few frugal meals. Ratan, as she was called, was about ten or twelve years in age, but hardly had any prospects of marriage.

In the evenings, when the smoke of mosquito repellents coiled up from the cow-sheds of the village, crickets sang in the bushes, and mendicant groups sang drunken music in their shelters, the Postmaster felt somewhat scared to sit alone in the darkness of his hut, watching the trembling trees. Lighting a small lamp in a corner of his room, he used to call out: "Ratan!"

"What is it, Babu (gentleman/master)", Ratan did not come immediately. "Why do you call me?"

"What are you at?"

"I am just going to light the kitchen fire - there is work in the kitchen -"

"Let the kitchen work be - you get me my tobacco."

Ratan used to come in soon, her cheeks puffed out, blowing at the fire at the end of the Postmaster's country-made pipe.

Snatching it from her, Postmaster started off a conversation with her." Well, Ratan, do you remember your mother?

Yes and no, Ratan used to say. She remembered her father ore. He had been more affectionate towards her. She also remembered a little brother whom she had played with. One memory came back to her more than the others - the memory of playing the game of fishing, sitting by a pond with her brother and pretending that a stick was their fishing rod.

Chatting like this, sometimes it grew late and then the Postmaster did not feel like cooking any more. Ratan quickly lit the fire, made a few chapattis. Left-over sabzi and chapatti served as dinner for both of them. On some other days, sitting on a wooden bed in that huge mud hut, the Postmaster began to talk of his own home. He talked of his mother, elder sister and younger brother - whom he missed so much in his village posting - but could not mention to the plantation employees. He found no problem in discussing them freely with this small, illiterate village girl. It came about that Katan began referring to them as Ma (mother), Didi (elder sister) and Bhai (younger brother) - as if she had known them all her life. She even drew up sketches of them in the small canvass of her heart. From Babu, the postmaster too became Dada (elder brother)-babu.

One rainy afternoon the Postmaster had nothing to do and felt particularly like having some one of his own near him.

Sighing, he called out: "Ratan!

Ratan was sitting under a nearby guava tree, legs outstretched, guava in hand.

She rushed up to her master. "Did you call me, Dada-babu?"

"I am going to teach you to read and write", said the Postmaster.

The whole afternoon passed by in introducing Ratan to the letters of the Bengali alphabet. Within a few days, Ratan mastered them and began to read and write complete words.

It was the month of Shravana. Monsoon was in full force.

One rainy day, Ratan waited for long at the door for a call from her teacher the Postmaster, but the call never came. She finally went in with her books and stuff, only to find the Postmaster huddled in his wooden bed. "Ratan, I am not feeling too well"', he called in a suffering tone. "Will you put your hand on my forehead and check if I have got fever?"

Ratan responded to this forlorn cry for family affection. She no longer remained just a small girl. From that instant she took up the position of a mother. She called the village doctor, administered the medicines to the Postmaster at the right hours, sat by the bedside all night, and of her own accord, cooked him his recommended diet. Every now and then she would ask:" Are you feeling a little better, Dada-babu?"

After a long spell of illness, the Postmaster recovered. He decided inwardly that enough was enough, and he had to get himself a different posting. Mentioning the local conditions, he immediately applied to the postal authority at Kolkata for a transfer.

Being relieved from her duties as a nurse, Ratan once again came out and occupied her old position by the door. But there were no calls for her as before. She peeped in some times, and found the Postmaster sitting or lying down most absentmindedly. Ratan waited for her call and the Postmaster waited for his transfer order. Sitting by the door, Ratan went over her old lessons a hundred times. She had the fear that she might mix up her spellings the day there was a sudden call for her.

After a week or so, indeed there was a call.

Ratan went in and asked, "Dada-babu, were you calling me?"

"Ratan, I am going away tomorrow itself", said the Postmaster.

"Where are you going, Dada-babu?" asked Ratan.

"I am going home"

"When will you be coming back?"

"I won't be coming back".

Ratan did not ask anything further. The Postmaster himself told her that he had applied for a transfer, The application had been rejected. So he was resigning his post and going home.

For a long time nobody said a word. In the flickering lamplight, rain dropped down through a hole in the roof and collected in a bowl kept right under the hole.

After a while Ratan got up and went to the kitchen to make the chapattis. The task took longer than usual. After the Postmaster had eaten, the girl asked her: "Dada-babu, will you take me to your home?"

"How can that be!" said the Postmaster with a laugh. He did not even feel it necessary to explain to the girl why it was impossible.

All night through her sleep and wakeful hours, the girl heard his laughing words: 'How can that be!'

The Postmaster, like most people from Kolkata, had the habit of bathing not in the pond or river directly but in water that had been collected in a bucket.

Next morning as soon as he got up, he found the water ready and waiting for him. For some reason Ratan had not been able to ask him exactly when he would be going. So she had gone right in the night and fetched the water, and kept it ready for him.

Once the Postmaster had taken his bath, he called for Ratan. Ratan entered silently and looked at her master, awaiting his instruction.

"Ratan", said her master, "I'll talk to the man who will come in my stead. He will care for you just as I used to. You don't have to worry at all."

These words might have been kind but Ratan burst out crying: "No, no, you don't have to talk to anyone. I don't want to stay on." The Postmaster had never seen Ratan behave like this and was surprised.

The new Postmaster arrived. The old Postmaster handed over the charge to him and began to take his leave. He called Ratan and offered her some money. "Ratan, I have never been able to give you anything. Now, while leaving, I am giving you something. It will take care of you for a few days."

Keeping only the travel expenses with him, he took his whole salary out of his pocket. Ratan fell to the ground and caught hold of his feet.

"Dada-babu, please, you don't have to give me anything. Please, nobody has to think of me-"

With this, she ran away from there.

The ex-Postmaster sighed, and started off, with his tin box and umbrella.

As he mounted the boat, and as the boat started along the river swollen in monsoon, he felt a deep twinge of pain. Let me go back and get that orphaned child along with me, he thought for a moment. But the boat was already on the move, and the Postmaster comforted himself with the theory: "Life is full of partings. What is the point of going back?"

But Ratan had no theories to comfort her. She just hung around the Post Office, tears flooding her face. A faint hope kept her tied to it: perhaps Dada-babu will come back?

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