Reviews of Nobel Prize winner | Comments on all Shakespeare's plays | Poetry reviews | Multiple reviews of same author | Haiti books |


MASHI & OTHER STORIES

By Rabindranath Tagore
New Delhi: Rupa Co., 2007
ISBN # 81-7167-844-0
164 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
January 2014

The stories in this collection are relatively short, dealing with issues in the everyday lives of ordinary people. In each story a complication arises, and, in just a few pages an outcome emerges which is usually tragic for at least one of the people involved. I wouldnít call them believable, but most are at least somewhat plausible.

They do reveal small, interesting and very eventful features of Indian culture at the time of the writing. Overall I found the stories informative, usually of interesting situations, but the outcomes are generally telegraphed a good deal before the ending.

Below I briefly comment on each story, more to remind myself of the events than to give any criticism or evaluation. Perhaps someone planning to read the stories would not want to read my notes, there are definitely ďspoilersĒ below.

Mashi

Mashi is Jotinís old aunt. He lives in what used to be her house, but is now his. He is dying and she is tending to him. Meanwhile his very young wife, Mani, is there but cares nothing at all for Jotin and wonít even visit his sick room.

Mashi is covering up for her, pretending she comes at times when heís asleep and such. Mani just wants to leave to go to her familyís home for a party they are having to celebrate a new baby in that family. Jotin even tells his aunt that he is leaving everything he owns to Mani, whom he knows will take good care of Mashi, which, of course, Mashi knows is not the case. Nonetheless she persists in her love and kindness through his death.

The Skeleton

An adult man still lives in the home where he grew up many years ago. In one room, not his own room, there is a very old skeleton. As a young boy he and two other lads used the skeleton to study the structure of the body, a bit of knowledge he has long forgotten.

One lonely evening he is in bed and either experiences or dreams that the woman who once was that skeleton comes to the room and tells him her story. She was very isolated, and very beautiful. She fell in love with a doctor friend of her brother and he used to come and see her, seemingly loving her too, but very shy. Finally she learns he is about to marry and she simply canít live with that so she poisons both the doctor and herself. Ah, but is this only a dream or an experience? We donít really know.

The Auspicious Vision

Wealthy Kanti has a large hunting party and sees a beautiful young woman with two pet ducks. One of his men, sort of as a joke, shoots at one of the ducks. The young woman hurries away with them. Kanti goes to the house of the woman, hears the master call Sudha and sees the young woman go inside. He immediately asks for the manís daughter as his wife. The man is shocked since Kantiís wealth, position and power are well known. He suggests he bring his daughter to meet Kanti first, but Kanti insists on a wedding.

The wedding comes about and the bride comes, but it is not the girl he saw. Rather, he learns she is the manís daughter, Sudha, who is not at all attractive or even pleasant. The girl he had seen is a deaf /mute and Sudhaís servant, but Kanti still accepts his legal wife and treats her well.

The Supreme Night

A young man leaves his childhood sweetheart since he has great plans for himself. He goes off to the city. However, in time he ends up a low-level school teacher with no prospects for the future. Soon, he meets a wealthy man of the area who has married this young woman whom the school teacher realizes he really loves. But nothing can be done.

While the rich man is away a terrible storm comes with floods, and the school teacher hurries to his love (who knows nothing of this love). They see each other across the way, and she realizes why he has come, but neither is hurt by the storm. He retreats from her knowing that the rich man has a rightful wife.

Sad tale.

Raja and Rani

A rich raja befriends Bipin Kisore, a musician, singer and great conversationalist. However, the manís wife is very cool to Bipin. However, the raja intensifies his friendship and eventually puts on a musical staring Bipin. His wife attends and is deeply struck by Bipinís talent and tells her husband. His jealousy flares up and he is so surprised that he dismisses Bipin from his home and company, and Bipin never has any idea what happened to him!

The Trust Property

Brindaban is very unhappy with his father, Jaganath Kundu, whom he blames for the death of Brindabanís wife. The two had long disagreed about how to live. Jagnath wanted a traditional life of simplicity and holiness. Brindaban takes his small son, Gokul Chandra and leaves to live a more materialist British-style life. Jaganath doesnít miss his son at all, but is lost without his young grandson and his spirits sink.

Years later Jaganath meets Nitai Pal, a young boy who seems to be his own person and whom Jaganath really likes.

Eventually a great tragedy occurs and he learns the boy he came to love so was really his grandson.

The Riddle Solved

Krishna Gopal Sircar turned his considerable wealth over to his son, Bipin Bihari, and spent the days of his life in prayer and voluntary simplicity.

His son was a harsh landlord. He was educated and British in his ways. However, a full Ĺ of Bipinís estate had paid no rent. They were Brahmins whom his father had supported with free rent. Bipin, however, thinks he needs that income and dislikes the likes of the Brahmins.

These folks complain to Krishna Gopal, begging him to convince his son to go back to the old ways. Krishna refused to intervene saying that times had changed and he had to let his son rule.

However, Asimuddin was a Moslem who had this deal with Krishna and he continues to fight Bipin and his new ways. He even attacks Bipin and is on trial. Krishna returns to explain his gift so that his son will know why he so favored Asimuddin. Bipin is finally convinced and the Moslem is freed and given his land.

The Elder Sister

Like so many stories in this collection, this is a sad tale of troubles in a family. Joygopal is married to Sasi and they live a simple life. However, her mother dies leaving a tiny baby, Sasiís brother, Nilmani. Much to her husbandís disappointment, Sasi sort of becomes her little brotherís mother. Joygopal is primarily concerned because the baby, being a boy, will be entitled to Sasiís fatherís wealthy estate, and Joygopal, a lazy and fairly disreputable fellow has his eyes on this fortune.

Their lives are virtually ruined by this bitter property fight, since Sasi fights for Nilmaniís rights. We donít know how the battle turned out, but Sasi dies young, quickly and under suspicious circumstances.

Subha

Subhashini, called Subha, is a mute child. There is an irony in her name which means sweetly speaking. She is the third daughter in this family, and fairly much ignored by the rest of the family. Her sole ďfriendsĒ are two cows. She does meet a younger boy, Pratap, who treats her well and they are close. However, her parents, wishing to be rid of her, arrange a marriage with an older man in a large city, but never tell him that the girl is mute. The man marries her and is disgusted with her condition, but has to keep her, so he marries a second wife.

Again, the story is just a very sad commentary on peopleís behavior and cruelty.

The Postmaster

The postmaster is a gentle and kind man from Calcutta. His post, however, is in a remote area and heís quite unhappy there. There is a very young girl who is on her own and who becomes dependent on him for food, shelter and his genuine kindness. However, after some time at this rural post office he just canít stand it and puts in for a transfer back to Calcutta. He gets his request, and he just ups and leaves. Ratan, the little girl, begs him not to leave her, but it seems to never even enter his mind to help her any further and he just leaves. So sad.

The River Stairs

Kusum lives on the banks of the Ganges when a young holy man, Sanyasi, comes to the village. He looks much like her former husband. Little by little she falls in love with him and he decides to go away rather than cause her trouble or pain. This is one of the few really touching stories in which two people each have a life to live and it is one that for the monk means he must run off and for the woman that she must be alone. Very sad.

The Castaway

Sharat, a wealthy man, has a young wife Kiran who often lives with her family in the city. She is about to return to her parentsí home again, much to Sharatís sadness, when a young boy runs away from a travelling musical group and sort of takes up residence with Sharat and Kiran. She is just delighted and treats the young teen as though he were her child. Some years pass and Sharat has come to hate the boy and is jealous of him as well.

Then things really get complex when Sharatís younger brother, just about Kiranís age, comes for a summer visit. He and Kiran become very close, but it is an innocent closeness. Her husband is furious with and jealous of his brother, but the late teenage boy, Nilkanta is also extremely jealous of Satish, the visiting brother. Eventually Nilkanta puts the whole family into a great mess when he steals an ink pot of the visiting brother. There is a furor and the boy swears he didnít steal the ink pot. Kiran discovers he did, but she doesnít tell. He then runs away. However, he insists to her that he was not a thief, he was just trying to get some revenge on Satish for stealing Kiranís time from him.

To her credit Kiran never does snitch on Nilkanta.

This was a very believable and sad tale.

Saved

Gouri, a rich manís daughter married Paresh, a poor fellow. Her parents wouldnít let her live with him because of his poverty. By the time they finally allowed her to live with him she was much older, and she had turned her activities to religion.

Paresh was terribly jealous of everything she did and of everyone she saw. She goes often to a new holy man in the area and her husband is extremely jealous and locks her up.

In her innocence and dedication to religion she begs the holy monk to intervene for her. However, the monk has fallen in love with her and writes a secret letter to tell her he will help. Paresh finds the letter and commits suicide. The woman understands the monkís betrayal of her and she commits suicide next to her husband. Otherís take this as a statement of her love for her husband.

My Fair Neighbor

A poet is in love with a widowed neighbor, but he hides this since the marriage of widowed women is unacceptable. However, he writes beautiful love poetry to ease his passions.

The poetís good friend, Nabin, sees some of the poems and decides he too will write poetry, however, he is horrible at it, and begs the poetís help. Little by little the kind poet even convinces Nabin that his miserable writings, which the poet changes drastically, are his own writings and the friend even publishes them under his own name with the poetís blessing.

In a discussion the poet also gives arguments to his friend about the stupidity of the social rule against widowís marrying. Nabin is shocked, but convinced. Soon, of course, the innocent Nabin announces that he is marrying the widow with whom the poet, without Nabinís knowledge, has been in love with for years, and Nabin thanks the poet for his important help!

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

BACK TO BOOK REVIEWS


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals

HOME

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu