What happens in Tagore's Kabuliwala?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Kabuliwala is a short story by Rabindranath Tagore about a relationship between a man and his family and a street trader, a "peddler" or kabuliwala in its native Hindi. The narrator of Kabuliwala is a writer himself, who talks about his inquisitive, five-year old daughter Mini, for whom being quiet is "unnatural." He speaks fondly of her constant "prattle" and her questions. He is compiling his latest novel amid these interruptions from his much-loved daughter but laments the fact that Mini gets very excited when she sees a kabuliwala on the street. He wonders if he will ever get the seventeenth chapter finished. He realizes that he will have to buy something if he is to have any chance at peace and quiet that day. In the meantime, Mini has hidden away, afraid of the street seller but because the seller asks about her, the narrator calls his daughter to come and greet him. 

Some days later, the narrator is surprised when he finds Mini chatting with the kabuliwala. He gives the kabuliwala some money for the fruit and nuts which he has given to Mini but the seller gives the coin to Mini without her father's knowledge and almost causes trouble for her with her mother, who cannot understand why Mini would take money from a street trader. 

An unusual friendship develops between Mini and the seller, and when he asks her when she is going to "the father-in-law's house" Mini is confused because her parents have kept the details of this custom from her (they consider themselves a modern, "new-fangled" family). The narrator tells the reader about the "double-meaning" and that the reference to the father-in-law's house can also suggest "jail, the place where we are well cared for, at no expense to ourselves." Mini does not understand but readily shares the joke with the peddler. The narrator admits that the kabuliwala also inspires him to imagine exotic travel but Mini's mother does not really trust the kabuliwala and often thinks the worst of people. However, the narrator recognizes this special relationship and allows his daughter to enjoy the kabuliwala's company whenever he visits.  

However, one year the kabuliwala is sent to prison and Mini is dismayed that he is going to "the father-in-law's house," where he spends several years. As the years pass and the kabuliwala is forgotten, arrangements are made for Mini's marriage. Unexpectedly, the kabuliwala returns to the narrator's home, having been released from prison, but the narrator has no time for him until the kabuliwala shows him a piece of paper with a child's hand-print on it that belongs to his own daughter. When Mini comes to the door at her father's insistence, the kabuliwala realizes that his own daughter will also be a young woman as it has been eight years. The narrator recognizes his own blessings and, despite having to make some adjustments to the wedding festivities, he gives the kabuliwala some money, urging him to go home to his own daughter.  There is solace for the narrator when he considers that "a long lost father met again with his only child."

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