Last Updated November 15, 2023.
Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “The Homecoming” was written in 1892 or 1893. Now, over a century later, its portrayal of adolescence and the yearning for a loving home remains relevant to modern readers. The story is set in India, yet its characters, plot, and themes are universal and meaningful to people in any time or place.
The story opens with Phatik Chakravorti, the leader of a group of mischievous boys, deciding to push a log into the river. To his frustration, his brother, Makhan, sits on the log, impeding him. Phatik threatens to beat him up if he does not move, but Makhan ignores his threats. As promised, Phatik makes good on his threat, rolling Makhan off the log. The boys all laugh at the sight and an enraged Makhan hits Phatik before running off to their mother.
As Phatik sits idly on the river bank, an unfamiliar man approaches him and asks where the Chakravorti family lives. Phatik points vaguely and answers rudely, “Go and find out.” Shortly thereafter, a servant comes to tell Phatik that his mother wants him. When the boy refuses to move, the servant picks him up and carries him, “kicking and struggling in impotent rage.”
Makhan told their mother that Phatik hit him, so when Phatik and the servant arrive home, they are greeted by an angry mother and smug brother. When he denies hitting Makhan, his mother beats him for telling lies. However, the argument is interrupted by the unfamiliar man Phatik encountered earlier, who turns out to be Phatik’s uncle, his mother’s brother, Bishamber, whom she has not seen in years.
Observing the chaotic scene, Bishamber offers to take Phatik to Calcutta with him, and the boy is eager to go. His mother, who has “a prejudice against the boy” feels “immense relief” at her brother’s offer but also experiences some distress when she realizes her son’s “extreme eagerness to get away.” In preparation for his new life, Phatik gives Makhan his kite, fishing rod, and marbles.
But life in Calcutta is not as idyllic as Phatik imagined. His aunt resents his presence and speaks harshly to him, explaining that she feels a fourteen-year-old is “neither ornamental, nor useful.” In her eyes, he is awkward, unattractive, “painfully self-conscious,” and simply in the way. In Calcutta, no one loves him or is willing to make a true home for him.
Phatik is miserable, feeling as if he is an “unwelcome guest” in his aunt and uncle’s home. He tries desperately to make himself useful, only to be scorned again and again. His thoughts soon turn to home, and he dreams of his village and the friends and family he left behind there.
School, too, is a wretched experience for Phatik. He cannot answer the teacher’s questions, and when he loses his lesson book, his aunt refuses to buy him a new one. The students—including his cousins—torment him for his stupidity.
All Phatik can think of is going home, so he asks his uncle, who tells him: “Wait till the holidays come.” One day, Phatik disappears. When the police finally find him, he is very sick and is running a high fever. After his uncle refused to help, Phatik decided to try and get home alone, which went poorly, leaving him in a delirious state in which he can only speak of home and cry for his mother.
Eventually, his mother arrives in Calcutta. However, Phatik’s condition is critical; still delirious, he mimics a sailor he once heard by the river, as he, too, is now “plumbing an unfathomable sea.” The boy’s mother flings herself on the bed, crying: “Phatik, my darling, my darling.” Her son’s reply is simple: “Mother, the holidays have come.”
The story ends there, leaving readers to decide whether they are satisfied with the resolution. Phatik seems to have found satisfaction in his mother’s arrival, but no one knows if he lives to enjoy it or not.