The Hungry Stones Summary
Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “The Hungry Stones” opens with the narrator on a train to Calcutta. The narrator and the group he is with meet a man who seems so worldly and knowledgeable that they are awed by him.
The narrator attempts to go to sleep on the train, but the inspiring man tells him a story which keep him awake instead. The story was about his time working as collector of cotton duties in Barich. Nearby was a palace, which an old clerk from his office warned him to never stay the night at. He thought this was funny, although he did note that even the thieves stayed away from the palace at night.
After he had been there about a week, he sat in a chair and thought he heard someone behind him; he turned but there was nobody there. He thought he heard footsteps running down the stairs; again, there was no one at first. Then he believed there to be a group of maidens running down the stairs together, then splashing water at one another in the river.
He thinks perhaps he is hungry; he sends for his cook to make him a meal. Later, he woke when a girl appeared and led him through the palace. As they walked, he stepped over a sleeping guard who dropped his sword - and then the man woke up. He heard Meher Ali, who he believed to be crazy, screaming.
He continued to see things that he wasn’t sure were there, until he couldn’t take it anymore and he went back to his office. Khan tells him that “unrequited passions and unsatisfied longings and lurid flames of wild blazing pleasure” made the palace thirsty, and it swallowed up anyone who stayed there. There was only one way to break the spell, and he began to tell the tragic story of a Persian girl who lived there. Unfortunately for the narrator of the story, the train arrives, and the man disappears to a first-class compartment with an old acquaintance. They would never hear the end of the story.
“The Hungry Stones” uses two first-person narratives. It begins and ends with the voice of an unnamed narrator, who describes himself as a traveler returning to Calcutta on a train with his kinsman from a puja, or Hindu religious pilgrimage. While waiting at a junction for the train, the narrator and his kinsman meet a man who impresses them with his learning and knowledge of current events. The man, Srijut, launches into his own story, which becomes the main part of the tale.
When he was young, Srijut recalls, he was appointed collector of cotton duties at Barich. Nearby stood a marble palace that had been built 250 years earlier by the emperor Mahmud Shah II. Karim Khan, an old clerk in Srijut’s office, warned the young man not to stay in the palace. Srijut ignored him. After staying in the palace for less than a week, the young man began to hear footsteps and the sounds of maidens running to bathe in the nearby river.
Although during the day, Srijut’s nighttime experience seemed like a fantasy, before dark he was drawn back to the palace, leaving his work unfinished. Entering a spacious hall at the top of a staircase, he heard the sounds of fountains, strange music, and tinkling anklets. His normal identity began to seem an illusion until his servant entered and left a lamp. After going to sleep, however, he was awakened and led through the palace by an Arabian or Persian girl, who seemed to him like someone out of a tale from Alf layla wa-layla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1706-1708). She took him past a black eunuch. As Srijut attempted to step over the eunuch’s legs, the guard woke up and dropped his sword. Suddenly, Srijut was back on his camp bed and could hear the shouting of Meher Ali, a local madman.
Srijut says that he began to feel a separation between his nights and his days. During the day, he was tired and...
(The entire section is 1,031 words.)