Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Tagore said that he developed the idea for “The Hungry Stones” when he was seventeen years old and stayed in an old Muslim palace. The time of the Mughal emperors, the Muslim rulers of India, seemed to him to be a mysterious and romantic period. The story, therefore, employs the style of a romance from The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, and Srijut refers repeatedly to these classic stories. Lush descriptions and exotic details contribute to the sense of wonder and fantasy that characterizes Srijut’s account of his nights.

Having a character meet a stranger who tells a tale is a fairly old device in storytelling, but Tagore uses this device effectively, and the technique fits the story’s theme of the difficulty of distinguishing between reality and fantasy. The setting at the opening is important. The narrator and his kinsman are at a junction on a return journey from their pilgrimage. They have temporarily stepped outside their ordinary lives and are on their way back when they meet this unknown and impressive man. Although the bulk of the story concerns events in Srijut’s life, even his name is mentioned only in passing and his listeners never know anything about him aside from the weird events that he claims happened to him during a short time in his youth. He disappears as suddenly as he appeared, without having explained what the unsatisfied passions that cursed the palace were or how he escaped being destroyed by them.