Selected Short Stories Summary
In his introduction to this volume, editor and translator William Radice explains his reasons for including only short stories that Tagore wrote during the 1890’s, when he was in his thirties. At that time, Tagore was preoccupied with the narrative form, as is evident from the fact that fifty-nine of his lifetime’s output of ninety short stories came out of that relatively brief period. Most of the thirty stories in this collection are set in the Padma River region of East Bengal and reflect both his new understanding of peasants like those around him and his appreciation of a particularly beautiful part of his native land.
Several of these stories are supernatural, such as “Skeleton,” in which a female ghost appears to tell a story of love and death. Others resemble folktales; in “The Hungry Stones,” a man in a railway waiting room describes events in a mysterious accursed palace, but before he can finish his narrative, a train arrives and he is shown to his compartment, leaving his audience in suspense. “Wishes Granted” is a moral tale like those found in every literary tradition. In it, a father and his son have their wishes granted by a passing divinity, only to find that they were better off before.
However, though Tagore himself suggested in a much later interview that most of the early stories were simple re-creations of village life, in fact they are complex descriptions of human behavior, with ironic or tragic endings. One of the best known, “The Postmaster ,” is typical. The title character is a well-educated young man from Calcutta, who has been sent to work in a remote village. Ratan, the orphan girl he hires to do his housework, becomes his only companion, and he finds himself very much attached to her. He even begins teaching her to read. When he becomes ill, she nurses him back to health. However, soon afterward he tells Ratan that he has resigned his position and will soon be leaving. To his amazement, she begs him to take her with him, but he refuses. He tries to make up for abandoning her by offering her money, but she will not take it. As his boat sails down the river, the young...
(The entire section is 532 words.)