“The Postmaster,” a story by Rabindranath Tagore, concerns an unnamed postmaster who is assigned to a remote post office in a small rural Indian village. The village is near a factory, and the owner of the factory, who is English, manages to have the post office created. The narrator of the story seems to be a resident of the village, since the narrator refers to “our postmaster.” The postmaster is from the huge city of Calcutta and feels out of place in such a distant rural village. The post office seems to contain only two rooms: the office itself, and the postmaster’s living quarters. These are located in a “thatched shed” near a stagnant pond circled by thick foliage.
The workers in the nearby factory work so much that they have no time to befriend anyone. Besides, they are not especially good company for “decent folk.” In addition, people from Calcutta are not particularly good at socializing. They can appear to be arrogant or uncomfortable. In any case, the postmaster has few companions, and he does not have many activities to keep him occupied.
Occasionally he tries to write a bit of poetry. The rural landscape might have inspired the kind of happy poetry he sought to compose. But the postmaster is uninterested in the landscape and would be happy if it were replaced by a paved road and numerous tall buildings. His wages are not great; he must do his own cooking, but he shares his suppers with “Ratan, an orphan girl of the village, who did odd jobs for him.” In the evening, when the village is filled with appealing sights and sounds—the kind that would inspire poets—the postmaster lights his lamp and calls for Ratan.
Ratan, who has been waiting for the nightly call, typically asks whether she has indeed been called. She then routinely lights the fire needed for cooking. The postmaster, however, typically tells her to wait a while and let him smoke his pipe, which Ratan then always lights for him. After this nightly ritual has been completed, the postmaster usually talks with Ratan. He asks her whether she remembers her parents, discovering that she has fonder memories of her father than of her mother. She can even recall a little brother, with whom she would playfully fish. Often her conversations with the postmaster last a long time—so long that the postmaster doesn’t cook and Ratan instead prepares a very hasty light meal.
Sometimes in the evenings, the postmaster himself recalls his home, his mother and sister, and others whom he misses. He cannot share these thoughts with the local workers, but he feels comfortable discussing them with the innocent young girl. Eventually Ratan begins speaking of the members of the postmaster’s family as if they are members of her own and as if she has long known them. In her heart, she can vividly imagine how each of them looks.
One noon, when the rains have stopped, the wind blows gently and the smell of the lush vegetation beneath the blazing sun feels like the earth breathing on one’s skin. A bird, dedicated to singing the same song over and over, unburdens itself to Nature. The postmaster, however, is idle. He looks at the vegetation and at the increasingly distant rain-clouds and wishes that there were someone—anyone—nearby with whom he had something in common, someone with whom he could share a mutual love. This same thought, he imagines, is precisely what the bird is trying to utter. It is also what the surrounding leaves are attempting to say. Yet no one realizes, or would find it credible, that a thought of this kind might overcome a poorly-paid postmaster during a noontime break from his duties.
The postmaster summons Ratan, who has been lying beneath a guava-tree, determinedly eating immature guavas. Ratan quickly responds to the summons, asking the postmaster, whom she now calls “Dada,” if he has been calling for her. He replies by saying that he has been considering the possibility of teaching her how to read. For the rest of the...
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