By TA Balasubramanian,
Letters from a Young Poet: 1887–1895, Rabindranath Tagore, Translated by Rosinka Chaudhuri, Penguin, Paperback, Pages: INR 499, 400 pages
“The water in the marshes is called ‘dumb water’ by the village people – it has no language, it cannot express itself. In a river you can always hear a gurgling sound; words too, if you tie them in metre, clash and strike against one another, and create a music of their own.”
That’s one among hundreds of such minute observations that form the heart and soul of these 252 letters (collectively called “Chinnapatrabali”) penned by Rabindranath Tagore to his niece, Indira. Spanning eight years (when he was between 26 to 34 years of age), these intense pen portraits of a poet’s evolving senses contain lyrical and vivid descriptions of the countryside, the river landscapes, and the weather changes in those times.
It was a time when Rabindranath was not yet known to the world as Tagore, the poet. The letters also contain rare glimpses into the past, particularly the experience of Indians under British rule and the customs and language of people in Bengal. The impressions of a budding writer create a moving pen portrait of India’s rural people and the local rajas, as they go through their struggles and share their joys and miseries. “Lots of boys play here together. But the foot soldiers who are stuck to me day and night give me no peace. They consider the boys’ play impudence. If the farmers bring their cows to the water to let them drink, they immediately run towards them, stick in hand, to protect the raja’s prestige.”
There are many Bengali words used in the letters, and they are either explained in the note on transliteration (provided in the beginning of the book) or in the body of the letters. This provides the reader with an authentic understanding of the original feelings and thoughts that were part of Tagore’s creative narration.
For those who want to understand the evolution of Tagore from his early life, this is a valuable collection of his thoughts. As he absorbs the changes in the environment, and reflects upon life and his own responses, we are given a privileged insight into the making of the man and his later journey to fame as an internationally acclaimed poet and novelist.
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