The Postmaster By Rabindranath Tagore
The story revolves around two characters, an unnamed Postmaster and an orphan girl, Ratan. Ratan likes to call the Postmaster Dadababu. The story begins with the postmaster arriving to Ulapur, a very small insignificant village with an indigo house nearby. The postmaster was a Calcutta boy who could not embrace the idea of staying in a small unfamiliar village all alone by himself. He felt like a fish out of water with no suitable company. The village was surrounded by a forest and a pond full of wild weeds. There wasn’t much work for him at the Post-Office to keep him busy. With a lot of free time at his hand, he tried to drive away his loneliness with attempts at writing inspirational poetry about his surroundings. However, he was very fond of urban lifestyle and the natural surroundings failed to hold his interest for long. He detested to the core living alone in a rural area.
Hissalary was not much so he used to cook for himself and his house help, an orphan girl called Ratan. Tagore has wonderfully described the connection the postmaster shared with this orphan girl. Ratan had no family, she used to feel just as lonely as the postmaster. So, in the evening when the workers from the indigo factory returned home and smoke would begin to curl up from cow sheds in the evening, Dadababu would light his little lamp and call out Ratan’s name and she would come running to light his hookah and both of them would sit and talk about wonderful memories of their respective families. Ratan would take strides down the memory lane and and share with him stories about her own life. She would tell him how her father was fonder of Ratan than her mother. She would tell him about her favorite memory of playing with her brother, catching fish with rods made of twigs broken off from trees. But the tattered memories of them, made it difficult for her to recall much. Sometimes, the postmaster would tell Ratan about his own family- he would delightfully share with her warm memories of his little brother, mother and elder sister. He would tell her how his heart ached to be with his family. And sometimes, they would carry such conversations late into the night. Ratan eventually got so familiar with members of his family that she would imagine pictures of them in her own mind’s eye and would refer to his family members as if they were her own.
Ratan used to wait diligently for Dadababu to call out her name. One day on a lovely monsoon afternoon, when the sky was clear and soft breeze was blowing, the postmaster sat reminiscing about his life in the village. A bird kept signing monotonously as if making its complaint in the durbar of nature. This resonated with Dadababu’s feelings and he thought to himself - if only he had someone of his own here, even one loving human being that he could hold close to his heart. The rustling leaves brought him back to reality and he laughed off his feelings thinking no one would believe that a postmaster in a small village could hold such feelings in his heart on a silent afternoon break.
Thereafter, he started teaching Ratan during the afternoon break. Ratan was very obedient and always looked forward to spending some time with Dadababu as she did not have any family of her own. Ratan picked up the basics of language fast and waited patiently for Dadababu to call out her name everyday. As the time passed, the monsoon showers grew fierce and the village was soon inundated with the canals, pits and ditches overflowing. During this time, the postmaster fell sick and the young girl Ratan took on the role of his caretaker, acting like his mother at times, she made sure he had his medicine at the right time, stayed up by his side all night, she did all she could to nurse him back to health.
After several days of extreme care, the postman recovered. He made up his mind to leave and requested the head office for a transfer on grounds that the place was unfit to live. Meanwhile, Ratan went back to her normal routine of waiting by his door. She kept revising her old-lessons, but the postmaster stopped calling for her like he used to. After several weeks, he called her one evening. He informed her that he was leaving; his application was rejected so he had resigned. That night, while she cooked, she worked up the courage to ask him if he would take her with him to his home. He told her, he couldn’t do that. Ratan could not bring herself to ask when he was leaving so she fetched water from the riverfor his bath at night itself, in case he needed some in the morning. After his bath, Dadababu asked Ratan not to worry as he will tell the person that replaces him to take good care of her. Although, she had borne many a scolding from him, somehow these kind words from her Dadababu felt the cruellest to her and she retorted with tears in her eyes that he doesn’t need to say anything to anyone and that she doesn’t want to stay.
The new incumbent arrived and the postmaster prepared to depart. Before leaving, he offered Ratan his entire salary of the month, retaining only a trifle for his travelling expenses. However, she refused to take any money from him and ran out of sight. When he got in the boat that would take him to Calcutta, the grief stricken face of Ratan pinched his heart. He almost had an impulse to go back and bring her with him. But the boat had already left the village behind and the postmaster consoled himself with philosophical reflections on the numberless meetings and partings that happen in the world, he even thought about death, the great parting from which no one returns. But Ratan had no such philosophy to awaken disdain in her heart.She wandered about the post office in a flood of tears hoping her Dadababu would return.
Tagore ends the story with heart touching lines that sum up the lesson of the story – “O poor, unthinking human heart! Error will not go away, logic and reason are slow to penetrate. We cling with both arms to false hope, refusing to believe in the weightiest proofs against it, embracing it with all our strength. In the end it escapes, ripping our veins and draining our heart’s blood; until, regaining consciousness, we rush to fall into snares of delusion all over again.”