Rabindranath Tagore: Short Stories

Rabindranath Tagore: Short Stories Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Ghat (Motif)

"Ghat" is a Hindi term for the rocks on the side of a riverbed. It is depicted as a key zone in the lives of Tagore's characters, often as a gathering place. In "Punshiment," Chandara is depicted as fiercely independent because she goes to the ghat herself, and in "The Living and the Dead," Kadambini visits the ghat as she wanders around after waking up from death, stuck between life and death just like the rock is stuck between land and water.

The Stoyteller's Tale (Allegory)

In "The Hungry Stones," the main storyteller speaks of his time being seduced by hallucinations in a temple. It's clearly an allegory for something—even assuming the form of one of the fables in the famous collection of Arab folk tales One Thousand and One Nights—but we never quite learn what the allegory is supposed to mean. The shaggy dog tale speaks to Tagore's wry sense of humor, laying out an enthralling allegory that we never quite learn the point of.

The Funerary Shroud ("Symbol")

In "The Living and the Dead," when Kadambini returns to life, the guards find the spot where she was lying empty and the shroud covering her gone. That shroud, which covers the dead, symbolizes their peaceful rest in death. When it disappears with Kadambini, we know that no sign of her death whatsoever remains.

Wise Children (Motif)

A wise child is central to "Kabuliwallah," as Mini is a precocious girl who can hold a fascinating conversation with Kabuliwallah, and develops a close friendship with him based on this intellectual sophistication. We see a wise child in "Profit and Loss" as well, when Kadambini's brother-in-law's son—with whom she had a very close relationship—accepts her immediately as a living person, even though everyone else will only see her as someone who is dead. Tagore's wise children see the mystical in life for what it is, and respond to mysteries with curiosity, and not the hostility common amongst the adults.

The Stones (Symbol)

In "The Hungry Stones," the stones represent the underworld where the lusty hallucinations emanate from. The storyteller speaks of a princess who he hears one night calling from beneath the ground for him to rescue her. While Western concepts of hell don't really hold in Indian culture, it is very well possible that Tagore is borrowing from the Ancient Greek mythical conception of the underworld as a transient space where souls are held before they go on to their final destination.