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Remembering Kabuliwallah

May 7, 2010

It’s Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday today and I found myself thinking about the man, his literature and his politics. But most of all I found myself thinking about his hauntingly beautiful short story – Kabuliwallah. If you haven’t already, read it now.

In my mind, Tagore’s Kabuliwallah epitomises all that is best about the old-school of Indian literature. The story is beautifully bare, the language is straightforward and unaffected, the narrative is  linear and the characters are wholesome, unpretentious and instantly identifiable.

Tagore creates such a disarmingly simple what-happened-next air about the story that its easy to mistake it for a childhood storytelling session with your grandmother.

But unlike your grandmother’s stories, here, beneath the uncomplicated narrative lies something else. In Kabuliwallah, it the calm and utterly amoral beast of Time which plods detemindly though the lives of the three characters pausing for neither dramatic counterpoints nor romantic reminisces. Life-as-usual continues, respecting nothing, trampling everything.  Kabuliwallah glides from the banal to the tragic and from the joyous to the indescribable with dignity, restraint and an earthy Indianness that permeates every word.

I will not suggest that Kabuliwallah was written as an allegory-  Tagore was above such things. But I will surely say that, just like that other Indian literary genius R. K. Narayan, Tagore says a lot more through his purposeful omissions and silences and minimalism than any cheeky new-age magic realist. And when Tagore speaks to us in that manner, those to whom he tells his secrets come away with a quiet inner smile at his message and not a little sadness at being unable to share it.

P.S: Simply to remember this breed of real people is reason enough to keep this little gem alive. My mother actually recalls being a child in small-town Maharashtra getting goosebumps as she heard the cry from the street, “Kabuliwalaaaah, Kaaaabuliwalaaaah..” That’s a world we will never know. And Tagore’s Kabuliwallah is a painful reminder of what we are missing.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Shreya permalink
    May 9, 2010 6:44 pm

    Beautiful!
    I had forgotten how beautiful this story was…
    Thanks Sushrut =))

  2. May 10, 2010 11:23 am

    Thank you Shreya. Time permitting, I hope to read a lot more Tagore this year

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