Quote of the Day : Rabindranath Tagore on Alienation

These words are spoken by little Amal, sitting by the window, witnessing the world. Amal is an orphan, adopted by his aunt and uncle. Owing to his frail health, he is kept locked in one room with a window. Herein, we explore feelings of alienation and loneliness as expressed by Tagore through his character in The Post Office.

“Of course, I’m dying to be about for ever so long. I’ll ask the King to find me the polar star. I must have seen it often, but I don’t know exactly which it is.”

Rabindranath Tagore, The Post Office

Origins of the Quote : Amal & The Post Office

His entire connection to the world is through the window, where he witnesses throngs of people pass every day. The curd seller, the flower girl, the fakir, the village headman, and many others. The story of exchanges progresses, with the world – represented by the various people, bring their offerings, and Amal. Young Amal has never been to school or formally educated. However, he richly shares of himself, whatever he has. A complete emptying of the self. 

Amal dreams of the Post Office that is to open in the village. He hopes of getting a letter in his name one day, from the King. A poignant metaphor that he too is remembered. That he has an address on the Earth where he is a visitor. Thinking him a child, the headman of the village plays a prank. He writes a letter – telling Amal that the king will visit him at night. It is the same night that Amal breathes his last. A justifiable slap in the face of the elders who run down the inner-world of children, as the King, the Divine appears and carries Amal out of his prison.

From His Room To The World : The Post Office

It is one of his academically acclaimed, however lesser popular in comparison to his other works. It was originally written in Bengali in 1912. And subsequently, translated into English as The Post Office. The work was performed in 1913 by the Abbey Theatre Company in Dublin, Ireland, and London, England. W.B. Yeats famously produced an English-language version of the play and wrote a preface to it. The play was very popular internationally. It was also translated into Spanish and French. It was performed in English for the first time in 1913. Produced by the Irish Theatre in London, it had Tagore himself in the audience.

The play ran successfully in Germany with performances in concentration camps during World War II. A Polish version was performed under the supervision of Janusz Korczak in the Warsaw ghetto. It was a small token – a gesture to encourage those who were trapped. It was honouring the imprisoned, bringing them comfort, however momentarily, bringing knowledge that one day they would be free.

To me it seemed like Amal, despite his feelings of alienation and aloneness, was reaching out to the world with his message.

The Person Behind the Words : Alienation & Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was born in a family of thirteen siblings. His father was busy, travelling frequently and managing the estate and all his extensive properties. He lost his mother when he was very young, and was brought up by the staff at home. In many ways, he wasn’t unlike Amal. He was hungry to know more and see the world. A sharp and curious mind, he constantly ran away from formal education. He became one of the most erudite revered scholars in the world. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

In 1919 when he was given the honour of being Knighthood, Tagore declined on the heels of the Jallianwala Bagh incident.

Through Daak Ghar he raises several questions regarding education, nurture and upbringing. The need for company, exchanges and companionship. Tagore was deeply spiritual though not necessarily religious. His spirituality leads him to explore the depths of human minds.

Tagore successfully travelled to over thirty countries in his time, exploring different cultures and regions. He loved his country and through his ever-expanding knowledge base, he came to love his country ever more.

In The Post Office, Amal talks about the polar star, demonstrating his pure mind. A mind that is ever devoted to pursuing the truth, the knowledge and the Divine. At the end of his life – Tagore, in his poems mentions about how he has emptied himself. In the sense that he had given all that he had to offer the world and his Motherland.

He died in his ancestral house Jorasanko, in 1941, at the age of 80. He was mourned by thousands who knew him, read and loved him. The world had lost a scholar of eminence, one that arrives very very rarely upon the world.

Some Final Thoughts

Apart from the ability to shift between styles and genres, he moved from fiction to non-fiction. He was truly a man of letters and he celebrated writing and reading in any and every way he could.

Daak Ghar gains significance now, more than ever in the pandemic when the world has been forced to be locked away in their rooms. Never has the need to communicate been so important to reach out to others and connect. The Tagorean metaphor is rock solid and en point. It will take several readings to unravel the layers of meanings and the hidden significances within. Tagore leaves his audience with so much to discover. One of the things I admire in Tagore’s writing was that although prolific, he never overwrote. His prose is perfectly balanced to captivate never overpower.

Exploring the life of quarantine many will find resonance with little Amal. Many will identify with loss and loneliness. Many will recognise and celebrate the kindness of neighbours and friends. Especially those who have survived 2020 and surviving 2021 a story written 109 years ago is still potent and cuts close.     

Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.