Finding an apt piece of writing for one’s current time and circumstance from Rabindranath Tagore’s oeuvre is not difficult. Tagore (1861-1941) wrote prolifically, spanning genres, and leaving behind great wisdom for us readers to rediscover. In times of restriction and confinement, we turn to his 1912 play Dak Ghar (The Post Office), for comfort.
The play is about a young boy, Amal, who is confined to his adoptive uncle Madhav’s home as he suffers from an incurable and seemingly fatal disease. Amal is not allowed to go outdoors lest his condition worsens. Yet, his heart is that of a curious wanderer. His words tell us of his yearning to travel and experience life in its entirety. Yet, poor Amal just sits by the window day after day living vicariously through conversations with those passing by.
Madhav: Now, my little man, you are going to be learned when you grow up; and then you will stay at home and read such big books, and people will notice you and say, “he’s a wonder.”
Amal: No, no, Uncle; I beg of you by your dear feet—I don’t want to be learned, I won’t.
Madhav: Dear, dear; it would have been my saving if I could have been learned.
Amal: No, I would rather go about and see everything that there is.
One by one, he engages those passing by in innocent enquiries about their lives and homes. With each one, he imagines himself in their place, waiting to jump into the real world and seeing it through a new pair of eyes. His insistence on not being learned, but rather seeing everything there is, is as endearing as heartbreaking for this little boy will probably only live through words and worlds created by these passersby.
Dairyman: Dear, dear, did you ever? Why should you sell curds? No, you will read big books and be learned.
Amal: No, I never want to be learned—I’ll be like you and take my curds from the village by the red road near the old banyan tree, and I will hawk it from cottage to cottage. Oh, how do you cry—”Curd, curd, good nice curd!” Teach me the tune, will you?
Through the narrative, we get a glimpse of his precociousness as he engages with a variety of people. His imagination is further fueled by the construction of a new post office nearby, leading Amal to fantasise about receiving a personal correspondence from the King himself.
Madhav: [Whispering into Amal’s ear] My child, the King loves you. He is coming himself. Beg for a gift from him. You know our humble circumstances.
Amal: Don’t you worry, Uncle.—I’ve made up my mind about it.
Madhav: What is it, my child?
Amal: I shall ask him to make me one of his postmen that I may wander far and wide, delivering his message from door to door.
The play has many lessons, but the lessons of hope and imagination are what make it so relevant at a time when the future looks bleak, at worst, and uncertain, at best. It teaches us the importance of keeping one’s imagination alive despite despondency, and nurturing the heart of a traveller despite being confined to a windowsill.
Though originally in Bengali, W. B. Yeats produced an English language version of the play. It has since been translated into many other languages. The play was read, in its French translation, on the radio the night before Paris fell to the Nazis. It was also famously performed in German concentration camps during World War II–resonant, undoubtedly, for its beautiful portrayal of a heart and mind full of life while in captivity.
You can find the full play here
We thank Tanvi Shah for recommending this piece.