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Title: My Reminiscences
Author: Tagore, Rabindranath, 1861-1941
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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New York



_All rights reserved_

COPYRIGHT, 1916 AND 1917


Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1917.


These Reminiscences were written and published by the Author in his
fiftieth year, shortly before he started on a trip to Europe and America
for his failing health in 1912. It was in the course of this trip that
he wrote for the first time in the English language for publication.

In these memory pictures, so lightly, even casually presented by the
author there is, nevertheless, revealed a connected history of his inner
life together with that of the varying literary forms in which his
growing self found successive expression, up to the point at which both
his soul and poetry attained maturity.

This lightness of manner and importance of matter form a combination the
translation of which into a different language is naturally a matter of
considerable difficulty. It was, in any case, a task which the present
Translator, not being an original writer in the English language, would
hardly have ventured to undertake, had there not been other
considerations. The translator's familiarity, however, with the
persons, scenes, and events herein depicted made it a temptation
difficult for him to resist, as well as a responsibility which he did
not care to leave to others not possessing these advantages, and
therefore more liable to miss a point, or give a wrong impression.

The Translator, moreover, had the author's permission and advice to make
a free translation, a portion of which was completed and approved by the
latter before he left India on his recent tour to Japan and America.

In regard to the nature of the freedom taken for the purposes of the
translation, it may be mentioned that those suggestions which might not
have been as clear to the foreign as to the Bengali reader have been
brought out in a slightly more elaborate manner than in the original
text; while again, in rare cases, others which depend on allusions
entirely unfamiliar to the non-Indian reader, have been omitted rather
than spoil by an over-elaboration the simplicity and naturalness which
is the great feature of the original.

There are no footnotes in the original. All the footnotes here given
have been added by the Translator in the hope that they may be of
further assistance to the foreign reader.



Translator's Preface                                       v


1.                                                         1

2. Teaching Begins                                         3

3. Within and Without                                      8


4. Servocracy                                             25

5. The Normal School                                      30

6. Versification                                          35

7. Various Learning                                       38

8. My First Outing                                        44

9. Practising Poetry                                      48


10. Srikantha Babu                                        53

11. Our Bengali Course Ends                               57

12. The Professor                                         60

13. My Father                                             67

14. A Journey with my Father                              76

15. At the Himalayas                                      89


16. My Return                                            101

17. Home Studies                                         111

18. My Home Environment                                  116

19. Literary Companions                                  125

20. Publishing                                           133

21. Bhanu Singha                                         135

22. Patriotism                                           138

23. The Bharati                                          147


24. Ahmedabad                                            155

25. England                                              157

26. Loken Palit                                          175

27. The Broken Heart                                     177


28. European Music                                       189

29. Valmiki Pratibha                                     192

30. Evening Songs                                        199

31. An Essay on Music                                    203

32. The River-side                                       207

33. More About the Evening Songs                         210

34. Morning Songs                                        214


35. Rajendrahal Mitra                                    231

36. Karwar                                               235

37. Nature's Revenge                                     238

38. Pictures and Songs                                   241

39. An Intervening Period                                244

40. Bankim Chandra                                       247


41. The Steamer Hulk                                     255

42. Bereavements                                         257

43. The Rains and Autumn                                 264

44. Sharps and Flats                                     267


Rabindranath Tagore from the Portrait by S. K.
Hesh                                          _Frontispiece_

                                               _Facing Page_

Tagore in 1877                                             6

The Inner Garden Was My Paradise                          14

The Ganges                                                54

Satya                                                     64

Singing to My Father                                      82

The Himalayas                                             94

The Servant-Maids in the Verandah                        106

My Eldest Brother                                        120

Moonlight                                                180

The Ganges Again                                         208

Karwar Beach                                             236

My Brother Jyotirindra                                   256




I know not who paints the pictures on memory's canvas; but whoever he
may be, what he is painting are pictures; by which I mean that he is not
there with his brush simply to make a faithful copy of all that is
happening. He takes in and leaves out according to his taste. He makes
many a big thing small and small thing big. He has no compunction in
putting into the background that which was to the fore, or bringing to
the front that which was behind. In short he is painting pictures, and
not writing history.

Thus, over Life's outward aspect passes the series of events, and within
is being painted a set of pictures. The two correspond but are not one.

We do not get the leisure to view thoroughly this studio within us.
Portions of it now and then catch our eye, but the greater part remains
out of sight in the darkness. Why the ever-busy painter is painting;
when he will have done; for what gallery his pictures are destined--who
can tell?

Some years ago, on being questioned as to the events of my past life, I
had occasion to pry into this picture-chamber. I had thought to be
content with selecting some few materials for my Life's story. I then
discovered, as I opened the door, that Life's memories are not Life's
history, but the original work of an unseen Artist. The variegated
colours scattered about are not reflections of outside lights, but
belong to the painter himself, and come passion-tinged from his heart;
thereby unfitting the record on the canvas for use as evidence in a
court of law.

But though the attempt to gather precise history from memory's
storehouse may be fruitless, there is a fascination in looking over the
pictures, a fascination which cast its spell on me.

The road over which we journey, the wayside shelter in which we pause,
are not pictures while yet we travel--they are too necessary, too
obvious. When, however, before turning into the evening resthouse, we
look back upon the cities, fields, rivers and hills which we have been
through in Life's morning, then, in the light of the passing day, are
they pictures indeed. Thus, when my opportunity came, did I look back,
and was engrossed.

Was this interest aroused within me solely by a natural affection for
my own past? Some personal feeling, of course, there must have been, but
the pictures had also an independent artistic value of their own. There
is no event in my reminiscences worthy of being preserved for all time.
But the quality of the subject is not the only justification for a
record. What one has truly felt, if only it can be made sensible to
others, is always of importance to one's fellow men. If pictures which
have taken shape in memory can be brought out in words, they are worth a
place in literature.

It is as literary material that I offer my memory pictures. To take them
as an attempt at autobiography would be a mistake. In such a view these
reminiscences would appear useless as well as incomplete.

(2) _Teaching Begins_

We three boys were being brought up together. Both my companions were
two years older than I. When they were placed under their tutor, my
teaching also began, but of what I learnt nothing remains in my memory.

What constantly recurs to me is "The rain patters, the leaf quivers."[1]
I am just come to anchor after crossing the stormy region of the
_kara_, _khala_[2] series; and I am reading "The rain patters, the leaf
quivers," for me the first poem of the Arch Poet. Whenever the joy of
that day comes back to me, even now, I realise why rhyme is so needful
in poetry. Because of it the words come to an end, and yet end not; the
utterance is over, but not its ring; and the ear and the mind can go on
and on with their game of tossing the rhyme to each other. Thus did the
rain patter and the leaves quiver again and again, the live-long day in
my consciousness.

Another episode of this period of my early boyhood is held fast in my

We had an old cashier, Kailash by name, who was like one of the family.
He was a great wit, and would be constantly cracking jokes with
everybody, old and young; recently married sons-in-law, new comers into
the family circle, being his special butts. There was room for the
suspicion that his humour had not deserted him even after death. Once my
elders were engaged in an attempt to start a postal service with the
other world by means of a planchette. At one of the sittings the pencil
scrawled out the name of Kailash. He was asked as to the sort of life
one led where he was. Not a bit of it, was the reply. "Why should you
get so cheap what I had to die to learn?"

This Kailash used to rattle off for my special delectation a doggerel
ballad of his own composition. The hero was myself and there was a
glowing anticipation of the arrival of a heroine. And as I listened my
interest would wax intense at the picture of this world-charming bride
illuminating the lap of the future in which she sat enthroned. The list
of the jewellery with which she was bedecked from head to foot, and the
unheard of splendour of the preparations for the bridal, might have
turned older and wiser heads; but what moved the boy, and set wonderful
joy pictures flitting before his vision, was the rapid jingle of the
frequent rhymes and the swing of the rhythm.

These two literary delights still linger in my memory--and there is the
other, the infants' classic: "The rain falls pit-a-pat, the tide comes
up the river."

The next thing I remember is the beginning of my school-life. One day I
saw my elder brother, and my sister's son Satya, also a little older
than myself, starting off to school, leaving me behind, accounted unfit.
I had never before ridden in a carriage nor even been out of the house.
So when Satya came back, full of unduly glowing accounts of his
adventures on the way, I felt I simply could not stay at home. Our tutor
tried to dispel my illusion with sound advice and a resounding slap:
"You're crying to go to school now, you'll have to cry a lot more to be
let off later on." I have no recollection of the name, features or
disposition of this tutor of ours, but the impression of his weighty
advice and weightier hand has not yet faded. Never in my life have I
heard a truer prophecy.

My crying drove me prematurely into the Oriental Seminary. What I learnt
there I have no idea, but one of its methods of punishment I still bear
in mind. The boy who was unable to repeat his lessons was made to stand
on a bench with arms extended, and on his upturned palms were piled a
number of slates. It is for psychologists to debate how far this method
is likely to conduce to a better grasp of things. I thus began my
schooling at an extremely tender age.

My initiation into literature had its origin, at the same time, in the
books which were in vogue in the servants' quarters. Chief among these
were a Bengali translation of Chanakya's aphorisms, and the Ramayana of

A picture of one day's reading of the Ramayana comes clearly back to me.

[Illustration: Rabindranath Tagore in 1877]

The day was a cloudy one. I was playing about in the long verandah[3]
overlooking the road. All of a sudden Satya, for some reason I do not
remember, wanted to frighten me by shouting, "Policeman! Policeman!" My
ideas of the duties of policemen were of an extremely vague description.
One thing I was certain about, that a person charged with crime once
placed in a policeman's hands would, as sure as the wretch caught in a
crocodile's serrated grip, go under and be seen no more. Not knowing how
an innocent boy could escape this relentless penal code, I bolted
towards the inner apartments, with shudders running down my back for
blind fear of pursuing policemen. I broke to my mother the news of my
impending doom, but it did not seem to disturb her much. However, not
deeming it safe to venture out again, I sat down on the sill of my
mother's door to read the dog-eared Ramayana, with a marbled paper
cover, which belonged to her old aunt. Alongside stretched the verandah
running round the four sides of the open inner quadrangle, on which had
fallen the faint afternoon glow of the clouded sky, and finding me
weeping over one of its sorrowful situations my great-aunt came and took
away the book from me.

(3) _Within and Without_

Luxury was a thing almost unknown in the days of my infancy. The
standard of living was then, as a whole, much more simple than it is
now. Apart from that, the children of our household were entirely free
from the fuss of being too much looked after. The fact is that, while
the process of looking after may be an occasional treat for the
guardians, to the children it is always an unmitigated nuisance.

We used to be under the rule of the servants. To save themselves trouble
they had almost suppressed our right of free movement. But the freedom
of not being petted made up even for the harshness of this bondage, for
our minds were left clear of the toils of constant coddling, pampering
and dressing-up.

Our food had nothing to do with delicacies. A list of our articles of
clothing would only invite the modern boy's scorn. On no pretext did we
wear socks or shoes till we had passed our tenth year. In the cold
weather a second cotton tunic over the first one sufficed. It never
entered our heads to consider ourselves ill-off for that reason. It was
only when old Niyamat, the tailor, would forget to put a pocket into one
of our tunics that we complained, for no boy has yet been born so poor
as not to have the wherewithal to stuff his pockets; nor, by a merciful
dispensation of providence, is there much difference between the wealth
of boys of rich and of poor parentage. We used to have a pair of
slippers each, but not always where we had our feet. Our habit of
kicking the slippers on ahead, and catching them up again, made them
work none the less hard, through effectually defeating at every step the
reason of their being.

Our elders were in every way at a great distance from us, in their dress
and food, living and doing, conversation and amusement. We caught
glimpses of these, but they were beyond our reach. Elders have become
cheap to modern children; they are too readily accessible, and so are
all objects of desire. Nothing ever came so easily to us. Many a trivial
thing was for us a rarity, and we lived mostly in the hope of attaining,
when we were old enough, the things which the distant future held in
trust for us. The result was that what little we did get we enjoyed to
the utmost; from skin to core nothing was thrown away. The modern child
of a well-to-do family nibbles at only half the things he gets; the
greater part of his world is wasted on him.

Our days were spent in the servants' quarters in the south-east corner
of the outer apartments. One of our servants was Shyam, a dark chubby
boy with curly locks, hailing from the District of Khulna. He would put
me into a selected spot and, tracing a chalk line all round, warn me
with solemn face and uplifted finger of the perils of transgressing this
ring. Whether the threatened danger was material or spiritual I never
fully understood, but a great fear used to possess me. I had read in the
Ramayana of the tribulations of Sita for having left the ring drawn by
Lakshman, so it was not possible for me to be sceptical of its potency.

Just below the window of this room was a tank with a flight of masonry
steps leading down into the water; on its west bank, along the garden
wall, an immense banyan tree; to the south a fringe of cocoanut palms.
Ringed round as I was near this window I would spend the whole day
peering through the drawn Venetian shutters, gazing and gazing on this
scene as on a picture book. From early morning our neighbours would drop
in one by one to have their bath. I knew the time for each one to
arrive. I was familiar with the peculiarities of each one's toilet. One
would stop up his ears with his fingers as he took his regulation number
of dips, after which he would depart. Another would not venture on a
complete immersion but be content with only squeezing his wet towel
repeatedly over his head. A third would carefully drive the surface
impurities away from him with a rapid play of his arms, and then on a
sudden impulse take his plunge. There was one who jumped in from the top
steps without any preliminaries at all. Another would walk slowly in,
step by step, muttering his morning prayers the while. One was always in
a hurry, hastening home as soon as he was through with his dip. Another
was in no sort of hurry at all, taking his bath leisurely, followed with
a good rub-down, and a change from wet bathing clothes into clean ones,
including a careful adjustment of the folds of his waist cloth, ending
with a turn or two in the outer[4] garden, and the gathering of flowers,
with which he would finally saunter slowly homewards, radiating the cool
comfort of his refreshed body, as he went. This would go on till it was
past noon. Then the bathing places would be deserted and become silent.
Only the ducks remained, paddling about after water snails, or busy
preening their feathers, the live-long day.

When solitude thus reigned over the water, my whole attention would be
drawn to the shadows under the banyan tree. Some of its aerial roots,
creeping down along its trunk, had formed a dark complication of coils
at its base. It seemed as if into this mysterious region the laws of the
universe had not found entrance; as if some old-world dream-land had
escaped the divine vigilance and lingered on into the light of modern
day. Whom I used to see there, and what those beings did, it is not
possible to express in intelligible language. It was about this banyan
tree that I wrote later:

    With tangled roots hanging down from your branches,
        O ancient banyan tree,
    You stand still day and night, like an ascetic at his
    Do you ever remember the child whose fancy played
        with your shadows?

Alas! that banyan tree is no more, nor the piece of water which served
to mirror the majestic forest-lord! Many of those who used to bathe
there have also followed into oblivion the shade of the banyan tree. And
that boy, grown older, is counting the alternations of light and
darkness which penetrate the complexities with which the roots he has
thrown off on all sides have encircled him.

Going out of the house was forbidden to us, in fact we had not even the
freedom of all its parts. We perforce took our peeps at nature from
behind the barriers. Beyond my reach there was this limitless thing
called the Outside, of which flashes and sounds and scents used
momentarily to come and touch me through its interstices. It seemed to
want to play with me through the bars with so many gestures. But it was
free and I was bound--there was no way of meeting. So the attraction was
all the stronger. The chalk line has been wiped away to-day, but the
confining ring is still there. The distant is just as distant, the
outside is still beyond me; and I am reminded of the poem I wrote when I
was older:

      The tame bird was in a cage, the free bird was in the
      They met when the time came, it was a decree of fate.
      The free bird cries, "O my love, let us fly to wood."
      The cage bird whispers, "Come hither, let us both
    live in the cage."
      Says the free bird, "Among bars, where is there room
    to spread one's wings?"
      "Alas," cries the cage bird, "I should not know
    where to sit perched in the sky."

The parapets of our terraced roofs were higher than my head. When I had
grown taller; when the tyranny of the servants had relaxed; when, with
the coming of a newly married bride into the house, I had achieved some
recognition as a companion of her leisure, then did I sometimes come up
to the terrace in the middle of the day. By that time everybody in the
house would have finished their meal; there would be an interval in the
business of the household; over the inner apartments would rest the
quiet of the midday siesta; the wet bathing clothes would be hanging
over the parapets to dry; the crows would be picking at the leavings
thrown on the refuse heap at the corner of the yard; in the solitude of
that interval the caged bird would, through the gaps in the parapet,
commune bill to bill with the free bird!

[Illustration: The Inner Garden was My Paradise]

I would stand and gaze.... My glance first falls on the row of cocoanut
trees on the further edge of our inner garden. Through these are seen
the "Singhi's Garden" with its cluster of huts[5] and tank, and on the
edge of the tank the dairy of our milkwoman, Tara; still further on,
mixed up with the tree-tops, the various shapes and different heights of
the terraced roofs of Calcutta, flashing back the blazing whiteness of
the midday sun, stretch right away into the grayish blue of the eastern
horizon. And some of these far distant dwellings from which stand
forth their roofed stair-ways leading up to the terrace, look as if with
uplifted finger and a wink they are hinting to me of the mysteries of
their interiors. Like the beggar at the palace door who imagines
impossible treasures to be held in the strong rooms closed to him, I can
hardly tell of the wealth of play and freedom which these unknown
dwellings seem to me crowded with. From the furthest depth of the sky
full of burning sunshine overhead the thin shrill cry of a kite reaches
my ear; and from the lane adjoining Singhi's Garden comes up, past the
houses silent in their noonday slumber, the sing-song of the
bangle-seller--_chai choori chai_ ... and my whole being would fly away
from the work-a-day world.

My father hardly ever stayed at home, he was constantly roaming about.
His rooms on the third storey used to remain shut up. I would pass my
hands through the venetian shutters, and thus opening the latch get the
door open, and spend the afternoon lying motionless on his sofa at the
south end. First of all it was a room always closed, and then there was
the stolen entry, this gave it a deep flavour of mystery; further the
broad empty expanse of terrace to the south, glowing in the rays of the
sun would set me day-dreaming.

There was yet another attraction. The water-works had just been started
in Calcutta, and in the first exuberance of its triumphant entry it did
not stint even the Indian quarters of their supply. In that golden age
of pipe water, it used to flow even up to my father's third storey
rooms. And turning on the shower tap I would indulge to my heart's
content in an untimely bath. Not so much for the comfort of it, as to
give rein to my desire to do just as I fancied. The alternation of the
joy of liberty, and the fear of being caught, made that shower of
municipal water send arrows of delight thrilling into me.

It was perhaps because the possibility of contact with the outside was
so remote that the joy of it came to me so much more readily. When
material is in profusion, the mind gets lazy and leaves everything to
it, forgetting that for a successful feast of joy its internal equipment
counts for more than the external. This is the chief lesson which his
infant state has to teach to man. There his possessions are few and
trivial, yet he needs no more for his happiness. The world of play is
spoilt for the unfortunate youngster who is burdened with an unlimited
quantity of playthings.

To call our inner garden a garden is to say a deal too much. Its
properties consisted of a citron tree, a couple of plum trees of
different varieties, and a row of cocoanut trees. In the centre was a
paved circle the cracks of which various grasses and weeds had invaded
and planted in them their victorious standards. Only those flowering
plants which refused to die of neglect continued uncomplainingly to
perform their respective duties without casting any aspersions on the
gardener. In the northern corner was a rice-husking shed, where the
inmates of the inner apartments would occasionally foregather when
household necessity demanded. This last vestige of rural life has since
owned defeat and slunk away ashamed and unnoticed.

None the less I suspect that Adam's garden of Eden could hardly have
been better adorned than this one of ours; for he and his paradise were
alike naked; they needed not to be furnished with material things. It is
only since his tasting of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and till
he can fully digest it, that man's need for external furniture and
embellishment persistently grows. Our inner garden was my paradise; it
was enough for me. I well remember how in the early autumn dawn I would
run there as soon as I was awake. A scent of dewy grass and foliage
would rush to meet me, and the morning with its cool fresh sunlight
would peep out at me over the top of the Eastern garden wall from below
the trembling tassels of the cocoanut palms.

There is another piece of vacant land to the north of the house which to
this day we call the _golabari_ (barn house). The name shows that in
some remote past this must have been the place where the year's store of
grain used to be kept in a barn. Then, as with brother and sister in
infancy, the likeness between town and country was visible all over. Now
the family resemblance can hardly be traced. This _golabari_ would be my
holiday haunt if I got the chance. It would hardly be correct to say
that I went there to play--it was the place not play, which drew me. Why
this was so, is difficult to tell. Perhaps its being a deserted bit of
waste land lying in an out-of-the-way corner gave it its charm for me.
It was entirely outside the living quarters and bore no stamp of
usefulness; moreover it was as unadorned as it was useless, for no one
had ever planted anything there; it was doubtless for these reasons that
this desert spot offered no resistance to the free play of the boy's
imagination. Whenever I got any loop-hole to evade the vigilance of my
warders and could contrive to reach the _golabari_ I felt I had a
holiday indeed.

There was yet another place in our house which I have even yet not
succeeded in finding out. A little girl playmate of my own age called
this the "King's palace."[6] "I have just been there," she would
sometimes tell me. But somehow the propitious moment never turned up
when she could take me along with her. That was a wonderful place, and
its playthings were as wonderful as the games that were played there. It
seemed to me it must be somewhere very near--perhaps in the first or
second storey; the only thing was one never seemed to be able to get
there. How often have I asked my companion, "Only tell me, is it really
inside the house or outside?" And she would always reply, "No, no, it's
in this very house." I would sit and wonder: "Where then can it be?
Don't I know all the rooms of the house?" Who the king might be I never
cared to inquire; where his palace is still remains undiscovered; this
much was clear--the king's palace was within our house.

Looking back on childhood's days the thing that recurs most often is the
mystery which used to fill both life and world. Something undreamt of
was lurking everywhere and the uppermost question every day was: when,
Oh! when would we come across it? It was as if nature held something in
her closed hands and was smilingly asking us: "What d'you think I have?"
What was impossible for her to have was the thing we had no idea of.

Well do I remember the custard apple seed which I had planted and kept
in a corner of the south verandah, and used to water every day. The
thought that the seed might possibly grow into a tree kept me in a great
state of fluttering wonder. Custard apple seeds still have the habit of
sprouting, but no longer to the accompaniment of that feeling of wonder.
The fault is not in the custard apple but in the mind. We had once
stolen some rocks from an elder cousin's rockery and started a little
rockery of our own. The plants which we sowed in its interstices were
cared for so excessively that it was only because of their vegetable
nature that they managed to put up with it till their untimely death.
Words cannot recount the endless joy and wonder which this miniature
mountain-top held for us. We had no doubt that this creation of ours
would be a wonderful thing to our elders also. The day that we sought to
put this to the proof, however, the hillock in the corner of our room,
with all its rocks, and all its vegetation, vanished. The knowledge that
the schoolroom floor was not a proper foundation for the erection of a
mountain was imparted so rudely, and with such suddenness, that it gave
us a considerable shock. The weight of stone of which the floor was
relieved settled on our minds when we realised the gulf between our
fancies and the will of our elders.

How intimately did the life of the world throb for us in those days!
Earth, water, foliage and sky, they all spoke to us and would not be
disregarded. How often were we struck by the poignant regret that we
could only see the upper storey of the earth and knew nothing of its
inner storey. All our planning was as to how we could pry beneath its
dust-coloured cover. If, thought we, we could drive in bamboo after
bamboo, one over the other, we might perhaps get into some sort of touch
with its inmost depths.

During the _Magh_ festival a series of wooden pillars used to be planted
round the outer courtyard for supporting the chandeliers. Digging holes
for these would begin on the first of _Magh_. The preparations for
festivity are ever interesting to young folk. But this digging had a
special attraction for me. Though I had watched it done year after
year--and seen the hole grow bigger and bigger till the digger had
completely disappeared inside, and yet nothing extraordinary, nothing
worthy of the quest of prince or knight, had ever appeared--yet every
time I had the feeling that the lid being lifted off a chest of mystery.
I felt that a little bit more digging would do it. Year after year
passed, but that bit never got done. There was a pull at the curtain but
it was not drawn. The elders, thought I, can do whatever they please,
why do they rest content with such shallow delving? If we young folk had
the ordering of it, the inmost mystery of the earth would no longer be
allowed to remain smothered in its dust covering.

And the thought that behind every part of the vault of blue reposed the
mysteries of the sky would also spur our imaginings. When our Pundit, in
illustration of some lesson in our Bengali science primer, told us that
the blue sphere was not an enclosure, how thunderstruck we were! "Put
ladder upon ladder," said he, "and go on mounting away, but you will
never bump your head." He must be sparing of his ladders, I opined, and
questioned with a rising inflection, "And what if we put more ladders,
and more, and more?" When I realised that it was fruitless multiplying
ladders I remained dumbfounded pondering over the matter. Surely, I
concluded, such an astounding piece of news must be known only to those
who are the world's schoolmasters!


(4) _Servocracy_

In the history of India the regime of the Slave Dynasty was not a happy
one. In going back to the reign of the servants in my own life's history
I can find nothing glorious or cheerful touching the period. There were
frequent changes of king, but never a variation in the code of
restraints and punishments with which we were afflicted. We, however,
had no opportunity at the time for philosophising on the subject; our
backs bore as best they could the blows which befell them: and we
accepted as one of the laws of the universe that it is for the Big to
hurt and for the Small to be hurt. It has taken me a long time to learn
the opposite truth that it is the Big who suffer and the Small who cause

The quarry does not view virtue and vice from the standpoint of the
hunter. That is why the alert bird, whose cry warns its fellows before
the shot has sped, gets abused as vicious. We howled when we were
beaten, which our chastisers did not consider good manners; it was in
fact counted sedition against the servocracy. I cannot forget how, in
order effectively to suppress such sedition, our heads used to be
crammed into the huge water jars then in use; distasteful, doubtless,
was this outcry to those who caused it; moreover, it was likely to have
unpleasant consequences.

I now sometimes wonder why such cruel treatment was meted out to us by
the servants. I cannot admit that there was on the whole anything in our
behaviour or demeanour to have put us beyond the pale of human kindness.
The real reason must have been that the whole of our burden was thrown
on the servants, and the whole burden is a thing difficult to bear even
for those who are nearest and dearest. If children are only allowed to
be children, to run and play about and satisfy their curiosity, it
becomes quite simple. Insoluble problems are only created if you try to
confine them inside, keep them still or hamper their play. Then does the
burden of the child, so lightly borne by its own childishness, fall
heavily on the guardian--like that of the horse in the fable which was
carried instead of being allowed to trot on its own legs: and though
money procured bearers even for such a burden it could not prevent them
taking it out of the unlucky beast at every step.

Of most of these tyrants of our childhood I remember only their cuffings
and boxings, and nothing more. Only one personality stands out in my

His name was Iswar. He had been a village schoolmaster before. He was a
prim, proper and sedately dignified personage. The Earth seemed too
earthy for him, with too little water to keep it sufficiently clean; so
that he had to be in a constant state of warfare with its chronic soiled
state. He would shoot his water-pot into the tank with a lightning
movement so as to get his supply from an uncontaminated depth. It was he
who, when bathing in the tank, would be continually thrusting away the
surface impurities till he took a sudden plunge expecting, as it were,
to catch the water unawares. When walking his right arm stood out at an
angle from his body, as if, so it seemed to us, he could not trust the
cleanliness even of his own garments. His whole bearing had the
appearance of an effort to keep clear of the imperfections which,
through unguarded avenues, find entrance into earth, water and air, and
into the ways of men. Unfathomable was the depth of his gravity. With
head slightly tilted he would mince his carefully selected words in a
deep voice. His literary diction would give food for merriment to our
elders behind his back, some of his high-flown phrases finding a
permanent place in our family repertoire of witticisms. But I doubt
whether the expressions he used would sound as remarkable to-day;
showing how the literary and spoken languages, which used to be as sky
from earth asunder, are now coming nearer each other.

This erstwhile schoolmaster had discovered a way of keeping us quiet in
the evenings. Every evening he would gather us round the cracked
castor-oil lamp and read out to us stories from the Ramayana and
Mahabharata. Some of the other servants would also come and join the
audience. The lamp would be throwing huge shadows right up to the beams
of the roof, the little house lizards catching insects on the walls, the
bats doing a mad dervish dance round and round the verandahs outside,
and we listening in silent open-mouthed wonder.

I still remember, on the evening we came to the story of Kusha and Lava,
and those two valiant lads were threatening to humble to the dust the
renown of their father and uncles, how the tense silence of that dimly
lighted room was bursting with eager anticipation. It was getting late,
our prescribed period of wakefulness was drawing to a close, and yet the
denouement was far off.

At this critical juncture my father's old follower Kishori came to the
rescue, and finished the episode for us, at express speed, to the
quickstep of Dasuraya's jingling verses. The impression of the soft slow
chant of Krittivasa's[7] fourteen-syllabled measure was swept clean away
and we were left overwhelmed by a flood of rhymes and alliterations.

On some occasions these readings would give rise to shastric
discussions, which would at length be settled by the depth of Iswar's
wise pronouncements. Though, as one of the children's servants, his rank
in our domestic society was below that of many, yet, as with old
Grandfather Bhisma in the Mahabharata, his supremacy would assert itself
from his seat, below his juniors.

Our grave and reverend servitor had one weakness to which, for the sake
of historical accuracy, I feel bound to allude. He used to take opium.
This created a craving for rich food. So that when he brought us our
morning goblets of milk the forces of attraction in his mind would be
greater than those of repulsion. If we gave the least expression to our
natural repugnance for this meal, no sense of responsibility for our
health could prompt him to press it on us a second time.

Iswar also held somewhat narrow views as to our capacity for solid
nourishment. We would sit down to our evening repast and a quantity of
_luchis_[8] heaped on a thick round wooden tray would be placed before
us. He would begin by gingerly dropping a few on each platter, from a
sufficient height to safeguard himself from contamination[9]--like
unwilling favours, wrested from the gods by dint of importunity, did
they descend, so dexterously inhospitable was he. Next would come the
inquiry whether he should give us any more. I knew the reply which would
be most gratifying, and could not bring myself to deprive him by asking
for another help.

Then again Iswar was entrusted with a daily allowance of money for
procuring our afternoon light refreshment. He would ask us every morning
what we should like to have. We knew that to mention the cheapest would
be accounted best, so sometimes we ordered a light refection of puffed
rice, and at others an indigestible one of boiled gram or roasted
groundnuts. It was evident that Iswar was not as painstakingly
punctilious in regard to our diet as with the shastric proprieties.

(5) _The Normal School_

While at the Oriental Seminary I had discovered a way out of the
degradation of being a mere pupil. I had started a class of my own in a
corner of our verandah. The wooden bars of the railing were my pupils,
and I would act the schoolmaster, cane in hand, seated on a chair in
front of them. I had decided which were the good boys and which the
bad--nay, further, I could distinguish clearly the quiet from the
naughty, the clever from the stupid. The bad rails had suffered so much
from my constant caning that they must have longed to give up the ghost
had they been alive. And the more scarred they got with my strokes the
worse they angered me, till I knew not how to punish them enough. None
remain to bear witness to-day how tremendously I tyrannised over that
poor dumb class of mine. My wooden pupils have since been replaced by
cast-iron railings, nor have any of the new generation taken up their
education in the same way--they could never have made the same

I have since realised how much easier it is to acquire the manner than
the matter. Without an effort had I assimilated all the impatience, the
short temper, the partiality and the injustice displayed by my teachers
to the exclusion of the rest of their teaching. My only consolation is
that I had not the power of venting these barbarities on any sentient
creature. Nevertheless the difference between my wooden pupils and those
of the Seminary did not prevent my psychology from being identical with
that of its schoolmasters.

I could not have been long at the Oriental Seminary, for I was still of
tender age when I joined the Normal School. The only one of its features
which I remember is that before the classes began all the boys had to
sit in a row in the gallery and go through some kind of singing or
chanting of verses--evidently an attempt at introducing an element of
cheerfulness into the daily routine.

Unfortunately the words were English and the tune quite as foreign, so
that we had not the faintest notion what sort of incantation we were
practising; neither did the meaningless monotony of the performance tend
to make us cheerful. This failed to disturb the serene self-satisfaction
of the school authorities at having provided such a treat; they deemed
it superfluous to inquire into the practical effect of their bounty;
they would probably have counted it a crime for the boys not to be
dutifully happy. Anyhow they rested content with taking the song as they
found it, words and all, from the self-same English book which had
furnished the theory.

The language into which this English resolved itself in our mouths
cannot but be edifying to philologists. I can recall only one line:

_Kallokee pullokee singill mellaling mellaling mellaling._

After much thought I have been able to guess at the original of a part
of it. Of what words _kallokee_ is the transformation still baffles me.
The rest I think was:

_... full of glee, singing merrily, merrily, merrily!_

As my memories of the Normal School emerge from haziness and become
clearer they are not the least sweet in any particular. Had I been able
to associate with the other boys, the woes of learning might not have
seemed so intolerable. But that turned out to be impossible--so nasty
were most of the boys in their manners and habits. So, in the intervals
of the classes, I would go up to the second storey and while away the
time sitting near a window overlooking the street. I would count: one
year--two years--three years--; wondering how many such would have to be
got through like this.

Of the teachers I remember only one, whose language was so foul that,
out of sheer contempt for him, I steadily refused to answer any one of
his questions. Thus I sat silent throughout the year at the bottom of
his class, and while the rest of the class was busy I would be left
alone to attempt the solution of many an intricate problem.

One of these, I remember, on which I used to cogitate profoundly, was
how to defeat an enemy without having arms. My preoccupation with this
question, amidst the hum of the boys reciting their lessons, comes back
to me even now. If I could properly train up a number of dogs, tigers
and other ferocious beasts, and put a few lines of these on the field of
battle, that, I thought, would serve very well as an inspiriting
prelude. With our personal prowess let loose thereafter, victory should
by no means be out of reach. And, as the picture of this wonderfully
simple strategy waxed vivid in my imagination, the victory of my side
became assured beyond doubt.

While work had not yet come into my life I always found it easy to
devise short cuts to achievement; since I have been working I find that
what is hard is hard indeed, and what is difficult remains difficult.
This, of course, is less comforting; but nowhere near so bad as the
discomfort of trying to take shortcuts.

When at length a year of that class had passed, we were examined in
Bengali by Pandit Madhusudan Vachaspati. I got the largest number of
marks of all the boys. The teacher complained to the school authorities
that there had been favouritism in my case. So I was examined a second
time, with the superintendent of the school seated beside the examiner.
This time, also, I got a top place.

(6) _Versification_

I could not have been more than eight years old at the time. Jyoti, a
son of a niece of my father's, was considerably older than I. He had
just gained an entrance into English literature, and would recite
Hamlet's soliloquy with great gusto. Why he should have taken it into
his head to get a child, as I was, to write poetry I cannot tell. One
afternoon he sent for me to his room, and asked me to try and make up a
verse; after which he explained to me the construction of the _payar_
metre of fourteen syllables.

I had up to then only seen poems in printed books--no mistakes penned
through, no sign to the eye of doubt or trouble or any human weakness. I
could not have dared even to imagine that any effort of mine could
produce such poetry.

One day a thief had been caught in our house. Overpowered by curiosity,
yet in fear and trembling, I ventured to the spot to take a peep at him.
I found he was just an ordinary man! And when he was somewhat roughly
handled by our door-keeper I felt a great pity. I had a similar
experience with poetry.

When, after stringing together a few words at my own sweet will, I found
them turned into a _payar_ verse I felt I had no illusions left about
the glories of poetising. So when poor Poetry is mishandled, even now I
feel as unhappy as I did about the thief. Many a time have I been moved
to pity and yet been unable to restrain impatient hands itching for the
assault. Thieves have scarcely suffered so much, and from so many.

The first feeling of awe once overcome there was no holding me back. I
managed to get hold of a blue-paper manuscript book by the favour of one
of the officers of our estate. With my own hands I ruled it with pencil
lines, at not very regular intervals, and thereon I began to write
verses in a large childish scrawl.

Like a young deer which butts here, there and everywhere with its newly
sprouting horns, I made myself a nuisance with my budding poetry. More
so my elder[10] brother, whose pride in my performance impelled him to
hunt about the house for an audience.

I recollect how, as the pair of us, one day, were coming out of the
estate offices on the ground floor, after a conquering expedition
against the officers, we came across the editor of "The National Paper,"
Nabagopal Mitter, who had just stepped into the house. My brother
tackled him without further ado: "Look here, Nabagopal Babu! won't you
listen to a poem which Rabi has written?" The reading forthwith

My works had not as yet become voluminous. The poet could carry all his
effusions about in his pockets. I was writer, printer and publisher, all
in one; my brother, as advertiser, being my only colleague. I had
composed some verses on The Lotus which I recited to Nabagopal Babu then
and there, at the foot of the stairs, in a voice pitched as high as my
enthusiasm. "Well done!" said he with a smile. "But what is a

How I had got hold of this word I do not remember. The ordinary name
would have fitted the metre quite as well. But this was the one word in
the whole poem on which I had pinned my hopes. It had doubtless duly
impressed our officers. But curiously enough Nabagopal Babu did not
succumb to it--on the contrary he smiled! He could not be an
understanding man, I felt sure. I never read poetry to him again. I have
since added many years to my age but have not been able to improve upon
my test of what does or does not constitute understanding in my hearer.
However Nabagopal Babu might smile, the word _dwirepha_, like a bee
drunk with honey, stuck to its place, unmoved.

(7) _Various Learning_

One of the teachers of the Normal School also gave us private lessons at
home. His body was lean, his features dry, his voice sharp. He looked
like a cane incarnate. His hours were from six to half-past-nine in the
morning. With him our reading ranged from popular literary and science
readers in Bengali to the epic of Meghnadvadha.

My third brother was very keen on imparting to us a variety of
knowledge. So at home we had to go through much more than what was
required by the school course. We had to get up before dawn and, clad in
loin-cloths, begin with a bout or two with a blind wrestler. Without a
pause we donned our tunics on our dusty bodies, and started on our
courses of literature, mathematics, geography and history. On our return
from school our drawing and gymnastic masters would be ready for us. In
the evening Aghore Babu came for our English lessons. It was only after
nine that we were free.

On Sunday morning we had singing lessons with Vishnu. Then, almost every
Sunday, came Sitanath Dutta to give us demonstrations in physical
science. The last were of great interest to me. I remember distinctly
the feeling of wonder which filled me when he put some water, with
sawdust in it, on the fire in a glass vessel, and showed us how the
lightened hot water came up, and the cold water went down and how
finally the water began to boil. I also felt a great elation the day I
learnt that water is a separable part of milk, and that milk thickens
when boiled because the water frees itself as vapour from the connexion.
Sunday did not feel Sunday-like unless Sitanath Babu turned up.

There was also an hour when we would be told all about human bones by a
pupil of the Campbell Medical School, for which purpose a skeleton, with
the bones fastened together by wires was hung up in our schoolroom. And
finally, time was also found for Pandit Heramba Tatwaratna to come and
get us to learn by rote rules of Sanscrit grammar. I am not sure which
of them, the names of the bones or the _sutras_ of the grammarian, were
the more jaw-breaking. I think the latter took the palm.

We began to learn English after we had made considerable progress in
learning through the medium of Bengali. Aghore Babu, our English tutor,
was attending the Medical College, so he came to teach us in the

Books tell us that the discovery of fire was one of the biggest
discoveries of man. I do not wish to dispute this. But I cannot help
feeling how fortunate the little birds are that their parents cannot
light lamps of an evening. They have their language lessons early in the
morning and you must have noticed how gleefully they learn them. Of
course we must not forget that they do not have to learn the English

The health of this medical-student tutor of ours was so good that even
the fervent and united wishes of his three pupils were not enough to
cause his absence even for a day. Only once was he laid up with a broken
head when, on the occasion of a fight between the Indian and Eurasian
students of the Medical College, a chair was thrown at him. It was a
regrettable occurrence; nevertheless we were not able to take it as a
personal sorrow, and his recovery somehow seemed to us needlessly swift.

It is evening. The rain is pouring in lance-like showers. Our lane is
under knee-deep water. The tank has overflown into the garden, and the
bushy tops of the Bael trees are seen standing out over the waters. Our
whole being, on this delightful rainy evening, is radiating rapture like
the _Kadamba_ flower its fragrant spikes. The time for the arrival of
our tutor is over by just a few minutes. Yet there is no certainty...!
We are sitting on the verandah overlooking the lane[12] watching and
watching with a piteous gaze. All of a sudden, with a great big thump,
our hearts seem to fall in a swoon. The familiar black umbrella has
turned the corner undefeated even by such weather! Could it not be
somebody else? It certainly could not! In the wide wide world there
might be found another, his equal in pertinacity, but never in this
little lane of ours.

Looking back on his period as a whole, I cannot say that Aghore Babu was
a hard man. He did not rule us with a rod. Even his rebukes did not
amount to scoldings. But whatever may have been his personal merits, his
time was _evening_, and his subject _English_! I am certain that even an
angel would have seemed a veritable messenger of Yama[13] to any Bengali
boy if he came to him at the end of his miserable day at school, and
lighted a dismally dim lamp to teach him English.

How well do I remember the day our tutor tried to impress on us the
attractiveness of the English language. With this object he recited to
us with great unction some lines--prose or poetry we could not tell--out
of an English book. It had a most unlooked for effect on us. We laughed
so immoderately that he had to dismiss us for that evening. He must
have realised that he held no easy brief--that to get us to pronounce in
his favour would entail a contest ranging over years.

Aghore Babu would sometimes try to bring the zephyr of outside knowledge
to play on the arid routine of our schoolroom. One day he brought a
paper parcel out of his pocket and said: "I'll show you to-day a
wonderful piece of work of the Creator." With this he untied the paper
wrapping and, producing a portion of the vocal organs of a human being,
proceeded to expound the marvels of its mechanism.

I can still call to mind the shock this gave me at the time. I had
always thought the whole man spoke--had never even imagined that the act
of speech could be viewed in this detached way. However wonderful the
mechanism of a part may be, it is certainly less so than the whole man.
Not that I put it to myself in so many words, but that was the cause of
my dismay. It was perhaps because the tutor had lost sight of this truth
that the pupil could not respond to the enthusiasm with which he was
discoursing on the subject.

Another day he took us to the dissecting room of the Medical College.
The body of an old woman was stretched on the table. This did not
disturb me so much. But an amputated leg which was lying on the floor
upset me altogether. To view man in this fragmentary way seemed to me so
horrid, so absurd that I could not get rid of the impression of that
dark, unmeaning leg for many a day.

After getting through Peary Sarkar's first and second English readers we
entered upon McCulloch's Course of Reading. Our bodies were weary at the
end of the day, our minds yearning for the inner apartments, the book
was black and thick with difficult words, and the subject-matter could
hardly have been more inviting, for in those days, Mother
Saraswati's[14] maternal tenderness was not in evidence. Children's
books were not full of pictures then as they are now. Moreover, at the
gateway of every reading lesson stood sentinel an array of words, with
separated syllables, and forbidding accent marks like fixed bayonets,
barring the way to the infant mind. I had repeatedly attacked their
serried ranks in vain.

Our tutor would try to shame us by recounting the exploits of some other
brilliant pupil of his. We felt duly ashamed, and also not well-disposed
towards that other pupil, but this did not help to dispel the darkness
which clung to that black volume.

Providence, out of pity for mankind, has instilled a soporific charm
into all tedious things. No sooner did our English lessons begin than
our heads began to nod. Sprinkling water into our eyes, or taking a run
round the verandahs, were palliatives which had no lasting effect. If by
any chance my eldest brother happened to be passing that way, and caught
a glimpse of our sleep-tormented condition, we would get let off for the
rest of the evening. It did not take our drowsiness another moment to
get completely cured.

(8) _My First Outing_

Once, when the dengue fever was raging in Calcutta, some portion of our
extensive family had to take shelter in Chhatu Babu's river-side villa.
We were among them.

This was my first outing. The bank of the Ganges welcomed me into its
lap like a friend of a former birth. There, in front of the servants'
quarters, was a grove of guava trees; and, sitting in the verandah under
the shade of these, gazing at the flowing current through the gaps
between their trunks, my days would pass. Every morning, as I awoke, I
somehow felt the day coming to me like a new gilt-edged letter, with
some unheard-of news awaiting me on the opening of the envelope. And,
lest I should lose any fragment of it, I would hurry through my toilet
to my chair outside. Every day there was the ebb and flow of the tide on
the Ganges; the various gait of so many different boats; the shifting of
the shadows of the trees from west to east; and, over the fringe of
shade-patches of the woods on the opposite bank, the gush of golden
life-blood through the pierced breast of the evening sky. Some days
would be cloudy from early morning; the opposite woods black; black
shadows moving over the river. Then with a rush would come the
vociferous rain, blotting out the horizon; the dim line of the other
bank taking its leave in tears: the river swelling with suppressed
heavings; and the moist wind making free with the foliage of the trees

I felt that out of the bowels of wall, beam and rafter, I had a new
birth into the outside. In making fresh acquaintance with things, the
dingy covering of petty habits seemed to drop off the world. I am sure
that the sugar-cane molasses, which I had with cold _luchis_ for my
breakfast, could not have tasted different from the ambrosia which
_Indra_[15] quaffs in his heaven; for, the immortality is not in the
nectar but in the taster, and thus is missed by those who seek it.

Behind the house was a walled-in enclosure with a tank and a flight of
steps leading into the water from a bathing platform. On one side of the
platform was an immense Jambolan tree, and all round were various fruit
trees, growing in thick clusters, in the shade of which the tank nestled
in its privacy. The veiled beauty of this retired little inner garden
had a wonderful charm for me, so different from the broad expanse of the
river-bank in front. It was like the bride of the house, in the
seclusion of her midday siesta, resting on a many-coloured quilt of her
own embroidering, murmuring low the secrets of her heart. Many a midday
hour did I spend alone under that Jambolan tree dreaming of the fearsome
kingdom of the Yakshas[16] within the depths of the tank.

I had a great curiosity to see a Bengal village. Its clusters of
cottages, its thatched pavilions, its lanes and bathing places, its
games and gatherings, its fields and markets, its life as a whole as I
saw it in imagination, greatly attracted me. Just such a village was
right on the other side of our garden wall, but it was forbidden to us.
We had come out, but not into freedom. We had been in a cage, and were
now on a perch, but the chain was still there.

One morning two of our elders went out for a stroll into the village. I
could not restrain my eagerness any longer, and, slipping out
unperceived, followed them for some distance. As I went along the deeply
shaded lane, with its close thorny _seora_ hedges, by the side of the
tank covered with green water weeds, I rapturously took in picture after
picture. I still remember the man with bare body, engaged in a belated
toilet on the edge of the tank, cleaning his teeth with the chewed end
of a twig. Suddenly my elders became aware of my presence behind them.
"Get away, get away, go back at once!" they scolded. They were
scandalised. My feet were bare, I had no scarf or upper-robe over my
tunic, I was not dressed fit to come out; as if it was my fault! I never
owned any socks or superfluous apparel, so not only went back
disappointed for that morning, but had no chance of repairing my
shortcomings and being allowed to come out any other day. However though
the Beyond was thus shut out from behind, in front the Ganges freed me
from all bondage, and my mind, whenever it listed, could embark on the
boats gaily sailing along, and hie away to lands not named in any

This was forty years ago. Since then I have never set foot again in that
_champak_-shaded villa garden. The same old house and the same old
trees must still be there, but I know it cannot any longer be the
same--for where am I now to get that fresh feeling of wonder which made
it what it was?

We returned to our Jorasanko house in town. And my days were as so many
mouthfuls offered up to be gulped down into the yawning interior of the
Normal School.

(9) _Practising Poetry_

That blue manuscript book was soon filled, like the hive of some insect,
with a network of variously slanting lines and the thick and thin
strokes of letters. The eager pressure of the boy writer soon crumpled
its leaves; and then the edges got frayed, and twisted up claw-like as
if to hold fast the writing within, till at last, down what river
_Baitarani_[17] I know not, its pages were swept away by merciful
oblivion. Anyhow they escaped the pangs of a passage through the
printing press and need fear no birth into this vale of woe.

I cannot claim to have been a passive witness of the spread of my
reputation as a poet. Though Satkari Babu was not a teacher of our class
he was very fond of me. He had written a book on Natural
History--wherein I hope no unkind humorist will try to find a reason for
such fondness. He sent for me one day and asked: "So you write poetry,
do you?" I did not conceal the fact. From that time on, he would now and
then ask me to complete a quatrain by adding a couplet of my own to one
given by him.

Gobinda Babu of our school was very dark, and short and fat. He was the
Superintendent. He sat, in his black suit, with his account books, in an
office room on the second storey. We were all afraid of him, for he was
the rod-bearing judge. On one occasion I had escaped from the attentions
of some bullies into his room. The persecutors were five or six older
boys. I had no one to bear witness on my side--except my tears. I won my
case and since then Govinda Babu had a soft corner in his heart for me.

One day he called me into his room during the recess. I went in fear and
trembling but had no sooner stepped before him than he also accosted me
with the question: "So you write poetry?" I did not hesitate to make the
admission. He commissioned me to write a poem on some high moral precept
which I do not remember. The amount of condescension and affability
which such a request coming from him implied can only be appreciated by
those who were his pupils. When I finished and handed him the verses
next day, he took me to the highest class and made me stand before the
boys. "Recite," he commanded. And I recited loudly.

The only praiseworthy thing about this moral poem was that it soon got
lost. Its moral effect on that class was far from encouraging--the
sentiment it aroused being not one of regard for its author. Most of
them were certain that it was not my own composition. One said he could
produce the book from which it was copied, but was not pressed to do so;
the process of proving is such a nuisance to those who want to believe.
Finally the number of seekers after poetic fame began to increase
alarmingly; moreover their methods were not those which are recognised
as roads to moral improvement.

Nowadays there is nothing strange in a youngster writing verses. The
glamour of poesy is gone. I remember how the few women who wrote poetry
in those days were looked upon as miraculous creations of the Deity. If
one hears to-day that some young lady does not write poems one feels
sceptical. Poetry now sprouts long before the highest Bengali class is
reached; so that no modern Gobinda Babu would have taken any notice of
the poetic exploit I have recounted.


(10) _Srikantha Babu_

At this time I was blessed with a hearer the like of whom I shall never
get again. He had so inordinate a capacity for being pleased as to have
utterly disqualified him for the post of critic in any of our monthly
Reviews. The old man was like a perfectly ripe Alfonso mango--not a
trace of acid or coarse fibre in his composition. His tender
clean-shaven face was rounded off by an all-pervading baldness; there
was not the vestige of a tooth to worry the inside of his mouth; and his
big smiling eyes gleamed with a constant delight. When he spoke in his
soft deep voice, his mouth and eyes and hands all spoke likewise. He was
of the old school of Persian culture and knew not a word of English. His
inseparable companions were a hubble-bubble at his left, and a _sitar_
on his lap; and from his throat flowed song unceasing.

Srikantha Babu had no need to wait for a formal introduction, for none
could resist the natural claims of his genial heart. Once he took us to
be photographed with him in some big English photographic studio. There
he so captivated the proprietor with his artless story, in a jumble of
Hindusthani and Bengali, of how he was a poor man, but badly wanted
this particular photograph taken, that the man smilingly allowed him a
reduced rate. Nor did such bargaining sound at all incongruous in that
unbending English establishment, so naïve was Srikantha Babu, so
unconscious of any possibility of giving offence. He would sometimes
take me along to a European missionary's house. There, also, with his
playing and singing, his caresses of the missionary's little girl and
his unstinted admiration of the little booted feet of the missionary's
lady, he would enliven the gathering as no one else could have done.
Another behaving so absurdly would have been deemed a bore, but his
transparent simplicity pleased all and drew them to join in his gaiety.

Srikantha Babu was impervious to rudeness or insolence. There was at the
time a singer of some repute retained in our establishment. When the
latter was the worse for liquor he would rail at poor Srikantha Babu's
singing in no very choice terms. This he would bear unflinchingly, with
no attempt at retort. When at last the man's incorrigible rudeness
brought about his dismissal Srikantha Babu anxiously interceded for him.
"It was not he, it was the liquor," he insisted.

[Illustration: The Ganges]

He could not bear to see anyone sorrowing or even to hear of it. So when
any one of the boys wanted to torment him they had only to read out
passages from Vidyasagar's "Banishment of Sita"; whereat he would be
greatly exercised, thrusting out his hands in protest and begging and
praying of them to stop.

This old man was the friend alike of my father, my elder brothers and
ourselves. He was of an age with each and every one of us. As any piece
of stone is good enough for the freshet to dance round and gambol with,
so the least provocation would suffice to make him beside himself with
joy. Once I had composed a hymn, and had not failed to make due allusion
to the trials and tribulations of this world. Srikantha Babu was
convinced that my father would be overjoyed at such a perfect gem of a
devotional poem. With unbounded enthusiasm he volunteered personally to
acquaint him with it. By a piece of good fortune I was not there at the
time but heard afterwards that my father was hugely amused that the
sorrows of the world should have so early moved his youngest son to the
point of versification. I am sure Gobinda Babu, the superintendent,
would have shown more respect for my effort on so serious a subject.

In singing I was Srikantha Babu's favorite pupil. He had taught me a
song: "No more of Vraja[18] for me," and would drag me about to
everyone's rooms and get me to sing it to them. I would sing and he
would thrum an accompaniment on his _sitar_ and when we came to the
chorus he would join in, and repeat it over and over again, smiling and
nodding his head at each one in turn, as if nudging them on to a more
enthusiastic appreciation.

He was a devoted admirer of my father. A hymn had been set to one of his
tunes, "For He is the heart of our hearts." When he sang this to my
father Srikantha Babu got so excited that he jumped up from his seat and
in alternation violently twanged his _sitar_ as he sang: "For He is the
heart of our hearts" and then waved his hand about my father's face as
he changed the words to "For _you_ are the heart of our hearts."

When the old man paid his last visit to my father, the latter, himself
bed-ridden, was at a river-side villa in Chinsurah. Srikantha Babu,
stricken with his last illness, could not rise unaided and had to push
open his eyelids to see. In this state, tended by his daughter, he
journeyed to Chinsurah from his place in Birbhoom. With a great effort
he managed to take the dust of my father's feet and then return to his
lodgings in Chinsurah where he breathed his last a few days later. I
heard afterwards from his daughter that he went to his eternal youth
with the song "How sweet is thy mercy, Lord!" on his lips.

(11) _Our Bengali Course Ends_

At School we were then in the class below the highest one. At home we
had advanced in Bengali much further than the subjects taught in the
class. We had been through Akshay Datta's book on Popular Physics, and
had also finished the epic of Meghnadvadha. We read our physics without
any reference to physical objects and so our knowledge of the subject
was correspondingly bookish. In fact the time spent on it had been
thoroughly wasted; much more so to my mind than if it had been wasted in
doing nothing. The Meghnadvadha, also, was not a thing of joy to us. The
tastiest tit-bit may not be relished when thrown at one's head. To
employ an epic to teach language is like using a sword to shave
with--sad for the sword, bad for the chin. A poem should be taught from
the emotional standpoint; inveigling it into service as
grammar-cum-dictionary is not calculated to propitiate the divine

All of a sudden our Normal School career came to an end; and thereby
hangs a tale. One of our school teachers wanted to borrow a copy of my
grandfather's life by Mitra from our library. My nephew and classmate
Satya managed to screw up courage enough to volunteer to mention this to
my father. He came to the conclusion that everyday Bengali would hardly
do to approach him with. So he concocted and delivered himself of an
archaic phrase with such meticulous precision that my father must have
felt our study of the Bengali language had gone a bit too far and was in
danger of over-reaching itself. So the next morning, when according to
our wont our table had been placed in the south verandah, the blackboard
hung up on a nail in the wall, and everything was in readiness for our
lessons with Nilkamal Babu, we three were sent for by my father to his
room upstairs. "You need not do any more Bengali lessons," he said. Our
minds danced for very joy.

Nilkamal Babu was waiting downstairs, our books were lying open on the
table, and the idea of getting us once more to go through the
Meghnadvadha doubtless still occupied his mind. But as on one's
death-bed the various routine of daily life seems unreal, so, in a
moment, did everything, from the Pandit down to the nail on which the
blackboard was hung, become for us as empty as a mirage. Our sole
trouble was how to give this news to Nilkamal Babu with due decorum. We
did it at last with considerable restraint, while the geometrical
figures on the blackboard stared at us in wonder and the blank verse of
the Meghnadvadha looked blankly on.

Our Pandit's parting words were: "At the call of duty I may have been
sometimes harsh with you--do not keep that in remembrance. You will
learn the value of what I have taught you later on."

Indeed I have learnt that value. It was because we were taught in our
own language that our minds quickened. Learning should as far as
possible follow the process of eating. When the taste begins from the
first bite, the stomach is awakened to its function before it is loaded,
so that its digestive juices get full play. Nothing like this happens,
however, when the Bengali boy is taught in English. The first bite bids
fair to wrench loose both rows of teeth--like a veritable earthquake in
the mouth! And by the time he discovers that the morsel is not of the
genus stone, but a digestible bonbon, half his allotted span of life is
over. While one is choking and spluttering over the spelling and
grammar, the inside remains starved, and when at length the taste is
felt, the appetite has vanished. If the whole mind does not work from
the beginning its full powers remain undeveloped to the end. While all
around was the cry for English teaching, my third brother was brave
enough to keep us to our Bengali course. To him in heaven my grateful

(12) _The Professor_

On leaving the Normal School we were sent to the Bengal Academy, a
Eurasian institution. We felt we had gained an access of dignity, that
we had grown up--at least into the first storey of freedom. In point of
fact the only progress we made in that academy was towards freedom. What
we were taught there we never understood, nor did we make any attempt to
learn, nor did it seem to make any difference to anybody that we did
not. The boys here were annoying but not disgusting--which was a great
comfort. They wrote ASS on their palms and slapped it on to our backs
with a cordial "hello!" They gave us a dig in the ribs from behind and
looked innocently another way. They dabbed banana pulp on our heads and
made away unperceived. Nevertheless it was like coming out of slime on
to rock--we were worried but not soiled.

This school had one great advantage for me. No one there cherished the
forlorn hope that boys of our sort could make any advance in learning.
It was a petty institution with an insufficient income, so that we had
one supreme merit in the eyes of its authorities--we paid our fees
regularly. This prevented even the Latin Grammar from proving a
stumbling block, and the most egregious of blunders left our backs
unscathed. Pity for us had nothing to do with it--the school authorities
had spoken to the teachers!

Still, harmless though it was, after all it was a school. The rooms were
cruelly dismal with their walls on guard like policemen. The house was
more like a pigeon-holed box than a human habitation. No decoration, no
pictures, not a touch of colour, not an attempt to attract the boyish
heart. The fact that likes and dislikes form a large part of the child
mind was completely ignored. Naturally our whole being was depressed as
we stepped through its doorway into the narrow quadrangle--and playing
truant became chronic with us.

In this we found an accomplice. My elder brothers had a Persian tutor.
We used to call him Munshi. He was of middle age and all skin and bone,
as though dark parchment had been stretched over his skeleton without
any filling of flesh and blood. He probably knew Persian well, his
knowledge of English was quite fair, but in neither of these directions
lay his ambition. His belief was that his proficiency in singlestick
was matched only by his skill in song. He would stand in the sun in the
middle of our courtyard and go through a wonderful series of antics with
a staff--his own shadow being his antagonist. I need hardly add that his
shadow never got the better of him and when at the end he gave a great
big shout and whacked it on the head with a victorious smile, it lay
submissively prone at his feet. His singing, nasal and out of tune,
sounded like a gruesome mixture of groaning and moaning coming from some
ghost-world. Our singing master Vishnu would sometimes chaff him: "Look
here, Munshi, you'll be taking the bread out of our mouths at this
rate!" To which his only reply would be a disdainful smile.

This shows that the Munshi was amenable to soft words; and in fact,
whenever we wanted we could persuade him to write to the school
authorities to excuse us from attendance. The school authorities took no
pains to scrutinise these letters, they knew it would be all the same
whether we attended or not, so far as educational results were

I have now a school of my own in which the boys are up to all kinds of
mischief, for boys will be mischievous--and schoolmasters unforgiving.
When any of us are beset with undue uneasiness at their conduct and are
stirred into a resolution to deal out condign punishment, the misdeeds
of my own schooldays confront me in a row and smile at me.

I now clearly see that the mistake is to judge boys by the standard of
grown-ups, to forget that a child is quick and mobile like a running
stream; and that, in the case of such, any touch of imperfection need
cause no great alarm, for the speed of the flow is itself the best
corrective. When stagnation sets in then comes the danger. So it is for
the teacher, more than the pupil, to beware of wrongdoing.

There was a separate refreshment room for Bengali boys for meeting their
caste requirements. This was where we struck up a friendship with some
of the others. They were all older than we. One of these will bear to be
dilated upon.

His specialty was the art of Magic, so much so that he had actually
written and published a little booklet on it, the front page of which
bore his name with the title of Professor. I had never before come
across a schoolboy whose name had appeared in print, so that my
reverence for him--as a professor of magic I mean--was profound. How
could I have brought myself to believe that anything questionable could
possibly find place in the straight and upright ranks of printed
letters? To be able to record one's own words in indelible ink--was
that a slight thing? To stand unscreened yet unabashed, self-confessed
before the world,--how could one withhold belief in the face of such
supreme self-confidence? I remember how once I got the types for the
letters of my name from some printing press, and what a memorable thing
it seemed when I inked and pressed them on paper and found my name

We used to give a lift in our carriage to this schoolfellow and
author-friend of ours. This led to visiting terms. He was also great at
theatricals. With his help we erected a stage on our wrestling ground
with painted paper stretched over a split bamboo framework. But a
peremptory negative from upstairs prevented any play from being acted

A comedy of errors was however played later on without any stage at all.
The author of this has already been introduced to the reader in these
pages. He was none other than my nephew Satya. Those who behold his
present calm and sedate demeanour would be shocked to learn of the
tricks of which he was the originator.

[Illustration: Satya]

The event of which I am writing happened sometime afterwards when I was
twelve or thirteen. Our magician friend had told of so many strange
properties of things that I was consumed with curiosity to see them for
myself. But the materials of which he spoke were invariably so rare
or distant that one could hardly hope to get hold of them without the
help of Sindbad the sailor. Once, as it happened, the Professor forgot
himself so far as to mention accessible things. Who could ever believe
that a seed dipped and dried twenty-one times in the juice of a species
of cactus would sprout and flower and fruit all in the space of an hour?
I was determined to test this, not daring withal to doubt the assurance
of a Professor whose name appeared in a printed book.

I got our gardener to furnish me with a plentiful supply of the milky
juice, and betook myself, on a Sunday afternoon, to our mystic nook in a
corner of the roof terrace, to experiment with the stone of a mango. I
was wrapt in my task of dipping and drying--but the grown-up reader will
probably not wait to ask me the result. In the meantime, I little knew
that Satya, in another corner, had, in the space of an hour, caused to
root and sprout a mystical plant of his own creation. This was to bear
curious fruit later on.

After the day of this experiment the Professor rather avoided me, as I
gradually came to perceive. He would not sit on the same side in the
carriage, and altogether seemed to fight shy of me.

One day, all of a sudden, he proposed that each one in turn should jump
off the bench in our schoolroom. He wanted to observe the differences
in style, he said. Such scientific curiosity did not appear queer in a
professor of magic. Everyone jumped, so did I. He shook his head with a
subdued "h'm." No amount of persuasion could draw anything further out
of him.

Another day he informed us that some good friends of his wanted to make
our acquaintance and asked us to accompany him to their house. Our
guardians had no objection, so off we went. The crowd in the room seemed
full of curiosity. They expressed their eagerness to hear me sing. I
sang a song or two. Mere child as I was I could hardly have bellowed
like a bull. "Quite a sweet voice," they all agreed.

When refreshments were put before us they sat round and watched us eat.
I was bashful by nature and not used to strange company; moreover the
habit I acquired during the attendance of our servant Iswar left me a
poor eater for good. They all seemed impressed with the delicacy of my

In the fifth act I got some curiously warm letters from our Professor
which revealed the whole situation. And here let the curtain fall.

I subsequently learnt from Satya that while I had been practising magic
on the mango seed, he had successfully convinced the Professor that I
was dressed as a boy by our guardians merely for getting me a better
schooling, but that really this was only a disguise. To those who are
curious in regard to imaginary science I should explain that a girl is
supposed to jump with her left foot forward, and this is what I had done
on the occasion of the Professor's trial. I little realised at the time
what a tremendously false step mine had been!

(13) _My Father_

Shortly after my birth my father took to constantly travelling about. So
it is no exaggeration to say that in my early childhood I hardly knew
him. He would now and then come back home all of a sudden, and with him
came foreign servants with whom I felt extremely eager to make friends.
Once there came in this way a young Panjabi servant named Lenu. The
cordiality of the reception he got from us would have been worthy of
Ranjit Singh himself. Not only was he a foreigner, but a Panjabi to
boot,--what wonder he stole our hearts away?

We had the same reverence for the whole Panjabi nation as for Bhima and
Arjuna of the Mahabharata. They were warriors; and if they had
sometimes fought and lost, that was clearly the enemy's fault. It was
glorious to have Lenu, of the Panjab, in our very home.

My sister-in-law had a model war-ship under a glass case, which, when
wound up, rocked on blue-painted silken waves to the tinkling of a
musical box. I would beg hard for the loan of this to display its
marvels to the admiring Lenu.

Caged in the house as we were, anything savouring of foreign parts had a
peculiar charm for me. This was one of the reasons why I made so much of
Lenu. This was also the reason why Gabriel, the Jew, with his
embroidered gaberdine, who came to sell _attars_ and scented oils,
stirred me so; and the huge Kabulis, with their dusty, baggy trousers
and knapsacks and bundles, wrought on my young mind a fearful

Anyhow, when my father came, we would be content with wandering round
about his entourage and in the company of his servants. We did not reach
his immediate presence.

Once while my father was away in the Himalayas, that old bogey of the
British Government, the Russian invasion, came to be a subject of
agitated conversation among the people. Some well-meaning lady friend
had enlarged on the impending danger to my mother with all the
circumstance of a prolific imagination. How could a body tell from
which of the Tibetan passes the Russian host might suddenly flash forth
like a baleful comet?

My mother was seriously alarmed. Possibly the other members of the
family did not share her misgivings; so, despairing of grown-up
sympathy, she sought my boyish support. "Won't you write to your father
about the Russians?" she asked.

That letter, carrying the tidings of my mother's anxieties, was my first
one to my father. I did not know how to begin or end a letter, or
anything at all about it. I went to Mahananda, the estate munshi.[19]
The resulting style of address was doubtless correct enough, but the
sentiments could not have escaped the musty flavour inseparable from
literature emanating from an estate office.

I got a reply to my letter. My father asked me not to be afraid; if the
Russians came he would drive them away himself. This confident assurance
did not seem to have the effect of relieving my mother's fears, but it
served to free me from all timidity as regards my father. After that I
wanted to write to him every day and pestered Mahananda accordingly.
Unable to withstand my importunity he would make out drafts for me to
copy. But I did not know that there was the postage to be paid for. I
had an idea that letters placed in Mahananda's hands got to their
destination without any need for further worry. It is hardly necessary
to mention that, Mahananda being considerably older than myself, these
letters never reached the Himalayan hill-tops.

When, after his long absences, my father came home even for a few days,
the whole house seemed filled with the weight of his presence. We would
see our elders at certain hours, formally robed in their _chogas_,
passing to his rooms with restrained gait and sobered mien, casting away
any _pan_[20] they might have been chewing. Everyone seemed on the
alert. To make sure of nothing going wrong, my mother would superintend
the cooking herself. The old mace-bearer, Kinu, with his white livery
and crested turban, on guard at my father's door, would warn us not to
be boisterous in the verandah in front of his rooms during his midday
siesta. We had to walk past quietly, talking in whispers, and dared not
even take a peep inside.

On one occasion my father came home to invest the three of us with the
sacred thread. With the help of Pandit Vedantavagish he had collected
the old Vedic rites for the purpose. For days together we were taught to
chant in correct accents the selections from the Upanishads, arranged by
my father under the name of "Brahma Dharma," seated in the prayer hall
with Becharam Babu. Finally, with shaven heads and gold rings in our
ears, we three budding Brahmins went into a three-days' retreat in a
portion of the third storey.

It was great fun. The earrings gave us a good handle to pull each
other's ears with. We found a little drum lying in one of the rooms;
taking this we would stand out in the verandah, and, when we caught
sight of any servant passing alone in the storey below, we would rap a
tattoo on it. This would make the man look up, only to beat a hasty
retreat the next moment with averted eyes.[21] In short we cannot claim
that these days of our retirement were passed in ascetic meditation.

I am however persuaded that boys like ourselves could not have been rare
in the hermitages of old. And if some ancient document has it that the
ten or twelve-year old Saradwata or Sarngarava[22] is spending the whole
of the days of his boyhood offering oblations and chanting _mantras_, we
are not compelled to put unquestioning faith in the statement; because
the book of Boy Nature is even older and also more authentic.

After we had attained full brahminhood I became very keen on repeating
the _gayatri_.[23] I would meditate on it with great concentration. It
is hardly a text the full meaning of which I could have grasped at that
age. I well remember what efforts I made to extend the range of my
consciousness with the help of the initial invocation of "Earth,
firmament and heaven." How I felt or thought it is difficult to express
clearly, but this much is certain that to be clear about the meaning of
words is not the most important function of the human understanding.

The main object of teaching is not to explain meanings, but to knock at
the door of the mind. If any boy is asked to give an account of what is
awakened in him at such knocking, he will probably say something very
silly. For what happens within is much bigger than what he can express
in words. Those who pin their faith on University examinations as a test
of all educational results take no account of this fact.

I can recollect many things which I did not understand, but which
stirred me deeply. Once, on the roof terrace of our river-side villa, my
eldest brother, at the sudden gathering of clouds, repeated aloud some
stanzas from Kalidas's "Cloud Messenger." I could not, nor had I the
need to, understand a word of the Sanskrit. His ecstatic declamation of
the sonorous rhythm was enough for me.

Then, again, before I could properly understand English, a profusely
illustrated edition of "The Old Curiosity Shop" fell into my hands. I
went through the whole of it, though at least nine-tenths of the words
were unknown to me. Yet, with the vague ideas I conjured up from the
rest, I spun out a variously coloured thread on which to string the
illustrations. Any university examiner would have given me a great big
zero, but the reading of the book had not proved for me quite so empty
as all that.

Another time I had accompanied my father on a trip on the Ganges in his
houseboat. Among the books he had with him was an old Fort William
edition of Jayadeva's _Gita Govinda_. It was in the Bengali character.
The verses were not printed in separate lines, but ran on like prose. I
did not then know anything of Sanskrit, yet because of my knowledge of
Bengali many of the words were familiar. I cannot tell how often I read
that _Gita Govinda_. I can well remember this line:

    The night that was passed in the lonely forest cottage.

It spread an atmosphere of vague beauty over my mind. That one Sanskrit
word, Nibhrita-nikunja-griham, meaning "the lonely forest cottage" was
quite enough for me.

I had to discover for myself the intricate metre of Jayadeva, because
its divisions were lost in the clumsy prose form of the book. And this
discovery gave me very great delight. Of course I did not fully
comprehend Jayadeva's meaning. It would hardly be correct to aver that I
had got it even partly. But the sound of the words and the lilt of the
metre filled my mind with pictures of wonderful beauty, which impelled
me to copy out the whole of the book for my own use.

The same thing happened, when I was a little older, with a verse from
Kalidas's "Birth of the War God." The verse moved me greatly, though the
only words of which I gathered the sense, were "the breeze carrying the
spray-mist of the falling waters of the sacred Mandakini and shaking the
deodar leaves." These left me pining to taste the beauties of the whole.
When, later, a Pandit explained to me that in the next two lines the
breeze went on "splitting the feathers of the peacock plume on the head
of the eager deer-hunter," the thinness of this last conceit
disappointed me. I was much better off when I had relied only upon my
imagination to complete the verse.

Whoever goes back to his early childhood will agree that his greatest
gains were not in proportion to the completeness of his understanding.
Our Kathakas[24] I know this truth well. So their narratives always have
a good proportion of ear-filling Sanskrit words and abstruse remarks not
calculated to be fully understood by their simple hearers, but only to
be suggestive.

The value of such suggestion is by no means to be despised by those who
measure education in terms of material gains and losses. These insist on
trying to sum up the account and find out exactly how much of the lesson
imparted can be rendered up. But children, and those who are not
over-educated, dwell in that primal paradise where men can come to know
without fully comprehending each step. And only when that paradise is
lost comes the evil day when everything needs must be understood. The
road which leads to knowledge, without going through the dreary process
of understanding, that is the royal road. If that be barred, though the
world's marketing may yet go on as usual, the open sea and the mountain
top cease to be possible of access.

So, as I was saying, though at that age I could not realise the full
meaning of the _Gayatri_, there was something in me which could do
without a complete understanding. I am reminded of a day when, as I was
seated on the cement floor in a corner of our schoolroom meditating on
the text, my eyes overflowed with tears. Why those tears came I knew
not; and to a strict cross-questioner I would probably have given some
explanation having nothing to do with the _Gayatri_. The fact of the
matter is that what is going on in the inner recesses of consciousness
is not always known to the dweller on the surface.

(14) _A journey with my Father_

My shaven head after the sacred thread ceremony caused me one great
anxiety. However partial Eurasian lads may be to things appertaining to
the Cow, their reverence for the Brahmin[25] is notoriously lacking. So
that, apart from other missiles, our shaven heads were sure to be pelted
with jeers. While I was worrying over this possibility I was one day
summoned upstairs to my father. How would I like to go with him to the
Himalayas, I was asked. Away from the Bengal Academy and off to the
Himalayas! Would I like it? O that I could have rent the skies with a
shout, that might have given some idea of the How!

On the day of our leaving home my father, as was his habit, assembled
the whole family in the prayer hall for divine service. After I had
taken the dust of the feet of my elders I got into the carriage with my
father. This was the first time in my life that I had a full suit of
clothes made for me. My father himself had selected the pattern and
colour. A gold embroidered velvet cap completed my costume. This I
carried in my hand, being assailed with misgivings as to its effect in
juxtaposition to my hairless head. As I got into the carriage my father
insisted on my wearing it, so I had to put it on. Every time he looked
another way I took it off. Every time I caught his eye it had to resume
its proper place.

My father was very particular in all his arrangements and orderings. He
disliked leaving things vague or undetermined and never allowed
slovenliness or makeshifts. He had a well-defined code to regulate his
relations with others and theirs with him. In this he was different from
the generality of his countrymen. With the rest of us a little
carelessness this way or that did not signify; so in our dealings with
him we had to be anxiously careful. It was not so much the little less
or more that he objected to as the failure to be up to the standard.

My father had also a way of picturing to himself every detail of what he
wanted done. On the occasion of any ceremonial gathering, at which he
could not be present, he would think out and assign the place for each
thing, the duty for each member of the family, the seat for each guest;
nothing would escape him. After it was all over he would ask each one
for a separate account and thus gain a complete impression of the whole
for himself. So, while I was with him on his travels, though nothing
would induce him to put obstacles in the way of my amusing myself as I
pleased, he left no loophole in the strict rules of conduct which he
prescribed for me in other respects.

Our first halt was to be for a few days at Bolpur. Satya had been there
a short time before with his parents. No self-respecting nineteenth
century infant would have credited the account of his travels which he
gave us on his return. But we were different, and had had no opportunity
of learning to determine the line between the possible and the
impossible. Our Mahabharata and Ramayana gave us no clue to it. Nor had
we then any children's illustrated books to guide us in the way a child
should go. All the hard and fast laws which govern the world we learnt
by knocking up against them.

Satya had told us that, unless one was very very expert, getting into a
railway carriage was a terribly dangerous affair--the least slip, and
it was all up. Then, again, a fellow had to hold on to his seat with all
his might, otherwise the jolt at starting was so tremendous there was no
telling where one would get thrown off to. So when we got to the railway
station I was all a-quiver. So easily did we get into our compartment,
however, that I felt sure the worst was yet to come. And when, at
length, we made an absurdly smooth start, without any semblance of
adventure, I felt woefully disappointed.

The train sped on; the broad fields with their blue-green border trees,
and the villages nestling in their shade flew past in a stream of
pictures which melted away like a flood of mirages. It was evening when
we reached Bolpur. As I got into the palanquin I closed my eyes. I
wanted to preserve the whole of the wonderful vision to be unfolded
before my waking eyes in the morning light. The freshness of the
experience would be spoilt, I feared, by incomplete glimpses caught in
the vagueness of the dusk.

When I woke at dawn my heart was thrilling tremulously as I stepped
outside. My predecessor had told me that Bolpur had one feature which
was to be found nowhere else in the world. This was the path leading
from the main buildings to the servants' quarters which, though not
covered over in any way, did not allow a ray of the sun or a drop of
rain to touch anybody passing along it. I started to hunt for this
wonderful path, but the reader will perhaps not wonder at my failure to
find it to this day.

Town bred as I was, I had never seen a rice-field, and I had a charming
portrait of the cowherd boy, of whom we had read, pictured on the canvas
of my imagination. I had heard from Satya that the Bolpur house was
surrounded by fields of ripening rice, and that playing in these with
cowherd boys was an everyday affair, of which the plucking, cooking and
eating of the rice was the crowning feature. I eagerly looked about me.
But where, oh, where was the rice-field on all that barren heath?
Cowherd boys there might have been somewhere about, yet how to
distinguish them from any other boys, that was the question!

However it did not take me long to get over what I could not see,--what
I did see was quite enough. There was no servant rule here, and the only
ring which encircled me was the blue of the horizon which the presiding
goddess of these solitudes had drawn round them. Within this I was free
to move about as I chose.

Though I was yet a mere child my father did not place any restriction on
my wanderings. In the hollows of the sandy soil the rainwater had
ploughed deep furrows, carving out miniature mountain ranges full of red
gravel and pebbles of various shapes through which ran tiny streams,
revealing the geography of Lilliput. From this region I would gather in
the lap of my tunic many curious pieces of stone and take the collection
to my father. He never made light of my labours. On the contrary he
waxed enthusiastic.

"How wonderful!" he exclaimed. "Wherever did you get all these?"

"There are many many more, thousands and thousands!" I burst out. "I
could bring as many every day."

"That _would_ be nice!" he replied. "Why not decorate my little hill
with them?"

An attempt had been made to dig a tank in the garden, but the subsoil
water proving too low, it had been abandoned, unfinished, with the
excavated earth left piled up into a hillock. On the top of this height
my father used to sit for his morning prayer, and as he sat the sun
would rise at the edge of the undulating expanse which stretched away to
the eastern horizon in front of him. This was the hill he asked me to

I was very troubled, on leaving Bolpur, that I could not carry away with
me my store of stones. It is still difficult for me to realise that I
have no absolute claim to keep up a close relationship with things,
merely because I have gathered them together. If my fate had granted me
the prayer, which I had pressed with such insistence, and undertaken
that I should carry this load of stones about with me for ever, then I
should scarcely have had the hardihood to laugh at it to-day.

In one of the ravines I came upon a hollow full of spring water which
overflowed as a little rivulet, where sported tiny fish battling their
way up the current.

"I've found such a lovely spring," I told my father. "Couldn't we get
our bathing and drinking water from there?"

"The very thing," he agreed, sharing my rapture, and gave orders for our
water supply to be drawn from that spring.

I was never tired of roaming about among those miniature hills and dales
in hopes of lighting on something never known before. I was the
Livingstone of this undiscovered land which looked as if seen through
the wrong end of a telescope. Everything there, the dwarf date palms,
the scrubby wild plums and the stunted jambolans, was in keeping with
the miniature mountain ranges, the little rivulet and the tiny fish I
had discovered.

[Illustration: Singing to My Father]

Probably in order to teach me to be careful my father placed a little
small change in my charge and required me to keep an account of it. He
also entrusted me with the duty of winding his valuable gold watch for
him. He overlooked the risk of damage in his desire to train me to a
sense of responsibility. When we went out together for our morning walk
he would ask me to give alms to any beggars we came across. But I never
could render him a proper account at the end of it. One day my balance
was larger than the account warranted.

"I really must make you my cashier," observed my father. "Money seems to
have a way of growing in your hands!"

That watch of his I wound up with such indefatigable zeal that it had
very soon to be sent to the watchmaker's in Calcutta.

I am reminded of the time when, later in life, I was appointed to manage
the estate and had to lay before my father, owing to his failing
eye-sight, a statement of accounts on the second or third of every
month. I had first to read out the totals under each head, and if he had
any doubts on any point he would ask for the details. If I made any
attempt to slur over or keep out of sight any item which I feared he
would not like, it was sure to come out. So these first few days of the
month were very anxious ones for me.

As I have said, my father had the habit of keeping everything clearly
before his mind,--whether figures of accounts, or ceremonial
arrangements, or additions or alterations to property. He had never seen
the new prayer hall built at Bolpur, and yet he was familiar with every
detail of it from questioning those who came to see him after a visit to
Bolpur. He had an extraordinary memory, and when once he got hold of a
fact it never escaped him.

My father had marked his favourite verses in his copy of the
_Bhagavadgita_. He asked me to copy these out, with their translation,
for him. At home, I had been a boy of no account, but here, when these
important functions were entrusted to me, I felt the glory of the

By this time I was rid of my blue manuscript book and had got hold of a
bound volume of one of Lett's diaries. I now saw to it that my poetising
should not lack any of the dignity of outward circumstance. It was not
only a case of writing poems, but of holding myself forth as a poet
before my own imagination. So when I wrote poetry at Bolpur I loved to
do it sprawling under a young coconut palm. This seemed to me the true
poetic way. Resting thus on the hard unturfed gravel in the burning
heat of the day I composed a martial ballad on the "Defeat of King
Prithwi." In spite of the superabundance of its martial spirit, it could
not escape an early death. That bound volume of Lett's diary has now
followed the way of its elder sister, the blue manuscript book, leaving
no address behind.

We left Bolpur and making short halts on the way at Sahebganj, Dinapore,
Allahabad and Cawnpore we stopped at last at Amritsar.

An incident on the way remains engraved on my memory. The train had
stopped at some big station. The ticket examiner came and punched our
tickets. He looked at me curiously as if he had some doubt which he did
not care to express. He went off and came back with a companion. Both of
them fidgetted about for a time near the door of our compartment and
then again retired. At last came the station master himself. He looked
at my half-ticket and then asked:

"Is not the boy over twelve?"

"No," said my father.

I was then only eleven, but looked older than my age.

"You must pay the full fare for him," said the station master.

My father's eyes flashed as, without a word, he took out a currency note
from his box and handed it to the station master. When they brought my
father his change he flung it disdainfully back at them, while the
station master stood abashed at this exposure of the meanness of his
implied doubt.

The golden temple of Amritsar comes back to me like a dream. Many a
morning have I accompanied my father to this _Gurudarbar_ of the Sikhs
in the middle of the lake. There the sacred chanting resounds
continually. My father, seated amidst the throng of worshippers, would
sometimes add his voice to the hymn of praise, and finding a stranger
joining in their devotions they would wax enthusiastically cordial, and
we would return loaded with the sanctified offerings of sugar crystals
and other sweets.

One day my father invited one of the chanting choir to our place and got
him to sing us some of their sacred songs. The man went away probably
more than satisfied with the reward he received. The result was that we
had to take stern measures of self-defence,--such an insistent army of
singers invaded us. When they found our house impregnable, the musicians
began to waylay us in the streets. And as we went out for our walk in
the morning, every now and then would appear a _Tambura_,[26] slung over
a shoulder, at which we felt like game birds at the sight of the muzzle
of the hunter's gun. Indeed, so wary did we become that the twang of the
_Tambura_, from a distance, scared us away and utterly failed to bag us.

When evening fell, my father would sit out in the verandah facing the
garden. I would then be summoned to sing to him. The moon has risen; its
beams, passing though the trees, have fallen on the verandah floor; I am
singing in the _Behaga_ mode:

O Companion in the darkest passage of life....

My father with bowed head and clasped hands is intently listening. I can
recall this evening scene even now.

I have told of my father's amusement on hearing from Srikantha Babu of
my maiden attempt at a devotional poem. I am reminded how, later, I had
my recompense. On the occasion of one of our _Magh_ festivals several of
the hymns were of my composition. One of them was

"The eye sees thee not, who art the pupil of every eye...."

My father was then bed-ridden at Chinsurah. He sent for me and my
brother Jyoti. He asked my brother to accompany me on the harmonium and
got me to sing all my hymns one after the other,--some of them I had to
sing twice over. When I had finished he said:

"If the king of the country had known the language and could appreciate
its literature, he would doubtless have rewarded the poet. Since that is
not so, I suppose I must do it." With which he handed me a cheque.

My father had brought with him some volumes of the Peter Parley series
from which to teach me. He selected the life of Benjamin Franklin to
begin with. He thought it would read like a story book and be both
entertaining and instructive. But he found out his mistake soon after we
began it. Benjamin Franklin was much too business-like a person. The
narrowness of his calculated morality disgusted my father. In some cases
he would get so impatient at the worldly prudence of Franklin that he
could not help using strong words of denunciation. Before this I had
nothing to do with Sanskrit beyond getting some rules of grammar by
rote. My father started me on the second Sanskrit reader at one bound,
leaving me to learn the declensions as we went on. The advance I had
made in Bengali[27] stood me in good stead. My father also encouraged me
to try Sanskrit composition from the very outset. With the vocabulary
acquired from my Sanskrit reader I built up grandiose compound words
with a profuse sprinkling of sonorous 'm's and 'n's making altogether a
most diabolical medley of the language of the gods. But my father never
scoffed at my temerity.

Then there were the readings from Proctor's Popular Astronomy which my
father explained to me in easy language and which I then rendered into

Among the books which my father had brought for his own use, my
attention would be mostly attracted by a ten or twelve volume edition of
Gibbon's Rome. They looked remarkably dry. "Being a boy," I thought, "I
am helpless and read many books because I have to. But why should a
grown up person, who need not read unless he pleases, bother himself

(15) _At the Himalayas_

We stayed about a month in Amritsar, and, towards the middle of April,
started for the Dalhousie Hills. The last few days at Amritsar seemed as
if they would never pass, the call of the Himalayas was so strong upon

The terraced hill sides, as we went up in a _jhampan_, were all aflame
with the beauty of the flowering spring crops. Every morning we would
make a start after our bread and milk, and before sunset take shelter
for the night in the next staging bungalow. My eyes had no rest the
livelong day, so great was my fear lest anything should escape them.
Wherever, at a turn of the road into a gorge, the great forest trees
were found clustering closer, and from underneath their shade a little
waterfall trickling out, like a little daughter of the hermitage playing
at the feet of hoary sages wrapt in meditation, babbling its way over
the black moss-covered rocks, there the _jhampan_ bearers would put down
their burden, and take a rest. Why, oh why, had we to leave such spots
behind, cried my thirsting heart, why could we not stay on there for

This is the great advantage of the first vision: the mind is not then
aware that there are many more such to come. When this comes to be known
to that calculating organ it promptly tries to make a saving in its
expenditure of attention. It is only when it believes something to be
rare that the mind ceases to be miserly in assigning values. So in the
streets of Calcutta I sometimes imagine myself a foreigner, and only
then do I discover how much is to be seen, which is lost so long as its
full value in attention is not paid. It is the hunger to really see
which drives people to travel to strange places.

My father left his little cash-box in my charge. He had no reason to
imagine that I was the fittest custodian of the considerable sums he
kept in it for use on the way. He would certainly have felt safer with
it in the hands of Kishori, his attendant. So I can only suppose he
wanted to train me to the responsibility. One day as we reached the
staging bungalow, I forgot to make it over to him and left it lying on a
table. This earned me a reprimand.

Every time we got down at the end of a stage, my father had chairs
placed for us outside the bungalow and there we sat. As dusk came on the
stars blazed out wonderfully through the clear mountain atmosphere, and
my father showed me the constellations or treated me to an astronomical

The house we had taken at Bakrota was on the highest hill-top. Though it
was nearing May it was still bitterly cold there, so much so that on the
shady side of the hill the winter frosts had not yet melted.

My father was not at all nervous about allowing me to wander about
freely even here. Some way below our house there stretched a spur
thickly wooded with Deodars. Into this wilderness I would venture alone
with my iron-spiked staff. These lordly forest trees, with their huge
shadows, towering there like so many giants--what immense lives had
they lived through the centuries! And yet this boy of only the other day
was crawling round about their trunks unchallenged. I seemed to feel a
presence, the moment I stepped into their shade, as of the solid
coolness of some old-world saurian, and the checkered light and shade on
the leafy mould seemed like its scales.

My room was at one end of the house. Lying on my bed I could see,
through the uncurtained windows, the distant snowy peaks shimmering
dimly in the starlight. Sometimes, at what hour I could not make out, I,
half awakened, would see my father, wrapped in a red shawl, with a
lighted lamp in his hand, softly passing by to the glazed verandah where
he sat at his devotions. After one more sleep I would find him at my
bedside, rousing me with a push, before yet the darkness of night had
passed. This was my appointed hour for memorising Sanscrit declensions.
What an excruciatingly wintry awakening from the caressing warmth of my

By the time the sun rose, my father, after his prayers, finished with me
our morning milk, and then, I standing at his side, he would once more
hold communion with God, chanting the Upanishads.

Then we would go out for a walk. But how should I keep pace with him?
Many an older person could not! So, after a while, I would give it up
and scramble back home through some short cut up the mountain side.

After my father's return I had an hour of English lessons. After ten
o'clock came the bath in icy-cold water; it was no use asking the
servants to temper it with even a jugful of hot water without my
father's permission. To give me courage my father would tell of the
unbearably freezing baths he had himself been through in his younger

Another penance was the drinking of milk. My father was very fond of
milk and could take quantities of it. But whether it was a failure to
inherit this capacity, or that the unfavourable environment of which I
have told proved the stronger, my appetite for milk was grievously
wanting. Unfortunately we used to have our milk together. So I had to
throw myself on the mercy of the servants; and to their human kindness
(or frailty) I was indebted for my goblet being thenceforth more than
half full of foam.

After our midday meal lessons began again. But this was more than flesh
and blood could stand. My outraged morning sleep _would_ have its
revenge and I would be toppling over with uncontrollable drowsiness.
Nevertheless, no sooner did my father take pity on my plight and let me
off, than my sleepiness was off likewise. Then ho! for the mountains.

Staff in hand I would often wander away from one peak to another, but my
father did not object. To the end of his life, I have observed, he never
stood in the way of our independence. Many a time have I said or done
things repugnant alike to his taste and his judgment; with a word he
could have stopped me; but he preferred to wait till the prompting to
refrain came from within. A passive acceptance by us of the correct and
the proper did not satisfy him; he wanted us to love truth with our
whole hearts; he knew that mere acquiescence without love is empty. He
also knew that truth, if strayed from, can be found again, but a forced
or blind acceptance of it from the outside effectually bars the way in.

[Illustration: The Himalayas]

In my early youth I had conceived a fancy to journey along the Grand
Trunk Road, right up to Peshawar, in a bullock cart. No one else
supported the scheme, and doubtless there was much to be urged against
it as a practical proposition. But when I discoursed on it to my father
he was sure it was a splendid idea--travelling by railroad was not worth
the name! With which observation he proceeded to recount to me his own
adventurous wanderings on foot and horseback. Of any chance of
discomfort or peril he had not a word to say.

Another time, when I had just been appointed Secretary of the Adi Brahma
Samaj, I went over to my father, at his Park Street residence, and
informed him that I did not approve of the practice of only Brahmins
conducting divine service to the exclusion of other castes. He
unhesitatingly gave me permission to correct this if I could. When I got
the authority I found I lacked the power. I was able to discover
imperfections but could not create perfection! Where were the men? Where
was the strength in me to attract the right man? Had I the means to
build in the place of what I might break? Till the right man comes any
form is better than none--this, I felt, must have been my father's view
of the existing order. But he did not for a moment try to discourage me
by pointing out the difficulties.

As he allowed me to wander about the mountains at my will, so in the
quest for truth he left me free to select my path. He was not deterred
by the danger of my making mistakes, he was not alarmed at the prospect
of my encountering sorrow. He held up a standard, not a disciplinary

I would often talk to my father of home. Whenever I got a letter from
anyone at home I hastened to show it to him. I verily believe I was
thus the means of giving him many a picture he could have got from none
else. My father also let me read letters to him from my elder brothers.
This was his way of teaching me how I ought to write to him; for he by
no means underrated the importance of outward forms and ceremonial.

I am reminded of how in one of my second brother's letters he was
complaining in somewhat sanscritised phraseology of being worked to
death tied by the neck to his post of duty. My father asked me to
explain the sentiment. I did it in my way, but he thought a different
explanation would fit better. My overweening conceit made me stick to my
guns and argue the point with him at length. Another would have shut me
up with a snub, but my father patiently heard me out and took pains to
justify his view to me.

My father would sometimes tell me funny stories. He had many an anecdote
of the gilded youth of his time. There were some exquisites for whose
delicate skins the embroidered borders of even Dacca muslins were too
coarse, so that to wear muslins with the border torn off became, for a
time, the tip-top thing to do.

I was also highly amused to hear from my father for the first time the
story of the milkman who was suspected of watering his milk, and the
more men one of his customers detailed to look after his milking the
bluer the fluid became, till, at last, when the customer himself
interviewed him and asked for an explanation, the milkman avowed that if
more superintendents had to be satisfied it would only make the milk fit
to breed fish!

After I had thus spent a few months with him my father sent me back home
with his attendant Kishori.


(16) My Return

The chains of the rigorous regime which had bound me snapped for good
when I set out from home. On my return I gained an accession of rights.
In my case my very nearness had so long kept me out of mind; now that I
had been out of sight I came back into view.

I got a foretaste of appreciation while still on the return journey.
Travelling alone as I was, with an attendant, brimming with health and
spirits, and conspicuous with my gold-worked cap, all the English people
I came across in the train made much of me.

When I arrived it was not merely a home-coming from travel, it was also
a return from my exile in the servants' quarters to my proper place in
the inner apartments. Whenever the inner household assembled in my
mother's room I now occupied a seat of honour. And she who was then the
youngest bride of our house lavished on me a wealth of affection and

In infancy the loving care of woman is to be had without the asking,
and, being as much a necessity as light and air, is as simply accepted
without any conscious response; rather does the growing child often
display an eagerness to free itself from the encircling web of woman's
solicitude. But the unfortunate creature who is deprived of this in its
proper season is beggared indeed. This had been my plight. So after
being brought up in the servants' quarters when I suddenly came in for a
profusion of womanly affection, I could hardly remain unconscious of it.

In the days when the inner apartments were as yet far away from me, they
were the elysium of my imagination. The zenana, which from an outside
view is a place of confinement, for me was the abode of all freedom.
Neither school nor Pandit were there; nor, it seemed to me, did anybody
have to do what they did not want to. Its secluded leisure had something
mysterious about it; one played about, or did as one liked and had not
to render an account of one's doings. Specially so with my youngest
sister, to whom, though she attended Nilkamal Pandit's class with us, it
seemed to make no difference in his behaviour whether she did her
lessons well or ill. Then again, while, by ten o'clock, we had to hurry
through our breakfast and be ready for school, she, with her queue
dangling behind, walked unconcernedly away, withinwards, tantalising us
to distraction.

And when the new bride, adorned with her necklace of gold, came into our
house, the mystery of the inner apartments deepened. She, who came from
outside and yet became one of us, who was unknown and yet our own,
attracted me strangely--with her I burned to make friends. But if by
much contriving I managed to draw near, my youngest sister would hustle
me off with: "What d'you boys want here--get away outside." The insult
added to the disappointment cut me to the quick. Through the glass doors
of their cabinets one could catch glimpses of all manner of curious
playthings--creations of porcelain and glass--gorgeous in colouring and
ornamentation. We were not deemed worthy even to touch them, much less
could we muster up courage to ask for any to play with. Nevertheless
these rare and wonderful objects, as they were to us boys, served to
tinge with an additional attraction the lure of the inner apartments.

Thus had I been kept at arm's length with repeated rebuffs. As the outer
world, so, for me, the interior, was unattainable. Wherefore the
impressions of it that I did get appeared to me like pictures.

After nine in the evening, my lessons with Aghore Babu over, I am
retiring within for the night. A murky flickering lantern is hanging in
the long venetian-screened corridor leading from the outer to the inner
apartments. At its end this passage turns into a flight of four or five
steps, to which the light does not reach, and down which I pass into the
galleries running round the first inner quadrangle. A shaft of moonlight
slants from the eastern sky into the western angle of these verandahs,
leaving the rest in darkness. In this patch of light the maids have
gathered and are squatting close together, with legs outstretched,
rolling cotton waste into lamp-wicks, and chatting in undertones of
their village homes. Many such pictures are indelibly printed on my

Then after our supper, the washing of our hands and feet on the verandah
before stretching ourselves on the ample expanse of our bed; whereupon
one of the nurses Tinkari or Sankari comes and sits by our heads and
softly croons to us the story of the prince travelling on and on over
the lonely moor, and, as it comes to an end, silence falls on the room.
With my face to the wall I gaze at the black and white patches, made by
the plaster of the walls fallen off here and there, showing faintly in
the dim light; and out of these I conjure up many a fantastic image as I
drop off to sleep. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, I hear
through my half-broken sleep the shouts of old Swarup, the watchman,
going his rounds from verandah to verandah.

Then came the new order, when I got in profusion from this inner
unknown dreamland of my fancies the recognition for which I had all
along been pining; when that which naturally should have come day by day
was suddenly made good to me with accumulated arrears. I cannot say that
my head was not turned.

The little traveller was full of the story of his travels, and, with the
strain of each repetition, the narrative got looser and looser till it
utterly refused to fit into the facts. Like everything else, alas, a
story also gets stale and the glory of the teller suffers likewise; that
is why he has to add fresh colouring every time to keep up its

After my return from the hills I was the principal speaker at my
mother's open air gatherings on the roof terrace in the evenings. The
temptation to become famous in the eyes of one's mother is as difficult
to resist as such fame is easy to earn. While I was at the Normal
School, when I first came across the information in some reader that the
Sun was hundreds and thousands of times as big as the Earth, I at once
disclosed it to my mother. It served to prove that he who was small to
look at might yet have a considerable amount of bigness about him. I
used also to recite to her the scraps of poetry used as illustrations in
the chapter on prosody or rhetoric of our Bengali grammar. Now I
retailed at her evening gatherings the astronomical tit-bits I had
gleaned from Proctor.

My father's follower Kishori belonged at one time to a band of reciters
of Dasarathi's jingling versions of the Epics. While we were together in
the hills he often said to me: "Oh, my little brother,[28] if I only had
had you in our troupe we could have got up a splendid performance." This
would open up to me a tempting picture of wandering as a minstrel boy
from place to place, reciting and singing. I learnt from him many of the
songs in his repertoire and these were in even greater request than my
talks about the photosphere of the Sun or the many moons of Saturn.

But the achievement of mine which appealed most to my mother was that
while the rest of the inmates of the inner apartments had to be content
with Krittivasa's Bengali rendering of the Ramayana, I had been reading
with my father the original of Maharshi Valmiki himself, Sanscrit metre
and all. "Read me some of that Ramayana, _do_!" she said, overjoyed at
this news which I had given her.

[Illustration: The Servant-maids in the Verandah]

Alas, my reading of Valmiki had been limited to the short extract from
his Ramayana given in my Sanskrit reader, and even that I had not
fully mastered. Moreover, on looking over it now, I found that my
memory had played me false and much of what I thought I knew had become
hazy. But I lacked the courage to plead "I have forgotten" to the eager
mother awaiting the display of her son's marvellous talents; so that, in
the reading I gave, a large divergence occurred between Valmiki's
intention and my explanation. That tender-hearted sage, from his seat in
heaven, must have forgiven the temerity of the boy seeking the glory of
his mother's approbation, but not so Madhusudan,[29] the taker down of

My mother, unable to contain her feelings at my extraordinary exploit,
wanted all to share her admiration. "You must read this to Dwijendra,"
(my eldest brother), she said.

"In for it!" thought I, as I put forth all the excuses I could think of,
but my mother would have none of them. She sent for my brother
Dwijendra, and, as soon as he arrived, greeted him, with: "Just hear
Rabi read Valmiki's Ramayan, how splendidly he does it."

It had to be done! But Madhusudan relented and let me off with just a
taste of his pride-reducing power. My brother must have been called away
while busy with some literary work of his own. He showed no anxiety to
hear me render the Sanscrit into Bengali, and as soon as I had read out
a few verses he simply remarked "Very good" and walked away.

After my promotion to the inner apartments I felt it all the more
difficult to resume my school life. I resorted to all manner of
subterfuges to escape the Bengal Academy. Then they tried putting me at
St. Xavier's. But the result was no better.

My elder brothers, after a few spasmodic efforts, gave up all hopes of
me--they even ceased to scold me. One day my eldest sister said: "We had
all hoped Rabi would grow up to be a man, but he has disappointed us the
worst." I felt that my value in the social world was distinctly
depreciating; nevertheless I could not make up my mind to be tied to the
eternal grind of the school mill which, divorced as it was from all life
and beauty, seemed such a hideously cruel combination of hospital and

One precious memory of St. Xavier's I still hold fresh and pure--the
memory of its teachers. Not that they were all of the same excellence.
In particular, in those who taught in our class I could discern no
reverential resignation of spirit. They were in nowise above the
teaching-machine variety of school masters. As it is, the educational
engine is remorselessly powerful; when to it is coupled the stone mill
of the outward forms of religion the heart of youth is crushed dry
indeed. This power-propelled grindstone type we had at St. Xavier's.
Yet, as I say, I possess a memory which elevates my impression of the
teachers there to an ideal plane.

This is the memory of Father DePeneranda. He had very little to do with
us--if I remember right he had only for a while taken the place of one
of the masters of our class. He was a Spaniard and seemed to have an
impediment in speaking English. It was perhaps for this reason that the
boys paid but little heed to what he was saying. It seemed to me that
this inattentiveness of his pupils hurt him, but he bore it meekly day
after day. I know not why, but my heart went out to him in sympathy. His
features were not handsome, but his countenance had for me a strange
attraction. Whenever I looked on him his spirit seemed to be in prayer,
a deep peace to pervade him within and without.

We had half-an-hour for writing our copybooks; that was a time when, pen
in hand, I used to become absent-minded and my thoughts wandered hither
and thither. One day Father DePeneranda was in charge of this class. He
was pacing up and down behind our benches. He must have noticed more
than once that my pen was not moving. All of a sudden he stopped behind
my seat. Bending over me he gently laid his hand on my shoulder and
tenderly inquired: "Are you not well, Tagore?" It was only a simple
question, but one I have never been able to forget.

I cannot speak for the other boys but I felt in him the presence of a
great soul, and even to-day the recollection of it seems to give me a
passport into the silent seclusion of the temple of God.

There was another old Father whom all the boys loved. This was Father
Henry. He taught in the higher classes; so I did not know him well. But
one thing about him I remember. He knew Bengali. He once asked Nirada, a
boy in his class, the derivation of his name. Poor Nirada[30] had so
long been supremely easy in mind about himself--the derivation of his
name, in particular, had never troubled him in the least; so that he was
utterly unprepared to answer this question. And yet, with so many
abstruse and unknown words in the dictionary, to be worsted by one's own
name would have been as ridiculous a mishap as getting run over by one's
own carriage, so Nirada unblushingly replied: "_Ni_--privative,
_rode_--sun-rays; thence Nirode--that which causes an absence of the
sun's rays!"

(17) _Home Studies_

Gyan Babu, son of Pandit Vedantavagish, was now our tutor at home. When
he found he could not secure my attention for the school course, he gave
up the attempt as hopeless and went on a different tack. He took me
through Kalidas's "Birth of the War-god," translating it to me as we
went on. He also read Macbeth to me, first explaining the text in
Bengali, and then confining me to the school room till I had rendered
the day's reading into Bengali verse. In this way he got me to translate
the whole play. I was fortunate enough to lose this translation and so
am relieved to that extent of the burden of my _karma_.

It was Pandit Ramsarvaswa's duty to see to the progress of our Sanskrit.
He likewise gave up the fruitless task of teaching grammar to his
unwilling pupil, and read Sakuntala with me instead. One day he took it
into his head to show my translation of Macbeth to Pandit Vidyasagar and
took me over to his house.

Rajkrishna Mukherji had called at the time and was seated with him. My
heart went pit-a-pat as I entered the great Pandit's study, packed full
of books; nor did his austere visage assist in reviving my courage.
Nevertheless, as this was the first time I had had such a distinguished
audience, my desire to win renown was strong within me. I returned home,
I believe, with some reason for an access of enthusiasm. As for
Rajkrishna Babu, he contented himself with admonishing me to be careful
to keep the language and metre of the Witches' parts different from that
of the human characters.

During my boyhood Bengali literature was meagre in body, and I think I
must have finished all the readable and unreadable books that there were
at the time. Juvenile literature in those days had not evolved a
distinct type of its own--but that I am sure did me no harm. The watery
stuff into which literary nectar is now diluted for being served up to
the young takes full account of their childishness, but none of them as
growing human beings. Children's books should be such as can partly be
understood by them and partly not. In our childhood we read every
available book from one end to the other; and both what we understood,
and what we did not, went on working within us. That is how the world
itself reacts on the child consciousness. The child makes its own what
it understands, while that which is beyond leads it on a step forward.

When Dinabandhu Mitra's satires came out I was not of an age for which
they were suitable. A kinswoman of ours was reading a copy, but no
entreaties of mine could induce her to lend it to me. She used to keep
it under lock and key. Its inaccessibility made me want it all the more
and I threw out the challenge that read the book I must and would.

One afternoon she was playing cards, and her keys, tied to a corner of
her _sari_, hung over her shoulder. I had never paid any attention to
cards, in fact I could not stand card games. But my behaviour that day
would hardly have borne this out, so engrossed was I in their playing.
At last, in the excitement of one side being about to make a score, I
seized my opportunity and set about untying the knot which held the
keys. I was not skilful, and moreover excited and hasty and so got
caught. The owner of the _sari_ and of the keys took the fold off her
shoulder with a smile, and laid the keys on her lap as she went on with
the game.

Then I hit on a stratagem. My kinswoman was fond of _pan_,[31] and I
hastened to place some before her. This entailed her rising later on to
get rid of the chewed _pan_, and, as she did so, her keys fell off her
lap and were replaced over her shoulder. This time they got stolen, the
culprit got off, and the book got read! Its owner tried to scold me,
but the attempt was not a success, we both laughed so.

Dr. Rajendralal Mitra used to edit an illustrated monthly miscellany. My
third brother had a bound annual volume of it in his bookcase. This I
managed to secure and the delight of reading it through, over and over
again, still comes back to me. Many a holiday noontide has passed with
me stretched on my back on my bed, that square volume on my breast,
reading about the Narwhal whale, or the curiosities of justice as
administered by the Kazis of old, or the romantic story of

Why do we not have such magazines now-a-days? We have philosophical and
scientific articles on the one hand, and insipid stories and travels on
the other, but no such unpretentious miscellanies which the ordinary
person can read in comfort--such as Chambers's or Cassell's or the
Strand in England--which supply the general reader with a simple, but
satisfying fare and are of the greatest use to the greatest number.

I came across another little periodical in my young days called the
_Abodhabandhu_ (ignorant man's friend). I found a collection of its
monthly numbers in my eldest brother's library and devoured them day
after day, seated on the doorsill of his study, facing a bit of terrace
to the South. It was in the pages of this magazine that I made my first
acquaintance with the poetry of Viharilal Chakravarti. His poems
appealed to me the most of all that I read at the time. The artless
flute-strains of his lyrics awoke within me the music of fields and

Into these same pages I have wept many a tear over a pathetic
translation of Paul and Virginie. That wonderful sea, the breeze-stirred
cocoanut forests on its shore, and the slopes beyond lively with the
gambols of mountain goats,--a delightfully refreshing mirage they
conjured up on that terraced roof in Calcutta. And oh! the romantic
courting that went on in the forest paths of that secluded island,
between the Bengali boy reader and little Virginie with the
many-coloured kerchief round her head!

Then came Bankim's _Bangadarsan_, taking the Bengali heart by storm. It
was bad enough to have to wait till the next monthly number was out, but
to be kept waiting further till my elders had done with it was simply
intolerable! Now he who will may swallow at a mouthful the whole of
_Chandrashekhar_ or _Bishabriksha_ but the process of longing and
anticipating, month after month; of spreading over the long intervals
the concentrated joy of each short reading, revolving every instalment
over and over in the mind while watching and waiting for the next; the
combination of satisfaction with unsatisfied craving, of burning
curiosity with its appeasement; these long drawn out delights of going
through the original serial none will ever taste again.

The compilations from the old poets by Sarada Mitter and Akshay Sarkar
were also of great interest to me. Our elders were subscribers, but not
very regular readers, of these series, so that it was not difficult for
me to get at them. Vidyapati's quaint and corrupt Maithili language
attracted me all the more because of its unintelligibility. I tried to
make out his sense without the help of the compiler's notes, jotting
down in my own note book all the more obscure words with their context
as many times as they occurred. I also noted grammatical peculiarities
according to my lights.

(18) _My Home Environment_

One great advantage which I enjoyed in my younger days was the literary
and artistic atmosphere which pervaded our house. I remember how, when I
was quite a child, I would be leaning against the verandah railings
which overlooked the detached building comprising the reception rooms.
These rooms would be lighted up every evening. Splendid carriages would
draw up under the portico, and visitors would be constantly coming and
going. What was happening I could not very well make out, but would keep
staring at the rows of lighted casements from my place in the darkness.
The intervening space was not great but the gulf between my infant world
and these lights was immense.

My elder cousin Ganendra had just got a drama written by Pandit
Tarkaratna and was having it staged in the house. His enthusiasm for
literature and the fine arts knew no bounds. He was the centre of the
group who seem to have been almost consciously striving to bring about
from every side the renascence which we see to-day. A pronounced
nationalism in dress, literature, music, art and the drama had awakened
in and around him. He was a keen student of the history of different
countries and had begun but could not complete a historical work in
Bengali. He had translated and published the Sanskrit drama,
Vikramorvasi, and many a well-known hymn is his composition. He may be
said to have given us the lead in writing patriotic poems and songs.
This was in the days when the Hindu Mela was an annual institution and
there his song "Ashamed am I to sing of India's glories" used to be

I was still a child when my cousin Ganendra died in the prime of his
youth, but for those who have once beheld him it is impossible to forget
his handsome, tall and stately figure. He had an irresistible social
influence. He could draw men round him and keep them bound to him; while
his powerful attraction was there, disruption was out of the question.
He was one of those--a type peculiar to our country--who, by their
personal magnetism, easily establish themselves in the centre of their
family or village. In any other country, where large political, social
or commercial groups are being formed, such would as naturally become
national leaders. The power of organising a large number of men into a
corporate group depends on a special kind of genius. Such genius in our
country runs to waste, a waste, as pitiful, it seems to me, as that of
pulling down a star from the firmament for use as a lucifer match.

I remember still better his younger brother, my cousin Gunendra.[32] He
likewise kept the house filled with his personality. His large, gracious
heart embraced alike relatives, friends, guests and dependants. Whether
in his broad south verandah, or on the lawn by the fountain, or at the
tank-edge on the fishing platform, he presided over self-invited
gatherings, like hospitality incarnate. His wide appreciation of art and
talent kept him constantly radiant with enthusiasm. New ideas of
festivity or frolic, theatricals or other entertainments, found in him a
ready patron, and with his help would flourish and find fruition.

We were too young then to take any part in these doings, but the waves
of merriment and life to which they gave rise came and beat at the doors
of our curiosity. I remember how a burlesque composed by my eldest
brother was once being rehearsed in my cousin's big drawing room. From
our place against the verandah railings of our house we could hear,
through the open windows opposite, roars of laughter mixed with the
strains of a comic song, and would also occasionally catch glimpses of
Akshay Mazumdar's extraordinary antics. We could not gather exactly what
the song was about, but lived in hopes of being able to find that out

I recall how a trifling circumstance earned for me the special regard of
cousin Gunendra. Never had I got a prize at school except once for good
conduct. Of the three of us my nephew Satya was the best at his lessons.
He once did well at some examination and was awarded a prize. As we
came home I jumped off the carriage to give the great news to my cousin
who was in the garden. "Satya has got a prize" I shouted as I ran to
him. He drew me to his knees with a smile. "And have _you_ not got a
prize?" he asked. "No," said I, "not I, it's Satya." My genuine pleasure
at Satya's success seemed to touch my cousin particularly. He turned to
his friends and remarked on it as a very creditable trait. I well
remember how mystified I felt at this, for I had not thought of my
feeling in that light. This prize that I got for not getting a prize did
not do me good. There is no harm in making gifts to children, but they
should not be rewards. It is not healthy for youngsters to be made

After the mid-day meal cousin Gunendra would attend the estate offices
in our part of the house. The office room of our elders was a sort of
club where laughter and conversation were freely mixed with matters of
business. My cousin would recline on a couch, and I would seize some
opportunity of edging up to him.

[Illustration: My Eldest Brother]

He usually told me stories from Indian History. I still remember the
surprise with which I heard how Clive, after establishing British rule
in India, went back home and cut his own throat. On the one hand new
history being made, on the other a tragic chapter hidden away in the
mysterious darkness of a human heart. How could there be such dismal
failure within and such brilliant success outside? This weighed heavily
on my mind the whole day.

Some days cousin Gunendra would not be allowed to remain in any doubt as
to the contents of my pocket. At the least encouragement out would come
my manuscript book, unabashed. I need hardly state that my cousin was
not a severe critic; in point of fact the opinions he expressed would
have done splendidly as advertisements. None the less, when in any of my
poetry my childishness became too obtrusive, he could not restrain his
hearty "Ha! Ha!"

One day it was a poem on "Mother India" and as at the end of one line
the only rhyme I could think of meant a cart, I had to drag in that cart
in spite of there not being the vestige of a road by which it could
reasonably arrive,--the insistent claims of rhyme would not hear of any
excuses mere reason had to offer. The storm of laughter with which
cousin Gunendra greeted it blew away the cart back over the same
impossible path it had come by, and it has not been heard of since.

My eldest brother was then busy with his masterpiece "The Dream
Journey," his cushion seat placed in the south verandah, a low desk
before him. Cousin Gunendra would come and sit there for a time every
morning. His immense capacity for enjoyment, like the breezes of spring,
helped poetry to sprout. My eldest brother would go on alternately
writing and reading out what he had written, his boisterous mirth at his
own conceits making the verandah tremble. My brother wrote a great deal
more than he finally used in his finished work, so fertile was his
poetic inspiration. Like the superabounding mango flowerets which carpet
the shade of the mango topes in spring time, the rejected pages of his
"Dream Journey" were to be found scattered all over the house. Had
anyone preserved them they would have been to-day a basketful of flowers
adorning our Bengali literature.

Eavesdropping at doors and peeping round corners, we used to get our
full share of this feast of poetry, so plentiful was it, with so much to
spare. My eldest brother was then at the height of his wonderful powers;
and from his pen surged, in untiring wave after wave, a tidal flood of
poetic fancy, rhyme and expression, filling and overflowing its banks
with an exuberantly joyful pæan of triumph. Did we quite understand "The
Dream Journey"? But then did we need absolutely to understand in order
to enjoy it? We might not have got at the wealth in the ocean
depths--what could we have done with it if we had?--but we revelled in
the delights of the waves on the shore; and how gaily, at their
buffettings, did our life-blood course through every vein and artery!

The more I think of that period the more I realise that we have no
longer the thing called a _mujlis_.[33] In our boyhood we beheld the
dying rays of that intimate sociability which was characteristic of the
last generation. Neighbourly feelings were then so strong that the
_mujlis_ was a necessity, and those who could contribute to its
amenities were in great request. People now-a-days call on each other on
business, or as a matter of social duty, but not to foregather by way of
_mujlis_. They have not the time, nor are there the same intimate
relations! What goings and comings we used to see, how merry were the
rooms and verandahs with the hum of conversation and the snatches of
laughter! The faculty our predecessors had of becoming the centre of
groups and gatherings, of starting and keeping up animated and amusing
gossip, has vanished. Men still come and go, but those same verandahs
and rooms seem empty and deserted.

In those days everything from furniture to festivity was designed to be
enjoyed by the many, so that whatever of pomp or magnificence there
might have been did not savour of hauteur. These appendages have since
increased in quantity, but they have become unfeeling, and know not the
art of making high and low alike feel at home. The bare-bodied, the
indigently clad, no longer have the right to use and occupy them,
without a permit, on the strength of their smiling faces alone. Those
whom we now-a-days seek to imitate in our house-building and furnishing,
they have their own society, with its wide hospitality. The mischief
with us is that we have lost what we had, but have not the means of
building up afresh on the European standard, with the result that our
home-life has become joyless. We still meet for business or political
purposes, but never for the pleasure of simply meeting one another. We
have ceased to contrive opportunities to bring men together simply
because we love our fellow-men. I can imagine nothing more ugly than
this social miserliness; and, when I look back on those whose ringing
laughter, coming straight from their hearts, used to lighten for us the
burden of household cares, they seem to have been visitors from some
other world.

(19) _Literary Companions_

There came to me in my boyhood a friend whose help in my literary
progress was invaluable. Akshay Chowdhury was a school-fellow of my
fourth brother. He was an M. A. in English Literature for which his love
was as great as his proficiency therein. On the other hand he had an
equal fondness for our older Bengali authors and Vaishnava Poets. He
knew hundreds of Bengali songs of unknown authorship, and on these he
would launch, with voice uplifted, regardless of tune, or consequence,
or of the express disapproval of his hearers. Nor could anything, within
him or without, prevent his loudly beating time to his own music, for
which the nearest table or book served his nimble fingers to rap a
vigorous tattoo on, to help to enliven the audience.

He was also one of those with an inordinate capacity for extracting
enjoyment from all and sundry. He was as ready to absorb every bit of
goodness in a thing as he was lavish in singing its praises. He had an
extraordinary gift as a lightning composer of lyrics and songs of no
mean merit, but in which he himself had no pride of authorship. He took
no further notice of the heaps of scattered scraps of paper on which his
pencil writings had been indited. He was as indifferent to his powers
as they were prolific.

One of his longer poetic pieces was much appreciated when it appeared in
the _Bangadarsan_, and I have heard his songs sung by many who knew
nothing at all about their composer.

A genuine delight in literature is much rarer than erudition, and it was
this enthusiastic enjoyment in Akshay Babu which used to awaken my own
literary appreciation. He was as liberal in his friendships as in his
literary criticisms. Among strangers he was as a fish out of water, but
among friends discrepancies in wisdom or age made no difference to him.
With us boys he was a boy. When he took his leave, late in the evening,
from the _mujlis_ of our elders, I would buttonhole and drag him to our
school room. There, with undiminished geniality he would make himself
the life and soul of our little gathering, seated on the top of our
study table. On many such occasions I have listened to him going into a
rapturous dissertation on some English poem; engaged him in some
appreciative discussion, critical inquiry, or hot dispute; or read to
him some of my own writings and been rewarded in return with praise

My fourth brother Jyotirindra was one of the chief helpers in my
literary and emotional training. He was an enthusiast himself and loved
to evoke enthusiasm in others. He did not allow the difference between
our ages to be any bar to my free intellectual and sentimental
intercourse with him. This great boon of freedom which he allowed me,
none else would have dared to do; many even blamed him for it. His
companionship made it possible for me to shake off my shrinking
sensitiveness. It was as necessary for my soul after its rigorous
repression during my infancy as are the monsoon clouds after a fiery

But for such snapping of my shackles I might have become crippled for
life. Those in authority are never tired of holding forth the
possibility of the abuse of freedom as a reason for withholding it, but
without that possibility freedom would not be really free. And the only
way of learning how to use properly a thing is through its misuse. For
myself, at least, I can truly say that what little mischief resulted
from my freedom always led the way to the means of curing mischief. I
have never been able to make my own anything which they tried to compel
me to swallow by getting hold of me, physically or mentally, by the
ears. Nothing but sorrow have I ever gained except when left freely to

My brother Jyotirindra unreservedly let me go my own way to
self-knowledge, and only since then could my nature prepare to put
forth its thorns, it may be, but likewise its flowers. This experience
of mine has led me to dread, not so much evil itself, as tyrannical
attempts to create goodness. Of punitive police, political or moral, I
have a wholesome horror. The state of slavery which is thus brought on
is the worst form of cancer to which humanity is subject.

My brother at one time would spend days at his piano engrossed in the
creation of new tunes. Showers of melody would stream from under his
dancing fingers, while Akshay Babu and I, seated on either side, would
be busy fitting words to the tunes as they grew into shape to help to
hold them in our memories.[34] This is how I served my apprenticeship in
the composition of songs.

While we were growing to boyhood music was largely cultivated in our
family. This had the advantage of making it possible for me to imbibe
it, without an effort, into my whole being. It had also the disadvantage
of not giving me that technical mastery which the effort of learning
step by step alone can give. Of what may be called proficiency in music,
therefore, I acquired none.

Ever since my return from the Himalayas it was a case of my getting more
freedom, more and more. The rule of the servants came to an end; I saw
to it with many a device that the bonds of my school life were also
loosened; nor to my home tutors did I give much scope. Gyan Babu, after
taking me through "The Birth of the War-god" and one or two other books
in a desultory fashion, went off to take up a legal career. Then came
Braja Babu. The first day he put me on to translate "The Vicar of
Wakefield." I found that I did not dislike the book; but when this
encouraged him to make more elaborate arrangements for the advancement
of my learning I made myself altogether scarce.

As I have said, my elders gave me up. Neither I nor they were troubled
with any more hopes of my future. So I felt free to devote myself to
filling up my manuscript book. And the writings which thus filled it
were no better than could have been expected. My mind had nothing in it
but hot vapour, and vapour-filled bubbles frothed and eddied round a
vortex of lazy fancy, aimless and unmeaning. No forms were evolved,
there was only the distraction of movement, a bubbling up, a bursting
back into froth. What little of matter there was in it was not mine, but
borrowed from other poets. What was my own was the restlessness, the
seething tension within me. When motion has been born, while yet the
balance of forces has not matured, then is there blind chaos indeed.

My sister-in-law[35] was a great lover of literature. She did not read
simply to kill time, but the Bengali books which she read filled her
whole mind. I was a partner in her literary enterprises. She was a
devoted admirer of "The Dream Journey." So was I; the more particularly
as, having been brought up in the atmosphere of its creation, its
beauties had become intertwined with every fibre of my heart.
Fortunately it was entirely beyond my power of imitation, so it never
occurred to me to attempt anything like it.

"The Dream Journey" may be likened to a superb palace of Allegory, with
innumerable halls, chambers, passages, corners and niches full of
statuary and pictures, of wonderful design and workmanship; and in the
grounds around gardens, bowers, fountains and shady nooks in profusion.
Not only do poetic thought and fancy abound, but the richness and
variety of language and expression is also marvellous. It is not a small
thing, this creative power which can bring into being so magnificent a
structure complete in all its artistic detail, and that is perhaps why
the idea of attempting an imitation never occurred to me.

At this time Viharilal Chakravarti's series of songs called _Sarada
Mangal_ were coming out in the _Arya Darsan_. My sister-in-law was
greatly taken with the sweetness of these lyrics. Most of them she knew
by heart. She used often to invite the poet to our house and had
embroidered for him a cushion-seat with her own hands. This gave me the
opportunity of making friends with him. He came to have a great
affection for me, and I took to dropping in at his house at all times of
the day, morning, noon or evening. His heart was as large as his body,
and a halo of fancy used to surround him like a poetic astral body which
seemed to be his truer image. He was always full of true artistic joy,
and whenever I have been to him I have breathed in my share of it. Often
have I come upon him in his little room on the third storey, in the heat
of noonday, sprawling on the cool polished cement floor, writing his
poems. Mere boy though I was, his welcome was always so genuine and
hearty that I never felt the least awkwardness in approaching him. Then,
wrapt in his inspiration and forgetful of all surroundings, he would
read out his poems or sing his songs to me. Not that he had much of the
gift of song in his voice; but then he was not altogether tuneless, and
one could get a fair idea of the intended melody.[36] When with eyes
closed he raised his rich deep voice, its expressiveness made up for
what it lacked in execution. I still seem to hear some of his songs as
he sang them. I would also sometimes set his words to music and sing
them to him.

He was a great admirer of Valmiki and Kalidas. I remember how once after
reciting a description of the Himalayas from Kalidas with the full
strength of his voice, he said: "The succession of long [=a] sounds here
is not an accident. The poet has deliberately repeated this sound all
the way from _Devatatma_ down to _Nagadhiraja_ as an assistance in
realising the glorious expanse of the Himalayas."

At the time the height of my ambition was to become a poet like Vihari
Babu. I might have even succeeded in working myself up to the belief
that I was actually writing like him, but for my sister-in-law, his
zealous devotee, who stood in the way. She would keep reminding me of a
Sanskrit saying that the unworthy aspirant after poetic fame departs in
jeers! Very possibly she knew that if my vanity was once allowed to get
the upper hand it would be difficult afterwards to bring it under
control. So neither my poetic abilities nor my powers of song readily
received any praise from her; rather would she never let slip an
opportunity of praising somebody else's singing at my expense; with the
result that I gradually became quite convinced of the defects of my
voice. Misgivings about my poetic powers also assailed me; but, as this
was the only field of activity left in which I had any chance of
retaining my self-respect, I could not allow the judgment of another to
deprive me of all hope; moreover, so insistent was the spur within me
that to stop my poetic adventure was a matter of sheer impossibility.

(20) _Publishing_

My writings so far had been confined to the family circle. Then was
started the monthly called the _Gyanankur_, Sprouting Knowledge, and, as
befitted its name it secured an embryo poet as one of its contributors.
It began to publish all my poetic ravings indiscriminately, and to this
day I have, in a corner of my mind, the fear that, when the day of
judgment comes for me, some enthusiastic literary police-agent will
institute a search in the inmost zenana of forgotten literature,
regardless of the claims of privacy, and bring these out before the
pitiless public gaze.

My first prose writing also saw the light in the pages of the
_Gyanankur_. It was a critical essay and had a bit of a history.

A book of poems had been published entitled _Bhubanmohini Pratibha_.[37]
Akshay Babu in the _Sadharani_ and Bhudeb Babu in the _Education
Gazette_ hailed this new poet with effusive acclamation. A friend of
mine, older than myself, whose friendship dates from then, would come
and show me letters he had received signed _Bhubanmohini_. He was one of
those whom the book had captivated and used frequently to send
reverential offerings of books or cloth[38] to the address of the
reputed authoress.

Some of these poems were so wanting in restraint both of thought and
language that I could not bear the idea of their being written by a
woman. The letters that were shown to me made it still less possible for
me to believe in the womanliness of the writer. But my doubts did not
shake my friend's devotion and he went on with the worship of his idol.

Then I launched into a criticism of the work of this writer. I let
myself go, and eruditely held forth on the distinctive features of
lyrics and other short poems, my great advantage being that printed
matter is so unblushing, so impassively unbetraying of the writer's real
attainments. My friend turned up in a great passion and hurled at me the
threat that a B.A. was writing a reply. A B.A.! I was struck
speechless. I felt the same as in my younger days when my nephew Satya
had shouted for a policeman. I could see the triumphal pillar of
argument, erected upon my nice distinctions, crumbling before my eyes at
the merciless assaults of authoritative quotations; and the door
effectually barred against my ever showing my face to the reading public
again. Alas, my critique, under what evil star wert thou born! I spent
day after day in the direst suspense. But, like Satya's policeman, the
B.A. failed to appear.

(21) _Bhanu Singha_

As I have said I was a keen student of the series of old Vaishnava poems
which were being collected and published by Babus Akshay Sarkar and
Saroda Mitter. Their language, largely mixed with Maithili, I found
difficult to understand; but for that very reason I took all the more
pains to get at their meaning. My feeling towards them was that same
eager curiosity with which I regarded the ungerminated sprout within
the seed, or the undiscovered mystery under the dust covering of the
earth. My enthusiasm was kept up with the hope of bringing to light some
unknown poetical gems as I went deeper and deeper into the unexplored
darkness of this treasure-house.

While I was so engaged, the idea got hold of me of enfolding my own
writings in just such a wrapping of mystery. I had heard from Akshay
Chowdhury the story of the English boy-poet Chatterton. What his poetry
was like I had no idea, nor perhaps had Akshay Babu himself. Had we
known, the story might have lost its charm. As it happened the
melodramatic element in it fired my imagination; for had not so many
been deceived by his successful imitation of the classics? And at last
the unfortunate youth had died by his own hand. Leaving aside the
suicide part I girded up my loins to emulate young Chatterton's

One noon the clouds had gathered thickly. Rejoicing in the grateful
shade of the cloudy midday rest-hour, I lay prone on the bed in my inner
room and wrote on a slate the imitation _Maithili_ poem _Gahana kusuma
kunja majhe_. I was greatly pleased with it and lost no time in reading
it out to the first one I came across; of whose understanding a word of
it there happened to be not the slightest danger, and who consequently
could not but gravely nod and say, "Good, very good indeed!"

To my friend mentioned a while ago I said one day: "A tattered old
manuscript has been discovered while rummaging in the _Adi Brahma Samaj_
library and from this I have copied some poems by an old Vaishnava Poet
named Bhanu Singha;"[39] with which I read some of my imitation poems to
him. He was profoundly stirred. "These could not have been written even
by _Vidyapati_ or _Chandidas_!" he rapturously exclaimed. "I really must
have that MS. to make over to Akshay Babu for publication."

Then I showed him my manuscript book and conclusively proved that the
poems could not have been written by either _Vidyapati_ or _Chandidas_
because the author happened to be myself. My friend's face fell as he
muttered, "Yes, yes, they're not half bad."

When these Bhanu Singha poems were coming out in the _Bharati_, Dr.
Nishikanta Chatterjee was in Germany. He wrote a thesis on the lyric
poetry of our country comparing it with that of Europe. Bhanu Singha was
given a place of honour as one of the old poets such as no modern writer
could have aspired to. This was the thesis on which Nishikanta
Chatterjee got his Ph. D.!

Whoever Bhanu Singha might have been, had his writings fallen into the
hands of latter-day me, I swear I would not have been deceived. The
language might have passed muster; for that which the old poets wrote in
was not their mother tongue, but an artificial language varying in the
hands of different poets. But there was nothing artificial about their
sentiments. Any attempt to test Bhanu Singha's poetry by its ring would
have shown up the base metal. It had none of the ravishing melody of our
ancient pipes, but only the tinkle of a modern, foreign barrel organ.

(22) _Patriotism_

From an outside point of view many a foreign custom would appear to have
gained entry into our family, but at its heart flames a national pride
which has never flickered. The genuine regard which my father had for
his country never forsook him through all the revolutionary vicissitudes
of his life, and this in his descendants has taken shape as a strong
patriotic feeling. Love of country was, however, by no means a
characteristic of the times of which I am writing. Our educated men then
kept at arms' length both the language and thought of their native
land. Nevertheless my elder brothers had always cultivated Bengali
literature. When on one occasion some new connection by marriage wrote
my father an English letter it was promptly returned to the writer.

The _Hindu Mela_ was an annual fair which had been instituted with the
assistance of our house. Babu Nabagopal Mitter was appointed its
manager. This was perhaps the first attempt at a reverential realisation
of India as our motherland. My second brother's popular national anthem
"_Bharater Jaya_," was composed, then. The singing of songs glorifying
the motherland, the recitation of poems of the love of country, the
exhibition of indigenous arts and crafts and the encouragement of
national talent and skill were the features of this _Mela_.

On the occasion of Lord Curzon's Delhi durbar I wrote a prose-paper--at
the time of Lord Lytton's it was a poem. The British Government of those
days feared the Russians it is true, but not the pen of a 14-year old
poet. So, though my poem lacked none of the fiery sentiments appropriate
to my age, there were no signs of any consternation in the ranks of the
authorities from Commander-in-chief down to Commissioner of Police. Nor
did any lachrymose letter in the _Times_ predict a speedy downfall of
the Empire for this apathy of its local guardians. I recited my poem
under a tree at the Hindu Mela and one of my hearers was Nabin Sen, the
poet. He reminded me of this after I had grown up.

My fourth brother, Jyotirindra, was responsible for a political
association of which old Rajnarain Bose was the president. It held its
sittings in a tumbledown building in an obscure Calcutta lane. Its
proceedings were enshrouded in mystery. This mystery was its only claim
to be awe-inspiring, for as a matter of fact there was nothing in our
deliberations or doings of which government or people need have been
afraid. The rest of our family had no idea where we were spending our
afternoons. Our front door would be locked, the meeting room in
darkness, the watchword a Vedic _mantra_, our talk in whispers. These
alone provided us with enough of a thrill, and we wanted nothing more.
Mere child as I was, I also was a member. We surrounded ourselves with
such an atmosphere of pure frenzy that we always seemed to be soaring
aloft on the wings of our enthusiasm. Of bashfulness, diffidence or fear
we had none, our main object being to bask in the heat of our own

Bravery may sometimes have its drawbacks; but it has always maintained a
deep hold on the reverence of mankind. In the literature of all
countries we find an unflagging endeavour to keep alive this reverence.
So in whatever state a particular set of men in a particular locality
may be, they cannot escape the constant impact of these stimulating
shocks. We had to be content with responding to such shocks, as best we
could, by letting loose our imagination, coming together, talking tall
and singing fervently.

There can be no doubt that closing up all outlets and barring all
openings to a faculty so deep-seated in the nature of man, and moreover
so prized by him, creates an unnatural condition favourable to
degenerate activity. It is not enough to keep open only the avenues to
clerical employment in any comprehensive scheme of Imperial
Government--if no road be left for adventurous daring the soul of man
will pine for deliverance, and secret passages still be sought, of which
the pathways are tortuous and the end unthinkable. I firmly believe that
if in those days Government had paraded a frightfulness born of
suspicion, then the comedy which the youthful members of this
association had been at might have turned into grim tragedy. The play,
however, is over, not a brick of Fort-William is any the worse, and we
are now smiling at its memory.

My brother Jyotirindra began to busy himself with a national costume
for all India, and submitted various designs to the association. The
_Dhoti_ was not deemed business-like; trousers were too foreign; so he
hit upon a compromise which considerably detracted from the dhoti while
failing to improve the trousers. That is to say, the trousers were
decorated with the addition of a false dhoti-fold in front and behind.
The fearsome thing that resulted from combining a turban with a
_Sola-topee_ our most enthusiastic member would not have had the
temerity to call ornamental. No person of ordinary courage could have
dared it, but my brother unflinchingly wore the complete suit in broad
day-light, passing through the house of an afternoon to the carriage
waiting outside, indifferent alike to the stare of relation or friend,
door-keeper or coachman. There may be many a brave Indian ready to die
for his country, but there are but few, I am sure, who even for the good
of the nation would face the public streets in such pan-Indian garb.

Every Sunday my brother would get up a _Shikar_ party. Many of those who
joined in it, uninvited, we did not even know. There was a carpenter, a
smith and others from all ranks of society. Bloodshed was the only thing
lacking in this _shikar_, at least I cannot recall any. Its other
appendages were so abundant and satisfying that we felt the absence of
dead or wounded game to be a trifling circumstance of no account. As we
were out from early morning, my sister-in-law furnished us with a
plentiful supply of _luchis_ with appropriate accompaniments; and as
these did not depend upon the fortunes of our chase we never had to
return empty.

The neighbourhood of Maniktola is not wanting in Villa-gardens. We would
turn into any one of these at the end, and high-and low-born alike,
seated on the bathing platform of a tank, would fling ourselves on the
_luchis_ in right good earnest, all that was left of them being the
vessels they were brought in.

Braja Babu was one of the most enthusiastic of these blood-thirstless
_shikaris_. He was the Superintendent of the Metropolitan Institution
and had also been our private tutor for a time. One day he had the happy
idea of accosting the _mali_ (gardener) of a villa-garden into which we
had thus trespassed with: "Hallo, has uncle been here lately!" The
_mali_ lost no time in saluting him respectfully before he replied: "No,
Sir, the master hasn't been lately." "All right, get us some green
cocoanuts off the trees." We had a fine drink after our _luchis_ that

A Zamindar in a small way was among our party. He owned a villa on the
river side. One day we had a picnic there together, in defiance of caste
rules. In the afternoon there was a tremendous storm. We stood on the
river-side stairs leading into the water and shouted out songs to its
accompaniment. I cannot truthfully assert that all the seven notes of
the scale could properly be distinguished in Rajnarain Babu's singing,
nevertheless he sent forth his voice and, as in the old Sanskrit works
the text is drowned by the notes, so in Rajnarain Babu's musical efforts
the vigorous play of his limbs and features overwhelmed his feebler
vocal performance; his head swung from side to side marking time, while
the storm played havoc with his flowing beard. It was late in the night
when we turned homewards in a hackney carriage. By that time the storm
clouds had dispersed and the stars twinkled forth. The darkness had
become intense, the atmosphere silent, the village roads deserted, and
the thickets on either side filled with fireflies like a carnival of
sparks scattered in some noiseless revelry.

One of the objects of our association was to encourage the manufacture
of lucifer matches, and similar small industries. For this purpose each
member had to contribute a tenth of his income. Matches had to be made,
but matchwood was difficult to get; for though we all know with what
fiery energy a bundle of _khangras_[40] can be wielded in capable hands,
the thing that burns at its touch is not a lamp wick. After many
experiments we succeeded in making a boxful of matches. The patriotic
enthusiasm which was thus evidenced did not constitute their only value,
for the money that was spent in their making might have served to light
the family hearth for the space of a year. Another little defect was
that these matches could not be got to burn unless there was a light
handy to touch them up with. If they could only have inherited some of
the patriotic flame of which they were born they might have been
marketable even to-day.

News came to us that some young student was trying to make a power loom.
Off we went to see it. None of us had the knowledge with which to test
its practical usefulness, but in our capacity for believing and hoping
we were inferior to none. The poor fellow had got into a bit of debt
over the cost of his machine which we repaid for him. Then one day we
found Braja Babu coming over to our house with a flimsy country towel
tied round his head. "Made in our loom!" he shouted as with hands
uplifted he executed a war-dance. The outside of Braja Babu's head had
then already begun to ripen into grey!

At last some worldly-wise people came and joined our society, made us
taste of the fruit of knowledge, and broke up our little paradise.

When I first knew Rajnarain Babu, I was not old enough to appreciate his
many-sidedness. In him were combined many opposites. In spite of his
hoary hair and beard he was as young as the youngest of us, his
venerable exterior serving only as a white mantle for keeping his youth
perpetually fresh. Even his extensive learning had not been able to do
him any damage, for it left him absolutely simple. To the end of his
life the incessant flow of his hearty laughter suffered no check,
neither from the gravity of age, nor ill-health, nor domestic
affliction, nor profundity of thought, nor variety of knowledge, all of
which had been his in ample measure. He had been a favourite pupil of
Richardson and brought up in an atmosphere of English learning,
nevertheless he flung aside all obstacles due to his early habit and
gave himself up lovingly and devotedly to Bengali literature. Though the
meekest of men, he was full of fire which flamed its fiercest in his
patriotism, as though to burn to ashes the shortcomings and destitution
of his country. The memory of this smile-sweetened fervour-illumined
lifelong-youthful saint is one that is worth cherishing by our

(23) _The Bharati_

On the whole the period of which I am writing was for me one of ecstatic
excitement. Many a night have I spent without sleep, not for any
particular reason but from a mere desire to do the reverse of the
obvious. I would keep up reading in the dim light of our school room all
alone; the distant church clock would chime every quarter as if each
passing hour was being put up to auction; and the loud _Haribols_ of the
bearers of the dead, passing along Chitpore Road on their way to the
Nimtollah cremation ground, would now and then resound. Through some
summer moonlight nights I would be wandering about like an unquiet
spirit among the lights and shadows of the tubs and pots on the garden
of the roof-terrace.

Those who would dismiss this as sheer poetising would be wrong. The very
earth in spite of its having aged considerably surprises us occasionally
by its departure from sober stability; in the days of its youth, when
it had not become hardened and crusty, it was effusively volcanic and
indulged in many a wild escapade. In the days of man's first youth the
same sort of thing happens. So long as the materials which go to form
his life have not taken on their final shape they are apt to be
turbulent in the process of their formation.

This was the time when my brother Jyotirindra decided to start the
_Bharati_ with our eldest brother as editor, giving us fresh food for
enthusiasm. I was then just sixteen, but I was not left out of the
editorial staff. A short time before, in all the insolence of my
youthful vanity, I had written a criticism of the _Meghanadabadha_. As
acidity is characteristic of the unripe mango so is abuse of the
immature critic. When other powers are lacking, the power of pricking
seems to be at its sharpest. I had thus sought immortality by leaving my
scratches on that immortal epic. This impudent criticism was my first
contribution to the Bharati.

In the first volume I also published a long poem called _Kavikahini_,
The Poet's Story. It was the product of an age when the writer had seen
practically nothing of the world except an exaggerated image of his own
nebulous self. So the hero of the story was naturally a poet, not the
writer as he was, but as he imagined or desired himself to seem. It
would hardly be correct to say that he desired to _be_ what he
portrayed; that represented more what he thought was expected of him,
what would make the world admiringly nod and say: "Yes, a poet indeed,
quite the correct thing." In it was a great parade of universal love,
that pet subject of the budding poet, which sounds as big as it is easy
to talk about. While yet any truth has not dawned upon one's own mind,
and others' words are one's only stock-in-trade, simplicity and
restraint in expression are not possible. Then, in the endeavour to
display magnified that which is really big in itself, it becomes
impossible to avoid a grotesque and ridiculous exhibition.

When I blush to read these effusions of my boyhood I am also struck with
the fear that very possibly in my later writings the same distortion,
wrought by straining after effect, lurks in a less obvious form. The
loudness of my voice, I doubt not, often drowns the thing I would say;
and some day or other Time will find me out.

The _Kavikahini_ was the first work of mine to appear in book form. When
I went with my second brother to Ahmedabad, some enthusiastic friend of
mine took me by surprise by printing and publishing it and sending me a
copy. I cannot say that he did well, but the feeling that was roused in
me at the time did not resemble that of an indignant judge. He got his
punishment, however, not from the author, but from the public who hold
the purse strings. I have heard that the dead load of the books lay, for
many a long day, heavy on the shelves of the booksellers and the mind of
the luckless publisher.

Writings of the age at which I began to contribute to the _Bharati_
cannot possibly be fit for publication. There is no better way of
ensuring repentance at maturity than to rush into print too early. But
it has one redeeming feature: the irresistible impulse to see one's
writings in print exhausts itself during early life. Who are the
readers, what do they say, what printers' errors have remained
uncorrected, these and the like worries run their course as infantile
maladies and leave one leisure in later life to attend to one's literary
work in a healthier frame of mind.

Bengali literature is not old enough to have elaborated those internal
checks which can serve to control its votaries. As experience in writing
is gained the Bengali writer has to evolve the restraining force from
within himself. This makes it impossible for him to avoid the creation
of a great deal of rubbish during a considerable length of time. The
ambition to work wonders with the modest gifts at one's disposal is
bound to be an obsession in the beginning, so that the effort to
transcend at every step one's natural powers, and therewith the bounds
of truth and beauty, is always visible in early writings. To recover
one's normal self, to learn to respect one's powers as they are, is a
matter of time.

However that may be, I have left much of youthful folly to be ashamed
of, besmirching the pages of the _Bharati_; and this shames me not for
its literary defects alone but for its atrocious impudence, its
extravagant excesses and its high-sounding artificiality. At the same
time I am free to recognise that the writings of that period were
pervaded with an enthusiasm the value of which cannot be small. It was a
period to which, if error was natural, so was the boyish faculty of
hoping, believing and rejoicing. And if the fuel of error was necessary
for feeding the flame of enthusiasm then while that which was fit to be
reduced to ashes will have become ash, the good work done by the flame
will not have been in vain in my life.


(24) _Ahmedabad_

When the _Bharati_ entered upon its second year, my second brother
proposed to take me to England; and when my father gave his consent,
this further unasked favour of providence came on me as a surprise.

As a first step I accompanied my brother to Ahmedabad where he was
posted as judge. My sister-in-law with her children was then in England,
so the house was practically empty.

The Judge's house is known as _Shahibagh_ and was a palace of the
Badshahs of old. At the foot of the wall supporting a broad terrace
flowed the thin summer stream of the Savarmati river along one edge of
its ample bed of sand. My brother used to go off to his court, and I
would be left all alone in the vast expanse of the palace, with only the
cooing of the pigeons to break the midday stillness; and an
unaccountable curiosity kept me wandering about the empty rooms.

Into the niches in the wall of a large chamber my brother had put his
books. One of these was a gorgeous edition of Tennyson's works, with big
print and numerous pictures. The book, for me, was as silent as the
palace, and, much in the same way I wandered among its picture plates.
Not that I could not make anything of the text, but it spoke to me more
like inarticulate cooings than words. In my brother's library I also
found a book of collected Sanskrit poems edited by Dr. Haberlin and
printed at the old Serampore press. This was also beyond my
understanding but the sonorous Sanskrit words, and the march of the
metre, kept me tramping among the _Amaru Shataka_ poems to the mellow
roll of their drum call.

In the upper room of the palace tower was my lonely hermit cell, my only
companions being a nest of wasps. In the unrelieved darkness of the
night I slept there alone. Sometimes a wasp or two would drop off the
nest on to my bed, and if perchance I happened to roll on one, the
meeting was unpleasing to the wasp and keenly discomforting to me.

On moonlight nights pacing round and round the extensive terrace
overlooking the river was one of my caprices. It was while so doing that
I first composed my own tunes for my songs. The song addressed to the
Rose-maiden was one of these, and it still finds a place in my published

Finding how imperfect was my knowledge of English I set to work reading
through some English books with the help of a dictionary. From my
earliest years it was my habit not to let any want of complete
comprehension interfere with my reading on, quite satisfied with the
structure which my imagination reared on the bits which I understood
here and there. I am reaping even to-day both the good and bad effects
of this habit.

(25) _England_

After six months thus spent in Ahmedabad we started for England. In an
unlucky moment I began to write letters about my journey to my relatives
and to the _Bharati_. Now it is beyond my power to call them back. These
were nothing but the outcome of youthful bravado. At that age the mind
refuses to admit that its greatest pride is in its power to understand,
to accept, to respect; and that modesty is the best means of enlarging
its domain. Admiration and praise are looked upon as a sign of weakness
or surrender, and the desire to cry down and hurt and demolish with
argument gives rise to this kind of intellectual fireworks. These
attempts of mine to establish my superiority by revilement might have
occasioned me amusement to-day, had not their want of straightness and
common courtesy been too painful.

From my earliest years I had had practically no commerce with the
outside world. To be plunged in this state, at the age of 17, into the
midst of the social sea of England would have justified considerable
misgiving as to my being able to keep afloat. But as my sister-in-law
happened to be in Brighton with her children I weathered the first shock
of it under her shelter.

Winter was then approaching. One evening as we were chatting round the
fireside, the children came running to us with the exciting news that it
had been snowing. We at once went out. It was bitingly cold, the sky
filled with white moonlight, the earth covered with white snow. It was
not the face of Nature familiar to me, but something quite
different--like a dream. Everything near seemed to have receded far
away, leaving the still white figure of an ascetic steeped in deep
meditation. The sudden revelation, on the mere stepping outside a door,
of such wonderful, such immense beauty had never before come upon me.

My days passed merrily under the affectionate care of my sister-in-law
and in boisterous rompings with the children. They were greatly tickled
at my curious English pronunciation, and though in the rest of their
games I could whole-heartedly join, this I failed to see the fun of. How
could I explain to them that there was no logical means of
distinguishing between the sound of _a_ in warm and _o_ in worm.
Unlucky that I was, I had to bear the brunt of the ridicule which was
more properly the due of the vagaries of English spelling.

I became quite an adept in inventing new ways of keeping the children
occupied and amused. This art has stood me in good stead many a time
thereafter, and its usefulness for me is not yet over. But I no longer
feel in myself the same unbounded profusion of ready contrivance. That
was the first opportunity I had for giving my heart to children, and it
had all the freshness and overflowing exuberance of such a first gift.

But I had not set out on this journey to exchange a home beyond the seas
for the one on this side. The idea was that I should study Law and come
back a barrister. So one day I was put into a public school in Brighton.
The first thing the Headmaster said after scanning my features was:
"What a splendid head you have!" This detail lingers in my memory
because she, who at home was an enthusiast in her self-imposed duty of
keeping my vanity in check, had impressed on me that my cranium[41] and
features generally, compared with that of many another were barely of a
medium order. I hope the reader will not fail to count it to my credit
that I implicitly believed her, and inwardly deplored the parsimony of
the Creator in the matter of my making. On many another occasion,
finding myself estimated by my English acquaintances differently from
what I had been accustomed to be by her, I was led to seriously worry my
mind over the divergence in the standard of taste between the two

One thing in the Brighton school seemed very wonderful: the other boys
were not at all rude to me. On the contrary they would often thrust
oranges and apples into my pockets and run away. I can only ascribe this
uncommon behaviour of theirs to my being a foreigner.

I was not long in this school either--but that was no fault of the
school. Mr. Tarak Palit[42] was then in England. He could see that this
was not the way for me to get on, and prevailed upon my brother to allow
him to take me to London, and leave me there to myself in a lodging
house. The lodgings selected faced the Regent Gardens. It was then the
depth of winter. There was not a leaf on the row of trees in front which
stood staring at the sky with their scraggy snow-covered branches--a
sight which chilled my very bones.

For the newly arrived stranger there can hardly be a more cruel place
than London in winter. I knew no one near by, nor could I find my way
about. The days of sitting alone at a window, gazing at the outside
world, came back into my life. But the scene in this case was not
attractive. There was a frown on its countenance; the sky turbid; the
light lacking lustre like a dead man's eye; the horizon shrunk upon
itself; with never an inviting smile from a broad hospitable world. The
room was but scantily furnished, but there happened to be a harmonium
which, after the daylight came to its untimely end, I used to play upon
according to my fancy. Sometimes Indians would come to see me; and,
though my acquaintance with them was but slight, when they rose to leave
I felt inclined to hold them back by their coat-tails.

While living in these rooms there was one who came to teach me Latin.
His gaunt figure with its worn-out clothing seemed no more able than the
naked trees to withstand the winter's grip. I do not know what his age
was but he clearly looked older than his years. Some days in the course
of our lessons he would suddenly be at a loss for some word and look
vacant and ashamed. His people at home counted him a crank. He had
become possessed of a theory. He believed that in each age some one
dominant idea is manifested in every human society in all parts of the
world; and though it may take different shapes under different degrees
of civilisation, it is at bottom one and the same; nor is such idea
taken from one by another by any process of adoption, for this truth
holds good even where there is no intercourse. His great preoccupation
was the gathering and recording of facts to prove this theory. And while
so engaged his home lacked food, his body clothes. His daughters had but
scant respect for his theory and were perhaps constantly upbraiding him
for his infatuation. Some days one could see from his face that he had
lighted upon some new proof, and that his thesis had correspondingly
advanced. On these occasions I would broach the subject, and wax
enthusiastic at his enthusiasm. On other days he would be steeped in
gloom, as if his burden was too heavy to bear. Then would our lessons
halt at every step; his eyes wander away into empty space; and his mind
refuse to be dragged into the pages of the first Latin Grammar. I felt
keenly for the poor body-starved theory-burdened soul, and though I was
under no delusion as to the assistance I got in my Latin, I could not
make up my mind to get rid of him. This pretence of learning Latin
lasted as long as I was at these lodgings. When on the eve of leaving
them I offered to settle his dues he said piteously: "I have done
nothing, and only wasted your time, I cannot accept any payment from
you." It was with great difficulty that I got him at last to take his

Though my Latin tutor had never ventured to trouble me with the proofs
of his theory, yet up to this day I do not disbelieve it. I am convinced
that the minds of men are connected through some deep-lying continuous
medium, and that a disturbance in one part is by it secretly
communicated to others.

Mr. Palit next placed me in the house of a coach named Barker. He used
to lodge and prepare students for their examinations. Except his mild
little wife there was not a thing with any pretensions to attractiveness
about this household. One can understand how such a tutor can get
pupils, for these poor creatures do not often get the chance of making a
choice. But it is painful to think of the conditions under which such
men get wives. Mrs. Barker had attempted to console herself with a pet
dog, but when Barker wanted to punish his wife he tortured the dog. So
that her affection for the unfortunate animal only made for an
enlargement of her field of sensibility.

From these surroundings, when my sister-in-law sent for me to Torquay in
Devonshire, I was only too glad to run off to her. I cannot tell how
happy I was with the hills there, the sea, the flower-covered meadows,
the shade of the pine woods, and my two little restlessly playful
companions. I was nevertheless sometimes tormented with questionings as
to why, when my eyes were so surfeited with beauty, my mind saturated
with joy, and my leisure-filled days crossing over the limitless blue of
space freighted with unalloyed happiness, there should be no call of
poetry to me. So one day off I went along the rocky shore, armed with
MS. book and umbrella, to fulfil my poet's destiny. The spot I selected
was of undoubted beauty, for that did not depend on my rhyme or fancy.
There was a flat bit of overhanging rock reaching out as with a
perpetual eagerness over the waters; rocked on the foam-flecked waves of
the liquid blue in front, the sunny sky slept smilingly to its lullaby;
behind, the shade of the fringe of pines lay spread like the slipped off
garment of some languorous wood nymph. Enthroned on that seat of stone I
wrote a poem _Magnatari_ (the sunken boat). I might have believed to-day
that it was good, had I taken the precaution of sinking it then in the
sea. But such consolation is not open to me, for it happens to be
existing in the body; and though banished from my published works, a
writ might yet cause it to be produced.

The messenger of duty however was not idle. Again came its call and I
returned to London. This time I found a refuge in the household of Dr.
Scott. One fine evening with bag and baggage I invaded his home. Only
the white haired Doctor, his wife and their eldest daughter were there.
The two younger girls, alarmed at this incursion of an Indian stranger
had gone off to stay with a relative. I think they came back home only
after they got the news of my not being dangerous.

In a very short time I became like one of the family. Mrs. Scott treated
me as a son, and the heartfelt kindness I got from her daughters is rare
even from one's own relations.

One thing struck me when living in this family--that human nature is
everywhere the same. We are fond of saying, and I also believed, that
the devotion of an Indian wife to her husband is something unique, and
not to be found in Europe. But I at least was unable to discern any
difference between Mrs. Scott and an ideal Indian wife. She was entirely
wrapped up in her husband. With their modest means there was no fussing
about of too many servants, and Mrs. Scott attended to every detail of
her husband's wants herself. Before he came back home from his work of
an evening, she would arrange his arm-chair and woollen slippers before
the fire with her own hands. She would never allow herself to forget for
a moment the things he liked, or the behaviour which pleased him. She
would go over the house every morning, with their only maid, from attic
to kitchen, and the brass rods on the stairs and the door knobs and
fittings would be scrubbed and polished till they shone again. Over and
above this domestic routine there were the many calls of social duty.
After getting through all her daily duties she would join with zest in
our evening readings and music, for it is not the least of the duties of
a good housewife to make real the gaiety of the leisure hour.

Some evenings I would join the girls in a table-turning seance. We would
place our fingers on a small tea table and it would go capering about
the room. It got to be so that whatever we touched began to quake and
quiver. Mrs. Scott did not quite like all this. She would sometimes
gravely shake her head and say she had her doubts about its being right.
She bore it bravely, however, not liking to put a damper on our youthful
spirits. But one day when we put our hands on Dr. Scott's chimneypot to
make it turn, that was too much for her. She rushed up in a great state
of mind and forbade us to touch it. She could not bear the idea of Satan
having anything to do, even for a moment, with her husband's head-gear.

In all her actions her reverence for her husband was the one thing that
stood out. The memory of her sweet self-abnegation makes it clear to me
that the ultimate perfection of all womanly love is to be found in
reverence; that where no extraneous cause has hampered its true
development woman's love naturally grows into worship. Where the
appointments of luxury are in profusion, and frivolity tarnishes both
day and night, this love is degraded, and woman's nature finds not the
joy of its perfection.

I spent some months here. Then it was time for my brother to return
home, and my father wrote to me to accompany him. I was delighted at the
prospect. The light of my country, the sky of my country, had been
silently calling me. When I said good bye Mrs. Scott took me by the hand
and wept. "Why did you come to us," she said, "if you must go so soon?"
That household no longer exists in London. Some of the members of the
Doctor's family have departed to the other world, others are scattered
in places unknown to me. But it will always live in my memory.

One winter's day, as I was passing through a street in Tunbridge Wells,
I saw a man standing on the road side. His bare toes were showing
through his gaping boots, his breast was partly uncovered. He said
nothing to me, perhaps because begging was forbidden, but he looked up
at my face just for a moment. The coin I gave him was perhaps more
valuable than he expected, for, after I had gone on a bit, he came after
me and said: "Sir, you have given me a gold piece by mistake," with
which he offered to return it to me. I might not have particularly
remembered this, but for a similar thing which happened on another
occasion. When I first reached the Torquay railway station a porter took
my luggage to the cab outside. After searching my purse for small change
in vain, I gave him half-a-crown as the cab started. After a while he
came running after us, shouting to the cabman to stop. I thought to
myself that finding me to be such an innocent he had hit upon some
excuse for demanding more. As the cab stopped he said: "You must have
mistaken a half-crown piece for a penny, Sir!"

I cannot say that I have never been cheated while in England, but not in
any way which it would be fair to hold in remembrance. What grew chiefly
upon me, rather, was the conviction that only those who are trustworthy
know how to trust. I was an unknown foreigner, and could have easily
evaded payment with impunity, yet no London shopkeeper ever mistrusted

During the whole period of my stay in England I was mixed up in a
farcical comedy which I had to play out from start to finish. I happened
to get acquainted with the widow of some departed high Anglo-Indian
official. She was good enough to call me by the pet-name Ruby. Some
Indian friend of hers had composed a doleful poem in English in memory
of her husband. It is needless to expatiate on its poetic merit or
felicity of diction. As my ill-luck would have it, the composer had
indicated that the dirge was to be chanted to the mode _Behaga_. So the
widow one day entreated me to sing it to her thus. Like the silly
innocent that I was, I weakly acceded. There was unfortunately no one
there but I who could realise the atrociously ludicrous way in which the
_Behaga_ mode combined with those absurd verses. The widow seemed
intensely touched to hear the Indian's lament for her husband sung to
its native melody. I thought that there the matter ended, but that was
not to be.

I frequently met the widowed lady at different social gatherings, and
when after dinner we joined the ladies in the drawing room, she would
ask me to sing that _Behaga_. Everyone else would anticipate some
extraordinary specimen of Indian music and would add their entreaties to
hers. Then from her pocket would come forth printed copies of that
fateful composition, and my ears begin to redden and tingle. And at
last, with bowed head and quavering voice I would have to make a
beginning--but too keenly conscious that to none else in the room but me
was this performance sufficiently heartrending. At the end, amidst much
suppressed tittering, there would come a chorus of "Thank you very
much!" "How interesting!" And in spite of its being winter I would
perspire all over. Who would have predicted at my birth or at his death
what a severe blow to me would be the demise of this estimable

Then, for a time, while I was living with Dr. Scott and attending
lectures at the University College, I lost touch with the widow. She was
in a suburban locality some distance away from London, and I frequently
got letters from her inviting me there. But my dread of that dirge kept
me from accepting these invitations. At length I got a pressing telegram
from her. I was on my way to college when this telegram reached me and
my stay in England was then about to come to its close. I thought to
myself I ought to see the widow once more before my departure, and so
yielded to her importunity.

Instead of coming home from college I went straight to the railway
station. It was a horrible day, bitterly cold, snowing and foggy. The
station I was bound for was the terminus of the line. So I felt quite
easy in mind and did not think it worth while to inquire about the time
of arrival.

All the station platforms were coming on the right hand side, and in the
right hand corner seat I had ensconced myself reading a book. It had
already become so dark that nothing was visible outside. One by one the
other passengers got down at their destinations. We reached and left the
station just before the last one. Then the train stopped again, but
there was nobody to be seen, nor any lights or platform. The mere
passenger has no means of divining why trains should sometimes stop at
the wrong times and places, so, giving up the attempt, I went on with my
reading. Then the train began to move backwards. There seems to be no
accounting for railway eccentricity, thought I as I once more returned
to my book. But when we came right back to the previous station, I could
remain indifferent no longer. "When are we getting to ----" I inquired
at the station. "You are just coming from there," was the reply. "Where
are we going now, then?" I asked, thoroughly flurried. "To London." I
thereupon understood that this was a shuttle train. On inquiring about
the next train to ---- I was informed that there were no more trains
that night. And in reply to my next question I gathered that there was
no inn within five miles.

I had left home after breakfast at ten in the morning, and had had
nothing since. When abstinence is the only choice, an ascetic frame of
mind comes easy. I buttoned up my thick overcoat to the neck and seating
myself under a platform lamp went on with my reading. The book I had
with me was Spencer's _Data of Ethics_, then recently published. I
consoled myself with the thought that I might never get another such
opportunity of concentrating my whole attention on such a subject.

After a short time a porter came and informed me that a special was
running and would be in in half an hour. I felt so cheered up by the
news that I could not go on any longer with the _Data of Ethics_. Where
I was due at seven I arrived at length at nine. "What is this, Ruby?"
asked my hostess. "Whatever have you been doing with yourself?" I was
unable to take much pride in the account of my wonderful adventures
which I gave her. Dinner was over; nevertheless, as my misfortune was
hardly my fault, I did not expect condign punishment, especially as the
dispenser was a woman. But all that the widow of the high Anglo-Indian
official said to me was: "Come along, Ruby, have a cup of tea."

I never was a tea-drinker, but in the hope that it might be of some
assistance in allaying my consuming hunger I managed to swallow a cup of
strong decoction with a couple of dry biscuits. When I at length reached
the drawing room I found a gathering of elderly ladies and among them
one pretty young American who was engaged to a nephew of my hostess and
seemed busy going through the usual premarital love passages.

"Let's have some dancing," said my hostess. I was neither in the mood
nor bodily condition for that exercise. But it is the docile who achieve
the most impossible things in this world; so, though the dance was
primarily got up for the benefit of the engaged couple, I had to dance
with the ladies of considerably advanced age, with only the tea and
biscuits between myself and starvation.

But my sorrows did not end here. "Where are you putting up for the
night?" asked my hostess. This was a question for which I was not
prepared. While I stared at her, speechless, she explained that as the
local inn would close at midnight I had better betake myself thither
without further delay. Hospitality, however, was not entirely wanting
for I had not to find the inn unaided, a servant showing me the way
there with a lantern. At first I thought this might prove a blessing in
disguise, and at once proceeded to make inquiries for food: flesh, fish
or vegetable, hot or cold, anything! I was told that drinks I could have
in any variety but nothing to eat. Then I looked to slumber for
forgetfulness, but there seemed to be no room even in her
world-embracing lap. The sand-stone floor of the bed-room was icy cold,
an old bedstead and worn-out wash-stand being its only furniture.

In the morning the Anglo-Indian widow sent for me to breakfast. I found
a cold repast spread out, evidently the remnants of last night's dinner.
A small portion of this, lukewarm or cold, offered to me last night
could not have hurt anyone, while my dancing might then have been less
like the agonised wrigglings of a landed carp.

After breakfast my hostess informed me that the lady for whose
delectation I had been invited to sing was ill in bed, and that I would
have to serenade her from her bed-room door. I was made to stand up on
the staircase landing. Pointing to a closed door the widow said: "That's
where she is." And I gave voice to that _Behaga_ dirge facing the
mysterious unknown on the other side. Of what happened to the invalid as
the result I have yet received no news.

After my return to London I had to expiate in bed the consequences of my
fatuous complaisance. Dr. Scott's girls implored me, on my conscience,
not to take this as a sample of English hospitality. It was the effect
of India's salt, they protested.

(26) _Loken Palit_

While I was attending lectures on English literature at the University
College, Loken Palit was my class fellow. He was about 4 years younger
than I. At the age I am writing these reminiscences a difference of 4
years is not perceptible. But it is difficult for friendship to bridge
the gulf between 17 and 13. Lacking the weight of years the boy is
always anxious to keep up the dignity of seniority. But this did not
raise any barrier in my mind in the case of the boy Loken, for I could
not feel that he was in any way my junior.

Boy and girl students sat together in the College library for study.
This was the place for our tete-a-tete. Had we been fairly quiet about
it none need have complained, but my young friend was so surcharged with
high spirits that at the least provocation they would burst forth as
laughter. In all countries girls have a perverse degree of application
to their studies, and I feel repentant as I recall the multitude of
reproachful blue eyes which vainly showered disapprobation on our
unrestrained merriment. But in those days I felt not the slightest
sympathy with the distress of disturbed studiousness. By the grace of
Providence I have never had a headache in my life, nor a moment of
compunction for interrupted school studies.

With our laughter as an almost unbroken accompaniment we managed also to
do a bit of literary discussion, and, though Loken's reading of Bengali
literature was less extensive than mine, he made up for that by the
keenness of his intellect. Among the subjects we discussed was Bengali

The way it arose was this. One of the Scott girls wanted me to teach her
Bengali. When taking her through the alphabet I expressed my pride that
Bengali spelling has a conscience, and does not delight in overstepping
rules at every step. I made clear to her how laughable would have been
the waywardness of English spelling but for the tragic compulsion we
were under to cram it for our examinations. But my pride had a fall. It
transpired that Bengali spelling was quite as impatient of bondage, but
that habit had blinded me to its transgressions.

Then I began to search for the laws regulating its lawlessness. I was
quite surprised at the wonderful assistance which Loken proved to be in
this matter.

After Loken had got into the Indian Civil Service, and returned home,
the work, which had in the University College library had its source in
rippling merriment, flowed on in a widening stream. Loken's boisterous
delight in literature was as the wind in the sails of my literary
adventure. And when at the height of my youth I was driving the tandem
of prose and poetry at a furious rate, Loken's unstinted appreciation
kept my energies from flagging for a moment. Many an extraordinary prose
or poetical flight have I taken in his bungalow in the moffussil. On
many an occasion did our literary and musical gatherings assemble under
the auspices of the evening star to disperse, as did the lamplights at
the breezes of dawn, under the morning star.

Of the many lotus flowers at _Saraswati's_[43] feet the blossom of
friendship must be her favorite. I have not come across much of golden
pollen in her lotus bank, but have nothing to complain of as regards the
profusion of the sweet savour of good-fellowship.

(27) _The Broken Heart_

While in England I began another poem, which I went on with during my
journey home, and finished after my return. This was published under the
name of _Bhagna Hriday_, The Broken Heart. At the time I thought it
very good. There was nothing strange in the writer's thinking so; but it
did not fail to gain the appreciation of the readers of the time as
well. I remember how, after it came out, the chief minister of the late
Raja of Tipperah called on me solely to deliver the message that the
Raja admired the poem and entertained high hopes of the writer's future
literary career.

About this poem of my eighteenth year let me set down here what I wrote
in a letter when I was thirty:

     When I began to write the _Bhagna Hriday_ I was
     eighteen--neither in my childhood nor my youth. This
     borderland age is not illumined with the direct rays of
     Truth;--its reflection is seen here and there, and the rest
     is shadow. And like twilight shades its imaginings are
     long-drawn and vague, making the real world seem like a
     world of phantasy. The curious part of it is that not only
     was I eighteen, but everyone around me seemed to be eighteen
     likewise; and we all flitted about in the same baseless,
     substanceless world of imagination, where even the most
     intense joys and sorrows seemed like the joys and sorrows of
     dreamland. There being nothing real to weigh them against,
     the trivial did duty for the great.

This period of my life, from the age of fifteen or sixteen to twenty-two
or twenty-three, was one of utter disorderliness.

When, in the early ages of the Earth, land and water had not yet
distinctly separated, huge misshapen amphibious creatures walked the
trunk-less forests growing on the oozing silt. Thus do the passions of
the dim ages of the immature mind, as disproportionate and curiously
shaped, haunt the unending shades of its trackless, nameless
wildernesses. They know not themselves, nor the aim of their wanderings;
and, because they do not, they are ever apt to imitate something else.
So, at this age of unmeaning activity, when my undeveloped powers,
unaware of and unequal to their object, were jostling each other for an
outlet, each sought to assert superiority through exaggeration.

When milk-teeth are trying to push their way through, they work the
infant into a fever. All this agitation finds no justification till the
teeth are out and have begun assisting in the absorption of food. In the
same way do our early passions torment the mind, like a malady, till
they realise their true relationship with the outer world.

The lessons I learnt from my experiences at that stage are to be found
in every moral text-book, but are not therefore to be despised. That
which keeps our appetites confined within us, and checks their free
access to the outside, poisons our life. Such is selfishness which
refuses to give free play to our desires, and prevents them from
reaching their real goal, and that is why it is always accompanied by
festering untruths and extravagances. When our desires find unlimited
freedom in good work they shake off their diseased condition and come
back to their own nature;--that is their true end, there also is the joy
of their being.

The condition of my immature mind which I have described was fostered
both by the example and precept of the time, and I am not sure that the
effects of these are not lingering on to the present day. Glancing back
at the period of which I tell, it strikes me that we had gained more of
stimulation than of nourishment out of English Literature. Our literary
gods then were Shakespeare, Milton and Byron; and the quality in their
work which stirred us most was strength of passion. In the social life
of Englishmen passionate outbursts are kept severely in check, for which
very reason, perhaps, they so dominate their literature, making its
characteristic to be the working out of extravagantly vehement feelings
to an inevitable conflagration. At least this uncontrolled excitement
was what we learnt to look on as the quintessence of English literature.

[Illustration: Moonlight]

In the impetuous declamation of English poetry by Akshay Chowdhury, our
initiator into English literature, there was the wildness of
intoxication. The frenzy of Romeo's and Juliet's love, the fury of King
Lear's impotent lamentation, the all-consuming fire of Othello's
jealousy, these were the things that roused us to enthusiastic
admiration. Our restricted social life, our narrower field of activity,
was hedged in with such monotonous uniformity that tempestuous feelings
found no entrance;--all was as calm and quiet as could be. So our hearts
naturally craved the life-bringing shock of the passionate emotion in
English literature. Ours was not the æsthetic enjoyment of literary art,
but the jubilant welcome by stagnation of a turbulent wave, even though
it should stir up to the surface the slime of the bottom.

Shakespeare's contemporary literature represents the war-dance of the
day when the Renascence came to Europe in all the violence of its
reaction against the severe curbing and cramping of the hearts of men.
The examination of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, was not the main
object,--man then seemed consumed with the anxiety to break through all
barriers to the inmost sanctuary of his being, there to discover the
ultimate image of his own violent desire. That is why in this literature
we find such poignant, such exuberant, such unbridled expression.

The spirit of this bacchanalian revelry of Europe found entrance into
our demurely well-behaved social world, woke us up, and made us lively.
We were dazzled by the glow of unfettered life which fell upon our
custom-smothered heart, pining for an opportunity to disclose itself.

There was another such day in English literature when the slow-measure
of Pope's common time gave place to the dance-rhythm of the French
revolution. This had Byron for its poet. And the impetuosity of his
passion also moved our veiled heart-bride in the seclusion of her

In this wise did the excitement of the pursuit of English literature
come to sway the heart of the youth of our time, and at mine the waves
of this excitement kept beating from every side. The first awakening is
the time for the play of energy, not its repression.

And yet our case was so different from that of Europe. There the
excitability and impatience of bondage was a reflection from its history
into its literature. Its expression was consistent with its feeling. The
roaring of the storm was heard because a storm was really raging. The
breeze therefrom that ruffled our little world sounded in reality but
little above a murmur. Therein it failed to satisfy our minds, so that
our attempts to imitate the blast of a hurricane led us easily into
exaggeration,--a tendency which still persists and may not prove easy of

And for this, the fact that in English literature the reticence of true
art has not yet appeared, is responsible. Human emotion is only one of
the ingredients of literature and not its end,--which is the beauty of
perfect fulness consisting in simplicity and restraint. This is a
proposition which English literature does not yet fully admit.

Our minds from infancy to old age are being moulded by this English
literature alone. But other literatures of Europe, both classical and
modern, of which the art-form shows the well-nourished development due
to a systematic cultivation of self-control, are not subjects of our
study; and so, as it seems to me, we are yet unable to arrive at a
correct perception of the true aim and method of literary work.

Akshay Babu, who had made the passion in English literature living to
us, was himself a votary of the emotional life. The importance of
realising truth in the fulness of its perfection seemed less apparent to
him than that of feeling it in the heart. He had no intellectual respect
for religion, but songs of _Shy[=a]m[=a]_, the dark Mother, would bring
tears to his eyes. He felt no call to search for ultimate reality;
whatever moved his heart served him for the time as the truth, even
obvious coarseness not proving a deterrent.

Atheism was the dominant note of the English prose writings then in
vogue,--Bentham, Mill and Comte being favourite authors. Theirs was the
reasoning in terms of which our youths argued. The age of Mill
constitutes a natural epoch in English History. It represents a healthy
reaction of the body politic; these destructive forces having been
brought in, temporarily, to rid it of accumulated thought-rubbish. In
our country we received these in the letter, but never sought to make
practical use of them, employing them only as a stimulant to incite
ourselves to moral revolt. Atheism was thus for us a mere intoxication.

For these reasons educated men then fell mainly into two classes. One
class would be always thrusting themselves forward with unprovoked
argumentation to cut to pieces all belief in God. Like the hunter whose
hands itch, no sooner he spies a living creature on the top or at the
foot of a tree, to kill it, whenever these came to learn of a harmless
belief lurking anywhere in fancied security, they felt stirred up to
sally forth and demolish it. We had for a short time a tutor of whom
this was a pet diversion. Though I was a mere boy, even I could not
escape his onslaughts. Not that his attainments were of any account, or
that his opinions were the result of any enthusiastic search for the
truth, being mostly gathered from others' lips. But though I fought him
with all my strength, unequally matched in age as we were, I suffered
many a bitter defeat. Sometimes I felt so mortified I almost wanted to

The other class consisted not of believers, but religious epicureans,
who found comfort and solace in gathering together, and steeping
themselves in pleasing sights, sounds and scents galore, under the garb
of religious ceremonial; they luxuriated in the paraphernalia of
worship. In neither of these classes was doubt or denial the outcome of
the travail of their quest.

Though these religious aberrations pained me, I cannot say I was not at
all influenced by them. With the intellectual impudence of budding youth
this revolt also found a place. The religious services which were held
in our family I would have nothing to do with, I had not accepted them
for my own. I was busy blowing up a raging flame with the bellows of my
emotions. It was only the worship of fire, the giving of oblations to
increase its flame--with no other aim. And because my endeavour had no
end in view it was measureless, always reaching beyond any assigned

As with religion, so with my emotions, I felt no need for any underlying
truth, my excitement being an end in itself. I call to mind some lines
of a poet of that time:

    My heart is mine
          I have sold it to none,
    Be it tattered and torn and worn away,
        My heart is mine!

From the standpoint of truth the heart need not worry itself so; for
nothing compels it to wear itself to tatters. In truth sorrow is not
desirable, but taken apart its pungency may appear savoury. This savour
our poets often made much of; leaving out the god in whose worship they
were indulging. This childishness our country has not yet succeeded in
getting rid of. So even to-day, when we fail to see the truth of
religion, we seek in its observance an artistic gratification. So, also,
much of our patriotism is not service of the mother-land, but the luxury
of bringing ourselves into a desirable attitude of mind toward the


(28) _European Music_

When I was in Brighton I once went to hear some Prima Donna. I forget
her name. It may have been Madame Neilson or Madame Albani. Never before
had I come across such an extraordinary command over the voice. Even our
best singers cannot hide their sense of effort; nor are they ashamed to
bring out, as best they can, top notes or bass notes beyond their proper
register. In our country the understanding portion of the audience think
no harm in keeping the performance up to standard by dint of their own
imagination. For the same reason they do not mind any harshness of voice
or uncouthness of gesture in the exponent of a perfectly formed melody;
on the contrary, they seem sometimes to be of opinion that such minor
external defects serve better to set off the internal perfection of the
composition,--as with the outward poverty of the Great Ascetic,
Mahadeva, whose divinity shines forth naked.

This feeling seems entirely wanting in Europe. There, outward
embellishment must be perfect in every detail, and the least defect
stands shamed and unable to face the public gaze. In our musical
gatherings nothing is thought of spending half-an-hour in tuning up the
_Tanpuras_, or hammering into tone the drums, little and big. In Europe
such duties are performed beforehand, behind the scenes, for all that
comes in front must be faultless. There is thus no room for any weak
spot in the singer's voice. In our country a correct and artistic
exposition[44] of the melody is the main object, thereon is concentrated
all the effort. In Europe the voice is the object of culture, and with
it they perform impossibilities. In our country the virtuoso is
satisfied if he has heard the song; in Europe, they go to hear the

That is what I saw that day in Brighton. To me it was as good as a
circus. But, admire the performance as I did, I could not appreciate the
song. I could hardly keep from laughing when some of the _cadenzas_
imitated the warbling of birds. I felt all the time that it was a
misapplication of the human voice. When it came to the turn of a male
singer I was considerably relieved. I specially liked the tenor voices
which had more of human flesh and blood in them, and seemed less like
the disembodied lament of a forlorn spirit.

After this, as I went on hearing and learning more and more of European
music, I began to get into the spirit of it; but up to now I am
convinced that our music and theirs abide in altogether different
apartments, and do not gain entry to the heart by the self-same door.

European music seems to be intertwined with its material life, so that
the text of its songs may be as various as that life itself. If we
attempt to put our tunes to the same variety of use they tend to lose
their significance, and become ludicrous; for our melodies transcend the
barriers of everyday life, and only thus can they carry us so deep into
Pity, so high into Aloofness; their function being to reveal a picture
of the inmost inexpressible depths of our being, mysterious and
impenetrable, where the devotee may find his hermitage ready, or even
the epicurean his bower, but where there is no room for the busy man of
the world.

I cannot claim that I gained admittance to the soul of European music.
But what little of it I came to understand from the outside attracted me
greatly in one way. It seemed to me so romantic. It is somewhat
difficult to analyse what I mean by that word. What I would refer to is
the aspect of variety, of abundance, of the waves on the sea of life, of
the ever-changing light and shade on their ceaseless undulations. There
is the opposite aspect--of pure extension, of the unwinking blue of the
sky, of the silent hint of immeasureability in the distant circle of the
horizon. However that may be, let me repeat, at the risk of not being
perfectly clear, that whenever I have been moved by European music I
have said to myself: it is romantic, it is translating into melody the
evanescence of life.

Not that we wholly lack the same attempt in some forms of our music; but
it is less pronounced, less successful. Our melodies give voice to the
star-spangled night, to the first reddening of dawn. They speak of the
sky-pervading sorrow which lowers in the darkness of clouds; the
speechless deep intoxication of the forest-roaming spring.

(29) _Valmiki Pratibha_

We had a profusely decorated volume of Moore's Irish Melodies: and often
have I listened to the enraptured recitation of these by Akshay Babu.
The poems combined with the pictorial designs to conjure up for me a
dream picture of the Ireland of old. I had not then actually heard the
original tunes, but had sung these Irish Melodies to myself to the
accompaniment of the harps in the pictures. I longed to hear the real
tunes, to learn them, and sing them to Akshay Babu. Some longings
unfortunately do get fulfilled in this life, and die in the process.
When I went to England I did hear some of the Irish Melodies sung, and
learnt them too, but that put an end to my keenness to learn more. They
were simple, mournful and sweet, but they somehow did not fit in with
the silent melody of the harp which filled the halls of the Old Ireland
of my dreams.

When I came back home I sung the Irish melodies I had learnt to my
people. "What is the matter with Rabi's voice?" they exclaimed. "How
funny and foreign it sounds!" They even felt my speaking voice had
changed its tone.

From this mixed cultivation of foreign and native melody was born the
_Valmiki Pratibha_.[45] The tunes in this musical drama are mostly
Indian, but they have been dragged out of their classic dignity; that
which soared in the sky was taught to run on the earth. Those who have
seen and heard it performed will, I trust, bear witness that the
harnessing of Indian melodic modes to the service of the drama has
proved neither derogatory nor futile. This conjunction is the only
special feature of _Valmiki Pratibha_. The pleasing task of loosening
the chains of melodic forms and making them adaptable to a variety of
treatment completely engrossed me.

Several of the songs of _Valmiki Pratibha_ were set to tunes originally
severely classic in mode; some of the tunes were composed by my brother
Jyotirindra; a few were adapted from European sources. The _Telena_[46]
style of Indian modes specially lends itself to dramatic purposes and
has been frequently utilized in this work. Two English tunes served for
the drinking songs of the robber band, and an Irish melody for the
lament of the wood nymphs.

_Valmiki Pratibha_ is not a composition which will bear being read. Its
significance is lost if it is not heard sung and seen acted. It is not
what Europeans call an Opera, but a little drama set to music. That is
to say, it is not primarily a musical composition. Very few of the songs
are important or attractive by themselves; they all serve merely as the
musical text of the play.

Before I went to England we occasionally used to have gatherings of
literary men in our house, at which music, recitations and light
refreshments were served up. After my return one more such gathering
was held, which happened to be the last. It was for an entertainment in
this connection that the _Valmiki Pratibha_ was composed. I played
_Valmiki_ and my niece, Pratibha, took the part of _Saraswati_--which
bit of history remains recorded in the name.

I had read in some work of Herbert Spencer's that speech takes on
tuneful inflexions whenever emotion comes into play. It is a fact that
the tone or tune is as important to us as the spoken word for the
expression of anger, sorrow, joy and wonder. Spencer's idea that,
through a development of these emotional modulations of voice, man found
music, appealed to me. Why should it not do, I thought to myself, to act
a drama in a kind of recitative based on this idea. The _Kathakas_[47]
of our country attempt this to some extent, for they frequently break
into a chant which, however, stops short of full melodic form. As blank
verse is more elastic than rhymed, so such chanting, though not devoid
of rhythm, can more freely adapt itself to the emotional interpretation
of the text, because it does not attempt to conform to the more rigorous
canons of tune and time required by a regular melodic composition. The
expression of feeling being the object, these deficiencies in regard to
form do not jar on the hearer.

Encouraged by the success of this new line taken in the _Valmiki
Pratibha_, I composed another musical play of the same class. It was
called the _Kal Mrigaya_, The Fateful Hunt. The plot was based on the
story of the accidental killing of the blind hermit's only son by King
Dasaratha. It was played on a stage erected on our roof-terrace, and the
audience seemed profoundly moved by its pathos. Afterwards, much of it
was, with slight changes, incorporated in the _Valmiki Pratibha_, and
this play ceased to be separately published in my works.

Long afterwards, I composed a third musical play, _Mayar Khela_, the
Play of _Maya_, an operetta of a different type. In this the songs were
important, not the drama. In the others a series of dramatic situations
were strung on a thread of melody; this was a garland of songs with just
a thread of dramatic plot running through. The play of feeling, and not
action, was its special feature. In point of fact I was, while composing
it, saturated with the mood of song.

The enthusiasm which went to the making of _Valmiki Pratibha_ and _Kal
Mrigaya_ I have never felt for any other work of mine. In these two the
creative musical impulse of the time found expression.

My brother, Jyotirindra, was engaged the live-long day at his piano,
refashioning the classic melodic forms at his pleasure. And, at every
turn of his instrument, the old modes took on unthought-of shapes and
expressed new shades of feeling. The melodic forms which had become
habituated to their pristine stately gait, when thus compelled to march
to more lively unconventional measures, displayed an unexpected agility
and power; and moved us correspondingly. We could plainly hear the tunes
speak to us while Akshay Babu and I sat on either side fitting words to
them as they grew out of my brother's nimble fingers. I do not claim
that our _libretto_ was good poetry but it served as a vehicle for the

In the riotous joy of this revolutionary activity were these two musical
plays composed, and so they danced merrily to every measure, whether or
not technically correct, indifferent as to the tunes being homelike or

On many an occasion has the Bengali reading public been grievously
exercised over some opinion or literary form of mine, but it is curious
to find that the daring with which I had played havoc with accepted
musical notions did not rouse any resentment; on the contrary those who
came to hear departed pleased. A few of Akshay Babu's compositions find
place in the _Valmiki Pratibha_ and also adaptations from Vihari
Chakravarti's _Sarada Mangal_ series of songs.

I used to take the leading part in the performance of these musical
dramas. From my early years I had a taste for acting, and firmly
believed that I had a special aptitude for it. I think I proved that my
belief was not ill-founded. I had only once before done the part of
Aleek Babu in a farce written by my brother Jyotirindra. So these were
really my first attempts at acting. I was then very young and nothing
seemed to fatigue or trouble my voice.

In our house, at the time, a cascade of musical emotion was gushing
forth day after day, hour after hour, its scattered spray reflecting
into our being a whole gamut of rainbow colours. Then, with the
freshness of youth, our new-born energy, impelled by its virgin
curiosity, struck out new paths in every direction. We felt we would try
and test everything, and no achievement seemed impossible. We wrote, we
sang, we acted, we poured ourselves out on every side. This was how I
stepped into my twentieth year.

Of these forces which so triumphantly raced our lives along, my brother
Jyotirindra was the charioteer. He was absolutely fearless. Once, when I
was a mere lad, and had never ridden a horse before, he made me mount
one and gallop by his side, with no qualms about his unskilled
companion. When at the same age, while we were at Shelidah, (the
head-quarters of our estate,) news was brought of a tiger, he took me
with him on a hunting expedition. I had no gun,--it would have been more
dangerous to me than to the tiger if I had. We left our shoes at the
outskirts of the jungle and crept in with bare feet. At last we
scrambled up into a bamboo thicket, partly stripped of its thorn-like
twigs, where I somehow managed to crouch behind my brother till the deed
was done; with no means of even administering a shoe-beating to the
unmannerly brute had he dared lay his offensive paws on me!

Thus did my brother give me full freedom both internal and external in
the face of all dangers. No usage or custom was a bondage for him, and
so was he able to rid me of my shrinking diffidence.

(30) _Evening Songs_

In the state of being confined within myself, of which I have been
telling, I wrote a number of poems which have been grouped together,
under the title of the _Heart-Wilderness_, in Mohita Babu's edition of
my works. In one of the poems subsequently published in a volume called
_Morning Songs_, the following lines occur:

    There is a vast wilderness whose name is _Heart_;
    Whose interlacing forest branches dandle and rock darkness
        like an infant.
    I lost my way in its depths.

from which came the idea of the name for this group of poems.

Much of what I wrote, when thus my life had no commerce with the
outside, when I was engrossed in the contemplation of my own heart, when
my imaginings wandered in many a disguise amidst causeless emotions and
aimless longings, has been left out of that edition; only a few of the
poems originally published in the volume entitled _Evening Songs_
finding a place there, in the _Heart-Wilderness_ group.

My brother Jyotirindra and his wife had left home travelling on a long
journey, and their rooms on the third storey, facing the terraced-roof,
were empty. I took possession of these and the terrace, and spent my
days in solitude. While thus left in communion with my self alone, I
know not how I slipped out of the poetical groove into which I had
fallen. Perhaps being cut off from those whom I sought to please, and
whose taste in poetry moulded the form I tried to put my thoughts into,
I naturally gained freedom from the style they had imposed on me.

I began to use a slate for my writing. That also helped in my
emancipation. The manuscript books in which I had indulged before seemed
to demand a certain height of poetic flight, to work up to which I had
to find my way by a comparison with others. But the slate was clearly
fitted for my mood of the moment. "Fear not," it seemed to say. "Write
just what you please, one rub will wipe all away!"

As I wrote a poem or two, thus unfettered, I felt a great joy well up
within me. "At last," said my heart, "what I write is my own!" Let no
one mistake this for an accession of pride. Rather did I feel a pride in
my former productions, as being all the tribute I had to pay them. But I
refuse to call the realisation of self, self-sufficiency. The joy of
parents in their first-born is not due to any pride in its appearance,
but because it is their very own. If it happens to be an extraordinary
child they may also glory in that--but that is different.

In the first flood-tide of that joy I paid no heed to the bounds of
metrical form, and as the stream does not flow straight on but winds
about as it lists, so did my verse. Before, I would have held this to be
a crime, but now I felt no compunction. Freedom first breaks the law and
then makes laws which brings it under true Self-rule.

The only listener I had for these erratic poems of mine was Akshay Babu.
When he heard them for the first time he was as surprised as he was
pleased, and with his approbation my road to freedom was widened.

The poems of Vihari Chakravarti were in a 3-beat metre. This triple time
produces a rounded-off globular effect, unlike the square-cut multiple
of 2. It rolls on with ease, it glides as it dances to the tinkling of
its anklets. I was once very fond of this metre. It felt more like
riding a bicycle than walking. And to this stride I had got accustomed.
In the _Evening Songs_, without thinking of it, I somehow broke off this
habit. Nor did I come under any other particular bondage. I felt
entirely free and unconcerned. I had no thought or fear of being taken
to task.

The strength I gained by working, freed from the trammels of tradition,
led me to discover that I had been searching in impossible places for
that which I had within myself. Nothing but want of self-confidence had
stood in the way of my coming into my own. I felt like rising from a
dream of bondage to find myself unshackled. I cut extraordinary capers
just to make sure I was free to move.

To me this is the most memorable period of my poetic career. As poems my
_Evening Songs_ may not have been worth much, in fact as such they are
crude enough. Neither their metre, nor language, nor thought had taken
definite shape. Their only merit is that for the first time I had come
to write what I really meant, just according to my pleasure. What if
those compositions have no value, that pleasure certainly had.

(31) _An Essay on Music_

I had been proposing to study for the bar when my father had recalled me
home from England. Some friends concerned at this cutting short of my
career pressed him to send me off once again. This led to my starting on
a second voyage towards England, this time with a relative as my
companion. My fate, however, had so strongly vetoed my being called to
the bar that I was not even to reach England this time. For a certain
reason we had to disembark at Madras and return home to Calcutta. The
reason was by no means as grave as its outcome, but as the laugh was not
against _me_, I refrain from setting it down here. From both my
attempted pilgrimages to _Lakshmi's_[48] shrine I had thus to come back
repulsed. I hope, however, that the Law-god, at least, will look on me
with a favourable eye for that I have not added to the encumbrances on
the Bar-library premises.

My father was then in the Mussoorie hills. I went to him in fear and
trembling. But he showed no sign of irritation, he rather seemed
pleased. He must have seen in this return of mine the blessing of Divine

The evening before I started on this voyage I read a paper at the
Medical College Hall on the invitation of the Bethune Society. This was
my first public reading. The Reverend K. M. Banerji was the president.
The subject was Music. Leaving aside instrumental music, I tried to make
out that to bring out better what the words sought to express was the
chief end and aim of vocal music. The text of my paper was but meagre. I
sang and acted songs throughout illustrating my theme. The only reason
for the flattering eulogy which the President bestowed on me at the end
must have been the moving effect of my young voice together with the
earnestness and variety of its efforts. But I must make the confession
to-day that the opinion I voiced with such enthusiasm that evening was

The art of vocal music has its own special functions and features. And
when it happens to be set to words the latter must not presume too much
on their opportunity and seek to supersede the melody of which they are
but the vehicle. The song being great in its own wealth, why should it
wait upon the words? Rather does it begin where mere words fail. Its
power lies in the region of the inexpressible; it tells us what the
words cannot.

So the less a song is burdened with words the better. In the classic
style of Hindustan[49] the words are of no account and leave the melody
to make its appeal in its own way. Vocal music reaches its perfection
when the melodic form is allowed to develop freely, and carry our
consciousness with it to its own wonderful plane. In Bengal, however,
the words have always asserted themselves so, that our provincial song
has failed to develop her full musical capabilities, and has remained
content as the handmaiden of her sister art of poetry. From the old
_Vaishnava_ songs down to those of Nidhu Babu she has displayed her
charms from the background. But as in our country the wife rules her
husband through acknowledging her dependence, so our music, though
professedly in attendance only, ends by dominating the song.

I have often felt this while composing my songs. As I hummed to myself
and wrote the lines:

    Do not keep your secret to yourself, my love,
    But whisper it gently to me, only to me.

I found that the words had no means of reaching by themselves the region
into which they were borne away by the tune. The melody told me that
the secret, which I was so importunate to hear, had mingled with the
green mystery of the forest glades, was steeped in the silent whiteness
of moonlight nights, peeped out of the veil of the illimitable blue
behind the horizon--and is the one intimate secret of Earth, Sky and

In my early boyhood I heard a snatch of a song:

    Who dressed you, love, as a foreigner?

This one line painted such wonderful pictures in my mind that it haunts
me still. One day I sat down to set to words a composition of my own
while full of this bit of song. Humming my tune I wrote to its

    I know you, O Woman from the strange land!
    Your dwelling is across the Sea.

Had the tune not been there I know not what shape the rest of the poem
might have taken; but the magic of the melody revealed to me the
stranger in all her loveliness. It is she, said my soul, who comes and
goes, a messenger to this world from the other shore of the ocean of
mystery. It is she, of whom we now and again catch glimpses in the dewy
Autumn mornings, in the scented nights of Spring, in the inmost recesses
of our hearts--and sometimes we strain skywards to hear her song. To
the door of this world-charming stranger the melody, as I say, wafted
me, and so to her were the rest of the words addressed.

Long after this, in a street in Bolpur, a mendicant _Baul_ was singing
as he walked along:

    How does the unknown bird flit in and out of the cage!
    Ah, could I but catch it, I'd ring its feet with my love!

I found this _Baul_ to be saying the very same thing. The unknown bird
sometimes surrenders itself within the bars of the cage to whisper
tidings of the bondless unknown beyond. The heart would fain hold it
near to itself for ever, but cannot. What but the melody of song can
tell us of the goings and comings of the unknown bird?

That is why I am always reluctant to publish books of the words of
songs, for therein the soul must needs be lacking.

(32) _The River-side_

When I returned home from the outset of my second voyage to England, my
brother Jyotirindra and sister-in-law were living in a river-side villa
at Chandernagore, and there I went to stay with them.

The Ganges again! Again those ineffable days and nights, languid with
joy, sad with longing, attuned to the plaintive babbling of the river
along the cool shade of its wooded banks. This Bengal sky-full of light,
this south breeze, this flow of the river, this right royal laziness,
this broad leisure stretching from horizon to horizon and from green
earth to blue sky, all these were to me as food and drink to the hungry
and thirsty. Here it felt indeed like home, and in these I recognised
the ministrations of a Mother.

That was not so very long ago, and yet time has wrought many changes.
Our little river-side nests, clustering under their surrounding
greenery, have been replaced by mills which now, dragon-like, everywhere
rear their hissing heads, belching forth black smoke. In the midday
glare of modern life even our hours of mental siesta have been narrowed
down to the lowest limit, and hydra-headed unrest has invaded every
department of life. Maybe, this is for the better, but I, for one,
cannot account it wholly to the good.

[Illustration: The Ganges Again]

These lovely days of mine at the riverside passed by like so many
dedicated lotus blossoms floating down the sacred stream. Some rainy
afternoons I spent in a veritable frenzy, singing away old _Vaishnava_
songs to my own tunes, accompanying myself on a harmonium. On other
afternoons, we would drift along in a boat, my brother Jyotirindra
accompanying my singing with his violin. And as, beginning with the
_Puravi_,[50] we went on varying the mode of our music with the
declining day, we saw, on reaching the _Behaga_,[50] the western sky
close the doors of its factory of golden toys, and the moon on the east
rise over the fringe of trees.

Then we would row back to the landing steps of the villa and seat
ourselves on a quilt spread on the terrace facing the river. By then a
silvery peace rested on both land and water, hardly any boats were
about, the fringe of trees on the bank was reduced to a deep shadow, and
the moonlight glimmered over the smooth flowing stream.

The villa we were living in was known as 'Moran's Garden'. A flight of
stone-flagged steps led up from the water to a long, broad verandah
which formed part of the house. The rooms were not regularly arranged,
nor all on the same level, and some had to be reached by short flights
of stairs. The big sitting room overlooking the landing steps had
stained glass windows with coloured pictures.

One of the pictures was of a swing hanging from a branch half-hidden in
dense foliage, and in the checkered light and shade of this bower, two
persons were swinging; and there was another of a broad flight of steps
leading into some castle-like palace, up and down which men and women
in festive garb were going and coming. When the light fell on the
windows, these pictures shone wonderfully, seeming to fill the
river-side atmosphere with holiday music. Some far-away long-forgotten
revelry seemed to be expressing itself in silent words of light; the
love thrills of the swinging couple making alive with their eternal
story the woodlands of the river bank.

The topmost room of the house was in a round tower with windows opening
to every side. This I used as my room for writing poetry. Nothing could
be seen from thence save the tops of the surrounding trees, and the open
sky. I was then busy with the _Evening Songs_ and of this room I wrote:

    There, where in the breast of limitless space clouds are laid to sleep,
    I have built my house for thee, O Poesy!

(33) _More About the Evening Songs_

At this time my reputation amongst literary critics was that of being a
poet of broken cadence and lisping utterance. Everything about my work
was dubbed misty, shadowy. However little I might have relished this at
the time, the charge was not wholly baseless. My poetry did in fact
lack the backbone of worldly reality. How, amidst the ringed-in
seclusion of my early years, was I to get the necessary material?

But one thing I refuse to admit. Behind this charge of vagueness was the
sting of the insinuation of its being a deliberate affectation--for the
sake of effect. The fortunate possessor of good eye-sight is apt to
sneer at the youth with glasses, as if he wears them for ornament. While
a reflection on the poor fellow's infirmity may be permissible, it is
too bad to charge him with pretending not to see.

The nebula is not an outside creation--it merely represents a phase; and
to leave out all poetry which has not attained definiteness would not
bring us to the truth of literature. If any phase of man's nature has
found true expression, it is worth preserving--it may be cast aside only
if not expressed truly. There is a period in man's life when his
feelings are the pathos of the inexpressible, the anguish of vagueness.
The poetry which attempts its expression cannot be called baseless--at
worst it may be worthless; but it is not necessarily even that. The sin
is not in the thing expressed, but in the failure to express it.

There is a duality in man. Of the inner person, behind the outward
current of thoughts, feelings and events, but little is known or recked;
but for all that, he cannot be got rid of as a factor in life's
progress. When the outward life fails to harmonise with the inner, the
dweller within is hurt, and his pain manifests itself in the outer
consciousness in a manner to which it is difficult to give a name, or
even to describe, and of which the cry is more akin to an inarticulate
wail than words with more precise meaning.

The sadness and pain which sought expression in the _Evening Songs_ had
their roots in the depths of my being. As one's sleep-smothered
consciousness wrestles with a nightmare in its efforts to awake, so the
submerged inner self struggles to free itself from its complexities and
come out into the open. These _Songs_ are the history of that struggle.
As in all creation, so in poetry, there is the opposition of forces. If
the divergence is too wide, or the unison too close, there is, it seems
to me, no room for poetry. Where the pain of discord strives to attain
and express its resolution into harmony, there does poetry break forth
into music, as breath through a flute.

When the _Evening Songs_ first saw the light they were not hailed with
any flourish of trumpets, but none the less they did not lack admirers.
I have elsewhere told the story of how at the wedding of Mr. Ramesh
Chandra Dutt's eldest daughter, Bankim Babu was at the door, and the
host was welcoming him with the customary garland of flowers. As I came
up Bankim Babu eagerly took the garland and placing it round my neck
said: "The wreath to him, Ramesh, have you not read his _Evening
Songs_?" And when Mr. Dutt avowed he had not yet done so, the manner in
which Bankim Babu expressed his opinion of some of them amply rewarded

The _Evening Songs_ gained for me a friend whose approval, like the rays
of the sun, stimulated and guided the shoots of my newly sprung efforts.
This was Babu Priyanath Sen. Just before this the _Broken Heart_ had led
him to give up all hopes of me. I won him back with these _Evening
Songs_. Those who are acquainted with him know him as an expert
navigator of all the seven seas[51] of literature, whose highways and
byways, in almost all languages, Indian and foreign, he is constantly
traversing. To converse with him is to gain glimpses of even the most
out of the way scenery in the world of ideas. This proved of the
greatest value to me.

He was able to give his literary opinions with the fullest confidence,
for he had not to rely on his unaided taste to guide his likes and
dislikes. This authoritative criticism of his also assisted me more
than I can tell. I used to read to him everything I wrote, and but for
the timely showers of his discriminate appreciation it is hard to say
whether these early ploughings of mine would have yielded as they have

(34) _Morning Songs_

At the river-side I also did a bit of prose writing, not on any definite
subject or plan, but in the spirit that boys catch butterflies. When
spring comes within, many-coloured short-lived fancies are born and flit
about in the mind, ordinarily unnoticed. In these days of my leisure, it
was perhaps the mere whim to collect them which had come upon me. Or it
may have been only another phase of my emancipated self which had thrown
out its chest and decided to write just as it pleased; what I wrote not
being the object, it being sufficient unto itself that it was I who
wrote. These prose pieces were published later under the name of
_Vividha Prabandha_, Various Topics, but they expired with the first
edition and did not get a fresh lease of life in a second.

At this time, I think, I also began my first novel, _Bauthakuranir Hat_.

After we had stayed for a time by the river, my brother Jyotirindra took
a house in Calcutta, on Sudder Street near the Museum. I remained with
him. While I went on here with the novel and the _Evening Songs_, a
momentous revolution of some kind came about within me.

One day, late in the afternoon, I was pacing the terrace of our
Jorasanko house. The glow of the sunset combined with the wan twilight
in a way which seemed to give the approaching evening a specially
wonderful attractiveness for me. Even the walls of the adjoining house
seemed to grow beautiful. Is this uplifting of the cover of triviality
from the everyday world, I wondered, due to some magic in the evening
light? Never!

I could see at once that it was the effect of the evening which had come
within me; its shades had obliterated my _self_. While the self was
rampant during the glare of day, everything I perceived was mingled with
and hidden by it. Now, that the self was put into the background, I
could see the world in its own true aspect. And that aspect has nothing
of triviality in it, it is full of beauty and joy.

Since this experience I tried the effect of deliberately suppressing my
_self_ and viewing the world as a mere spectator, and was invariably
rewarded with a sense of special pleasure. I remember I tried also to
explain to a relative how to see the world in its true light, and the
incidental lightening of one's own sense of burden which follows such
vision; but, as I believe, with no success.

Then I gained a further insight which has lasted all my life.

The end of Sudder Street, and the trees on the Free School grounds
opposite, were visible from our Sudder Street house. One morning I
happened to be standing on the verandah looking that way. The sun was
just rising through the leafy tops of those trees. As I continued to
gaze, all of a sudden a covering seemed to fall away from my eyes, and I
found the world bathed in a wonderful radiance, with waves of beauty and
joy swelling on every side. This radiance pierced in a moment through
the folds of sadness and despondency which had accumulated over my
heart, and flooded it with this universal light.

That very day the poem, _The Awakening of the Waterfall_, gushed forth
and coursed on like a veritable cascade. The poem came to an end, but
the curtain did not fall upon the joy aspect of the Universe. And it
came to be so that no person or thing in the world seemed to me trivial
or unpleasing. A thing that happened the next day or the day following
seemed specially astonishing.

There was a curious sort of person who came to me now and then, with a
habit of asking all manner of silly questions. One day he had asked:
"Have you, sir, seen God with your own eyes?" And on my having to admit
that I had not, he averred that he had. "What was it you saw?" I asked.
"He seethed and throbbed before my eyes!" was the reply.

It can well be imagined that one would not ordinarily relish being drawn
into abstruse discussions with such a person. Moreover, I was at the
time entirely absorbed in my own writing. Nevertheless as he was a
harmless sort of fellow I did not like the idea of hurting his
susceptibilities and so tolerated him as best I could.

This time, when he came one afternoon, I actually felt glad to see him,
and welcomed him cordially. The mantle of his oddity and foolishness
seemed to have slipped off, and the person I so joyfully hailed was the
real man whom I felt to be in nowise inferior to myself, and moreover
closely related. Finding no trace of annoyance within me at sight of
him, nor any sense of my time being wasted with him, I was filled with
an immense gladness, and felt rid of some enveloping tissue of untruth
which had been causing me so much needless and uncalled for discomfort
and pain.

As I would stand on the balcony, the gait, the figure, the features of
each one of the passers-by, whoever they might be, seemed to me all so
extraordinarily wonderful, as they flowed past,--waves on the sea of the
universe. From infancy I had seen only with my eyes, I now began to see
with the whole of my consciousness. I could not look upon the sight of
two smiling youths, nonchalantly going their way, the arm of one on the
other's shoulder, as a matter of small moment; for, through it I could
see the fathomless depths of the eternal spring of Joy from which
numberless sprays of laughter leap up throughout the world.

I had never before marked the play of limbs and lineaments which always
accompanies even the least of man's actions; now I was spell-bound by
their variety, which I came across on all sides, at every moment. Yet I
saw them not as being apart by themselves, but as parts of that
amazingly beautiful greater dance which goes on at this very moment
throughout the world of men, in each of their homes, in their
multifarious wants and activities.

Friend laughs with friend, the mother fondles her child, one cow sidles
up to another and licks its body, and the immeasurability behind these
comes direct to my mind with a shock which almost savours of pain.

When of this period I wrote:

    I know not how of a sudden my heart flung open its doors,
    And let the crowd of worlds rush in, greeting each other,--

it was no poetic exaggeration. Rather I had not the power to express all
I felt.

For some time together I remained in this self-forgetful state of bliss.
Then my brother thought of going to the Darjeeling hills. So much the
better, thought I. On the vast Himalayan tops I shall be able to see
more deeply into what has been revealed to me in Sudder Street; at any
rate I shall see how the Himalayas display themselves to my new gift of

But the victory was with that little house in Sudder Street. When, after
ascending the mountains, I looked around, I was at once aware I had lost
my new vision. My sin must have been in imagining that I could get still
more of truth from the outside. However sky-piercing the king of
mountains may be, he can have nothing in his gift for me; while He who
is the Giver can vouchsafe a vision of the eternal universe in the
dingiest of lanes, and in a moment of time.

I wandered about amongst the firs, I sat near the falls and bathed in
their waters, I gazed at the grandeur of Kinchinjunga through a
cloudless sky, but in what had seemed to me these likeliest of places,
I found _it_ not. I had come to know it, but could see it no longer.
While I was admiring the gem the lid had suddenly closed, leaving me
staring at the enclosing casket. But, for all the attractiveness of its
workmanship, there was no longer any danger of my mistaking it for
merely an empty box.

My _Morning Songs_ came to an end, their last echo dying out with _The
Echo_ which I wrote at Darjeeling. This apparently proved such an
abstruse affair that two friends laid a wager as to its real meaning. My
only consolation was that, as I was equally unable to explain the enigma
to them when they came to me for a solution, neither of them had to lose
any money over it. Alas! The days when I wrote excessively plain poems
about _The Lotus_ and _A Lake_ had gone forever.

But does one write poetry to explain any matter? What is felt within the
heart tries to find outside shape as a poem. So when after listening to
a poem anyone says he has not understood, I feel nonplussed. If someone
smells a flower and says he does not understand, the reply to him is:
there is nothing to understand, it is only a scent. If he persists,
saying: _that_ I know, but what does it all _mean_? Then one has either
to change the subject, or make it more abstruse by saying that the
scent is the shape which the universal joy takes in the flower.

That words have meanings is just the difficulty. That is why the poet
has to turn and twist them in metre and verse, so that the meaning may
be held somewhat in check, and the feeling allowed a chance to express

This utterance of feeling is not the statement of a fundamental truth,
or a scientific fact, or a useful moral precept. Like a tear or a smile
it is but a picture of what is taking place within. If Science or
Philosophy may gain anything from it they are welcome, but that is not
the reason of its being. If while crossing a ferry you can catch a fish
you are a lucky man, but that does not make the ferry boat a fishing
boat, nor should you abuse the ferryman if he does not make fishing his

_The Echo_ was written so long ago that it has escaped attention and I
am now no longer called upon to render an account of its meaning.
Nevertheless, whatever its other merits or defects may be, I can assure
my readers that it was not my intention to propound a riddle, or
insidiously convey any erudite teaching. The fact of the matter was that
a longing had been born within my heart, and, unable to find any other
name, I had called the thing I desired an Echo.

When from the original fount in the depths of the Universe streams of
melody are sent forth abroad, their echo is reflected into our heart
from the faces of our beloved and the other beauteous things around us.
It must be, as I suggested, this Echo which we love, and not the things
themselves from which it happens to be reflected; for that which one day
we scarce deign to glance at, may be, on another, the very thing which
claims our whole devotion.

I had so long viewed the world with external vision only, and so had
been unable to see its universal aspect of joy. When of a sudden, from
some innermost depth of my being, a ray of light found its way out, it
spread over and illuminated for me the whole universe, which then no
longer appeared like heaps of things and happenings, but was disclosed
to my sight as one whole. This experience seemed to tell me of the
stream of melody issuing from the very heart of the universe and
spreading over space and time, re-echoing thence as waves of joy which
flow right back to the source.

When the artist sends his song forth from the depths of a full heart
that is joy indeed. And the joy is redoubled when this same song is
wafted back to him as hearer. If, when the creation of the Arch-Poet is
thus returning back to him in a flood of joy, we allow it to flow over
our consciousness, we at once, immediately, become aware, in an
inexpressible manner, of the end to which this flood is streaming. And
as we become aware our love goes forth; and our _selves_ are moved from
their moorings and would fain float down the stream of joy to its
infinite goal. This is the meaning of the longing which stirs within us
at the sight of Beauty.

The stream which comes from the Infinite and flows toward the
finite--that is the True, the Good; it is subject to laws, definite in
form. Its echo which returns towards the Infinite is Beauty and Joy;
which are difficult to touch or grasp, and so make us beside ourselves.
This is what I tried to say by way of a parable or a song in _The Echo_.
That the result was not clear is not to be wondered at, for neither was
the attempt then clear unto itself.

Let me set down here part of what I wrote in a letter, at a more
advanced age, about the _Morning Songs_.

     "There is none in the World, all are in my heart"--is a
     state of mind belonging to a particular age. When the heart
     is first awakened it puts forth its arms and would grasp the
     whole world, like the teething infant which thinks
     everything meant for its mouth. Gradually it comes to
     understand what it really wants and what it does not. Then
     do its nebulous emanations shrink upon themselves, get
     heated, and heat in their turn.

     To begin by wanting the whole world is to get nothing. When
     desire is concentrated, with the whole strength of one's
     being upon any one object whatsoever it might be, then does
     the gateway to the Infinite become visible. The morning
     songs were the first throwing forth of my inner self
     outwards, and consequently they lack any signs of such

This all-pervading joy of a first outflow, however, has the effect of
leading us to an acquaintance with the particular. The lake in its
fulness seeks an outlet as a river. In this sense the permanent later
love is narrower than first love. It is more definite in the direction
of its activities, desires to realise the whole in each of its parts,
and is thus impelled on towards the infinite. What it finally reaches is
no longer the former indefinite extension of the heart's own inner joy,
but a merging in the infinite reality which was outside itself, and
thereby the attainment of the complete truth of its own longings.

In Mohita Babu's edition these _Morning Songs_ have been placed in the
group of poems entitled _Nishkraman_, The Emergence. For in these was to
be found the first news of my coming out of the _Heart Wilderness_ into
the open world. Thereafter did this pilgrim heart make its acquaintance
with that world, bit by bit, part by part, in many a mood and manner.
And at the end, after gliding past all the numerous landing steps of
ever-changing impermanence, it will reach the infinite,--not the
vagueness of indeterminate possibility, but the consummation of perfect
fulness of Truth.

From my earliest years I enjoyed a simple and intimate communion with
Nature. Each one of the cocoanut trees in our garden had for me a
distinct personality. When, on coming home from the Normal School, I saw
behind the skyline of our roof-terrace blue-grey water-laden clouds
thickly banked up, the immense depth of gladness which filled me, all in
a moment, I can recall clearly even now. On opening my eyes every
morning, the blithely awakening world used to call me to join it like a
playmate; the perfervid noonday sky, during the long silent watches of
the siesta hours, would spirit me away from the work-a-day world into
the recesses of its hermit cell; and the darkness of night would open
the door to its phantom paths, and take me over all the seven seas and
thirteen rivers, past all possibilities and impossibilities, right into
its wonder-land.

Then one day, when, with the dawn of youth, my hungry heart began to cry
out for its sustenance, a barrier was set up between this play of inside
and outside. And my whole being eddied round and round my troubled
heart, creating a vortex within itself, in the whirls of which its
consciousness was confined.

This loss of the harmony between inside and outside, due to the
over-riding claims of the heart in its hunger, and consequent
restriction of the privilege of communion which had been mine, was
mourned by me in the _Evening Songs_. In the _Morning Songs_ I
celebrated the sudden opening of a gate in the barrier, by what shock I
know not, through which I regained the lost one, not only as I knew it
before, but more deeply, more fully, by force of the intervening

Thus did the First Book of my life come to an end with these chapters of
union, separation and reunion. Or, rather, it is not true to say it has
come to an end. The same subject has still to be continued through more
elaborate solutions of worse complexities, to a greater conclusion. Each
one comes here to finish but one book of life, which, during the
progress of its various parts, grows spiral-wise on an ever-increasing
radius. So, while each segment may appear different from the others at a
cursory glance, they all really lead back to the self-same starting

The prose writings of the _Evening Songs_ period were published, as I
have said, under the name of _Vividha Prabandha_. Those others which
correspond to the time of my writing the _Morning Songs_ came out under
the title of _Alochana_, Discussions. The difference between the
characteristics of these two would be a good index of the nature of the
change that had in the meantime taken place within me.


(35) _Rajendrahal Mitra_

It was about this time that my brother Jyotirindra had the idea of
founding a Literary Academy by bringing together all the men of letters
of repute. To compile authoritative technical terms for the Bengali
language and in other ways to assist in its growth was to be its
object--therein differing but little from the lines on which the modern
_Sahitya Parishat_, Academy of Literature, has taken shape.

Dr. Rajendrahal Mitra took up the idea of this Academy with enthusiasm,
and he was eventually its president for the short time it lasted. When I
went to invite Pandit Vidyasagar to join it, he gave a hearing to my
explanation of its objects and the names of the proposed members, then
said: "My advice to you is to leave us out--you will never accomplish
anything with big wigs; they can never be got to agree with one
another." With which he refused to come in. Bankim Babu became a member,
but I cannot say that he took much interest in the work.

To be plain, so long as this academy lived Rajendrahal Mitra did
everything single-handed. He began with Geographical terms. The draft
list was made out by Dr. Rajendrahal himself and was printed and
circulated for the suggestions of the members. We had also an idea of
transliterating in Bengali the name of each foreign country as
pronounced by itself.

Pandit Vidyasagar's prophecy was fulfilled. It did not prove possible to
get the big wigs to do anything. And the academy withered away shortly
after sprouting. But Rajendrahal Mitra was an all-round expert and was
an academy in himself. My labours in this cause were more than repaid by
the privilege of his acquaintance. I have met many Bengali men of
letters in my time but none who left the impression of such brilliance.

I used to go and see him in the office of the Court of Wards in
Maniktala. I would go in the mornings and always find him busy with his
studies, and with the inconsiderateness of youth, I felt no hesitation
in disturbing him. But I have never seen him the least bit put out on
that account. As soon as he saw me he would put aside his work and begin
to talk to me. It is a matter of common knowledge that he was somewhat
hard of hearing, so he hardly ever gave me occasion to put him any
question. He would take up some broad subject and talk away upon it, and
it was the attraction of these discourses which drew me there. Converse
with no other person ever gave me such a wealth of suggestive ideas on
so many different subjects. I would listen enraptured.

I think he was a member of the text-book committee and every book he
received for approval, he read through and annotated in pencil. On some
occasions he would select one of these books for the text of discourses
on the construction of the Bengali language in particular or Philology
in general, which were of the greatest benefit to me. There were few
subjects which he had not studied and anything he had studied he could
clearly expound.

If we had not relied on the other members of the Academy we had tried to
found, but left everything to Dr. Rajendrahal, the present _Sahitya
Parishat_ would have doubtless found the matters it is now occupied with
left in a much more advanced state by that one man alone.

Dr. Rajendrahal Mitra was not only a profound scholar, but he had
likewise a striking personality which shone through his features. Full
of fire as he was in his public life, he could also unbend graciously so
as to talk on the most difficult subjects to a stripling like myself
without any trace of a patronising tone. I even took advantage of his
condescension to the extent of getting a contribution, _Yama's Dog_,
from him for the Bharabi. There were other great contemporaries of his
with whom I would not have ventured to take such liberties, nor would I
have met with the like response if I had.

And yet when he was on the war path his opponents on the Municipal
Corporation or the Senate of the University were mortally afraid of him.
In those days Kristo Das Pal was the tactful politician, and Rajendrahal
Mitra the valiant fighter.

For the purposes of the Asiatic Society's publications and researches,
he had to employ a number of Sanscrit Pandits to do the mechanical work
for him. I remember how this gave certain envious and mean-minded
detractors the opportunity of saying that everything was really done by
these Pandits while Rajendrahal fraudulently appropriated all the
credit. Even to-day we very often find the tools arrogating to
themselves the lion's share of the achievement, imagining the wielder to
be a mere ornamental figurehead. If the poor pen had a mind it would as
certainly have bemoaned the unfairness of its getting all the stain and
the writer all the glory!

It is curious that this extraordinary man should have got no recognition
from his countrymen even after his death. One of the reasons may be that
the national mourning for Vidyasagar, whose death followed shortly
after, left no room for a recognition of the other bereavement.
Another reason may be that his main contributions being outside the pale
of Bengali literature, he had been unable to reach the heart of the

(36) _Karwar_

Our Sudder Street party next transferred itself to Karwar on the West
Sea coast. Karwar is the headquarters of the Kanara district in the
Southern portion of the Bombay Presidency. It is the tract of the Malaya
Hills of Sanskrit literature where grow the cardamum creeper and the
Sandal Tree. My second brother was then Judge there.

The little harbour, ringed round with hills, is so secluded that it has
nothing of the aspect of a port about it. Its crescent shaped beach
throws out its arms to the shoreless open sea like the very image of an
eager striving to embrace the infinite. The edge of the broad sandy
beach is fringed with a forest of casuarinas, broken at one end by the
_Kalanadi_ river which here flows into the sea after passing through a
gorge flanked by rows of hills on either side.

I remember how one moonlit evening we went up this river in a little
boat. We stopped at one of Shivaji's old hill forts, and stepping
ashore found our way into the clean-swept little yard of a peasant's
home. We sat on a spot where the moonbeams fell glancing off the top of
the outer enclosure, and there dined off the eatables we had brought
with us. On our way back we let the boat glide down the river. The night
brooded over the motionless hills and forests, and on the silent flowing
stream of this little _Kalanadi_, throwing over all its moonlight spell.
It took us a good long time to reach the mouth of the river, so, instead
of returning by sea, we got off the boat there and walked back home over
the sands of the beach. It was then far into the night, the sea was
without a ripple, even the ever-troubled murmur of the casuarinas was at
rest. The shadow of the fringe of trees along the vast expanse of sand
hung motionless along its border, and the ring of blue-grey hills around
the horizon slept calmly beneath the sky.

[Illustration: Karwar Beach]

Through the deep silence of this illimitable whiteness we few human
creatures walked along with our shadows, without a word. When we reached
home my sleep had lost itself in something still deeper. The poem which
I then wrote is inextricably mingled with that night on the distant
seashore. I do not know how it will appeal to the reader apart from the
memories with which it is entwined. This doubt led to its being left
out of Mohita Babu's edition of my works. I trust that a place given to
it among my reminiscences may not be deemed unfitting.

    Let me sink down, losing myself in the depths of
    Let the Earth leave her hold of me, let her free me
        from her obstacle of dust.
    Keep your watch from afar, O stars, drunk though
        you be with moonlight,
      And let the horizon hold its wings still around me.
    Let there be no song, no word, no sound, no touch;
        nor sleep, nor awakening,--
      But only the moonlight like a swoon of ecstasy
        over the sky and my being.
    The world seems to me like a ship with its countless
      Vanishing in the far-away blue of the sky,
      Its sailors' song becoming fainter and fainter in
        the air,
    While I sink in the bosom of the endless night, fading
        away from myself, dwindling into a point.

It is necessary to remark here that merely because something has been
written when feelings are brimming over, it is not therefore necessarily
good. Such is rather a time when the utterance is thick with emotion.
Just as it does not do to have the writer entirely removed from the
feeling to which he is giving expression, so also it does not conduce
to the truest poetry to have him too close to it. Memory is the brush
which can best lay on the true poetic colour. Nearness has too much of
the compelling about it and the imagination is not sufficiently free
unless it can get away from its influence. Not only in poetry, but in
all art, the mind of the artist must attain a certain degree of
aloofness--the _creator_ within man must be allowed the sole control. If
the subject matter gets the better of the creation, the result is a mere
replica of the event, not a reflection of it through the Artist's mind.

(37) _Nature's Revenge_

Here in Karwar I wrote the _Prakritir Pratishodha_, Nature's Revenge, a
dramatic poem. The hero was a Sanyasi (hermit) who had been striving to
gain a victory over Nature by cutting away the bonds of all desires and
affections and thus to arrive at a true and profound knowledge of self.
A little girl, however, brought him back from his communion with the
infinite to the world and into the bondage of human affection. On so
coming back the _Sanyasi_ realised that the great is to be found in the
small, the infinite within the bounds of form, and the eternal freedom
of the soul in love. It is only in the light of love that all limits
are merged in the limitless.

The sea beach of Karwar is certainly a fit place in which to realise
that the beauty of Nature is not a mirage of the imagination, but
reflects the joy of the Infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves in
it. Where the universe is expressing itself in the magic of its laws it
may not be strange if we miss its infinitude; but where the heart gets
into immediate touch with immensity in the beauty of the meanest of
things, is any room left for argument?

Nature took the _Sanyasi_ to the presence of the Infinite, enthroned on
the finite, by the pathway of the heart. In the _Nature's Revenge_ there
were shown on the one side the wayfarers and the villagers, content with
their home-made triviality and unconscious of anything beyond; and on
the other the _Sanyasi_ busy casting away his all, and himself, into the
self-evolved infinite of his imagination. When love bridged the gulf
between the two, and the hermit and the householder met, the seeming
triviality of the finite and the seeming emptiness of the infinite alike

This was to put in a slightly different form the story of my own
experience, of the entrancing ray of light which found its way into the
depths of the cave into which I had retired away from all touch with
the outer world, and made me more fully one with Nature again. This
_Nature's Revenge_ may be looked upon as an introduction to the whole of
my future literary work; or, rather this has been the subject on which
all my writings have dwelt--the joy of attaining the Infinite within the

On our way back from Karwar I wrote some songs for the _Nature's
Revenge_ on board ship. The first one filled me with a great gladness as
I sang, and wrote it sitting on the deck:

    Mother, leave your darling boy to us,
    And let us take him to the field where we graze our cattle.[52]

The sun has risen, the buds have opened, the cowherd boys are going to
the pasture; and they would not have the sunlight, the flowers, and
their play in the grazing grounds empty. They want their _Shyam_
(Krishna) to be with them there, in the midst of all these. They want to
see the Infinite in all its carefully adorned loveliness; they have
turned out so early because they want to join in its gladsome play, in
the midst of these woods and fields and hills and dales--not to admire
from a distance, nor in the majesty of power. Their equipment is of the
slightest. A simple yellow garment and a garland of wild-flowers are all
the ornaments they require. For where joy reigns on every side, to hunt
for it arduously, or amidst pomp and circumstances, is to lose it.

Shortly after my return from Karwar, I was married. I was then 22 years
of age.

(38) _Pictures and Songs_

_Chhabi o Gan_, Picture and Songs, was the title of a book of poems most
of which were written at this time.

We were then living in a house with a garden in Lower Circular Road.
Adjoining it on the south was a large _Busti_.[53] I would often sit
near a window and watch the sights of this populous little settlement. I
loved to see them at their work and play and rest, and in their
multifarious goings and comings. To me it was all like a living story.

A faculty of many-sightedness possessed me at this time. Each little
separate picture I ringed round with the light of my imagination and the
joy of my heart; every one of them, moreover, being variously coloured
by a pathos of its own. The pleasure of thus separately marking off each
picture was much the same as that of painting it, both being the outcome
of the desire to see with the mind what the eye sees, and with the eye
what the mind imagines.

Had I been a painter with the brush I would doubtless have tried to keep
a permanent record of the visions and creations of that period when my
mind was so alertly responsive. But that instrument was not available to
me. What I had was only words and rhythms, and even with these I had not
yet learnt to draw firm strokes, and the colours went beyond their
margins. Still, like young folk with their first paint box, I spent the
livelong day painting away with the many coloured fancies of my new-born
youth. If these pictures are now viewed in the light of that
twenty-second year of my life, some features may be discerned even
through their crude drawing and blurred colouring.

I have said that the first book of my literary life came to an end with
the _Morning Songs_. The same subject was then continued under a
different rendering. Many a page at the outset of this Book, I am sure,
is of no value. In the process of making a new beginning much in the way
of superfluous preliminary has to be gone through. Had these been leaves
of trees they would have duly dropped off. Unfortunately, leaves of
books continue to stick fast even when they are no longer wanted. The
feature of these poems was the closeness of attention devoted even to
trifling things. _Pictures and Songs_ seized every opportunity of giving
value to these by colouring them with feelings straight from the heart.

Or, rather, that was not it. When the string of the mind is properly
attuned to the universe then at each point the universal song can awaken
its sympathetic vibrations. It was because of this music roused within
that nothing then felt trivial to the writer. Whatever my eyes fell upon
found a response within me. Like children who can play with sand or
stones or shells or whatever they can get (for the spirit of play is
within them), so also we, when filled with the song of youth, become
aware that the harp of the universe has its variously tuned strings
everywhere stretched, and the nearest may serve as well as any other for
our accompaniment, there is no need to seek afar.

(39) _An Intervening Period_

Between the _Pictures and Songs_ and the _Sharps and Flats_, a child's
magazine called the _Balaka_ sprang up and ended its brief days like an
annual plant. My second sister-in-law felt the want of an illustrated
magazine for children. Her idea was that the young people of the family
would contribute to it, but as she felt that that alone would not be
enough, she took up the editorship herself and asked me to help with
contributions. After one or two numbers of the _Balaka_ had come out I
happened to go on a visit to Rajnarayan Babu at Deoghur. On the return
journey the train was crowded and as there was an unshaded light just
over the only berth I could get, I could not sleep. I thought I might as
well take this opportunity of thinking out a story for the _Balaka_. In
spite of my efforts to get hold of the story it eluded me, but sleep
came to the rescue instead. I saw in a dream the stone steps of a temple
stained with the blood of victims of the sacrifice;--a little girl
standing there with her father asking him in piteous accents: "Father,
what is this, why all this blood?" and the father, inwardly moved,
trying with a show of gruffness to quiet her questioning. As I awoke I
felt I had got my story. I have many more such dream-given stories and
other writings as well. This dream episode I worked into the annals of
King Gobinda Manikya of Tipperah and made out of it a little serial
story, _Rajarshi_, for the _Balaka_.

Those were days of utter freedom from care. Nothing in particular seemed
to be anxious to express itself through my life or writings. I had not
yet joined the throng of travellers on the path of Life, but was a mere
spectator from my roadside window. Many a person hied by on many an
errand as I gazed on, and every now and then Spring or Autumn, or the
Rains would enter unasked and stay with me for a while.

But I had not only to do with the seasons. There were men of all kinds
of curious types who, floating about like boats adrift from their
anchorage, occasionally invaded my little room. Some of them sought to
further their own ends, at the cost of my inexperience, with many an
extraordinary device. But they need not have taken any extraordinary
pains to get the better of me. I was then entirely unsophisticated, my
own wants were few, and I was not at all clever in distinguishing
between good and bad faith. I have often gone on imagining that I was
assisting with their school fees students to whom fees were as
superfluous as their unread books.

Once a long-haired youth brought me a letter from an imaginary sister in
which she asked me to take under my protection this brother of hers who
was suffering from the tyranny of a stepmother as imaginary as herself.
The brother was not imaginary, that was evident enough. But his sister's
letter was as unnecessary for me as expert marksmanship to bring down a
bird which cannot fly.

Another young fellow came and informed me that he was studying for the
B.A., but could not go up for his examination as he was afflicted with
some brain trouble. I felt concerned, but being far from proficient in
medical science, or in any other science, I was at a loss what advice to
give him. But he went on to explain that he had seen in a dream that my
wife had been his mother in a former birth, and that if he could but
drink some water which had touched her feet he would get cured. "Perhaps
you don't believe in such things," he concluded with a smile. My belief,
I said, did not matter, but if he thought he could get cured, he was
welcome, with which I procured him a phial of water which was supposed
to have touched my wife's feet. He felt immensely better, he said. In
the natural course of evolution from water he came to solid food. Then
he took up his quarters in a corner of my room and began to hold
smoking parties with his friends, till I had to take refuge in flight
from the smoke laden air. He gradually proved beyond doubt that his
brain might have been diseased, but it certainly was not weak.

After this experience it took no end of proof before I could bring
myself to put my trust in children of previous births. My reputation
must have spread for I next received a letter from a daughter. Here,
however, I gently but firmly drew the line.

All this time my friendship with Babu Srish Chandra Magundar ripened
apace. Every evening he and Prija Babu would come to this little room of
mine and we would discuss literature and music far into the night.
Sometimes a whole day would be spent in the same way. The fact is my
_self_ had not yet been moulded and nourished into a strong and definite
personality and so my life drifted along as light and easy as an autumn

(40) _Bankim Chandra_

This was the time when my acquaintance with Bankim Babu began. My first
sight of him was a matter of long before. The old students of Calcutta
University had then started an annual reunion, of which Babu Chandranath
Basu was the leading spirit. Perhaps he entertained a hope that at some
future time I might acquire the right to be one of them; anyhow I was
asked to read a poem on the occasion. Chandranath Babu was then quite a
young man. I remember he had translated some martial German poem into
English which he proposed to recite himself on the day, and came to
rehearse it to us full of enthusiasm. That a warrior poet's ode to his
beloved sword should at one time have been his favourite poem will
convince the reader that even Chandranath Babu was once young; and
moreover that those times were indeed peculiar.

While wandering about in the crush at the Students' reunion, I suddenly
came across a figure which at once struck me as distinguished beyond
that of all the others and who could not have possibly been lost in any
crowd. The features of that tall fair personage shone with such a
striking radiance that I could not contain my curiosity about him--he
was the only one there whose name I felt concerned to know that day.
When I learnt he was Bankim Babu I marvelled all the more, it seemed to
me such a wonderful coincidence that his appearance should be as
distinguished as his writings. His sharp aquiline nose, his compressed
lips, and his keen glance all betokened immense power. With his arms
folded across his breast he seemed to walk as one apart, towering above
the ordinary throng--this is what struck me most about him. Not only
that he looked an intellectual giant, but he had on his forehead the
mark of a true prince among men.

One little incident which occurred at this gathering remains indelibly
impressed on my mind. In one of the rooms a Pandit was reciting some
Sanskrit verses of his own composition and explaining them in Bengali to
the audience. One of the allusions was not exactly coarse, but somewhat
vulgar. As the Pandit was proceeding to expound this Bankim Babu,
covering his face with his hands, hurried out of the room. I was near
the door and can still see before me that shrinking, retreating figure.

After that I often longed to see him, but could not get an opportunity.
At last one day, when he was Deputy Magistrate of Hawrah, I made bold to
call on him. We met, and I tried my best to make conversation. But I
somehow felt greatly abashed while returning home, as if I had acted
like a raw and bumptious youth in thus thrusting myself upon him unasked
and unintroduced.

Shortly after, as I added to my years, I attained a place as the
youngest of the literary men of the time; but what was to be my position
in order of merit was not even then settled. The little reputation I
had acquired was mixed with plenty of doubt and not a little of
condescension. It was then the fashion in Bengal to assign each man of
letters a place in comparison with a supposed compeer in the West. Thus
one was the Byron of Bengal, another the Emerson and so forth. I began
to be styled by some the Bengal Shelley. This was insulting to Shelley
and only likely to get me laughed at.

My recognised cognomen was the Lisping Poet. My attainments were few, my
knowledge of life meagre, and both in my poetry and my prose the
sentiment exceeded the substance. So that there was nothing there on
which anyone could have based his praise with any degree of confidence.
My dress and behaviour were of the same anomalous description. I wore my
hair long and indulged probably in an ultra-poetical refinement of
manner. In a word I was eccentric and could not fit myself into everyday
life like the ordinary man.

At this time Babu Akshay Sarkar had started his monthly review, the
_Nabajiban_, New Life, to which I used occasionally to contribute.
Bankim Babu had just closed the chapter of his editorship of the _Banga
Darsan_, the Mirror of Bengal, and was busy with religious discussions
for which purpose he had started the monthly, _Prachar_, the Preacher.
To this also I contributed a song or two and an effusive appreciation
of _Vaishnava_ lyrics.

From now I began constantly to meet Bankim Babu. He was then living in
Bhabani Dutt's street. I used to visit him frequently, it is true, but
there was not much of conversation. I was then of the age to listen, not
to talk. I fervently wished we could warm up into some discussion, but
my diffidence got the better of my conversational powers. Some days
Sanjib Babu[54] would be there reclining on his bolster. The sight would
gladden me, for he was a genial soul. He delighted in talking and it was
a delight to listen to his talk. Those who have read his prose writing
must have noticed how gaily and airily it flows on like the sprightliest
of conversation. Very few have this gift of conversation, and fewer
still the art of translating it into writing.

This was the time when Pandit Sashadhar rose into prominence. Of him I
first heard from Bankim Babu. If I remember right Bankim Babu was also
responsible for introducing him to the public. The curious attempt made
by Hindu orthodoxy to revive its prestige with the help of western
science soon spread all over the country. Theosophy for some time
previously had been preparing the ground for such a movement. Not that
Bankim Babu even thoroughly identified himself with this cult. No shadow
of Sashadhar was cast on his exposition of Hinduism as it found
expression in the _Prachar_--that was impossible.

I was then coming out of the seclusion of my corner as my contributions
to these controversies will show. Some of these were satirical verses,
some farcical plays, others letters to newspapers. I thus came down into
the arena from the regions of sentiment and began to spar in right

In the heat of the fight I happened to fall foul of Bankim Babu. The
history of this remains recorded in the _Prachar_ and _Bharati_ of those
days and need not be repeated here. At the close of this period of
antagonism Bankim Babu wrote me a letter which I have unfortunately
lost. Had it been here the reader could have seen with what consummate
generosity Bankim Babu had taken the sting out of that unfortunate


(41) _The Steamer Hulk_

Lured by an advertisement in some paper my brother Jyotirindra went off
one afternoon to an auction sale, and on his return informed us that he
had bought a steel hulk for seven thousand rupees; all that now remained
being to put in an engine and some cabins for it to become a
full-fledged steamer.

My brother must have thought it a great shame that our countrymen should
have their tongues and pens going, but not a single line of steamers. As
I have narrated before, he had tried to light matches for his country,
but no amount of rubbing availed to make them strike. He had also wanted
power-looms to work, but after all his travail only one little country
towel was born, and then the loom stopped. And now that he wanted Indian
steamers to ply, he bought an empty old hulk, which in due course, was
filled, not only with engines and cabins, but with loss and ruin as
well. And yet we should remember that all the loss and hardship due to
his endeavours fell on him alone, while the gain of experience remained
in reserve for the whole country. It is these uncalculating,
unbusinesslike spirits who keep the business-fields of the country
flooded with their activities. And, though the flood subsides as rapidly
as it comes, it leaves behind fertilising silt to enrich the soil. When
the time for reaping arrives no one thinks of these pioneers; but those
who have cheerfully staked and lost their all, during life, are not
likely, after death, to mind this further loss of being forgotten.

On one side was the European Flotilla Company, on the other my brother
Jyotirindra alone; and how tremendous waxed that battle of the
mercantile fleets, the people of Khulna and Barisal may still remember.
Under the stress of competition steamer was added to steamer, loss piled
on loss, while the income dwindled till it ceased to be worth while to
print tickets. The golden age dawned on the steamer service between
Khulna and Barisal. Not only were the passengers carried free of charge,
but they were offered light refreshments _gratis_ as well! Then was
formed a band of volunteers who, with flags and patriotic songs, marched
the passengers in procession to the Indian line of steamers. So while
there was no want of passengers to carry, every other kind of want began
to multiply apace.

[Illustration: My Brother Jyotirindra]

Arithmetic remained uninfluenced by patriotic fervour; and while
enthusiasm flamed higher and higher to the tune of patriotic songs,
three times three went on steadily making nine on the wrong side of
the balance sheet.

One of the misfortunes which always pursues the unbusinesslike is that,
while they are as easy to read as an open book, they never learn to read
the character of others. And since it takes them the whole of their
lifetime and all their resources to find out this weakness of theirs,
they never get the chance of profiting by experience. While the
passengers were having free refreshments, the staff showed no signs of
being starved either, but nevertheless the greatest gain remained with
my brother in the ruin he so valiantly faced.

The daily bulletins of victory or disaster which used to arrive from the
theatre of action kept us in a fever of excitement. Then one day came
the news that the steamer _Swadeshi_ had fouled the Howrah bridge and
sunk. With this last loss my brother completely overstepped the limits
of his resources, and there was nothing for it but to wind up the

(42) _Bereavements_

In the meantime death made its appearance in our family. Before this, I
had never met Death face to face. When my mother died I was quite a
child. She had been ailing for quite a long time, and we did not even
know when her malady had taken a fatal turn. She used all along to sleep
on a separate bed in the same room with us. Then in the course of her
illness she was taken for a boat trip on the river, and on her return a
room on the third storey of the inner apartments was set apart for her.

On the night she died we were fast asleep in our room downstairs. At
what hour I cannot tell, our old nurse came running in weeping and
crying: "O my little ones, you have lost your all!" My sister-in-law
rebuked her and led her away, to save us the sudden shock at dead of
night. Half awakened by her words, I felt my heart sink within me, but
could not make out what had happened. When in the morning we were told
of her death, I could not realize all that it meant for me.

As we came out into the verandah we saw my mother laid on a bedstead in
the courtyard. There was nothing in her appearance which showed death to
be terrible. The aspect which death wore in that morning light was as
lovely as a calm and peaceful sleep, and the gulf between life and its
absence was not brought home to us.

Only when her body was taken out by the main gateway, and we followed
the procession to the cremation ground, did a storm of grief pass
through me at the thought that mother would never return by this door
and take again her accustomed place in the affairs of her household. The
day wore on, we returned from the cremation, and as we turned into our
lane I looked up at the house towards my father's rooms on the third
storey. He was still in the front verandah sitting motionless in prayer.

She who was the youngest daughter-in-law of the house took charge of the
motherless little ones. She herself saw to our food and clothing and all
other wants, and kept us constantly near, so that we might not feel our
loss too keenly. One of the characteristics of the living is the power
to heal the irreparable, to forget the irreplaceable. And in early life
this power is strongest, so that no blow penetrates too deeply, no scar
is left permanently. Thus the first shadow of death which fell on us
left no darkness behind; it departed as softly as it came, only a

When, in later life, I wandered about like a madcap, at the first coming
of spring, with a handful of half-blown jessamines tied in a corner of
my muslin scarf, and as I stroked my forehead with the soft, rounded,
tapering buds, the touch of my mother's fingers would come back to me;
and I clearly realised that the tenderness which dwelt in the tips of
those lovely fingers was the very same as that which blossoms every day
in the purity of these jessamine buds; and that whether we know it or
not, this tenderness is on the earth in boundless measure.

The acquaintance which I made with Death at the age of twenty-four was a
permanent one, and its blow has continued to add itself to each
succeeding bereavement in an ever lengthening chain of tears. The
lightness of infant life can skip aside from the greatest of calamities,
but with age evasion is not so easy, and the shock of that day I had to
take full on my breast.

That there could be any gap in the unbroken procession of the joys and
sorrows of life was a thing I had no idea of. I could therefore see
nothing beyond, and this life I had accepted as all in all. When of a
sudden death came and in a moment made a gaping rent in its
smooth-seeming fabric, I was utterly bewildered. All around, the trees,
the soil, the water, the sun, the moon, the stars, remained as immovably
true as before; and yet the person who was as truly there, who, through
a thousand points of contact with life, mind, and heart, was ever so
much more true for me, had vanished in a moment like a dream. What
perplexing self-contradiction it all seemed to me as I looked around!
How was I ever to reconcile that which remained with that which had

The terrible darkness which was disclosed to me through this rent,
continued to attract me night and day as time went on. I would ever and
anon return to take my stand there and gaze upon it, wondering what
there was left in place of what had gone. Emptiness is a thing man
cannot bring himself to believe in; that which is _not_, is untrue; that
which is untrue, is not. So our efforts to find something, where we see
nothing, are unceasing.

Just as a young plant, surrounded by darkness, stretches itself, as it
were on tiptoe, to find its way out into the light, so when death
suddenly throws the darkness of negation round the soul it tries and
tries to rise into the light of affirmation. And what other sorrow is
comparable to the state wherein darkness prevents the finding of a way
out of the darkness?

And yet in the midst of this unbearable grief, flashes of joy seemed to
sparkle in my mind, now and again, in a way which quite surprised me.
That life was not a stable permanent fixture was itself the sorrowful
tidings which helped to lighten my mind. That we were not prisoners for
ever within a solid stone wall of life was the thought which
unconsciously kept coming uppermost in rushes of gladness. That which I
had held I was made to let go--this was the sense of loss which
distressed me,--but when at the same moment I viewed it from the
standpoint of freedom gained, a great peace fell upon me.

The all-pervading pressure of worldly existence compensates itself by
balancing life against death, and thus it does not crush us. The
terrible weight of an unopposed life force has not to be endured by
man,--this truth came upon me that day as a sudden, wonderful

With the loosening of the attraction of the world, the beauty of nature
took on for me a deeper meaning. Death had given me the correct
perspective from which to perceive the world in the fulness of its
beauty, and as I saw the picture of the Universe against the background
of Death I found it entrancing.

At this time I was attacked with a recrudescence of eccentricity in
thought and behaviour. To be called upon to submit to the customs and
fashions of the day, as if they were something soberly and genuinely
real, made me want to laugh. I _could_ not take them seriously. The
burden of stopping to consider what other people might think of me was
completely lifted off my mind. I have been about in fashionable book
shops with a coarse sheet draped round me as my only upper garment, and
a pair of slippers on my bare feet. Through hot and cold and wet I used
to sleep out on the verandah of the third storey. There the stars and I
could gaze at each other, and no time was lost in greeting the dawn.

This phase had nothing to do with any ascetic feeling. It was more like
a holiday spree as the result of discovering the schoolmaster Life with
his cane to be a myth, and thereby being able to shake myself free from
the petty rules of his school. If, on waking one fine morning we were to
find gravitation reduced to only a fraction of itself, would we still
demurely walk along the high road? Would we not rather skip over
many-storied houses for a change, or on encountering the monument take a
flying jump, rather than trouble to walk round it? That was why, with
the weight of worldly life no longer clogging my feet, I could not stick
to the usual course of convention.

Alone on the terrace in the darkness of night I groped all over like a
blind man trying to find upon the black stone gate of death some device
or sign. Then when I woke with the morning light falling on that
unscreened bed of mine, I felt, as I opened my eyes, that my enveloping
haze was becoming transparent; and, as on the clearing of the mist the
hills and rivers and forests of the scene shine forth, so the dew-washed
picture of the world-life, spread out before me, seemed to become
renewed and ever so beautiful.

(43) _The Rains and Autumn_

According to the Hindu calendar, each year is ruled by a particular
planet. So have I found that in each period of life a particular season
assumes a special importance. When I look back to my childhood I can
best recall the rainy days. The wind-driven rain has flooded the
verandah floor. The row of doors leading into the rooms are all closed.
Peari, the old scullery maid, is coming from the market, her basket
laden with vegetables, wading through the slush and drenched with the
rain. And for no rhyme or reason I am careering about the verandah in an
ecstasy of joy.

This also comes back to me:--I am at school, our class is held in a
colonnade with mats as outer screens; cloud upon cloud has come up
during the afternoon, and they are now heaped up, covering the sky; and
as we look on, the rain comes down in close thick showers, the thunder
at intervals rumbling long and loud; some mad woman with nails of
lightning seems to be rending the sky from end to end; the mat walls
tremble under the blasts of wind as if they would be blown in; we can
hardly see to read, for the darkness. The Pandit gives us leave to close
our books. Then leaving the storm to do the romping and roaring for us,
we keep swinging our dangling legs; and my mind goes right away across
the far-off unending moor through which the Prince of the fairy tale

I remember, moreover, the depth of the _Sravan_[55] nights. The
pattering of the rain finding its way through the gaps of my slumber,
creates within a gladsome restfulness deeper than the deepest sleep. And
in the wakeful intervals I pray that the morning may see the rain
continue, our lane under water, and the bathing platform of the tank
submerged to the last step.

But at the age of which I have just been telling, Autumn is on the
throne beyond all doubt. Its life is to be seen spread under the clear
transparent leisure of _Aswin_.[56] And in the molten gold of this
autumn sunshine, softly reflected from the fresh dewy green outside, I
am pacing the verandah and composing, in the mode _Jogiya_, the song:

    In this morning light I do not know what it is that my heart desires.

The autumn day wears on, the house gong sounds 12 noon, the mode
changes; though my mind is still filled with music, leaving no room for
call of work or duty; and I sing:

      What idle play is this with yourself, my heart,
    through the listless hours?

Then in the afternoon I am lying on the white floorcloth of my little
room, with a drawing book trying to draw pictures,--by no means an
arduous pursuit of the pictorial muse, but just a toying with the desire
to make pictures. The most important part is that which remains in the
mind, and of which not a line gets drawn on the paper. And in the
meantime the serene autumn afternoon is filtering through the walls of
this little Calcutta room filling it, as a cup, with golden

I know not why, but all my days of that period I see as if through this
autumn sky, this autumn light--the autumn which ripened for me my songs
as it ripens the corn for the tillers; the autumn which filled my
granary of leisure with radiance; the autumn which flooded my unburdened
mind with an unreasoning joy in fashioning song and story.

The great difference which I see between the Rainy-season of my
childhood and the Autumn of my youth is that in the former it is outer
Nature which closely hemmed me in keeping me entertained with its
numerous troupe, its variegated make-up, its medley of music; while the
festivity which goes on in the shining light of autumn is in man
himself. The play of cloud and sunshine is left in the background, while
the murmurs of joy and sorrow occupy the mind. It is our gaze which
gives to the blue of the autumn sky its wistful tinge and human yearning
which gives poignancy to the breath of its breezes.

My poems have now come to the doors of men. Here informal goings and
comings are not allowed. There is door after door, chamber within
chamber. How many times have we to return with only a glimpse of the
light in the window, only the sound of the pipes from within the palace
gates lingering in our ears. Mind has to treat with mind, will to come
to terms with will, through many tortuous obstructions, before giving
and taking can come about. The foundation of life, as it dashes into
these obstacles, splashes and foams over in laughter and tears, and
dances and whirls through eddies from which one cannot get a definite
idea of its course.

(44) _Sharps and Flats_

_Sharps and Flats_ is a serenade from the streets in front of the
dwelling of man, a plea to be allowed an entry and a place within that
house of mystery.

    This world is sweet,--I do not want to die.
    I wish to dwell in the ever-living life of Man.

This is the prayer of the individual to the universal life.

When I started for my second voyage to England, I made the acquaintance
on board ship of Asutosh Chaudhuri. He had just taken the M. A. degree
of the Calcutta University and was on his way to England to join the
Bar. We were together only during the few days the steamer took from
Calcutta to Madras, but it became quite evident that depth of friendship
does not depend upon length of acquaintance. Within this short time he
so drew me to him by his simple natural qualities of heart, that the
previous life-long gap in our acquaintance seemed always to have been
filled with our friendship.

When Ashu came back from England he became one of us.[57] He had not as
yet had time or opportunity to pierce through all the barriers with
which his profession is hedged in, and so become completely immersed in
it. The money-bags of his clients had not yet sufficiently loosened the
strings which held their gold, and Ashu was still an enthusiast in
gathering honey from various gardens of literature. The spirit of
literature which then saturated his being had nothing of the mustiness
of library morocco about it, but was fragrant with the scent of unknown
exotics from over the seas. At his invitation I enjoyed many a picnic
amidst the spring time of those distant woodlands.

He had a special taste for the flavour of French literature. I was then
writing the poems which came to be published in the volume entitled
_Kadi o Komal_, Sharps and Flats. Ashu could discern resemblances
between many of my poems and old French poems he knew. According to him
the common element in all these poems was the attraction which the play
of world-life had for the poet, and this had found varied expression in
each and every one of them. The unfulfilled desire to enter into this
larger life was the fundamental motive throughout.

"I will arrange and publish these poems for you," said Ashu, and
accordingly that task was entrusted to him. The poem beginning _This
world is sweet_ was the one he considered to be the keynote of the whole
series and so he placed it at the beginning of the volume.

Ashu was very possibly right. When in childhood I was confined to the
house, I offered my heart in my wistful gaze to outside nature in all
its variety through the openings in the parapet of our inner
roof-terrace. In my youth the world of men in the same way exerted a
powerful attraction on me. To that also I was then an outsider and
looked out upon it from the roadside. My mind standing on the brink
called out, as it were, with an eager waving of hands to the ferryman
sailing away across the waves to the other side. For Life longed to
start on life's journey.

It is not true that my peculiarly isolated social condition was the bar
to my plunging into the midst of the world-life. I see no sign that
those of my countrymen who have been all their lives in the thick of
society feel, any more than I did, the touch of its living intimacy. The
life of our country has its high banks, and its flight of steps, and, on
its dark waters falls the cool shade of the ancient trees, while from
within the leafy branches over-head the _koel_ cooes forth its ravishing
old-time song. But for all that it is stagnant water. Where is its
current, where are the waves, when does the high tide rush in from the

Did I then get from the neighbourhood on the other side of our lane an
echo of the victorious pæan with which the river, falling and rising,
wave after wave, cuts its way through walls of stone to the sea? No! My
life in its solitude was simply fretting for want of an invitation to
the place where the festival of world-life was being held.

Man is overcome by a profound depression while nodding through his
voluptuously lazy hours of seclusion, because in this way he is deprived
of full commerce with life. Such is the despondency from which I have
always painfully struggled to get free. My mind refused to respond to
the cheap intoxication of the political movements of those days, devoid,
as they seemed, of all strength of national consciousness, with their
complete ignorance of the country, their supreme indifference to real
service of the motherland. I was tormented by a furious impatience, an
intolerable dissatisfaction with myself and all around me. Much rather,
I said to myself, would I be an Arab Bedouin!

While in other parts of the world there is no end to the movement and
clamour of the revelry of free life, we, like the beggar maid, stand
outside and longingly look on. When have we had the wherewithal to deck
ourselves for the occasion and go and join in it? Only in a country
where the spirit of separation reigns supreme, and innumerable petty
barriers divide one from another, need this longing to realise the
larger life of the world in one's own remain unsatisfied.

I strained with the same yearning towards the world of men in my youth,
as I did in my childhood towards outside nature from within the
chalk-ring drawn round me by the servants. How rare, how unattainable,
how far away it seemed! And yet if we cannot get into touch with it, if
from it no breeze can blow, no current come, if no road be there for
the free goings and comings of travellers, then the dead things that
accumulate around us never get removed, but continue to be heaped up
till they smother all life.

During the Rains there are only dark clouds and showers. And in the
Autumn there is the play of light and shade in the sky, but that is not
all-absorbing; for there is also the promise of corn in the fields. So
in my poetical career, when the rainy season was in the ascendant there
were only my vaporous fancies which stormed and showered; my utterance
was misty, my verses were wild. And with the _Sharps and Flats_ of my
Autumn, not only was there the play of cloud-effects in the sky, but out
of the ground crops were to be seen rising. Then, in the commerce with
the world of reality, both language and metre attempted definiteness and
variety of form.

Thus ends another Book. The days of coming together of inside and
outside, kin and stranger, are closing in upon my life. My life's
journey has now to be completed through the dwelling places of men. And
the good and evil, joy and sorrow, which it thus encountered, are not to
be lightly viewed as pictures. What makings and breakings, victories and
defeats, clashings and minglings, are here going on!

I have not the power to disclose and display the supreme art with which
the Guide of my life is joyfully leading me through all its obstacles,
antagonisms and crookednesses towards the fulfilment of its innermost
meaning. And if I cannot make clear all the mystery of this design,
whatever else I may try to show is sure to prove misleading at every
step. To analyse the image is only to get at its dust, not at the joy of
the artist.

So having escorted them to the door of the inner sanctuary I take leave
of my readers.

Printed in the United States of America


[1] A jingling sentence in the Bengali Child's Primer.

[2] Exercises in two-syllables.

[3] Roofed colonnade or balcony. The writer's family house is an
irregular three-storied mass of buildings, which had grown with the
joint family it sheltered, built round several courtyards or
quadrangles, with long colonnades along the outer faces, and narrower
galleries running round each quadrangle, giving access to the single
rows of rooms.

[4] The men's portion of the house is the outer; and the women's the

[5] These Bustees or settlements consisting of tumbledown hovels,
existing side by side with palatial buildings, are still one of the
anomalies of Calcutta. _Tr._

[6] Corresponding to "Wonderland."

[7] There are innumerable renderings of the Ramayana in the Indian

[8] A kind of crisp unsweetened pancake taken like bread along with the
other courses.

[9] Food while being eaten, and utensils or anything else touched by the
hand engaged in conveying food to the mouth, are considered ceremonially

[10] The writer is the youngest of seven brothers. The sixth brother is
here meant.

[11] Obsolete word meaning bee.

[12] The lane, a blind one, leads, at right angles to the front
verandah, from the public main road to the grounds round the house.

[13] God of Death.

[14] Goddess of Learning.

[15] The Jupiter Pluvius of Hindu Mythology.

[16] The King of the Yakshas is the Pluto of Hindu Mythology.

[17] Corresponding to Lethe.

[18] Krishna's playground.

[19] Correspondence clerk.

[20] Spices wrapped in betel leaf.

[21] It is considered sinful for non-brahmins to cast glances on
neophytes during the process of their sacred-thread investiture, before
the ceremony is complete.

[22] Two novices in the hermitage of the sage Kanva, mentioned in the
Sanskrit drama, Sakuntala.

[23] The text for self-realisation.

[24] Bards or reciters.

[25] The Cow and the Brahmin are watchwords of modern Hindu Orthodoxy.

[26] An instrument on which the keynote is strummed to accompany

[27] A large proportion of words in the literary Bengali are derived
unchanged from the Sanskrit.

[28] Servants call the master and mistress father, and mother, and the
children brothers and sisters.

[29] Name of Vishnu in his aspect of slayer of the proud demon, Madhu.

[30] Nirada is a Sanscrit word meaning _cloud_, being a compound of
_nira_ = water and _da_ = giver. In Bengali it is pronounced _nirode_.

[31] Betel-leaf and spices.

[32] Father of the well-known artists Gaganendra and Abanindra. _Ed._

[33] In Bengali this word has come to mean an informal uninvited

[34] Systems of notation were not then in use. One of the most popular
of the present-day systems was subsequently devised by the writer's
brother here mentioned. _Tr._

[35] The new bride of the house, wife of the writer's fourth brother,
above-mentioned. _Tr._

[36] It may be helpful to the foreign reader to explain that the expert
singer of Indian music improvises more or less on the tune outline made
over to him by the original composer, so that the latter need not
necessarily do more than give a correct idea of such outline. _Tr._

[37] This would mean "the genius of Bhubanmohini" if that be taken as
the author's name.

[38] Gifts of cloth for use as wearing apparel are customary by way of
ceremonial offerings of affection, respect or seasonable greeting.

[39] The old Vaishnava poets used to bring their name into the last
stanza of the poem, this serving as their signature. Bhanu and Rabi both
mean the Sun. _Tr._

[40] The dried and stripped centre-vein of a cocoanut leaf gives a long
tapering stick of the average thickness of a match stick, and a bundle
of these goes to make the common Bengal household broom which in the
hands of the housewife is popularly supposed to be useful in keeping the
whole household in order from husband downwards. Its effect on a bare
back is here alluded to.--_Tr._

[41] There was a craze for phrenology at the time. _Tr._

[42] Latterly Sir Tarak Palit, a life-long friend of the writer's second
brother. _Tr._

[43] Saraswati, the goddess of learning, is depicted in Bengal as clad
in white and seated among a mass of lotus flowers. _Tr._

[44] With Indian music it is not a mere question of correctly rendering
a melody exactly as composed, but the theme of the original composition
is the subject of an improvised interpretative elaboration by the
expounding Artist. _Tr._

[45] Valmiki Pratibha means the genius of Valmiki. The plot is based on
the story of Valmiki, the robber chief, being moved to pity and breaking
out into a metrical lament on witnessing the grief of one of a pair of
cranes whose mate was killed by a hunter. In the metre which so came to
him he afterwards composed his _Ramayana_. _Tr._

[46] Some Indian classic melodic compositions are designed on a scheme
of accentuation, for which purpose the music is set, not to words, but
to unmeaning notation-sounds representing drum-beats or plectrum-impacts
which in Indian music are of a considerable variety of tone, each having
its own sound-symbol. The _Telena_ is one such style of composition.

[47] Reciters of Puranic legendary lore. _Tr._

[48] The Goddess of Wealth.

[49] As distinguished generally from different provincial styles, but
chiefly from the Dravidian style prevalent in the South. _Tr._

[50] Many of the Hindustani classic modes are supposed to be best in
keeping with particular seasons of the year, or times of the day. _Tr._

[51] The world, as the Indian boy knows it from fairy tale and folklore,
has seven seas and thirteen rivers. _Tr._

[52] This is addressed to Yashoda, mother of Krishna, by his playmates.
Yashoda would dress up her darling every morning in his yellow garment
with a peacock plume in his hair. But when it came to the point, she was
nervous about allowing him, young as he was, to join the other cowherd
boys at the pasturage. So it often required a great deal of persuasion
before they would be allowed to take charge of him. This is part of the
_Vaishnava_ parable of the child aspect of Krishna's play with the
world. _Tr._

[53] A Busti is an area thickly packed with shabby tiled huts, with
narrow pathways running through, and connecting it with the main street.
These are inhabited by domestic servants, the poorer class of artisans
and the like. Such settlements were formerly scattered throughout the
town even in the best localities, but are now gradually disappearing
from the latter. _Tr._

[54] One of Bankim Babu's brothers.

[55] The month corresponding to July-August, the height of the rainy

[56] The month of Aswin corresponds to September-October, the long
vacation time for Bengal.

[57] Referring to his marriage with the writer's niece, Pratibha. _Tr._

The following pages contain advertisements of Macmillan books by the
same author.



_Cloth, 12mo._

Herein are brought together some of the lectures which Sir Rabindranath
Tagore delivered while in this country. Among those included are found:
What is Art? The World of Personality, The Second Birth, My School and
Meditation. Many of the thousands of people who heard Sir Rabindranath
speak on these different subjects will doubtless be glad of the
opportunity here presented for further study of his thoughts and

=Songs of Kabir=

Cloth, 12mo, $1.25. Leather, $1.75.

"Tagore has given his songs their melodic English translation and Miss
Evelyn Underhill has prepared an excellent preface for the volume which
outlines the life and philosophy of 'Kabir.'" _Review of Reviews_.

      *       *       *       *       *

"No one in the least sympathetic to spiritual aspiration can read these
outpourings without catching fire at their flame and getting a sense of
supernal things. Tagore, a kindred spirit, has done a service in making
this old mystic, whose soul experiences did not make him abstract, whose
high song was that of the ascetic, but of a weaver who trod the common
ways of man, known to English readers." _Bellman, Minneapolis, Minn._

"Upon the reality of life he erects his faith, and buttresses it with
whatever of devotional good he may find in any religion. No ascetic,
Kabir pictures the mystic world of his belief with a beautiful richness
of symbolism." _Philadelphia Public Ledger_.

"Not only students of Indian literature or of comparative religions will
welcome this striking translation of a fifteenth-century Indian mystic.
Every one who is capable of responding to an appeal to cast off the
swathings of formalism and come out into spiritual freedom, every one
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and simple and full of beauty, will read it with interest and with
heart-quickening." _New York Times_.

      *       *       *       *       *


Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

=The Cycle of Spring: A Play=

_Cloth, 12mo, $1.25. Leather, $1.75._

This, the latest and richest of the author's plays, was recently
performed in the courtyard of his Calcutta home by the masters and boys
of Shantiniketan. The success was immense: and naturally, for the spirit
of the play is the spirit of universal youth, filled with laughter and
lyric fervour, jest and pathos and resurgence: immortal youth whose
every death is a rebirth, every winter an enfolded spring.

"All the joy, the buoyancy, the resilience, the indomitable and
irrepressible hopefulness of Youth are compacted in the lines of the
play. The keynote is sounded, with subtle symbolism, in the Prelude, in
which the King ranks above all matters of State or of Humanity the
circumstances that two gray hairs had made their appearance behind the
ear that morning.... Dramatic power, philosophy and lyric charm are
brilliantly blended in a work of art that has the freshness and the
promise of its theme." _New York Tribune_.

"A more beautiful play than 'The Cycle of Spring' by Sir Rabindranath
Tagore it would be hard to find in all literature. It embodies the
spirit of youth, and one can almost hear in it the laughter of the
eternally young.... Not only the glamor of the Orient but the breath of
Undying Youth is in this work of Tagore, a genius so peculiar to India,
so utterly inartificial, so completely of imagination all compact that
his colossal power begotten of Fairyland and the World of Visions makes
us poor Occidentals look very small indeed." _Rochester Post Express_.

      *       *       *       *       *


Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

=The Hungry Stones and Other Stories=

_Cloth, 12mo, $1.35. Leather, $1.75._

"These short stories furnish a double guaranty of the Hindu Nobel Prize
winner's rightful place among the notable literary figures of our
times." _New York Globe_.

"Imagination, charm of style, poetry, and depth of feeling without
gloominess, characterize this volume of stories of the Eastern poet.
This new volume of his work which introduces him to English readers as a
short-story writer is as significant of his power as are the verses that
have preceded it." _Boston Transcript_.

"A book of strange, beautiful, widely varying tales. Through them all,
the thread on which the beautiful beads are strung is the poet's mystic
philosophy." _New York Times_.

"The unutterable fascination of the Orient will be found in all these
beautiful tales. Exquisite art unlike that of any other living writer.
Rabindranath Tagore is one of the magicians of modern literature--a
transcendently great genius who brings to mammon-worshipping Western
minds the fantasy, the enchantment, and the wonder of the Orient."
_Rochester Post Express_.

      *       *       *       *       *


Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

=Stray Birds=

Frontispiece and Decorations by Willy Pogany

_12mo, $1.50._

Written during his present visit to America, this book may be said to
contain the essence of all Tagore's poetry and philosophy, revealed by
many aphorisms, epigrams and sayings.

Here is the kernel of the wisdom and insight of the great Hindu seer in
the form of short extracts. These sayings are the essence of his Eastern
message to the Western world. The frontispiece and decorations by Willy
Pogany are beautiful in themselves, and enhance the spiritual
significance of this extraordinary book.

"Each reflects some aspect of beauty, in thought or in nature, or some
of the many-sided philosophical reflections of the author. In one sense
these stray birds are tiny prose poems, a fact which makes the
dedication of the volume to 'T. Hara, of Yokohama,' peculiarly
appropriate, for they all suggest the delicacy and minuteness of
Japanese poetry as it is known to us in translation." _Philadelphia
Public Ledger_.

"Pleasing and inspiring." _Boston Daily Advertiser_.

"His utterances have something of the elusive delicacy of memories of
moral experiences out of a remote past." _Nation_.

      *       *       *       *       *


Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

Nobel Prizeman in Literature, 1913. Author of "Gitanjali," "The
Gardener," "The Crescent Moon," "Sadhana."



_Cloth, 12mo, $1.00. Leather, $1.75._

"The play is told with the simplicity and wonder of imagery always
characteristic of Rabindranath Tagore." _Cleveland Plain Dealer_.

"All the poetry of Tagore is here." ... _Poetry Journal_.

"Beautiful and marked by skilful rhythm." _Newark Evening News_.

"A clear portrayal of the dual nature of womankind." _Graphic_.

"The play is finely idyllic." _Chicago Daily Tribune_.

"A pretty situation, prettily worked out. And there is something piquant
in the combination of the old Hindu metaphorical style, half mystical in
allusion, with what is really a plea for the emancipation of women."
_The Nation_.

      *       *       *       *       *


Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

=Fruit Gathering=

_Cloth, 12mo, $1.25. Leather, $1.75._

"A shining pathway up which we can confidently travel to those regions
of wisdom and experience which consciously or unconsciously we strive to
reach." _Boston Transcript_.

"Quaintly lovely fragments." _Chicago Herald_.

"Exquisitely conceived and with all the distinctive grace which marked
'Song Offerings.'" _San Francisco Chronicle_.

"Exotic fragrance." _Chicago Daily News_.

"The songs have the quality of universality--the greatest quality which
poetry can possess." _Chicago Tribune_.

"As perfect in form as they are beautiful and poignant in content." _The
Athenæum, London_.

"Nothing richer nor sweeter.... Something of Omar Khayyam and something
of Rabbi ben Ezra, expressed more at length and more mystically. In
smoothly flowing rhythms, with vivid little pictures of life's
activities, the poet sings of old age, the fruit gathering time, its
sadness and its glory, its advantages and its sorrows." _The Boston

      *       *       *       *       *


Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

=The Post Office=

Cloth, 12mo, $1.00; leather, $1.75.

"... filled with tender pathos and spiritual beauty. There are two acts,
and the story is that of a frail little Indian lad condemned to
seclusion and inaction by ill health. He makes a new world for himself,
however, by his imagination and insatiable curiosity, and the passersby
bring the world of action to him. The play has been presented in England
by the Irish Players, and fully adapts itself to the charming simplicity
and charm which are their principal characteristics." _Phila. Public

"A beautiful and appealing piece of dramatic work." _Boston Transcript_.

"Once more Tagore demonstrates the universality of his genius; once more
he shows how art and true feeling know no racial and no religious
lines." _Kentucky Post_.

"One reads in 'The Post Office' his own will of symbolism. Simplicity
and a pervading, appealing pathos are the qualities transmitted to its
lines by the poet." _N. Y. World_.

"He writes from his soul; there is neither bombast nor didacticism. His
poems bring one to the quiet places where the soul speaks to the soul
surely but serenely." _N. Y. American_.

      *       *       *       *       *



Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

=The King of the Dark Chamber=



Nobel Prizeman in Literature, 1913; Author of "Gitangali," "The
Gardener," "The Crescent Moon," "Sadhana," "Chitra," "The Post-Office,"
etc. Cloth 12 mo, $1.25; leather, $1.75.

"The real poetical imagination of it is unchangeable; the allegory,
subtle and profound and yet simple, is cast into the form of a dramatic
narrative, which moves with unconventional freedom to a finely
impressive climax; and the reader, who began in idle curiosity, finds
his intelligence more and more engaged until, when he turns the last
page, he has the feeling of one who has been moving in worlds not
realized, and communing with great if mysterious presences."

_The London Globe_.

      *       *       *       *       *



Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York



_Nobel Prizeman in Literature, 1913_

=GITANJALI= (Song Offerings). A Collection of Prose Translations
made by the author from the original Bengali. New Edition     $1.25

=THE GARDENER=. Poems of Youth                                $1.25

=THE CRESCENT MOON=. Child Poems. (Colored Ill.)              $1.25

=SADHANA: THE REALIZATION OF LIFE=. A volume of essays        $1.25

All four by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by the author from the
original Bengali.

Rabindranath Tagore is the Hindu poet and preacher to whom the Nobel
Prize was recently awarded....

I would commend these volumes, and especially the one entitled
"Sadhana," the collection of essays, to all intelligent readers. I know
of nothing, except it be Maeterlinck, in the whole modern range of the
literature of the inner life that can compare with them.

There are no preachers nor writers upon spiritual topics, whether in
Europe or America, that have the depth of insight, the quickness of
religious apperception, combined with the intellectual honesty and
scientific clearness of Tagore....

Here is a book from a master, free as the air, with a mind universal as
the sunshine. He writes, of course, from the standpoint of the Hindu.
But, strange to say, his spirit and teaching come nearer to Jesus, as we
find Him in the Gospels, than any modern Christian writer I know.

He does for the average reader what Bergson and Eucken are doing for
scholars; he rescues the soul and its faculties from their enslavement
to logic-chopping. He shows us the way back to Nature and her spiritual

He rebukes our materialistic, wealth-mad, Western life with the dignity
and authority of one of the old Hebrew prophets....

He opens up the meaning of life. He makes us feel the redeeming fact
that life is tremendous, a worth-while adventure. "Everything has sprung
from immortal life and is vibrating with life. LIFE IS IMMENSE." ...

Tagore is a great human being. His heart is warm with love. His thoughts
are pure and high as the galaxy.

(Copyright, 1913, by Frank Crane.) Reprinted by permission from the _New
York Globe_, Dec. 18, 1913.

      *       *       *       *       *



Publishers 64-66 Fifth Avenue New York

       *       *       *       *       *

    | Transcriber's Notes:                                       |
    |                                                            |
    | Page 49: One instance of Govinda and one instance of       |
    | Gobinda: discrepancy retained                              |
    | Page 53: Hindusthani _sic_ ("Hindustani"                   |
    | _sic_ in Footnote 50.)                                     |
    | Page 137: Closing quotes added after "...Singha;"          |
    | Page 179: appetities amended to appetites                  |
    | Page 196: muscial amended to musical                       |
    | Page 219: Himayalas amended to Himalayas                   |
    | Page 235: cardamum _sic_                                   |
    | Page 236: casuarianas amended to casuarinas                |
    | Page 270: cooes _sic_                                      |
    | Advertisements at close of book (unpaginated):             |
    | transcendently _sic_ and Gitangali _sic_                   |
    |                                                            |
    | Footnote 50 had a double reference in the original text,   |
    | which has been retained here.                              |
    |                                                            |
    | Small discrepancies such as capitalisation between the     |
    | List of Illustrations and the illustration captions have   |
    | been retained.                                             |
    |                                                            |
    | Inconsistent hyphenation has been retained.                |
    |                                                            |
    | Inconsistent spelling of colours/colors has been retained. |
    |                                                            |
    | Sanskrit and Sanscrit are used interchangeably in the      |
    | original.                                                  |
    |                                                            |

       *       *       *       *       *

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