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Kabuliwallah

(This is only a poor translation of "Kabuliwallah" by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore; the objective is merely to exhort readers to read the original story or better translations.

This is a heart-wrenching story about a Kabuliwallah who earns his living by selling dry fruits and other articles on the streets of Kolkata, far away from his homeland.

The narrator of the story, a writer, has a five-year-old daughter, Mini. Rahamat, the Kabuliwallah, befriends Mini by bribing her with nuts and raisins. Rahamat finds happiness in Mini's company, and comes to meet her every day. What could be the reason for this?

The narrator's wife suspects Rahamat of evil intentions; she thinks the burly Kabuliwallah with a sack slung across his shoulders visits her home with the intention of carrying away her daughter. The narrator, on the other hand, quite encourages the friendship between Mini and the Kabuliwallah; his heart fills with joy at the strange friendship between a five-year-old girl and an elderly Kabuliwallah. The narrator also likes to listen to stories about Rahamat's homeland.

Rahamat commits a crime; he stabs a customer who had purchased a Rampuri shawl from him but refused to pay for it. Rahamat is arrested, held guilty, and sentenced to several years imprisonment.

With Rahamat in prison and no longer visiting his home, and owing to the daily grind of life, the Kabuliwallah's memory gradually fades from the narrator's mind. Mini, a mere child, makes new friends on her journey to adulthood; she forgets about Kabuliwalah.

Then, unanticipatedly, Kabuliwallah makes a reappearance; he has served his term and has been released. Rahamat visits the narrator's house and wishes to see Mini. Incidentally, it is the day of Mini's wedding. Rahamat had hoped to see the same five-year-old mini; instead, he sees a grown up Mini in her bridal attire. The Kabuliwallah is astonished. Rahamat realizes that his own daughter in faraway Kabul must have grown up. Yes, that's the reason Rahamat had befriended Mini; he had a daughter in Kabul, and Mini reminded him of her. That's why he found happiness in Mini's company.

That, in a nutshell, is the story. But, one particular sentence struck me as rather uncommon: Bengali girls are familiar with the word "in-laws" since childhood. On first reading, I didn't know what to make of it. Why should Bengali girls be familiar with the word "in-laws" since childhood. Then, on second reading, I realized that this apparently refers to the practice of child marriage prevalent in those days.)

My five-year-old daughter, Mini, cannot remain quiet even for a minute. It had taken her only a year after coming to this world to learn the language and, thereafter, she has never wasted a single moment of her waking hours in remaining silent. Her mother often scolds her and forces Mini to keep her mouth shut, but I do not have the heart to do that. Mini appears so unnatural if she keeps quiet that I find it unendurable. It is for this reason that Mini's conversation with me is always lively.

I was trying to complete the 17th chapter of my new novel in the morning when Mini came to me."Baba, our watchman Ramdayal calls a crow a kouaa. He does not know anything. No?"

Before I could acquaint her of the diversities of the language, Mini had broached a different subject. "See Baba, Bhola was saying that elephants spout water in the sky with their trunks and, so, we get rains. Bhola is such a liar. He only talks, talks through the day and night."

Without waiting to hear my opinion on the matter, she asked me abruptly, "Baba, how is Ma related to you?"

"Sister-in-law," I said to myself, but to her I said, "Mini, go out and play with Bhola now. I have work to do."

She sat down at my feet by my writing table and began to play some sort of a game. In the 17th chapter of my book, Pratapsingh and Kanchanmala had, in the darkness of the night, leaped off the high prison wall into the river in a bid to escape.

My house is by the road. Mini stopped her game all of a sudden and rushed to the window screaming, "Kabuliwallah, oh Kabuliwallah."

A tall Kabuliwallah was walking down the road. He was attired in dirty loose flowing clothes with a turban on his head; there was a bundle slung across his shoulders, and he carried few boxes of grapes in his hands. I cannot say what emotions my daughter experienced at the sight of him but she began calling him fervently. I thought to myself, now the man will come here and I shall not be able to finish writing the 17th chapter of my book.

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