Feast for the rats!

(This is only a poor translation of one of poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore's short stories. We had published this story in June 2012, but are republishing it with a short summary. This is a lively story about a group of school students. The boys are returning to school after the vacations. Since they are traveling in a long-distance train, we can infer that they study in a residential school far away from their homes. The students know that a new teacher was arriving in school to teach them. But they had not met or seen him yet. Although the boys have not yet met the new teacher, they seem to have taken a dislike for him. What could be the reason for such behaviour? Possibly, the boys are gripped by a fear of the unknown. Perhaps the boys think that the new teacher, Kalikumar Tarkalankar, might be very strict and, so, they are scared. An elderly person boards their coach. At first, the boys play pranks on the man and try to make him feel uncomfortable. But the gentleman does not get angry. The gentleman's warm-hearted nature eventually wins over the boys and they start liking him. They even resolve to prevail over the school management to appoint the gentleman as their new teacher instead of Kalikumar Tarkalankar. Well, well, well! Who does the gentleman turn out to be? He is Kalikumar Tarkalankar himself! I think the story is trying to tell us that we should not make judgments about something until we actually see or experience the situation)

"It is very unfair, we will not study under a new teacher," the boys said.

The new teacher, who is arriving, has the name Kalikumar Tarkalankar. Even though the boys had not seen him yet, they had nicknamed the teacher as "Black Pumpkin Fresh Chilli", a ridiculous translation of the teacher's name.

The vacations had ended and the boys were returning back to school from their homes in a train. Among them was a jolly fellow who had composed a poem entitled "The Black Pumpkin's sacrifice" and the boys were reciting the poem at the top of their voice. Just then, when the train stopped at the Adkhola station, an old man entered their coach. With him was his sleeping bag all folded up, few pots that were closed at their mouths by pieces of cloth, a tin trunk and few bundles. One bully-type boy, who was called Bichkun by the others, roared, "There is no place here, old man. Get into another coach."

The old man said, "There is a huge rush and there is no place elsewhere. I will adjust myself in this corner and will not cause you any trouble." So saying, the old man vacated the seat among the boys and sat down after spreading his sleeping bag on the floor in a corner.

He asked the boys, "Where are all of you going, and why?"

Bichkun promptly replied that they were going for a "shraddha (a religious rite performed after the death of a person)".

"Whose shraddha?" the old man wanted to know.

Black Pumpkin Fresh Chilli's, he heard in reply.

The boys once again chanted at the top of their voice, "Black Pumpkin Fresh Chilli, we will show you your place."

The train halted at Asansol and the old man alighted to bathe at the station. When he returned after taking a bath, Bichkun cautioned him, "Do not remain in this coach, mister."

"Do tell me why," the old man requested to know.

"There are a lot of rats here," was the answer.

"Rats! What is all this talk of rats?"

"Just see what the rats have done after removing the covers of your pots."

The gentleman saw that the pots that had contained sweets and other eatables, were absolutely empty.

"The rats even scurried away carrying away one of your bundles," Bichkun said. The bundle had contained five or six luscious mangoes from the old man's own garden.

The gentlemen laughed and remarked that the rats must indeed have been very hungry.

Bichkun said rats are like that; they eat even if they are not hungry.

The other boys joined in the fun and laughed out aloud. "Yes mister, had there been more eatables, they would have finished that too," they said.

The gentleman said he had made a mistake. "Had I known there would be so many rats traveling together in the train, I would have brought more good things to eat," he said.

The boys were disappointed that the old man was not angry at their prank. It would have been fun if he had lost his temper.

The train came to halt at the Bardhaman station. It will stop for an hour and the passengers have to board another train for their onward journey.

The gentleman said, "Boys, I will not trouble you any more. I will find a seat for myself in a separate coach."

"No, no," the boys cried out in unison, "you must complete the rest of the journey with us. If you have anything left in the pots, we will guard them and nothing will go missing this time".

"Alright boys, you get into the train. I will join you in a moment," the gentleman said.

The boys jumped into the connecting train. After some time, a confectioner approached their coach pushing his cart and halted by the window. Along came the gentleman too. He handed over a packet of sweets to each of the boys and said, "This time, the rats will not face any impediments in their feast." The boys jumped in joy. Shortly, a mango seller also came by and delicious mangoes were passed around.

"Where are you going and for what purpose?" the boys demanded to know.

He said, "I am going in search of employment. I will get down wherever I find work."

"What sort of work do you do?" the boys demanded to know again.

"I am a teacher. I teach Sanskrit," the gentleman replied.

The boys clapped their hands in delight and said, "Then, you must come to our school."

"Why will your school employ me?" he asked.

"The school will have to employ you; we will not allow Black Pumpkin Fresh Chilli to enter the school premises under any circumstance," the boys cried out in unison.

"You have put me in a dilemma. What if the school secretary takes a dislike for me?" the old man wanted to know.

He has to like you - else, all of us will leave school and go away, they said.

"Okay boys, then take me to your school."

The train came to a halt at their destination. The school secretary was himself present at the station. On seeing the old man, he said, "Come, come, come Tarkalankar Sir. Your room has been readied and spruced up." The secretary then bowed and touched the old man's feet in reverence.

(NOTE: The story has been translated from Bengali. In the Bengali story, the boys call the new teacher by the ridiculous name of "Kalo Kumro Tatka Lonka" which would loosely translate into "Black Pumpkin Fresh Chilli". How did the boys make up this name? Well, the teacher's real name is Kalikumar Tarkalankar. The boys have split the name into Kali + Kumar + Tarka + Lanka. The boys have altered Kali to "kalo" which means black in Bengali; Kumar has been altered to "Kumro" which means pumpkin in Bengali; Tarka has been distorted to Tatka which means "fresh"; while the Bengali word for chilli or capsicum is "Lonka")

Some useful links for
your career:

  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
  • IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
  • Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
  • Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
  • IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu