An Ordinary Girl: Rabindranath Tagore

I’m the girl from the inner chambers
You don’t know me
I read your last storybook, Saratbabu,
‘A garland of stale flowers’
Your heroine Elokeshi was close to self-destruction
At thirty-five
She was at loggerheads with twenty-five
You’re generous, I saw –
You gave her victory.

As for myself
I’m young.
The enchantment of my green years
Had touched someone’s heart
Knowing this I danced with joy –
I forgot that I’m a very ordinary girl.
Thousands more like me everywhere
The allure of youth in their age.

I beg of you
Write a story about an ordinary girl
She’s so unhappy.
Even if something extraordinary
Hides somewhere in her depths
How will she prove it,
How many can even see it.
Their eyes are clouded by the magic of tender years,
Theirs minds do not seek the truth,
We’re sold off at the price of a mirage

Let me tell you how all this came up.
Let’s say his name is Naresh.
He had said he hadn’t seen another like me.
I didn’t dare believe something so momentous
But where was the strength not to?

One day he went abroad.
I got a letter now and then.
God, I thought to myself! So many girls over there,
Such jostling crowds of them!
And are they all brilliant –
So clever, so dazzling?
And had they all discovered one Naresh Sen
Who was just another name back home.

In the last mail he wrote that he had
Been to the seaside with Lizzie to bathe
He quoted a few lines from a Bangla poem
The ones where Urvashi rises from the ocean –
Then they sat side by side on the sand –
Blue waves rolling in the sea before them
Unsullied sunshine spread across the sky
Very softly Lizzie told him,
‘You came the other day, you’ll go away soon;
Two seashells
Let them be filled
With a perfect teardrop –
Rare and priceless.’
What a marvellous way to talk.
Naresh also wrote,
‘No harm even if it’s all made up…
It’s beautiful –
Are gold flowers with diamonds real? And yet they are.’
As you can see
A hint of comparison in his letter pierced my heart
Like an invisible thorn, telling me –
I’m such an ordinary girl.
I don’t possess the riches
To pay the full price for what’s priceless
So be it, then
Let me be in debt all my life.

Write a story, Saratbabu, I plead with you
A rather ordinary girl’s story –
An unfortunate girl who must compete at a distance
With at least half a dozen matchless women –
Beaten back by a circle of enemy forces.
I realise my luck is wretched
I have lost.
But the girl you write about –
Make her win for me
So that I feel proud when I read
May your pen be blessed.

Name her Malati.
It’s my name.
No one will know.
There are many such Malatis in Bengal,
All of them ordinary girls.
They don’t know French or German,
They know how to weep.

How will you make her win?
High is your thinking. Your writing, generous
Maybe you will steer her along the path of sacrfice
To the edge of sorrow, like Shakuntala.
Have mercy on me.
Come down to my level.
In my bed under the darkness of night
The impossible boons I seek from the gods
Shall never be mine,
But may your heroine get them.
Why not keep Naresh in London for seven years,
Let him fail his examinations repeatedly
And live amidst the adulation of his devotees.
Let Malati get her M.A. degree meanwhile,
And come first in Calcutta University
In mathematics, with one stroke of your pen.
But if you stop there
Your fame as the emperor of literature will suffer.
Let my state be what it might
Do not curb your imagination.
You’re not a miser like god.
Send the girl to Europe
Let the erudite, the scholarly, the valorous,
Those who are poets, artists, kings,
Gather around her in groups.
Like astronomers let them discover her –
Not just for her learning, but as a woman.
The magic power she has to conquer the world…
Let its mystery be realised, not in the country of fools,
But where there are connoisseurs and the cognoscenti,
The English and the German and the French.
Why not give Malati a reception for honours won
A gathering of famous people.
Assume that praises are being rained on her incessantly
While she negotiates a path between them carelessly –
Like a sailboat on the waves.
Her eyes are the subject of their whispers
Everyone’s saying India’s moist clouds and bright sun
Have combined in her mesmerising gaze.
(Here I should tell whom it may concern
That the creator has indeed been kind to my eyes.
I had to say it myself
Not having had the fortune to have met
An aesthete from Europe.)
Let Naresh appear in one corner
Along with his entourage of extraordinary women.

And then?
Then my story draws to a close.
My dreams end.
Oh, you ordinary girl!
Oh what a waste of the almighty’s powers.

[ Original: Shadharon Meye ]

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