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Letters to a Friend
by Kumud Biswas

In July 1917, four years after Rabindranath received the Nobel Prize and became world famous, he received the following letter from an eleven year old girl from Benares –

Priyo Rabibabu (Dear Rabibabu),

I have read all the stories of your Galpaguchha (Collection of Stories). I could understand all of them except ‘Kshudhitapashan (The Hungry Stones). Why the old man who was telling the story of that Iranian slave girl didn’t finish it? I would very much like to know that story to the end. You will finish it, won’t you?

 

Then at the end of the story Jay-parajay (Victory and Defeat) Sekhar did not marry the princess, isn’t that right? My elder sisters tell me that in the end Sekhar died. But you must write that Sekhar didn’t die and married the princess – do you get my point? It gives me a lot of pain if Sekhar is made to die. Of all the stories I like Mastermashai the most. I have read your Gora, Naukadubi (Wreck), Jivansmriti (Memoirs), Chhinnapatra (Excerpts from letters), Rajarshi, Bouthakuranir hat (mis-spelt in Bengali) and Galpasaptak (Seven stories). In some places I couldn’t understand them but I enjoyed them all. Along with my younger sister I commit to memory (mis-spelt in Bengali) the poems from your Katha and Chhutir para. I started Choturanga, Falgooni and Santiniketan but found them difficult to understand. I shall also read Dakghar (Post office), Achalayatan, Raja, Sharodotsav etc. I long to see you ve—r –y much. You must come to our home. You must come, do you understand? If you don’t come I shall be very cross with you. If you come I will allow you to sleep in our bed room. I shall show you all my dolls. Overleaf I am giving you our address –

 

-Ranu.

235 Agast-kund

Benares city

 

You must reply fast.

Don’t make any mistake.

At the time Rabindranath was approaching sixty and had become a very busy man. In addition to his literary activities he had to run his Shantiniketan, always with a short supply of funds, and regularly hold classes. Because of his world-wide fame he received many invitations, many of them from abroad, had to travel far and near quite frequently, undertook lecture tours, received many distinguished guests both Indian and foreign, and replied hundreds of letters which he received from all kinds of correspondents. In the midst of all these he made time next month to reply to this letter from a small girl who was a total stranger to him.

Santiniketan

Bolpur

 

Kalyaniyashu (To one whose well-being is or should be wished),

 

To reply to your letter I had kept it somewhere very carefully but forgot exactly where – that is why this delay. Today it suddenly came out of its own from the corner of my desk.

 

Your name Ranu is very sweet. I had a daughter whom I also called Ranu, but she is no more. To your own people such a small name is all right, but to outsiders who want to post a letter to you it poses a problem. So when I write simply Ranu on the envelope don’t blame me if it does not show you due respect. In future while writing letters please remember that there is a lot of difference between the name you use at home and the name you use for the post office.

 

You have asked me about Sekhar. He would certainly have married the princess but he died before that. It was indeed a mistake on his part but now it cannot be remedied. The money the king would have spent on his marriage ceremony was spent on his last ritual which was observed on a grand scale.

 

I am equally eager to know the story of the Iranian slave girl of Kshudhitapashan, but the person who could tell it has so far remained untraceable.

 

I shall not forget your invitation – probably someday I shall go there – but if in the meantime you leave for another home? This is how in the real world the stories don’t come round to their logical conclusions.

 

And for an example you don’t have to go very far. Suppose your letter was not found – it could remain hidden forever in the corner of my desk and I could never know your address! I want to keep your invitation before you grow up and read all my books and understand them well. When you will do that you may not like them any more and send Rabibabu to the room where you keep your broken dolls.

 

Your well-wisher,

Shri Rabindranath Thakur.

This little girl went on writing letters to the poet and a warm friendship grew up between the two and it lasted till the poet’s death in 1941. The poet never neglected her because of her young age. In fact he was very fond of children and the quantity of literature he produced for them is without any parallel in world literature. No other writer has written so much for children. Recently a compilation of letters between these two friends of unequal age, running into more than 600 pages, has been published by the Viswabharati. Those who are interested may buy a copy and enjoy reading these letters.

7-Oct-2007
 
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