Rabindranath Tagore Selected short stories sample essay
Profit and Loss
This narrative briefly describes the short, sorrowful life of Nirupama. The name signifies ‘peerless one’ and was given to her by her parents, who were gratified with a daughter after having had five sons. Being treasured, her father searched long and hard to find a groom he deemed suitable enough for her. He engaged Nirupama to the son of a “grand” Raybahadur who asked for a dowry of 10,000 rupees. Even though he had no way of paying the large sum he found such a chance hard to refuse and he procured a way to borrow the money. However once this fell through the prospective husband, despite the wishes of his parents, still insisted on marrying. Once married, the bride’s father, Ramsundar Mitra had to beg to visit his daughter. She was treated spitefully and Ramsundar heard of the contempt and shame that his daughter was suffering and so attempted to sell the house, without the knowledge of his other children. Unluckily these found out and protested, halting his plans. Later she asked to come home for a few days, so he gathered a portion of the owed amount, yet the in-laws denied his request.
At last he made up his mind to not return until he was in possession of the full sum. Finally he managed this, foregoing the wishes and needs of the rest of his household, however his daughter discovered this and forbade him to pay another single paisa, otherwise she warned that he would never see her again. Her sacrifice infuriated her new family even more, and she became more like a servant of the household, than a member of the family. She no longer cared, neglected her well-being and became seriously ill. Her in-laws refused to believe her illness was legitimate and only pitied her enough to call the doctor the night she died. Unlike their treatment of her while she was alive, her funeral pyre was said to be magnificent. Soon after, the family found a new wife for their son, the dowry this time was 20,000 “cash down”.
Little Master’s Return
Little Master’s Return tells of the life of a servant, Raicharan whose life is formed through his duties. He brings up his rich employer’s son, Anukul and in turn his son. During the monsoon season the little boy is insistent to go out for a walk one day, tempted by the gurgling water, he drowns. The dedicated servant is devastated and when the mistress, the mother to the boy suggests that it is perhaps he who stole him for the sake of the gold he was wearing, he leaves out of shame. Returning home, his old wife gave birth to a son. His wife died, and due to his contempt towards the boy, his sister looked after him and called him Phelna. Over time Raicharan convinced himself that this was in fact the little boy returning, ‘little master cannot do without my love: he has been born again in my house’. This conclusion came from several proofs: firstly the interval between the death and birth was short, his wife was thought to be beyond a child-bearing age and the child seemed to crawl, toddle and call his aunt ‘Pishi’ just as his little master had done. With this belief he no longer hated the child, but reared the child like that of a high born, not allowing him to play with the village children and even selling all his possessions in order to enable the child to go to a school for the high class in Calcutta.
His fatherly affection to his son was un-doubtable but his devotion was more that of a servant. His son never even told his friends that this was his father and made fun of him behind his back. Due to his age Raicharan resigned his job in the city he had taken to pay for the school and went back to the village, to his old employers. He admitted that it was him who stole their child, but that he was to return in two days. The day came and the family was convinced that the boy, brought up in a manner similar to their own, was theirs. After all, how could have Raicharan have acquired such a boy? Why would the old servant mislead them now? Raicharan described the birth of the boy as ‘fate’, Anukul became angry at Raicharan blaming God yet Phelna asked for his pardon. Raicharan was now to receive a monthly allowance, but when sent to his village the money returned, no one had heard of Raicharan.
The story tells of Yajnanath, who although wealthy, lived like the old sages; on impossibly little. His son, Brindaban Kunda, bore with his father’s choice of living until he married. The frequent rows became worse when his wife, who had been seriously ill, died. Brindaban blamed his father for her
death as he had refused to pay for expensive medicines as he believed that like before, one should not try to ‘cheat’ death. With this Brindaban left taking with him his four-year-old son. Yajnanath greatly missed his troublesome grandson and when one day a particularly plucky boy was pestering him, he decided to adopt him.
Yajnanath spoiled the young Nitai Pal and when a passerby mentioned that a Damodar Pal was looking for his son, he resolved to hide him. During the dead of night the old man took Nitai to the outskirts of the village to an abandoned temple. Lifting up a stone slab he leads him down to a secret cellar in which Yajnanath had hidden all his wealth. He worshipped Nitai in order to leave him his inheritance and left the boy safely hidden. Around dawn he found his own son, Brindaban who, in his shame for his father had changed his name to Damodar. Alarmed the old man collapsed asking, “If you strain your ears, can’t you hear someone crying “Father”?” Damodar could not. From then on when Yajnanath asked “Can you hear the crying?” everyone laughed at his madman’s words. Four years later he died.
What could have been a tragic love story starts with the account of three young boys studying anatomy from a skeleton. Years later one of the children, now older, is forced to sleep in the room that previously housed the carcass due to guests in the house. In his sleepless desperation he imagines to be able to feel a presence. Knowing that the footsteps he thinks he can hear are simply a fabrication, he calls out. Unexpectedly he receives a reply. The voice belongs to the owner of the skeleton, and is now looking for it. The ‘presence’ lonely and missing human company requests to tell him the story of her life. She starts by briefly describing her short unhappy marriage in which her husband died after two months. Brought back to her father’s house she embarks upon a long tale of her rare beauty and how she was aware of its influence.
She even appeared to influence her brothers only friend, a young doctor, who when she was sick would feel her pulse and she would imagine his to equally race. Growing obsessed she fantasized only about him. Not only did she love this young doctor, whose name was Shashishekhar, but she worshipped him and became enraptured. However she soon found he was to be married and benefit a sum of 12,000 rupees. Feeling hurt and betrayed she confronted him and insisted on throwing a grand ceremony. On the night of the wedding she poisoned his drink and dressing her finest in a Benares sari, all the ornaments from her jewellery chest and vermillion in her hair (in order to symbolize that she was married) lay down to die under her favourite bakul tree (the one she used to daydream under) and died. She woke up to find the three young boys playing with her skeleton. And when finally he spoke in the rising dawn, there was no answer.
Housewife is a account of how one’s experiences when young can deeply impact you for a long times. Shibanath, who was clean-shaven, with closely cropped hair except for a short pigtail is a teacher. He terrifies his pupils and is described as a ‘man-god’. Shibanath would give each of his student’s new names. The author’s theory is that ‘people generally love their names more than their own selves’. This is the story of how Ashu, a studious, good-natured boy in his class, acquired his name. Precisely at one each day a servant-girl would bring him a few sweets wrapped up in a leaf, and a little bell-metal pot of water, a daily occurrence which he found extremely embarassing.
On a holiday the kind Ashu was playing with his sister who had no other play companions. On this particular day it was the wedding of her doll, however she found no one to be the priest. She asked a passerby, through unfortunate luck this was Shibanath, who was sheltering from the rain under the porch. Alarmed Ashu raced inside, utterly embarrassed. The next day this incident was described to the entire class, so when at exactly one the servant-girl came Ashu usual gentle smile gave way to a deep blush. The veins in his forehead began to throb and he broke down into a flood of tears. He was mocked mercilessly, ‘Housewife, housewife!’ From this he gathered that playing with one’s sister on a holiday was the most shameful thing in the world and no one would ever forget it.
The Divide is a narrative of how a friendship ends between two distantly related cousins. Despite their distant blood connection and difference of ages Banamali and Himangshumali lived next door to each other. Banamali being older, he doted on Himangshumali, pouring all his love and affection on the younger boy. As Himangshumali grew he became interested in reading anything which came his way, through this he acquired his knowledge. Everyday Banamali would sit smoking his hookah on the little garden patio, waiting for Himangshumali to come home from school. As soon and the younger boy had washed and changed they would stroll in the garden together talking. They both loved gardening, Banamali with his heart, Himangshumali with his intelligence. When it became dark Himangshumali talked about the things he read, he thought and what came into his imagination; some correct, some not.
Banamali would listen solemnly adding his own thoughts and listening to Himangshumali’s objections, pondering what was said the previous night quietly while he smoked. As it happened the gardens of these two neighbours were simply separated by a ditch, within which grew a lime tree. When the fruit grew and was ripe for harvesting the servants of the two households had a quarrel over whose tree it was. Eventually the fathers of each of friends got involved; this grew into a fully fledged argument between the two. Lawyers and barristers were hired to legally dispute the case. Overall more money was spent than the floods that ran through the ditch and in the end it was Banamali’s father that won. Throughout the court-case the two neighbours sons had managed to remain friends, however once this battle was over Himangshumali no longer came. When Banamali asked at his house, his father responded that no one was home. For a week Banamali waited, and no one came.
A highly intelligent and intellectual writer, Taraprasanna spent his time at home writing with weakening eye’s and a bent back. Although thought to be talented, he was shy and socially awkward. He did not understand usual social interactions and would instead stare and wonder. Unlike his wife, the writer was never eager to publish his work, however when the oldest of his four daughters was old enough to soon be seeking a groom, he grew worried and fretful. How was he to raise enough money to marry off four daughters? As a fervent admirer of his work although she did not understand a word, his wife urged him to go to Calcutta in order to publish his work.
As she could not go herself, he was accompanied by a ‘worldly-wise man’ from the village in order to assist him due to his peculiar behaviour and remind him of his chores. While there, Taraprasanna published his book, The Radiance of Vedanta and sent it to every editor for review. He also personally sent one to his wife by registered mail, in the fear of it getting lost. She was so overjoyed that Dakshayani invited all the women she knew in the village round for a meal. Taraprasanna even sent one to all the libraries requesting one, as many wrote ‘your thoughtful book has met a great need in our country’, from his own expenses. He even received a joyful letter from his wife, telling him she was once again with child.
However he found that as many copies he had sent out, he had sold not a single copy, so finally at a loss he returned home. He brought back with him all the reviews of his book, however his wife as pleased as she was, was eager to see how successful he had been in terms of money. He only returned with five rupees. Dakshayani was heart-broken; all her faith in the honesty of the world had been destroyed. It was around this time that Dakshayani’s health worsened as her confinement approached, the village worried recognised her need for a midwife.
So Taraprasanna, desperate approached his friend Bishvambhar, who at his own expense travelled to Calcutta in search of one. As the birth was drawing nearer his wife impelled him to promise and vow on several matters , she also requested that her daughter be called, Vendantaprabha, “The Radiance of Vedanta”. She thought, ‘ I came into his house to give him nothing but daughters. Perhaps his misfortunes will end now.’ As the midwife exclaimed at the newborn girl, Dakshayani whispered her daughter’s name one last time before dying.
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