From Rabindranath Tagore’s Chhinnapatra
Our boat was docked by a sandbank on the other side of Shelaidaha. It was a gigantic strip of sand where the contour of a river could be seen. Sometimes streaks of sand could be mistaken as streams. No sign of a village, or people, tree or grass, but spots of chapped and dark earth interspersed the dry white sand. If one looks to the east, a fathomless blue above was visible, and a profound expanse of whiteness at the bottom. It was as if the earth offered a poverty-stricken barrenness and the sky mirrored an ethereal futility. Desolation of this kind is difficult to match. On the west, appearing like a dreamland was a quiet stream. Under the rays of the setting sun lay a high bank on the other side of the river and small huts. It seemed that one back saw the creation of the world, while on the other saw the apocalypse. I specifically remember the sunset because that is the time when we made our visits. In Calcutta, we tend to forget how beautiful the earth really is. That the sun sets everyday amidst this peaceful abode of trees, and thousands of stars rise over the endless grey, lonesome and desolate sandbank every night—seem simply sublime. You will comprehend the incredible beauty of the land only if you live here. How can one explain the strange act of turning the pages of a huge volume on the eastern sky at dawn, and at dusk retracing the same pages on the western horizon? The narrow stream, the wide expanse of sandbank and a picturesque embankment on the other side, seemed like an abandoned edge of earth. A hushed repose of learning! These words might sound like mere poetry in our capital city, but here, this was the reality.
In the evening, the boys along with their friends went to explore the sandbank. Bolu went one way and I another. The two women walked towards yet another direction. Sometime later, the sun went down and the golden glimmer disappeared. The scenes around me became indistinct and the small shadow by my feet made me realize that the crescent, pale moon had risen. The moonlight on the white sandbank caused delusion—where was the sand and where was the water, where was the sky and where was the land? It seemed like a mirage.
Yesterday, after spending some mesmerizing moments around this place I had gone back to our boat to find that only the boys had returned. I sat on a chair and started reading a book on an obscure topic called "animal magnetism." The light from the lantern was low, and others seemed to have disappeared. I placed the book face down on the bed and headed out to look for them. In that vast land of pale sand, I saw not a single black head. I shouted, "Bolu." The sound travelled in all ten directions and mingled with the sphere, but no responses came. My heart sank like a large umbrella when it is shut forcefully. Gofur came out of the boat with a light, Proshonno came out too as did the boatswains. We divided into small groups and spread out looking for them. I went on calling Bolu and Proshonno kept calling "chhoto ma." The boatmen could be heard hollering, "Babu, babu." In that silent and deserted land, many voices kept on calling but to no avail. Once or twice, Gofur shouted, "I see them," but then he said, "No, I don't." Just think of the mental agony I was going through. You have to imagine the silent night, the pale moonlight, a lonesome and desolate sandbank with the light from Gofur's lantern flickering in the distant. Some plaintive cries from one side turned into echoes far away. We were hopeful one moment and then our hearts plunged into despondency. All kinds of horrific thoughts flashed through my mind. Did Bolu get trapped in quicksand? Perhaps she had fainted away. Or, maybe they were attacked by some ferocious animals. I found myself positioned against the freedom of women. Suddenly, someone said that they had ended up on the other side of the upward slope and hence could not return. The boat sailed on to the other side and the mistress of the boat returned. Bolu was heard saying, "I'll never take you people with me again." Everybody was tired and embarrassed. Under the circumstances, I could not utter any of the reproachful words I had rehearsed. Even when I woke up the next morning, I could not say anything to them.
Sohana Manzoor teaches English at ULAB. She is also the Literary Editor of The Daily Star.