Atithi (Guest) Summary, Theme, Critical Appreciation by Rabindranath Tagore
Atithi (Guest) Summary
Tarapada, a Brahmin boy of about 14 or 15, was a wanderer by nature. To the despair of his family and villagers, he escaped from his home at regular intervals. He was a curious solivagant. He tried to learn or absorb almost everything he saw or heard. The blissful nature and people attracted him. He had no terminal destination. At times, he joined a theatre group and then a troupe of traveling minstrels, and then again, he found another.
One day, desiring to go to Nandigram, he wanted a lift from the owner of a boat. The owner of the boat was the zamindars of Kanthalia, a village in rural Bengal, who was travelling by boat to his village along with Annapurna, his wife, and Charushashi, his daughter. Looking at the fair complexioned, cherubic appearance of the boy, they readily accepted him in the boat.
Tarapada never knew when Nandigram came and passed by. He was busy with his interaction with the zamindars family, the boatmen and the amazing landscape. After ten days of journey by boat, they landed at Kanthalia, where Tarapada stayed at the house of Motilal babu as a “Guest”. His innocence and spontaneity cast a spell on everybody save and except Charushashi, the only daughter of Motilal babu. Tarapada was an eyesore for her.
She was envious and pugnacious about Tarapada. Actually, an interspersed feeling of love and hatred hovered around her. For her, Tarapada was a prized possession for whom she quarreled with Sonamoni her widow-friend, who called Tarapada “Dada” or rather, her brother.
Tarapada lived there for two full years and by then he tarned-seventeen, thus stepping into his adolescence. Charushashi too, turned eleven, duly transformed from a kid to a girl. Cupid was ready with his arrow and the girl was without the knowledge that her father had arranged her marriage secretly with Tarapada.
The day before the wedding night, the monsoon clouds thundered. The first rain of the season filled the nature. And at that hour, a lonely Tarapada found an Opera Band sailing across the village by boats. Their faint harmonies stroked the village. Tarapada, the wanderer, disappeared again snapping all the bonds of love, comfort and belongings at Kanthalia.
Tagore’s “The Guest” (ATITHI) is one of those unforgettable gems from the mines of short stories the world over. In it, Tarapada, a boy of fourteen or fifteen an epitome of innocence with large eyes and pleasant looks, a habitual escapist from home for the bounties of nature and a wanderer, was always curious about a thing here and another there. He could not be held captive to the homely comforts and human bonding.
He travelled with a Gymnastic group, then a theatre group and then again with a group of travelling minstrels and still his wander thirst never let him go back to the comfort and security of home. May be he ran away from this place to that because he thought it was a means to escape from his known world a mundane commonality, that did not serve him the way he had wanted. His attitude compels the reader to remember Gerald Gould, the great poet.
“Beyond the East the sunrise, beyond
The West the sea,
And East and West the wander-thirst
that will not let me be;
it works in me like madness, dear, to bid
me say good-bye;
For the seas call, and the stars call, and
Oh! the call of the sky!”
“And come I may, but go I must, and, if
men ask you why,
You may blame the stars and the sun
and the white road and the sky.”
So was our Tarapada who couldn’t be blamed! Motilal babu and his wife’s parental love, Charushashi’s subdued love, love of his family, villagers nothing could bind him to a home for ever at Kanthalia a village in rural Bengal Hence, he again floated on with some concert party to Kurulkata from Kanthalia, where an annual fair was due. The theme is unique!
Atithi (Guest) About the Author Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was the youngest son of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. Debendranath Tagore was a great exponent of Brahmo Samaj, a new socio-religious Order in 19th century Bengal, whose contribution to Bengal Renaissance is remarkable.
Rabindranath was educated at home; and although he was sent to England at the age of seventeen for formal schooling, he did not finish his studies there. In his mature years, in addition to his multifaceted literary activities, he managed the family estates, which brought him close to commoners and increased his interest in educational and social reforms.
He founded the Shantiniketan as a model, school for ASHRAMIC EDUCATION in an open-air environment. From time to time he participated in the Indian National Movement which was reflected in his miscellaneous poems and songs. It was he who wrote the Indian National Anthem.
Mahatma Gandhi was one of his closest friends. Tagore was honoured by the British Government with a Knighthood in 1915, but as a mark of protest against Jalianwalabag massacre of Indians by General O’ Diar, he gave up the title.
Tagore had friends across the world and they admired him for his literary and philosophical excellence. He wrote throughout his life and the volume of his literary works is enormous. Among his best known poems we have Manashi (1890), Sonar Tori (1894), Gitanjali (1914) etc.
His present story, THE GUEST (ATITHI) is taken from Galpoguccha, a collection of short stories. He was awarded the Nobel Prize (1913) for “Gitanjali” (1912, published in London). He also wrote a number of plays, short stories, novels, essays and almost walked into every literary genre.
Atithi (Guest) Critical Appreciation
Tagore is a master story-teller. His short story, “The Guest” (Atithi) is one of those world class short stories where everything has been portrayed with the finesse of an artistic perfection. The locales, characters, landscapes, journeys, emotions – all are so flawlessly blended that it is absolutely difficult to find something odd or unmatched.
Consider Tarapada, a boy of fourteen or fifteen with large eyes, fair complexion and a cherubic innocence that immediately attracts everybody and everybody feels like loving him. But his sojourns to transitory destinations one after another, and then snapping all bonds of love and domesticity all on a sudden, stealthily; shock us.
But then, he was a solivagant! Tagore’s imaginative faculty made his characters virtually so realistic that the readers would be compelled to suspend their disbelief that the characters belonged to a short story only and were not from real life. Primarily, the story revolves round human bonding and the pangs of separation when such bonding is snapped suddenly.
Attachment to family, friends, neighbours, relatives, and nativity are extremely important factors for human society. One cannot elicit sympathy or love from others when estranged voluntarily, perpetually or at regular intervals, from this bonding. One must realize the pangs of separation and pain when one escapes surreptitiously from his loved ones; even those who loved such solivagant just for two years.
Still, one may dislike Tarapada for his habitual escapades, but not despise him! The setting is unique to suit the purpose. However, Tagore’s imaginative faculty was not unleashed. It was always disciplined with a brevity of expression – the essence of a short story. One may call this short story ‘a lyric in prose’!
Atithi (Guest) Characters
Tarapada, the central character in Tagore’s short story, “The Guest” (Atithi), was from a family of five brothers and three sisters. His father was dead, but mother was still alive. All of them loved him dearly and so did the villagers. He had no valid reasons to run away from home at regular intervals. But still, it had become his habitual obedience to escape from his loved ones and the comfort of home.
His cherubic innocence, large eyes, fair complexion and easy going habit charmed the zamindar family of Kanthalia in whose boat Tarapada boarded to go to Nandigram. During the journey, he helped the boatmen in their cooking, did his bit with the oarsmen, sang songs for the Zamindar family, swam into the river and thus interwove himself with everything around.
He had no terminal destination to go. He was supposed to go to Nandigram, but very soon his mind was lost in the beautiful landscapes on either side of the river, and he never noticed when Nandigram came and passed by. However, his sojourn at Kanthalia didn’t make much of a difference, simply because there too his stay was transitory.
He had an inborn urge to break away from all human bonding, but that was not known to Motilal babu and his wife in whose home Tarapada stayed afterwards as their ‘Guest’! That was why he had joined a theatre group, and then left it for a travelling group of minstrels and then, again a gynamnast group, and now to Kanthai18 from where he would flee to Kurulkata. His transitory destinations seemed to have no end.
He was a quick learner of things and an absorber of human minds. As he had no attachment or involvement, he had no feeling of guilt or remorse for either the people or the places he had been leaving after his brief stay. His cherubic innocence thus had a heartless or rather a cruel side which he failed to realize. He moved like boundless wind without caring for anything. He always roamed because perhaps he thought,
“beyond the East the sunrise, beyond the West the sea,
and East and West the Wander – thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness, dear, to bid me say good bye;
for the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! the call of the sky”
The poet expressed Tarapada’s character with brevity and condensation without perhaps reading Tagore’s “TheGuest’! Tarapada was a solivagant. Food for his hunger was secondary. His sojourns at transitory destinations needed no company but some means of transportation to reach to newer places just as to refresh his large eyes with newer people, places and marvels. It is difficult for the reader to grossly define Tarapada as a selfish boy.
He had his tender feelings for the people around till his sojourn at a place as a “Guest” was over. And then, with his departure, he forgot everything. Still the reader shall love Tarapada. We may conclude saying,
“It is good to have an end, to journey forward,
But it is the journey that matters in the end”!
An author seems to be a potter who creates his characters by every turn of his creative wheel. So is Tarapada, created by Tagore!
Charushashi was the only daughter of Motilal babu, the zamindar of Kanthalia, and Annapurna, his wife. Naturally therefore, she grew up with her parents’ singularity of attention, care and love. Her happy, tranquil state of mind was disturbed and imbalanced with Tarapada’s intervention. His cherubic innocence and easy way of interweaving himself with people and situation won the hearts of the zamindar’s family and they endeared Tarapada much like their own son.
The more Tarapada was endeared by Charushashi’s parents, the more she became raucous, impulsive, rude and pugnacious. But she furtively watched and enjoyed Tarapada’s swimming in the river. His physical movements attracted her. She was only a nine year old girl and was hardly endowed with the sensuality of a young woman who might rejoice at the sight of the bare body of a young boy while swimming. But she liked the sight. For Tarapada, she was a riddle. She developed an imposed antipathy for Tarapada.
But Tarapada never knew that she had Tarapada in a secret vault of her heart as a prized possession about whom she wanted to tell Sonamoni, her childhood friend. But the moment she learned that Sonamoni already knew about Tarapada and he was no surprise for her, she flared up in an envious rage, quarreled with Sonamoni, got into Tarapada’ room, broke his flute into pieces on stamping upon it.
Like Tarapada, Charushashi also wanted to learn English. And what she actually did was to make a mess of Tarapada’s reading materials. Tarapada bore all her mischief patiently and when things became almost unbearable, he beat her a little. Sometimes she spilled ink upon his exercise book, tore off pages from the text books or stole his pen. At times, Tarapa didn’t react to these pranks and then Charu begged for apology, when Tarapada burst into laughter amongst Charushashi’s anger and embarrassment.
Two years passed and she turned eleven whereas Tarapada turned seventeen. A proposal for marriage came for Charushashi, but she refused to appear before the bridegroom party on the scheduled date of their visit, because by then, she had started loving Tarapada. Cupid had shot his arrow.
Without Tarapada, Charushashi’s character cannot be unfolded. If Tarapada was a parallel, Charu was the contrast. What Charu wanted, was an exclusive right over Tarapada. For her, Tarapada was as precious a gem as to be hidden from the world. She would only exhibit him at her free will whenever she felt like doing so. She was the only daughter of her parents and therefore, had painted her world of imaginary vision of getting all that she could lay her hands on. But still, she didn’t get Tarapada, the perpetual wanderer.
Atithi (Guest) Title of the Story
In Tagore’s short story, “The Guest” (Atithi), Tarapada, a Brahmin boy of fourteen or fifteen, wanted a boat-ride in a Kanthalia bound boat owned by the zamindar of Kanthalia, a village in rural Bengal. His fair complexion, cherubic innocence, and large eyes were so appealing that the zamindar family welcomed him to the boat. But it was Charushashi, the only daughter of the zamindars who did not befriend Tarapada and remained ever envious.
Tarapada’s transitory destination was a sojourn at Nandigram, but he never knew when Nandigram was left far behind as he was amazed with the landscape on either side of the river and got busy in interacting with the zamindar family and the boatmen. Finally, after ten days of journey by boat, the zamindars family landed at Kanthalia and so did Tarapada.
Of course,it hardly made any difference for Tarapada. He was a transitory guest everywhere. On reaching Kanthalia,Tarapada quickly got down from the boat, made a quick survey of the village and its inhabitants and familiarized with them with his natural ease in no time.
He sang songs, played the flute and still, everybody but Charushashj was pleased. When Tarapada stepped on the boat of Motilal babu, the zamindar of Kanthalia, he was fourteen or fifteen and Charushashj, nine. Since then, Tarapada passed there two years as the family’s “Guest” and almost became a member of the family. His relation with Charushashi didn’t change much save and except that Charushashi considered him as a priceless gem and an exclusive property for her to display him to people when and whom she felt like.
Abounded by parental love of the zamindar and his wife, sisterly love of Sonamonj, a close friend of Carushashi, Tarapada grew to be seventeen and touched his adolescence. Charushash also grew to be eleven. The zamindar family decided to marry their daughter to Tarapada. Accordingly, his family was invited to Kanthalia for the marriage ceremony.
Just before the date of marriage, a concert party from Calcutta was travelling to Kurulkata, a village far away by boat. It was a monsoon night. The village was enveloped in darkness. And Tarapada, following the ‘protocol’ of a “Guest”, left Kanthalia for Kurulkata in the accompaniment of those musicians for another transitory destination.
That too, must be as a “GUEST’!
The title thus is perfect.
Atithi (Guest) Setting
Setting “in The Guest” (Atithi) is as important as Tarapada, the central character in the short story. Bengal being a riverine state, movement for a solivagant was best possible by boats or barges across the rivers and rivulets to histransitory destinations. Therefore, rivers and boats formed an integral part of the setting.
Since Tarapada’s wander thirst- as evident from the short story, was that of a curious boy roaming around the rural setting, locales and events, and always learning and absorbing whatever attracted him villagers, fairs, musicians, actors, gymnasts and other rural events, those played important roles in the Setting.
Since running away from the domesticity of Kanthalia as a guest of Motilal babu and his family after two years of close involvement, especially when everybody was awake, was not possible for Tarapada, Tagore created a monsoon night when everybody at Kanthalia was asleep, a cloud made the village darker, helping Tarapada escape again stealthily with a fleet of boats carrying commodities and some concert party for a village fair at Kurulkata, a far away village.
Atithi (Guest) Annotations and Vocabulary
Obstinate — Stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion
Spared him the rod — Didn’t beat him with a stick
Reproached — Expressed disapproval of
Inborn urge — Born with earnestness
Vendor — A person or company offering for sale
Accompaniment — A musical part that supports or partners an instrument
Landscape — All the visible features of an area of land
Rowing — Propelling a boat by oars
Spontaneously — Impulsive result without premeditation
Keenness — The quality of being eager or enthusiastic
Indifferent — Having no particular interest or sympathy
Uncluttered — Not having impeded by many objects
Envy — Jealousy
Resentment — Bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly
Claimant — A person making a claim
Whimsical — Playfully quaint or fanciful
Tantrums — Uncontrolled outburst of anger or frustration
Fancy — Elaborate in structure or decoration
Antipathy — A deep-seated feeling of aversion
Racket — A loud, unpleasant noise
Intrigued — Aroused the curiosity
Surreptitiously — Secretively
Fervour — Intense and passionate feeling
Interaction — Reciprocal action
Sulked — Be silent, morose, and lid-tempered out of annoyance
Hovered — Remain in one place in the air
Swollen — Inflated, as a result of accumulation of fluid
Cymbals — A musical instrument consisting of a slightly concave, round brass plate which is struck against each other with a stick