Revisiting Tagore’s 'Dakghar' in Covid confinement

Rabindranath Tagore

I read 'Dakghar' (The Post Office) in secondary school. I cried when I read it. The suffering of Amal-the orphan protagonist-was painful, tragic, and heartbreaking. Once when I was a child, I had chickenpox and was confined to bed for seven days. I could not go outside and play with friends. I was almost totally isolated then. Rabindranath Tagore, understanding the pulse of a young child and his yearning for liberty, beautifully crafted this drama with a tragic undertone. In between every line and space, the reader feels the inner pain of innocent and ailing Amal.

Amal sits by the window. The doctor orders his uncle "You must shut this window as well. The sun rays enter and keep the patient awake." Before this, we see that confined Amal, declared sick by the village Kabiraj, dreams of a letter from king as the king has set up a new post office close to Amal's house. Amal everyday encounters people of the outer world as they pass by his window. He communicates with them and expresses his desire to evade this restricted, confined and isolated life.

In parallel, recent Covid-19 circumstances are giving us virtually the same experience that Amal went through. In quarantine, we are also devoid of human touch and away from our regular life. We are experiencing a different time and space altogether. We have termed the situation 'new normal'. Though we somehow are connected via digital devices, how far can we live without having physical human connection and friendship? Our space has shrunk in the Covid situation so has our mind. Lockdown has constricted us literally. But we haven’t stopped dreaming of good life ahead as Amal does in the play.

Amal loves to meet anyone who goes by his window. He is like a caged bird, a captive in a suite of maladies. But he loves socializing. His mild, and spontaneous attitude attracts passersby. He is curious and wants to know beyond. Psychologically, his imagination gives him a certain sort of solace and freedom. Being a little one, he cannot break the shackles by force or by own will. So, words, communication, and communion with the people passing by becomes his source of hope.

He meets a curd-seller, a fakir, a watchman, the village headman, young boys and girls, and Sudha the flower gatherer. He tells everyone of desire to get out of this room and travel the larger world. Time and place have confined him. The window has become the room and eye of the whole world for him. Yet, he does not surrender.

When Amal pleads to the watchman to ring his bell, the watchman replies: "It is not time yet." Amal is quizzed by the concept of time. But he cannot ask like poet Ralph Hodgson "Time, you old gipsy; Why hasten away?" Rather Amal, like a philosopher, opines and quizzes: "How strange!" "…some say that time has not yet come whereas others say the time has gone by! Where does it go?" In pandemic, we feel the stagnation of life. Even sometimes we forget whether it is Friday or Saturday or what date it is. Time passes by, life somehow goes on, but the pandemic is not still over. To keep hope like Frost, we utter: "…And miles to go before I sleep." And our Amal, hence, wants to visit the “Land of Time” to win it over.

WB Yeats and Gandhi were moved by the performance of the drama. Even during World War II, it was performed in a Warsaw Ghetto, in an orphanage to show love for the children.

Yes, children are the epitome of hope. Children are the angels of our world. Amal, a good soul, loves all the insignificant things on earth. He loves and imitates the 'dai…dai… bhalo dai' call of the curd seller. Amal even loves the village headman hated by everyone else. He gives his toys to the boys. He asks Sudha 'to remember him.' In every sense, he has all the qualities to make someone feel peaceful and happy. He binds everyone through his love and emotion. Despite all these, he wants true freedom and seeks to experience and embrace the outside world of nature and people.

Amal pursues love and liberty. Every child desires that. They are one of the worst victims of this pandemic. The irony is that sometimes they fail to convey their feelings. Adults need to be sensitive in this case. Ensuring that children get quality time and space is a must. I remember a poem by William Blake where children offered the freedom to play where they 'leaped & shouted & laugh'd' and the 'hills echoed' with them.

The Raja's herald says the Raja will come today. Before that the Raja sends a Raj Kabiraj for Amal. Exasperated with the gloom and darkness of Amal's room, the Raj Kabiraj commands, "Open, open, open all the doors and windows…" At last, Sudha comes to see Amal with flowers. The royal physician lets Sudha know that 'Amal is sleeping', and he will wake up 'now when the Raja will call him.'

Sudha then whispers in sleeping Amal's ear, "Sudha hasn't forgotten you." And we feel and resonate the same as her. The text does not exactly say what happened to Amal. Maybe, the King of all Kings came and took him to experience total freedom of life. Perhaps, he has finally got exempted from all pain and suffering of this earthly world to be with the 'twinkling stars.'

Amal, in his last few days on Earth, tried to live a life of his own. He did not want to be a pundit. He loved to enjoy and collect knowledge and wisdom being a free spirit of this beautiful cosmos. Through travel and dialogue with people, he loved to merge with everything with a wide-open heart. Being a pundit meant another confinement for him which he abhorred.

He loved to be a poet, in Whitman's voice, "Nature without check with original energy." But Rousseau opines that "Man is born free and everywhere is in chains." Yet, it is human nature to look for freedom, liberty, or emancipation whatsoever way we name it. Ache, misery and sorrow are our constant company, hitherto we live and go forward.

One day this pandemic will be over. We have already lost lacs of people. Many, in confinement, are living a crippled life as well. Our economy has worn out. Besides, poor people are suffering the most. But, again, like Amal, we have to keep hope and communicate with people within our limited and confined space. Already we have taken refuge in virtual space. Now, we are desperately trying to open other safe windows to keep our healthy communication and friendship intact with our near and dear ones.

Like Ulysses, we will be "strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not yield." Like Amal, we may now have one window in this pandemic. Nonetheless, if we can open all our doors of love, compassion, and care, we will soon conquer this contagious plague. Unlike Amal, we will get our mail of freedom and liberty here on this planet soon. But, of course, we can imagine that Amal is not dead; he survives instead.

Rabindranath Tagore and his character Amal will always remain unforgettable. Tagore's vast oeuvre of literary creations will always be perceived and tasted as nectar or manna of heaven by the people of Bengal and elsewhere in the world.

* Ariful Islam Laskar is a columnist and teaches English Literature at a private University, Mail: [email protected] )