I want to say right off the bat; I get kind of ticked off when one of the recommendations in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books is not for a specific book. I’ve seen some where someone just says all of the short stories by a particular author, or those of a specific period. It just seems vague and makes it difficult to pull together exactly what I’m supposed to be looking at for commentary.
Of course, that isn’t really the case with Galpo Guccho by Rabindranath Tagore. Primarily a late 19th/early 20th century Bengali lyric poet (though forced to work as a landlord on his family’s estates), Tagore wrote about 90 stories over his lifetime that were collected together as Galpo Guccho.
However, I didn’t manage to find anything when I went looking for Galpo Guccho (the spelling listed in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books). I did find references to Galpaguccha, but didn’t find an English copy of that either. I found various English collections of Tagore’s stories, but none had everything. There were always around thirty or so stories, but I had no apparent way of figuring out whether or not I could build a full set.
In the end, I ended up just looking at Selected Short Stories of Rabindranath Tagore. Only thirty of the ninety are inside, but I just couldn’t figure out whether all 90 were even in English. I’ve heard that some of Tagore’s stories are particularly difficult to translate, and I couldn’t find evidence anywhere of a complete English set. Heck, I couldn’t even be sure how to spell Galpaguccha. Selected Short Stories will just have to do.
(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 3rd for Chitra Divakaruni.)
Anyway, the volume I looked at primarily has very short stories concentrating on various aspects of rural Bengali life. There is a lot of love, family duty, marriage, and all that sort of thing. Though very short, and sometimes being more what I would call slices as opposed to full stories, they call forth a whole vivid world (this portion selected from “Little Master’s Return” where a servant loses the charge he adores, raises his own son believing him to be a reincarnation of the lost master, and passes his son off as the real thing only to get banished, with an unwanted monthly stipend, by the young ‘master’ for his efforts):
One afternoon, when it was cloudy but did not look like rain, Raicharan’s capricious young master refused to stay at home. He climbed into his push-chair and Raicharan gingerly pushed it to the river-bank beyond the paddy-fields. There were no boats on the river, no people working in the fields: through gaps in the clouds, the sun could be seen preparing with silent fiery ceremony to set behind the deserted sandbanks across the river. Suddenly peace was broken by the boy pointing and calling, ‘Fowers, Channa, fowers!’ A little way off there was a huge kadamba tree on a wet, muddy stretch of land, with some flowers on its upper branches: these were what had caught the boys attention.
Beyond the descriptive power of the stories, I also noted an extreme amount of compassion in the stories. The compassion wasn’t always for the characters, though. Instead, the abundance of compassion throughout appeared to be directed at humanity in general (this portion being from “The Postmaster” where a young postmaster hires a poor girl to be his servant, the girls falls in love with him, and then abandons her when he resigns his post and leaves for his home town):
When he was on the boat and it had set sail, when the swollen flood-waters of the river started to heave like the Earth’s brimming tears, the postmaster felt a huge anguish: the image of a simple young village-girl’s grief-stricken face seemed to speak a great inarticulate universal sorrow. He felt a sharp desire to go back: should he not fetch that orphaned girl, whom the world had abandoned? But the wind was filling the sails by then, the swollen river was flowing fiercely, the village had been left behind, the riverside burning-ground was in view. Detached by the current of the river, he reflected philosophically that in life there are many separations, many deaths. What point was there in going back? Who belonged to whom in this world?
As I mentioned before, some stories seem like complete stories whereas others seem more like slices of life. Some end well, others poorly. Really, there is quite a variety in this collection, even if it isn’t the complete stories of Tagore.
In the end, I liked the stories a great deal. There was a fable-like quality to a lot of the stories and they were all pleasurable to read. I’m not sure that I was exactly floored, but I did only manage to get 30 of the 90. Maybe my opinion would change if I saw them all. Regardless, they are good stories. I am pleased I had the chance to expand my reading horizons in this direction.