Updated: Mar 30
‘The Kabulliwallah’ is a Bengali short story written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1892. This heart-warming story is about a fruit seller and his fatherly love for Tagore’s daughter.
Tagore’s five-year-old daughter Mini loves chattering. Most of the time, Tagore doesn’t mind
her chirping away but one morning he was busy writing the seventeenth chapter of his new novel. Mini puts her hand into the author's hand and starts going on about her small world. How Ramdayal calls crow, ‘krow’. Or how Bhola says that rain is water blown out by elephants in clouds. The author, being busy, tells Mini to play with Bhola. Mini leaves the room screaming, ‘A Kabuliwallah! A Kabuliwallah!’ as the fruit seller passes by the street. He wore loose soiled clothing, a tall turban with a big black bag on his back along with a box filled with grapes. While Kabuliwallah looks at her, she hid behind her mother because she imagined there were three kids like her in the big black bag of the fruit seller. The Kabuliwallah enters Tagore’s doorway with a smile and Tagore buys some fruits from him, whilst the fruit seller asks, ‘Where is the little girl, sir?’The little one who once was nervous made herself brave and approached him. He offered her nuts and raisins, thus starting a friendship.
One morning, when Tagore was leaving he found Mini talking and smiling with the great Kabuliwallah. The author was startled but relieved that his small daughter had found a patient
listener of her endless thoughts. The corner of the little girl’s saree was filled with almonds and raisins. Tagore even gave ‘eight anna’ (money) to the fruit seller which he took right away. After his return, he was overwhelmed when he noticed the bright eight anna in Mini’s hands. Days passed, but the affection between Mini and the Kabuliwallah only grew stronger. She would ask, ‘O Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah! What have you got in your bag?’ To which he would reply, “An elephant”. Tagore started to find this interaction between a tall buff man and a timid child strangely fascinating. Another thing the Kabuliwallah would ask Mini is, ‘Well, little one, and when are you going to the father-in-law’s house?’ While it was unfathomable to the child, she would not show it and reply, ‘Are you going there?’ To which he would reply, ‘Ah’, shaking his fist at an invisible policeman ‘I will thrash my father in law’. Tagore reveals that this is a euphemism used by the fruit seller to imply that jail is ‘the father in law’s house’ since the inmates are cared for and safe with no expense. Though the mother of Mini had some doubts and fear regarding the Kabuliwallah, the author assured that it’s all good and it’s highly unlikely for something bad to happen.
Once a year, in the middle of January, Rahmun, the fruit seller, returns to his home country to meet his family. As the day was approaching, unexpectedly Rahmun was led away by two policemen carrying knives. His clothes were stained with blood and his face was filled with misery. Tagore
inquires the scene to find out that a person owed Rahmun money for a Ramipuri Shawl for which they falsely denied purchasing. And in the heat of an argument, Rahmun struck him. In this distressing moment, Little Mini, with her voice in all excitement, screamed, ‘O Kabuliwallah! O Kabuliwallah!’ Rahmun’s face lit up once he saw the little one. Mini proceeded to ask, ‘Are you going to the father-in-law’s house?’ Rahmun laughed and replied, ‘Just where I am going, little one’. Since the reply didn’t amuse the little Mini, he further says, ‘Ah! I would have thrashed the old father-in-law, but my hands are bound!’
On the charge of Murderous assault, Rahmun was sentenced to jail for a few years. Days passed, Mini grew up and spent her time with girls forgetting the Kabuliwallah. Mini blossoms into a lovely young lady who is now getting ready to be married on a bright morning. The house was all vivid with Mini’s marriage and the chandeliers tinkling every room. Tagore is in his study whilst someone approaches him respectfully, with a salute. Although it took him a minute, Tagore recognized the man even without his long hair, big bag, or vigor. It was Rahmun, who was released last evening.
‘May I see the little one?”. Although years passed, Rahmun believed that Mini was a little girl he pictured running to him, calling ‘O Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah!’ His memories lie that they would
laugh and talk together just like in the old days. He brought a few almonds and grapes carefully wrapped in a paper obtained even though he had only a few bucks. Tagore declines as there is a ceremony in the house and he wouldn’t be able to see anyone. With his face down, Rahmun left with a ‘Good morning’. But he returned and gave the raisins that he brought for Mini to Tagore. While Tagore pays Rahmun, he politely declines, ‘You have a little girl: I too have one like her in my own home. I think of her, and bring fruits to your child, not to make a profit for myself.’
Rahmun takes a piece of paper with great care. It had the impression of a little girl. It was neither a photograph nor a drawing. It was an impression of ink smeared little hand. It was the only touch he had with his daughter since he had come every year to Calcutta to make some money. Tagore’s eyes filled with tears while questioning if he was a better father than himself. The little hand reminded him of his own little Mini whose words were bigger and eyes brighter than the lights.
Tagore sends for Mini even though many difficulties rose. In elegant red silk, sandal paste on her forehead, the young bride stood in front of them. Speechless, the Kabuliwallah, in hopes of reviving their old friendship said, ‘Little one, are you going to your father-in-law’s house?’But to the grown-up Mini who now knows the in-laws’ house, she could not reply how she used to. Her face blushed with her face turned down. After Mini leaves, Rahmun sat down on the floor with a deep sigh. It just hit him that his little daughter must have grown too. And then she is not the same as he
remembers and their affection might have changed. His mind wanders thinking, what would have happened to her in these eight years. Although his mind was in Calcutta, his thoughts were stuck in the mountains of Afghanistan. Tagore took out a banknote and said, ‘Go back to your country, and may the happiness of your meeting bring good fortune to my child!’
The money kept for the wedding lights and military band may have gone, but the wedding feast was all bright with a thought that in a distant land a long-lost lovely father is now reunited with his only child.
WORK CITATION :
Short stories from Rabindranath Tagore, by Rabindranath Tagore, translation Pratima Bowes, 1999, East-West Publications (U.K.) Limited.