The Flute

Kinu Milkman’s Lane.

In a two-storey house

There’s a first-storey room with iron bars

Beside the road.

Patches of sand have collapsed from salty walls

Patches of mould adorn it.


A picture on ’merican cloth

Of Ganesh, the wish-fulfiller

Is stuck on the door.

Besides me, another lives in the room

For the same rent

It’s a lizard.

The only difference being

It does not want for food.


Salary twenty-five

Junuior clerk in a merchant office.

The meals come from the Duttas’ house

For tutoring their boy.

’Go to the Sealdah station

To spend the evening

It helps me not to burn the light.

The dhush-dhush of engines,

The sound of the whistle,

The passengers’ hustle

Calling the coolies.

The clock ticks ten-thirty.

Then return home to solitary silent darkness.


The Dhaleshwari flows by my aunt’s village.

Her brother-in-law’s daughter,

Was supposed to marry this hapless wretch.

’Twas proved that the hour was auspicious—

I ran away at the right hour.

The girl was spared,

And so was I.

She never came to my home, but she comes to my mind every day—

Wearing a Daccai sari, vermilion on her forehead.


Monsoon arrives heavily.

My tram fare goes up,

Some days, I miss my pay.

In nooks and corners of the lane

Collect and rot

Mango skins, pits, jackfruit flesh,

Fish gills,

Dead kittens,

And who knows what other rubbish!

The umbrella’s much like

Fined salary,

It’s full of holes.

The office dress

Is like Gopikanta Gosain’s mind

It always stays moist.

The dark shadows of the rains

Enter the damp room

And, like a trapped animal

Faint and become inert.

Day and night it feels as if I

Am bound tightly to some half-dead world.


At the turn of the lane lives Kanta-babu,

Long hair carefully combed,

Large eyes,

And a dainty turn of mind.

His hobby is playing the cornet.

Sometimes, the music rises

Through the horrible air of this lane—

Sometimes in the dead of the night,

In the pale of dawn,

Sometimes at late afternoon

When light glitters among shadows.

Suddenly in an evening

The note strikes Sindhu-Baroya

Across the sky plays

The longing of an infinite time.

Right then, in a moment, I know

This lane is a great lie,

Insufferable, like the ravings of a drunk.

Suddenly, I learn in my mind

There’s no difference whatsoever

Between emperor Akbar and Haripada, junor clerk.

Along the melancholy call of the flute

The ragged and the royal umbrella

Travel together to the same heaven.

Where this song is true

In a timeless hour of dusk


The Dhaleshwari river flows by;

Deep shadows of the bay on its bank;

In the yard

The one who’s waiting is she

Wearing a Daccai sari, vermilion on her forehead.


Translated from Rabindranath Tagore’s mind-blowing original.