It’s been so long since I read short stories written by Rabindranath Tagore. Growing up these stories were a part of our textbooks. Reading The Cabuliwallah was a nostalgic experience for sure, but it reminded me why these stories are classics.
The Cabuliwallah is a short story is about an unlikely friendship that forms between a dry fruit peddler Abdur Rahman, and Mini, a five-year-old girl. Rahman comes to Calcutta from Kabul to sell his goods. Mini lives with her parents in the city, her father is the narrator of the story. Mini is a little shy in front of Rahman upon first meeting him, but they go on to form a sweet wholesome bond. Rahman is arrested for beating a man who refused to pay his debts to him and spends years in jail. As Mini grows up, she forgets about him. He comes back to meet her once he is released which is on Mini’s wedding day.
The story is narrated from the perspective of Mini’s father. There is a clear class difference shown between Abdur Rahman and the narrator’s family. In the beginning, the narrator is almost indifferent to Rahman, casually aware of their places in society. He sees the friendship developing between Rahman and Mini, how Rahman handles Mini’s questions and engages her. It is when Rahman comes back from jail to see Mini again he realizes that Rahman, too, has a daughter back in Kabul of Mini’s age and Mini reminded him of her.
There is a connection between them despite the difference, both are fathers. They understand each other’s plight. Mini is getting married and will leave her parents’ house and then won’t be a part of their life in the same way ever again. On the other hand, Rahman has missed so much time with his daughter, and he needs to start to build a relationship with her all over again. Another instance of this theme is the friendship between Rahman and Mini.
Mini grows up, and her equations with people change including with her father, and she forgets about the Cabuliwallah. This shows how human emotions and relationships change with time; it is one of the most prominent things I noticed while reading. As a young child, Mini loved spending time with her father, it didn’t matter what they were going to do. But, when she grows up, she has her girlfriends and her life, and now she is getting married. For Rahman, being in prison is like time being frozen. He hopes or expects that things will be the same when he gets out, but tragically, that’s not the case.
I feel like the way the situation ends up being for Rahman, in the end, is so sad. He has lost all this time, waiting to get out and get back to his life, but life has moved on. He has to start from scratch. The story is straightforward in its premise but it deals with complex human emotions. The way the story is written tugs at your heartstrings. It does a beautiful job capturing the time of a pre-independent India. It is minimalistic, but it is heartfelt and deep.
I am so glad I downloaded a copy of these short stories. I forgot how much I used to enjoy reading them, though I didn’t understand the complexities in them back then. But, I loved reading The Cabuliwallah by Rabindranath Tagore. It is a story everyone must read at least once.
*Click on the book cover above to get a copy.