Saturday, 13 June 2015

Major Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office:

Major Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office:

Tagore’s The Post Office has been internationally the most popular play of Tagore. It was successfully staged in different countries at different times. On the surface level, the play represents the eagerness of Amal, a sick child kept confined in a room, to participate in the activity of life around him. But beyond this apparent simplicity lies its profound meaning. Dr. Iyenger considers it to be “(o)ne of the most deeply significant of Tagore’s play which a child could read and understand, thought it might intrigue the grown ups.”  In deeper level, it has been read as an allegory of soul seeking what lies beyond. Like Tagore’s another symbolic play The King of the Dark Chamber, it presents human spirit reaching it liberation through a communication beyond the ken of human recognition. W.B Yeats lays emphasis on the deliverance as the theme of the play. The deliverance which the child discovers in death naturally comes at the moment when one reaches beyond his personal ego and is able to say, “all my work is thine.”

Amal is an orphan child adopted by Madhav. But he suffers from a serious disease. According to the advice of the village doctor, he is not allowed to go out in open-air as it may be detrimental to his health. So he is kept confined in room with utmost care by Madhav. He is a simple and innocent child with highly sensitive and imaginative mind. Though he is kept confined in room, his imaginative mind leads him to transcend the barrier of the four walls of the room. He sits besides the window and makes friends with the passer-by, imparting to each a new zest for life. Thus the Dairyman, Watchman, Headsman, Sudha and the village boys become his friends. He has a simple, innocent, highly imaginative and extraordinary inquisitive mind. He says to Madhav: “See that far-away from our window – I often long to go beyond those hills and right away.” His highly imaginative mind leads him to draw a mental picture of the Dairyman’s village without actually seeing it. He gives a compelling picture of the Dairyman’s village and the Dairyman is surprised to hear it: “Amal: Never. But I seem to remember having seen it. Your village is under some very old big trees, just by the side of the red road – isn’t that so?” With simple and innocent mind, he believes Gaffers tale of the Parrot’s Isle. He also believes in Watchman’s assurance that one day he will receive the king’s letter and he waits in anxious anticipation for the King’s letter.

In Act II Amal’s physical condition deteriorate. None sees any hope of his survival. Headman mocks him giving him a blank letter. But at last the king’s Herald and the King’s Physician come. Lastly Amal dies. Thus the play deals with Amal’s tragic story of suffering and pain on the surface level. But a deeper analysis will reveal that Amal’s death is not at all a tragic one. Instead it is seen as union between human soul and the Supreme Being. Amal is an innocent boy who is tired of the suffering of his life. Therefore he is eager for deliverance from this earthly existence. It is an invitation to leave this world of pain and suffering and enter the world of eternal bliss. At the end of the play Amal says to the State’s Physician: “I feel very well, Doctor, very well. All pain is gone. How fresh and open! I can see all the stars now twinkling from the other side of the dark.”

Each character, like Amal, has a significant role to play in the inner drama of the soul waiting for deliverance. Watchman symbolizes time. That time is most powerful and wants for none is clearly stated by him: “Watchman: My gong sounds to tell people, Time waits for none but goes on forever.” Thus behind the apparent simplicity of the dialogue, deeper and profound meaning continues to flicker. Sudha who gathers flowers stands for sweetness and grace. Madhav solicits like a common man of prosperity. The Physician symbolizes bookish knowledge that prevents man to achieve wisdom and true knowledge. Even the wicked village Headman has his place in the rich drama of life standing for his place in the rich drama of life standing for his obtrusive authority. Amal alone is an angelic creature, apparently passive but highly creative through his imaginative perception. The play is a series of dialogue but each dialogue vivrates with meaning.

The play has a neat classical structure with a clear cut unity of place and action. But some critics have raised question about death of Amal and the ending of the play. Thompson has considered the ending melodramatic. K.R. Srinivasa Iyenger is of the opinion that “(T)he physical death of Amal is thus not logically necessary to the story.” The king of the Dark Chamber is about a woman with a sick soul. The king visits the dark chamber of the queen’s heart and thus everything is resolved. But in the present play Amal is a boy with sick body. So Iyenger rightly questions, “If Amal dies in the end, how do the king’s herald, king’s physician and the king come into the picture?” The deus ex machina can be justified only if the natural order is reversed and the child recovers and lives as he wanted to as one of king’s postman.

Whatever one may say about the uncertainty and the mystery in which the play ends, it makes it dramatically more effective and artistically more appealing. The Post Office thus remains “beautifully, touching, of one of texture of simplicity throughout and within its limit an almost perfect piece of art."


  1. Such a nice essay. Keep going. It's really helpful. Thank you

  2. Our life does not fully bloom due to theorisation and argumentation that create obstruction in our simple relations. Tagore wished to view the world in its entirety. With all the senses open he wished to lead to the Beauty in life. In Tagore’s dramas he presented a few characters with the nature of a poet – of them the youngest but the most lively is-Amal, a boy barely six years old, of Dakghar.
    There is an amazing contradiction in our life: we are so immersed in our work-a-day life that we fail to recognize its grandeur. Affection or love has two aspects attachment and detachment, attention and inattention. We are wrongly engaged or wrongly attached.
    Should we wish to find life in its true glory we have to look, once, at it from a distance of disenchantment. In the whirlwind of our daily routine life that gravitates towards a banality, triviality rules, the typical riddle is that we have to distance ourselves from any kind of attachment and that way only our mind is filled with deep love for every bit of life. The whole life pops up in a moment at the time of death. Though we cannot know it from a person who has actually died, but those who has come back from the point of death have been interrogated and almost everybody has testified to it. Amal says:
    “I seem to see before my eyes – I think I had seen it many times before- long long ago, I cannot remember how long. Shall I tell you? – I see the King’s postman is continuously coming down the hills- all alone- a lantern in his left hand –and a bag of letters on right shoulder. So many days and so many nights he has been coming down uninterruptedly, never-endingly. Along the curved path by the river at the point where the mountain falls touches the ground he is coming and coming. He comes and comes through the narrow pathways running in between the field of maize beside the river – beyond is the sugarcane field with bunds alongside-through them he is unendingly coming –days and nights go past—he comes alone; inside the field crickets are chirping- not a single person on the river bank, only a kadakhocha (a special bird) is wagging its tail- I can see all. The more I see him coming the more my heart is elated with joy.”
    This endless flow as narrated by Amal connects present with the past and future. We live in ‘present’ within its small compartment. But as soon as the prolonged observances of Amal for an extensive period breaks the enclosures of ‘present’ we are struck with pain – because we can see neither the past nor the future— a kind of helplessness seizes us. Amal’s death is not physical death— it is the realisation of endlessness of Time and Space.
    We have two visions of time- direct, that is present and also a conceptual one (of past and future). The sense of beauty is this continuity of journey between direct and conceptual time. We observe from out of the system –the endless stream of time and space—this is Amal’s King. As we go to him we enter the Kingdom of eternity.
    The village headman tries to make fun of the little simpleton boy, a seemingly foolish boy— ‘A letter has come from the king in your name’. Amal was pleased but he could make out that the headman was taunting. It was only a blank sheet of paper. First, we all humans are small boys in the backdrop of limitless time and space. And the blank sheet of paper was, indeed, king’s letter. The King of Amal does not write letters with letters. The King has sent him nice letters in the form of folds of hills and dales, dancing rivers, curves on the road, in the curd-seller’s calling, in the gongs of the watchman, children’s games,…flowers plucked by the little girl Sudha and the fact of her not forgetting Amal also coalesces into eternity as a bond of human emotions.
    In a slender- sized drama the entire gamut of human life, its eternity and continuity has been encapsulated- that is the work of a master artist only.

  3. Each character has significance and is very much attached to reality that has been explained brilliantly in the preceding interpretation. One point to others – it is futile to seek exact parallel to reality as it is an allegorical play. Back to the question of time. What is time? It is the most complex and difficult a concept to grasp. It is as difficult as it seems to be easy. We cannot measure time actually; only we see some effects of time— in the growth of new leaves and in the blossoming of a flower – as narrated by the poet in this song—“aamar chalaa nabin patai , aamar chala phuler dharai..” Or, My motion cannot be told- it is the flow of life towards light, the sky feels its joy and feels the night’s silent star- “Aamar chala jai na bola, aalor paney praner chala, aakash bojhe aananda je taar, bojhe nishar nirab tara”. Time has its own country, own space. Amal asks the guard, “Which country does the time go to?” We identify and recognize time by the changes it wreaks on the visible objects; it acts silently, interminable are its motions, unavoidable its actions on the objective world, unstoppable its changeability. Here Amal represents the entire world past, present, future, individual or collective and animate or inanimate. The King is the real one who is indomitable though invisible --Time. Here Amal’s is not a mortal death neither a spiritual one as it is attempted to be made out but a realization, ultimate realization of triviality of our transient life vis-a-vis the superiority of Mahakaal-the Great Time through our collective wisdom and combined memory. So he can see the unseen, before and after and continually, unceasingly he sees the serial of events- in front of him, behind him. The drama attains classical beauty in each of the dialogues. The boy asks, “Can one learn everything by reading books?” The sensitive reader knows the answer. I retire from further interpretation. It is endless.