‘Colonial displacement’ and ‘Alienation’ in Rabindranath Tagore’s The Postmaster

In Rabindranath Tagore’s The Postmaster, a severe colonial displacement can be noticed working all the way from actually physically displacing people for survival to creating emotional derangement of the basic human nature of valuing another human in terms of emotions, sympathy and compassion. The people working for the white man’s system, as a result of possessing certain jobs, even though with negligible salaries like the Postmaster in this story, seem to be drained out of emotional agencies as far as an individual other than themselves is concerned. Though they seem to relate with their own emotional needs and expectations being away from family and closed ones, yet their resources seem to be exhausted when it comes to the predicament of others. This probably is the result of being in a long-term colonized India where in order to take respectable jobs in the government offices, people started moving away from families and closed ones. The postmaster in the context faces the physical displacement and as a result is entrapped in the emotional alienation and displacement too. He is introduced as “a man from Calcutta” who is sent to a village that, “[…] left him feeling not very unlike a freshwater fish that has been lifted onto a riverbank.” (29).

            Tagore, a little later, makes a reference, through the postmaster, to “some giant out of an Arabian novel” who if happens to “come there and uproot […] the trees with their green branches and leave a macadam road in their place, if several buildings were to obliterate the clouds in the sky that were now clearly visible, this half-dead progeny of bhadralok society would receive a new lease of life.”(29). This is a typical demonstration of what the colonizers did to the then naturally beautiful India’s villages in an attempt to modernize it. And this thought crossing the postmaster’s mind is an evidence of the effects of colonial displacement that he has gone through. In spite of being in a place bestowed with natural beauty, he still imagines the place ripped off of the same mesmerizing beauty because he evidently feels nostalgic for his family, closed ones and the place where he belonged to, that is, Calcutta. He is often seen yearning for some company of some loved one. When it rains and he is lonely, he thinks, “If at this time there were someone near who was truly my own – at one with my heart, a human figure that was a tender object of love.” (31), and again when he is sick and down with fever he thinks, “What came to mind was the touch of a mother or an elder sister by one’s side […].” (31).

            As a result of this bereavement, the postmaster is found quite oblivious of the other emotional being, the girl-child servant who served him as her family. She is once a faithful servant and yet once, at need, is metamorphosed to a motherly figure, “[…] the migrant’s desire didn’t remain unfulfilled. The little girl Ratan didn’t stay a little girl. At that instant she was transformed into a mother.” (31). Not that the postmaster was not sympathetic to her, but he was just devoid of the required levels of compassion for her. Tagore seems to be focusing on the decentralization of the human values and emotions where the centre is left apparently empty and emotions are understood only with strict self-imposed limitations that could be exchanged for a little money. The postmaster here can be seen receiving the emotional support, without asking for it, from Ratan when he needs it the most, yet fails to understand the need of Ratan when she verbally requests him to take her with him. When Ratan asks, “Dadababu, will you take me home with you?”, the postmaster brushes it off with a laugh and says, “How can I do that?” (32). Later he tries to compensate Ratan’s emotions with money and offers her nearly all his salary. The offer is rejected by Ratan with an act of Ratan falling at his feet and asking him not to do that. Even if while leaving the postmaster thinks, “Let me go back, let me take that world-abandoned orphan child with me.” (33), he still does not make an effort to do so. This is a clear demonstration of his incapability even to understand his own feelings for the orphan child.

            Through the postmaster, Tagore has demonstrated that due to the long colonial period, the average people in India were facing more and more alienation from their own selves and from other people as well. It demonstrates the incapability and confusion an individual undergoes in the face of external changes. It provides an account of the colonial displacement experienced by people with respect to understanding human emotions caused due to physically displacing them from their native places in the name of jobs.

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