This poem is a translation from " Phanki" by Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel-Laureate in Literature in 1913. The original poem is written in Bengali, a regional language in India. 




When Binu was twenty-three, she fell sick.
With pills and doctors, 
there was more fuss than the sickness and the cure.
Bottles with labels piled up, containers of various sizes.
After being treated for one and a half year ending in brittle bones, 
Final Advice was – change the weather.
The first opportunity for Binu to board a train, 
And leave the in-laws for the first time after getting married.

Among a close-knit family we used to meet, secretly –
With broken chats and conversations; 
Interrupted meetings, 
Hushed smiles, unspoken words.
Today all of a sudden, the world with all its illuminated sky, 
Welcomed the bride and the groom.
Two enormous eyes on a sickly face, 
As if Binu was experiencing the subhadrishti (the auspicious first sight) once again! 

Across the rail-track, 
When a beggar begged for money, 
Binu opened her purse
Found whatever coins or bills she had in there, 
Folded in a paper, 
And threw to them.
How could she bear her own happiness, 
Unless she could remove the sadness of everybody else? 

From the broken river-edge of our haven, 
Today is our journey in the flow of eternal love –
That’s why today, with compassion and sacrifice, 
We have to fulfil that journey by bringing prosperity to the world.
Binu’s mind is full with this idea –
Today I belong only to her, 
No one else is around, 
Father or brother in front or in the back, in the right or in the left –
The excitement make her shiver in happiness.

Need to switch train at Bilaspore Station
in a hurry
Have to get off and rest at the waiting room  for six hours.
To me, that is such a big hassle! 
Binu says ” Why? This is so nice! “
There is no bound to her happiness today! 
The travel-music at her feet have made her restless –
The journey and the destination are the same to her blissfulness.

Opens the door of the waiting room and tells me –
“See, see, how those horse-carriages are running”! 
“Have you seen – that calf, oh so cute, the body is so slim and smooth, 
Look at the affection in the mother’s deep eyes! 
In the high ground beside the pond, 
That little walled house under the Sishu-tree
close to the railway track! 
The Station-master lives there! Oh my, how happy they must be! “

I get her a bed ready in the waiting room.
Tell her – Binu, now be comfortable and sleep.
Myself find a chair in the platform, 
Buy an English novel and start reading.
So many trains pass – passengers as well as goods, 
Almost three hours are over.
At that time Binu appears at the door of the waiting room and says, 
“I have something to tell you”.

I enter the room and find a Hindustani girl
Looking at me, 
Greets me, goes out, but keeps standing holding the pillar of the patio, 
Binu says “Her name is Rukmini.
See those huts in a row beside the well !
She lives there, her husband is a porter with the railway company.
Some year in thirteen hundred, 
they had drought in their region; husband and wife together
had to flee being oppressed by the landlord.
They had seven acres of land, in some village, beside some river -“

I stop her laughing and say –
“The train will be here before you finish the life-story of Rukmini.
In my opinion, it will be alright for everyone, 
if you tell the story in short”.
Binu gets mad, her eyes big with rage, and eye-brows slanting, she says, 
“Never, I will not make it short.
You are not in a rush to go to work, then why worry? 
You have to listen from the beginning to the end.”

The amusement from reading the novel disappears; 
I have to listen in details
The long story of the porter-woman.
The real talk is in the end, which is a little expensive.
The woman’s daughter is going to get married, so
some jewellery – armlets, bracelets – are required to be made, 
At least twenty-five rupees need to be spent. 
That worry is causing a great distress to Rukmini.
That’s why for this time, it is my turn
to help the poor woman to find some peace.
Today before we board the train, we have to
donate that money to this poverty-stricken woman.

How shocking! 
Have you ever heard anything like this? 
She must be a sweeper, or something like that, by caste, 
Does the scrubbing and mopping in the waiting room for passengers, 
I have to give her twenty-five rupees! 
Very soon we would be a destitute if things like this go on! 
“Okay, okay. this will be done! I’ll see to it! I have only one note
of a hundred rupees, and I have no change.”
Binu says, “we can get the change
at the station”.
“Alright, that’s what I will do”.

Saying this, I take the girl to a corner, 
And reprimand her really well.
” I will see how you hold on to your job.
You are cheating the passengers! I will see to that your wickedness ends ! “.
The woman starts crying and touches my feet to ask for forgiveness, 
I pay her two rupees, and let her leave.

The light goes out in our sanctuary of life, 
I return when only two months are over.
This time I get off at Bilaspore, 
I am alone.
In the last moment she touched my feet, 
and said, ” I may forget everything from this life, 
But I will have the memory of the last two months for ever, 
like the everlasting sindur on Narayani’s head in heaven. 
You have filled these two months with heavenly bliss, 
I will bid farewell remembering that blessedness”.

Oh the Divine, 
Today I want to let Binu know, 
There was a big deception in my two months’ devotion, 
A deception of twenty-five rupees.
If I give one lakh to Rukmini today, 
It’s not going to make any difference.
Binu has left with those two months with her –
She will never know my gift included a deceit.

I get off at Bilaspore, and ask everyone, 
“Where is Rukmini? “
People are surprised with the inquiry –
How many people knew Rukmini? 
After a lot of thinking, when I say ” Wife of Jhamru, the porter”
Everybody answers ” They are not here any more”.
I ask ” Where can I find her? ‘
The Station-master gets irritated, and says” Who knows that? ‘
The Ticket-checker smiles and says ” A few months earlier, 
They have left, perhaps for Darjeeling, or Khasrubagh, 
Or Arakan”
I keep asking ” Do you have their address? “
They get annoyed, who bothered about their address? 

How do I make them understand –
Today I need her, the most useless, now is the most needed, 
The only one who can lift my burden! 
“You fulfilled these two months with your ethereal love” –
How do I bear with Binu’s last few words from her soul, 
I am responsible for
The lie which is permanent. 

Translated by: Malabika Ray Choudhury