The postmaster was a Calcutta boy—he was a fish out of water in a village like this. His office was in a dark thatched hut; there was a pond next to it, scummed over with weeds, and jungle all around. The indigo agents and employees had hardly any spare time, and were not suitable company for an educated man. Or rather, his Calcutta background made him a bad mixer—in an unfamiliar place he was either arrogant or ill-at-ease. So there was not much contact between him and the residents in the area.
Sometimes he tried to write poems. The bliss of spending one’s life watching the leaves trembling in the trees or the clouds in the sky—that was what the poems expressed. God knew, however, that if a genie out of an Arab tale had come and cut down all the leafy trees overnight, made a road, and blocked out the sky with rows of tall buildings, this half-dead, well-bred young man would have come alive again.
The postmaster would say abruptly, “So, Ratan, do you remember your mother?” She had lots to tell him: some things she remembered, others she did not. Her father loved her more than her mother did—she remembered him a little. He used to come home in the evening after working hard all day, and one or two evenings were clearly etched in her memory. As she talked, Ratan edged nearer to the postmaster, and would end up sitting on the ground at his feet.
He felt in need of comfort, ill and miserable as he was, in this isolated place, the rain pouring down. He remembered the touch on his forehead of soft hands, conch-shell bangles. He wished his mother or sister were sitting here next to him, soothing his illness and loneliness with feminine tenderness. And his longings did not stay unfulfilled. The young girl Ratan was a young girl no longer. From that moment on she took on the role of a mother.
When the postmaster had had his meal, she suddenly asked, “Dadababu, will you take me home with you?” “How could I do that!” said the postmaster, laughing. He saw no need to explain to the girl why the idea was impossible. All night long, whether dreaming or awake, Ratan felt the postmaster’s laugh ringing in her ears. “How could I do that!”
The postmaster felt a huge anguish: the image of a simple young village-girl’s grief-stricken face seemed to speak a great inarticulate universal sorrow. He felt a sharp desire to go back: should he not fetch that orphaned girl, whom the world had abandoned? ... Detached by the current of the river, he reflected that in life there are many separations, many deaths. What point was there in going back? Who belonged to whom in this world?”
But Ratan had no such philosophy to console her. All she could do was wander near the post office, weeping copiously. Maybe a faint hope lingered in her mind that Dadababu might return; and this was enough to tie her to the spot, prevent her from going far. O poor, unthinking human heart! Error will not go away, logic and reason are slow to penetrate.