Water—in the form of rain, river water, tears, and more—pervades Ulapur, the rural village depicted in Tagore’s story. In the second paragraph of the story, Tagore reveals that the postmaster, a recent transplant, is “a fish out of water” in Ulapur and is greatly affected by both the rain-washed landscape of the village and the unending monsoons during the month of Sraban, when he arrives. Rain seems to represent both renewal and confinement for the postmaster. As a “fish out of water,” he yearns to return to water and thus observes its presence in the natural world with awe and appreciation. Ulapur’s “rain-washed leaves quivering” and the “layers of sun-whitened, broken-up clouds left over from the rain” inspire the postmaster, a would-be poet, who desires to describe these natural phenomena in poetry and thus discover a renewed sense of spiritual harmony in the village, where he has previously felt lonely and isolated. At the same time, however, the “continuous” rain causes “ditches, pits, and channels” in the village to overflow, and it becomes impossible to travel around on foot. The postmaster becomes “ill and miserable … in this isolated place, the rain pouring down,” unable to move freely through the town and overwhelmed by the destructive floods. Water ultimately becomes a source of emotional distress instead of inspiration for the postmaster, and it contributes to the sense of confinement and isolation he experiences in the village.
At the end of the story, however, water becomes a symbol of both confinement and renewal, resolving tension between these two conflicting emotions. When the postmaster sets sail from Ulapur, the “swollen flood-waters of the river … heave like the Earth’s brimming tears,” mirroring Ratan’s own tears and emotional distress at the postmaster’s departure. Yet by “heaving” the boat away, the flood-waters are transporting the postmaster toward new horizons and a happier, less confining life outside of Ulapur. Thus, in “The Postmaster,” water is a natural object that represents persistent conflict between hope and renewal, misery and confinement.
Water Quotes in The Postmaster
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.
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.
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?”