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Childhood rechristened — a review of Tagore’s ‘My Growing Years’, translated by Somudranil Sarkar

By Soham Deb

On a moonlit night, the shadows of the rows of trees on the roof fell on the floor, creating patterns like a dreamscape alpona.” — My Growing Years, Rabindranath Tagore (tr. Somudranil Sarkar)

Tagore is one of the most renowned Bengalis all over the world. The memoir of his childhood days is well-versed by most Bengali people. Titled Chelebela, it recounts the early years of the man who would go on to become the greatest Bengali songwriter and author. The new English version, translated by Somudranil Sarkar, is a vociferous read. Published by CLASSIX (an imprint of Hawakal Publishers), My Growing Years offers an insight into the world of the nineteenth century penned down by Tagore. The original Bengali version was written by Tagore in his last stage of life.

Tagore recounts his childhood memories in his old age through the book. The world of palanquins and Jatras entice the readers. Although it is written as per the taste of young men and women, anyone can turn the leaves and dive deep into Tagore’s childhood days. The readers learn about the social customs of the time, the education system during British rule and most importantly, the Tagore family. This family has always been filled with colourful characters—Rabindranath, Satyendranath, Dwijendranath, and Kadambari Debi, to name a few.

Tagore’s description has been meticulously translated by Sarkar, who has not compromised on the deftness of the Bengali language. He instead has used the English language with free-flowing words. Check the lines below:

The sky frowned strangely on a Sunday evening. The coming Monday’s shadow fell as it was approaching to gobble it down in its eclipse.

In the twenty-first century, our life revolves around daily work with some respite during the weekend. The above lines are valid even in today’s context when we do not want the Sunday to fade away, to hold back Monday as long as we can. The universality of Tagore is unmatched. Even when recounting his childhood days, Tagore sharply uses personification to show his craft.

We get a glimpse into the genius of the man very early in his childhood when he uses a discarded palanquin as the object of his fantasies. In his dream world, Tagore travels to various countries and embarks on one adventure after another. He cooks up fictional characters such as the sailor Abdul who fought a panther and used the animal to pull his boat. The seeds of teaching were planted in Tagore’s mind very early when he assumed the role of a teacher, educating the verandah rails who became students in his imagination.

Tagore’s propensity for music has also been glimpsed in the book. He took to music just as a fish takes to water. His attraction towards ancient Indian Ragas along with the piano foreshadows his future. He starts composing poetry in childhood and receives accolades from family members and outsiders.

The book gives us a glimpse into a time when women were confined to the Andarmahal and did not travel anywhere with their husbands who might have to relocate to another city. Naturally, when Tagore’s Mejadada, Satyendranath Tagore, took his wife along with him to Bombay, the young Rabindranath could understand it was an act of rebellion. He recalls fondly his memories of his sister-in-law, Kadambari Debi when the latter enters Jorashanko as a young bride. Tagore played chess with her and used Jaanti to crack open betel nuts for her. Her untimely death is mourned by the author on more than one occasion.

Above everything, Tagore loved the terrace in his home. It was his favourite location in the entire household. He recounts numerous times what the roof means to him. From his early childhood years to his late teens, ‘My Growing Years’ presents us with the fascinating young mind of Rabindranath Tagore. Credit should be given to the translator for the lucid work. Readers should definitely not skip their chance in buying this beautiful book. The workings of the mind of a child are very easily put forward by the master author. A child’s mind can be compared to a pendulum — it does not stay in one place, wandering here, there, and everywhere. Reiterating what the author believes that how one revels along the journey:

When you go there, you would unknowingly leave a footprint on the city and let your heart wander off to a place where the hue of the sky gets fused with the last green of the earth.


*Soham Deb, a content writer and educator, is a postgraduate in English Literature and Language. He is an avid photographer and is fond of capturing daily life. He organises photography exhibitions with his team in Kolkata.

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