(Bengali original “Hathath Dekha” by Tagore.
Translated by Naina Dey)
A chance meeting in a railway coach,
Never thought it possible any day.
Had seen her often before
In a crimson saree
Dyed as a pomegranate flower;
Today she wears black silk,
Her head covered with her saree’s end
Encircling her face, fair and delicate like the champak in bloom.
It seemed, she had encased herself within a profound remoteness in black,
The remoteness which lurks at the edges of the mustard fields
In the intense blueness of the sal woods.
My whole being stopped short;
I beheld the familiar face in unfamiliar reserve.
Suddenly dropping the newspaper
She folded her hands in greeting.
The path of societal formalities opened up,
I struck up a conversation ---
How are you, how’s your family, etc.
She remained looking out of the window
As if in a distant stare oblivious of those intimate days.
Gave a brief reply or two,
Or didn’t even respond to some.
Conveyed through the restless motion of her hands ---
Why all this talk,
It is better to keep still.
I sat on another bench
With her companions.
Finally she motioned me to come near.
What nerve, thought I
Went up and sat on the same bench.
Obscured by the whistle of the train
She spoke in a muted voice,
Where’s the time to waste time!
I must get down at the very next station;
You will travel far;
We’ll never meet again.
So I will hear from you
The answer to my question which has remained unspoken all these years.
Will you tell me the truth?’
I said, ‘I will!’
She gazed at the sky outside and asked,
‘The days that have passed us by
Are they really no more?
Are there not any left?’
I kept silent for a while;
‘All the stars of the night lie hidden
In the depths of the day.’
I was in doubt, did I make it up.
She said, ‘Let it be, now go to the other end.’
Everyone got down at the next station;
I proceeded alone.
24 June 1936