Sudden Encounter by Rabindranath Tagore

[Translated by Argha Bagchi and Dipankar Daasgupta]



Never thought,
We could run into each other in a rail-compartment.

Many a time have I seen her in the past
In red saree-
As red as the flowers of pomegranate,
Today, dressed in black silk,
Her lustrous magnolia face,
Head covered,
She had created a dark, unfathomable distance,
That ran till the end of vast mustard-fields
And forests lost in the blue horizon.
My mind jolted to an abrupt halt
Seeing a known face in the garb of a sullen strangeness.

Suddenly, putting aside the newspaper
She greeted me formally
Clearing up avenues of social propriety.
I started up a conversation-
‘How are you’ and ‘how’s your family’
et cetera.
She stared out of the window,
With a look that had crossed over to the other side of our days of proximity
Offered brief replies to a query or two,
Did not respond to some at all.
With a restless waving of her hand
She conveyed that silence was preferable
To vain conversation.

I was sitting in a separate row with her mates.
She motioned to me with her fingers to sit next to her..
How intrepid! I thought-
But I went and sat on the same row with her.
Her voice concealed under the noise of the train,
She softly said,
`Do excuse me,,
Have no time to waste.
I am about to get off at the next station-
You will be travelling far,
Never shall we meet again.
Hence, I wish to hear directly from you
The long held up answer to my question.
You will speak the truth, won’t you?’
`I will’, said I.

Staring outside at the sky, continued she,
`Have our bygone days,
Gone truly away for good-
Leaving nothing at all behind?’
I fell silent for a while,
And then replied,
‘All the stars that fill up the night
Lie deeply hidden in the glow of the day.’

But then I doubted myself, did I make it all up!
She said, ‘That’s all. Go back to the other side now.’
Everyone got off at the next station.
I continued on my journey. Alone.

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  • knot2share  On June 17, 2010 at 5:38 am

    I remember this as part of one of your fiction(??) stories posted on IL. Am I right? This is what happens when you interweave one with the other :-). I need to know go through you old posts again just to get it clear in my head about where exactly I had read it before. Anyways, the translation by both of you still works wonders in me. I feel the pain in both of them. I wonder if it was really Rabindranath Tagore who wrote this originally. It seems too real!!

    • dipankardasgupta  On June 17, 2010 at 11:48 am

      Dear k2s:

      It’s exactly what you had read in IL. I copied it from IL and put it up here with a minor change or two. You must have read it in the poetry section of IL, because this is in fact a translation of a well-known Tagore poem.

      I have no choice left now you see but to copy the posts from IL and put them up here or elsewhere. I won’t copy the whole lot of course. But I will surely pick up the ones which I had spent time on.

      To me, this poem (the original) reads like a Greek tragedy. Something that was preordained. I wonder if true love between a man and a woman can have any other ending. It’s never “they lived happily ever after.” 🙂

      The Greeks called it FATE.

      Best wishes.


  • Shobha  On June 17, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    dear oj da,

    A lovely translation and as i rarely visit the poetry section in IL I have not seen it before. A love story with a not so happy ending but personally I enjoy “and they lived happily ever after” stories:)

    • dipankardasgupta  On June 17, 2010 at 7:52 pm

      Yes, I think you said this to me once in the past. But I really don’t know how to deal with such endings. 😦

      Thanks for reading though.

      oj -da

  • Sujatha Umakanthan  On July 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Dear OJ,

    This is absolutely a beautiful translation :))

    “Deep in my heart
    Flares forth a pain. Pain,
    caused by old wounds ripping apart,
    All my attempts to curb it are in vain :(”

    I liked your reply where you talk about FATE… is very true 🙂 I am sorry, but once again, your words seem to rekindle a lot of memories and old poems that I seem to have read. Perhaps Tagore himself must have read Byron 🙂 The entire poem would be long to post here, but I hope you will enjoy reading it.


    • dipankardasgupta  On July 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      Dear Sujatha:

      What a beautiful poem! Byron of course was amongst the greatest of romantics in English literature. I am quite sure that Tagore had read him along with the other three greats in Romantic literature.

      There is a difference though between the present poem and Byron’s composition. The element of sudden-ness. They were not expecting to meet and yet they met. And all they could exchange between themselves was the belief that nothing can die forever. (Though, you must have noted that the protagonist did doubt himself. This is where Tagore turns cruelly unromantic.)

      I strongly believe though that Death is an illusion. The past must live on, at least so long as time itself lives. The fact that no one notices it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t live. Even an inconsequential thought that passed through one’s mind was an event. It happened and so, it remains stored in a huge server called Universe.

      Tagore has several poems and songs on a similar theme, but each one has its own uniqueness. One of his songs has these lines (quickly and therefore badly translated).

      “All of a sudden we met again Holding back tears was an effort in vain …”

      Best wishes.


  • Sujatha Umakanthan  On July 29, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Dear OJ-da,

    The past only lives on in those people unable to live in the present or dream of a future. Only a select few make the past indelible in their lives 🙂 Oh yeah I am a culprit too !!!

    Thanks once again for providing us this wonderful translation – and making it available to some of us who cannot get enough of such beautiful words.


    • dipankardasgupta  On July 31, 2010 at 10:53 am

      Dear Sujatha:

      I am not sure if I followed you clearly when you said you’re a culprit too. Culprit why? For deletion? For preservation?

      You needn’t answer this question. I respect privacy. 🙂


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