Broken Ties and Other Stories
Rabindranath Tagore
5:02 h Novels Lvl 8.81
Rabindranath Tagore was a poet, playwright, and composer who changed Bengali art in the early 20th century. Broken Ties and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Tagore that debate and compare the differences between traditional and modern Indian society of the time. Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for his powerful poetry. This collection includes seven of Tagore's short stories for a complete sampling of the author's talents as a fiction writer.

Broken Ties and Other Stories

Rabindranath Tagore

Broken Ties

Chapter I


When I first met Satish he appeared to me like a constellation ofstars, his eyes shining, his tapering fingers like flames of fire, hisface glowing with a youthful radiance. I was surprised to find thatmost of his fellow-students hated him, for no other fault than that heresembled himself more than he resembled others. Because with men, aswell as with some insects, taking the colour of the surroundings isoften the best means of self-protection.

The students in the hostel where I lived could easily guess myreverence for Satish. This caused them discomfort, and they nevermissed an opportunity of reviling him in my hearing. If you have aspeck of grit in your eye it is best not to rub it. And when wordssmart it is best to leave them unanswered.

But one day the calumny against Satish was so gross that I could notremain silent.

Yet the trouble was that I hardly knew anything about Satish. We neverhad even a word between us, while some of the other students were hisclose neighbours, and some his distant relatives. These affirmed,with assurance, that what they said was true; and I affirmed, witheven greater assurance, that it was incredible. Then all the residentsof the hostel bared their arms, and cried: ‘What impertinence!’

That night I was vexed to tears. Next day, in an interval betweenlectures, when Satish was reading a book lying at full length on thegrass in College Square, I went up to him without any introduction,and spoke to him in a confused manner, scarcely knowing what I said.Satish shut his book, and looked in my face. Those who have not seenhis eyes will not know what that look was like.

Satish said to me: ‘Those who libel me do so, not because they love toknow the truth, but because they love to believe evil of me. Thereforeit is useless to try to prove to them that the calumny is untrue.’

‘But,’ I said,‘the liars must be — ’

‘They are not liars,’ interrupted Satish.

‘I have a neighbour,’ he went on, ‘who has epileptic fits. Last winterI gave him a blanket. My servant came to me in a furious temper, andtold me that the boy only feigned the disease. These students whomalign me are like that servant of mine. They believe what they say.Possibly my fate has awarded me an extra blanket which they thinkwould have suited them better.’

I asked him a question: ‘Is it true what they say, that you are anatheist?’

He said: ‘Yes.’

I bent my head to the ground. I had been arguing with myfellow-students that Satish could not possibly be an atheist.

I had received two severe blows at the outset of my short acquaintancewith Satish. I had imagined that he was a Brahman, but I had come toknow that Satish belonged to a Bania family, and I in whose veinsflowed a bluer blood was bound duly to despise all Banias. Secondly, Ihad a rooted belief that atheists were worse than murderers, nay,worse even than beef-eaters.

Nobody could have imagined, even in a dream, that I would ever sitdown and take my meals with a Bania student, or that my fanatical zealin the creed of atheism would surpass even that of my instructor. Yetboth these things came to pass.

Wilkins was our professor in the College. His learning was on a levelwith his contempt for his pupils. He felt that it was a menialoccupation to teach literature to Bengali students. Therefore, in ourShakespeare class, he would give us the synonym for ‘cat’ as ‘aquadruped of the feline species.’ But Satish was excused from takingnotes. The Professor told him: ‘I will make good to you the hourswasted in this class when you come to my room.’

The other less favoured students used to ascribe this indulgenttreatment of Satish to his fair complexion and to his profession ofatheism. Some of the more worldly-wise among them went to Wilkins’sstudy with a great show of enthusiasm to borrow from him some book onPositivism. But he refused, saying that it would be too hard for them.That they should be held unfit even to cultivate atheism made theirminds all the more bitter against Satish.


Jagamohan was Satish’s uncle. He was a notorious atheist of that time.It would be inadequate to say that he did not believe in God. Oneought rather to say that he vehemently believed in no God. As thebusiness of a captain in the navy is rather to sink ships than tosteer, so it was Jagamohan’s business to sink the creed of theism,wherever it put its head above the water.

The order of his arguments ran like this:

(1) If there be a God, then we must owe our intelligence to Him.

(2) But our intelligence clearly tells us that there is no God.

(3) Therefore God Himself tells us that there is no God.

‘Yet you Hindus,’ he would continue, ‘have the effrontery to say thatGod exists. For this sin thirty-three million gods and goddesses exactpenalties from you people, pulling your ears hard for yourdisobedience.’

Jagamohan was married when he was a mere boy. Before his wife died hehad read Malthus. He never married again.

His younger brother, Harimohan, was the father of Satish. Harimohan’snature was so exactly the opposite of his elder brother’s, that peoplemight suspect me of fabricating it for the purpose of writing a story.But only stories have to be always on their guard to sustain theirreader’s confidence. Facts have no such responsibility, and laugh atour incredulity. So, in this world, there are abundant instances oftwo brothers, the exact opposites of one another, like morning andevening.

Harimohan, in his infancy, had been a weakly child. His parents hadtried to keep him safe from the attacks of all maladies by barricadinghim behind amulets and charms, dust taken from holy shrines, andblessings bought from innumerable Brahmans at enormous expense. WhenHarimohan grew up, he was physically quite robust, yet the traditionof his poor health lingered on in the family. So nobody claimed fromhim anything more arduous than that he should continue to live. Hefulfilled his part, and did hold on to his life. Yet he never allowedhis family to forget for a moment that life in his case was morefragile than in most other mortals. Thus he managed to divert towardshimself the undivided attention of all his aunts and his mother, andhad specially prepared meals served to him. He had less work and morerest than other members of the family. He was never allowed to forgetthat he was under the special protection, not only of his aforesaidmother and aunts, but also of the countless gods and goddessespresiding in the three regions of earth, heaven, and air. He thusacquired an attitude of prayerful dependence towards all the powers ofthe world, both seen and unseen, — sub-inspectors, wealthy neighbours,highly placed officials, let alone sacred cows and Brahmans.

Jagamohan’s anxieties went altogether in an opposite direction. Hewould give a wide berth to men of power, lest the slightest suspicionof snobbishness should cling to him. It was this same sentiment whichhad greatly to do with his defiance of the gods. His knees were toostiff to bend before those from whom favour could be expected.

Harimohan got himself married at the proper time, that is to say, longbefore the time. After three sisters and three brothers, Satish wasborn. Everybody was struck by his resemblance to his uncle, andJagamohan took possession of him, as if he were his own son.

At first Harimohan was glad of this, having regard to the educationaladvantage of the arrangement; for Jagamohan had the reputation ofbeing the most eminent scholar of that period.

He seemed to live within the shell of his English books. It was easyto find the rooms he occupied in the house by the rows of books aboutthe walls, just as it is easy to find out the bed of a stream by itslines of pebbles.

Harimohan petted and spoilt his eldest son, Purandar, to his heart’scontent. He had an impression that Purandar was too delicate tosurvive the shock of being denied anything he wanted. His educationwas neglected. No time was lost in getting him married, and yet nobodycould keep him within the connubial limits. If Harimohan’sdaughter-in-law expressed any disapprobation of his vagaries in thatdirection, Harimohan would get angry with her and ascribe his son’s conduct toher want of tact and charm.

Jagamohan entirely took charge of Satish to save him from similarpaternal solicitude. Satish acquired a mastery of the English languagewhile he was still a child, and the inflammatory doctrines of Mill andBentham set his brain on fire, till he began to burn like a livingtorch of atheism.

Jagamohan treated Satish, not as his junior, but as his booncompanion. He held the opinion that veneration in human nature was asuperstition, specially designed to make men into slaves. Someson-in-law of the family wrote to him a letter, with the usual formalbeginning:

‘To the gracious feet of — — ’

Jagamohan wrote an answer, arguing with him as follows:

MY DEAR NOREN — Neither you nor I know what special significance itgives to the feet to call them ‘gracious.’ Therefore the epithet isworse than useless, and had better be dropped. And then it is apt togive one a nervous shock when you address your letter only to thefeet, completely ignoring their owner. But you should understand, thatso long as my feet are attached to my body, you should neverdissociate them from their context.

Next, you should bear in mind that human feet have not the advantageof prehensibility, and it is sheer madness to offer anything to them,confounding their natural function.

Lastly, your use of the plural inflection to the word ‘feet,’ insteadof the dual, may denote special reverence on your part (because thereare animals with four feet which have your particular veneration) butI consider it my duty to disabuse your mind of all errors concerningmy own zoological identity. — Yours, JAGAMOHAN.

Jagamohan used to discuss with Satish subjects which are usually keptout of sight in conversation. If people objected to this plainness ofspeech with one so young, he would say that you can only drive awayhornets by breaking in their nest. So you can only drive away theshamefulness of certain subjects by piercing through the shame itself.

When Satish had completed his College course, Harimohan tried his bestto extricate him from his uncle’s sphere of influence. But when oncethe noose is fixed round the neck, it only grows tighter by pulling atit. Harimohan became more and more annoyed at his brother, the moreSatish proved recalcitrant. If this atheism of his son and elderbrother had been merely a matter of private opinion, Harimohan couldhave tolerated it. He was quite ready to pass off dishes of fowl as‘kid curry.’ But mattershad now become so desperate that even lies became powerless towhitewash the culprits. What brought things to a head was this:

The positive side of Jagamohan’s atheistic creed consisted in doinggood to others. He felt a special pride in it, because doing good, foran atheist, was a matter of unmitigated loss. It had no allurements ofmerit and no deterrents of punishment in the hereafter. If he wasasked what concern he had in bringing about ‘the greatest happiness ofthe greatest number,’ he used to answer that his best incentive wasthat he could expect nothing in return. He would say to Satish:

‘Baba, we areatheists. And therefore the very pride of it should keep us absolutelystainless. Because we have no respect for any being higher thanourselves, therefore we must respect ourselves.’

There were some leather shops in the neighbourhood kept byMuhammadans. The uncle and nephew bestirred themselves with great zealin doing good to these Muhammadans and their untouchable leatherworkers! This made Harimohanbeside himself with indignation. Since he knew that any appeal toScriptures, or to tradition, would have no effect upon these tworenegades, he complained to his brother concerning the wasting of hispatrimony.

‘When my expenditure,’ his brother answered, ‘comes up to the amountyou have spent upon your full-fed Brahman priests, we shall be quits.’

One day Harimohan’s people were surprised to find that a preparationwas going on in Jaga-mohan’s quarters for a grand feast. The cooks andwaiters were all Mussulmans. Harimohan called for his son, and said tohim angrily:

‘I hear that you are going to give a feast to all your reverendfriends, the leather workers.’

Satish replied that he was far too poor to think of it. His uncle hadinvited them. Purandar, Satish’s elder brother, was equallyindignant. He threatened to drive all the unclean guests away. WhenHarimohan expressed his protest to his brother, he answered:

‘I never make any objection to your offering food to your idols. Youshould make no objection to my offering food to my gods.’

‘Your gods!’ exclaimed Harimohan.

‘Yes, my gods,’ his brother answered.

‘Have you become a theist all of a sudden?’ sneered Harimohan.

‘No!’ his brother replied. ‘Theists worship the God who is invisible.You idolaters worship gods who are visible, but dumb and deaf. Thegods I worship are both visible and audible, and it is impossible notto believe in them.’

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