The Postmaster- Summary and Questions and Answers

About the Story

“The Postmaster” gives a very touching account of the loneliness of a city-bred man who was appointed as a postmaster in a remote and lonely village. He felt like a fish out of water. Gradually, he developed an affectionate relationship with his maid Ratan. He would often talk about his family life back home. In order to fight his loneliness he would write poetry and teach her how to read books. One day the postmaster fell ill and Ratan looked after him like a nursing mother and helped him a lot. Fed up with the loneliness of his heart and the place, he eventually resigned from his post. The postmaster left for Calcutta but Ratan kept on wandering around the post office in the hope that her master would return some day. A strong emotional bond with the postmaster had developed in her heart and she kept on thinking that he also had a similar attachment towards her.

The story is a pathetic tale of two individuals. Both are sad and pained – one because of solitude and because he was forced to live away from his loved ones; the other because she has been left behind and the person with whom she had developed a strong feeling of attachment went away and did not seem to care for her. The story shows the futility of the love of the little village girl and the pathetic situation she has to face.

Summary

The postmaster, a city-bred man hailed from Calcutta. He took up his duties in the small village of Ulapur. There was an indigo factory whose proprietor (owner), an Englishman managed to get a post office established in that remote village. The postmaster lived and worked in a dark thatched shed near a a surrounded by a dense (thick) growth. He felt lonely there because he had not much work to do and had little company. So, to utilize his time and avoid loneliness, he started writing poetry. His salary was small and hence he had to cook his own meals. He would share his meals with his maid – Ratan, an orphan girl of the village.

The postmaster and the girl talked a little. Often in the evening, the postmaster would light his little lamp and call Ratan who sat outside waiting for his call. He would ask her to light his lamp. While she did so, it would give him an opportunity to talk with her. When asked about her family, Ratan would fondly talk about her past on the basis of the old memories she had of her mother. She remembered her father more vividly. She would sit on the floor near the postmaster’s feet and pour out her crowded memories before him. She would also remember her brother with whom she used to fish on the edge of the pond. This type of interaction would last long and make the postmaster late for cooking. Ratan would at last get up, toast some unleavened bread left of the breakfast and give to the postmaster which was sufficient for his supper.

Sometimes the postmaster felt very home-sick as he acutely missed his home, his mother and his sister. These memories haunted him again and again in his loneliness. He would, sometimes, recall them aloud before the simple little girl. Ratan soon had a feeling that she had known them all her life. She had a complete picture of them in her heart.

One day at noon during the break in the rains, the postmaster wished the nearness of “some kindred soul” that could love him. But its absence made him very sad. He sighed and called Ratan who was resting under a guava tree eating the unripe guavas. The postmaster told her that he would teach her to read and write. In a very short time Ratan was able to learn double consonants.

The rain did not seem to stop on a particular day. Day and night it rained and all the ditches, hollows and canals were flooded with water. Roads became impassable. On one heavily clouded morning, Ratan kept on waiting for the call of her master. When she did not get any message from the postmaster, she got up and with her book in her hands, she slowly entered the room and found her Dada lying on the bed. When she started to move back, the postmaster told her that he was sick. In his loneliness, he needed a little tender nursing. Ratan at once started taking a good care of him just like a mother. She immediately called in the doctor and after that gave him medicines at the proper intervals, cooked for him and took every care of the postmaster. In a few days, the postmaster recovered. But now he could not bear his loneliness any longer. He applied for his transfer from Ulapur.

Once again Ratan took up her earlier place outside the door. Sometimes she would stealthily look into the room to find her master either sitting in his chair or lying on his bed. While Ratan would wait for the call, the postmaster would wait for the official reply to the application he had sent. Ratan read her lessons time and again lest she should forget them. One day, the postmaster told her that he had resigned and was going home the next day not to return ever. She felt shocked and was greatly depressed on hearing this news. After the supper, she asked the postmaster if he could take her with him. The postmaster laughed and said, “What an idea!” It deepened her sadness further. Ratan did not ask him about the time of his departure and went away. She could not sleep that night. In the morning, she made his bath ready. After the bath, the postmaster called her and told her not to worry because he was going to ask the next postmaster to take care of her. She started weeping and told him that she won’t stay there any longer. This surprised the postmaster.

After handing over the charge to the new postmaster, he called Ratan and offered her his one month’s salary keeping only a little for his journey. But Ratan refused to take it. She told him not to worry about her and ran away out of sight. The postmaster sighed and went for the boat. After getting into the boat, he felt sad and wished to go back and bring Ratan with him. But the boat was already in the middle of the water and the village was left behind. Rattan kept on wandering about the post office with tears in her eyes and a hope that her Dada would return.

Short-Answer Questions

Question 1. To which place the postmaster belong? Where was he posted?

Answer. The Postmaster was a city-bred man. He belonged to Calcutta. He was posted in Ulapur, a small and remote village. Without any company he felt lonely like a fish out of water.

Question 2. How did the postmaster feel in the village? What were the major factors responsible for his mood?

Answer. The postmaster felt lonely and uncomfortable in that remote village. He felt like a fish out of water because he had no company there. He was a city-bred young man and found his life in the small village too dull and uneventful.

Question 3. Mention the ways in which the postmaster spent his leisure time?

Answer. The young postmaster had a lot of spare time. He would spend his time in writing poems about the natural scenery in the village. He would teach his maid Ratan, how to read books. He would also talk to her about his own family back home or listen to Ratan’s fond recollection of her past life.

Question 4. Who was Ratan and what did she do for the postmaster?

Answer. Ratan was a little village girl. She was an orphan with no home of her own. She would do odd and menial jobs for the postmaster. She was very fond of the postmaster and would wait patiently for his call while sitting outside the house.

Question 5. Which two incidents of her childhood were remembered by Ratan?

Answer. Rattan, the little orphan girl, loved to fondly narrate her childhood to the postmaster. She remembered he father coming home in the evening after his work. Secondly, she remembered playing with her little brother at fishing on the edge of the pond.

Question 6. How did the postmaster help Ratan?

Answer. First of all the postmaster employed the homeless girl as his maid. He would also share his food with Ratan. Finally, he taught her to read. He also chatted with her for long hours in order to ward off his sense of loneliness. The little girl got attached to the postmaster and lovingly recalled childhood before him.

Question 7. How did the postmaster related his own feelings to the song of the “persistent bird.” What did the postmaster long for in his loneliness?

Answer. The postmaster was posted in a remote area where he had no company. He related his own feelings of loneliness and boredom to the song of the “persistent bird.” He longed for a “kindred soul” – a living human being whom he would hold near his heart.

Question 8. How did Ratan look after the sick postmaster?

Answer. When the postmaster fell ill, Ratan at once started taking care of him. She immediately called in the doctor and then gave him the medicines at regular intervals. She attended on him day and night and cooked his food so long as he remained helpless and bed-ridden.

Question 9. Why did the postmaster apply for a transfer from the village? Did he get his transfer orders?

Answer. The postmaster applied for a transfer from the village on the ground of unhealthiness of the spot. This plea, it seems didn’t work in the Department and he did not get his transfer orders. However, he resigned from his post and left the place for Calcutta.

Question 10. Why did the postmaster find Ratan’s request for taking her to Calcutta ‘absurd’?

Answer. The postmaster was practical and selfish. He didn’t give due importance to Ratan’s feelings for him. Her love for him was treated as a child’s silly fondness. Because of his insensitivity to her emotional attachment with him he found her request ‘absurd’.

Question 11. What were the two ways in which the postmaster tried to help Ratan before leaving the village?

Answer. Before leaving for Calcutta, the postmaster wanted to help Ratan. First, he asked Ratan not to worry because he would tell his successor to take care of her. Second, before leaving the village, the postmaster offered her his month’s salary which, of course, was rejected by her.

Question 12. What was Ratan’s reaction to the financial help offered by the postmaster?

Answer. Before leaving the place for Calcutta, the postmaster wished to help Ratan and offered her almost his entire month’s salary. But Ratan would not take any money from him and ran away saying that he need not worry about her. She felt dejected and wanted no help from the City-bred man.

Question 13. Did the postmaster think of going back and bring Ratan with him?

Answer. When he was in the middle of the river, the postmaster thought of going back and bring Ratan with him. But it was too late to return and the village was already left behind. Before, this, however, there was no such thought in his mind.

Question 14. With what philosophy the postmaster consoled himself?

Answer. The postmaster thought of bringing back Ratan with him when it was too late. He consoled himself with the philosophy that life was full of numberless meetings and partings. He also reflected on death which was great and ultimate parting from which nobody can return.

Question 15. What did Ratan do after the postmaster’s departure? What was her hope?

Answer. The postmaster went back to Calcutta after resigning from his post. After her Dada’s departure, Ratan kept on wandering about the post office. She hoped that her Dada would return to the village some day. Her strong emotional bond with him made her feel like that.

Long-Answer Questions

Question 1. Draw a brief character sketch of the postmaster.

Answer. The postmaster was a city-bred young person. He belonged to Calcutta and joined as postmaster in a small and remote village called Ulapur. He had little work to do there and the rustic rural folk in the village did not seem to him good enough for his company. He felt lonely and sad, like a fish out of water. He would either remain aloof and proud or feel ill at ease among strangers of the village. To overcome or forget his loneliness or the sense of void he felt in his soul, he started writing poems about nature. But this failed to provide him enough solace.

His salary was small and hence he would cook his own meals. He had an orphan girl, Ratan, as his maid to do odd jobs for him. In order to fill the emotional emptiness of his soul, he would talk to Ratan and know about her family. Sometimes he would talk about his own family. He also tried to teach the little girl how to read. But it could keep his loneliness away only for a short while. After that he would think: “Oh, if only some kindred soul were near – just one loving human being whom I could hold near my heart!” He would recall the touch of soft hands and imagine the presence of loving womanhood. Ratan who was sincerely devoted to him, was not good enough company because she was poor and a simple village girl.

When one day he fell ill, Ratan turned into a nursing mother and looked after him. The postmaster appreciated this devotion but this did not prevent him from a feeling that he should leave this wretched place. The postmaster applied for a transfer after his recovery and ultimately resigned from his post. Before he left for Calcutta, he showed some sympathy and concern for Ratan and offered her money which she refused to accept as it was a poor substitute for the affection she wanted her Dada to show for her. On his way, he once thought of bringing the little girl with him but it was very late. The citybred young man was too self-centered to have anything but a shallow sympathy and a passing regret for Ratan.

The postmaster is a victim of loneliness. Neither nature not poetry nor talking with the girl could fill the void of his life. He longed for someone near and dear. He was too romantic to appreciate the solid affection he had created for himself in Ratan’s girlish heart. He could not understand Ratan’s feelings for him. His rejection of Ratan’s proposal to take her with him as “absurd” shows his total detachment and self-centeredness. He showed care, sympathy and concern for Ratan but all this was very shallow. He failed to realize the value of humanity and human relationships that Ratan had shown. He appears affectionate and generous but, at the same time, he is practical and selfish too. He could philosophize about his parting from Ratan and look upon it as one of the numberless meetings and partings that take place in the world every day. In this way, he could console himself very easily and overcome the vague and weak sense of unease he feels on account of his departure from the village leaving Ratan behind. He failed to console Ratan who kept on wandering about the post office hoping for his return. The difference in the depths of attachment shown by the two highlights the limits of human capability present in the character of the postmaster.

Question 2. Trace the course of development of Ratan’s love for the postmaster and its eventual failure.

Answer. Ratan, an orphan, was a little girl from the small and remote village Ulapur where the postmaster got his first posting. She was the postmaster’s maid and would do odd jobs for him. She always remained ready to answer the call of her master. She very fondly narrated her childhood stories to the postmaster. She got deeply attached to him and called him Dada. When the postmaster fell ill, she turned into a nursing mother. She at once called in the doctor, gave the postmaster pills at proper time and sat beside him all night. Due to her care and alertness, the postmaster soon recovered. The attention the postmaster has bestowed on her to overcome his sense of loneliness was taken by her as a valuable token of genuine human consideration and fondness. When he gossiped with her and taught her how to read books, she mistook his attitude towards her coming from his heart. She was overwhelmed with gratitude and developed with him a deep tie of attachment.

She felt disappointed when she learnt about the postmaster’s request for his transfer and his eventual resignation from the post. She felt shocked to learn that he would never return from Calcutta. She is innocent and affectionate and out of this innocence requests him to take her away with him. The postmaster’s reply to this request “what an idea” haunted her all that night. She felt restless, pained and could not sleep that night.

The postmaster’s show of affection and generosity deepened her love for him. She told him that she would leave the place after his departure. She rejected his offer of money and told him not to worry about her. Even after the departure of the postmaster, she kept on wandering around the post office in the hope that his master would return.

Ratan was an innocent girl. She developed a deep human affection and love for the postmaster. She failed to understand that the postmaster talked to her only to forget his sense of loneliness. She could not realize that the postmaster was only outwardly kind and sympathetic and not emotionally attached to her. Her success as a nurse shows her sincerity, efficiency and devotion. She was affectionate and kind-hearted. Her wandering about the post office after the postmaster had left the place shows her deep love for him. She was not old enough to philosophize life’s numberless meetings and partings. She failed to console herself and remains a pathetic figure in the story, hungering for a love which she may never get.

Question 3. “The Postmaster” shows man’s need for some form of love. Discuss.

Answer. “The Postmaster” studies the loneliness of a city-bred man. He is appointed in a remote village away from his home in bustling Calcutta. He has been described as a fish out of water. The story explores his psychological need for some form of love. He attempts to write poems and then shows kindness and sympathy towards Ratan. It is because of his need for company and love that he hears Ratan’s childhood stories. Sometimes he becomes nostalgic and pours out his own emotional stories. In his loneliness he would say, “Oh, if only some kindered soul were near just one loving human being whom I could hold near my heart!” The irony of the situation is that he fails to recognize the worth of the human affection for him that he has succeeded in creating in Ratan’s heart. He thinks that nature also wants to show its tiredness and loneliness just like him. Sometimes he would recall the touch of soft hands with tinkling bracelets and imagine the presence of loving womanhood. He lives in a world of fantasy and this creates a blindness in him to the possibility of love and affection which exist in real life around him. He leaves the village only because he fails to get the desired love or company that he imagines is possible in the city.

Ratan, on the other hand, feels quite happy to do odd jobs for the postmaster. She, an orphan little girl, happily narrates the stories of her childhood and talks about her family members who are no more. The postmaster’s show of kindness and sympathy deepens her love for him. She would call him Dada. She nurses him devotedly in his illness, with all the care that only those inspired by deep love can show. Unlike the postmaster she can fill the void of her lonely life only with a deep attachment she had once formed in her life. She cannot reduce this ache by pursuing shallow interests and sympathies like the postmaster who can easily forget her and shift his interests to new matters and other persons. It was on account of her fear of loss of love that she feels shocked and sad when she learns about the postmaster’s departure. She even asks him to take her away with him. She could not sleep that night. Even after the departure of her Data she keeps on wandering about the post office in the hope that he might come back one day.

The story shows the importance of some loving human presence around a person to provide necessary emotional warmth. Tagore is sharply aware of the fact that this need is felt by all human beings, whether city-bred or village born, but he also knows very well that the self-centered products of the city can either indulge in abstract fantasies of romantic love to fulfill this need or develop merely a casual and shallow attitude of sympathy and concern for those around them. Tagore emphasizes in this story that it is only the simple and candid souls in the village who are capable of deeper feeling of love. The writer very aptly shows man’s psychological need for some form of love.

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