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The Devotee by Rabindranath Tagore (REVIEW)

While reading this story, prior to reaching the second part in which the real meat of the story (despite its author’s vegetarianism) takes place, I was struck by something that I did not quite expect, though I welcomed without a second thought: the desire to giggle.

6 months ago

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A Critic's Meta Review: 5/5

The Devotee by Rabindranath Tagore (REVIEW)

While reading this story, prior to reaching the second part in which the real meat of the story (despite its author’s vegetarianism) takes place, I was struck by something that I did not quite expect, though I welcomed without a second thought: the desire to giggle.

I did not realize how much of a riot our man Rabindranath could be, but good golly was I chuckling along while thumbing through these pages. Now, these were not necessarily knee slappers or anything like that (if I am looking for some real zingers, I will stick with Emily Dickinson); rather, these little quips were far more subtle and, in turn, much more on the money than your typical open mic rookie could ever hope to be (believe me, I have been one, and nothing I had to say was even worth repeating out loud, let alone laughing heartily at).

Here are some of my favorite humorous asides from this story (in order of appearance, since I made sure to fold the corners of each page that contained a chortle-inducer):

At a time when my unpopularity with a part of my readers had reached the nadir of its glory, and my name had become the central orb of the journals, to be attended through space with a perpetual rotation of revilement, I felt the necessity to retire to some quiet place and endeavor to forget my own existence.”

I’ve been there, man. Anyone who has ever created anything and developed even somewhat of a following has been there, with the effects worsening as the following increases in size and widens in range.

“I was able now to examine her more closely. She was past that age when one asks the question whether a woman is beautiful or not.”

Daaaaaamn son. Now, I will admit, I did laugh at this one, but I do not necessarily agree with the notion that there exists a particular age at which it is weird to try and determine whether you are still attracted to a woman or not. In fact, the older I get, the less all of that stuff seems to matter to me. These days I feel as if perhaps I could use a little something vintage...these new models require a lot more maintenance than I am able to provide, in my experience.

“...I had just settled down at my writing table, to appease the hungry appetite of my editor in Calcutta…”

Every. Damn. Day.

Alas, it would not be Tagore if it was just jokes, though. Indeed, peppered throughout this story are a number of golden nuggets of wisdom, as well. Here are some of the ones that stuck out to me the most:

When we get our food precariously as alms, we remember God the giver. But when we receive our food regularly at home, as a matter of course, we are apt to regard it as ours by right.”

This is actually something that was touched upon during one of the discourses at a ten-day meditation retreat that I attended in Delaware (and the one I went to in Illinois before college, but I wouldn’t remember since I was not especially serious about all of that stuff back in those days). Our (deceased) instructor, Satya Narayan Goenka, spoke of enlightened monks begging for grains of rice in the streets despite having access to plenty of food at their monasteries. The reason that they did this was to humble themselves and exercise restraint, eliminating any possibility of their egos getting in the way of their spiritual progress. Pretty neat idea, if you ask me.

“When we stick [flowers] in vases, they are more like a row of naughty schoolboys standing on a form to be punished.”

This metaphor...wow. My man R.T. was like Picasso with these carefully chosen, delicately applied linguistic brush strokes.

“When a man...has greed in his heart, he is always on the verge of being beaten. The greed itself supplies his enemies with poison...our merciful God...beats us with His own hand, and drives away all the poison. He who endures God’s beating to the end is saved.”

This is a very interesting outlook regarding all of the trials and tribulations life puts you through, but it makes sense to me. All of the struggle is to get you on the right path - the path leading to your eventual enlightenment. Whichever way you get there does not ultimately matter. It could be through a guru or, in the case of the woman in this story, it could be through realizing that your guru is nothing but a creepy perv who is full of shit. It does not matter what sets you off onto the path of the righteous. Just as long as you keep treading it...cautiously!

Samir Arora

Published 6 months ago