The Castaway is one of the most famous stories written by Rabindranath Tagore. The story describes how a person undergoes a great transformation with the change in his class and company. The story is also suggestive of the fact that Indian woman is more considerate, sincere and committed in comparison to her counterpart. The story also depicts what makes a woman pour a mother’s love on a poor castaway and how this castaway yearns to convince this woman that he is not a thief.
The story opens with the details of a cloudy atmosphere. In a closed room at Chandranagore are sitting Sharat, the husband; and Kiran, the wife. The husband urges the wife to stay a few days more so that she may recover completely.
What had happened a few days ago was that Kiran had fallen ill. This made all the friends and relatives of Kiran very anxious, and despite the pinching remarks by the wiseacres of the village to which they have taken a thinking that the life of their darling was more important for them, they decided to take Kiran to Chandanagore so that she may recover completely. Kiran was fond of ‘society’ (company) and the loneliness of the riverside village did not suit her at all. she also hated to be busy the whole day with medicine and dieting. Suddenly Sharat heard a loud shouting and opening the door learnt that a boat had been upset in the storm and one of the occupants of the boat had succeeded in swimming ashore the garden. The name of the Brahman boy, who had been able to swim across the garden, was Nilkanta. He belonged to a theatrical troupe. Kiran took warm interest in him. Sharat thought that they boy’s appearance at this moment was a good thing as it would give his wife something to amuse her and she might be persuaded to stay on for a longer period of time. Nilkanta was also delighted at his double escape from his master and the other world. But in a short while Sharat and his mother changed their opinion and longed for Nilkanta’s departure. The boy was spoiled because of the generous attitude of Kiran towards him. She made the boy a dandy. Sharat often warned her but she would not listen to him. After her midday meal, Kiran would sit on the bedstead and ask Nilkanta to recite pieces from his repertory with appropriate gesture and song. Nilkanta often got beatings form Sharat, and Nilkanta, in return, had come to believe that as the earth consisted of land and water similarly the human life was made up of eatings and beatings.
After the advent of Nilkanta, Sharat’s younger brother, Satish had come to spend his vacation with them. Kiran found a huge pleasure at finding a fresh occupant. Satish and Kiran were of the same age, and the time passed pleasantly in games and quarrels, laughter and even tears. Meanwhile Nilkanta suddenly filled with a bitterness, which he must avenge on somebody or something. He kicked his pet mongrel and thrashed his devoted band of boy followers for no fault. Nilkanta had his meal in the presence of Kiran. After the arrival of Satish, she had much less spare time, and was seldom present when Nilkanta’s meals were served. In the absence of Kiran, nothing tasted right to him. He would get up without eating much and say in a choking voice “I am not hungry”. He would, then, put out the lamp in his room and throw himself on his bed in the darkness burying his head in the pillow until the mother Sleep soothed his wounded heart with her soft caresses.
Nilkanta had the unshakable conviction that Satish was poisoning Kiran’s mind against him. He, therefore, longed to be Satish in the next rebirth. At last the time came for their return to their native place. Everybody was busy packing up, but to Nilkanta nobody said a word. Kiran had proposed to take him along with them but Sharat and his mother had objected to it so strenuously that she let the matter drop. A couple of days before they were to start, he sent for the boy and advised him to go back to his home town. Both Kiran and Nilkanta became emotional and burst into tears. Sharat and Satish, however, said that the tears of the boy were “Crocodile tears” only.
Then the day before they were to start, the inkstand was missing. Satish and Sharad were of the view that Nikanta had stolen it but Kiran strongly protested. She did not even accept the idea of Satish that his room and box must be searched.
Kiran got two new suits of clothes and a pair of shoes, and with these and a banknote she quietly went into Nilkanta’s room in the evening. She opened the box, and to her surprise she found amongst other things the missing inkstand also. In the meantime, Nilkanta entered the room without Kiran being aware of it. He wanted to say to Kiran that he had not committed the theft but everything was done out of malice. Kiran with a deep sigh replaced the inkstand in the box and also placed all her gifts at the top. Next day, the boy left them. Now Sharat wanted that his box must be searched but Kiran did not allow this. She took the box in her room, took out the inkstand and threw it into the river and the family went home. Only Nikanta’s mongrel remained prowling along the river bank.