An amalgamation of prose and poetry, with recurring instances drawn from mythologies and classical literature, conversations around and about love. All wrapped up in the beauty of Shillong, with two characters making their way through the trajectory of love. This is Shesher Kabita, one of the most loved novels of Rabindranath Tagore.
The title translates to ‘The Last Poem’ in English, but it is also titled ‘The Farewell Song’ by some publishers. The lyrical commentary, from the building up of love to its climax between Amit and Labanya spans up to only 150 pages. It was originally put out in parts in Prabasi, a periodical of 1929.
Roles, Genre and Fluidity
Amit Raye, an affluent Oxford return, not fitting in his cultural scape and Labanya, an intellectual with a love for poetry, come together after a car collision. What follows is insightful about the culture of Bengal during that period. The story takes us on a journey of philosophical questions and their lyrical answers. These are born from Tagore’s turmoil of preserving and experimenting at the same time.
Every line is a well-spun metaphor, at times uttered by the alter-ego of Amit or by the narrator, who is Tagore’s alter-ego. It is sure to leave readers in awe of Gurudev’s style. His urge to dive into socio-political issues while delving into the personal lives of characters, just like in Ghare Baire, is evident here. He adopted this style from Chokher Bali (1903) and is persistent in almost all works after that. The blueprint of these novels can be seen as a Venn diagram of two coinciding circles, one being the social climate and the other being the inner psyche of characters.
Tagore visited the hills of Shillong thrice and this story is believed to have been born then. A discussion erupted in the literary world of Bengal about the genre of Shesher Kabita. Some critics argue that it crosses the line between prose and poetry, which was a daring act back then.
To locate the perfect genre of Shesher Kabita, we will have to move to the hills and scenic beauty of Shillong which inspired Gurudev to write it. A bridge between two large mansions; one being prose and the other, poetry. Not just this, it stands at the crossroads of two cultures, two interpretations of love and classes.
Colonial impact and Representation
The female characters in stories of Tagore have almost always garnered special attention for being ahead of their time. Labanya is one such character, who defies marriage for sake of her freedom and self-worth. Be it in terms of intellect, poetic know-how or philosophical understanding, she stands at the same pedestal as Amit.
Other female characters are shown in possession of colonial hangover. Ketaki has become Katy and Amit’s sister tries to be on par with her. In the pursuit of social acceptance, these characters are shown as standing on contrary terms to Labanya and Yogmaya. Amit straddles in both worlds with his likeness for Katy and passion for Labanya.
Tagore’s inner conflict
Another fascinating feature of ‘The Last Poem is that Tagore being the narrator also appears in the novel in the third person. His mention is brought repeatedly as Labanya fosters a love for his poetry whereas our Amit Babu chooses to take up the pretence of disregard. Through this element, Tagore tries to give shape to the arguments existing between his admirers and haters and to contest them against each other.
So all the discussions around poetry are introduced to support the plot or to help Tagore himself? As no common ground is reached in these conversations, just an urge to ponder more is left. Thus it is fair for the characters’ resolve for love to not reach a conclusion and stay in their duality.
“My relationship with Ketaki is indeed based on love, but it is like water in a pitcher, to be collected daily, and used up every day. While my love for Labanya remains a lake, its waters not to be carried home but meant for my consciousness to swim in.”
How much do you question the idea of love and ponder over it? If it’s less, this Last Kabita is ought to increase it with a lyrical enigma to it. The literary geek in me went gaga over each metaphor. Shesher Kabita is meant to be savoured with sticky notes, highlights, underlines or maybe diary notes with an open heart. It will definitely leave you with a smile, tears, or nostalgia.