The Post office: Character of Gaffer

Gaffer in Rabindranath Tagore’s play, The Post office, is a spiritual wanderer – a “fakir” who has shunned the worldly ways of a family life, and lives on public charity. Of all the characters in the play, it is Gaffer who has the complete understanding and sympathy for the young protagonist, Amal. When informed by Madhav about the boy’s predicament, he comments “Poor thing: and so he needs me all the more.” Gaffer fully sympathizes with Amal’s imaginative ways of connecting with the world outside his confinement; he even actively participates in this. He invents the story of the Parrot’s isle and that gives the child a rare vision of avian freedom.

No medicine can cure Amal and in Act II his condition deteriorates. Soon Gaffer comes as a Fakir and tells Amal that he has just come from the Parrot’s Isle—a land of wonders, of hills and waterfalls, of birds flying and singing, and a land with no men at all. As he informs Amal that he would build a small cabin for himself among their crowd of nests and pass his days counting the sea waves, Amal says “How I wish I were a bird”. Thus, for Amal, the Parrot’s Isle becomes the symbol of invisible and the Great Beyond outside his sickroom. And the very memory of Gaffer (the Fakir) excites Amal; he seemed so carefree and adventurous.

Gaffer realizes that creativity and imagination provides spiritual nourishment to the boy and keeps him joyful and happy at the brink of death. He also realizes the spiritual and symbolic significance of the King and his post-office. Amal has been reconciled to his illness and confinement by the Post office. Gaffer says that the letter is on the way and Amal almost sees the King’s postman coming with a “lantern in his hand”. Gaffer the spiritual man goes to meet the king, the Almighty; and brings the news that the king (God) will send Amal His message. Gaffer tells Amal that he goes to the King who has the Post Office for alms everyday and when Amal will get well he too will have alms for him. At one level, this is a wise man trying to keep a severely ailing child happy and hopeful. At some deeper level, they are two spiritual persons discoursing about the divine ways in symbolic language.

The Headman brings a slip of paper and sneeringly tells Amal that it is a letter from the King. Gaffer tries to smoothen it out and speaks mildly and meaningfully and says that the King’s state Physicians would himself come to see Amal. This is followed by the knocking and the state Physician arrives. The oil lamp is now put out, only straight starlight streams in. Gaffer silences a doubtful Madhav calling him unbeliever. Amal is in deep sleep. Gaffer stands up folding his arms, in an attitude of reverence, as he senses the approach of the King.

Gaffer plays the role of a spiritual shaman assisting in the deliverance of the soul.

Last modified: Monday, 17 July 2017, 1:28 PM