'The Castaway' depicts the emotional journey of a young orphan Nilkanta who seeks to win the undivided affection of Kiran, the lady of the house where he sought shelter, soon after his boat foundered in a storm and he swam ashore. As a young actor in a theatrical troupe, he had lived an unsettled life which had not allowed his personality to grow to the fullest. The story beautifully captures the emotional turbulence of the youth, who on encountering warmth, vitality and kindness of Kiran, sees the promise of a new and alluring life before him. The story also reveals the cross-currents between the various members of the household which Nilkanta's presence provokes. The author's skilful description of the upper class Bengali lifestyle of the time and his exploration of an adolescent's psyche make this a very powerful, evocative and moving story.
Kiran was a universal favourite with her family and neighbours and had come to Chandernagore for a change of air, after she had fallen ill. Extremely fond of society and amusement, Kiran wished to escape the loneliness of the riverside villa.
Sharat, her husband, was on the point of 'surrendering unconditionally' to her whines when the news of Nilkanta's sudden arrival in their garden was announced. Kiran soon found a new occupation and dismissing the thoughts of returning home, she was 'at once her own sweet self', attending to the boy. The boy's narrow escape from a terrible death made Kiran take keen interest in him. Thus N received a warm welcome in the household-Sharat was relieved that he would no longer have to persuade his wife to stay longer & Kiran's mother-in-law was eager to profit by kindly serving a Brahmin guest.
It was generally believed that Kiran indulged Nilkanta and spoiled him. The boy found a secret pleasure in smoking Sharat's hookah, went for a stroll in pouring rain with Sharat's best silk umbrella and with a band o boys, never allowed the mangoes on the trees of the neighbourhood to ripen that season. The mongrel that he petted recklessly followed him into the house and stained Sharat's spotless bed. Undoubtedly, Sharat and his mother soon began to long for his departure.
But Nilkanta was Kiran's favourite and entertained her during the long afternoon hours, reciting pieces out of his repertory. Kiran made a dandy of him with Sharat's cast off clothes and all the warnings of not to spoil the boy fell on deaf ears.
The boy often got his ears boxed or pulled by Sharat, but he was conditioned that
And didn't take any offense to them. Infact he had suffered greater abuse at the hands of his former master of the theatrical troupe and the hardships he had endured had etched an impression on his appearance.
He looked gaunt, as if his growth had suddenly stopped. In what seemed to be a cruel twist of fate, a thoughtful providence so arranged things that he grew to the exact stature that his manager required, and then growth ceased.
In Kiran's household, Nilkanta however swiftly shed his adolescence to embrace his youth. Now he was unwilling to wear a women's dress or play the role of a girl as he used to earlier. Naively, he began to fancy himself as a part of Kiran's family; little realizing that he was no more than a temporary guest, still a lad-of-all-work in a strolling company. He desired to pick up a little education from Sharat's factor, but remained grossly unsuccessful at it. However, he enjoyed the glory of holding a book in his hand or reading aloud to an audience.
The songs he used to sing remained only as faint memories stirring in the mind and humming their tunes, he was transported to another world of beauty and glory. In the realms of imagination, his mind sprang free from the bonds of poverty & misery.
However, once the singing ended, the mirage would faint and Nilkanta, the mischief monger would be reprimanded for bringing down the mangoes of the orchards in the neighbourhood.