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Posts tagged ‘Rabindranath Tagore’

Revolution in 19th Century Bengal

As many of you are aware that for this month, I hosted the The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore Read Along to celebrate the 100 years of publication of this great novel as well celebrate India’s 69th “new” independence from British Raj. I had the greatest pleasure and honor in reading the novel with Stefanie, Jane, Cleo and Brona and as we close this month, it seemed the time was appropriate to share some of my thoughts and ideas about this timeless classic.

Tagore wrote this novel in the back drop of partition of Bengal (for more information, you can refer to the details here) which led to the rise of “Swadeshi Movement”  –  a nationalist movement that demanded freedom from British rule and was a precursor to Gandhi’s non-violent movement, which would yield much more significant results. The novel opens with Bimala the lady of the house giving us a background of the house and family she has married into and more importantly the character of her husband. The family is a rich aristocratic family settled for generations in Eastern India. Nikhil, Bimala’s husband is the scion of the house, running his business and family to the best of his abilities in modern and enlightened lines. He is kind to his poor tenants and genuinely tries to improve their condition and the state of the country by trying out new agricultural techniques, indigenous factories to produce such daily needs like soaps and pens and deploy modern economics like banks. His schemes are not always successful but his kindness and moral standards have earned him the respect of one and all. He has tried to educate his wife Bimala and has had a British lady come and teach her and he hopes to bring her out as an individual, independent of her identity as his wife. The household also consists of his two widowed sister-in-laws, wives of his older brothers who had died young after a life of debauchery and profligacy, leaving these women without any resources and dependent on Nikhil. Bimla is often involved in petty arguments with her two sister-in-laws in domestic matters, while Nikhil teaches her patience and tolerance for creatures like them who have been deprived of practically all basic human joys through choices that were never theirs. Such are the conditions, when the “Swadeshi Movement” sweeps the country. Nikhil is wary of such frantic nationalism, though he continues to fund finances for Sandeep, his friend who is a leader of the movement. Bimala thinks of him as a selfish creature and does not approve of her husband’s financial support to Sandeep. Soon nationalism comes to their county and Sandeep comes to their house as a guest and his oratory inspires Bimala to step outside the inner sanctums and purdah and meet him. This unleashes a series of events which neither Bimla or Nikhil who always encouraged Bimala to come out of the purdah, foresaw with significant results!

Tagore’s literary masterpiece spoke of 3 important elements at once, through the interweaving of the first person narratives of Bimala, Nikhil and Sandeep. First, it acts as an allegory for the nationalist struggle that had spread across India and Bengal, that presents two opposing forces, that is fighting for the future of Bengal and India. Nikhil is the enlightened humanist who asserts that truth cannot be imposed; freedom is necessary for choice, and is critical to individual growth and fulfillment. Sandeep represents himself as a realist, one who brutally confronts the world.He presents all that is passionate and violent, believing that the end justifies the means and that if something is not given to him amicably, he will snatch it if need be. Secondly, it deals with the question of gender when it proposes the figure of the woman as the representative of the nation. Tagore brings out his woman – the central character of the novel and makes her cross the literal and metaphorical threshold between the world of the anter- mahal or the inner chambers, the private inhabited by women in traditional Indian families, and the world of politics, the public. Finally, the novel raises philosophical questions and brings in Tagore’s ever curious questioning of metaphysical conception of truth and see the world as a constantly attempting to ignore truth and believe illusions to be the truths, which cannot be self sustaining. There are some shortcomings in the novel for sure – too much of rhetoric and some very uni-dimensional characters, especially Sandeep, whose brilliance is overshadowed in portraying him as a complete villain. Amulaya’s character is another example of unilateral creation where his goodness belies everything! However despite these shortcomings, I am still in awe of the brilliance that Tagore displayed not only in the narrative but also in the way he could fortell the future and his understanding as visionary which he translated into words for the common man to understand. Well before the rise of Nazi Germany, well before the Serbian or Rawandan civil wars, Tagore could see the utter and complete destructive powers of the “nationalist sentiment” . He wrote extensively against blind patriotism and spoke strenuously from desisting from violence as means to an end. A humanitarian to the very core, the idea of hurting anyone, Hindu, Muslim or British was appalling to him and he was convinced any results achieved on such principles would not stand the test of time – a key of Tagore’s belief system. Sustainable things and not things of the a moment, were the ingredients for success in any endevour. His foresight was telling when he brought forth the unrest among the Muslim populace of Nikhil and other feudal lord’s territories. This unrest and discontentment would fester leading finally to the partition of Indian in 1947 on religious lines, leading to the creation of Pakistan. His humanism demanded that we treat Muslims no different from Hindus, and religion should be the last condition for understanding the value of an individual – a lesson valid now more than ever.His celebration of humanism and individuality is powerfully brought out in the character of Nikhil – the man who believes that true freedom does not restrict but liberate and who honors those principals even when his wife decides to make choices, contrary to him and his belief system. Finally in Bimala he beautifully depicts the confusion of the Indian woman, who is slowly stepping out in the world to try and take her place again after centuries of oppression and purdah. She is confused and dazzeled by the heading feeling of doing some important work in the arena of men. She is awe of the power, all the men around her seem to attribute to her and she thinks she is finally making a difference to her country. Her assertion of character first surprises Nikhil who, despite being hurt, allows her to follow her own path and later Sandeep who tries to dominate her, finally showing her, his true colors. Bimala is representative of many woman, including many woman of today, who come from a strongly male dominated arena and for the first time discover a world of their own. They lose a bit of ground initially, but are soon able to assert their strength. Bimala in fact constantly reminded me of many of my sorority sisters in college. Thanks to the struggles of my great grand mother and grand mother, the former a contemporary of Bimala , in the same age and same socio-economic background, by the time I was born, my family was liberated, educated and got confused when someone said a girl child was a burden. However many families to this day and age believe in restricting the freedoms of their daughters in this country for the sake of honor or some such imagined masculine pride. These girls, for the first time sent to college away from the domination of parents would lose all control, until their innate sense asserted themselves and some of them went on to become lawyers, lecturers and even politicians. Tagore in writing Bimala seemed to fortell the story of all these girls.

I have read The Home and The World several times before and each time, I find something new to delve into and think about. If this does not define a classic, I am not sure what will.

To end, I would like to thank you all who participated in this read along and stuck around through my tedious history posts and found time to read this wonderful book. Thank you for your time and constant encouragement. No way could I have pulled off this event, if you all were not standing around cheering me on!

Celebrating Freedom – The Home and The World Read Along

In the year of 1916, exactly 100 years ago, 3 years since he became the first Non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, one of the most prolific artistic geniuses to come from India, published his extremely controversial and then much contested “The Home and The World“. It was a book that broke the mold and brought out women from the “anter mahal” (the inner chambers where women led secluded lives in 18th-19th century Bengal, albeit with consequences) and put a spin on on the Indian National Movement by defining and defying at the same time what a true patriot is/was. This novel has been since subjected to countless reviews, researches and critiques and has been subject of several dramas and filming, the most popular version being the one directed by Satyajit Ray, another first, the first Indian to win an Oscar!

On Aug 15th. 2016, India celebrates her 69th year of “Independence”; exactly 69 years ago, India regained her independence from the British rule after more than 200 years of colonization and exploitation. This act of regaining independence was the final culmination of the Indian National Movement, which began after the disastrous failure of the  ill-fated attempt of 1857 Mutiny and would ultimately inspire many world leaders in their efforts gain freedom and equality, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Interestingly 2016, nearly a 100 years after Tagore brought the traditional bengali woman to the man’s world in a startling attempt to emancipate women atleast in literature, the first batch women fighter pilots of Indian Air force, take to the sky, in a revolutionary departure from the historically masculine dominated world of military and warfare!

With such changes and events, colliding, it made sense to host a reading event that celebrated the long way India and her women had come along and “The Home and The World” seemed an apt book to do it with. Therefore with all humility and some pride I present “The Home and The World Read Along” for the month of August! It’s short novella, and does not require much time, but stitched together in those 120 odd pages is a story that speaks both of unique historical moment of time and of relationships that are timeless and abound through the ages!

Batch

I already have the honor of having Stefanie and Cleo join me for the event. Ruth also committed to check in and try and fit in with her schedule, and I am hoping many of you will join as well.( Please feel free to share the button above to share the love!) Like I promised Stefanie, I plan to provide an overview of the socio-political events that formed the background of this novel as well a summary of the position of women in India through centuries to help you better understand the book and provide you crucial clutches to navigate the specifics of the novel!

So come on and join us as we travel through time to the coming of age of an old country and her people!

All About Gs

I know I have stated this many a times, but one of my biggest inspirations for blogging and reading is Stephanie. Like a younger sibling, looking up to her elder sister, I look up to Stephanie for all great books (including books I would have never read had it not been for her review), blogging discipline (though I am nowhere as diligent as her) and of course adventure (online courses and carrot soup to name a few!) Naturally when she posted this, I had to give it go, only I did not realize just how difficult the alphabet G was!!

The task and I quote verbatim from her post is –

Say your favorite book, author, song, film, and object beginning with a particular letter. And that letter will be randomly assigned to you by me, via random.org. If you’d like to join in, comment in the comment section and I’ll tell you your letter! (And then, of course, the chain can keep going on your blog.)

Here goes, my love affair with finding the right “G”s –

Favorite Book – I racked my brains and racked it all through the week before I concluded on this one. It’s off beat but perhaps one of the most sensitively written novels on racial discrimination, equality and traditions. It’s a novel by Rabindranath Tagore and it’s called “Gora” literally meaning someone who is white, i.e. of European descent. The story of “Gora” an orphan adopted by an orthodox Brahmin family and his journey of self-discovery set in the late 19th century Bengal, India, transcends borders, time and cultures to make one question the common understanding of religion, caste and patriotism

Favorite Author – I was not sure if “G” had to be the alphabet in the first name, middle name or last name; so like always, I choose three with “G” being placed in different places in the names:

  • Gaskell, Elizabeth – Well, what can one say about this brilliant and sensitive author from Victorian England. Whether it is her sensitive portrayal of the trails of the factory workers in “North and South” or her humorous take on the “genteel” lives of a small Victorian town in “Cranford” or her bone chilling “Gothic Tales”, she was a mistress of all that she wrote, infusing all her works with a succinct understanding of those with lesser fortunes and abilities
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Nobel Prize winner, author extraordinaire and humanitarian. I cannot think of anyone who wrote with such imagination or depth of understanding of human feelings and relationships than this great man; the man who wrote about a beautiful love affair in the golden years of ones lives or decried the violence and mourned about the loss of freedom of his fellow countryman in the aftermath of the Columbian Civil War that affected so many lives
  • G.K. Chesterton – Humorous, contradictory and witticism personified, G.K. Chesterton was an author of wide ranges, whether he wrote about Father Brown stories or satires about modern materialistic lives like The Man who was Thursday, he was a modernist who understood traditions and mocked it, while capturing the gentleness of the lost era

Favorite Song – This was easy! My grandmother used to play this on the loop – Ella Fitzgerald was her favorite artist and the ever optimistic person that’s she was, this naturally appealed to her, though the religious aspects of the song she ignored, being one true blooded agnostic that ever was there ….(yes! Optimism and a love for Ella Fitzgerald run in the family and are DNA type of things, passes on from one generation to another!)

Favorite Film – Sigh!! I know this is clichéd and god knows, I am not really fond of the book, but I do love the movie – Clarke Gable, brilliant period costumes and sets, some lovely shots, awesome music and of course, did I mention Clarke Gable? Of course, I am talking about Gone with the Wind

Favorite Object – Dang!! Most of my favorite objects start with a B (Books) or F (Food and Friends), but finally, I came up with this one – God!! I know this one is not an object, and I have probably committed 989 blasphemy by quoting the Great one as an object, but here’s the thing – I am not particularly religious, (not with agnostic grandmother and father DNAs) and I am not at all into pious rituals or orthodoxy, but I do believe there is a greater force at play. Like I always say, I will never have the luck I want but I will always have the luck I need, and someone somewhere is taking care to make sure that I get the luck I need. It’s good to have someone to be thankful to and of course rant and rave and blame at when things do not go right and I think, selfish being that I am its more for the latter than the former, I keep “the great one” close to my heart!! The other “G” related object very close to my heart right after “God” would be my girlfriends – where would I be without their crazy adventures, disastrous love lives, existential crisis, all night gossips, ice cream binge sessions and shoulders to cry on – thank god for the crazy, lunatic, brilliant and lovable bunch of girls, I have the privilege to call friends, life is so much more worthy and wonderful, because I have them in my life!!

Phew! Finally all done; kind of exhausting but oodles of fun, especially vis-à-vis making those choices to select “the final one”…try it and do let me know if you need an alphabet to help you around!!

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