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Dipankar Roy : Women in Tagore’s ‘Domestic Novels’

Image courtesy - A Japanese Catalogue of Tagore's Paintings, 1985

Woman in Tales of Love, Sex and Danger; A Study of the Representation of Women in Tagore’s Three ‘Domestic Novels’

“From the day when man, refusing to recognize the efflorescence of life and establishing ideals to his own convenience instead, and following those ideals tried to create the woman, seeds of rebellion were sown in the heart of woman since then….Since that day when she is denied the true potential of womanhood she has also been denying man his complete manhood, as a form of revenge.” 
Rabindranath Tagore (About Chaturanga)

My present effort concerns the story of man and woman in a country under foreign rule and which is poised on the threshold of the ‘modern’ age. This paper is about a nation and its rising nationalist consciousness, trying to come to terms with its political subjugation on the one hand and its problematic negotiations with the ‘colonial modernity’ on the other. The ‘colonial’ brand of modernity was largely responsible for the ushering in of bourgeois capitalism and the bourgeois culture. This resulted in changes in civic space, social modes of behaviour, emergence of ‘clock-time’, new kinds of economic activities and most importantly changing equations between the ‘home’ and the ‘world’ ( ghar o bahir). Large-scale social reforms were set in motion, both by the colonial rulers and the colonized society – the prime target of which were the women. This was happening throughout the greater part of the nineteenth century and its impact was still strongly felt in Bengal in the first half of the twentieth. The main focus of my discussion, however, will be a study of the portrayal of Tagore’s ‘women’ in his three major ‘domestic novels’, Chokher Bali (1903), Chaturanga, (1916), Jogajog (1929). Critics most often pay attention to Tagore’s three other more celebrated novels, Gora (1909), Ghare Baire (1916) and Char Adhyay (1934). They single out these three novels, as his quintessentially ‘political’ novels where nationalist concerns and issues are dealt with in a consistent manner.i But my contention is that alongside the three ‘political novels’, it is absolutely essential also to closely look into his three other major novels; novels which do not have overt ‘political’ dialogism of the ‘political’ novels. (I shall categorize those three as Tagore’s ‘domestic’ novels as opposed to the ‘political’ ones.). In these three novels, like other overwhelmingly ‘political’ ones like Ghare Baire, the question of the necessity to fashion (‘recover’) a ‘self’ during the colonial subjugation and its possible contours is a very important motif, running through the twists and turmoil of the stories. In these novels, I think, the question of man-woman relationship gets entwined with the ‘political’ issues and the ‘troubled’ nature of the male ‘self’ of the colonized ‘subjects’ makes its mark on this relationship. The ‘personal’ and even the ‘libidinal’ have a dialectical relationship with the ‘public’, in these novels.ii These tales are as much of the ‘nation’ as those of ‘love’ ‘sex’ and ‘danger’. For me, thus, The ‘domestic’ and the ‘political’ novels are like two sides of the same coin, as far as the reflection of the ‘nationalist’ male self, the ‘woman question’ and the man-woman relationship of colonized bourgeois samaj is concerned. 

Coming back to the importance of the ‘troubled’ nature of the colonized male ‘self’ during a time of ‘colonial modernity’ – a modernity which unleashed ideas as disparate as ‘romantic love’ and deshprem (‘love for the nation’), ideas which reached Indian shore from the continent of Europe – its nature was instrumental in an attempt to create ‘woman’ following ‘certain ideals’iii . The ‘woman question’, therefore, needs to be addressed in the context of the ‘wounded’ virility of a male self, a self caught in the crossfire between oppressive colonial regime which only gave ‘subjecthood’ without the full status of ‘citizenship’ and strong winds of change brought about with the close contact with the ‘West’.iv A short-story written by Tagore in 1898, named Rajtika wonderfully captures the trauma of the colonized male subject – the trauma of the hurt pride, borne out of the humiliations and insulting behavior of the colonial masters in almost all walks of public life, on the one hand and the utter vacuity of putting up a false show of virility in front of the women-folks at home on the other. Nabendushekhar, a Roybahadur-aspirant marries into a cultured Bangali family which has staunch British-hater father as its head. Nabendu, however, has the ‘good-fortune’ of not only marrying a beautiful wife but also having four sister-in-laws who are equally beautiful, endearing and educated. Nabendu’s marital-life is torn between acting as a fire-brand anti-colonial activist before his loving sister-in-laws and scheming to move up the ladder of social success by playing it safe with the white masters behind their back. His intelligent and mischievous sister-in-laws quickly find out his ploy and his eldest sister-in-law plots against him in order to expose him. One day while Nabendu is bathing the servant informs him that none other than the British Magistrate has come to visit him. When Nabendu hurriedly comes out the bathroom the Magistrate has already gone. The next day when Nabendu visits the Magistrate in his office he makes a complete idiot of himself when he mentions the Magistrate’s visit the previous day. It is utterly improbable that the Magistrate would pay such a visit and it is only Nabendu’s extreme foolishness that he fails to see through the plot set by his sister-in-law. The final ironic twist to the story comes in the form of Nabendu becoming some kind of a hero among the Congress supporters by offering a hefty donation, again out of a compulsion enforced upon him by his brother-in-law and sister-in-law duo. One might as well echo Galileo’s famous remark from Brecht’s play, “…unhappy is the land that is in need of such heroes.” But if one is to ignore the irony for once, the plights of the colonized male subject seem to make a haunting impression in the end of the story. 

‘Women’s Question’ in the Nationalist Discourse: Some Key Concepts

It would be relevant here to find out what role was ascribed to ‘Woman’ in the agenda of the nationalist discourse. Much work has been done in this area, particularly by Feminist scholars, Marxist and Subaltern historians. Despite their divergent views, all the scholars agree that the anti-hegemonic struggle of the Indian nationalism was most often fought around the issue of ‘Reforming Women’ and in the colonial situation women were used as crucial markers of cultural difference.v In India, colonial ideology worked on the premise of moral superiority, a claim which was built around the degenerate state of women in the society of the colonized. This is evident in innumerable books, travelogues, journalistic writings, memoirs written by European men and women. Teresa Hubel, in her book Whose India?, mentions quite a few writings of such kind by women colonial writers. The colonial administration came up with a number of legislations within its programme of social reform which contained the aim of reforming the condition of the women in India during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 was followed by the 1874 Right to Property Act, giving a widow a life interest in her husband’s share of property and the Age of Consent Bill of 1891 which raised the legal age for sexual intercourse from 10 to 12 for girls. 

Social and cultural changes alongside new laws were ushered in by the imperial powers as Christian missionaries started setting up schools for women. Robert May established the first girls’ school on behalf of the ‘London Missionary Society’ in 1818. Miss. Mary Ann Cook established the Ladies’ Society in 1824. In India the colonial programme for domination not only had a gender bias but it also had a streak of class dimension as well since the ‘reforming women’ agenda centred around the high-caste Hindu woman.

The nationalist concerns for the creations of ‘New Woman’ in its own terms focussed on creating a new space and new idiom for reforming women in indigenous terms, rejecting colonial moves as far as possible. It is interesting to note that although in the first half of the nineteenth century the Indian elite and the middle class intelligentsia came forward in a big way in the programmes for reforming women by the imperial rulers — names of Raja Rammohan Roy and Iswarchandra Vidyasagar immediately come to mind — in the latter half of the century limits of stree swadhinata (freedom for women) were beginning to be marked out within the realm of the centrally important motif of women’s emancipation in India. The result — Sumit Sarkar writes, ‘Middle-class’ interest in women’s question and social reform in general evidently declined from the late nineteenth century with the rise of Tanika Sarkar in her book Words to Win writes:

Since an autonomous sphere did not develop within civil society... social privileges and claims for self-rule and autonomy could only be confirmed in the sphere of... the Hindu joint family... Women were... the signifiers of the autonomy of the Hindu laws and their disciplines... The woman, as ruled entirely by Hindu scripture and Hindu custom, was perceived as the site of a past freedom as well as of an emergent nationhood (italics mine).vii

Redefining femininity and construction of ‘New Woman’ seemed to become the master-stroke to solve all ideological problems for the emerging nationalist consciousness. Colonialist concerns for the emancipation of native women were part of a design to guide a race towards the light of ‘Reason’ — reason enough for imperialism.viii Nationalist agenda, in this situation had to be to project a counter-discourse of Indianness in a language — ‘unknown to the colonizer’ — a language which ‘incorporates the language of the modern world’ but at the same time, ‘tries to remain outside it.’ It must proclaim that ‘India is not non-west; it is India’. Thus were born twin projects of nationalism — selective appropriation of the western modernity and championing the spiritual India as the real India. The national/spiritual distinction of the Occident/Orient stereotype was redirected towards an analogous but ideologically more powerful dichotomy; that between the outer and the inner. The ‘authentic Indianness’ was to be discovered not in the material pursuits like the West — which are, outer and inferior motives — but in the inner spiritual principle which would prove the superiority of Indian culture. The ‘inner/outer’ dichotomy was transposed into a new binary — ghar and bahir — the home and the world — the world is the external, the domain of the material; the home represents one’s true identity. So who were to bear the spiritual identity of the society, of the nation, of our superior culture? It would be those who live within the purview of ‘home’. So, it became very necessary to bring the ladies out of their purdah, give them proper education, in indigenous terms, — and reinstate them within the happy bourgeois home, the symbol of the nation’s identity — so that they can take proper care of our culture, our heritage. It was necessary for the nationalist ideology to interpellate the woman to a new subject position of Bhadramahila, — a construction about which Malavika Karlekar writes — ‘Enlightened yet domesticated, by nature loving and devoted to the family’s well-being, her emancipation was to be viewed within the context of a family’s situation’.ix Danger lay in the education given by the Christian missionaries — in the form of the emergence of westernized, licentious, self-deluded memsahebs. Criticism of the evil effects of westernized woman on society (Jatthechchacharini, byapika, intemperate woman — a number of terms were invented) was sounded innumerable times in different discursive formations — in novels, farces, skits and jingles, in the paintings of the patua, in the compositions of Kabiyals.x But the threat of western education began to be removed when in 1850s Indians themselves began to open schools for girls. From 95 girls’ schools with a total attendance of 2500 in 1863 the figures went up to 2238 schools in 1890 with a total of more than 80,000 students. The nationalist project tried very hard to ensure that there was to be no ‘bilingual’ ‘New Woman’.

The discourse of the synthetic femininity time and again harps over the ‘spiritual nature’ — its corollary. It is because the idea of the ‘spiritual nature’ perfected in the ‘New Woman’ clears the path for the adulation of woman as goddess or as mother. The image of woman as goddess or mother, thus, served to erase her sexuality in the world outside the home. Now, to the final twist to the tale of the ‘gendered spiritual’: the nationalist discourse must speak the language of ‘organic community’ whose basic building block ought to be the patriarchal extended family. Dipesh Chakrabarty argues that the mytho-religious conceptualization of time (the very idea of organic community harks back to a distant historical past) is manifested through the female auspiciousness. He writes, “the truly modern housewife, it was said, would be so auspicious as to mark the eternal return of the cosmic principle embodied in the goddess Lakshmi (and clan, by extending the sentiment, the nation Bharatlakshmi) lived and prospered”.xi The notion of ‘synthetic femininity ‘ therefore, becomes a signifier for a number of signifieds, Grihalakshmi, the concept of ‘New Woman’ — where the problematic of tradition and modernity is successfully overcome, as well as the image of the nation as an affectionate protective, all-giving, powerful mother-goddess of the Hindus emerged — either as Durga or Lakshmi. Thus, ‘New Woman’ was posited at the core of nationalist episteme

The Thematic and the Problematic

However rigorously one builds up a grand meta-narrative of any dominant discourse of any period, there are bound to be innumerable instances of fissures, disjunctions, overlapping, contradictions, and silences in it. Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of ‘heteroglossia’ (the Russian raznorechi literally means different-speech-ness) refers to the conflict between ‘centripetal’ & ‘centrifugal’ ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ discourses within the same national language. Bakhtin’s ideas may enable us to see the texts not only as ideologemes, individual paroles of the langue of nationalist discourse but also to locate in the texts a dialogical system in operation; — a ‘dialogised’ heteroglossia between the hegemonic voice and the voices which for the most part are stifled and reduced to silence, marginalized or re-appropriated by the hegemonic culture. Literature often provides an alternative space where the inherent contradictions of the national language find articulation. They may or may not get resolved within the fictional plane. That is why the ‘silences’ in the novels are as important as the articulations. The discovery of dialogical interplay between the authorial voice, the male characters’ discourses about women and the women’s voices articulating different kinds of women consciousnesses — in the novels of Tagore – will hopefully give us insights into the dialectical nature of the relationship between literature, history and politics. 

Heteroglossia at Work

At the outset of my discussion of the novels I would like to mention certain predominant characteristics in the career of Tagore the novelist. After his first two novels, Bou Thakuranir Haat (1883) and Rajrishi (1887) Tagore never went back to writing historical romance – a genre made extremely popular during his times by novelists like Bankimchandra, Ramesh Chandra Datta and Swarnakumari Devi. Tagore’s novels, from Chokher Bali (1903) onwards, are set in Tagore’s own times or in very recent past. It is very significant that Tagore, through the novel, wanted to confront contemporary reality head on. Secondly, Tagore’s many young female protagonists, who often make a more enduring mark on the readers than their male counterparts, are almost as a rule childless. This is striking, to say the least, if one takes into account the views expressed by social psychologists that in Indian society ‘motherhood’ and maternal identity confers upon a woman a purpose that nothing else in her culture can.xii To be a mother is, by definition, to be a good wife and in turn a good woman. In Tagore’s novels what we often encounter instead is widowhood, often a result of childhood marriage to much older husbands, and whom we meet are young widows who have no ways of attaining any legitimate right to motherhood. Their threatening sexuality, which is a genuine problem for colonized male ‘self’, often wreaks havoc among the family and the society at large. The third characteristic is – which is again a very important motif in all Tagore’s major novels – i.e. the homo-social bonding between male protagonists. Though some would argue that there may be covert suggestions on the part of the novelist of homosexuality; in my scheme of things, in Tagore’s novels male friendship does not aspire to the homo-erotic but remains strongly homo-social. 

There is a reason behind my singling out these three features of Tagore’s novels. All three, in my opinion, are linked to and the result of the advent of colonial modernity in a fast crumbling traditional society, and a novelist’s artistic negotiations with it. No matter how insistently the official nationalist discourse harped on the necessity of the construction of a new kind of femininity, (repressing female sexuality in the process) – Bhadramahila – large scale winds of change blew and in real-life situations unsettled the most powerful of discursive formations. On the one hand, to the middle-class youth, the English education with adequate doses of English Romantic Poetry, introduced the idea of ‘romantic love’ and the ideology of ‘companionate marriage’; on the other hand, rampant ‘incompatible marriage’ between child brides and older bridegrooms could hardly make possible what the young men understood as ‘romance’. Thus, friendship or even healthy companionship was hardly achievable among married couples with substantial age and educational differences.xiii So, same–sex bonding was the only solution for men looking for intellectual gratification amidst human relationships: and most often sexual gratification, not love, was sought through visits to brothels, a burgeoning phenomenon in a fast-growing colonial city, exposed in a big way to bourgeois mercantile economy.xiv Women in Bangali households were most often left to their everyday household chores in a potentially hostile environment of the in-laws’ house. If they happened to be young widows they were treated with very little affection and care. Their craving for love and companionship was the last thing on the minds of patriarchal society which instead ascribed a life of austere spirituality for these unhappy lots – the magnitude of which often crossed the border of physical and emotional endurance.xv Colonial modernity was successful, to an extent, to break down the walls of the traditional ideal of womanhood – ideal of mythical characters like Sita, the ideal mother and the ideal wife. So, if the society did not get rid of the widows by ‘banishing’ them to Brindaban it had to often negotiate with the stifled, deprived female subjectivities – trying to raise their voice for getting their share of familial rights. In his novels, largely through very sensitive portrayals of young women, often widows, Tagore draws our attention to the dialogical interplay between the ‘centripetal’ societal discourses about the role of women in society and the social reality of unhappy female consciousness, largely ‘centrifugal’ in nature. Many pages of Tagore’ major novels are, thereby, agog with an almost clinical exposure of the hypocrisy of and the exercise of power by the colonized patriarchal society with its overt ‘nationalist’ agenda – an exposure of the never-ending nights of the same ‘monotonous’ nature of the Victorian bourgeoisie, as categorized by Michel Foucault in his first volume of The History of Sexuality.xvi The articulation of feminine consciousness in the texts, by young women, with little love and even less sexual gratification – who are not biological mothers – during the ‘changing times’ of colonial modernity is very much like an ‘irruption of speech’, ‘a reinstating of pleasure within reality’ against the ‘repressive’ principle of men. To add to that we must mention that the locality of the articulations is also very important, for the story-lines in Tagore’s novels often move back and forth between the metropolitan Calcutta and the rural country side. The impact of the entrenchment of ‘colonial modernity’ varied in large measures between the country and the city in Tagore’s novelistic chronotopes.xvii We, therefore, need a dynamic model to differentiate between the ‘interpelleted’ subject positions and the dissident and marginal consciousness-centers that differ in nature. An understanding of that difference may bring to light that the discordant voices of women who dared to challenge the hegemony of the patriarchy the marginalized female voices, muted due to the unaltered core of patriarchy in a changing time, along with the projection of the dominant image of new femininity of the rising nationalist consciousness. Various strands of female consciousness are encoded in the texts, in a way which is unique and perhaps difficult to locate in reality, with much precision. 

‘The Domestic Novels’

Chokher Bali was published in book form in 1903 and it is well and truly Tagore’s Fin de siècle novel in which a direct clash between se kaal and e kaal is very strongly felt. Rajlakshmi, the over-protective mother of Mahendra, the hero and, Annapurna, Rajlakshmi’s brother-in-law’s wife, both elderly widows, belong to the ‘by-gone’ era, se kaal and Asha, Mahendra’s adolescent wife and Binodini, the young ‘western educated’ widow are products of e kaal.xviii The two eras are separated by only one or two decades. Within a very short span, the advent of colonial modernity has made a radical split in the belief-systems and life-styles of even women, living inside the closely-guarded precincts of antahpur (‘the inner house’). The temporal setting of the novel is such where two completely separate outlooks to life, of which women of two separate generations are the bearers, clash with tremendous force. Rajlakshmi plays the role of what Sudhir Kakar calls ‘the good mother’ to Mahendra whom, during his early youth even, she psychologically thinks no more grown-up than a suckling child.xix The Oedipal nature of the relationship between Rajlakshmi and Mahendra not only influences Mahendra’s ‘self’ and his subsequent course of actions in the novel but also is a clear indication of Rajlakshmi’s assuming the role of a mother, over and above everything, thereby, attaining a position of undisputed superiority and power amidst the female quarters. This is the role that the ‘traditional’ patriarchal society used to ascribe to a woman and subsequently acknowledge her position of power in the family. Due to this issue of motherhood the other elderly widow of the family Annapurna never assumes any significant role in the family affairs, resides in the margin, although her love for Mahendra is no less than his biological mother, and quite early in the novel, voluntarily retires herself to the widow-quarters of Benaras. 

The introduction of the woman of the new generation (e kaal er mahila) in the novel is done through Ashalata who is, psychologically speaking, more a child that a fully-grown up woman. Her education is such that she can read modern-day novels and believe the incidents that take place in them as nothing but the truth. Her husband, the western-educated Mahendra (he is shown to be a medical student in the novel) searches for a true companion in ‘romance’ in her. His child-wife thinks him to the only God, deserving to be worshipped, but cannot provide him with pleasures and mysteries of true companionship. Their ‘incompatible’ marriage (the incompatibility is as much for the differences in age as for the ‘newly-arrived’ western education) soon grows stale for Mahendra who, during his early euphoric months of ‘marital bliss' has severed the ties of an extremely close friendship with Bihari who has initially been chosen as the husband for Asha by Annapurna. The price that Mahendra pays for winning, over Bihari, the heart of Ashalata seems to be a gross overpayment for him as Ashalata hardly knows how to give her heart away in ‘love’. 

At this point of the novel, enters Binodini – young, beautiful, ‘educated’ in a more complete manner – the woman with a deadly mixture of inscrutability and voluptuousness. She is a widow whose marriage to a sick husband has hardly reached any form of consummation. By a cruel twist of fate and willful ignorance on the part of Mahendra she has earlier missed out on the opportunity to become either Mahendra’s wife or Bihari’s. Rajlakshmi visits her ancestral village and picks Binodini up who, according to Tagore, “…has been surviving like a solitary garden-creeper amidst the jungle, leading a joyless existence in the village.”xx The kind of hospitality she shows to Rajlakshmi and Bihari in the village-home itself, with deft touches of fine taste and dedication that none can match, sets her apart, from the very beginning, from the common village-women. She, although hailing from a village, is not the ‘residual’ type of consciousness-center that belongs to the by-gone era. She is the ‘emergent’ kind of new female subjectivity whom western education, with its kind of Midas touch, has transformed into a woman with a mind and ‘heart’ of her own. She distances herself away from the blanket of spirituality that the society would have to offer; instead, she wants to have her share of recognition and happiness from the society. But she is a widow and Mahendra-Asha ‘conjugal bliss’, which she observes from close quarters once she lands in Rajlakshmi’s Kolkata home, can never, be hers. Mahendra who has by then exhausted his early days of marital effusion has started looking for ‘companionship’. Binodini’s ripe sexuality and the aura of enigma attached to it hit him like a thunderbolt. Her status of widowhood makes her guardian-less and someone who needs to be ‘protected’.

Interestingly enough, it all starts with photography, a technologized art-form that is a gift of colonial modernity to the urban bourgeoisie of nineteenth century Kolkata. Mahendra comes near to Binodini, to the point of touching her body, while photographing her. It is the sensitive nature of Bihari, Mahendra’s ‘dialogic double’ in the story, (in whom Mahendra is negated in order to be renewed) which can identify the real ‘womanly’ qualities in her, during his conversation with her in a picnic.xxi Binodini opens her heart to him for the first time as she talks at length about her country, her past. Up to this point in the novel Binodini has been nothing but an object of desire, albeit without the societal sanction, in the full glare of the ‘male’ gaze. Bihari notices a characteristic, almost the binary opposite to the sensual young woman in Binodini – that of a devout lady engrossed in her solitary worship. The ‘binarism’ of these two strands of thinking about the woman in the dominant discourses of the times is precisely the liminality that Tagore’s fiction addresses through portrayal of characters like Binodini who cannot be ‘typecast’ as either Grihalakshmi, Byapika or any other. 

Nirad C Chowdhury, in his A Passage to England, writes, “The history of love in Bengali Hindu society is fairly well established. It was introduced from the West…We in Bengal began to deal with love from the literary end…at first it was transferred to Bengali literature from English literature, and then taken over from literature to life.”xxii In Chokher Bali, the ‘literary’ angle to the theme of ‘romantic’ love is presented to a considerable extent through the letters that the protagonists write. Letters exchanged between Asha, Mahendra, Binodini and Bihari are not only an important marker of the element of the noveli (‘novel-like’) in the life of the newly-educated middle-class youth, a strange kind of transposition of the ‘fictional’ onto the ‘real’ life, but also, are clear indication of the different degrees of the ‘interiorization’ of that education as observed in the subjectivities of different characters. While Bihari’s letters are matter-of-fact and Mahendra criticizes himself for composing a letter to Asha with an excess of ‘literary fervour’ in it, Binodini writes letters on behalf of Asha in which she deliberately overplays the novelistic style of writing, made popular in her times through a number of discourses of ‘romance’. The three letters that she writes for Asha are clever ‘speech-acts’ devised by Binodini to highlight the ‘incomplete’ nature of Asha’s education on the one hand (as Mahendra is well aware that Asha is incapable of showing such a supreme command over Bangla language and recording, in such an in-depth manner, her feelings) and on the other, these letters become ‘her’ love-letters to Mahendra, an ‘act of seduction’, an act only which can offer a substitute for her (a young widow’s) cravings for ‘romantic love’ in such a ‘closed’ society. ‘Fiction’, ‘real life’, ‘love’, ‘lust’, ‘licentiousness’ and ‘society’ – all of their discourses intermingle in a breath-takingly heteroglossic manner when during one of the love-games that Mahendra and Binodini play Mahendra discovers that Binodini has been reading Bankimchandra’s Bishabrikkho (an extremely popular contemporary novel of extra-marital love of which Calcutta Review wrote in 1873,”’men and as they are, and life as it is’, is the motto of the present one.”).xxiii

As the affair between Binodini and Mahendra gets going in a full-blown manner the members of antahpur become at a loss as to what to do with Binodini's potentially subversive sexuality. Rajlakshmi, who has so far been providing shelter to Binodini because to her Binodini has been nothing but a figure of caring womanliness, a role which would have full societal sanction. Binodini’s new role as Mahendra’s lover (and in turn the wrecker of Asha’s home) is miles away from the Grihalakshmi construct, or even that of a benign mother of the patriarchal discourse. The ‘emergent’ nature of her subjectivity, thus, seems to be in direct contrast to Annapurna’s self, the other childless widow of the text, whose act of dwelling within the discourse of Iswarbhakti/Swamibhakti (‘love for God’/’love for the husband’) cannot but be classified as following the ‘residual’ strand of the dynamics of Bangali culture. The clash between the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’ reaches a flash-point when Binodini has a face-off with Rajlakshmi, her provider in Mahendra’s home. Binodini, who by now refuses to be tied down to the role of an austere widow, (in p-255 Binodini declares, “I am not afraid of the society. I obey nobody,”) tells Rajlakshmi on her face, “Pishima, we are a race of temptresses. I did not know what allurement I had in me, you found that out. You too did not know what trap you were setting up, I found that out. But there was guile, otherwise things would not have come to this…we are by nature devious.” This is what happens when a self is not allowed to attain full bloom in a society where women are ascribed certain ‘roles’ and are expected to ‘conform’ to it. In a colonized setting the hurt masculinity of the male self tries to downplay ‘subversive’ female sexuality on the one hand, and can hardly resist the temptation of illicit enjoyment on the other, doing damage to the subjectivities of both the sexes. 

In the next movement of the text, we see Binodini, for a temporary phase, retiring to the countryside, searching for anonymity. But, as we have mentioned that the distance between the country and the city has become remarkably lessened due to the introduction of the railways and news from the city reaches the country in no time. Binodini finds no peace in the countryside as neither the village community would accept her ‘deviant’ behavior nor does she find quietude and beauty of an ‘organic community’ which has been destroyed by urban invasion. For anonymity she would have to return to the gas-lit streets of Kolkata. The artistic design of the text does not allow us to see Binodini as a villainous woman. We see that she possesses ‘motherly’ instincts like any other woman. This becomes clear by the manner in which she interacts with Basanta, Bihari’s teen-aged step-son. Her ‘dissent’ and Ashalata’s ‘silence’ are indications of the pitfalls of the project of producing ‘woman’ discursively. Along with Binodini’s motherly self Tagore shows us how Ashalata, quite like adolescent Mrinmoyee in the short-story, Samapti, attains womanhood and becomes the lady of the house in the end. Rajlakshmi falls sick; refuses to get treatment, (in p-306 she says,” in the older days widows were better off; they were burnt alive. This is simply to tie them up in order to rot and die.”) Annapurna takes Binodini along to Benaras. Widows are a burden – a ‘real’ problem which the text fails to resolve. It is only Bihari who can discover the full magnitude of Binodini’s femininity when in the end he declares his love for Binodini, the ‘complete’ woman. Binodini refuses to marry Bihari as it seems improbable to her that Bihari, with such a spotless character, should marry a ‘widow.’ The Widow Remarriage Act was passed in 26th July 1856. We end our discussion of Chokher Bali with a translation of a four-line poem, composed after the Act was passed, by Iswar Gupta, a mid nineteenth century poet:

Where is the courage, where the conviction?
Nothing takes place with a mere enunciation
Pointless all ceremony, pointless bidding time
Not empty words, only real act will do it fine.xxiv

After his spectacular study of the ‘political’ in the life of Bangali jati of his times in Gora (1909) Tagore once again returns to the ‘personal’(or one might say ‘psychological’ in the ‘western sense’) in his next novella Chaturanga in 1915. In the horizon of expectations of the fictional chronotope of Chokher Bali perhaps the ‘widow-remarriage’ is neither a ‘realistic’ nor an ‘artistic’ possibility; Binodini and Bihari do not marry in the end. In Chaturanga, at the end of the novel, Damini, a young widow gives her consent to marry Sribilas. In this novel, like Chokher Bali, young widows take centre-stage. Damini, the heroine of the novel, and Nanibala, a character with ‘marginal’ presence, are the two widows who, in spite of their being contemporaries, represent two different types of points of consciousness – one ‘residual’ and the other ‘emergent’. Like Binodini, Damini refuses to be tied down to a state of ineffectual nothingness, a role that the society ascribes to the widows, without any kind of ‘free will’. She registers her protest in no uncertain terms, when she says to Sachish, the hero of the novel, “…Haven’t you people put chains round my feet and flung this woman without faith into the prison of devotion?...Some of you will decide this for me, some that, to suit your convenience – am I a mere pawn in your game?”xxv Like Binodini Damini too is denied of marital bliss in her early life but for very different reasons. Her husband Sivatosh, while alive, renounces conjugal life as part of his act of abstinence from a life of earthly delights – a life in which kamini or kanchan has any significant role to play.xxvi Sivatosh dies and leaves his entire property, his Kolkata house and even the guardianship of his young wife, with a very strong zest for life, to his religious guru, Sri Lilananda Swami in a will.

In fact, neither the self-proclaimed atheist ‘Positivist’ Jagmohan, nor the ‘Vaishnava Revivalist’ religious guru Lilananda, the two diametrically ‘opposite’ father-figures of Sachish, can rise above the binary of ‘sanctified mother/lustful female’ in their interactions with women. Jagmohan accepts Nanibala, the young widow whom Purandar, Sachish’ elder brother burdens with pregnancy, with warm affection while he provides her shelter. But, to him Nanibala becomes a personification of the ideal of ‘motherhood’ and nothing else. He makes arrangements for Sachish’ marriage with Nanibala, without deeming it necessary to know her mind. It is beyond his wildest imagination that Nanibala can possess any feeling of love for the rascally Purandar. For him Nanibala is more a concept in his larger design of the project of social uplift than a creature of flesh-and-blood. Nanibala cannot be openly rebellious like Binodini or Damini. But she, nevertheless, makes her ‘silence’ heard through her suicidal note in which she declares her undying love for Purandar. 

While, on the one hand, to people like Lilananda or Sachish who are inside the discursive field of spirituality of the Vaishnava Revivalist type, Damini, the individual, merges with the ‘cosmic forces of Maya’ which are engaged ‘in a timeless sport beyond the pale of history’; on the other, to people like Purandar young widows are mere ‘unclaimed’, ‘unprotected’ female-bodies to be enjoyed without any subsequent burden of responsibilities.xxvii Both attitudes are tinged with crash objectivity, weak, escapist tendencies and the inability to discover in ‘woman’ a well-rounded personality. Although Tagore draws our attention to the ‘basic’ difference in the personality-types of man and woman while discussing the unique qualities possessed by women he writes in his essay ‘Woman’, “”Wherever there is something which is concretely personal and human, there is woman’s world”, my contention is that the act of looking at women as a conceptual problem is symptomatic of the anxieties of the colonial male during the advent of ‘colonial modernity’.xxviii In case of Sachish the anxiety becomes really acute as he finds it impossible to negotiate with female sexuality and it assumes the proportions of psycho-sexual trauma. Colonial modernity has been instrumental in importing ideas from the ‘west’, from the world of nineteenth century ‘Victorian puritanism’, whose one important resultant factor has been the ‘repression’ of sexuality, of which Foucault writes,” …repression operated as a sentence to disappear, but also as an injunction to silence, an affirmation of nonexistence…”xxix When Sachish encounters this sexuality in a ‘pure’ amoral form (something outside the folds of a space like the parents’ bedroom – a utilitarian and ‘fertile’ space) in the ‘cave episode’ in which Damini makes an attempt to offer herself to him all he can do, because of his ‘repressive’ nature, is to violently reject Damini and recoil within himself further. When Sachish sees Damini knocking her head on the ground, her hair falling over her, as she mutters: ‘Stone, O you stone, have pity on me, have pity. Kill me’, Sachish trembles all over with ‘fright’ (sexual fear?) and runs back with a bound. Sachish, therefore, fails to respond to the selfless genuine emotion of love in Damini as he cannot rise above the society’s dominant idea of ‘desexualized widow’. Tanika Sarkar writes about the nationalists’ ideals of Hindu women, “…the discipline exercised upon her body by the iron laws of absolute chastity, extending beyond the death of the husband, through an indissoluble, non-consensual infant form of marriage, through austere widowhood…”xxx On the other hand, Sachish’s spiritual quest, interestingly, henceforth, takes a very significant line of Hinduism’s so-called ‘Vedantic’ quest of the self to find liberation from eros, which is one of the most salient elements of the religion of Tantra – another very old and powerful strand of Hinduism.xxxi The psycho-sexual fear and ‘wounded’ virility of the colonial male, thus, seeks refuge in idealized ‘spirituality’ and deliberately overlooks the ‘woman’ in Damini in order to search for the grand ‘feminine’ principle in the creation of God’s universe – a tortuous journey from the ‘individual’ to the ‘universal’.

To Sribilas, Sachish’s dialogic double, Damini, however, is not an ‘idea’; but, instead, during their first meeting, she strikes him as ‘the lightning in the heart of Sravana rain clouds, having youthfulness to outward view, but flickering with restless fires within.’ Although Sribilas confesses that he lacks ‘experience of the secrets of a woman’s heart’ but he, nevertheless, tries to fathom the woman’s psyche – the woman as an individual, not as ideal – comes up with realizations like ‘woman is ready to give her heart away only where she receives sorrow’ and that women are neither ‘toys made of clay’ nor ‘pure notes of the melodious veena.’ Close acquaintance with Damini gives him opportunity to look at, from close quarters, the woman and the fascinating nature of the ‘woman’s time’, by listening to the ‘untold story’ of the woman. Just as to Bihari Binodini talks her heart out in Chokher Bali Damini pours out all her past memories to Sribilas – the one man ready to make contact with her personality on a human plane:
I happened to be the only person about over whom she was not bothered for either love or resentment, which explains why she would pour out to me whenever she could an endless chatter about her past and present, what was going on among her neighbours and all kind of trivial talk. She would sit on the covered terrace in front of our rooms on the upper floor and talk on and on…xxxii

That evening Damini laid her heart bare. She said things which are difficult to touch on even if one wants to and everything she said flowed from her mouth with an easy grace and beauty. As she continued I felt as though she was engaged in exploring many hitherto unsuspected dark chambers of her mind, as though by chance she had had an opportunity of meeting herself face to face.xxxiii (Italics mine)

The fresh insights that he attains as a result of this acquaintance give him conviction to engage in an act of dialogics with Sachish to whom he has been nothing more than a mere shadow so far. In their debate over the true relationship between ‘woman’, ‘nature’ and ‘spirituality’ and to Sachish’ gross essentializations like, “It is obvious that woman is Nature’s spy, which is forever trying at Nature’s bidding to deceive us with her artful ways,” Sribilas firmly declares, with a strong spirit of common-sense, “‘We must steer our boat of life’, [I went on],’ up the stream of Nature. Our problem is not to how to bypass the stream, but bow to keep sailing without sinking. What we need is a rudder.’”

In the end, when Damini accepts Sribilas’s proposal of marriage she neither remains a mere widow – an ‘unclaimed’ female-body to people like Purandar – nor an ideal feminine principle in the act of creation as in the eyes religious fanatics (‘Haven’t you people put chains round my feet and flung this woman without faith into the prison of devotion?’) but a ‘complete’ woman. She realizes Sachish’ helpless inability to love her, shows respect to his life-long devotion to an ‘ideal’, takes care of the vulnerable man that is in Sachish, with all her heart, without desiring anything in return. In the end, she releases him of her oppressive presence as she returns to Kolkata with Sribilas. Without surrendering her individuality she becomes an ‘ideal’ wife to Sribilas, much like in the manner of the ‘companionable marriage’. (“But, lo and behold, what happened in this Calcutta lane! The jostling houses seemed to blossom forth like flowers of paradise.”, “…Damini’s work at home and my work outside mingled together like the Ganges and the Jamuna.”)

Societal problems in the real-life chronotopes do not always get resolved in the fictional chronotopes in an unproblematic manner; and the ‘widow-problem’ was a pressing social problem in Tagore’s times, in spite of the introduction of ‘widow-remarriage’ – a system that never really caught on. Sribilas-Damini ‘marital bliss’ is, therefore, a very short-lived one, ending with Damini’s untimely death in the very end of the novel. Damini has to die as widows continued to suffer in the ‘nationalist’ society of Bengal. There are enough traces in this short novel that the married women in the nineteenth century Bengali society, who had often to deal with loneliness and the promiscuous nature of the husbands were in a far from ‘happy’ state of affairs, through the ‘marginal’ presences of characters like Nabin’s wife, who commits suicide following her husband’s extra-marital affair, and Purandar’s wife, who wishes that her husband should commit suicide for the ‘Nanibala episode’. The male members of the society who are out to enjoy young widows will never show ‘respect’ to the wives and make them happy. Tagore once again returns to this problem in his full-length (originally planned as a trilogy) novel Jogajog in 1929. 

Ashis Nandy in his essay, ‘Woman versus Womanliness in India’ writes. “To make the issues of emancipation of woman and equality of sexes primary, one needs a culture in which conjugality is central to male-female relationships”, and “If the conjugal relationship itself remains relatively peripheral, the issues of emancipation and equality must remain so too.”xxxiv Tagore makes the issue of conjugality the ‘central one’ in Jogajog – in the depiction of a society in whose culture to manipulate and control a woman by forcing her to take on her maternal identity soon after marriage is much more important than the ‘peripheral’ notion of conjugality. Tagore returns to the theme of the exploration of man-woman relationship, almost in an obsessive manner, not only in his ‘domestic novels’ but also in his ‘political’ ones – and, as I have pointed out earlier, that the fact that all his heroines are childless helps him not only to focus on this theme in a more intense manner but also to judge, against the grain, the ‘dominant’ discursive tide of ‘women as mothers’. Cultural historians of the nineteenth century Bengal, like Malavika Karlekar, Sambuddha Chakraborty or Tanika Sarkar, emphasize upon the tendency of the patriarchal system to keep wives inside the restricted sphere of ‘antahpur/andarmahal’, the sanctum sanctorum of the ‘colonized’ subjects and to treat them as nothing more than domestic maids (even by husbands from ‘educated’ families) and even to frown upon free mixing between husbands and wives during daytime.xxxv The advent of ‘colonial modernity’, with it, the import of ideas like ‘romantic love’ and the rise in prostitution in Kolkata as a result of mercantile bourgeois capitalism – often treated as ‘signs’ of moral degeneration of the ‘modern’ times – necessitated in the additional emphasis on the virtue of ‘chaste devotion’ (paatibrotya) to be strictly observed by wives. These hapless individuals used to spend, in addition to a thousand kinds of household chores, hours and days in performing bratas or semi-religious rituals for the long lives of their husbands, the birth of sons, well-being of relatives and so on, as a residual kind of ‘non-modern’ way of life. 

Kumudini, the heroine of the novel Jogajog, is from an aristocratic zamindar family, past its prime, and is married to a nouveau riche comprador-bourgeois family, the product of the changing times of colonial modernity. Her husband, Madhusudan who has spent his early youth ‘among the crowd of suppliers, buyers and bullock-cart drivers’ goes on to make enormous wealth in linseed trade.xxxvi Kumudini is as much a product of colonial modernity as Madhusudan; but it has a completely different impact upon her. She, ‘who had been educated at home’, ‘lived in the twilight between two ages’, and whose ‘shadowy’ world was ‘ruled over by Siddheswari, Gandheswari, Ghentu, Shashthi, the goddesses of women’s household rites’ during her childhood years in the ‘country’ is brought to the ‘city’ of Kolkata by her elder brother, the ‘Positivist’ intellectual, Biprodas (from Nurnagar to Baghbazar – from ‘non-modern’ to ‘modern’) and is given such kind of education which would make a Bhadramahila out of her. She visits the museum, learns to play chess, the art of photography, pistol shooting on the one hand (her brother’s exposure to the ‘modern’ world makes each of the items available to them) and studies Sanskrit grammar and literature and the age-old art of esraj-playing on the other. Kumu’s intimate acquaintance with Kalidasa and the ‘Shiva-Parvati ideal’ results in virginal meditations in which ‘her husband-to-be appeared radiant in the divine light of purity.’ Madhusudan, on the other hand, a direct beneficiary of the colony’s march from feudalism to mercantile capitalism, whose life is exclusively built upon the idioms of commerce, is hardly aware of Kumu’s world of divine ‘ideal’, and, therefore, inhabits a world in which the wife is allotted the unremarkable space of antahpur. “Behind the walls, shrouded by the triviality of daily domestic chores, she would carry on with the life that women lead, a life controlled by their masters’ frown.”xxxvii

The element of love that ‘generally validates marriage between a man and a woman, a love in which looks, character, body, and mind are all bound up’ – is something that both Kumu’s intense religiosity (her devotion to the ‘Radha-Krishna’ ideal as she ‘sought to veil her husband under the image of her deity’) and Madhusudan’s crash commercialism (who knows only one means of tying his wife’s life to his own,; ‘by making her the mother of his children’) overlook. The result in the sphere of domesticity, sexuality and morality is disastrous, to say the least. The liminality of the discursive parameters of societal resolution of the ‘woman question’ in a colonial setting, where ‘modernity’ is causing a split with the ‘traditional’ – a split between se kaal ar e kaal (‘then and now’) – gets exposed when we place two comments made by Kumu side by side; “I was certain then that whatever one’s husband is, good or bad, he’s just an occasion for proving the glory of the wife’s chaste devotion” and “What kind of men are they whose wives are their servants?”(Italics mine.) To interpellate women into a position of absolute chastity and familial domesticity on the one hand and considering them as mere possessions and objects of bodily desires on the other can hardly auger well for ‘conjugal’ bliss and also for woman’s ‘true’ emancipation. Biprodas’s comments throws into relief the fissures of the dominant discourses of contemporary times, “The men of our times have no virtues of their own, so they speak one-sidedly of the virtues of chaste women. They can’t supply the oil, but command the lamp-wicks to burn. The parched souls keep on burning and are reduced to ashes.” “Because women have no road open to them but to submit, they’re constantly abused.”xxxviii

The intricate dialogical interplay between the ‘dominant’, ‘emergent’ and the ‘residual’ elements of the nineteenth century discourse on women observed through the portrayal of the triangular positioning of ‘Madhusudan-Kumu-Biprodas’ is taken to further heteroglossic possibilities through the presentation of the ‘pragmatic’ point of consciousness of Nistarini’s (Moti’s mother) character. She is the one who tries to break the spell of scriptures on Kumu (one resulting in Kumu’s state of self-delusion) that ‘the scriptures weren’t written for a virgin of nineteen.’ Her survival mantra is, as Tagore writes, “For her, it was only natural that the very moment the husband was pleased, the wife should consider it her good fortune. She regarded any deviation from this rule as self-indulgence”, “Whether the husband is good or bad, the compulsions of that household must be recognized.”xxxix She shows great signs of sensitivity as she identifies the true nature of the incompatibility in Madhusudan-Kumudini marriage – which lies neither in their obvious age-differences, nor in the difference in their class-positions – but in Kumu’s (to whom marriage is the union of two souls) inability to satisfy Madhusudan’s raw sexual needs. To her, it seems, “as though an unknown beast, its slavering tongue greedily extended, sat crouched in a dark cave at whose mouth stood Kumudini, calling upon her deity.” So, like the previous novels, sex raises its ‘ugly’ head in Jogajog too. In the nineteenth century Bengali homes, fed by the ‘Victorian repressive strategies’ the discursive presence of chaste wives with their complete (‘spiritual’ kind of) devotion to the husbands could not in any way diminish the overwhelming necessity of sex in the lives of males. Women, in most cases ‘unprotected’ women in the families, widows, became the victims of male lust. The sexual frustrations of not only the males but also the young widows created enormous emotional and familial imbalance in many families.x1 In Kumu’s ‘family’ Shyamsundari, a ‘mature, shapely, dark but beautiful widow’ to whom married life has not given ‘very much to savour’, comes forward to fulfill Madhusudan’s bodily needs. Unlike Binodini or Damini who do not lose their physical purity within the novel’s plot, Shyamsundari, who, it seems to Kumu, is made of the same clay of Madhusudan, tries to fill in the void in Madhusudan’s conjugal life by sharing his bed. But, interestingly, she is totally unsuccessful in assuming a commanding position in the family and gradually fades from the novel in the most unceremonious manner. She, in my opinion, is a most pitiable character. There were hundreds of them in many families, even in well-to-do ones, for whom even a slight deviation from the normative standard of ‘absolute chastity’ often resulted in their landing in brothels, a burgeoning phenomenon in Kolkata, the center of ‘colonial modernity.’x1i It is extremely significant that the novel’s chronotope records her presence but does not ascribe any position of importance in recognition to her surrender to Madhusudan, body and mind, to her, although the author notes, “The Lord who dwells in our hearts knew that Shyama loved Madhusudan.”x1ii

Another deft negotiation between the authorial chronotope and the novelistic chronotope takes place in the very end of the novel when the author makes Kumu go back to Madhusudan’s house after it is known that she is carrying his child. All of Biprodas’s rebellious statements, (“I can see that the humiliation of women is part of the social order.” “It’s time for them to say that they won’t submit. Kumu, can’t you think of this as your home and stay here? You can’t go back to that house,”) and Kumu’s desperate pleas for freedom and identity (“I’m your sister, Dada. I want freedom.” “I’m their Barobou: does that mean anything if I’m not Kumu?”) prove ineffectual in the end when Biprodas rather meekly surrenders himself to circumstances when he says to Kumu, “How could I dare to deprive your child of its home?”

Biprodas’s prolonged illness, which according to Supriya Chaudhury is ‘a part of his character’, seems to become symptomatic of the project of large-scale enlightenment and woman empowerment in the ‘nationalistic’ phase of India’s colonial history.x1iii Biprodas's ill health, in the text, thus, becomes a signifier of the male agency of the colonial Bangali society which could hardly achieve much success in acknowledging female subjectivity and helping it to reach a point of 'true' emancipation.

i   See, for example, Ashis Nandy, The Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self, N. Delhi: OUP 1994

ii   See, Samir Dayal, ‘Repositioning India: Tagore’s Passionate Politics of Love’, Positions 15:1 Spring 2007

iii   See Niradchandra Chowdhury, Bangalee Jibane Ramani, Calcutta: Mitra & Ghosh Publishers’ 1992, p- 152.

iv   See, Dipesh Chakraborty, ‘PostColoniality and the Artifice of History; who speaks for the “Indian” pasts?’; Representations, vol. 37 (1992), 1-26.

v   See Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments (Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993); especially chapters ‘Nation and its Women’ and ‘Women and the Nation’.

vi   Sumit Sarkar A Critique of Colonial India, Calcutta: Papyrus, 1985. p-74

vii   See Tanika Sarkar, Words to Win. The Making of Amar Jiban: A Modern Autobiography (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1999) p-29.

viii   Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy; Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986) p-72.

ix   Ibid.

x   See Tanika Sarkar, ‘Nationalist Iconography: The Image of Women in Nineteenth Century Bengali Literature’, in Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation, New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001.

xi   See Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘PostColoniality and the Artifice of History’, p-14.

xii   See Ashis Nandy, ‘Woman versus Womanliness in India’, in At the Edge of Psychology, New Delhi: OUP1980, pp-32-456 and Sudhir Kakar, ‘Mothers and Infants’ in The Inner World: A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society in India, New Delhi: OUP, 2008, pp-52-112.

xiii   See Sambuddha Chakraborty, ‘Dampotto bhabna’, in Andare antare: unish shatoke Bangali bhadramahila, Calcutta: Stree, 1998, pp-83-159.

xiv   For an in-depth analysis of the intricate nature of ‘Beshya-Babu’ relationship in nineteenth century Bengal see Sumanta Banerjee, Dangerous Outcastes: The Prostitutes in Nineteenth Century Bengal, Calcutta: Seagull, 1998.

xv   See Kalyani Dutta, ‘Baidhobya kahini 1 & 2’ in Pinjar’e boshiya, Calcutta: Stree, 2002, pp-11-40.

xvi   See Michel Foucault, ‘We “Other Victorians” ’, in The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, New York: Penguin Books, 2008, pp-1-13.

xvii   Nirad C Chowdhury categorically states that in the late nineteenth century, Bangali samaj was not one but two; village samaj and the urban society of Kolkata. See Nirad C Chowdhury, Bangali Jibon’e Ramani, p-100.

xviii   For an excellent study of an acutely felt paradigmatic shift in the realm of culture and the growing sense of the rise of a new temporal order during the second half of the nineteenth century Bengal one must read Rajnarayan Basu, Se kaal ar e kaal, Calcutta: Bangiyo Sahitya Parishad 1951, 6th rpt.2004

xix   See Sudhir Kakar, ‘The Good Mother’, in The Inner World, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp-79-87.

xx   Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindra Uponyas Sangroho, Calcutta: Visva-Bharati Gronthon Bibhaga, 1997, p-202.: translation mine.

xxi   For a detailed theoretical analysis of the importance of ‘Doubles’ in the novel see Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Characteristics of Genre and Plot Composition in Dostoevsky’s Works’ in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Caryl Emerson (trans. & edited), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984, p-128.

xxii   See Nirad C Chowdhury, Banga jibon’e Ramani, p-158.

xxiii   Ibid, p-146.

xxiv   Quoted in Binoy Ghosh, Banglar Samajik Iitihas’er Dhara, p289; my translation.

xxv   Chaturanga: a Novel, Asok Mitra (trans.), New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1963, (rpt.)2005, p-56.

xxvi   For an excellent study of Ramakrishna’s conception of evil and his repeated linking of kamini , kanchan and dasatya with it in Ramakrishna-kathamrita see Sumit Sarkar, ‘Kaliyuga, Chakri and Bhakti: Ramakrishna and his Times’ in Writing Social History, New Delhi: OUP, 1997, pp-282-357.

xxvii   In his autobiography Nabinchandra Sen (born-1846) writes a story about how his uncle arranges marriage between him and a rather plain-looking girl with enormous wealth. Nabinchandra was a young man with ‘western education’. He writes,

… My head was filled with female education, female emancipation, child marriage, romantic companionate marriage, championing of the nation’s cause and the like. I refused to be tied to a mere ‘bag of gold’ and disagreed to marry this girl. My uncle reasoned that I was acting like a fool. The girl might be ugly but she had a young and exceedingly beautiful widow as her sister-in-law. I could kill two birds with a single stone. ( italics mine)

See Sambuddha Chakraborty, ‘Dampotya Bhavna’ in Andar’e antar’e, p-98.

xxviii   See Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Woman’, in Personality, New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2002, p-191.

xxix   Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, p-4.

xxx   See Tanika Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation, p-203.

xxxi   See Brian A. Hatcher, ‘Bourgeois Vedanta: The Colonial Roots of Middle-class Hinduism’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2007, Vol. 75, No. 2, pp. 298–323

xxxii   See Rabindranath Tagore, Chaturanga: A Novel, Asok Mitra (trans.), New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, p-51.

xxxiii   Ibid, pp-55-56.

xxxiv   See Ashis Nandy, ‘Woman versus Womanliness in India: An Essay in Cultural and Political Psychology’ in At the Edge of Psychology, New Delhi: OUP, 1980, p-41.

xxxv   See Malavika Karlekar, ‘The Social and Historical Context of the Antahpur’, in Voices from Within, Sambuddha Chakraborty, ‘Dampotya bhabna’ in Andare antare, Tanika Sarkar, ‘Domesticty and Nationalism in Nineteenth Century Bengal’ in Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation.

xxxvi   For a detailed history of the phenomenal rise of the comprador bourgeois class in the nineteenth century Kolkata see Binoy Ghosh, Banglar nabjagriti, Calcutta: orient Longman, (3rd rpt.)1993 and Banglar samajik itihas’er dhara, Calcutta: Prakash Bhavan, (2nd rpt.) 2007.

xxxvii   See Rabindranath Tagore, Relationships (Jogajog), Supriya Chaudhry(trans.), New Delhi: OUP, p-89.

xxxviii   Ibid, p-69. p-223.

xxxix   Ibid, p-201, p-230.

x1   See Sambuddha Chakrabarty, Andare Antare, Kolkata: Stree,1998, Nirad C Chowdhury, Bangali Jibane Ramani, Calcutta: Mitra & Ghosh Publishers', 1971 and especially Tapan Roy Chowdhury's brilliant article, 'Love in a Colonial Climate: marriage, Sex and Romance in Nineteenth Century Bengal', Modern Asian Studies, Vol 34 No.2 (May 2000), pp- 349-378.

x1i   See Srabashi Ghosh, ‘“Birds in a Cage”: Changes in Bengali Social Life as Recorded in Autobiographies by Women’ in Economic and Political Weekly Vol XXI, No 43 Review of Women Studies, October 25, 1986, pp-88-96.

x1ii   Relationships, p-175.

x1iii   See Relationships, ‘Introductio’, p-25.


Focus – "Reading Across Time": Tagore Today

  Amrit Sen : Editorial

Lead Article
  Udaya Narayana Singh : Redrawing the Boundaries

Critical Essays

  Nation, History, Cultural Exchange
    Avijit Banerjee : Tagore’s Visit to China
    Bijoy Mukherjee : Rabindranath and Indian History
    Biswanath Banerjee : Tagore and Acharya PC Ray
    Sagarika Chakraborty : Tagore the Diplomat
    Soumitra Roy : Tagore’s Ghare Baire

  Responses to Caste and Gender
    Dhriti Ray Dalai/ Panchanan Dalai : Tagore’s ‘Chandalika’
    Dipankar Roy : Women in Tagore’s ‘Domestic Novels’
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : “Streer Patra” - A Feminist Text?
    Swati Ganguly : Gender, Sexuality and Conjugality in Samapti

  Translation and Reception
    Anindya Sen : Tagore’s Self-Translations
    Jayati Gupta : Whose Gitanjali is it Anyway?
    Sushobhan Adhikary : Cartoons on Tagore
    Usha Kishore : The Auto-translations of Rabindranath

  Rural Reconstruction and Ecopoetic
    Bipasha Raha : Experiments with Village Welfare
    Debotosh Sinha : Tagore and Rural Reconstruction
    Falguni Piyush Desai : Floriography in Tagore’s Poetry
    Marie Josephine Aruna : ‘Letters’ and Ecopoetics

  Aesthetics, Paintings and Dance Dramas
    Aju Mukhopadhyay : The Poet of Sublime Love
    Raghupathi K V : Aesthetics of Tagore and Sri Aurobindo
    Sudeshna Majumdar : Paintings of Tagore
    Sutapa Chaudhuri : Dance Dramas of Tagore

  Tagore and the Short Story
    Dominic K V : Tagore’s Short Stories
    Mausumi Sen Bhattacharjee : ‘The Hunger of Stones’

  Tagore and Visva-Bharati
    Anindita Chongdar : Anecdotes of Santiniketan
    Debmalya Das : The Visva-Bharati Quarterly
    Subodh Gopal Nandi : The Visva-Bharati Library

Creative Responses

    Sanjukta Dasgupta : Remembering Rabindranath

    Frank Joussen : Tagore and Walt Whitman
    Nuggehalli Pankaja : The Voice of Tagore
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : To Rabindranath
    Shambhobi Ghosh : Yet

  Ahmed A H S : Birthday and other poems
  Anup Maharatna : From ‘The Last Writings’
  Ashoka Sen : Africa
  Barnali Saha : The Vacation (Fiction)
  Naina Dey : Chance Meeting
  Parantap Chakraborty : The Son of Man
  Suranjima Saha : Preamble to a Journey
  Swapna Dutta : The Editor

  Amrit Sen:Behind the Veil & Tagore and Modernity
  Kumaran S : Pathos in the Short Stories of Tagore

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