It’s pouring outside. The pruned foliage under my bedroom window sill seems translucent and beaming with life. Few moments prior, the scorching sun with temperature ticking around 43 degree, ripped it vapid and lifeless. The unanticipated summer rain escorted with it a petrichor, the sweet smell of dry, unbaked clay and reminiscence of something intense yet sublime:
“This is my delight,
thus to wait and watch at the wayside
where shadow chases light
and the rain comes in the wake of the summer.
Messengers, with tidings from unknown skies,
greet me and speed along the road.
My heart is glad within,
and the breath of the passing breeze is sweet.
From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door,
and I know that of a sudden
the happy moment will arrive when I shall see.
In the meanwhile I smile and I sing all alone.
In the meanwhile the air is filled with the perfume of promise.”
– Where Shadow Chases Light, Rabindranath Tagore
Like most of the Bengalis, I am raised on wholesome dose of Tagore from tender years. This distinctive musical genre called ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ noted for its rhythmic, lyrical nature which runs the entire gamut of human emotions and experiences, were a strong fondness of my parents. Slowly and stealthily, when it had become my refuge from daily humdrum of life, I still am inconversant with and unaware of. You call him ‘Poet Seer’ or ‘Gurudev – the divine mentor’, Tagore has been an abiding influence on modern life as well as thought.
Back then when I was 13, I chanced to perform ‘Chandalika’, a dance drama by Rabindranath, in lead role as ‘Prakriti’ (denotes nature). The teacher instilled in us the ballet dealing with the theme of untouchability, which was a widely prevalent social malaise in the times when he wrote this. I was in cloud nine grabbing the role of the protagonist. For a girl who loved to sing, dance and write, I breathed every moment of it with glee and gladness. Such were the days of adolescent; fun, frolic and nonchalance. The annual cultural fest of my school days brings forth such warm indulgent memories, but this one is incredibly precious than any others can be!
Somewhere around a decade later after this performance, when I was a working woman, I inadvertently came across the ‘Chandalika’ drama script. It conjured in me the feelings of nostalgia and yearning, vividly bringing back fond memories of girlhood. Its significance grew manifold in the current premise.
What I could comprehend was, as in most of his radical and allegorical dance dramas, Tagore chose the icons of marginality like untouchables, courtesans etc. as women protagonists. Through their portrayals he breached the dogmatic notions on female gender, sexuality and regressive social impositions. Indeed, the love of a monk is like reaching for the stars for ‘Prakriti’, the Chandal girl (the untouchable). It is a taboo which she dare not cross. Where in the play, the dance itself became a liberating force which reflected an expression of identity and self-assertion in women. In the dance drama ‘Chandalika’, Prakriti’s saga of life developed into a symbol of liberation and evolution of self-realisation.
What touched me is that unlike a demigod or idol, ‘Prakriti’ is a real woman like you, me or any other modern Indian women, who at times is deeply conflicted and torned between her intense yearnings and keen reasonings, yet is strong, resolute and upbeat. She can only arrive at a true understanding of her own self and the world around her by voyaging through her own intrinsic experiences or exposures and by the active choices she makes, and learning from the errors in her judgements too incase needed.
Circa, while I was in college doing my Honours in English literature , I was acquainted with ‘Golpoguchchho (Bunch of Stories)’ by virtue of my paternal uncle, a man who mentored my spiritual leaning and bolstered my love for life and literature further, in my delicate years of youth. His name is Paritosh which means contentment, but I called him sweetly ‘Na-kaka’. Almost every night before bedtime, ‘Na-kaka’ would read to me and my Thamma (Paternal Grandmom), one gem from the prized anthology. The anthology opened an ethereal land, which soaked me with nuances of human behaviour and life’s deepest pith, quite effortlessly. And gradually just like that, one day I implored to him:
‘Can I read it on my own?’
Quite eagerly, he agreed as if he was waiting for this day.
Even though it was my mother tongue, the language behaved like a first cousin to me initially, courtesy my English medium schooling. But my inclination made me reach out to the vernacular in next few months.
And after that there was no looking back! Tagore’s three-volume oeuvre of ‘Golpoguchchho’ comprises of eighty-four stories mostly borrowed from deceptively simple subject matters and deals with commoners and their pathos, just like one from us.
What made a Poet, Scribe or to better say a ‘Polymath’ connect then and that also with such ease?
The stories depict basic elemental human feelings and predominantly explores human experiences and situations which we mostly come across in everyday mundane and it surpasses reader’s expectation to the brim. Some of them close to my hearts are: Postmaster, Khokababur Pratyabartan, Kabuliwala, Chhuti, Atithi, Nishithe, Mastermashai, Strir Patra, Haimanti and a lot more.
From the sojourn of girlhood to womanhood, Tagore’s writings were an unfailing companion to me. Now when I look back and comprehend, the influence was ample and implanted. It not only sprung life into a creative phase in my life but also made an indelible impression on my awareness and thinking till date.
In most of his literary work, both the core of femininity and the feminist predilection was ubiquitous. It amazes me, how his expressions fervently articulated understanding of women – their discontents and dilemmas in a patriarchal society; a thought way ahead of its time. Many of his work championing woman’s emancipation depicts the pathos and plight of women ambushed by loveless marital tie-ups, pregnancy, duty, and lofty versions of family dignity and honour which only mantled on a woman’s shoulder.
In ‘Chokher Bali’, he etched Bengali sentiments via its prima donna; a rebellious widow’s defiance to live for herself. Tagore exposes the dismal customs of abysmal perpetual mourning which a widow had to follow with or without her consent. The woman is not allowed to remarry as if quite abruptly she is sucked out of her life by some black hole or an alien intervention beyond one’s control and who is consigned to seclusion and loneliness rest of her life there after. Though the story is reflective of the sociocultural climate of his times, but yet propagates ideas and feelings that are perennially germane for an impartial and unbiased society.
‘Darpaharan’ ascertains eventual acknowledgement and humbling of the man as he accepts and affirms his wife’s talent. That being talented is not a sovereign male intellectual property but can adorn a feminine conscience too.
‘Haimanti’ on the other hand, lambastes forlorn arranged marriages which is sometimes thrusted obtusely on women. The tale highlights how often it gives birth to doleful domesticity ingrained within it the hypocrisy, mocking the biased barometers of Indian middle class.
The heroines of Tagore are not weak or humble. They have their own self identity, self-respect and a voice. ‘Nashtanir’, ‘Strir Patra’, ‘Ghare Baire’ and many more are exemplary too in this league.
As much as he was a nature lover who sang of love and loss, life and death, rain and clouds, as much as the spinner of ardent tales weaving intricate classics on human relationships in his stories, and as much a visionary educationist, Rabindranath Tagore never failed as a humane and a stringent social critic whose acute, unsparing gaze condemned the ground realities of his time which practised biased prejudiced standards against women’s growth and emancipation.
When alive, the creative genius played a crucial role in the cultural renaissance of India and Bengal in the 19th and early 20th Century. But his magnum opus will never loose it’s pertinence or significance even across decades later up until we see the social parity with no place for discrimination on basis of gender or caste that he aspired for. Until the gender equality becomes no more a woman’s issue but a human issue.
But here in our country where ‘Rabithakur’ was born, we are invariably impassioned about his work and swagger with the legacy he left behind. A legacy, an endowment which just not mean brilliant, prismatic literature or expressive soulful hymns that touches your core but then also the avant-garde ideologies and radical sensibilities he preached, imparted and practised.
A path or consciousness towards true salvation and deliverance based on equality, justice and benevolence.
The torchbearer showed us the path…….