8th May marks the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel laureate, poet, story teller, painter, composer. His stories were often the inspiration for films, and often were intimate tales of the lives of women. Charulata told the story of a woman bored with her life, as her husband works away at his newspaper, the arrival of a cousin who is set the task to keep her amused, and how this relationship progresses into something that enters the realm of forbidden. In Ghare Baire the woman follows the ideology of her husband’s friend, ostensibly for political reasons, but really in an attempt to make her life more interesting. Chokher Bali is perhaps the most daring of the three films, delving into issues of adultery, widowhood, and the pursuit of carnal pleasures. It is interesting to me that Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, another writer from Bengal, had a similar fascination for the woman’s point of view in his stories. In fact his men were mostly weak and vacillating and it were the women who were the backbone in any relationship – as seen in the film adaptations Devdas, Swami!
This Outlook piece delves into the background of some of Tagore’s writing and how the Tagore women provided ideas for his stories! ENJOY!!
When Gurudev Turned to the Tagore Women for Ideas!
The Tagore family has long been the focus of public curiosity and like its men, women of this illustrious family have had a great and enduring influence on the life and people of Bengal and also on the Nobel laureate, says a new book.
Women of the Tagore Household by Chitra Deb and translated by Smita Chowdhry and Sona Roy reveals hitherto unknown aspects of women’s emancipation in Bengal in which the women of the Jarasanko Tagore family were at the forefront.
Chandramukhi and Kadambini were the first two female graduates of India, Protiva opened up music and dramatics to women by preparing musical notations for Brahmo sangeet and Hindustani classical music, and Pragya’s prefaces to her cookbooks are still considered storehouses of not only recipes but also homemaking skills.
The role of Rabindranath Tagore’s sisters and sisters-in-law was no less important than that of his brothers in creating a literary atmosphere for budding poets.
“Even in his later years, Rabindranath always turned to the women in his family while trying to give shape to his ideas on music, dance and drama. The women of the Tagore family deserve to be remembered for this alone, even if their own contributions to artistic fields were not as spectacular as those of the men,” the book, published by Penguin, says.
According to the writer, women of the Tagore household portray several generations of connoisseurs, aesthetes and lovers of literature who were nurtured under the umbrella of cultural richness and spiritual freedom that the extended family provided.
Rabindranath’s wife Mrinalini and his sister-in-law Kadambari, had considerable influence on the young poet; the progressive Jnandanandini sailed alone to England in the 19th century, presenting to ordinary women a vision of courage and daring; and Sushama broke out of the confines of music, literature and culinary arts, to tread the path of women’s empowerment, the book says.
“The most important gifts that Bengali women received from the ladies of the Tagore family were self-confidence and a wide road on which to march ahead. This preceded contributions to music, art and literature.