book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, v.2: Plays, Stories, Essays

Rabindranath Tagore and Sisir Kumar Das (ed.)

Tagore, Rabindranath; Sisir Kumar Das (ed.);

The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, v.2: Plays, Stories, Essays

Sahitya Akademi, 1994, 669 pages

ISBN 8172019459

topics: |  fiction-short | drama | essays | bengali | translation | tagore


The whole world is becoming one country through scientific facility.
And the moment is arising when you also must find a basis of unity
which is not political. If India can offer to the world her solution,
it will be a contribution to humanity. There is only one history -
the history of man. All national histories are chapters in the larger
one. - Nationalism, (v.2/453)



Sacrifice and Other Plays
Sanyasi or the Ascetic
The King and the Queen
The Trial
The Waterfall
Red Oleanders


The Victory
The Patriot
The Parrot's Training



The Relation of the Individual to the Universe
The Problem of Evil
The Problem of Self
Realization in Love
Realization in Action
The Realization of Beauty
The Realization of the Infinite


What is Art?
The World of Personality
The Second Birth
My School


Nationalism in the West
Nationalism in Japan
Nationalism in India
The Sunset of the Century



The Poet's Religion
The Creative Ideal
The Religion of the Forest
An Indian Folk Religion
East and West
The Modern Age
The Spirit of Freedom
The Nation
Woman and Home
An Eastern University


To My Hosts
To Students
Leave Taking
Civilization and Progress



First Talk at Shanghai
To Students at Hangchow
To Students at Nanking
To the Boys and Girls at Pei Hei, Peking
At a Buddhist Temple, Peking
To Scholars at the Temple of the Earth, Peking
To Students at Tsing-hua College, Peking
At the Scholar's Dinner, Peking
To the English Teachers' Association, Peking
First Public Talk in Peking
To the Public at the Theatre in Peking
Farewell Speech at Shanghai
To the Japanese Community in China
Religious Experience
To a Surprise Gathering of Students in the National University, Peking
At Mrs. Bena's, Shanghai
The National University, Peking
The King of the Dark Chamber
The Crown
King and Rebel



		J. South Asian Literature, Vol. 12, 1977, pp. 103-107

Among  the 1916 lectures is one titled "Woman,"  published in 1921 in
his Personality: Lectures Delivered in America*  a somewhat  disparate
collection of six lecture-essays.

His stated thesis in "Woman" is that men, because they have cut themselves
off from Nature, have led the world through a succession of wars, and the
resulting instability is abhorrent to woman, whose nature is passive and a
medium of growth, like the soil.

A masculine civilization has thrust woman  aside, and she has reacted with
a restlessness that is inimical to her innate ability to appreciate the
commonplace.  The sympathy  that makes her an effective home-maker  is
needed in the world of affairs as well, but she will not achieve her place
and purpose there if she indulges in strident masculine protest and behavior.

Even though another of the 1916 lectures dealt with his school and its
philosophy, the lecture on "Woman conveys virtually no impression of the
courage that Tagore had already shown in this area by making his school at
Santiniketan co-educational.

It conveys nothing at all of his achievement in creating, in a number of his
short stories, some of the most powerfully convincing women characters to be
found in any of the world's literatures, and in describing, in terms so
specific and true in social and psychological detail as to make the reader
cringe in sympathy, their struggles to assert themselves as personalities in
their own right. Most of these stories were written before 1916; some of the
best were written, in fact, during the 1890's, when the modern short story
was an evolving genre everywhere and in Bengal was virtually non-existent
until Tagore took it up.  If, in 1916, these stories had been available in
English translation, they could have explicated, ad- mirably and in practical
terms, general statements in his public lecture that might otherwise have
been construed as gratuitous comments upon de- ficiencies in Americans' sense
of values.

literature is the key to liberation: the protagonist is consumed by a longing
for literacy and for books, and in some cases she becomes a creator of
literature- This obsessional longing for a literary outlet develops in
different ways, and at different stages of life, but it is always a factor.
Uma, in "The Notebook" (Khata, 1893), is seized by it as a beginner at
school; as soon as she learns to write she scribbles primer quotations on the
walls at home, on the novel hidden under her sister-in-law's pillow, on her
father's accounts book, on an essay by her brother.  In "The Postmaster"
{Postmãstãr, 1891), learning to read and write gives the orphan girl, Ratan,
what she hopes may become a bond to a new family of her own. '  Charlulata,
of the novella, The Broken Nest {Nashtanir, 1901), stumbles quite
accidentally into the knowledge of her own literary capacities, and in "A
Wife's Letter" (strir patra, 1914), Mrinalini finds in the writing of poetry
a refuge from her in-laws' petty persecutions and their jealousy of her
superior education.  The accuracy of Tagore's descriptions of these heroines
and their struggles are the fruit of long years of observing the consequences
of India's failure to make use of her women's talents.  In creating these
women characters, he describes specifically the power that, in his American
lecture, he designated as being uniquely woman's: the power "to break through
the surface and go to the centre of things, where in the mystery of life
dwells an eternal source of interest."

In the second place, he makes it yery plain in these stories that
these women's  pursuit of intellectual enlargement  through literature is
non-utilitarian. It is put to no commercial  use whatever; it is always
presented as a home-based  means of self-realization and fulfillment. The
only emphasis that might be called utilitarian is the strictly therapeutic
use the protagonists make of it for refuge or escape from situations that
for one reason or another they find intolerable. As Tagore said, in the
idiom of his American  lecture, women's  magic wands "are not the golden
wands of wealth nor the iron rods of power.

In the third place, it is always a man, or a social situation that
ratified male domination  of home and community,  that is seen precipi-
tating or perpetuating  these intolerable situations.  The man is always
a destroyer, but he seldom destroys out of malevolence  or sheer wicked-
ness; he does so as the result of a mode of behavior that is expected, or
that he thinks is expected, by the men (and sometimes  by the women  as well)
around him. Out of sheer pompous  stupidity and vanity, Uma's husband
destroys her access to books. The postmaster  for whom  Ratan is housekeeper
destroys her hopes for a new life because he himself is spoiled,
self-centered, and trivial.  The husband  of Mrinalini, the wife of "A Wife's
Letter," destroys her respect for him by the callousness with which he
takes her for granted and by his obliviousness to both the cruelties of
his relatives and to what poetry means to her.  Charulata's husband, the
good-hearted  but obtuse Bhupati, puts an end to her literary attempts
through  the excess of his efforts to atone for having taken her equally
for granted, while failing utterly to understand  her reasons for having
turned to literature in the first place.

The weakness and obtuseness of Tagore 's male characters, in contrast to such
women, has been frequently commented upon; what makes the men in these
stories so hard to forgive, whether they act from admirable or despicable
motives, is their mindlessness.  They behave like automatons, plugged into a
social system that they do not question until, having ignored the first faint
signals of something short-circuited in their relations with the women in
their lives, they receive a really severe jolt, the reason for which they
seldom understand and frequently do not try to analyze. Tagore does not go
out of his way to castigate these men. His dismissal of them, his leaving
them, so to speak, where they fall, is more eloquent than any authorial
tirade.  The men have his understanding, as creatures of a restrictive social
code, but the women receive his active sympathy. It is they who suffer,
question, and look for answers. They actively cast about for some means of
making an emotional and intellectual statement about themselves; herein is
the substance and the boundary-line of their liberation

Herein also is the point as it applies historically to Tagore: once
again, as in his views on education, politics, and agricultural economy,
he was decades ahead of his time, not only in relation to India, but in
relation also to the countries that regarded themselves  as more advanced
and therefore superior to India.  If women's  liberation in the West had
even now passed beyond  the limits marked  out in Tagore's pre-1916 stories,
these stories would seem dated, and they would have passed into the category
of period pieces.  But they are not dated. Mrinalini, the most articulate
of the protagonists in these representative liberation stories, tells her
husband, "It didn't take you long to forget my [good] looks, but the fact
that I had intelligence rankled in your mind. ...  If one who must live
according to rules tries to use her mind, she is sure to stumble and be
cursed. But tell me what I could do.  In an unwary  moment  God had given
me more sense than was necessary for a housewife in your family."
has hundreds  of modern  echoes, from Sylvia Plath to The Diary of a Mad


1. For a full account of the circumstances  surrounding  the publication
of Gitanjali (London, 1912), see Imperfect  Encounter: Letters of
William Rothenstein  and Rabindranath  Tagore, 1911-1941, ed. Mary M.
Lago (Cambridge,  Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 38-131

6.  Tagore, "The Notebook,"  in his The Housewarming  and Other Selected
Stories, trans. Mary Lago and Tarun Gupta; ed. Amiya  Chakravarty  (New
York: New American  Library, 1965), pp. 29-34.

7.  Tagore, "The Postmaster," in his Mashi and Other Stories (London:
Macmillan, 1918)), pp. 157-16

8.  Tagore, "A Wife's Letter," in his The Housewarming,  pp. 125-150.

9.  Tagore, The Broken Nest, trans. Mary Lago and Supriya Sen [Bari]
(Columbia, Mo.:  University  of Missouri Press, 1971; New Delhi:
Macmillan, 1973).

Charulata: Summary by Clinton Seely

Charulata, a woman in her early twenties, had been married as a child to a
husband, Bhupati by name, some ten to fifteen years her senior. She grew to
maturity in her husband's household, benignly ignored by him. Bhupati has his
own interests, in fact one all-consuming interest, that of publishing an
English-language political newspaper in colonial Calcutta. He seemed almost
oblivious to the presence of a wife who has, at the time of the story begins,
become a mature young woman. Also living in that household, while he attends
college in the city, is Amal, cousin-brother of Bhupati and someone with
aspirations of becoming a writer. Charu and Amal are close in age, closer by
far than Charu and her husband. The two near- contemporaries bond in many
ways, like brother and sister, like intellectual equals, like young adults
excited and at times overwhelmed by the literary culture of Calcutta of that
day. Charu, confined by the then current mores to the house, albeit a very
richly furnished upper-class house, gets to live in part vicariously through
her brother-in-law who brings to her life some of the thrill of a fuller
intellectual outside world. Eventually, it becomes evident to Amal that this
relationship with his sister-in-law may have crossed the emotional boundary
into forbidden territory. Amal withdraws; Charu is heartbroken, devastated;
Bhupati feels sadly betrayed. End of story.

Shifting from literature to life, I shall similarly reprise as briefly and
selectively events in the Tagore household seemingly pertinent to Tagore's
tale. Kadambari Devi came into the Tagore extended family at a young age, as
the child bride of Jyotirindranath Tagore, one of Rabindranath's elder
brothers. Rabindranath was the fourteenth and youngest living child of his
parents. Jyotirindranath was thirteen years his senior. Concerning Kadambari
Devi and Rabindranath, who was close to her in age, Tagore's most
authoritative biographer, Probhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, writes: "He had been her
playmate and companion ever since her marriage." [1] On December 9th of 1883
at the age of 22 Tagore himself was married to a girl of 11, whom he renamed
Mrinalini and with whom he had five children. One of them, Rathindranath, as
this Tagore Festival audience is well aware, studied at the University of
Illinois. Tagore and wife Mrinalini lived happily together until her premature
death in 1902. In the words of biographer Mukhopadhyay, Tagore's marriage at
the end of 1883 had been "sudden and unexpected." [2] In late April of the
following year, slightly more than four months after his wedding, Kadambari
Devi committed suicide. Why she took her own life, if known, has never been
made public. Biographer Mukhopadhyay writes of Kadambari Devi's death: "The
reasons are shrouded in mystery. But that there was some family
misunderstanding, it cannot be doubted." [3] Krishna Kripalani -- a relative
of Tagore's; he married Tagore's granddaughter -- tells us bluntly in his own
biography of Tagore not to speculate on the cause of the suicide.

That Kadambari Devi's death was profoundly felt by Tagore can be readily
established through Tagore's own words. To a young Amiya Chakravarty of
about 16, who would a decade or so later become Tagore's literary secretary
for a period of time, Tagore wrote in 1917, and I translate: Once, when I
was about your age, I suffered a devastating sorrow, similar to yours now. A
very close relative of mine committed suicide, and she had been my life's
total support, right from childhood onward. And so with her unexpected death
it was as if the earth itself receded from beneath my feet, as though the
skies above me all went dark. My universe turned empty, my zest for life
departed. [4]

In the reminiscences entitled Jiban-smriti (1911-12), Tagore wrote in a
similar vein. His mother's death, as it occurred when he was quite young, did
not affect him strongly, he tells us. Part of the reason for this was
Kadambari Devi, who immediately assumed the role of surrogate maternal
figure. Kadambari was herself a young girl at this time and, as Tagore's
biographer informed us above, Tagore's playmate. It is her passing that
traumatizes him or, as he put it, "It was my acquaintance with death at the
age of 24 that left a permanent impression on me." [5] Kadambari Devi's death
is that to which Tagore refers here, though he was actually 22 at the time,
just a couple of weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, not 24.

There are a number of poems by Tagore that speak to or about the deceased
Kadambari Devi, as the editor of Tagore's collected works calls to our
attention. Shortly after her death, Tagore in his mid-twenties calls out to
her. I'll read only bits and pieces of this poem entitled "Where" (kothay): 

	         Alas, where will you go!  
	In that endless, unknown land, and you alone, all alone,
	         How will you find your way!
	         Alas, where will you go!   [hAy kothA JAbe. ananta ajAnA deshe...]
	         None of us will be there for you
	         None of us to chat and talk to
	         We shall sit here and shall weep,
	         Gazing off into the void, we'll call to you;
	Amidst that vast, that lonely place perhaps our lamentations
	         You might chance to hear from time to time,
	         Alas, where will you go!   [from kaRi o komal]
And then some 30 plus years later, Tagore composed the following equally
poignant piece. I shall first read the entire translation into English,
untitled, that Tagore himself made.

	I was walking along a path overgrown with grass, when suddenly I heard
	from some one behind, "See if you know me?"

	I turned round and looked at her and said, "I cannot remember your name."

	She said, "I am that first great Sorrow whom you met when you were young."
	Her eyes looked like a morning whose dew is still in the air.

	I stood silent for some time till I said, "Have you lost all the great
	burden of your tears?"

	She smiled and said nothing. I felt that her tears had had time to
	learn the language of smiles.

	"Once you said," she whispered, "that you would cherish your grief for

	I blushed and said, "Yes, but years have passed and I forget."
	Then I took her hand in mine and said, "But you have changed."

	"What was sorrow once has now become peace," she said. [trans. Tagore]

The Bengali original was published in 1919 in the magazine Sabuj Patra and
then in the volume called Lipika (1922), which is a collection of prose poems
or in some cases actually short, short stories. The Lipika version of the
piece corresponding to what I just read is entitled "First Sorrow" (pratham
sok). There are a number of lines in the middle of the original work left out
of Tagore's English poem - nearly half of the original has been
omitted. I cite here the entire Bengali poem (elided parts in italics):

	She said, "I am that first great Sorrow whom you met when you were young

	Her eyes looked like a morning whose dew is still in the air.

	I stood silent for some time till I said, "Have you lost all the great
	burden of your tears?"

	She smiled and said nothing. I felt that her tears had had time to
	learn the language of smiles.

	I asked, "Still today you've kept with you that youth of mine when I
	was twenty-five?"

	Said she, "Here, just look, my garland."

	I could see, not a petal had fallen from the garland of that springtime back then.

	I said, "Mine has become completely withered, but my youth at twenty-
	five is still this day as fresh as ever, hanging there about your

	Slowly, she took off that garland, placing it around my neck.
	"Once you said," she whispered, "that you would cherish your grief for
	I blushed and said, "Yes, but years have passed and I forget."

	She added, "He who is the bridegroom of my inner thoughts, he had not
	forgotten. Since then, I've sat here secretly beneath the
	shadows. Accept me now."

	Then I took her hand in mine and said, "But you have changed."
	"What was sorrow once has now become peace," she said.

He speaks in the original of his youth of age 25, and asks whether she has
kept that youth of his with her. She replies by calling attention to the
garland around her neck, a garland that is as fresh now as it was back
then. His, however, has dried up in the intervening years. She then takes the
still fresh garland from her neck and places it around his.

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