Towering Personalities of Womanhood: A Reading of
Tagore’s Heroines in Short Stories
Rabindranath Tagore, the only Indian to get Nobel Prize for Literature, is mainly acclaimed as a poet. But his short stories are world renowned and they are as brilliant and competent as his poetry. He is compared by critics to Chekhov. Tagore has written nearly one hundred short stories.
The treatment of women and their position in society was of serious concern to Rabindranath Tagore. Being a sensitive man and the supreme romantic poet of Bengal, he understood women in all their joy and sorrow, hope and despair, their yearnings and their dreams. Tagore found in the women of his country an immense wealth–their courage against all odds, their power of survival under the worst possible conditions and oppression, their forbearance, their self-sacrifice and gentleness. It pained him to see such colossal waste of so much human treasure. Indian woman’s rare quality of courage, piety, obedience, love and devotion are the themes of many of Tagore’s stories. Tagore had the unique natural genius to read women’s minds and he analysed their strange structure, through his stories. Even in cruel actions and base thoughts, Tagore brings out noble feelings. He tells the world that Indian women .are highly sacrificing, loving, obedient, meek, religious and kind. They adore their husbands, love their children deeply, and give due reverence and consideration to their in-laws.
Women in Tagore’s days were highly exploited by the feudal society. The out-dated, cruel, feudal customs enhanced the miseries and tortures of women. Through his stories Tagore pointed out those injustices. Tagore was never influenced by patriarchal views. That is why he depicted his heroines as more powerful and brighter than the spineless men. Tagore not only reveals the spirituality of his heroines but also shows their keen practical sense and determination. Tagore’s stories confirm the fact that he believed in the progress of women and in their emancipation from feudal bondage. He also believed that, given equal rights and opportunities, they might occupy their rightful place in society side by side with men. Taking these views into consideration one can call Tagore a feminist writer.
When one analyses the Bengali women’s fate, as depicted in Tagore’s stories, he/she can find two kinds of intellectuals in Bengal society who played central roles in the stories. The first category of intelligentsia wanted to preserve feudal customs for their personal gains. They amassed wealth by exploiting the helpless poor. Some of them even held important positions like judge. The second category did not involve directly in the exploitation of women, but their passive attitude did not lessen the burden of Bengali women.
Tagore brought out the pathos of woman caused by various situations in the house. Women had to face several problems in their houses. Nirmalkumar Sidhanta opines:
In a few stories we have seen the problems of the wife in a jointfamily, the conflict of loyalties between what is due to her husband and what she must do for her parent’s family. But the conflict becomes more acute when her husband is perhaps a subordinate person, where she may see jealousy or ill will on all sides. Numerous new relationships grow up and she has to adjust herself to these without forgetting her old ties: the relations between the wife and her “husband’s younger brother (who is an object of affection while the elder brother has to be treated with respect); those between the husband’s and the wife’s sisters, between the wives of two brothers, between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. If she is unfortunate she may have a co-wife; if she loses her husband she may become a little better than a maid servant tolerated by her ‘in-laws’. If she has some responsibility to a brother she may find it difficult to reconcile that with what she owes to her husband’s family. (287)
Tagore treated these problems and created examples of womanhood who remained immortal in the minds of the readers.
The close affinity between man and Nature is the theme of the story “Subha” or “The Dumb Girl.” Subha was the youngest of the three daughters of Banikantha. Her elder sisters had been married. Subha [Subhashini] was a dumb girl. She was a silent weight upon the heart of her parents. She, with her parents, lived in a small village called Chandipur. The little girl, when her work was done, crept quietly to the banks of the nearby river. She had realised from her earliest childhood that God had sent her like a curse to her father’s house, so she kept away from ordinary people and tried to live in the company of nature. The sounds of nature joined with the trembling of her heart. “They became one great wave of sound which beat upon her restless soul. They were her real language, in which she talked with Nature” (Dodd 35). Her only companions in the household were the two cows whom she loved, fondled and cared very much. Whenever she heard any words that hurt her, she would come to these dumb friends for consolation. Subha had also a comrade among the higher animals. He was the youngest boy of the Gosains, Pratap by name. He was a lazy fellow. His main ambition was to catch fish.
Subha was growing. The thought of her marriage filled her parents with anxious care. Her father decided that they should shift to Calcutta. It was heart-rending for her to leave the stream, the cows, the Nature and her friend, Pratap. Subha went out of her room and threw herself down on the grass beside the river. And throwing her arms about the Earth, her strong, silent mother, she requested her not to let her leave her.
Subha’s marriage was fixed by her parents. Her defect was not disclosed, to the bridegroom’s party. Her displeasure and tears made no negative effect on the proposer or her parents. The marriage took place on a day, which promised to bring good luck. The husband’s work lay in the West, and shortly after the marriage he took her there. In less than ten days everyone in the locality knew that the girl was dumb. How her heart started to sob, only the Searcher of Hearts could hear. That marriage supplied Subha with everlasting miseries. She lost Nature but did not gain man. The tragedy of her life is made clear in a few short sentences and the reader is left to think over human suffering which cannot be explained or understood. One can guess what happened to Subha when her dumbness was disclosed. In the words of Srinivasa lyengar, she was soon
abandoned by her husband for another, as casually as one exchanges one pencil for another; but has not the dumb girl – even she – feelings of her own? Just as the great Spanish painters poured love and understanding into their pictures of the dwarfs maintained by royalty and aristocracy for their amusement, Rabindranath too clothes the nakedness of his castaways and runaways with his limitless compassion and love. (76)
There is something really pathetic in this dumb agony of the human heart that is denied all possibility of self-expression. It is a pity that a sweet and lovable nature [Subha] is denied the comfort and solace of pouring out its sorrows into sympathetic ears and receiving words of love, consolation and encouragement from loving lips. Tagore has expressed this pathetic situation with a poetic insight that is peculiarly his own. Sisirkumar Ghose is of view that “Subha has a rare Lucy-like rapport with Nature” (81). The close affinity between man and nature is wonderfully depicted in this story. The Nature, the stream, the cows are major characters here. A dumb girl sharing her joys, sorrows and other emotions with the dumb beasts is a touching sight. Here a human being becomes one with the nature and one with the animals. One does not find any difference between the dumb cows and dumb Subha and dumb Nature. The pity is that the physical deformities cast one out of the society. Isolated, one then makes company with Nature and animals. How heart-rending it is to Subha to leave her cows, the stream and the Nature! Stronger is her relation to animals and Nature than to human beings. The reason is obvious. Nature is her mother. She was plucked away from her mother when the family shifted to Calcutta. Her tragedy started there. One is simply wonder-struck at Tagore’s insight into human minds. There is irony in the name ‘Subha’. Subha, shortened form of Subhashini means one who speaks well. But Subha of the story is destined by fate to be a mute speaker.
For a variety Tagore makes an inanimate object narrate the story in “The Landing Stairway” or “River Stairs.” “The Landing Stairway” is one of the finest of Tagore’s stories and brings out the supreme beauty of his poetic talents very well. Tagore has the rare powers of understanding and making us understand the psychical elements in seemingly inert matter.
In this story the river-stair, up and down her steps millions of feet had passed, turns the story-teller. The ghat’s reminiscences are narrated with insight and imagination. The river-stairs start narrating the pathetic story of Kusum. Kusum used to fetch water from the Ghat along with her companions. But a year has passed since her absence. The river-stairs learned the reason for her absence. She had been married to a man at a strange place. But she became widow soon. Her husband had worked in some-distant place, and she had met him only once or twice. One day she came to know of his death through a letter she received. A widow at eight years old, she had wiped out the wife’s red mark from her forehead, and returned to her old home by the Ganges.
Ten years passed. And Kusum grew up to a beautiful woman. She came to the Ghat everyday to fetch water. Meanwhile a young fair-skinned sanyasi took shelter in the Siva temple in front of the river steps. The news of his arrival spread everywhere. The women left their water pots and crowded into the temple to get his blessing They came to him for advice, for comfort, and some for medicine. Months passed.
There was a festival in April, and huge crowds came to the Ghat to bathe in the Ganges. Many then visited the sanyasi. Some women who came from the village where Kusum had been married to, suggested among themselves that the sanyasi had a similarity to Kusum’s dead husband. One evening as the sanyasi was coming down the stairs, he met Kusum sitting there alone. When she looked up her veil slipped away and the moon-light fell on her face. She put back the veil on her head, and bowed low at his feet. He gave her his blessing and asked her who she was. She replied that she was called ‘Kusum’. No other words were spoken. Kusum returned to her house slowly. But the sanyasi remained there sitting on the river-stairs for long hours that night.
After that incident Kusum regularly bowed at his feet; she listened to him from a corner when he preached. After the sermon he used to call her to him and speak about religion. She served daily at the temple, respectfully worshipping the God. As the spring was about to come Kusum stopped frequenting the temple and the Ghat. The sanyasi then sent for her and they met at the Ghat. She told him the reason for her absence:
I have worshipped someone as a god, and the joy of that perfect love filled my heart. But one night I dreamt that the lord of my heart was sitting in a garden somewhere, holding my right hand in his left and whispering to me of love. The whole scene did not seem at all strange to me. The dream ended, but its memory remained. Next day when I saw him, that dream-picture was in my mind. I no longer thought of him as a god, but as a man. I ran away from him in fear, but the picture still stays with me. Since that day my heart has known no peace; all has grown dark within me. (Dodd 74-75)
Thus she expressed her feeling towards him and started to cry. The sanyasi told her that he was leaving the place and being a sanyasi he did not belong to this world. He asked her to forget him. The sanyasi bade her goodbye and moved away. Without a word Kusum bowed to him, and placed the dust of his feet on her head. “The moon set: the night grew dark. I heard the sound of something falling into the water. The wind cried madly in the darkness, as if it wanted to blow out every star in the sky” (Dodd 76). Thus stepping into the Ganges as into a bridal chamber, Kusum sacrificed her life.
There are some hints in the story to doubt the sanyasi as Kusum’s ‘dead’ husband. He might have accepted the ascetic life after writing a lie to her that he was dead. In that case the sanyasi is a selfish, deceitful, irresponsible, dishonest hypocrite. He might have recognized Kusum when he saw her at the Ghat, whereas his new sanyasi appearance prevented her from identifying him. Some mysterious, inner urge might have prompted her heart to love him. Commenting on this story K. S. Ramaswami Sastri quotes Mr. Rhys:
Mr.Rhys in his recent book well says: ‘In this story Rabindranath Tagore reveals the heart of Kusum by the slight interrogative touches which he often uses to give reality to his spiritual portraits of women. He is one of the very few tale-tellers who can interpret women by intuitive art. The devotion and heroism of the Hinduism he paints are ‘ of a kind to explain to us that though the mortal rite of Sati is ended, the spirit that led to it is not all extinct. It lives re-embodied in a thousand acts of sacrifice, and in many a delivering up of the creative-self, and its pride of life and womanly desire. (392-93)
The sanyasi occupied her mind as her husband, unawares. So when he left the place it was his death for her. She had no existence without him. Hence she sacrificed her life with him.
The story “Living or Dead” was written and published in 1892. Through this story Tagore criticized the feudal morals and customs which ruled over the life of Bengali women. Kadambini was a widow staying with her brother-in-law Saradasankar in his house at Ranighat. She had no relatives left. Saradasankar’s son was her favourite and she spent her days nursing him. One night she died suddenly. Her body was taken by four Brahmin servants to the burial place of Ranighat, near a pond. They brought the dead body to a hut and waited for the fire wood. Meanwhile the dead body made some movements and went out of the hut. The horrified servants fled away. Kadambini was not dead actually; for some reason her life-function had been suspended. She understood that she was a ‘dead’ woman.
Kadambini decided not to go to her brother’s house and make problems there. Hence with the help of a passerby she went to her friend, Yogamaya’s house at Nishindapur. Shripati was Yogamaya’s husband. Kadambini stayed there for a month not discussing her’ death’ and escape, yogamaya started to suspect Kadambini’s behaviour, especially with her husband. He could not send a widow away. And now he decided to inform the news of Kadambini’s stay there to her brother-in-law. He visited Saradasankar and came to know that Kadambini was dead and gone. He informed this to yogamaya in that night which led to an argument between them. Kadambini overheard all these and came to their room and announced that she was the ‘dead’ Kadambini. Yogamaya fell unconscious, taking her as a ghost. Kadambini left the house at once and came straight to her brother-in-law’s house at Ranighat. She got into the room where the child was sleeping after a bout of fever. When the child asked for some water she gave it to him from a bronze vessel, and the servants who came to the room then were shocked to see the ‘ghost’. Her brother-in-law and others rushed to the room. She told them that she was not dead but living. To prove this she broke her forehead with the bronze vessel and blood oozed out. Tagore’s narration continues:
Sharadasankar stood like a statue; the little boy whispered for his father; the two stricken women lay on the ground. Crying out: “I did not die, I did not die,” Kadambini fled from the room and down the stairs, and threw herself into the tank in the inner courtyard of the house. Sharadasankar heard, from the upper floor, a splashing sound. (SSS 41)
Thus Kadambini proved by dying that she had not died.
The patriarchal system caused much inhumanity and cruelty towards women. Kadambini is a widow living at the mercy of her brother-in-law. None but the child in the family loved her. It could be interpreted that they had been hurry to bury her. They had not the patience and willingness to check the body and confirm the death. He death was a great relief to Sharadasankar and others. They could never wish her to return to life. Hence even when she proved her physical existence by shedding her blood, Sharadasankar was not willing to welcome her. Since the society would not admit her, Kadambini had no option but death.
In “Debits and Credits” or “The Deal,” published in 1891, Tagore tells the story of Nirupama, a victim of the cursed dowry system. Nirupama’s marriage with the son of a grand Raybahadur was about to take place. Her father Ramsundar Mitra could only raise seven thousand rupees in place of the ten thousand rupees he had promised as dowry. Raybahadur objected to the marriage but the bridegroom insisted on marrying Nirupama, in her bridal dress. It was the beginning of Nirupama’s tragic life. Her father was insulted whenever he came to visit her. Her husband was under the shadow of his father and mother, and she had to suffer endless tortures. Everyone in the house treated her as if she had no right in the household, and. had entered it by deceit.
Nirupama’s father decided to sell his house to payoff the balance of the dowry. But his sons objected to it. Nirupama wanted to stay in her father’s house for a few days to console him. With much indignity, shame and hurt, Ramsundar raised three thousand rupees and came to Raybahadur. But Raybahadur did not accept the money; instead he insulted him. Ramsundar was not allowed to see his daughter. Dejected he returned to his house. Then he stopped visiting his daughter even when she insisted. At last he vowed to bring Nirupama to his house for the ‘puja’. He sold his house without his sons’ knowledge and with the money he appeared before his daughter. Her father-in-law was not there. Ramsundar’s eldest son who came to know about the sale of the house burst into the room with his two small sons and started to complain. Hearing this Nirupama told his father strongly not to give any more money to her father-in-law. These things were noticed by the servants of the house and reported it to her mother-in-law.
Nirupama’s life in her husband’s house became a bed of nails for her. Her husband had gone off a few days after their wedding, to be a Deputy Magistrate in another part of the country. Nirupama now fell seriously ill. The news was not conveyed to her father. The doctor was called only when she was dying. Nirupama, the eldest daughter-in-law in the household thus died, and the .funeral rites were performed with appropriate pomp. Those people who came to condole with the Raybahadur gave long descriptions of the magnificence of the funeral. Tagore ends the story thus:
Meanwhile a letter from the Deputy Magistrate arrived: ‘I have made all necessary arrangements here, so please send my wife to me quickly.’ The Raybahadur’s wife replied: ‘Dear son, we have secured another girl for you, so please take leave soon and come here.’ This time the dowry was 20,000 rupees cash down. (SSS 53)
The story thus gave a true picture of the pathetic condition of Indian married women . who were sold, tortured and killed for the sake of dowry. Nirmalkumar Sidhanta wrote about Nirupama’s tragic end thus:
She dies uncared for and unattended. But her funeral rites were celebrated with the greatest pomp, befitting the family into which she had married. The father heard the news of his daughter’s death embellished with this commentary: the husband received the news with a postscript about proposals for a new marriage, with a bigger dowry, this time cash down! The satire is bitter: the pathos is deep. It required many of these human sacrifices and the artist’s elaboration of these tortures for society to get rid of, at least to minimize this evil. (279-80)
Thus through this story Tagore showed the tragic fate of Bengali women whose lives were crushed by a backward feudal society.
Nirupama’s father-in-law was a representative of the first type of intelligentsia referred to earlier, who exploited women; and his son, her husband, belonged to the second category who by his passive nature added to her sorrows. Her husband occupied so insignificant a role in her life that even his name was not mentioned in the story. There is a hint in the story against the younger generation of the intelligentsia, who although do not recognize old norms and consider them out-dated but are unable to start a new life. Nirupama’s husband knew very well the cruel feudal attitudes of his parents, yet he left his helpless wife at their mercy. The snobbery of the middle class was clearly pictured in the magnificence of the funeral. Raybahadur was so inhuman that he did not call the doctor at the proper time. He could very well save Nirupama’s life spending only a fraction of the amount he spent on the funeral. He was an arch-villain and a downright hypocrite. On the whole, the story is a reminder of the wretched dowry system which is a canker of our society.
Unlike the other heroines of Tagore’s stories, in “Taraprasanna’s Fame,” published in 1891, Tagore depicted the pathos of a woman whose tragedy was the result of an indirect exploitation. Taraprasanna was a writer who was very reserved among the strangers. His wife Dakshayani had very high opinion about her husband. She boasted about him among the neighbours. Her only complaint was that Taraprasanna’s works had not been published. They had four children – all daughters. Dakshayani regarded that as a failing in herself. They had no wealth to send the daughters in marriage. Hence Dakshayani proposed her husband to go to Calcutta, publish his books there and thus raise some money.
Taraprasanna was thus sent to Calcutta with a servant to help him. With the money Dakshayani had given him by pawning her jewelry, his book was printed and published with the title The Radiane of Vedanta. Taraprasanna sent the books to the book shops and every editor, however important. A copy was sent to Dakshayani also. One by one reviews appeared in the papers, The reviewers throughout the land, unable to understand a single word of the book, were highly impressed by it. Critics also were of high opinion. Librarians from all over the land wrote to him asking for the book. He sent them copies at his own expense. Meanwhile he received a letter from Dakshayani revealing the fact that she was expecting a fifth child very soon. Taraprasanna and his servant now went round to the shops to collect the money, which the shop keepers got by selling the books. But the shop keepers all said the same reply that not a single copy had been sold. Dakshayani expected that her husband had become very popular and earned a lot of money. When he returned with empty hands she could only take it as a part of conspiracy against her husband. Dakshayani thought that Taraprasanna had been cheated by the booksellers, and even his assistant Bidhubhushan had plotted against him in league with Taraprasanna’s enemies. Her domestic worries continued to grow. “The failure of this simple way of earning money redoubled her shame that she had so sinfully borne only daughters . . . . She had not a moments peace of mind, day or night” (SSS 75). The state of her health became worse as her confinement approached. A midwife was brought from Calcutta with the money given to Taraprasanna by his chief enemy Bishvambar. Dakshayini called her husband into her room and told him in a whisper that her new-born daughter should be named ‘Vedantaprabha’, ‘The Radiance of Vedanta’. “When the midwife cried out: ‘Ma look here, what a beautiful little girl you have! Dakshayini took one look and then closed her eyes, saying faintly, ‘Vedantaprabha.’ She had no time to say any more in this world” (SSS 75). Thus she left the world leaving the five daughters to the hands of her weak husband.
Dakshayini’s hopes and ambitions were shattered by the cru society; Her husband is a typical example of the dreamy intelligentsia. Though a literary genius he was a failure in practical life. He like many other heroes of Tagore’s stories failed to perform his duties and responsibilities as a husband and father. In a way he exploitef his wife. His dreamy, weak, passive nature added to her burden. The neighbours were jealous of Taraprasanna and his wife. They might have plotted against them as Dakshayini had suspected. The birth < daughters in the family was unwelcome and the situation is not very different even today. And the people blame the mother for it can I found even today. Answer to what would be the future of those fi\ daughters is a torturing thought adding to the pathos of the story.
“Mahamaya” is a love story of Tagore. Rajib and Mahama were lovers. Mahamaya was a reserved and serious type of woman aged twenty-four. She was rich and lived with her serious brother Bhaminicharan Chattopadhaya. Her parents were dead. People feared Bhaminicharan for no reason. Rajib was brought to that locality by Bura Sahib, the owner of a silk company. His father was a dependant of the Sahib. When he died the English man looked after the child and when matured Rajib was appointed in the silk company. Rajib had been staying in a house near to Mahamaya’s. Thus Rajib and Mahamaya had been playmates from early childhood. They were in love. One day Rajib proposed to her that they should elope and get married. But that was not acceptable to her. Rajib did not belong to noble family though he was a Brahmin. Hence Mahamaya’ s brother would not allow their marriage. She was not willing to dishonour and disobey her hard brother. Rajib told her one evening that he would be leaving the place the next day with the Sahib. Meanwhile Mahamaya’s brother appeared there. He had overheard what they discussed and went silently back to the house. Mahamaya told Rajib that she would come to his house and he had to wait for her. But that night she was brought by her borhter to a hut for the dying, at the bank of the river. There she was married to an old dying man. She became a widow the next day. She decided to end her life by “Suttee.” Rajib came to know about it and wanted to prevent ‘suttee’ with the help of the Sahib. But unfortunately the Sahib had gone to Shonapura, giving Rajib one-month’s leave. Meanwhile there was terrible wind and rain. Rajib, very much dejected, decided to end his life, and so he started to go out. But it was raining outside. Suddenly some one knocked at his door. A woman appeared there drenched in rain, her head completely covered with a cloth. It was Mahamaya who escaped from the pyre, due to the tempest and rain.: She told him that she had kept the promise of coming back to his house. She wanted to know whether he would accept her, who was only the old Mahamaya in spirit. She would stay with him only if he promised not to remove her purda or not to look at her face. If he was not willing, she would go back to the pyre. He replied that he would die if she left him. As requested by her they went to Shonapura and started living there.
Their life was not at all happy because of her purda. Days and nights passed, keeping them separate and away. One full moon night his feelings were aroused. She was sleeping. He went to her bed. He looked into her bare face, which was lit by the moon-light. He was horrified to see the burnt shocking face. His shriek roused her. She covered her head with the purda and stood up. He requested her, holding her fee4, to pardon him. Without saying a word Mahamaya got out of the room. She never returned to his house.
Nirmalkumar Sidhanta writes on this story:
The Interest of ‘Mahamaya’ is not so much in its setting as in its conclusion. Taking us back to the early nineteenth century when Suttee, the burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband, was commonly practised, when the evils of Kulinism were rampant, it tells us of the love of Rajib and Mahamaya against social sanction their meetings by stealth, their passionate impulsivenes shattered by the upholder of orthodoxy, Mahamaya elder brother. When after her escape from the immolatin pyre she turns to Rajib their union is subject to on condition and when that is violated she has no hesitatio in leaving Rajib and going out into the wide world to trea her lonely path. ‘The silent anger of that unforgivin farewell left a long scar on Rajib’s earthly life.’ (279)
Through “Mahamaya” Tagore tells the world that man-woman relationship cannot continue without passion and such artificial marriage ties will only make the rosy paths of married life a thorn one. Bhaminicharan’s inhumane treatment of his sister by forceful! manying her to a dying old man is contemptible and villainous. How pathetic were the conditions of women then! Even now one comes across such brutal acts in many parts of the country. Tagore focussed more on women’s problems since he wanted to improve their living conditions. Thus his stories acquire a didactic value.
The story ‘Punishment” or “The Sentence,” published in 1893, tells the hard life of Bengali peasants. Women had no human rights. Tagore was able to show the spiritual richness of women in peasant families, though they lived in utter poverty, and had to face humiliation everywhere. The story is about the life of two young brothers Dukhiram and Chidam and their wives Radha and Chandora. After a day’s heavy work when the brothers returned home hungry, the elder brother Dukhiram asked his wife Radha for some food. When only harsh words were returned, Dukhiram lost his temper am killed her with his chopper. He was upset and repentant. Then Chidam came to his rescue. He requested his wife Chandora to own the crime. He told her to tell the court that she had been forced to kill Radha, in self-defence during an argument. “Chandora who loved her husband dearly is taken aback by her husband’s cruel suggestion and is convinced that her husband had never given any value to her feelings” (Basu 59). So she decided to end her life as a protest against the humiliating proposal. In the court, Chandora told the judge that she had killed her sister-in-law because she hated her. Chidam understood his mistake and was ready to take all the blame on himself and thus save his wife. Dukhiram also tried to save her telling the court what actually happened. But the judge was convinced that Chandora bad done the murder and he sentenced her to be hanged. Sankar Basu continues his analysis of the story:
By depicting the bitter life of peasant women, Tagore writes at the end of the story: ‘Some time’ in the dawn of youth a very young dark complexioned lively girl, setting aside her dolts left her parents place to live with her in-laws. But who could imagine that auspicious marriage night, of what would happen today’. (60)
Chandora did not want to continue her life since her husband had not valued her intense feeling towards her.
Chidam used to quarrel with her and they were not on good terms on that day of murder, and that might have been one reason why he chose his brother for her. In a weak moment, not thinking much about its consequences Chidam told this lie about the murder to Ramlochan, the pillar of the village, who happened to visit their house immediately after the murder. His attachment to his brother was so deep that he wanted to save him. At the same time he wanted to save his wife also. He asked Ramlochan clinging to his feet, how he could save her. Ramlochan suggested him the way out by putting the crime on Dukhiram. But again without much thought he said that if he lost his wife he could get another, but if his brother was hanged he could never replace him. This was the circumstance which led Chidam to request his wife to own the crime. But what a deep wound it made in her heart! No balm could cure it. She wanted to protest against it by ending her life. Tagore thus showed through this story that women protested against feudal oppression. Though their protest was a passive one, they resented against the set norms and customs and were not willing to accept humiliation in a submissive manner. Before the death sentence, at the end of the story, Chandora simply uttered the words: ‘Oh I want to die.’ Sankar Basu opines:
These simple words convey the depth of the offence and grief in the mind of a simple but strong-willed and stable woman, who found that she has been deceived in his love towards her husband. Such laconic, natural and highly impressive endings of Tagore’s stories in many ways remind us of the endings of Chekhov’s stories. (115)
Nature, too, adds to the gloomy atmosphere of the house of murder. A very refined description of nature before the storm is given here. Hera nature not only formed the background of the terrible happening, but also reflected the tense situation in which the murder would take place. The description of nature in the story runs thus:
There was not a breath of wind. Weeds and scrub round the house had shot up after the rain: the heavy scent of damp vegetation, from these and from the waterlogged jute-fields, formed a solid wall all around. Frogs croaked from the pond behind the cowshed, and the buzz of crickets filled the leaden sky. (SSS 125)
Tagore thus set the nature to prepare the readers for the tragic event, which would soon befall the poor peasant family.
The way in which Tagore portrays the intense, dejected feelings of Chandora is remarkable. When her husband was called to the court she turned away and replied to the questions, covering her face with her hands. Her answer to the judge’s question whether her husband did not love her was ironic. She answered that he loved him like crazy. In the jail, just before the hanging when the civil surgeon asked her whether she wanted to see anyone, she replied that she would like to see her mother. The doctor then asked her whether he should call her husband since he wanted to see her. Her reply was ‘Not him’, with an emphasis on the word ‘him’. In the original Bengali story instead of the term ‘him’ the term ‘maran’ was used. ‘Maran’ literally meant ‘death’. It was a common ironic expression particularly among village-women. The complex implications here included Chandora’s rejection of the husband she still loved, the pride [abhiman] that prevented her from backing down and a shy reluctance to show her true marital feelings in public.
Basu, Sankar. Chekhov and Tagore: A Comparative Study of their Short Stories. New Delhi: Sterling Publications Limited, 1985. Print.
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