Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rabindranath Tagore's 150th Birth Anniversary - 10: Short Stories


Buddhadev Bose in an essay on Tagore's stories wrote:
All of Bengal can be found here. Not only facts, but her living soul: we feel her pulse as we turn the pages of galpaguccha.

Others have pointed out the accuracy of the stories as social documents. William Radice, a modern translator (Rabindranath Tagore – Selected Short Stories, Penguin Books) says:
Tagore's capacity for scepticism, mockery, and hard-headed rationality contributes just as much to his realism as does his awareness of grief and suffering.

Three enthusiasts (Soma and KumKum of the KRG, and Padmanabha Dasgupta) have devoted themselves in this 150th anniversary of Rabindranath's birth to reading and examining fifteen of his stories. Their commentary on the first five selected (Nashta Neer, Streer Patra, Monihara, Konkal and Kshudito Pashan) follows below.



KumKum
One can divide these stories into (a) tales that tell of visitants from the other world – Monihara, Konkal and Kshudito Pashan fall in this category. And (b) more complex stories, dealing with husband-wife relationships in typical affluent homes of nineteenth century Bengal: Nashto Neer and Streer Patra.

All five are gems among Tagore’s short stories. Four were made into successful, yet artistic, movies by great directors. We encounter apparitions of female ghosts in the two stories: Monihara and Konkal. As in life, so is in the afterlife, females are all different.



1. Monihara
This is a serious story of a wife who was selfish, greedy, mean and incapable of love. Her husband, on the other hand, adored his beautiful wife, showered her with gifts, expecting in return some love which he never got. But he could note find any other fault in his beautiful wife, who was most caring.

Here are a few tongue-in-cheek passages from this otherwise somber story.
(i)
আমি এই গ্রামে আসার প্রায় দশ বৎসর পূর্বে এই বাড়িতে ফণিভূষণ সাহা বাস করিতেন। তিনি তাঁহার অপুত্রক পিতৃব্য দুর্গামোহন সাহার বৃহৎ বিষয় এবং ব্যবসায়ের উত্তরাধিকারী হইয়াছিলেন।
কিন্তু, তাঁহাকে একালে ধরিয়াছিল তিনি লেখাপড়া শিখিয়াছিলেন। তিনি জুতাসমেত সাহেবের আপিসে, ঢুকিয়া সম্পূর্ণ খাঁটি ইংরাজি বলিতেন। তাহাতে আবার দাড়ি রাখিয়াছিলেন, সুতরাং সাহেব-সওদাগরের নিকট তাঁহার উন্নতির সম্ভাবনামাত্র ছিল না। তাঁহাকে দেখিবামাত্রই নব্যবঙ্গ বলিয়া ঠাহর হইত।
আবার ঘরের মধ্যেও এক উপসর্গ জুটিয়াছিল। তাঁহার স্ত্রীটি ছিলেন সুন্দরী। একে কালেজে-পড়া তাহাতে সুন্দরী স্ত্রী, সুতরাং সেকালের চালচলন আর রহিল না। এমনকি, ব্যামো হইলে অ্যাসিস্ট্যান্ট-সার্জনকে ডাকা হইত। অশন বসন ভূষণও এই পরিমাণে বাড়িয়া উঠিতে লাগিল।
মহাশয় নিশ্চয়ই বিবাহিত, অতএব এ কথা আপনাকে বলাই বাহুল্য যে, সাধারণত স্ত্রীজাতি কাঁচা আম, ঝাল লঙ্কা এবং কড়া স্বামীই ভালোবাসে। যে দুর্ভাগ্য পুরুষ নিজের স্ত্রীর ভালোবাসা হইতে বঞ্চিত সে-যে কুশ্রী অথবা নির্ধন তাহা নহে, সে নিতান্ত নিরীহ।
(ii)
স্ত্রীলোক পুরুষকে ভুলাইয়া নিজের শক্তিতে ভালোবাসা আদায় করিয়া লইতে চায়, স্বামী যদি ভালোমানুষ হইয়া সে অবসরটুকু না দেয়, তবে স্বামীর অদৃষ্ট মন্দ এবং স্ত্রীরও ততোধিক।
নবসভ্যতার শিক্ষামন্ত্রে পুরুষ আপন স্বভাবসিদ্ধ বিধাতাদত্ত সুমহৎ বর্বরতা হারাইয়া আধুনিক দাম্পত্যসম্বন্ধটাকে এমন শিথিল করিয়া ফেলিয়াছে। অভাগা ফণিভূষণ আধুনিক সভ্যতার কল হইতে অত্যন্ত ভালোমানুষটি হইয়া বাহির হইয়া আসিয়াছিল-- ব্যবসায়েও সে সুবিধা করিতে পারিল না, দাম্পত্যেও তাহার তেমন সুযোগ ঘটে নাই।
ফণিভূষণের স্ত্রী মণিমালিকা, বিনা চেষ্টায় আদর, বিনা অশ্রুবর্ষণে ঢাকাই শাড়ি এবং বিনা দুর্জয় মানে বাজুবন্ধ লাভ করিত। এইরূপে তাহার নারীপ্রকৃতি এবং সেইসঙ্গে তাহার ভালোবাসা নিশ্চেষ্ট হইয়া গিয়াছিল। সে কেবল গ্রহণ করিত, কিছু দিত না। তাহার নিরীহ এবং নির্বোধ স্বামীটি মনে করিত, দানই বুঝি প্রতিদান পাইবার উপায়। একেবারে উল্‌টা বুঝিয়াছিল আর কি

ইহার ফল হইল এই যে, স্বামীকে সে আপন ঢাকাই শাড়ি এবং বাজুবন্ধ জোগাইবার যন্ত্রস্বরূপ জ্ঞান করিত; যন্ত্রটিও এমন সুচারু যে, কোনোদিন তাহার চাকায় এক ফোঁটা তেল জোগাইবারও দরকার হয় নাই।



2. Konkal
This is a hilarious story. The spirit tells her life story to the young man who, along with two others, used her skeleton to learn the names of the different bones in a human body. She was young and beautiful in life, but her fate was not so. Yet, she remained indomitable, and carefully schemed to have a second chance in life. When she encountered a road-block, she turned sinister, and killed the doctor she loved without remorse, and, killed herself, after meticulously planning the end. She desired to carry that mischievous smile of hers to death!
The most enchanting effect in this short story is the narrator’s gently teasing register of speaking, and the humor she could summon as she tells her tale, regardless of what life had thrown at her. And, ultimately, of course, she is the winner! For, the readers will always be tickled by this naughty ghost. It is a fantastic short story!

Here are a few quotes from the story:
(i) The ghost returns to the house looking for her skeleton:
ক্রমে সেই কঙ্কালের কথা মনে পড়িল। তাহার জীবিতকালের বিষয় কল্পনা করিতে করিতে সহসা মনে হইল, একটি চেতন পদার্থ অন্ধকারে ঘরের দেয়াল হাতড়াইয়া আমার মশারির চারি দিকে ঘুরিয়া ঘুরিয়া বেড়াইতেছে, তাহার ঘন ঘন নিশ্বাসের শব্দ শুনা যাইতেছে। সে যেন কী খুঁজিতেছে, পাইতেছে না এবং দ্রুততর বেগে ঘরময় প্রদক্ষিণ করিতেছে। নিশ্চয় বুঝিতে পারিলাম, সমস্তই আমার নিদ্রাহীন উষ্ণ মস্তিষ্কের কল্পনা এবং আমারই মাথার মধ্যে বোঁ বোঁ করিয়া যে রক্ত ছুটিতেছে তাহাই দ্রুত পদশব্দের মতো শুনাইতেছে। কিন্তু, তবু গা ছম্‌ছম্‌ করিতে লাগিল। জোর করিয়া এই অকারণ ভয় ভাঙিবার জন্য বলিয়া উঠিলাম, 'কেও।' পদশব্দ আমার মশারির কাছে আসিয়া থামিয়া গেল এবং একটা উত্তর শুনিতে পাইলাম, 'আমি। আমার সেই কঙ্কালটা কোথায় গেছে তাই খুঁজিতে আসিয়াছি।
আমি ভাবিলাম, নিজের কাল্পনিক সৃষ্টির কাছে ভয় দেখানো কিছু নয়-- পাশ-বালিশটা সবলে আঁকড়িয়া ধরিয়া চিরপরিচিতের মতো অতি সহজ সুরে বলিলাম, 'এই দুপুর রাত্রে বেশ কাজটি বাহির করিয়াছ। তা, সে কঙ্কালে এখন আর তোমার আবশ্যক?'
অন্ধকারে মশারির অত্যন্ত নিকট হইতে উত্তর আসিল, 'বল কী। আমার বুকের হাড় যে তাহারই মধ্যে ছিল।  আমার ছাব্বিশ বৎসরের যৌবন যে তাহার চারি দিকে বিকশিত হইয়াছিল-- একবার দেখিতে ইচ্ছা করে না?'
(ii) A hilarious quote:
পৃথিবীর আর সকল মনুষ্যই অস্থি-বিদ্যা এবং শরীরতত্ত্বের দৃষ্টান্তস্থল ছিল, কেবল আমি সৌন্দর্যরূপী ফুলের মতো ছিলাম। কনক-চাঁপার মধ্যে কি একটা কঙ্কাল আছে?
'কিন্তু আমার সেই নির্লজ্জ নিরাবরণ নিরাভরণ চিরবৃদ্ধ কঙ্কাল তোমার কাছে আমার নামে মিথ্যা সাক্ষ্য দিয়াছে। আমি তখন নিরুপায় নিরুত্তর ছিলাম। এইজন্য পৃথিবীর সব চেয়ে তোমার উপর আমার বেশি রাগ। ইচ্ছা করে, আমার সেই ষোলো বৎসরের জীবন্ত যৌবনতাপে উত্তপ্ত, আরক্তিম রূপখানি একবার তোমার চোখের সামনে দাঁড় করাই, বহুকালের মতো তোমার দুই চক্ষের নিদ্রা ছুটাইয়া দিই, তোমার অস্থিবিদ্যাকে অস্থির করিয়া দেশছাড়া করি।'
আমি বলিলাম, 'তোমার গা যদি থাকিত তো গা ছুঁইয়া বলিতাম, সে বিদ্যার লেশমাত্র আমার মাথায় নাই। আর তোমার সেই ভুবনমোহন পূর্ণযৌবনের রূপ রজনীর অন্ধকারপটের উপরে জাজ্বল্যমান হইয়া ফুটিয়া উঠিয়াছে। আর অধিক বলিতে হইবে না।'



3. Kshudito Pashan is also a ghost story. It is set on a lavish scale: The free flowing river Shusta cascades down a hill which is covered by a thick forest. Its meandering course down the valley is comparable to the graceful movements of a dancing damsel. From the river bank, rose one hundred and fifty steps reaching the base of a huge, marble palace, that stood alone under the feet of the mountain.
The reader is instantly whisked away to a gilded time with court dancers, beautiful Iranian courtesans and more….while the solitary cry of the mad man in the neighborhood, heightens the spooky feelings.

This story has more visual charm. Thanks to Tagore's descriptive language, one can also sense the music and the whispering suspense that faintly reverberates through the narration. It’s an ideal story for a movie.

Here are a few passages that reflect the scene and the theme of the story wonderfully :
তখন গ্রীষ্মকালের আরম্ভে বাজার নরম; আমার হাতে কোনো কাজ ছিল না। সূর্যাস্তের কিছু পূর্বে আমি সেই নদীতীরে ঘাটের নিম্নতলে একটা আরাম-কেদারা লইয়া বসিয়াছি। তখন শুস্তানদী শীর্ণ হইয়া আসিয়াছে; ও পারে অনেকখানি বালুতট অপরাহ্নের আভায় রঙিন হইয়া উঠিয়াছে; এ পারে ঘাটের সোপানমূলে স্বচ্ছ অগভীর জলের তলে নুড়িগুলি ঝিক্‌ ঝিক্‌ করিতেছে। সেদিন কোথাও বাতাস ছিল না নিকটের পাহাড়ে বনতুলসী পুদিনা ও মৌরির জঙ্গল হইতে একটা ঘন সুগন্ধ উঠিয়া স্থির আকাশকে ভারাক্রান্ত করিয়া রাখিয়াছিল।
সূর্য যখন গিরিশিখরের অন্তরালে অবতীর্ণ হইল তৎক্ষণাৎ দিবসের নাট্যশালার একটা দীর্ঘ ছায়াযবনিকা পড়িয়া গেল-- এখানে পর্বতের ব্যবধান থাকাতে সূর্যাস্তের সময় আলো আঁধারের সম্মিলন অধিকক্ষণ স্থায়ী হয় না। ঘোড়ায় চড়িয়া একবার ছুটিয়া বেড়াইয়া আসিব মনে করিয়া উঠিব-উঠিব করিতেছি, এমন সময়ে সিঁড়িতে পায়ের শব্দ শুনিতে পাইলাম। পিছনে ফিরিয়া দেখিলাম, কেহ নাই।
ইন্দ্রিয়ের ভ্রম মনে করিয়া পুনরায় ফিরিয়া বসিতেই একেবারে অনেকগুলি পায়ের শব্দ শোনা গেল, যেন অনেকে মিলিয়া ছুটাছুটি করিয়া নামিয়া আসিতেছে। ঈষৎ ভয়ের সহিত এক অপরূপ পুলক মিশ্রিত হইয়া আমার সর্বাঙ্গ পরিপূর্ণ করিয়া তুলিল। যদিও আমার সম্মুখে কোনো মূর্তি ছিল না তথাপি স্পষ্ট প্রত্যক্ষবৎ মনে হইল যে, এই গ্রীষ্মের সায়াহ্নে একদল প্রমোদচঞ্চল নারী শুস্তার জলের মধ্যে স্নান করিতে নামিয়াছে। যদিও সেই সন্ধ্যাকালে নিস্তব্ধ গিরিতটে, নদীতীরে নির্জন প্রাসাদে কোথাও কিছুমাত্র শব্দ ছিল না, তথাপি আমি যেন স্পষ্ট শুনিতে পাইলাম নির্ঝরের শতধারার মতো সকৌতুক কলহাস্যের সহিত পরস্পরের দ্রুত অনুধাবন করিয়া আমার পার্শ্ব দিয়া স্নানার্থিনীরা চলিয়া গেল। আমাকে যেন লক্ষ্য করিল না। তাহারা যেমন আমার নিকট অদৃশ্য, আমিও যেন সেইরূপ তাহাদের নিকট অদৃশ্য। নদী পূর্বব স্থির ছিল, কিন্তু আমার নিকট স্পষ্ট বোধ হইল, স্বচ্ছতোয়ার অগভীর স্রোত অনেকগুলি বলয়শিঞ্জিত বাহুবিক্ষেপে বিক্ষুব্ধ হইয়া উঠিয়াছে; হাসিয়া হাসিয়া সখীগণ পরস্পরের গায়ে জল ছুঁড়িয়া মারিতেছে, এবং সন্তরণকারিণীদের পদাঘাতে জলবিন্দুরাশি মুক্তামুষ্টির মতো আকাশে ছিটিয়া পড়িতেছে।

Now I shall take up the other two stories about marital relationships.

4. Nashto Neer :
It is a beautiful story, but Satyajit Ray’s film Charulata, which is based on Nashto Neer, has definitely improved the presentation, and Tagore himself would have appreciated it. Tagore’s story needed Ray's tight editing, and the necessary alterations that he incorporated into the screenplay. Together, the two geniuses have created a masterpiece in Charulata.

5. Streer Patro
This has been one of my personal favourites. I also enjoyed the movie (by the same name) of the story. Mrinal was my heroine in youth. The way Tagore presented her in the story, mesmerised me in those impressionable days.


Last week, when I read “Streer Patra” again. I no longer felt the same way I used to about Mrinal. Obviously, something drastically changed in me since my initial encounter with Mrinal in my college days. I may even defy Tagore today, and stand in judgment about her, hoping Mrinal would excuse this turncoat acolyte.


Mrinal is the central character of this story. The whole story is narrated by her through the medium of a personal letter, addressed to her husband.


Mrinal is rather conceited, self-centered, opinionated, totally clueless, incurably romantic, stubborn and quite immature. She knows she is beautiful and that she is intelligent, and does not ever let us forget that. She makes open comparisons of her beauty and intelligence with those of other members of her husband’s family. Her sympathies lie with the family's cows or with the unfortunate sister of the sister-in-law. All that is fine. But when she totally fails her responsibilities as a wife at age 27 (no longer a child, therefore) it is unforgivable!


On a lark, I thought to put together a few lines on behalf of the hapless husband in the form of an imaginary response to Mrinal's audacious farewell letter. Here it is:


Priyo Mrinal,

I did not accompany you to Puri for I was in no need of the spiritual uplift that comes from visiting a holy place. I am not a religious person, as well you know. The only reason I vaguely thought of coming to Puri was to spend a few days by the sea with you and frankly talk about our marriage. It is a subject that definitely needed our combined attention.


But the distance that keeps us apart even when we are in the same house, in the same room, even in the same bed, would not have been any less had I accompanied you to Shri Kshetra. Our marriage and the subsequent fifteen years, only made us hardened strangers in the world of domesticity. Would you agree?


It is true you were chosen as my wife for your beauty. But being educated, and liberal in thought, I wished something deeper than beauty in my wife. And I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered your interest in reading and writing. I felt my silent wish for you was also granted.

You were a mere girl of twelve when we got married. I was doing my MA at the University, and later took to law. Your intellectual development flourished under my care. I supplied you with books that challenged and developed your intellect. I introduced you to Tagore and his liberating thought. This I did, without making you self-conscious. I also helped you with your writing. I was even a furtive admirer of your poems, it may surprise you to know.

But I never understood why you kept them secret from me. Yes, they had flaws; I did not see any great promise of your budding as a poetess. You lacked experience and skill in rhyme. Yet, I liked the poems, as they came straight from your heart. I waited for a day when you would share them with me, your husband who wished to be your friend, as well. Alas! I waited in vain, for that day never came in our fifteen years together.

When you turned seventeen I thought my touch would evoke a romantic response in you. But I was disappointed again. I was burning with desire; but you remained cool, aloof to my advances. You were not scared of me, and you talked non-stop when we were together in our room – about trivial matters and your angular interpretation of the day’s events. Strangely, you did not bother to know much about me. I entertained doubts about your intellectual ability too.

Then tragedy struck us. Our beautiful little girl died soon after she was born. Somehow you thought it was your personal tragedy. You withdrew even farther from me, deliberately, as though I was the cause of the child’s death. The whole thing seemed crazy to me, yet I remained a silent observer. It was a difficult childbirth, I almost lost you, as well. But thanks to that excellent British doctor, you survived.

You did not know how I mourned this tragedy in which I lost my only child, and nearly lost my wife. I never forgave myself for acquiring our daughter by what amounted to a rape. Sandhyatara, that loveliest of names. Mrinal, you refused to see beyond yourself.

Then, Bindu, appeared in our love-less, sullen lives. Suddenly, you found a cause to bring to the fore your combative self. Our whole family stood on one side, you ranged yourself on the other, holding Bindu close to you. That day, when I returned from work, I first heard the family’s version of the events. Later, you cornered me in my study. Your version was more rehearsed, dramatic and passionate and interspersed with tears.

I saw through your gambit to win me to your side against the family in this fight. I observed silently. My God, how manipulative you had become!

But I was determined, not to be swayed by your act. In fact, this Bindu woman did not mean a thing to me; it did not matter to me if she stayed or went. I had other problems of my own, which involved our marriage, you and me. I had no one to talk with about that, and remained silent through the whole drama.

You were not one to give up and accept my non-committal silence as an answer. Since you could not win me with your arguments, you held me tight and brought your beautiful face up close to me, so that I could see tears welling up those lovely eyes. Suddenly, I realised how beautiful you were. After our child died you had not been taking care of yourself, but ever since Bindu came, she took it upon herself to prettify you, my wife. Then, those heaving breasts innocuously reminded me of your scheme. And I shouted, rather loud: “No, if the family does not want Bindu to stay here, I insist that she go!”

You could not believe what you heard, nor could I, dear Mrinal. I felt that day something snapped in our already fragile relationship. I could see you too felt the signal.

Mrinal, I agree that you should cut yourself free from the sham of our marriage, and escape from my family. In all our fifteen years this relationship did not grow strong enough to hold us together. I admire your courage, I really do. You exceeded me there, and I am not too proud to admit it.

As always, you’re not good at planning. When you severed your connection with us, you did not think of your future finances. I will take care of that, not to worry.

"তোমাদের চরণতলাশ্রয়ছিন্ন" – thank you for saying this. I can walk away, free.

Sincerely,
Rabindra, the interloper.


Soma
The common strain that runs through all the five stories is the dissatisfaction of the female protagonists. This dissatisfaction and their unfulfilled lives were primarily on account of their being women.

Konkal
The nameless ghost of Konkal used to be a beautiful woman, but is now reduced to a skeleton. Her dissatisfaction runs deep, pursuing her beyond death, in her now pitiful state. She described her husband as being terrifying. She felt like a fish trapped by a fishing hook, pulled out by an alien being (namely her husband), from the watery body of life. When he died, she was labeled a “Vish Kanya” (Poisonous Woman) by her in-laws and returned to her parental home like a piece of damaged furniture.

Brimming with life and passion, in the height of her youth, she was left high and dry to lead the life of a grieving widow of an unloved husband, until death released her. The life of a Hindu widow was tough indeed in her time. She was luckier than most other women like her because she had a caring brother. But there was no solace, and no extinction of the passionate fire that burned within her. She still had a longing for love and sexual desires just any other normal human being of her age; those did not burn to ashes on the funeral pyre of her husband. Shoshishekhar could have married her that would have solved a lot of problems. But he neither had the strength nor the gumption to defy social norms and marry a widow.

When Shoshishekhar arranged his marriage with another woman, who would also bring in a fat dowry, our protagonist could not contain her sense of betrayal. She poisoned him and herself. She dressed as a bride before she died. She would have lived a happy and contented life if allowed to marry again; but what was possible for widowers was not allowed to widows.

Khudito Pashaan
Khudito Pashaan is a thriller, which is cleverly left unfinished by the author. The reader is left unfulfilled, longing to know what happened to the Iranian slave girl. There is no fully formed female protagonist in this story. The ghosts haunt the palace every night. No one survived a prolonged stay in the premises excepting for the madman who still stalks the grounds. The phantasmal experience entraps the story teller just like the beautiful ghosts who are entrapped in time, playing the same scenes as if in a play, again and again; till the victim joins them in death. Khudito Pashaan, literally means hungry stones. The hunger remains unsatisfied.


Monihara
Monihara narrates the story of an unsatisfied woman who sought fulfillment in her ornaments.

The narrator of the story is a man who makes sarcastic remarks about the disadvantages of college education in women. In his opinion, what women really want is confined by their taste for raw, tart mangoes, spicy chilies, and a strong, domineering husband. Indeed!!!!

Thus Monimallika was painted as a self-centered, conniving woman, who loved her ornaments more than anything else. The husband is described as a loving, harmless creature, who did all he could to make his wife happy. The narration carries on, dripping with sarcasm about women who revel in captivating wild men and utterly frustrated when they encounter a tame man, because they do not need to use all their allure, handed down from mother to daughter through generations, as an entrapment device. It seems that Monimallika was spoilt by the generosity of her husband who provided her with expensive clothes and ornaments.

Monimalika has been described as woman of few words, who is aloof by nature; she did not gossip with neighbours nor did she entertain Brahmins and beggars; she was not wasteful, was hard working, preferred to work instead of keeping an army of servants which she could well afford to. How dare she be different from most women around her who reveled in their cackling gossip sessions, who spent their time and energy observing endless, meaningless rituals, feeding Brahmins and beggars for the salvation of their souls.

Monimalika’s other crimes were that she was beautiful, maintained her youthfulness, and she was childless (in India childlessness is still the biggest crime for a woman, it’s always the woman’s fault, no one asks whether the husband was impotent or unable to impregnate). She was labeled ‘frigid’; her cold heart was incapable of entertaining the fire of love. The narrator goes on to describe the do's and don’ts of being a proper husband who is able to ‘extract’ love from his wife. Tagore affects a tongue-in-cheek reaction to this mentality in the form of laughter, which sounded like the calls of foxes in the nearby bushes.

Monimalika’s flight with her ornaments shows the basic insecurity she suffered from. Something was missing in her life. She replaced this ‘something’ with material things, that she would cling to, which may have grown into an obsession. Thus the drastic reaction when Phonibhushon wanted to pawn her ornaments to make good the losses in his business. She panicked as her security was in danger of being taken away from her. She did not “run away” with Modhushudan, he was merely a travel companion. She had no trust in him, so she wore all her ornaments; she would have to be killed to be parted from them.

Satyajit Ray incorporated a concrete ending to the tale in his movie version of Monihara. Ray depicted Monimalika as coming back from the dead to retrieve the new pearl necklace which Phonibhushon bought for her. Tagore in the original story keeps the reader guessing… Did Monimalika’s ghost come back to take Phonibhushon with her? Or was Phonibhushon sleep walking?

Noshto Neer
The female protagonist of Noshto Neer, Charulata was an intelligent woman. What ailed her were inactivity and boredom. Bhupoti was immersed in his work and had no time to spare for Charu, which resulted in her emotionally straying towards a young and vibrant Amol. Bhupoti and Charu were like a pair of parallel lines, used to being side by side without actually meeting at any point. Bhupoti is immersed in his newspaper, and Charu is left emotionally unfulfilled. Material comforts and objects are not enough to satisfy an intelligent woman.

Tagore put Nonda as a stark contrast. If Charu was Nonda, she would have been quite satisfied with married life; she would not have craved for emotional or intellectual gratification.

When his newspaper collapsed, Bhupoti sought Charu as a replacement, but Charu was not an inanimate object whose emotions and affections could be switched on and off at will. Bhupoti tried but his efforts were too little, too late. When he realised Charu’s soft corner for Amol his sense of betrayal was extremely selfish, just as a man might be expected to react. He understood that Charu wanted to leave Amol’s memories behind and start afresh with him in a far off place. But the man in him rejected her because of her emotional infidelity; to him she was tainted thus her company unbearable. He wanted to be alone as far away from her as possible.

Charu sensed this, and life drained from her face and being. Bhupoti quickly wanted to make amends by offering to take her with him. But Charu declined with whatever dignity she was left with.

Streer Potro
Mrinal of Streer Potro was beautiful and intelligent. A beautiful wife is treated like an expensive piece of furniture; she should be seen, but mute. For a woman, being intelligent is a curse indeed, as she cannot be confined to a narrow world, and be satisfied with material comforts and endless, inane rituals.
Mrinal did not while away time like most women of well-to-do families of her times. She was compassionate, though childless; she decided to shower her love on the cows reared in her household. She even saved a young goat from being butchered and eaten by the family. The appearance of Bindu was like a ray of light to her mundane world. Borobou, Mrinal’s sister-in-law was resigned to her fate but Mrinal fought against it all.

Bindu was just like the hapless little goat, at the mercy of Mrinal’s marital family for her very existence, for she had nowhere to go. Given a chance she would have existed unnoticed in an obscure corner of the huge household, sheltered by Mrinal’s love. But this was not to be, Bindu was torn away from Mrinal to be married off to a mad man. She ran away from him and returned to Mrinal as a last attempt to live. But seeing Mrinal’s position compromised, she went back to her marital house. Mrinal fought against all odds, and roped in her brother Sarat to help Bindu to escape with her to Puri.

But it was too late, Bindu had committed suicide.

Why do the Bindus have to die this way time and again? Why can’t they be treated with human dignity? Their only fault is that they are born female. All the women in the five stories had to die or were denied justice because they were women. Being intelligent was their biggest draw back; even their beauty could not protect them from a tragic fate.

Tagore wrote about them a hundred years ago but we still get to see Monimalika, Charulata, Mrinal, Bindu and the unnamed ghosts of Konkal and Khudito Pashaan, amongst us even today. Truly unfortunate are those who live, day after day, the life of the living dead, bound by invisible chains; only their wretched intelligence keeps ticking, counting hours, minutes, seconds – awaiting death to set them free.



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