Rabindranath Tagore, whose songs serve as a repository of hope for those who see it as source of spirituality and others who look at it as cultural achievement of a Bengali poet, was born on Baishakh 25, 1268. He became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. The greatest author of Bengali language, died on Shraban 22, 1348. Today is his 79th death anniversary.
Known mostly for his poetry, Tagore wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs. Of Tagore’s prose, his short stories are perhaps most highly regarded. He is indeed credited with originating the genre in Bangla.
Looking back at Rabindranath’s literary works 79 years after his death, it can be said that Rabindranath has left behind a literary oeuvre which keeps him alive. His works make writers, poets and readers of all generations look back and imbibe the essence with renewed enthusiasm.
Rabindranath Tagore was the first successful short story writer in Bengali literature. His achievement, to take the short story to the masses, is highly laudable.
As a romantic poet and writer, Rabindranath’s focus was on people, or rather humanity at large, nature and lived experience. The themes and characters of Rabindranath’s short stories are as varied as his oeuvre. What resonated with the people back when they were published and the readers who still go to them is that the poet-story writer had this knack of shedding light on uncharted territories, as is the case with the story ‘Kabuliwala’, ‘Khudita Pashan’ or ‘Hungry Stones’, ‘Chhuti’ or ‘The Homecoming’, ‘The Postmaster’ etc.
Rabindranath portrayed various characters in his short stories, but women occupy a special niche in his short stories. His women rarely break the familial norms, or so it seems as the mould of femininity remains immutable. But, he places them in situations where women’s place in society is sometimes re-examined and even questioned. In ‘Haimanti’, or ‘Strir Patra (Wife’s Letter) as well as in many other stories and novels, the women are portrayed as slowly trying to push the boundary that patriarchy has put in place.
Yet, the heroines of Rabindranath’s are not as rebellious as any contemporary feminists. There is resistance but there is no word in the mouths of these women that defines it as such.
The sensitivity Rabindranath thought was essential to women makes these characters look docile, they, in many stores, seem to accept the superstitions and irrational customs of the society. No matter how much they suffer, they often successfully hide their pain. This stereotypical behaviour also gave the author a chance to beautifully illustrate the deplorable position of women in the society during his time.
Among the women who were forced to eke out a life under an oppressive condition, ‘Haimanti’ perhaps is the one that first comes to mind. It is a story of a beautiful and talented young woman becoming a bride and then slowly become a victim of neglect by her husband and in-laws who refuse to lend her agency.
Bindu is another character in the story titled ‘Wife’s Letter’ who was pushed to edges by the cruelty of family and society and was forced to choose the path of suicide. Another character of Rabindranath is Nirupama. This female protagonist of ‘Dena-Paona’ eventually died due to non-payment of dowry.
Khiroda of ‘Bicharok’ meets with an altogether different fate. Here, Rabindranath talks about widow marriage as at that time widow marriage in Hindu communities was seen as a sacrilege.
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