(This article was originally published on 9 May 2015 and is being republished from The Quint’s archives to mark the death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.)
Tagore’s women are always strong. Be it Bimala in Ghare Baire, Labanya in Shehsher Kobita, Malati of Sadharon Meye or Chitrangada the warrior princess.
In Ghare Baire, adapted by Satyajit Ray in 1984 into a movie, Bimala the heroine essayed to perfection by Swatilekha Sengupta explores life outside her sheltered existence as an aristocrat’s wife. Against the backdrop of Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal she is emboldened to wage a social revolution of her own.
Then there is Binodini, individualistic, courageous with strong views on how she should lead her life, the protagonist of Choker Bali, does what she pleases – so what if it goes against how society wants widows to behave.
Tagore had a complex and nuanced view on Nationalism. While profoundly patriotic he hated violet intolerance. Instead his message was always that of a pacifist with profoundly spiritual and mystical leanings.
In Gora, probably Tagore’s finest novel, the fiery nationalist and staunch Hindu protagonist is confronted with a reality that sets him on a voyage of self-discovery about what the true Indian identity is about. In Elar Char Adhya, which may have been called ‘Love in the time of Revolution’ he cautions against getting too caught up in the politics and idealism of armed resistance, especially one led by a charismatic leader.
Or as Tagore expert, Swapan Chakravarty sums it up in The Hindu: “Manipulation of insurgent idealism by a guerrilla leadership.” - A message that is relevant even today.
Last month Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said in Delhi that Kabuliwala had contributed more to brand Afghanistan than billions of dollars of advertising could have. The simple storyline of the bond between Abdur Rahman Khan, a dry fruit seller and Mini, a little girl who reminds Khan of his daughter in Kabul transcends all age groups and nationalities.
Tagore throughout his life talked about universalism and bridging the divide between the East and the West and here his internationalism and humanism is on full display.
Who better than a master poet to decipher the secrets of the human heart? Love triangles, gender power plays, forbidden passion...Tagore has chronicled it all.
Watching Madhabi Mukherjee bloom in the 1964 Charulata, adapted from Tagore’s Nastanirh (Broken Nest) is a delight. The Bengali Renaissance was in full swing and modern Indian woman is aptly symbolised ahead of its time by Charulata -- and those opera glasses of her!
The emancipation of women and power-play between the genders, figures strongly in Tagore’s works. In Yogayog, Kumudini has been brought up by her liberal brother to read Kalidas plays and play. Her independent spirit clashes with that of her husband Madhusudhan.
On the flip side there is Nikhilesh the modern zamindar husband who encourages his wife to read, debate and form her own point-of-view about the world, empowering her when such freedom for women was frowned upon.