The Home And The World By Rabindranath Tagore — A Book Review

A Still from Satyajit Ray’s The Home and The World (1984) Adaptation
Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World, originally, Ghare-Baire first published in 1916, is one of the beautiful examples of Indian writing and now achieved a cult status among the bibliophiles after 100 years of its first publication. At the surface, it is a simple love triangle woven in the backdrop of Swadeshi Movement of 1906. But if you look at it again, it is much more than a love triangle, it is a political and social commentary veiled up in the package of a love story.

Tagore’s characters seem real with all their humane mundaneness. He has given the soul and flesh to even a minute character that has nothing to do but to fill the space. Therefore, it is not easy to understand what is there under the skin of his characters even when they are figurable and easy to relate.

The story starts with Bimala, who describes herself as a proper Hindu wife’s life of a Bengali maharaja, Nikhil, confined in the four of walls of zenana for past nine years, much like her sister-in-law, Bara Rani. She thinks of herself as a lucky person, as her husband is solely devoted to her unlike other men of the lineage who were engaged in either drinking or whoring. However, at one point of time, she curses herself for having such idealistic husband.

I could not forget those words: “You are his dissipation, and will be his ruin!” Today I feel — if a man needs must have some intoxicant, let it not be a woman.

It is her character that underwent a series of transformation from a proper Hindu wife to innocent flag bearer of Swadeshi movement to an awakened soul, Shakti. In the light of Sandip, the wholeness of Nikhil, and preciousness of Amulya, she identifies her truest form.

Nikhil, the maharaja, described as a man who is not modern in his outlook but also in his thoughts. He is devoted to his wife and wants his wife to be equal to him in all departments. He hired Miss Gilby to tutor her in Modern Languages and encouraged her to converse with his male friends. One can gain insight about him, in one episode, when Sandip mocks him for not allowing Bimala to read a book on sex-related issues. To which he replies,

If I could read the book, why not Bimala too? All I want to say is, that in Europe people look at everything from the viewpoint of science. But man is neither mere physiology, nor biology, nor psychology, nor even sociology. For God’s sake don’t forget that. Man is infinitely more than the natural science of himself. You laugh at me, calling me the schoolmaster’s pupil, but that is what you are, not I. You want to find the truth of man from your science teachers, and not from your own inner being.

Not Bimala, he is concerned about the community in whole. As in Panchu case,

I had got to know Panchu through my master. He was extremely poor, nor was I in a position to do anything for him; so I supposed this present was intended to procure a tip to help the poor fellow to make both ends meet.

Similarly, in theft episode, when Police wrongly presses charge against his guard Kasim and Amulya Babu

The police had been in great form these last few days arresting now this one, now that. Each day some innocent person or other would be brought along to enliven the assembly in my office-room. One more such unfortunate, I supposed, must have been brought in that day.

On another hand, Sandip is the exact opposite of the Nikhil. Though he regards himself as proprietor of the truth for the cause (Swadeshi movement) but he does not believe in such doctrines and can go to any extent for his personal gains.

The things that ought to happen! The truth we must build up will require a great deal of untruth in the process. Those who have made their way in the world have created truth, not blindly followed I t… And so I will bear what you people are pleased to call false witness, as they have done who have created empires, built up social systems, founded religious organizations. Those who would rule do not dread untruths; the shackles of truth are reserved for those who will fall under their sway. Have you not read history? Do you not know that in the immense cauldrons, where vast political developments are simmering, untruths are the main ingredients?

It is also important to note how Tagore closes out Sandip’s perspective in the middle of the story, but he kept him there in the story until very end through Bimala and Nikhil.

As I have mentioned, Tagore has not sketched his major characters in full humane mundaneness but also gave a tinge of colors to his minor characters like Bara Rani, Chandrakant Babu, Panchu, and Amulya. Where first two Bara Rani and Chandrakant Babu acts as a mirror to Bimala, Nikhil, and Sandip. But they also resemble two different sections of society, Bara Rani, miserable widows who are mistreated, even by the women, themselves. Chandrakant Babu, a refined and experienced aged-society, respected but unheard. The other two Panchu and Amulya also reflects two different facets of the society, one who is old, poor and ramshackle by the orthodoxy of the society, and other, who is young, educated, but uncertain about his future.

Though Tagore’s characters are simple and easily relatable, they have political and social undertones. Each one of the Tagore’s characters represents a section of Bengal or rather say India. Bimala represents Bengal (or India) who is leaving her past custom and accepting the new ones. She also represents the India who is being rammed by two different ideologies, one which is represented by Nikhil, and other which is imitated by Sandip. Nikhil represents the reformist section of India who is not in favor of full independence till they become self-reliable and not able to get rid of their internal problems such as caste-based discrimination, Hindu and Muslims communal conflicts, women’s rights, and so on. Sandip sans his nefarious schemes likes of Indian National Congress who is in favor of full independence and working on internal problems after getting the full freedom.

After reaching the end of the novel, one can say, Tagore has favored Nikhil’s reformist perspective than Sandip’s revolutionary one. But he has given both perspectives a fair share in his writing. It is left us to choose between the two perspectives.

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