Rabindranath Tagore - a poet, writer, playwright, composer and philosopher worshipped by millions - was also a man heavily influenced by the fascinating women who were part of his life.
“Gender and social issues in the works of Rabindranath Tagore” was the topic of discussion at a function organised here on Wednesday by the All-India Women's Conference to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of the Nobel laureate. Lok Sabha member and chief guest Girija Vyas inaugurated the event with singer Jayati Ghosh setting the mood for the rest of the day.
“Tagore grew up with his 14 siblings in his family's Jorasanko mansion, his family were extremely rich upper-caste Pirali Brahmins and the women who married into the family were often very young, uneducated and overwhelmed by the intellectual and social superiority of the Tagore household but almost all of them educated themselves to be worthy and equal of the Tagore men,” said Ms. Aruna Chakravarti who talked in detail about the women who looked after Tagore in his early life and formed the bridges to his later success.
His sister-in-law, Jnandanandini entered the household when she was seven and is credited with being progressive. “She attended the governor's party alone and even travelled alone as a heavily pregnant woman along with her three children to England and set up house, awaiting her husband's arrival. She was also the first women in their household to step out of the joint family establishing her own home, her husband lived elsewhere but their marriage remained rock-steady – this woman was famous in the family and Rabindranath was fascinated,” she added.
Sister-in-law Kadambari Devi was nine when she entered the household and Rabindranath seven. “She was his childhood princess and was to become his best friend, his mother, his strongest critique and his muse. Their relationship went through three stages – the first stage where he saw her as a lost princess that needed protection, the second where she mothered him and the third when they were both teenagers and were developing a love for poetry,” said Ms. Chakravarti, adding that she took her life by consuming opium at the age of 26. Rabindranath dedicated many of his poems to her long after her demise.
“In art, man reveals himself and not his objects,” this quote may very well reveal Rabindranath Tagore's conflict between his modern ideas of women empowerment but his helplessness against the social milieu of his times. English Prof. Ms. Ajanta Dutta took the audience through the subtle messages that are revealed in Home and the World (Ghare Bhaire) where the central character Bimala is encouraged to embrace modernity and after a journey where she loses the battle of infidelity eventually goes back to the protective arms of tradition and her husband who forgives her.
What conclusions can be arrived from this story? Was Tagore really a feminist? - These thought provoking questions were asked by Kamala Nehru College Principal, Dr. Minoti Chatterjee and were debated at length.
“The man created a lot of positive energy about women; he believed in women empowerment, he had a lot of intelligent ideas about women but he could not go completely against his readership who wrote to him askance with the idea of an adulterous woman having a chance at happiness – ‘kill her off or send her to an ashram', were some of the suggestions made by his readers for his serialized stories.