Tagore's Ideas of the New Woman: The Making and Unmaking of Female Subjectivity
Publication Year: 2017
A notable contribution on Tagore's vision of womanhood This book theorizes the continuous reconfigurations—‘making’ and ‘unmaking’—of female subjectivity in Tagore's life, his times, and his works. This transhistorical approach in the book makes gender formations and discourses of the past relevant and necessary to the understanding of postmodern gender issues and ideologies.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
Part I: Beyond Essentialism
Part II: Nature and Spirituality
- Chapter 3: Gender and the Spiritual Quest in Tagore's Poetry
- Chapter 4: Rabindranath's Chandalika: Woman as Prakriti and Prakriti in Woman
Part III: Realm of Domesticity
- Chapter 5: Domestic Space in Tagore's Fiction
- Chapter 6: Tagore's Docile Daughters: Ambivalence in Family Life
- Chapter 7: Re-reading Rabindranath Tagore's ‘Streer Patra’ (The Wife's Letter, 1914) in the Light of Epistolary Culture in Colonial India
Part IV: Selfhood and Agency
- Chapter 8: How to Fool Women: Tagore's Tales of Seduction
- Chapter 9: The Dichotomies of Body and Mind Spaces: The Widows in Chokher Bali and Chaturanga
- Chapter 10: ‘Bimala Is What She Is’: Re-reading Bimala and Gender (In)justice in Rabindranath's The Home and the World
Part V: Women in Travel Writings
- Chapter 11: The ‘Other’ Women in Tagore's Travels to Europe
- Chapter 12: Rabindranath Tagore's Travelogues and the Absent Female Voice
Part VI: Women in Other Arts
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Copyright © Chandrava Chakravarty and Sneha Kar Chaudhuri, 2017
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First published in 2017 by
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ISBN: 978-93 81345-16-0 (PB)
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© Supriya Chaudhuri, 2017, Chapter 5 in this book
© Dipannita Datta, 2017, Chapter 10 in this book
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In Memory of Jasodhara Bagchi
Rabindranath Tagore is a writer who contains multitudes, so to speak. The more I learn about his work, the more I am astounded by the breadth and depth of his achievements and the profound and wide-ranging nature of his preoccupations. The task is made difficult not only by his infinite variety and prolific output but also by a mind that was omnivorous and a personality that was ever-restless, ever-evolving.
Tagore's Ideas of the New Woman: The Making and Unmaking of Female Subjectivity, the thought-provoking and rich collection of essays Chandrava Chakravarty and Sneha Kar Chaudhuri have assembled in the pages that follow, based on new research and re-evaluation that took place at Tagore's hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary. A conference was organized by the Department of English of the State University of West Bengal on this occasion. The essays are all on one topic—‘Rabindranath Tagore and Woman’. My reading of the book quickly revealed to me how contemporary, innovative and refreshing the perspectives contained in these pages are. These essays also reminded me yet again of how complex and even contradictory were Tagore's views on the ‘woman question’ in India, how much he was of his time and place in his prejudices and actions at crucial moments, such as his daughters' marriages, and yet how far ahead of his time and space he could be on other occasions in engaging women in creative projects, or in readying them to embrace their future on their own through his school and university. Whether in his poems, songs, prose essays (in English as well as Bengali), letters, autobiographical writings, travel tales, plays, dance-dramas, short fiction and novels, and in his paintings, he depicted, introspected, and envisioned the role of women that was veering slowly but steadily away from orthodoxy and stasis, and progressing climactically and inevitably towards freedom and increased self-expression.
The editors have organized these essays in a way to help the reader move from an understanding of Tagore's dealings with [Page x]women in the domestic space, ghare, the household, in his short and long fiction, to women being given agency to proceed beyond domesticity and enter baire, the wider and modernizing world outside their homes. Aware that to encompass Tagore's achievements in representing and re-visioning women they would have to go beyond his literary works, Chandrava Chakravarty and Sneha Kar Chaudhuri have also included thoughtful and probing essays that take into account his songs, paintings and dance dramas. But a few of the essayists go even beyond Tagore's works to track their transformation into captivating films.
Chakravarty and Kar Chaudhuri have dedicated their book to the memory of Professor Jasodhara Bagchi, professor of English at Jadavpur University and the author of the keynote essay of the conference that gave the impetus to this volume. Fittingly, her essay provides the key needed to enter the volume, for she sees Tagore's works as distinctive in the way they subtly open up more and more spaces for women, in contradictory and yet compelling positions that led them to cross boundaries and disrupt conventional expectations of what a woman's place should be.
As Professor Bagchi points out, we now have the advantage of being able to see Tagore's works on women from perspectives informed by intense activity in gender, sexuality, and so on, taking advantage of recent developments in critical and cultural theory. In the Introduction the editors contextualize a Tagore disturbed on the one hand, by colonization and modernity, and tied on the other, to persistent patriarchal attitudes. Helpfully, they reflect on the modernizing Thakurbari, or family home, in which Tagore grew up and the contrary strains in the larger society that he moved in that seemed to lead him on many an occasion into ambivalent and even contradictory positions. Such ambivalence and contradictions are at times immensely productive for imaginative writers and artists and thus worthy of sympathetic consideration and not of a historical denunciation.
Some of the essayists have contextualized Tagore's works by looking at contemporary epistolary works, essays and polemical tracts and debates reflecting in one way or the other on the roles women should play in the domestic and the public spheres. Tagore's ambivalence on some of the issues associated with the [Page xi]‘woman question’, the strong stance he takes on a few of them as well as his conservatism in others are thus situated by these essayists through the examination of discursive formations, on issues such as widow remarriage and widow burning, for instance, of the classic Tagore novel Choker Bali (Grit in the Eye) and stories such as ‘Jibita o Mrita’ (Alive and Dead), to name only a couple of the fictional works analysed in its pages. But these essays leave little doubt that even though on occasions Tagore has appeared to be retrogressive about some aspects of women's lives such as early marriage, he has, on the whole, depicted in his works women becoming self-responsible, struggling for alternative spaces and transgressing the roles that patriarchal society had assigned to them. Indeed, as we learn from more than one of the essays of the book, in his final decades Tagore became not only transgressive but also subversive as far as conventional notions of women's status and sexuality were concerned. The essays on the late Tagore included in the book, that is to say, his later fiction, plays and dance dramas, are therefore intriguing forays into what Edward Said had so suggestively focused on in his posthumously published book, Late Style (1906), where the Palestinian-American intellectual and theorist sees the very greatest artists as old men (Said does not discuss any woman artist!) who, having had intimations of mortality, forge a unique and disturbing manner of depicting reality. Surely the paintings are instances of such re-visioning!
Throughout Tagore's Ideas of the New Woman: The Making and Unmaking of Female Subjectivity, I came across essays that indicate that this book has done what such volumes can or should do at their best: make us reexamine a writer who has achieved canonical status, reveal how his works have become classics because of his ability to delve into contemporary reality and represent what he finds there in arresting words and images, relating them to readers in such a way that we realize that such a writer and his works are classics also because they speak to us—are our contemporaries, as Jan Kott had so famously indicated through the title of one of his books Shakespeare: Our Contemporary. Surely the reader will also be as thankful as I am to quite a few of the essayists of the volume because of the ingenuity they have shown in taking the subject of Tagore and women to new and unexpected areas. A captivating essay is of the ‘other [Page xii]woman’, which is to say European woman, for his travel writings show the acuteness with which he recorded his encounters with them as well as his evolving attitude to them. The essays on the way Tagore's fictional heroines have had an afterlife in their film versions reminded me of Walter Benjamin theorizing on the afterlife of a text in its translations, for they are suggestive of the manner in which Tagore's short or long fiction are being transformed in celluloid, not only brilliantly by Satyajit Ray or ingeniously by Rituparna Ghosh but also quite imaginatively by the gifted but lesser known director Bappaditya Bandopadhyay.
I am quite certain that these essays will be of excellent use for readers in our time. Not only will scholars studying the book be amply rewarded by these diverse essays on a subject that is of enduring interest, but they will also be able to apply the insights and interpretative techniques deployed in them to other Tagore texts. And while his wife and daughters and Kadambari Devi and Victoria Ocampo are mentioned in a number of the essays, the time has come to consider the ways in which his relationship with his mother, sisters and nieces (Indira Devi in particular) and other women such as Lady Ranu Mukerjee, impacted on his creative works. Reading the book was a pleasurable as well as a learning experience and I can only hope it will be widely circulated and read.University of DhakaBangladesh
The Department of English, West Bengal State University, offers courses on Tagore's fiction, nonfiction and drama in translation and is thus well positioned to present this collection of Tagore's thoughts on women and their changing selfhood under modernity. An international conference on this very theme was organized by the department as a result of the UGC's directive on commemorating the one hundredth and fiftieth birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore in 2011, and this book has in many ways emerged as a result. We have also invited essays on areas which had not been covered, for instance, the essays by Debashish Raychaudhuri and Dipannita Datta.
We were generously supported by the former Vice Chancellor, Professor Ashok Ranjan Thakur and received the support of all other departmental members. We would like to thank, Uma Das Gupta, Malini Bhattacharya, Mandakranta Bose, Sukanta Chaudhuri, Tirthankar Bose, Supriya Chaudhuri, Krishna Sen, Tapati Gupta, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Amita Dutt, Jayati Gupta, Ashok Viswanathan, Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay and Nandini Bhattacharya. The contributors were remarkably generous in holding their essays for this book and patient with delays.
We especially recall the contribution of Jasodhara Bagchi, who sadly is not with us today. Appreciating the concept note of the conference, she had readily agreed to deliver the keynote address and also offered detailed advice on publication. We are honoured to dedicate this book to her. Krishna Sen, former professor of English at the University of Calcutta, was our philosopher and guide. Rajat Kanta Ray and Prabudhha Raha have helped us in various capacities and we offer them our heartfelt thanks.
[Page xiv]We thank Stree-Samya for its editorial support. Nothing can belittle the importance of our students whose energy, curiosity and active participation made possible everything that would have remained a far-flung dream, both physically and intellectually. Last but not the least, a sincere note of gratitude to our family members for the emotional support, understanding and encouragement they offer in all our ventures.West Bengal State University Barasat, North 24-ParganasWest Bengal
The essay ‘Woman’, delivered as a lecture during Tagore's 1916–17 American tours and later published in the collection Personality: Lectures Delivered in America in 1921, was Tagore's attempt to establish a rapport with his American audiences by upholding the uniqueness of the Indian concept of liberated womanhood in the wake of the women's liberation movements in the western world. What he achieved were sweeping generalizations which explained neither the western perception of womanhood nor the Indian notion of the feminine. On a close reading, the essay reveals that Tagore's thoughts were inflected by disparate factors: the deep ideological crisis in which Tagore plunged after World War I, the imperative to create a cultural bridge between the aggression of western culture and India, the traditional veneration of the female deity in Indian (Hindu) culture,1 the colonial reconfiguration of Indian womanhood which was transcultural in nature, the impact of a strong patriarchal way of life in a Brahmo family on Tagore, and Tagore's own belief in woman's emancipation. A close reading of the essay ‘Woman’ reveals to sensitive readers a confusion of ideas. Tagore perceptively observes that the history of the world has been that of a masculine civilization in which woman's presence and voice has been relegated as marginal. As against this man-made, aggressive civilization, he upholds the increasing importance of woman [Page xvi]as the harbinger of harmony and stability. What Tagore celebrates is the passivity of feminine nature as a balm for the bruises caused by the power-mongering masculine civilization of the world culminating in World War I:
For woman's function is the passive function of the soil, which not only helps the tree to grow but keeps its growth within limits. … Woman is endowed with the passive qualities of chastity, modesty, devotion and power of self-sacrifice in a greater measure than man is. It is the passive quality in nature which turns its monster forces into perfect creations of beauty—taming the wild elements to tenderness fit for the service of life. This passive quality has given woman that large and deep placidity which is so necessary for the healing and nourishing and storing of life. (Tagore 2004: 27)
Instead of talking directly about the feminine principle in the cosmos who is looked upon as Prakriti/Shakti in the Hindu Shastras, Tagore alludes to the feminine as a life-giving, nurturing power which can resist the destructive propensities of the world around. However, instead of regarding this power as active, Tagore regards the feminine nature to be characterized by passiveness, thus attempting to posit it as an antidote to the much celebrated virility of western civilization. Again, when he regards woman as the repository of certain qualities traditionally attributed to her in Hindu patriarchal society such as chastity, modesty, devotion and sacrifice, Tagore seems to conflate two practically irreconcilable ideas—the mystic, metaphysical perception of the feminine as the procreative, natural, life-giving force in the cosmos; and the historically–culturally constructed and interpellated gendered category of woman. This confusion appears to inform the entire essay. He observes that while liberating themselves from patriarchal codes, women of the western world have embraced a certain degree of ‘restlessness’, and have proved untrue to their nature. What then is the true nature of woman? Tagore resorts to an unqualified essentialism by claiming the domestic sphere to be woman's actual domain irrespective of culture, place and history. He presents ‘woman’ as a homogeneous category characterized by certain qualities that constitute her essence:
Wherever there is something which is concretely personal and human, there is the woman's world. The domestic world is the world where every [Page xvii]individual finds his worth as an individual, therefore his value is not the market value, but the value of love; that is to say, the value that God in his infinite mercy has set upon all his creatures. This domestic world has been the gift of God to woman. … God has sent woman to love the world, which is a world of ordinary things and events. (Tagore 2004: 229) [Chandrava Chakravarty's emphasis]
It would be meaningless to conjecture whether Tagore's views on woman were accepted by his American audience in 1916. A twenty-first century reader would perhaps refrain from being merely judgmental about Tagore's observations and seek to explore the historical factors that shaped the mind of the poet. What needs to be recognized is that the contradictions were ingrained in Tagore partly because of his upbringing in the Jorasanko Thakurbari and partly because of the discursively turgid times that formed the social environment nurturing Rabindranath's mind and soul.II
The Jorasanko Thakurbari where Tagore was born in 1861 was an abode of contradictions. We can, however, return to the Jorasanko Thakubari and to Tagore's divided consciousness a little later once we recognize that contradictions were also embedded in the colonial construction of modernity (or modernities) in Bengal, many pioneers of which came from the Tagore family. To talk about the historical and ideological significance of the woman's question in colonial Bengal would be a repetitive exercise since such large corpus scholarly works has been produced on it. We can, however, very briefly, mention that the ideological contradictions of the Jorasanko family needs also to be seen in the context of the historical moment. This leads to the recognition that the Tagore family, with all its conservatism and avant-garde initiatives, embodies a vision of India caught up in the cross current of opposing ideologies: the antagonism between reformist and revivalist trends, between the moderate and extremist elements in politics and, most significantly, the changing relationship between the home and the world.
When Dwarkanath Tagore was a minor, the Thakurbari was a devout Vaishnav family. Dwarkanath and his pious wife, Digambari, worshipped Lakshmi and Janardan. As Dwarkanath's business [Page xviii]prospered he was drawn to western culture, and indulged in a dissipated life. Digambari never approved of Dwarkanath's anglicized lifestyle and gradually estranged herself from her husband: ‘Digambari did not falter in the path of duty. Except for looking after [Dwarkanath's] material comforts (seva) she severed all relations with him. Her devotion to her husband was so great that no outsider ever learnt anything about this step’ (Deb 2010: 16). She had such deep disgust for the kind of life Dwarkanath lived that she bathed in seven drums of Ganga water after talking to him on family matters. Even Dwarkanath, who had renounced the orthodox Hindu lifestyle, commented after Digambari's death that Goddess Lakshmi had abandoned him. Nevertheless, it was Dwarkanath who deserves credit for creating a distinct lifestyle for the Thakurbari people. He came out of the narrow groove of religious orthodoxy, blended the orient and the occident in his aesthetic taste and paved the way for his son Debendranath and grandson Satyendranath. Without him the Tagore family would never have emerged as a strong pillar of ‘modern’ Bengal.
We need to remember that women of the Tagore household were never so rigidly constrained by the patriarchal dictates of Hindu society as other Hindu women. The reason was perhaps that as pirali Brahmins, they lived like outcasts in Hindu society, and could easily flout orthodox norms.2 Maharshi Debendranath's wife, Sarada Devi, was literate and a paid Vaishnavi was appointed to teach her religious scriptures and epics. Maharshi himself, though conservative in several matters, was keenly interested in the education of the women of his household. His daughters were taught at home to read and write. His eldest daughter, Saudamini, was sent to Bethune School and entreated by her father to teach her other siblings. Her memories of her father, Pitrismriti, do not depict Maharshi as an iconoclast.3 In fact, he conformed to several orthodox Hindu customs, strictly maintained the divide between the andar- and the bahirmahal and did not stand by radical reform movements like abolition of sati, or widow remarriage; instead he encouraged traditional customs followed by the women of the Tagore family. However, the education of his daughters was a matter of prime concern to Debendranath and he encouraged them to indulge in literary activities. His daughter Swarnakumari became a successful writer in Bengali.
[Page xix]The first iconoclastic move came from his ICS son Satyendranath who had a mind far ahead of his time. He not only demolished the barrier between the inner and the outer houses, but also trained his wife, Jnanadanandini, to become the very icon of emancipated Bengali womanhood in the heyday of the Bengal Renaissance. Her personality was fashioned both by her husband and herself to mirror a successful blend of the East and the West. Her journey, however, was not without impediments. The Maharshi did not approve of Satyendranath's indulgence towards his wife, but nothing could deter Satyendranath from encouraging his wife to break free from the traditional mould. Jnanadanandini went to England alone with her infant children to join her husband, educated herself, changed her mode of dressing in the traditional saree for public occasions and also pioneered the nuclear family by beginning to live with her husband in a separate house. The trend set by Jnanadanandini continued to inspire and reshape the other women of the Tagore family:
Dawn was breaking over Calcutta. The first rays of the sun had just crossed the boundary of the sky and fallen on the roof of the mansion. … Two Arab steeds, treading the dew-laden grass, emerged onto the hard surface of the road. Leaving the main entrance behind, they trotted towards the Maidan. Everyone gaped in silence and disbelief. The two men seemed oblivious to all these people. No, an error. Lo! One of the riders was a lady! The erect horsewoman in full riding habit was Kadambari, wife of Jyotirindranath Tagore. (Deb 2010: 1)
It would be wrong to suppose from the examples of the Thakurbari women that most of the women in Bengali society embraced an enlightened outlook. Nevertheless, the influence of the women of Thakurbari in the colonial phase was immense in upholding an alternative female identity that challenged the traditional models of womanhood in Hindu society. They educated themselves braving the fear that the act of reading/writing turns a woman into a widow; they came out of the andarmahal and many of them attended schools; they indulged unhindered in literary compositions, organized house functions and often performed in them, edited journals, managed the works of the zamindari, [Page xx]while excelling at the same time in several household accomplishments. Chitra Deb writes about Kadambari, ‘Kadambari's role in the Tagore family is memorable for her aptitude in acting and singing. Jyotirindranath, already an appreciator of drama, had been further encouraged by his talented wife. When the Jorasanko Theatre became defunct, he began composing plays, satires and musical dramas’ (ibid.: 84). These dramatic compositions were performed in the courtyard of the andarmahal and Kadambari took part in them. Although the divide between the inner and the outer houses were much relaxed during Kadambari's time, the Thakurbari still maintained its peculiar combination of enlightened humanism and conservatism. As Deb tells us that when Kadambari participated in the plays, no questions were raised as there was no outsider to see her (ibid.). We must remember that the same Kadambari rode her Arabian horse in the Maidan. One can understand that Tagore had seen in his early days many enlightened navinas (the new women) in his own house. Tagore's wife, Bhabatarini, was transformed to Mrinalini (she was renamed thus after her marriage) as she was regularly trained to talk and carry herself like the other enlightened women of the family under the tutelage of either Neepamoyee, the wife of Hemendranath, the third son of Debendranath, and thus her sister-in-law, or Jnanadanandini. She was sent to Loreto school, given regular lessons in music, piano and English while at home she received training in the Sanskrit language. Despite being considerably talented, her predominant role in Tagore's family was that of a housewife, who lived for the well-being of others, and made daring sacrifices to fulfil the dreams of her husband.
Rabindranath's attitude to his daughters is also marked by shocking contradictions. The poet's ambiguous attitude to women and his duality towards womanhood has been explored in Chapter 6, Sanjukta Dasgupta ‘Tagore's Docile Daughters: Ambivalence in Family Life.’ The poet was very fond of his daughters, left no stone unturned in educating them and in trying to attune their minds to the higher ideals of life. But it remains a mystery why Tagore hastily married such talented girls at very young ages. Madhurilata was married when she was fourteen; Renuka and Atashi (Mira) at the young age of eleven. We have to remember that Tagore believed in woman's emancipation and also in a higher marriageable age for [Page xxi]women. Yet his decisions in regard to his beloved daughters had been contrary to his publicly proclaimed ideals. One reason could be that a hefty portion of the dowry and the expenses for the marriages was borne by Maharshi's zamindari. Hence, the hurry to marry off the daughters when Maharshi was alive. The, otherwise radical Rabindranath, also yielded to social custom and paid a huge amount as dowry to satisfy the demand of Madhurilata's mother-in-law. Later Tagore wrote to a friend: ‘There have been many weddings in our family. It is only at my daughter's marriage that there was haggling over every aspect’ (cited in ibid.: 208). This is the same Rabindranath who had critiqued the evil customs of society in his literary works and also undertook the courageous task of introducing co-education in Shantiniketan. While as a poet Tagore often idealized feminine power, as a father his advices to Madhurilata prior to her marriage were thoroughly conservative. Madhurilata's response enables us to construct the father's words: ‘I shall try my best to carry out your advice. Besides remembering he [her husband] is superior to me in every respect and that I am not his equal, I shall also try to improve his home’ (ibid.: 209). In an essay Tagore justifies the system of early marriages in India, despite the fact that as a socially conscious individual he was also aware of the evils of early marriages, especially, for girls. But while defending the Indian marriage Tagore effusively supports the lofty ideals which underlined the custom in ‘The Indian Ideal of Marriage’:
There is a particular age, said India, at which this attraction between the sexes reaches its height, so if marriage is to be regulated according to the social will, it must be finished with before such age. Hence, the Indian custom of early marriage. These must have been the lines of argument, in regard to married love, pursued in our country. For the purpose of marriage, spontaneous love is unreliable, its proper cultivation should yield the best results,— such was the conclusion,— and this cultivation should begin before marriage. Therefore from their earliest years, the husband as an idea, is held up before our girls, in verse and story, through ceremonial and worship. When at length they get this ‘husband’, he is to them not a person but a principle, like Loyalty, Patriotism, or such other abstractions which owe their immense strength to the fact that the best part of them is our own creation and therefore part of our inner being. (Tagore, Bichitra Online)[Page xxii]
This might explain why Tagore has been particularly conservative in his advices to Madhurilata. He was, perhaps, trying to inculcate the high ideals on which marriages in India were traditionally based. Tagore values it as the foundation of a stable, healthy society and exalts the role of the mother above that of the beloved. He writes in the same essay:
Woman, let me repeat, has two aspects,— in one she is the Mother; in the other, the Beloved. I have already spoken of the spiritual endeavour that characterizes the first, viz., the striving, not merely for giving birth to her child, but for creating the best possible child,— not as an addition to the number of men, but as one of the heroic souls who may win victory in man's eternal fight against evil in his social life and natural surroundings. As the Beloved, it is woman's part to infuse life into all the aspirations of man; and the spiritual power that enables her to do so I have called charm, and was known in India by the name of shakti.
In upholding the depth and profundity of the Indian tradition Tagore combines the Hindu revivalist view of woman as the builder of charitas, and the western conception of woman as a romantic partner, but gives it a typically Indian dimension by interpreting her love as manifestation of her spiritual power or shakti. Although Tagore strongly negates sexual equality, positing marriage as a union based on the devotion of woman towards the abstract ideal of a husband, he also asserts that if a marriage fails to uphold this ideal union then it should be dissolved. Rabindranath's decision to support his youngest daughter Atashilata against an incompatible marriage brings to the fore a radical father who lived up to his own convictions. As a responsible father he felt that it was his duty to protect his daughter from humiliation and disrespect, and wrote to his son-in-law Nagendranath: ‘In Madras I saw that Mira was scared of you and was apprehensive of being insulted by you in public. I then realized that your basic natures are not compatible.’ Referring to the rupture between Nagendra and his daughter, Tagore further writes: ‘It is beyond me to try and heal the breach by threat or force. I cannot imagine anything more cruel and demeaning’ (cited in Deb 2010: 223). As a father Tagore seems to have felt guilty for Mira's ill fate and by offering her firm support in her trying times; he expiated his [Page xxiii]guilt. In a letter to Rathindranath in August 1919 he wrote: ‘I dealt the first blow in her life—without proper thought and consideration, I arranged her marriage. … Her life has already been ruined. … I am its root cause’ (Tagore 1997: 227). He remained firm in his decision that forcing his daughter to live a life she did not desire would be an act of inhuman cruelty and violence. His courage and grit in trying to make Atashi self-reliant is indeed remarkable in an age when women in Bengali society were mostly treated as a procreative machine, dependant and devoid of individual identity.
Despite severe social opposition Rabindranath had introduced co-education in Shantiniketan at a time when most women in Bengali household were not allowed formal education. In the essay Prachya Nareer Sadhana Tagore talks about woman's role in the creation of Visva-Bharati: ‘In this mission I want inspiration from the sisters of my nation. This institution should not be the work of men. … In every aspect of this noble endeavour the need for woman's service is strongly felt.’ He further elaborates on his faith in the power of womankind: ‘In any great mission it is woman who provides inspiration. In the domain of politics and education our power never becomes true and profound without inspiration from women’ (Tagore 2015a). This brief excursion into history attempts to bring to the fore that Tagore's ‘modern’ consciousness, a product of the historical specificities that shaped and reshaped modernities in colonial Bengal, is hard to define.
We also need to bear in mind that despite the external stimuli which constantly charged his mind, Rabindranath was able to create a secluded inner domain of perceptions which were his own. Hence his relationships with Kadambari Devi, Ranu or Vijaya were coloured with hues of Tagore's unique mind. The inner domain, as Sabyasachi Bhattacharya writes in his interpretative biography of Rabindranath, was immensely important to Tagore:
In many statements about his intellectual evolution, Tagore spoke of his ‘inner life’. In 1904, in one such statements, he underlined the importance of the ‘inner consciousness’. In 1917 he distinguished between the ‘subconscious’ (upachetana) and conscious level in his mind to point to the emergence of thoughts from below. In 1940 he reflected on ‘the mystery of vitality working in me’. (2011: 19)[Page xxiv]
It is the power and conviction of the inner domain that enabled Tagore to transcend at times the limitations imposed upon him by custom and heredity. The confluence of the inner and the outer minds often made his responses to life unpredictable. As he would sing to his Jiban Devata or his muse in ‘You Have Made Me Endless’ (Amare tumi ashesh korecho):
You have made me endless, such is thy grace, …
At that immortal touch of yours my overflowing heart
Lost in a profound limitless joy, finds utterance.
Filling just one cup of my hands
You are pouring your gifts day and night,
So many ages pass and you are not done
I remain your receptacle. (Bose 2012, translated by Sugata Bose)
It was only when he had turned to them later that he could discern the continuity of thoughts amidst a superficial sense of fragmentation. We are trying to understand a vibrant mind, responsive to the varied nuances of life's journey. It would be intellectually restrictive if we try to simplify or schematize Tagore's responses to the genus ‘woman’, and so we shall refrain from seeking a linear development of the poet's thoughts. The vast corpus of the literary creations of Rabindranath Tagore encompasses his myriad responses to ‘woman’. Woman's primacy in Tagore's life is well expressed in his own words: ‘I have deep respect towards women—the women of all countries. I have always received inspiration from them. My creative and aesthetic inspiration have also come from the women who nurtured me and gave me life. That is why I feel indebted to them’ (Prachya Nareer Sadhana, translation Chandrava Chakravarty). Besides the influence of several women in Tagore's personal life and creative life, the notion of the ‘feminine’ has occupied a serious core of Tagore's creative oeuvres.
In Tagore's creative works ‘woman’ has become the site of conflictual positioning and perceptions, a battleground of the discursive and the real, the sensual and the sublime, the gross and the ideal. One would naturally think that Tagore was deeply confused in his understanding and hence representations of women. What adds to the impression is that his attitude to the ‘feminine’ and his [Page xxv]representations of women vary from work to work, and also differ with the genre of his work. In Chapter 3, Mandakranta Bose ‘Gender and Spiritual Quest in Tagore's Poetry’ womanhood is manifest in the form and spirit of Radha, the eternal lover searching for her divine consort Lord Krishna. Contrarily, in the domain of fiction, as explored by Tirthankar Bose, Dipannita Datta and Chandrava Chakravarty (Chapters 8, 9 and 10), woman is the very site of contestation, erasure, denial and subversion. In poetry the notion of femininity as a sublime force changes radically to representations of a socially interpellated being, constrained by social norms and often deprived and abject in the domain of Tagore's fictional works. It would not be out of place to say that the distinction between sheema and the asheem (limit and limitlessness) also informs the basis of Tagore's understanding of ‘woman’. She is asheem (boundless, eternal) as the very embodiment of love in Bhanushingha Thakurer Padavali or as the cosmic/spiritual force in the poem Sabala; contrarily, the women characters of his fictional world are bound by or embedded in societal codes. Hence, they are constrained or sheemito. We would not try to liberate ‘woman’ from the mystical nimbus in which she is often situated by Rabindranath. This is Tagore's inner perception of ‘woman’ as an ideal. Here she is asheem, the very incarnation of mahashakti, the embodiment of cosmic ananda, the eternal lover Radhika searching for her beloved Krishna. Referring to Sankaracharya's poem ‘Ananda Lahari’ Tagore writes that spiritual, transcendental delight assumes the form of a woman as this universal shakti is present in the nature of woman.
Let no one confuse this shakti with mere ‘sweetness’, for in this charm there is a combination of several qualities—patience, self-abnegation, sensitive intelligence, grace in thought, word and behaviour,—the reticent expression of rhythmic life, the tenderness and terribleness of love; at its core, moreover, is that self-radiant Spirit of Delight which ever gives itself up. (Tagore 2015b)
Tagore has situated ‘woman’ in two separate compartments of his mind: the inner mind has perceived her as a lofty ideal unsullied by man-made laws, codes and institutions. In ‘The Religion of the Forest’ Tagore explains the significance of the icon of the [Page xxvi] Ardhanareeswara: ‘This is the God Shiva, in whose nature Parvati, the eternal Woman, is ever commingled in an ascetic purity of love. The unified being of Shiva and Parvati is the perfect symbol of the eternal in the wedded love of man and woman’ (Tagore 2015c). He laments that human civilization has not been able to recognize the ‘reign of the spirit’ (Tagore 2015b), and so it has failed to value the spiritual wealth of woman. Tagore repeatedly sings the glory of her power as he says in ‘Woman and Home’: ‘True womanliness is regarded in our country as the saintliness of love’ (Tagore 2015 d). He sees Dharini, the Queen in Kalidasa's play Malavikagnimitra, as the signifier of ‘fortitude and forbearance that comes from majesty of soul! What an association it carries of the infinite dignity of love, purified by a self-abnegation that rises far above all insult and baseness of betrayal!’ (Tagore 2015).
While essentialisms characterize ‘woman’ in the domain of Tagore's inner mind, women seen in a social context defy such essentialisms by their problematic relation to culture and history. The fictional world of Tagore embodies a vision of India torn between antagonistic values, struggling to constitute an identity of its own. Under the aegis of the British rule clash between traditional and ‘modern’ values, led to the questioning of several older sanctions and paved the way for newer modes of self-understanding. In the crucible of these troubled times the ‘woman’ question—her relation to home and the larger world, her position in the eternal struggle between love and sacrifice, her role in consolidating the identity of the Bengali bhadralok—the influential educated group who had access to western learning and who straddled the middle and upper castes—acquired primacy. Every grand meta-narrative of any dominant discourse of any period is bound to be assailed by instances of fissures, disjunctions, contradictions and silences in it. Tagore's fictional world creates space for a dialogue with contemporary society. It becomes the battleground of conservative and liberating impulses, of resistance against societal injustice and lame acquiescence to custom and upholds the tentative, vulnerable nature of colonial modernities. Thus, the ‘New Woman’, appearing in Tagore as navina, is posited at the core of the nationalist episteme and the notion of ‘synthetic femininity’ becomes a signifier for a number of signifieds. This is well brought out in the essays by [Page xxvii]Tirthankar Bose, Dipannita Datta, Supriya Chaudhuri (Chapter 5), Sanjukta Dasgupta and Chandrava Chakravarty. The conservative vanguards of Hindu womanhood attacked Rabindranath for his sensitive explorations of woman's predicament in contemporary Bengali society as also for his non-conformist stances. Pointing to the works written after 1909, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya opines that a major ideational conflict in Tagore's works was ‘between a “Hindu” notion of womanhood and the idea of self-empowerment of women in Indian society’ (2011: 124).
In the novel Gora, the transformation of the initial belief of the protagonist, Gora, in woman's confinement to domesticity and his recognition of her potential in the mission of nation building depicts the progression of Tagore's convictions. Tagore envisages the politics of national self-determination and that of woman's self-determination as simultaneous. Yet, in the novel Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World), the nature and extent of woman's liberation emerge as vexed issues, especially, when the language of nation-worship is steeped in falsity. The novels Chokher Bali, Noukadubi and Chaturanga relate to some of the pressing social issues which rocked Bengali Hindu society towards the end of the nineteenth century. In several short stories and novels, Tagore presented a humane understanding of the woman's abjectness and did not hesitate to highlight her normal sexual needs. Both Chokher Bali and Chaturanga explore extramarital liaisons and subject the traditional sacramental Hindu marriage to a serious challenge. While Jogajog examines the issue of incompatibility in conjugal relationship, Noukadubi studies the threat posed to Hindu marriage by an accidental change of wife. In all these novels, women characters occupy cardinal positions, and in many they are projected as subversive to the hegemonic structure.
In several short stories published in the journal Sabuj Patra,4 Tagore depicts woman's resistance to a cruel patriarchy. In stories like ‘Shasti’, ‘Didi’ or ‘Manbhanjan’ woman's insecurity and social cruelty have figured explicitly. ‘Postmaster’, ‘Denapaona’ and ‘Khata’ have repeatedly brought to the fore woman's loneliness and deprivation. In ‘Streer Patra’ patriarchal violence is subtly manifested. Expression of feminist consciousness, as discussed by Nandini Bhattacharya, was articulated in a woman's voice for the first time in Bengali literature through Mrinal's craving for mukti or [Page xxviii]freedom. Tagore's frequent glorification of woman is accompanied by the lament that her great potential has been wasted and corrupted in human societies from time immemorial: ‘That is why man, by dint of his efforts to bind woman, has made her the strongest of fetters for his own bondage. That is why woman is debarred from adding to the spiritual wealth of society by the perfection of her own nature, and all human societies are weighed down with the burden of the resulting poverty’ (Tagore 2015b). Mrinal's husband in ‘Streer Patra’ is too feudal to realize this inner poverty, but what about the ‘modern’ Bengali bhadralok? Tagore presents the cruel nonchalance of an intellectual, modern husband through his own self-analysis in Poila Nambar (Number 1). Like Mrinal, Aneela of Poila Nambar has also left home to protest against the cold indifference of her husband. Rabindranath could see through the pretentions of colonial modernity with regard to its concern for women. The reiteration of woman's essential humanity, as discussed by Malini Bhattacharya (Chapter 4), has become the theme of Chandalika who has demanded respect as a human being; in Chitrangada Arjun's ultimate recognition of Chitrangada's inner wealth has made outward beauty irrelevant. Amita Dutt (Chapter 15) talks about how as a choreographer she visualizes this moment of recognition. Despite Tagore's relentless effort to understand the ‘feminine’, the gap between idealization and actuality had remained irreconcilable. In the domain of extramarital, consensual love Tagore's relationships with real women had been tentative and fragile. His love for Kadambari, his natun bouthan, who died prematurely left him shattered to the core. But she still remained vibrant in his imagination, a presence felt in the depth of his soul: ‘You are not here before my eye:/ Within the eye you have taken your place.’ The ideal is livelier than the real because she has transcended the body to merge with nature: ‘You are green among the foliage, blue amid the sky./ My universe in you/ Has discovered its soul's harmony’(Tagore 2015b).
The course of romantic love was mostly beset with uncertainties in Rabindranath's life as he would ask fervently: … bhalobasha kare koy! (What is love?). Tagore met Victoria Ocampo when he was sixty-three, taught her the Bengali word bhalobasha (love), and saw in her a possibility of assuaging his need for companionship. The friendship of Tagore and Ocampo is, according to Jayati Gupta [Page xxix](Chapter 11), a pointer to the platonic relationship that the poet often nurtured with foreign women to redeem a sense of loss. He wrote to Victoria: ‘It is difficult for you to realize what an enormous burden of loneliness I carry about me … my personal value has been obscured. This can be had only from a woman's love …’ (Dyson 1988: 374). According to Dyson, Victoria or Vijaya, as Tagore renamed her, deeply respected and loved the poet. But soon they parted ways, Tagore growing restless with the burden of mutual expectations and realizing that the difference of language and culture would never allow him to give himself away fully to Victoria.5 She, however, remained a distant inspiration amidst Tagore's restless sojourns and blossomed in his poems.6
The examples of Tagore's tireless attempt to understand ‘woman’ would be endless. In fact, Tagore's songs and dance have also opened up spaces for woman's self-expression. This volume will make a modest attempt to study Rabindranath Tagore's polyphonic engagement with ‘woman’ and the dialogic nature of her representations. We, however, undertake this journey with the caveat: Sesh nahi je/ Sesh katha ke bolbe? (Who will say the last word about that which is endless? translation by Chandrava Chakravarty).III
A few words on the title might help in understanding the nature of the critical intervention undertaken here and explain the choice of topics covered in the essays. The issues of ‘subjectivity’ and individual subject-formation have predominated in the history of ideas to connote the ways in which individual subject-formations are enmeshed with and determined by larger socio-cultural and related domains of public experiences. The relative ability of individuals to exert their own free will in their self-fashioning has been a subject of never-ending debate. Western philosophers ranging from Plato to Descartes have emphasized the importance of the freedom of the self and self-construction over the constraints of social construction. Most postmodern thinkers have systematically challenged such positivism. Michel Foucault's discursive analysis of individual subject-formation highlights how every human identity is formed and controlled by a complex intersection of socially discursive [Page xxx]practices and institutions. The influence and impositions of society on individual subjectivities can both be formative and destructive to the self and ego. In relation to the emergence of women's subjectivity the issues are even more complicated. Feminist historians have deciphered the traces of extreme repression and denial of female individuality. The making and consequent unmaking of female selfhood have always been a stressful process fraught with gaps and contradictions. Chris Weedon's analysis (1987) of major feminist theorists like Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous points to the essential contradictions of women's subjectivity:
Although the subject in poststructuralism is socially constructed in discursive practices, she nonetheless exists as a thinking, feeling subject and social agent, capable of resistance and innovations produced out of the clash between contradictory subject positions and practices. She is also a subject able to reflect upon the discursive relations which constitute her and the society in which she lives, and able to choose from the options available (125).
Thus, within the construction of female subjectivity there is a strong social pressure to relegate it to the realm of ‘otherization’ and the consequent counter-discursive practices of resistance and interventions to contest the rigid social boundaries.
This edited volume aims to explore the ways in which Tagore understood and represented the struggles and dilemmas of female subject formation. The title of the book indicates the trajectories of growth and change that women's subjectivity undergoes through the layers that produce complex and mature female subject-positions capable of contesting subjection and gender discrimination. The binary of making/unmaking points to the social forces the female self has to encounter, endure or resist. The essays attempt to critically read the individual fictional instances of female identity-formation that Tagore offers in terms of their dynamic self-articulations, interrogations of societal norms and consequent transformations.
Tagore's works are by no means dated and their appeal will never remain confined to the nineteenth-century alone. It is no exaggeration to claim that the issues regarding gender, womanhood and patriarchy broached in Tagore's writings continue to intrigue and haunt us to this day for their ideological immensity and intellectual [Page xxxi]profundity All the essays in this volume explore in detail the complex aesthetics and ideologies expressed in Tagore's works. They focus on issues like Tagore's spirituality, gender ideology, aesthetics and morality with a common aim to underscore the importance of Tagore's responsibility as a writer and social thinker. Twentieth- and twenty-first century womanhood and female liberation may appear to have advanced far more than Tagore had anticipated, but the originary moments of female emancipation and gender equality will always have Tagore as one of its pioneering and consolidating contributors in the history of world thought.
There seems to be a very deep trans-historical link as far as Tagore's vision of womanhood and contemporary femalehood are construed. It is, therefore, not very irrelevant to recall the seductive and enigmatic widow character Binodini from Tagore's Choker Bali or the progressive and enlightened Sucharita in Gora and the feisty Damini from Chaturanga (Chapter 9) as nineteenth-century women much ahead of their times and who are capable of inspiring today's woman. On the one hand, Tagore's women are historically rooted and are typical products of nineteenth-century Bengali patriarchy and on the other hand, as symbols of youth, freedom and colonial modernity their presence and influence cannot be confined to any one age or generation. The relevance of Tagore's vision of gender justice, his critique of patriarchal orthodoxies and his sensitive and layered representation of women in all his works cannot be undermined in our times where the fight for gender equality and justice is still not complete in our country. Moreover, if Tagore is seen as the most canonical ‘Victorian’ writer who encompasses all the representative tendencies of the long nineteenth century in colonial Bengal, his works continue to remind us of the necessity of understanding the nineteenth century as the historical and socio-cultural matrix of the postmodern condition. If our age can be considered an extension of nineteenth-century colonial modernity, Tagore's relevance as arguably the best thinker of his own age is as strong as ever. His proto-feministic re-configuring of patriarchy and the role of women comes down to us as a historical legacy that both inspires and provokes contemporary scholars and readers alike. In fact, Tagore's ‘Victorianism’ encourages us to engage with a ‘neo-Victorian’ revival and often subversive critique of the long nineteenth-century world order.[Page xxxii]
Divided into six parts, Part I: Beyond Essentialism begins with ‘Tagore and Women: Some Thoughts’ by Jasodhara Bagchi that offers an overview on gender in Tagore's works and acts as a fitting prologue to the rest of the book, exploring the public sphere/private sphere divide as negotiated by Tagore's women to re-orient, reinforce and sometimes challenge the clearly defined social spaces of the inner and the outer worlds. Chapter 2, ‘Shantiniketan Education for Girls’ by Uma Das Gupta critically focuses on the consolidation of female education as pioneered by Tagore. She points out that Tagore's conceptualization of female education garnered great enthusiasm within and without Bengal and even sometimes abroad.
Part II Nature and Spirituality begins with Chapter 3, ‘Gender and the Spiritual Quest in Tagore's Poetry’ by Mandakranta Bose that draws upon Tagore's essential engagement with the Vaishnava literary tradition and his feminization of the quester-figure's search for love and spiritual fulfilment. By focusing mainly on the text of Bhanusingha Thakurer Padavali she argues that Tagore locates in woman an idealistic spirituality that makes her the ‘most faithful seeker’ of love and atonement. Chapter 4 ‘Rabindranath's Chandalika: Woman as Prakriti and Prakriti in Woman’ by Malini Bhattacharya extends this discussion to an intensive analysis of the intrinsic relationship of the female nature with Mother Nature; both being versions of the concept of prakriti as articulated in the Tagorean corpus. Chandalika, a dance-drama resonates with the nature/culture divide as manifested through women.
Part III Realm of Domesticity opens with Chapter 5 ‘Domestic Space in Tagore's Fiction’ by Supriya Chaudhuri which looks at how physical space and mental space are interlinked in the lives of Tagore's female protagonists re-defining the polyvalent domesticity of the typical nineteenth-century andarmahal. As she says, ‘For Tagore and his characters, especially the women who, in all his fiction, feel most intensely the imprisoning confines of domestic space, intimations of infinitude pierce through the constrictions of physical existence’(17). Chapter 6 ‘Tagore's Docile Daughters: Ambivalence in Family Life’ by Sanjukta Dasgupta presents a thought-provoking analysis of the issue of women's marginalization, victimization and systematic subordination by the very patriarchal institution of marriage as discussed by Tagore the thinker and as practised by Tagore the father. Chapter 7 ‘Re-reading Rabindranath Tagore's ‘Streer [Page xxxiii]Patra’ (the Wife's Letter, 1914) in the Light of Epistolary Culture in Colonial India' by Nandini Bhattacharya captivates Tagore's representation of women reaching out to their conjugal partners through letters, and deals with Tagore's utilization of the much publicized vernacular epistolary device as a form shaping conjugality in colonial Bengal. She diligently argues how writing letters became a focal point of female self-expression, implicating freedom, self-autonomy and emancipation that readily destabilized the stable relational hierarchies of an orthodox conjugality.
Part IV Selfhood and Agency opens with Chapter 8 ‘How to Fool Women: Tagore's Tales of Seduction’ by Tirthankar Bose. He discerns the deception inherent in love encountered by Tagore's seduced women who embattle victimhood and refuse to remain at the receiving end of patriarchal sexual politics. It very adroitly brings into focus Tagore's very nuanced and radical textual representation of the so-called Victorian fallen woman located in nineteenth-century Bengal. Chapter 9 ‘The Dichotomies of Body and Mind Spaces: The Widows in Choker Bali and Chaturanga’ by Chandrava Chakravarty discusses the representation of widows in Tagore's oeuvre in the context of the social connotations of widowhood in nineteenth-century Bengal. Chapter 10 ‘Bimala Is What She Is: Re-reading Bimala and Gender (In)justice in Rabindranath's The Home and the World’ by Dipannita Datta analyses the interlink between gender and nation as reflected through the character of Bimala in Tagore's novel Ghare-Baire.
Part V Women in Travel Writings begins with Chapter 11 ‘The “Other” Women in Tagore's Travels to Europe’ by Jayati Gupta. She brings the focus on Tagore's interactions with European women and how these shaped his attitude towards the opposite sex. Chapter 12 ‘Rabindranath's Travelogues and the Absent Female Voice’ by Amrit Sen, however, critiques Tagore's sidelining of female agency and perspectives in his travelogues when there was a simultaneous emergence of travel-writing by women in Bengal. Both these essays utilize the rich possibilities underscored by the interface of travel theory and gender discourses in Tagore's travelogues.
In Part VI Women in Other Arts Chapter 13 ‘Gender in Rabindrasangeet’ by Debashish Raychaudhuri concentrates upon the feminine space and articulation of gendered emotions, claiming that Tagore's music and lyrics pioneered the balancing of male and female [Page xxxiv]voices, emotions and perspectives. Chapter 14 ‘Breaking the Mould: The Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore’ by Tapati Gupta analyses how Tagore's visual representation of femininity renders women enigmatic and problematizes the male gaze. Chapter 15 ‘Women in Tagore's Dance-Dramas’ by Amita Dutt highlights his major dance-dramas Chandalika (1935), Chitrangada (1937) and Shyama (1939), and argues that Tagore's dance forms and lyrics articulates the performative potential of his multifarious ideologies of womanhood. Chapter 16, ‘Tagore's New Woman the Contradictions of Patriarchy: Adapting Char Adhyay as Elar Char Adhyay’ by Sneha Kar Chaudhuri discusses one of the recent film adaptation of Tagore's novel Char Adhyay (1934) as Elar Char Adhyay (2012) by Bappaditya Bandopadhyay to explore the rich interactions of Tagore's visions of womanhood and nationalism and the uses to which these discourses are put in a cinematic adaptation. This essay also extends the discussion of Tagore and woman beyond Tagore's own works and times by analysing how contemporary intelligentsia re-visits, revives and revises Tagore for the postmodern cultural imaginary.
Tagore's works are still popular with both lay and informed readers because his works contain certain insights that keep intriguing and engaging us across centuries and generations. Moreover, he belongs to the great tradition of the Bengal Renaissance, the intellectual legacy of a period that has continuously informed and sustained our contemporary culture in the ideological and experiential domains. Tagore's legacy and contribution has often been criticised but never ignored in both the centuries. The modernity of Tagore's vision has inspired us to imitate him even today and the richness of his aesthetic explorations has charmed us. The issues that he has engaged with in his works have been of continuous relevance to our generation and we have read Tagore to understand many of our ideological contradictions regarding gender, love, patriarchy and other related ideas. Our presentist understanding of Tagore has lent his works a historical relativism and timeless appeal that allows every reader to compare and contrast his age with ours. As a collection of Tagore scholarship, this volume is an evergreen tribute to our very own Rabindranath Tagore. The essays seek to establish how he is with us and how he remains a prominent and necessary part of our cultural imaginary in the twenty-first century.[Page xxxv]Notes
1 Tagore's lecture in America dwells on the idea of a transcendental Indian womanhood irrespective of caste, class, religious and regional differences, and the many extant Hinduisms. However, he places his concept of womanhood within an overarching Hindu philosophic construction of Prakriti and Shakti as feminine space. See Ashis Nandy, ‘Woman Versus Womanliness in India ’ (2007: 32–46).
2 The term ‘Pirali’ historically carried a stigmatized and pejorative connotation because someone or some individuals within the lineage had converted to Islam. Muhammad Tahir Pir Ali, who served under a governor of Jessore was a brahmin who converted to Islam; his actions resulted in the additional conversion of two of his brothers. As a result, orthodox Hindu society shunned the brothers' Hindu relatives (who had not converted).
3 Saudamini Tagore's Pitrismriti is referred to in Chitra Deb (2010): 23, 25–26.
4 The journal (1914–27) was edited by Pramatha Chowdhury and was inspired by Tagore. Though short-lived it was a major force in remoulding Bengali language and literary style for the post-World War I generation.
5 A letter to Ocampo from Tagore, 13 January 1925. See Dyson, 1988: 390–94.
6 For a detailed account of the relation between Tagore and Ocampo see Note 5.References2011 . Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation. New Delhi: Penguin India.2012 . Tagore: The World Voyager. Translated by Sugata Bose. Noida: Random House India.2004 . ‘The Picture’. Selected Poems: Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.(ed.).2010 . Women of the Tagore Household. Translated by Smita Chowdhury and Sona Roy. New Delhi: Penguin India.1988 . Your Blossoming Flower Garden: Rabindranath Tagore and Victoria Ocampo. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. [Page xxxvi]2007 . ‘Woman versus Womanliness in India: An Essay in Cultural and Political Psychology’, in Exiled at Home. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 32–47.2015a . ‘Prachya Nareer Sadhana’. Bichitra: Online Tagore Variorum prepared by School of Cultural Texts and Records. Jadavpur University: Government of India, Ministry of Culture.,2015b . ‘The Indian Ideal of Marriage.’ Bichitra: Online Tagore Variorum: School of Cultural Texts and Records. Jadavpur University: Government of India, Ministry of Culture.2015c . ‘The Religion of the Forest.’ Bichitra.2015d . ‘Woman and Home.’ Bichitra.2004 . ‘Woman’, in Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Essays. New Delhi: Rupa Publications.1997 . Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore. Translated by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
About the Editors and Contributors[Page 273]
Chandrava Charkravarty is Professor, Department of English, West Bengal State University; her interests are the complex connections between gender construction, identity and nation-building in various forms of canonical and non-canonical texts. Among her recent books is Gendering the Nation: Identity Politics and the English Stage of the Long Eighteenth Century (2013). Recent articles are ‘The “King” in Rabindranath Tagore's Drama’, in the Politics and Reception of Rabindranath Tagore's Drama, A. Bhattacharya and M. Renganathan, eds (2015); ‘Connecting Hemispheres, Playing with Distance: Rammohan Roy, an Indian Transnationalist’, in The Idea of Experience of Distance in the International Enlightenment, Kevin Cope, ed. (forthcoming).
Sneha Kar Chaudhuri is Assistant Professor of English, West Bengal State University and Guest Faculty at Department of English, Jadavpur University; formerly Assistant Editor and current Editorial Board member of Neo-Victorian Studies, UK. Her areas of specialization include Neo-Victorian Studies, Victorian literature, postmodern and post-colonial fiction. Her post-doctoral research interests are Adaptation Studies, Gender Studies, Trauma Studies, and popular culture and films.
Jasodhara Bagchi was a distinguished scholar and an activist, Founder-Director and Professor Emerita, School of Women's Studies, Jadavpur University; former Chairperson, West Bengal Commission for Women; among her many publications are Changing Status of Women in West Bengal, 1970–2000: The Challenges Ahead (2005) and Interrogating Motherhood (2016).[Page 274]
Malini Bhattacharya was formerly Professor of English, Department of English, Jadavpur University; former Director of School of Women's Studies, Jadavpur University; former member, National Commission for Women; former Chairperson, West Bengal Commission for Women. Among her edited books are Globalization: Perspectives in Women's Studies (2004); and co-edited Talking of Power: Early Writings of Bengali Women (2003).
Nandini Bhattacharya is Professor, Department of English and Culture Studies, The University of Burdwan, West Bengal, India. Her areas of scholarly interest are Translation Studies, Cultural Studies, Literary Historiography; nineteenth-century colonial Bengali and Hindi Literature; Gandhi and caste studies; genocide studies. She has edited Rabindranath Tagore's Gora: A Critical Companion (2015) and The Annotated Kankabati (2016).
Mandakranta Bose is Professor Emerita at the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, where she was Director of the Centre for India and South Asia Research and taught in the Departments of Religious Study and Women's Studies till her retirement. Her publications are numerous and spread over several scholarly fields, among her books are Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Exceptions (2010) Sangītanārayaṇa: A Critical Edition (2009).
Tirthankar Bose taught British Renaissance literature at several universities in India before moving to Simon Fraser University, Canada. In addition to Renaissance drama and poetry, his research interest includes nineteenth-century British literature of imperialism and late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries Bengali literature. For several years now his work has centred on Milton and Tagore.
Supriya Chaudhuri is Professor Emerita, Department of English, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Her research interests include Renaissance Studies, critical theory, fiction, cultural history, cinema and translation. She has translated extensively from Rabindranath Tagore for the Oxford Tagore Translations series, and her translation of Jogajog (relationships) was listed among TLS Books of the Year in [Page 275]2008. Among her recent publications are co-authored, Conversations with Jacqueline Rose (2010) and the entry on ‘Modernisms in India’ in the Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, edited by Peter Brooker et al. (2010).
Uma Das Gupta is an independent scholar, formerly Research Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata; formerly head of the United States Educational Foundation in India for the Eastern Region, known for her distinguished scholarship on Tagore. Among her books are: Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (2004), The Oxford India Tagore: Selected Writings on Education and Nationalism (2009).
Sanjukta Dasgupta is Professor, Department of English and currently Dean, Faculty of Arts, Calcutta University, teaches English, American literature and New Literatures. She is a poet, critic and translator and her articles, poems, short stories and translations have been published in journals of distinction in India and abroad. Among her books are Radical Rabindranath: Nation, Family, Gender Post-colonial Readings of Tagore's Fiction and Film (2013); co-edited The Indian Family in Transition (2007), is the Managing Editor of FAMILIES: A Journal of Representations.
Dipannita Datta is a postdoctoral research scholar and translator, teaching English at the Centre for Book Publishing, University of Calcutta, and is a guest lecturer at the Centre for Translation, Jadavpur University. Among her publications are ‘Features and Literary Criticism’ in Sunil Gangopadhyay: A Reader (2009); Breaking the Silence (2011) and Colonial and Modern Feminist: Ashapurna Devi (in press).
Amita Dutt is a scholar, performer and an innovative choreographer, one of the leading exponents of Kathak; she was formerly the Uday Shankar Professor of Dance and Dean of the Faculty Council of Studies in Fine Arts, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. She has a wide range of publications on various aspects of dance, contributed to cultural encyclopedias and has also a series of CDs on dance training produced by the UGC Consortium for Education Communication.[Page 276]
Jayati Gupta is Tagore National Fellow for Cultural Research, Government of India (2015–17); she was formerly Professor of English, of West Bengal State University. She specializes in eighteenth-century English literature and travel writings, and literatures of the marginalized. Among her books is Victorian Literature and Modern Indian Literature (2014).
Tapati Gupta is an art critic and Professor of English, Department of English, University of Calcutta; visiting professor at the Ibsen Centre, Oslo. Her publications include ‘From Proscenium to Paddy Fields: Utpal Dutt's Shakespeare Jatra’ in Re-playing Shakespeare in Asia, Poonam Trivedi and Minami Riyuta, eds. (2010); co-edited To Times in Hope: Essays in Memory of Subodhchandra Sengupta (2012).
Debashish Raychaudhuri is a well-known exponent of Rabindrasangeet, a writer and an Associate Professor of English at Anandamohan College of the City group of colleges, Kolkata.
Amrit Sen is Professor of English at Visva-Bharati; among his publications are The Narcissistic Mode: Metafiction as a Strategy in Moll Flanders, Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy (2007) and ‘The Pen Employ'd in Finishing her Story: Moll Flanders as Early Metafiction’, in Penguin Critical Edition of Moll Flanders, Jayati Gupta, ed. (2006).