Gora is a true Tagore novel, rich in philosophical debate on politics and religion with a deep understanding of human emotions. A burning topic of social reform in pre-independence era intertwined with the sweet sour love affair of young hearts makes for quite an interesting read.
Though, as a die hard fan of Tagore’s realistic approach towards the intricacies of life, there is hardly a piece of his writing, that I could ever look over. But, Gora is a different class in itself!
The novel begins on a light note of a young man Binoy being affected by the pangs of love on hearing a Baul singer, and almost instantaneously, falling in love with a beautiful young girl, Sucharita. It turns out that they are next-door neighbors, and a curious turn of events makes Binoy a fast friend of Sucharita’s younger brother, giving him easy entry into her house and social circle. Binoy, with the honest zeal of an ardent lover pines to embrace his lady love in a life long vow of bliss and joy.
But, in keeping with the curious tradition of human heart always being attracted by the forbidden fruit, pretty soon, it turns out that our two young lovers are opposite banks of a flooded, weather struck, naughty monsoon river. A wide gulf of social inhibitions color the understanding of Binoy and Sucharita. And, it becomes apparent that they belong to two different societies- one is a staunch believer of Hindu idols and the other is a passionate modern day reformist. Even before their affair could begin, Binoy is assailed with the doubts of their union, apprehensive of opposition by vehement Brahmanical traditions and overflowing zealous reproach of Christian influenced Brahmo Samaj.
At the crucial point of Binoy’s doubts enters GORA- the main protagonist of the novel. He is a man of contradictions. He is fair-faced, broad-shouldered and excessively tall, resembling more a Britisher, than his own short statured, stocky Brahmin father, Krishnadayal. But, despite his christian looks, Gora is a true blue Hindu. Though, well educated in English and modern studies, he strives for the age old orthodox beliefs of Hindu society. He firmly believes that India can gain freedom and foothold in the modern society, only by strengthening her traditional religious roots. He believes in turning a blind eye to all the bad customs, and continues to look at the brighter side of religion, in bringing unity to a scattered samaj.
A loving son of superstitious Krishnadayal and easygoing Anandamoyi, Gora is a perfect blend of modern ideas bubbling on the potent liquor of age old customs and rituals of Hindu society. It appears as if he is the only man in the entire novel, who has a clear perspective of religion and can comprehend the necessity of saving an old culture from being disintegrated in the name of politics and social reforms. But, what would happen, if it becomes known that the man who is so proud of his Hindu roots, is not a Hindu himself! What if, the whole identity of Gora is challenged by his very own blood? How would he react to his father’s indifference bordering on untouchability? Would his experience with poor Muslim villagers change the way he sees religion? Or, would he continue to believe in the sanctity of old traditions, restricting the poor from living with dignity and respect?
All this and more is explored in this philosophical study of human emotions. Gora is not just a novel, it is an epic. It brings forth the shallowness of man’s beliefs in the purity of his body and his ignorance of soul’s true agenda in this life. It exhibits the path of self discovery that the characters undertake to understand their true purpose and inclination in life, with great drama being played in the name of religion, freedom and reforms.
The novel is choc-a-bloc with interesting characters. There is self evasive Binoy, who is under deep influence of Gora, and comes across as a genuine friend, muddleheaded with wrong notions of friendship being equivalent to slavery and subservience to your friends’ ideals, juxtaposed against lively, free spirited Lolita, who is not shy of revolting against her own family and society, for following her heart’s desires and true calling. The aggressive Gora is offset against the reticent Sucharita, a symbol of female power, that can bring a man to his knees and change the society with her innocent charm. There is lovable Ananadmoyi, a sharp contrast to contriving Barodashundari and Harimohini, belying the difference between liberal Hindus, revolting Brahmos and traditional ritualists.
I found Gora immensely interesting, despite its long discourses on religion, society and independence. Since, it was written in the early years of Twentieth Century, the idea of India’s freedom appears to be in nascent stage, and many soliloquies are devoted to Gora’s understanding of true India, and in a way, these describe Tagore’s own ideals, juxtaposed against the bitter reality of a battered society. What makes Gora relevant even today, is its universal approach of an undying curiosity of human mind to find its true calling. Though, we are living in an independent country, even today, the oppressive corruption and indifferent society, continues to mar the real purpose of human life.
Peppered with strong characters, Gora the novel sets the mind thinking, heart racing and emotions overflowing. A wonderful treatise by a mastermind indeed!