Profit and Loss by Rabindranath Tagore is a touching short story, having an old world charm, and yet relevant in modern times, as it is based on the theme of Dowry, a stubborn evil that refuses to leave Indian society.
When the story was written in 1890s by Tagore, he must have pinned his high hopes on the newly educated Indian young men, as harbinger of a tremendous change, who would rock Indian society and wake it from stupor, comprehend the value of woman in a relationship and stop treating her as the means of acquiring wealth through dowry! Tagore’s ideal groom in the present story does take a stand and refuses to buckle down in front of his father’s threat to call off the wedding, as girl’s father is unable to give ten thousand rupees at the time of marriage.
But, is it really sufficient to just get married? Or is such a forced marriage, a worse case scenario for the bride? Does the initial hesitation sure to result in life long turmoil for the poor bride? These and many other questions form the basic framework of Profit and Loss.
Here, Nirupama does get married to a morally upright future Deputy Magistrate, but loses her place as the daughter-in-law from the very first night. She is forced to lead a life of guilt. Her father is treated worse than an untouchable and is dishonored by her in-laws. All her beauty and virtues are ignored for want of dowry, making her no better than a mere servant. She passes a few days in deep agony and remorse, and finally succumbs to an untimely death, giving her greedy in-laws a second chance to collect more dowry by their son’s second wedding!
In a way, there is hardly anything new in the story. In fact, the narrative seems to be lifted directly from one of those obscure dowry deaths, we hurriedly scan through in our Morning Newspapers. But, then perhaps, that’s why it is ever fresh, a timeless classic, a harsh reality that mirrors the shallowness of our society, even after almost a century of its first conception.
The story is a tragic, heart rending one, yet I loved it for its irony and timelessness. The satiric tone pervades through every paradox, presented beautifully by Tagore. Nirupama’s father’s submissive pleas falling on the deaf ears of of arrogant Raibahadurs contradicted starkly with the pomp and show of her funeral. A girl who was devoid of basic needs is given a lavish last rite ceremony, not out of some lately arrived sympathy or repentance on the part of her in-laws, but simply to show off their wealth, and attract another prospective rich bride, a possible harbinger of massive dowry!
Moreover, the theme of profit and loss resonates throughout the narrative. Nirupama’s father tries to barter his daughter’s happiness, by selling off his house, thus making his sons homeless. However, this supposedly profitable trade backfires, and he loses both his sons and daughter, former out of a sense of deprivation, and the latter out of shame!
On the other hand, Raibahadur’s only aim in life seems to be making a profit out of his son’s marriage by means of a hefty dowry. However, as the groom refuses to bow down to his pressure tactics, he loses social standing and honor, being humiliated by his son’s stubborn morality. Later, he spends a lot on Nirupama’s funeral rites, even incurring a loan for the same. However, it is really doubtful whether he would be able to convince his son to remarry and sacrifice another lamb on the altar.
Even Nirupama, who was her father’s darling, dreams of gaining an ideal husband, but ends up losing her father and brothers as well, before dying a painful death.
In short, every instance resonated the conversion of profit into loss, by the heedless actions of the characters, thus proving the aptness of title again and again. And, quite fittingly the story continues through centuries, as our society continues to strive for inanimate wealth, while blindly sacrificing the honor and happiness of a bride.
As I try to fit the story in modern times, I am in for a greater shock, as today even the grooms are greedy, They are well educated, financially independent and quite modern in attitude, but strangely become very narrow minded and orthodox as far as question of dowry is concerned. In fact, in wake of newly found frankness, it has become groom’s prerogative to negotiate for the best deal! The young noble men of Tagore are long gone, decimating the dream of Rising India!
In present scenario, I vividly remember Aamir Khan’s dialogue in Three Idiots, where he compares the well educated men of our country with well trained lions of Circus, who can perform a few tricks in response to Ring master’s whip, but can hardly apply their own brains for the betterment of their lives!
Indeed, a thought provoking short story, sure to jolt the readers out of their blissful ignorance!