The noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore provided me the first glimpse into adult fiction world, when I read his novel ‘Yogayog’ for my summer holidays work in Seventh grade. The first initiation soon led to a life long love of fiction and since then novels, stories and poems have become the staple diet and an integral part of my life.
Last week, when I got a chance to lay my hands on ‘The Tagore Omnibus’ Collector’s Edition comprising of not one or two, but five novels, my joy knew no bounds. I grabbed the book with trembling hands, and my first reaction was to see whether it had Yogayog?
I was over whelmed by the old fond memories and once again, I found myself a twelve year old deeply engrossed in the intrigued yet seemingly real world of Tagore. When I first read Yogayog, my pre teen mind was pleasantly surprised to find adults so childish that they can fight for ages for false pride manifested in such trivial matters as to the height of the Durga idol. This was the focal point about this novel that I still remember from my childhood days.
However, when I read the novel this time, I could make many more revelations. The novel is not just about the baseness of pomp and show and false pride, but also about lack of communication and the unexpressed expectations of husband and wife. Tagore paints a true picture of the Zamindari traditions of Bengal, where men were busy in squandering money on futile display of wealth and women were oppressed and locked within the household, with almost no rights. In such times, Tagore boldly presents his heroine Kumudini, who is willing to stand against injustice and will not be subdued by anyone.
The story revolves around the Ghoshal and Chatterjee families, who are neighbours and sworn competitors. The Chatterjees fall into bad times, while the Ghoshal’s son is able to make fortune. With newly acquired wealth, Madhusudan Ghoshal decides to make Chatterjees feel subservient to him, by giving them huge loans and getting married with the youngest daughter of Chatterjee clan, Kumudini.
Madhusudan and Kumudini’s rivalry is not limited to their family feud, but is aggravated by their totally different natures, Madhu- a rude master and Kumu- a God-fearing, docile but self respecting woman. Whether such an oddly matched couple would ever be able to reconcile their differences and live harmoniously as man and wife, forms the very framework of the story.
In Tagore’s deft hands, the story acquires an epic status. He is a master of human psyche, with the result that his hero and heroine are never ideal. Rather, they closely resemble the real men and women, each with his own faults and shortcomings. And that’s why the novel becomes so realistic and familiar that every reader is able to identify himself or herself with the protagonists.
It is not at all difficult to recognize one of your friends or relatives as arrogant Madhu or good natured and yet obstinate Kumu. When such people get married, the life becomes a continuous strife and struggle against upmanship. In modern days , divorce is not a far fetched idea for such ill matched couples, but our Hero Heroine lived in Pre Independence era, where no such option existed and it was really fun to see them reconcile differences in their own retracted ways.
I found it refreshing despite the fact that Kumudini’s over zealous religious and pious attitude seems redundant in present times, but the writer uses even this defect to establish the naivety of the character and gives the novel an added sheen. I will remember the pleasant characters of Nabin and his wife for a long time for their good nature and witty remarks. They present the anti thesis to the main couple and Tagore uses them to create perfect foil around the loveless, luckless marriage.
Even in my second reading, the novel managed to impress me once again. It is and will always be a thoroughly enjoyable classic.