Unconventional relationships-a married woman in love with a younger brother-in-law; a love triangle
between a man, his wife, and his sister-in-law; an intimate affair between a married man and a distant
cousin-are the subject of Rabindranath Tagore’s three novellas Nashtanir (The Broken Home), Dui
Bon (Two Sisters), and Malancha (The Garden and the Gardener).
In these three novellas-written between 1901 and 1933-Tagore focuses on the subtle
nuances of unsanctioned relationships, exploring feelings of loneliness and worthlessness in
middleclass housewives in colonial Bengal. They display Tagore’s remarkable understanding of a
woman’s psyche, with all three works underlining the incompatibility between husbands and wives,
and how the ensuing void leads to forbidden relationships. In Charulata, Sharmila, and Neeraja-the
three strong yet vulnearable heroines-Tagore presents emerging ‘new women,’ with thoughts and
desires of their own.
While Sukhendu Ray’s new translation retain the cultural and linguistic ambience of the
originals, Bharati Ray’s Introduction places these works in the social context of
early-twentieth-century Bengal. This three-in-one classic collection will prove rewarding for all
readers interested in Indian fiction as well as for students and teachers engaged in a serious study of
Indian literature in translation, comparative literature, and gender and cultural studies.
Sukhendu Ray has translated selected stories from Dakshinaranjan Mitra
Majumdar’s Thakumar Jhuli, published as The Winged Horse (OUP 1997). His other published
translations include Rabindranath Tagore’s Journey to Persia and Iraq, 1932 (2003) and Chokher
Bali (2005). He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, England and Wales. He
retired as Managing Director of Keen Williams Ltd.
Bharati Ray is currently Vice President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
She served as Professor of History and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Calcutta
University and was Founder-Director, Women’s Studies Research Centre, Calcutta University.
The three novellas of Rabindranath Tagore included in English translation in this volume have a
common thread, which is conflict of love, more particularly extramarital love, condemned both
socially and morally. Fortunately; in dealing with this complex theme Rabindranath did not sit in
judgement with the thick blue pencil of a censor!
Nashtanir (The Broken Home), published in 1901, apparently created quite a sensation when it
came out not just because of its bold theme, but also owing to the belief that the tale was alleged to
It is a tale of an impermissible relationship that Nashtanir recounts— me of intense love on the part of
a young wife for a male cousin of her husband’s. The story is situated sometime towards the end of
the nineteenth century when girls were married young and grew up, by and large, without the
companionship of the husband. A young woman with a literary taste and hungry for love finds an
anchor in the resident cousin who grows to be a moderately successful writer. Towards the end the
young wife is so besotted that it leads to the tragic wrecking and breaking of her home.
The other two novellas came much after, more than thirty years Later. Dui Bon (Two Sisters)
appeared in 1933, followed by Malancha (The Garden and the Gardener) in 1934.
The opening paragraph of Dui Bon epitomizes the core theme of the story make up of man is such
that he needs a mother figure as well as a lover and a sweetheart, and he tends to seek both of them
in his wife—a difficult role to fill for most women. The insatiate man, in his quest for indulgence, is
inclined to stray, though not all men and not necessarily promiscuously. It is this conflict that shapes
the story of Dui Bon. Rabindranath masterfully plumbs the psyche of the three protagonists and
brings out the inner and inter-play of emotional and disharmonious engagements- enfolding the
ecstasy of love, the tensions of love, the frustrations of love.
The married sister who is sick summons the younger sister to help in running her home. The ménage
a trois is not a new concept in literature, but Rabindranath invests this situation with fresh
perspective. Being thrown together into each other’s close company the husband, denied the wife’s
companionship due to her long illness, becomes enmoured of her younger sister, who is a lively and
extroverted character and radically different from her elder sister. The wife, the elder sister, is a
hapless onlooker from her sickbed, concedes the inevitability and is prepared to share her husband
with the younger sister. Rabindranath neither condones nor condemns this unusual infraction, but
provocatively leads on to the denouement.
Conflict of love is also at the heart of Malancha, but here the bone of contention is not just the
husband but also a garden. The wife is intensely in love with her husband, and she is equally devoted
to her husbands horticultural enterprise, the hub of which is the garden. Along with her husband, she
has worked assiduously to shape and build up this garden as the centre piece of her life, to the extent
that she becomes obsessively possessive of both her husband as well as the garden.
Propinquity rears its ugly head when the wife falls seriously ill, and the husband brings in a distant
female relation, who is a trained and qualified horticulturist, to assist him in his work in place of the
wife. Lying in her sickbed, deprived of her husbands company and missing her past involvement with
the garden, she develops an animus towards the new woman in their life. She perceives her as a
threat who will steal away her husband and also the garden from her. The tale ends in a stark
The language of Nashtanir is what we call ‘chaste Bengali, the language of books’ The language then
tended to be heavily laced with classical structure derived from Sanskrit. Dui Ban and Malancha
appeared much later in 1930s, and in between the Bengali language had gone through a sea change.
These two books were written in what we call 'spoken language, the colloquial usage`. Rabindranath
being Rabindranath invested this new form with the stamp of his genius, creating a new mode, giving
it a new direction, adding new idiom and expression, enriching it with a lyrical flavour. Even to this
day his language has remained inimitable.
The two different styles, though of the same language, present translators with some difficulties, not
just in conveying the flavour of (he original language but in finding suitable English equivalents for
certain words and expressions.
Translations per se are not an easy task, particularly of literature. No two languages are equivalent in
anything except the simplest terms. And this difficulty becomes more complex when dealing with
Rabindranath’s works, the prospect seems daunting.
Contrary to modernistic concepts, I have tried to be reasonably faithful in my translations, as I
believe that by doing so I serve my readers well and at the same time I retain my debt to the original
author. But my translations are by no means absolutely literal. It is also not the case that no liberties
have been taken. Of course I have when unavoidable. There are many words, much idiom, many
expressions, in the Bengali language which defy transcription into English with any degree of fidelity.
Excisions have been made where no acceptable translations were possible, without distorting the
nuances of the original language. This is particularly true of metaphors employed by Rabindranath.
They read wonderful in Bengali, but translated into English they read as ridiculous und pointless. I
have skipped translating many such metaphors. There are some other minor excisions which in
translation appear irrelevant.
During the 1920s and 1930s, for almost a decade, Rabindranath was under attack from certain
sections of the then rising avant-garde writers of Bengal. He was considered a spent force, with no
fresh ideas and lacking in modern outlook, consigned to the slagheap of antediluvian specimens!
I doubt if Rabindranath was unduly ruffled, or ever thought of picking up the gauntlet of challenge.
Nevertheless, around the same period, he produced one after another three of his most remarkable
novels, beginning with Sesher Kavita (1929) followed by Dui Ban (1933) und Malancha (1934).
Startling in concept, sparkling in language, dazzling in trend - confounding his detractors. His critics
did not know where to look. Many of them recanted and enthroned Rabindranath as the head of
their class, many others retreated behind a veil of silence.
The texts used for all the three stories are from the centenary edition of Rabindranath Tagore's
collected works, published by the Government of West Bengal in 1961. A glossary of Indian/
Bengali words is appended to each translation.
This collection comprises three novellas by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who remains the
greatest influence on Bengali language and literature today, The first novella, Nashtanir, was
published in 1901 and, after a gap of three decades, the two other novellas followed in quick
succession in 1933 (Dui Bon) and 1934 (Malancha). Despite some expected differences, striking
similarities in their themes and philosophy mark these texts, which is why they have been clubbed
together. There are three main subjects that Tagore dealt with in these works, all of which have to do
with the recognition of an emergent women’s subjectivity: (a) romantic relationships between men
and women within the family that are denied social sanction; (b) the void experienced by women
when denied opportunities to express themselves outside the home; and (c) the relationship between
husbands and wives against the backdrop of a mans 'world There is also an understated truth feature
the emergence of the 'new woman'—a woman with personality and thoughts of her own. One cannot
call Rabindranath a 'feminist’—in his actual life he did much that feminism does not approve of—and
yet he often showed a remarkable understanding of a woman’s pnyche, and seems to have acutely
grasped the feeling of loneliness and worthlessness in a middle-class housewife in colonial Bengal.
We will turn to these points a little later
The Age of Tagore
During the thirty years between the novellas the political and cultural scenario in India, especially in
Bengal, had changed rapidly.
When Nashtanir was published in 1901, colonialism was still strongly entrenched in India, and
English education had spread its wings amongst middle-class youth in Bengal. Enlightenment
rationalism had come to define 'modernity' for a select group of educated Indians. As early as 1893
Rabindranath noted the emergence of a 'public' in India which was not yet mature, but keen to
debate publicly, through newspapers and voluntary associations. Bhupati, the main male character in
Nashtanir, belongs to this group, and Tagore portrays him as a man obsessed for twelve long years
with the newspaper he owned and with writing its editorials. By 1893, the Indian National Congress
had been founded (1885), and the controversy over the Age of Consent Bill (1891) had rocked
Indian society. But it was not so much domestic policies in colonial India, but the politics of the
British Empire that was of primary concern to Bhupati. The 1880s and the 1890s were indeed
fascinating years in British history The Conservative Liberal rivalry (popularly known as the
Gladstone—Disraeli rivalry though Disraeli was finally beaten in 1880] and the Irish Home Rule
agitation kept the British public engaged, while the imperial wars-the grab for Africa, the Egyptian
expedition, and especially the power rivalry with Russia in Afghanistan—made newspaper headlines
in Britain everyday. As a colony, India was inevitably involved in the British Empires Afghan wars,
Bhupatis preoccupation with these political events taking place in the outside world is the context
within which the alienation of his wife, Charulata, unfolds.
By the 1930s much had happened in India. Three areas are particularly relevant for our purpose.
The first in importance is, of course, political-the freedom movement. The Swadeshi movement
(1905—11) actually started as an agitation against the partition of Bengal, designed by Viceroy
Curzon to destroy political opposition in the province, in 1905. The partition of Bengal was
announced on 19 July and implemented on 16 October 1905. On that day women throughout
Bengal observed arandhan- when no cooking was done, and people assembled in the Town Hall to
protest. Meetings were held all over the state, where both men and women assembled and spoke.
The movement, though initiated as a protest against a political move, was also motivated by the urge
of the aspiring Bengali middle class to break British monopoly over the Indian economy and to
create new opportunities for their own participation in commerce and industry. This motivation
explains the widespread propaganda against the use of British goods and the promotion of
indigenous products (which provided the context for Tagore's novel Ghare Baire). As the movement
evolved, its leaders subtly turned the politico-economic struggle against the British into deshpuja or
worship of the motherland, which was in its turn transformed into a mother goddess The intellectuals
who helped achieve this transformation included Ramendrasundar Trivedi who created a text of
rituals, Bangalakshmir Bratakatha (1905), Abanindranath Tagore who painted his famous
Bharatamata, representing India as a Mother Goddess, and Rabindranath who inspired the ideas
through songs such as 'Aaj Bangladesher hriday hate kakhan aponi', portraying Bengal as Durga who
had emerged from within the heart of the land, and 'Banglar mati Banglar jal,’ a prayer for the
unification of the land—its water, fruits, flowers—and the hearts of the people of Bengal.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend