This book presents a range of Rabindranath Tagore's creative works, including translations of short stories, essays, poems, memoirs, songs and plays from his vast corpus to show his conception of the feminine and gender identity that are relevant even today.
The editor establishes the search for Tagore's engagement with the feminine as subject and agency, character and voice, philosophy and politics in this book. There is rich cultural interplay as Tagore muses over the contrasting social position of women in the 'East' and the 'West'. He relies on Indian traditions to understand them in the context of domestic ethics, marital institutions, parenting, empowerment, aesthetics and gender politics. The book includes new translations while presenting fresh insights into previously published works.
Malashri Lal is currently the Dean of Colleges and the Dean, Academic Activitie6 and Projects, University of Delhi. She was previously the Head, Department of English, Director, Women's Studies, and Jt. Director, South Campus.
Rabindranath Tagore's negotiations with the feminine were deeply problematic for himself and his times, and continue to perplex his readers today. Perhaps for that reason, one tends to return repeatedly to those teasing and unforgettable portrayals in his fiction and poetry, song and philosophy. But readers have too long trusted Tagore's own rather simple ways of expressing his intuitively complex understanding of the feminine as a concept, a trope and a manifestation, and not investigated the subtexts. He said, for instance, `There are two kinds of women, or so I've heard some pundits say. One is mostly maternal. The other is the lover.'' In a different mood, the gender divide is dissolved and we encounter the words, 'Our nature holds together, inseparably linked, a wilfully itinerant male, impatient of all bonds, and a shut-in home keeping female being.... The one leads us outward, the other draws us back home.' Hence, 'we are all ardhanarishvara: sometimes half and half, sometimes in unequal proportion'. Further, we have Mrinal's famous defiance of patriarchy: 'Today having freed myself of your customs, I can live... I shall live, unfettered by the shelter of your feet'.
This book attempts to understand Tagore's engagement with the feminine from the perspective of a contemporary reader for whom biological determinants and psychological assumptions of being masculine and feminine are questionable. Revisiting the oeuvre of Tagore through critical sensibilities nurtured by feminist theory and gender studies, it becomes possible to read Tagore in new ways since his words are multivalent, the
images mercurial and the emotions brilliantly nuanced. The contradictions are creative, for as another iconic poet Walt Whitman said, 'Do I contradict myself?Nery well, then I contradict myself .4 Tagore declared in a similar vein, The planet which rules my life is the planet of contradiction.'5 Without recourse to theory as such, Rabindranath Tagore evolved his own principles for portraying the feminine in a marvellous range of expressions. It is left to his readers to relate his literature to contemporary life.
Rabindranath entered the woman's imagination, experience and language with amazing perspicacity. If a male writer can successfully inhabit the female mindscape is a question often asked. Virginia Woolf famously declared that 'the great mind is androgynous' and cited Shakespeare and Coleridge as examples.' Closer to our time, Judith Butler called her book Gender trouble and questioned the basis of defining sex as biological and gender as sociological. Instead, she declared that gender is performative? In other words, a person enters and explores a space of articulate desire and sexuality in specific conditions, and the ambiguous gendering is deter-mined by that moment and the act. Hence, the manifestation of the human body is not simply biological as male and female but located in the complex impulses that drive psychological sympathies within an immediate context. Tagore's notion of ardhanarishvara is close to such theory. We are each, as he says, both male and female. Patriarchy, however, has conditioned us to believe that our performativity is according to the codifications of male and female and its concomitant binaries, masculine and feminine. Hence, we carry, from our social context, a collective burden of inherited beliefs about the home and the world, nature and nurture, beauty and intellect, and such others. Did Tagore lean towards the performative idea of gender or the normative and traditional one? His use of androgynous principles has received scant attention partly because they occur as subtle subversions of the patriarchal norm. Androgyny is but one example of how the subject of Tagore and the feminine commands new attention.
The book offers selections from Tagore's vast corpus with a perspective that seeks out references and allusions in order to highlight the debates on feminism and gender identity that remain implicit throughout his work, and are relevant today. There are surprisingly candid poems on the body and sensuality, clever play with mythology, deep empathy with rural poverty and woman's deprivation, exploration of the woman—nation equivalence and challenges to patriarchy, while also tributes to woman's familial role. The book is constructed with the belief that in commemorating the 150th year of Rabindranath Tagore's birth we acknowledged his global and cosmopolitan identity and his contribution to intellectual history. Within that frame, his views on the feminine along with issues of gender and sexuality deserve notice for he garnered information at home and abroad, reflected on women's status and wrote in bold and sometimes radical ways. The motto of Tagore's university Visva-Bharati sees 'the world, making a home in a single nest': Yatra visvam bhavalyekanidam.8 What place does the feminine hold in that world view?
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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