Tagore’s independent & unapologetic women

Feminist literary characters ahead of their times

Culture

May 7, 2021

/ By Richa Nigam / New Delhi



Born in undivided Bengal, in Kolkata, on May 7, 1861, Rabindranath Tagore started writing from the age of six and went on to become the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize for literature for his collection of poems, Gitanjali.

Known vividly for his vast collection of poems, prose, plays, stories and novels, Tagore put women at the forefront in his works. From Bimala of Ghare Baire to Binodini of Chokher Bali, Tagore made sure that the women in his novels were ambitious, free and headstrong.

Focusing largely on emancipation, his writing campaigned for liberation, equality, freedom, justice, power, dignity and rights for women. Inspired by these feminist women, Tagore’s stories and novels have been brought alive a number of times on celluloid. Filmmaker Satyajit Ray went on to make a number of movies based on Tagore’s writings. So did many others and the legacy is still being carried on by other directors throughout the country.

On his 160th birth anniversary, here is a look at a few notable female characters from his popular works, who broke the mould and are still a rarity in the Indian literary scenes.

Bimala in Ghare Baire

Despite being in a matrimonial relationship, Bimala finds new hope for fulfilling her aspirations and falls in love with her husband’s friend Sandip, disregarding all social norms.

Charulata in Nashtanirh

A wife who stays within the walls of her house & finds solace in her brother-in-law, Amal. She goes on to write in newspapers. Her confrontation with her husband about her inclination towards Amal shows how bold Tagore’s women characters were.

Hemnalini & Kamala in Noukadubi

Hemnalini refuses to marry & settle with her brother’s friend after Ramesh, her love interest marries another woman. Kamala, in the same story, discovers that the person she is staying with is not her husband & immediately abandons her home and goes searching for the person she was actually married to.

Labanya in Shesher Kobita

Labanya, a strong-willed, highly-educated, free-spirited woman falls in love with Oxford-returned Amit. Though their love blossoms, Tagore, through Labanya, raises questions about the very institution of marriage as ultimate goal of a love affair.

Giribala in Mannbhajan

Giribala is another lonely housewife whose husband beats her up, takes her jewellery and elopes with his lover. However, Giribala does not sit at home and cry about her fate. Instead re-invents herself as Mandira Devi, an actress in a successful play.

Mrinmoyee in Samapti

Mrinmoyee fails to alter herself according to the societal expectations of a married woman. She challenges social norms and refrains from making any adjustments post marriage. Fearing the loss of her autonomy, she abandons her house.

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