Journal of South Asia Women Studies

The “Fallen” Females of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Broken Nest” and Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay’s “Blazing Home” Revisited

by Narasingha P. Sil

The Nobel Laureate Biśvakabi [World Poet] Rabindranath Thakur’s (Tagore) (1861-1941) Naṣṭanīḍ [Broken Nest, 1901] and his junior contemporary the Aparājeya Kathāśilpī [Invincible Wordsmith] Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay’s (Chatterjee) (1876-1938) Gṛhadāha [Blazing Home,1920] chronicle the odyssey of two married women’s desperate and daring quest for realizing their unrequited love and unfulfilled desire of expressing their own subjectivity and identity as individuals in their own right in contravention of the traditional patriarchal marital norms.1 The choice for these particular titles is dictated by this author’s assumption that they portray a modern woman’s or the so-called “new woman’s” existential predicament most poignantly as compared to the female characters in their other works. However, the contrasting experiences of these two fictional female characters as contrived by their creators speak volumes about the two authors’ ideas of and attitude to educated women. As the following pages seek to demonstrate, although Tagore and Chatterjee grew up in a Hindu household, the former’s stupendous cultural repertoire built up by his family that contributed immensely to the efflorescence of the Bengal Renaissance, contrasted sharply with the latter’s caste conscious but socially obscure provincial and rural orthodox Hindu culture.

However, the two authors differ significantly in their understanding and appreciation of the changing attitudes of the women to their own situation and their aspiration. Even when both Tagore and Chatterjee agree generally in their attitude to love, sex, and marriage, they reveal their differing perspectives and presuppositions. Unlike the celebrated Emperor of Literature [Sāhitya Samrāt] Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-94) whom Rabindranath admired in his younger days for his historicity, idealism, and heroism, in his mature years Tagore turned out to be a romantic writer under the influence of Western Romanticism he imbibed through extensive reading. His poetic sensibilities were marked by romance, especially in the novels composed during the later part of his life and, most famously, Naṣṭanῑḍ, Cokher Bāli [Eyesore, 1903], and Śeṣer Kabitā [The Last Lyric, 1928-29]. In these novels the ordinary episodes of quotidian life are sublimated into poetic imaginary. The men and women in these novels are no extraordinary human beings nor are their lives touched by miracles but they betray acute sentiments and intelligence, and harbor colorful imagination. This amazing amalgam of realism and sublimation has been further embellished by Rabindranath’s utter disregard for hallowed traditions and morals. Consequently, the odyssey of the free-spirited souls of his stories heralded a new genre in Bengali novels of the post Bankim era. They are unique and, by the same token, inimitable.2

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