“Nastanirh” by Tagore is one of the most astonishing craft in the history of Indian literature, written in an age when renaissance in Bengal was at its peak. Indeed the work later became Satyajit’s source for “Charulata”, a movie widely acclaimed for its direction, classic ideas, and unconventional thought process.
Being a social reformer Tagore was always concerned towards the plight of the fairer sex. He was a modernist, a visionary as well as a revolutionary who advocated the physical needs of her woman characters boldly. It is in Tagore’s literary pieces that we find the woman character breaking their stigma of stereotype convention and articulating their needs.
Charulata is one of the best creations of Tagore. “Charu”, a beautiful childless housewife with her keen interest in writing is thrown into the world of boredom and loneliness by her husband “Bhupati” who belongs to the category of an aristocratic well cultured Bengali. He is an intellectual man, loving husband, but so occupied with his work that he is insensitive towards his wife’s actual needs.
Charu’s life has become mundane with very little to do in the house run by a group of servants. Bhupati figures out this boredom of his wife and calls his brother-in-law and his wife to eradicate his wife’s monotony. However the chatter box sister-in-law proves to be a bad company to an intellectual lady like Charu.
Evidently in the portrayal of Charulata’s character we get a glimpse of a feminist as well as of a reformer. She is much like Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Portia in her intelligence and beauty. She is a woman passionate about writing, who does not get any exposure till the time she meets the young, talented, smart, educated man of her age, Amal.
Indeed he is Bhupati’s cousin and is instigated by Bhupati himself to give company to Charu. Meanwhile, Charu and Amal come close with their compatible thought processes. Their friendship turns into a love affair in a very short span of time, breaking the convention of the so called Victorian morality. The narrative indicates a reflection of Tagore’s personal relationship with his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi whose suicide has remained confidential till now.
Renaissance in Bengal was a revolutionary movement that gave a clarion call to the rebirth of new ideas and reawakening of human mind. It was an age of questioning that triggered the rejection of conventions and out-dated social traditions. Consequently Tagore’s female characters demonstrate the spirit of renaissance at its zenith by proclaiming their needs audaciously. Binodini, Vimala, Charulata are not just characters but types representing the reincarnation of a woman of their age. Charu’s question to her husband Bhupati – “Why can’t a girl love two men at the same time,” reinforces the very mind-set of renaissance.
Being a progressive thinker and a man ahead of his age Tagore represents the psychology, the dilemma, the suppressed desires, and the revolutionary zeal of a modern educated house wife who strives for emancipation from the narrow domestic walls. The question of human free will is the underline theme of the story. “Nastanirh” is not just a novel but a spiffing example of Tagore’s artistic excellence.
Suravi Banerjee is a scholar of English Language and Literature, hailing from Dhanbad, Jharkhand