Tagore’s Women

Did you attend our program Rabindranath Tagore’s Home and the World presented by Baithak? Read Priya Nagaraj’s follow up article to a question posed by the program’s audience. 

Tagore’s Women

Do the women in Tagore’s stories, progressive and bold in the beginning, turn conformist by the end? A question from the audience sparked an engaging discussion after the presentation of Baithak’s reader’s theater on Sunday, March 10th at the Livingston library.

Tagore’s female characters are bold, unconventional and free-spirited in a very traditional milieu. Bimla, the devoted wife in the novel The Home and the World, gets attracted to her husband’s friend when she crosses the threshold of her parochial household.  Binodini in Chokher Bali defies the norms of widowhood and maintains a relationship with a man, a married man at that. Charulatta in Nastanirh confesses her love for her brother-in-law with whom she forges a relationship during her lonely married years.

I will not disclose the plot of the stories and reveal if Tagore’s women mentioned above do “conform” at the end. Moreover, given the intricate plot and nuanced characters deftly crafted by Tagore, it is not a binary situation but a question of degrees.

I do wonder though if the question resonates with the women of today. Do women tend to think progressively and act conservatively? Are we women not bold enough to realize what we believe in? Is it a lack of courage or are our ideals too lofty and unrealistic? There are many instances when women consciously do not assert themselves – at work, at home, and in other social settings. Quite often women find it difficult to ASK for that project, the raise, and that promotion. At home it is easier to pick our battles and make peace than stand up for what we know is right. What we knew to be fair and equitable in our 20s remains fair and equitable in our 40s – however, just not practical. Call it a compromise or being strategic, we do end up with a dissonance between how we think and how we act.

Does that mean our ideals count for nothing? Would it count as failure if we stood up for what we believed in only sixty percent of the time? An audience member in Sunday’s event put it very aptly and I am paraphrasing her here – All the progressive thoughts and actions of the women who came before us lay the seeds and set the path for the women of the future.

Tagore’s women too contributed to this slow but resilient evolution of women’s aspirations and realization, juggling between standing their ground and being flexible. Tagore’s Bimla steps outside her secure home, sees the world, and makes an informed decision on the path she wants to take. Does she compromise or does she follow her heart? You will have to read the book to know.

-Priya Nagaraj, Economics Professor and Part of team Baithak.


Livingston, NJ 07039, USA

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