Published:  12:50 AM, 19 November 2017

Jorasanko: The poetics of the Andarmahal

Asif Nawaz illustrates some sharp scenarios of Tagore family, as depicted by the author

Jorasanko: The poetics of the Andarmahal Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti, Publisher - Harper Collins Publishers India, published in 2013

Jorashanko is a book that pulls out readers into the three generations of Tagore family. The 'high politics', romance, tragedy and the little things that make up a family life at Jorashanko are the major areas that Aruna Chakravarti tries to elaborate.

The novel is also the study of the 'andarmahal' of Tagore family. The ever expanding poetics of confinement that women endured inside their lived spaces, the loss and time deluded Tagore men in the houses are the primer ideas of this novel. Mostly the author's fictional work on the Jorashanko family leads us to powerful women who happened to be the happenings of voluminous miseries and cultural evils imposed upon them.

The novel also depicts how the Tagore women were predisposed and were in turn influenced by their male counterparts. Jorashanko mirrors the hopes and fears, achievements and defeats and the lived experience of the women in the household as well as the alterations they were continuously husked upon to make as daughters and daughters-in-laws of the most distinguished families of the land.

It is widely known to the Bengalis that the house at Jorashanko was renowned for its cultural and intellectual boldness being the hub of Bengali renaissance with the family in the forefront at the movement. Aruna Chakraverti paints memorable sketches of women like Digambari, Dwarkanath's iron-willed wife who declines to accept her husband's everlasting romance with alcohol and Western ways; Sarada Sundari, the overweight, sluggish but devoted wife of Debendranath, who had the shock to see the old world order sliding over by the new 'tradition'; the unconquerable Jogmaya, who takes on Debendranath and splits the Tagore family into two.

There are also the young daughters and daughters-in-laws. The tough, inventive Jnanadanandini who introduced the women of Bengal of wearing the sari and initiated the notion of 'nuclear family'; Swarnakumari, ordinarily acknowledged as a pioneer of women's writing in India; and Rabindranath's muse the gentle, forlorn-melancholic Kadambari. The author has re-created the world inside the Tagore home which is at once sparkling and enthralling also dark and perplexing. Written in a 'relaxing' style, Jorashanko is a very visual novel which leaves the reader with nostalgic imagery of the life of the most eminent home in Bengal.  

Daughters of Jorashanko: The deathless poet as a man

"In the deepest recesses of my heart with much hope and love
I shelter you with tears and laughter.
You came without a word, Queen of mine,
How did you enter my heart without me knowing?"
"Kori o Kamal"

Rabindranath's muses shined on his poetic journey. 'Rabi' the sun of the Tagore family needed light, quested muses from women whom he had various 'cosmic' inclinations throughout his life. He wrote for every occasion, every season and mostly for every human feelings. The novel embraces the life of Rabindranath Tagore as a family man as well as a poet, the rise and fall of Tagore's fortune and his gaining of Nobel Prize in literature.

As continued from its prequel Jorashanko, this novel steadily maintained a melancholic tone throughout the end, as if the sadness of Kadambari Debi never let go off the household. Rabindranath's rise as a luminescence, his grandeur, poetic sublime, achievements, failure as a father and as the head of household remained in the centerpiece of all the actions in the novel.

The poet's defiance in resistance to the British Empire by denouncing his knighthood also leave a mark in the novel's development. Aruna Chakravarti has a crafted sense of economic plotting, which we have seen in The Inheritors, not much towards the end of Jorashanko but steadily put in The Daughters of Jorashanko.

Rabindranath remained the 'man' in the action, writing poems, and finding worst husbands for his daughters, traveling places, finding mental spaces, meeting his poetic muses in various places of this world, failing in the family business and most of all becoming the 'greatest Tagore' of all time.

The achievements that brought his life into a 'sun' like stature, the sacrifices were followed due to his fate. The loss of Rani and Beli were the most shocking to the poet's life after the willful Mrinalini's death. The suicide of Kadambari Debi left a permanent mark on the poet as he looked for muses all over the land.

His daughters were a 'sort' of relief to that thought. The dynamics of Ranu and 'Vanu Dada' as it grows towards a solemn and steady contour of poetic inspiration for the poet. Victoria Ocampo, the Argentinian writer and intellectual whom Borges called as a 'The quintessential Argentine woman' also had a greater role in poet's life. As life the prequel, the novel is also about the women in the house, women that wanted to be free. Sarala Devi is that sort of a woman who lived the life of an 'almost free' woman for a brief amount of time.

The birth of Shantiniketon and the gradual development of Rabindranath Tagore's journey to immortality. The writer has implacably researched the Tagore family, the houses of Jorashanko, the women and mostly the 'sun' in the land. Though Shantiniketon has a significant place in the novel but the description felt inadequate. Aruna Chakravarti's attempt to bring the poet into a new light is mostly successful but she could not moved away from the dogma of portraying as it has been found on other representation of Rabindranath Tagore.

The Daughters of Jorashanko is an emotional read with flowing characters, women who are more inclined to tradition, the men expect for the poet were either 'not so good' or straight forwardly 'bad', and finally the 'high politics' that wrecked the societal spectrum. The reader will find this novel as a visual journey that started from Jorashanko to the death of first Nobel laureate of Indian subcontinent.  

The reviewer is a lecturer, Department
of English and Modern Languages,
Central Women's University, Dhaka

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