Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"The In-Between-Woman" by Rabindranath Tagore রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর

"The In-Between-Woman"  by Rabindranath Tagore (1923, 6 pages)

Marriage as Child Raising?
रबिन्द्रनाथ ठाकुर

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941-India) was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1911).    Gandhi came to him for moral advise, Einstein was intrigued by his metaphysics and W. B. Yeats was amazed by his sheer depth.   He reshaped the Bengali language.    I am so glad that a few months ago by sheer luck I read one of his short stories, of which I am pleased to say there are many.    I see him as a great world wide cultural treasure and a source of  real wisdom.   

A number of Tagore's short stories deal directly with the lives of South Asian women, often with those from the poorer segments of society.    He writes with complete empathy and realism without a hint of condescension.   Before I post on the story I just want to bring up one question.

There is something that is must bother a lot of people as they read for the first time South Asian short stories about marriage.  The women in the stories are from eight to twelve when they marry, often as second or more wives to a man much older than they are.    Custom seems to dictate that the marriages  are not be consummated until the girl had her first period.     This is not treated as an evil thing but as just normal.   Do we adopt an attitude of ethical relativism and say well it was OK in their culture or do we reject it as intrinsically repugnant?     I think this is one of the questions brought up in "The In-Between Woman".    We also have to think how does a woman who was married at 12 feel at age 32 when she is asked to help in the raising of a 12 year old junior wife.

The wife in this story was married at 8, she is 35 now and had never had a child.   She loves her husband very much but she knows he wants a child.   She tells him it is time for him to find a second wife.    He loves her also and at first he is very against the idea.    In time, knowing he is really expected by all to produce an heir he agrees to take another wife.    In a very moving and sad moment he tells his wife he does not have time with his work to "raise" a new wife from childhood to an adult.   He tells the wife she must do it and she agrees out of love for her husband.

"One day, he introduced the subject himself and said, “If I marry a girl child at my age, I won’t be able to bring her up.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Harasundari replied. “The responsibility of raising her properly rests with me.” As she announced this, the outline of a young, gentle, bashful, newly wedded bride, lately separated from her mother’s bosom, formed in the mind of this childless woman and her heart melted"
  In time she begins to feel love for the new wife, who is really a  child.   When the child bride displaces her in the husbands bed she feels a profound sadness but she accepts it.  We sense the child bride knows she has more sexual power over the husband than the older wife.    In time the new wife develops into the most horrible of spoiled brats.   Tagore makes us feel how the man and older wife feel.   I will say it feels terrible for the wife and really not much better for the man.    I will leave the rest of this story untold.   It is perfectly done and plotted I think anyone who reads it will be moved and made to think.   It would probably make a good class room story as it should generate a lot of discussion.

You can read it on line HERE.   It is newly translated (2011) by Nivedita Sen

I will be reading and posting on Tagore on a regular basis.  

Let us know of your experience with Tagore

Mel u


Anonymous said...

I don't usually read short stories but I like the sound of this one. Thanks for the review :)

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