"The Judge" by Rabindranath Tagore (1895, 12 pages)
My Prior Posts on Tagore
Until next year, I will be posting just on some selected short stories.
|1861 to 1941|
"The Judge" is the ninth story by Rabindranath Tagore which I have now read and posted on. Sometimes I just feel like I need to read a story by someone whose wisdom and kindness of heart I know I can trust. When that happens, Tagore is a very good author to turn to. He is highly regarded for the way women are treated in his works.
Tagore (1861 to 1941) was born in Kolkata, Indian into a family whose wealth and life style can now only be seen in movies. His father owned an estate so huge that at one point in his life Tagore travelled through it on a luxurious barge and was met on the river bank by tenants paying token rents to him. Tagore was raised mostly by servants as his mother died young and his father was very busy administrating the vast estates he owned. Tagore was educated in classical Indian literature and at age eight began to write poetry and ended up reshaping the Bengali Language. Later in his life he founded a school and devoted himself entirely to his writing and teachings. His moral authority became so great that he was able to write the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh, give Gandhi the title of Mahatma (teacher), and had a status as a moral leader on a par with Gandhi. He travelled to the west and met William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound and other notable literary figures. This was in a period when western writers were fascinated by Indian thinkers and Yeats wrote the preface for one of his first translations in English. He wrote largely in Bengali. His body of work is a great literary treasure. He was the first Asian writer to win the Nobel Prize (1914).
Women in India in 1895 were supposed to enter into arranged marriages in their early teens and stay in them for the rest of their lives, no matter what. Sati, the burning of widows, was still practiced at this time. Not every woman is able or willing to fit into this pattern of arranged marriages. In reading older works of literature, you have to decide how you will react to the very young age at which women marry or can be seen as proper targets for sexual conquest. "The Judge" is the story of an attractive 38 year old unmarried woman with a child. (I assuming this is seen as old.) Tagore has a beautiful set piece on how one can sort of detect if your mind has matured out of youth.
I will leave the plot unspoiled (there will be a link at the end of the post that will allow you to read the story). Here is the beautiful thoughts of Tagore.
"In that dusk of youth, in the peace of that stage of life, he who has to start again in the false hope of new gains, new acquaintances and new relationships – for whose rest the bed has yet to be spread – for whom no light has been lit to welcome him home at day end – cursed indeed is he.
At the brink of her youth, one morning, when Khiroda woke up to find that her fiancé had run off the last night with all her ornaments and money, to leave her with not enough even to pay the rent or to get some milk to feed her three-year old child – she reminisced that in her life of thirty-eight years she could not lay claim over a single man, she had not acquired the right to live or die in the corner of any room. She realised she would again have to wipe off tears to deck up her eyes with black kajol and put on red make-up on her lips and cheeks in a curious attempt to cover up the worn-out youth and devise new schemes cheerfully and with infinite patience to capture new hearts".
Kirhoda decides it is better just to kill herself and her daughter. She jumps with the three year old girl into a well. The daughter drowns but Kirhoda is rescued. She is arrested and is brought before a judge who feels women must be dealt with in the harshest fashion when they violate law and custom else they will all "go wild". He sentences the mother to be hung.
The judge has not always been the purest of men. I believe it was almost expected for men to have sexual experiences before marriage and this leads to many young men having predatory attitudes toward women while expecting only the greatest purity from their sisters, daughters, mothers, etc.
There is a very moving a bit ambiguous ending to the story. Maybe the judge learns something, maybe not. Maybe there is a 24 year old connection of the judge to the 13 year old at the time Kirthoda, maybe not. The ending will make you think, in fact the whole story will.
The story is a new translation from Bengali by Saurav Bhattacharya.
You can read it here. Tagore will for sure be back on The Reading Life in 2012.
Please share with us your experience and feelings about Tagore.