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The New Tagore and Bina Biswas’ Critical adventure with his heroines

Tagore\'s Heroines: Assessing the portraits of gender orientation

Published : Saturday, 17 March, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 2101
Reviewed by Hisham M Nazer

 Tagore's Heroines: Assessing the portraits of gender orientation
The New Tagore and Bina Biswas’ Critical adventure with his heroines

The New Tagore and Bina Biswas’ Critical adventure with his heroines

Bina Biswas's Tagore's Heroines: Assessing the Portraits of Gender Orientation is a book that does not limit itself only to a feminist reading of Rabindranath Tagore's works but with its sweetness and light - it magnifies the cultural complexity from where Tagore sketched his female characters.
It is in this culture where Tagore found (or perhaps wanted to project) a subversive change in the lives of women, and the author of this book has aptly focused her research on this particular aspect where the creative consciousness of an era cannot but be influenced by the social discourse of that particular time. Tagore was not an exception. But what was truly exceptional about him is that he acknowledged the influence and let his pen perform something truly extraordinary for his time. Bengal was waking up. Just like the other giants of his family, Tagore had to take part in the phenomenon.
In the foreword of the book, Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh writes: "Tagore's identification with common people and his sympathy for the oppressed and enslaved makes him concerned for the other half of the human society-the women." Bina Biswas' painstaking effort to bring the dictators of dichotomies under the naked light of cultural criticism and to give the female characters their due attention has been justly commented by Dr. Gosh: "For those of us who are even remotely sensitive to the delicacy of gender issues, Dr. Bina Biswas' illuminating revelation of Tagore's Heroines . . . promises a lucid foray into hitherto veiled territories of human concern."
Indeed Bina has done a tremendous work especially in this time when woman's rights and "womanist perspective(s)" are at stake due to the aggressive patriarchal paradigms that attempt to suppress the alternatives, or even the possibility of an otherwise gender narrative.
Tagore's Heroines therefore is a testament of Bina's erudition and her social concerns that casts a kind of light that brings forth the truth about the genius of Rabindranath Tagore. What makes this book more special is Bina's take on Tagore's fiction rather than his other lyrical creations, because fiction is after all an author's elaborate and analytical reflection on reality; it is a play with possibilities, with "what can be".
Thus Tagore has created a scope to see women as a vital force in the society, with anger and anxiety, with pains and powers. And Bina has simply led us to the window from where we can have a vantage point to see what Tagore actually was trying to show us. To prepare us for the spectacle, the author even goes to the extent of discussing the genres that gave Tagore's works specific shapes where he, as his "genius" deemed fit, poured down his thoughts on the signification of genders.
Bina writes: "What Tagore wrote was basically meant for entertainment with a long lasting effect but unlike other writers of the age there was no moral preached, there was no illumination. But there was definitely a social criticism of life present in the stories." The unflinching voice of Bina here in this comment proves the extraordinariness of her thesis that has attempted to bring forth a new Tagore - the first feminist literary critic in Bengal, whose fictions are in fact his narrative researches.
Besides being a critical source for literary and socio-cultural projects, Bina Biswas' book is also theoretically relevant. It realizes quite successfully Bhaba's suggestion by contemplating, from both aesthetic and critical perspectives, Tagore's "story of people whom history has ignored." Thus Bina's book theoretically reflects Helen Tiffin's concept of counter-discourse at the same time. It counters the concept of masculinised protagonism that dominates our anthologies and our addas. It counters the undisputed dominance of "heroism" in popular fields of literature by concentrating on and thus going beyond the boundary of the "Sita and Draupadi syndromes".
Tagore's Heroines also proves Bina Biswas' intimate romance with the English language and it is necessary here to address the issue because she has so wonderfully woven her understanding of the female narrative from Tagore's fiction that each line unfolds, with a kind of effortless spontaneity, the story and the history of both Tagore and his characters.
The first chapter "Tagore and the Milieu" works like an epigraph that goes on to shed light to the shape of Tagore's thoughts and passions by reflecting on his own history. The "worldliness of a text" is so obvious and unavoidable a reality that it is almost impossible to understand the traits of certain heroines, the emergence of certain identities, the resultant climaxes and the reason of certain revelations from Tagore's stories without knowing a bit about him, his past and his present.
Bina's historical reflection on Tagore and the milieu thus shows that Tagore had "his own generation in his bones" and the impact of his predecessors and past on his creative consciousness too was utterly obvious. Bina writes: "No author writes in a vacuum. The contemporary world has a definite impression on the works." Her discussion of Maharshi Debendranath and his philosophical phases is truly insightful because it shows how family can influence someone into becoming, in this case, none other than Rabindranath Tagore. "Dwarkanath was known as 'Prince', his eldest son became Maharshi (Great Sage)" (E. M. Forster, 1941). What less can be expected from the protégé?
Authors P R E S S India first published Bina Biswas' Tagore's Heroines in 2012. The second edition was published in 2016. In 11 out of total 18 chapters, the author discusses, with an extensive scholarly flair, the characters Chandara from Shashti, Carulata from Nastaneer, Kumudini from Jogajog, Shohini from Laboratory, Damini from Chaturanga, Harasundari from Madhyabartini, Didi and Kadambini from Jibito O Mrito, Mrinal from Streer Patro, Binodini from Chokher Bali, Bimala from Ghare Baire, Anandomoyi from Gora, Mrinmoyee from Samapti, and finally Labonyo from Shesher Kabita. The last four chapters hold Bina's overall assessment of Tagore's treatment of women and taps on themes like woman versus womanliness, feminism and then the challenges and quests for women.

The reviewer is a lecturer English department, Varendra University

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