Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



Rabindranath Tagore, Gora (trans Sujit Mukheejee): There is much to say (and I've no doubt much has been said, though perhaps not in English letters) about the various social aspects to this novel: colonialism/nationalism, religion/traditionalism, caste (an -ism not quite racial), feminism, all interacting towards a fundamental understanding of the hierarchical obligations of individual, family, community and society. It also served me as introduction to the Bengali Renaissance through its foremost proponent (a family franchise), so far-sighted in liberal reform as to invite neglect, so much has it become unremarkable, preassumed, part of a general atmosphere, and at the same time overshadowed in world history by western social reform movements (which deferred consideration of its imperial subjects until much later). (Despite Meenakski Mukherjee's introductory remarks to the contrary, this aspect of the novel is predictably polemic, in its small-l liberal way. But the Sahitya Akademi edition provides excellent ancillary material for those, like me, unfamiliar with the milieu.) There is a particular brilliance in having Gora's birth at the time of the Sepoy Rebellion invoke another dominion of British Empire (J.G.Farrell led me here; now it rebounds). But the larger brilliance is in constructing a dialectic within the frame of the coming-of-age of the two protagonists, Gora and Binoy, and their romances with members of a Brahmo Samaj family. (Unusually for the time, the intercession of the distaff characters [and not just the objects of attraction] is decisive.) This is a delicate balance, sustained through the first half of Gora, but compromised thereafter by the exigencies of plot and purpose, leading to a tailing-off (not unlike e.g. V2 of Musil's The Man without Qualities, though plot wasn't a consideration) as the supporting cast retreats into unidimensionality, and to deus-ex-machinations. But I quibble: There is a deep irony that Gora should be the only major character to go beyond the environs of the urban educated class, and again in Binoy's high degree of sensitivity to polite constraint -- if anything, the novel's development follows that of Binoy most closely, but the denouement might be said to expose Gora as it does pasteboard (a self-conscious comment upon the novel?). But as the story does with its protagonists, Gora engages both the head and heart of the reader, and in approximately that order.

Addendum 31.7: A reader closer to this than I points out that the underpinnings of the story combine elements of both Vedic and Greek mythology -- in reflecting the Brahmo Samaj syncresis, it strongly mitigates my quibbling above (as do biographical aspects beyond my ken). As I learn more, I better appreciate the scale and scope of Rabindranath Tagore's (and his family's) accomplishments, and the influence, however muted, that persists.


Post a Comment

<< Home