REASSESSING THE INTERPLAY OF POLITICS, GENDER, AND MODERNITY: UNVEILING NEW DIMENSIONS IN RABINDRANATH TAGORE'S ‘CHOKHER BALI’
Abstract: "Chokher Bali" by Rabindranath Tagore is a significant contemporary novel from India that explores the concept of the 'territory' and women's liberation. The novel begins with a married couple named Mahendra and Asha, disrupted by a widowed woman named Binodini. Binodini experiences introspection and emotional upheaval, ultimately leading to her liberation. Tagore's discourse is linked to colonial modernity, which is influenced by the evolving nature of human civilization. The female characters in Tagore's novels reflect the process of modernization and societal norms that limit women's lives. The Vedic era in Indian history was known for its advancements in women's status and empowerment, earning the title of the "Golden Age of Women in India." However, the importance of ancestor veneration, child marriage, and inter-caste marriages grew, leading to a decline in women's social status. The "dark age" of women during the early Muslim dynasty saw an increased prevalence of purdah and child marriage, leading to a lack of critical examination of underlying norms and attitudes. The concept of the "New Woman" emerged as a feminist ideology in the 19th century, referring to women who challenged societal constraints imposed by patriarchal norms. Tagore's works, such as "Chokher Bali," focus on female characters undergoing a complex journey of isolation, repression, humiliation, guilt, and ego. The characters Rajlakshmi and Asha's aunt Annapurna highlight the concept of regressive contemporary gender politics in Indian society during the nineteenth century. Rabindranath Tagore's portrayal of Binodini is a groundbreaking example of the Indian "new woman" and an antecedent to the feminist movement.
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The conceptual framework of Rabindranath Tagore's intellect, situated inside a certain social structure, reveals the many essences inherent in the intricate character of his works. In order to provide more clarification, it can be seen that the matrices of modernity and feminism are intricately interwoven within the narrative of ‘Chokher Bali’. What is Rabindranath Tagore's conception of modernity? What was Tagore's perception on feminism? This paper seeks to analyse ‘Chokher Bali’, a literary work that primarily explores the tensions between colonial modernity in Bengal. One of the central themes in the novel is the significance of domestic space and its connection to the development of the nation, specifically India. The progression of the characters in the story is heavily influenced by societal expectations based on gender roles. An exhaustive examination has been undertaken to critically analyse the text and background of ‘Chokher Bali’, with the aim of elucidating the aspect of the changing relationship between femininity and modernity. Within the framework of colonial modernity, Rabindranath Tagore created groundbreaking characters such as Binodini, who exhibited a progressive mindset. The portrayal of Binodini garnered significant scrutiny from several reviewers, particularly when the book ‘Chokher Bali’ underwent a comprehensive translation into English. In her work titled "Novelist Tagore: Gender and Modernity in Selected Texts," Radha Chakravarty effectively expounds upon Tagore's statement in the introduction to the second edition of the book. Tagore asserts that the writing of the new period aims not to simply chronicle a series of events, but rather to unveil the innermost emotions and sentiments of individuals. According to Chakravarty (48), this is the tale of "Chokher Bali." Western audiences were introduced to Tagore's notion of the Indian "new woman" as an antecedent to the feminist movement. Furthermore, the author's notion of "humanism" has significance in light of his portrayal of female characters, as it reflects his aim to reshape societal norms and foster egalitarian dynamics between men and women, therefore upholding the existing natural order.