Rabindranath Tagore is probably the most celebrated Indian author of all times. I have read a couple of essays and short stories by the author but never a full length novel, before Chokher Bali, that is. In Chokher Bali I found everything the author is respected for and feel that the translation has done complete justice to his work. This books forms a part of my extended #DiscoveringIndiaReadathon.
This book is both modern in its outlook and classic by its own right!
I own a vintage books copy of the book. I have pondered a lot but I have not been able to figure out what is on the cover. It looks like the garb of a widow—a white saree—but it is not clear enough to state anything. The font in the title is what I love. The title is casually scribbled on the cover that depicts the grainy bits in the story. Somewhat sandy but elegant. Here we get the essence of Chokher Bali. The simple font that states the author’s name compliments this grainy texture of the title.
Even though I am not able to make out the graphic on the cover, it looks very elegant. Not only the cover but the font inside is also very legible. It is easy on eyes, unlike the other Classics books with small lettering we often find.
There are multiple characters in the book but primarily it is a story of four main characters. Mahendra or Mahin, as his mother fondly calls him, is the sole male figure of the house. Therefore, he is the most pampered. He is known for his tantrums and fickle mind. He has always got what he wanted in his life so when he decides to marry Asha, rejecting Binodini earlier, everyone has to comply. It could be because of Bihari’s prospective attraction towards Asha that Mahendra fell in love with Asha too. Bihari didn’t complain as he never does. He is an orphan and has respected Mahendra’s mother as his own and Mahendra as his brother. Bihari is simple in living, not wanting much out of life.
Asha is an orphan too, but she was lucky to grow up around relatives. She is inept in house work and is illiterate. She is lucky to have caught the attention of Mahendra and resolves to love him all her life dedicatedly. Bihari stays away from Asha, which works for all three of them.
Binodini is the fourth wheel here. She is an orphan too but she is skilled at housework and is well educated. She would make what is called an “ideal wife”, but Mahendra rejects her even before meeting her. She is instead married off to another man who dies soon after, leaving her a widow.
The book depicts the dynamics of the relationship between the characters above. They share an unconventional relationship. That is the subject of the book.
The book begins with a rishta that comes for the spoilt brat of the house. Mahendra is to meet the beautiful Binodini who is herself English educated. She would make an ideal wife for him but he cancels the wedding four days before he was to meet her. Instead he chooses to marry Asha. He meets Asha and falls in love with the name and her image that he romanticizes with the name. The scene reminds one of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Asha and Mahendra are two love birds that always spend time in each other’s company, which agitates his mother terribly. She in turn leaves for her maternal home. But who she brings back comes as a tornado in the house.
Binodini enters Mahendra’s household and the dynamics slowly start changing. She finally gets what she’d always wanted: a beautiful, well-to-do family and a house to manage. This gives her immense satisfaction. However, she soon realizes that it is not her house or her family. She imagines what it would be like t be married into a family like this. She often pities her own misfortune and develops contempt towards Asha.
There comes infidelity, questioning the norms, the emotional tug of war and changing intimacies. Tagore does not allow you to catch a breath; this is how fast the story rolls. There is abundant emotional push and pull. Plenty of misunderstanding and mistrust. Things start going wrong right when they are going right. Tagore displays the confusion set in the minds so aptly that you can clearly see the scene unfolding right in front of you. This book is a roller coaster ride.
I will take a few lines to commend the beautiful translation. I have two copies of the same book by two different translators. This is the one that made me fall in love with the writing immediately. Even though I do not understand the language, I was able to imagine it in the Bengali setting, unlike the books nowadays translated for English readers. This book will give you a whiff of Bengal.
The language is terribly simple but a lot of literary tools have been cleverly used to describe situations and scenarios. The book can be finished in a flow, so beautiful is the writing.
The book is a great product, both inside and out. The characters are so unpredictable. They are great to read of. The content is just mesmerizing. The writing is absolutely stunning.
The entire book happens in a matter of weeks. Therefore the book may feel a bit stretched for its time. Having said this, each line is worth its weight.
The book is one of the best Indian classics I have read till date.
Whom do I recommend this to
This is for those who are looking for a Tagore fiction to start with. Those who like classics or great regional literature are not going to be disappointed by this book.
Go ahead, grab yourself a copy of Chokher Bali and tell us what you think about the book! If you are a Kindle person, ensure to select the Kindle edition of the book.
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