More than daughters, this is the story of an ageing Tagore
beset by health and family problems. A man in control of his poetry but not in
control of his life or of such unpoetic issues like piles. Daughters of
Jorasanko continues the tradition set by the first book, familiarising readers
with the Tagores. Bengali readers have had more opportunity to delve into the
private lives of Rabindranath Tagore and his family through Sunil
Gangopadhyay’s Shei Shomoi and Ranu and
Bhanu which are dramatisations of Tagore’s life and times. Jorasanko, the
first book ended with the death of Tagore’s wife Mrinalini and dealt with his
ambivalent relationship with Kadambari, his brother’s wife. However, Tagore’s
life did not end there. He was part of a joint family with a wealth of children
to bring up, many of them daughters. The novel covers the years between 1859
and 1902 with political upheavals becoming part of daily life leading to the
Partition of Bengal.
To most of Bengal, the great house of Jorasanko symbolised
free thought and liberalism. The women rode, travelled abroad, played the piano
and indulged in heated intellectual debates. However that was only one side of
the story. Behind the curtains of the andarmahal was a cloistered, patriarchy
dominated existence where domestic abuse was part of everyday life along with
child marriage and domineering mothers-in-law.
Tagore’s eldest daughter, the poetically named Madhurilata
for example, was assaulted by her younger sister Ashatilata’s husband. The
trauma resulted in a miscarriage. Tagore was aware of what was happening but
was helpless in case his younger daughter became a victim at the hands of the
brutal husband he had chosen. Madhurilata ultimately died of depression and TB,
unable to conceive again. Situations like these are repeated in various forms
in Tagore’s own stories — perhaps the only means he had at his disposal to make
the problems public since as Gurudev, he was beyond reproach.
Add to that the fact that he himself was involved in strange
episodes which could have been the stuff of fiction — like having an
excited nubile 12-year-old burst in on his dripping from her bath and
totally nude when he was almost 60 —
later a relationship was to spring up between the ageing poet and the girl who
became Lady Ranu Mukherjee.
Of course, much of the time, Tagore himself was ailing and
the period could be described as a twilight time in Jorasanko annals. Perhaps
this is why the book sets the tone by opening on a cold, clear winter morning.
The stories in Daughters of Jorasanko are a result of
Chakravarti’s delving into books like
Thakurbarir Andarmahal and Rabindranather Attiyasajan. Territory that
RItuparno Ghosh was exploring before his death because he felt there was
material for a riveting television series.
Aruna Chakravarti chooses to mix fact and fiction in her
work, choosing to bolster the credibility of her fiction with actual poems and
letters. Like the last book, Daughters of Jorasanko straddles two genres, using
dramatisation to heighten the effect of what we already know to be true.
The reviewer is a freelance contributor.