Very few Indian authors had the ability to influence the opinions of readers the way Rabindranath Tagore’s works did. Interestingly, Rabindranath Tagore was as young as six when he started writing. It was his acumen in writing that led him to become the first Indian-and the first Asian-to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for “Gitanjali”.
Tagore, through his body of work, introduced the idea of feminism in India. His female protagonists talked about individuality, liberty, freedom, justice, power, dignity and rights. Often they would challenge patriarchy and talk about practices which are considered taboo even today.
On the Poet Laureate’s 156th birthday today, let us talk about Five of Tagore’s female protagonists who were way ahead of their times.
1. Suman, in Tyaag
The story revolves around how a Kayastha, orphan girl belonging to the lower caste, reveals her true identity to her husband after their marriage as she didn’t want the marriage to be based on a lie. She was unable to stomach the fact that her uncle prohibited her from revealing her true identity. Her husband, however, chooses their love over the difference in their caste and embraces her.
2. Mrinal in A Wife’s Letter
The protagonist of the story, Mrinal, pens down a powerful letter to her husband, a first in 15 years of their marriage, cursing the societal norms that restrict a woman’s freedom. She expresses her unhappiness with the fact that her sister had to set herself on fire due to successive abusive marriages. She also blames her husband for thwarting her from pursuing her passion (writing poetry) and his failure to perceive her as a human being.
3. Mrinmoyee in Samapti
The story of Mrinmoyee would resonate with a lot of women even today. Mrinmoyee fails to alter herself according to the societal expectations of a married woman. She challenges social norms and refrains from making any adjustments post marriage. Fearing the loss of her autonomy, she attempts to run from her house, twice.
4. Charulata in A Broken Nest
The story revolves around Charulata, whose husband hardly has time for her and how she finds solace in her brother-in-law. Her husband, a journalist by profession, did not pay her much attention. As a result, she turns to the company of her husband’s younger brother who brings out the creative side in her personality and gave wings to her dreams.
5. Haimanti in Haimanti
The novel named after the protagonist talks about the hypocrisy involved in arranged marriages and how women are forced to suffer in the garb of patriarchy. Hailing from a middle-class family, Haimanti sacrifices her life for the sake of upholding her marriage.
All these women wanted to be defined as individuals and not as wives, sisters or mothers. Tagore’s characters challenged the societal norms and gender stereotypes over a hundred years ago. Today’s feminist movement borrows heavily from the ripples of change that Tagore started a century ago.