A deeply psychological novel, ‘Home and the World’ by Rabindranath Tagore explores the psychology of its three protagonists – Nikhil, his wife Bimala, and his friend Sandeep. Set in the backdrop of the freedom struggle, specifically the Swadeshi movement, it goes on to show how differently every individual perceives the movement and how it influences the private lives of all involved.
The hero – Nikhil is a rich zamindar who shares neither the chauvinistic attitude of the males of his society nor is he a womanizer (unlike the other males of his family who lost their lives to drink). Kind, caring and idealistic, he is not only a devoted husband but wants his traditional wife Bimala to share a relationship of equality with him. Introducing his wife to modern thoughts, he encourages her to go out of the zenana and interact with the world. Bimala- the most intriguing character in the novel is rooted in tradition and customs, she worships her loving husband but is hesitant to let go of conventions. And when she finally does venture out into the world, the sacrosanct bond between husband and wife is ruined by the equally powerful character of Sandeep – who is Nikhil’s friend and is a direct contrast to his personality. Aggressive and dominating, he represents the radical side of the Swadeshi movement. While Nikhil believes in humanitarian methods like helping the indigenous farmers, Sandeep only thinks of burning English clothes and giving fiery, charged speeches. Very realistically drawn, his character represents the clever manipulative politician who lusts after power. The novel is replete with beautiful and powerful verse, mainly mouthed by Nikhil and Sandeep.
While Nikhil’s dialogue reflects a delicate understanding of human mind and relationships, Sandeep’s speeches are full of passionate fervour. The contrast between ‘home’ i.e. the family life of Nikhil and Bimla (including the zenana) and the ‘World’ which is the domain of the Swadeshi movement led by Sandeep is built subtly during the course of the novel. The character of Bimala undergoes a metamorphosis as she gradually makes the transition from the home into the world outside. Deeply influenced by Sandeep’s eloquence and passionate disposition, she is soon drawn into the Swadeshi movement. Putting her on a pedestal, Sandeep ignites the flame of passionate patriotism in her heart by exhorting her as the symbol of supreme womanhood. In an intriguing plot, Tagore shows that there is much more than meets the eye. Behind every ideology, lies personal and private emotion and feeling which drive each character to their respective action. Sandeep, wanting to climb the social ladder, puts self interest before anything else in his political endeavours. Jealous of Nikhil’s affluence, Sandeep begins to view a victory over Bimla’s heart as the ultimate triumph over his rich friend. Completely gripped by Sandeep’s strong influence over her, Bimala goes to the extent of stealing her husband’s money for the political cause. Sandeep’s character is fully exposed when he takes the money in his possession with the intention of personal use. Confessing his devotion to Bimala, he is able to coax her into donating all her jewels for the cause.
Nikhil though aware, can only let go everything as his ideology doesn’t permit him to bind her, but the relation between husband and wife become strained. Tagore portrays the estrangement through their limited conservations and explicit thought-process. He beautifully depicts the silent emotions of husband and wife through the power of language. The two most powerful aspects of the novel are it’s powerfully built realistically portrayed characters, and its highly poetic prose with philosophical insights. Metaphors idioms and proverbs add to the lucidity of the novel.
Another character who despite being minor, is given a significant space in the novel the sister-in-law, the wife of Nikhil’s deceased brother. Having an autobiographical basis in Tagore’s sister in law, the relationship of Nikhil and his sister-in-law is a complex one. Having literally grown up together she is his friend and sister. Though she is cunning and calculative, much to Bimala’s annoyance, Nikhil is fond of her. Very tolerant and uncritical, Nikhil readily overlooks all her faults, just like he does with regard to Bimala. The instance when he justifies his sister-in law’s pettiness by comparing it to the feet of Chinese women -so suppressed by society that they become petty and ugly; brings out not only his deep understanding, but also Tagore’s brilliance with language.
In the final scenes of the novel, all the characters finally resolve their inner and outer conflicts. A peasant uprising breaks out in the area and Sandeep is the prime target. Discarding his aggressive ideology and surface eloquence, he decides to flee from the city. The otherwise gentle Nikhil rises to the occasion and sets out to go amongst the violent peasants to resolve the issue.
The novel is left open ended when Nikhil (wounded by a bullet) is carried on a stretcher to his home and Bimala watches him with grief and anticipation. Whether he lives or whether he dies is for the reader to decide.
A masterpiece of Tagore’s poetic prose and his psychological insight, ‘Home and the World’ is a novel which realistically captures the disruptions of personal relationships and family life when exposed to the chaotic socio-political change outside. written in the form of diary entries by the three protagonists, it enables a genuine and unconditioned exposition of the characters’ thought process.
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