Aankh ki Kirkiri aka Choker Bali by Rabindranath Tagore
On Gurudev’s 150th anniversary that is being celebrated across the country, I thought of at least sitting and reading one of his works. I picked up one of his popular works Chokher Bali, which is known for its strong female character Binodini. Before writing my thoughts about the work, I also watched the film made on the novel and as it always happens films hardly justify the literary works.
The story of Chokher Bali is about the young, beautiful, smart and educated widow Binodini. The male protagonist of the story rejected her for marriage and she returns to his house as a widow and plays the seductress to both him and his unmarried best friend. There are six key characters around whom the story revolves. Everyone had a role to play in the way things turned out and each one suffers in his or her own way. Binodini, as a young woman has the passion that she knows is prohibited for her. She uses her English education as a tool to seduce the two young men both medical students and best friends. She also befriends one’s wife and wins over his mother through her skillful handing of the household chores, making a point that she was better suited to be the daughter-in-law of the house. Does she gain anything in the end is not really the point that the story is set out to make.
Though everyone suffers because of Binodini’s behavior, they do not stop caring for her. In a complex weave of relationships and events author has so skillfully captured the complete picture that you can understand the story from each character’s point of view, empathize with each of them and in the end understand the nuances of delicate unnamed relationships. At no point in time the characters are painted black and white, they remain in grey area throughout. You see the feelings between characters going back and forth as the events span out. Sometimes they love and admire each other and at other times they loathe each other and the relationships keep changing all the time. Is this not how every interaction between us changes our relationship a bit?
The setting of the story and the interactions between the characters is also a good documentation of the times in Bengal in the early 20th century. The way people lived, dressed, what they valued and what were their perceptions of the British who were ruling India then. It indirectly also addresses the issues of women who were widowed early in life and had to live with that identity for the rest of their lives, irrespective of their own personal worth.
I read the Hindi translation of this work published by Sahitya Academy, not sure how much of the translator’s view would have impacted the original work, though I think the translation could have been a bit better.
I really enjoyed reading the book and besides the unusual story for its time I enjoyed the writer’s craft and his non-judgmental style of telling the story, his compassion for each character and their situations and his ability to bring in multiple view points in a single story. Read it.