Friday, September 25, 2009

Gora - Rabindranath Tagore



Ever since I read ‘Creative Unity’, a collection of essays by Tagore, I became a disciple of Tagore. With ‘Gora’, I have become a devotee.

This is a long post but it’s a Tagore! And then who is writing about it? You don’t want to miss it. :-)

Five hundred pages of pure literature. You wish it would not come to an end. The experience of reading Tagore, especially this book is like the experience of sailing, though I have not really sailed. However, the connotations I associate with sailing are calm, tranquillity, effortlessness, stillness, composure and self assuredness. Panorama, depth, vision, contemplation and serendipity are a few other connotations.

Even when Tagore takes up the question of religion, society, traditions, or embarks on the danger of comparing races, nations and people (which he does often), he makes his point but without being strident. There is courage and confidence in his writing.

The dispassion in the narration is deceptive for it carefully hides in its womb a lot of passion and feeling about issues of serious nature such as nation, religion, tradition and culture.

A story of the common people, set in Bengal, during the early 1900, this is a magnificent yet simple work. It’s a story of two friends, Gora and Binoy. It’s the story of a Hindu family and a Brahmo family. It’s a story of love and friendship, of patriotism, religious fervour, disillusionment and much more...

It’s a book that is representative not only of Tagore’s mastery over English language but also of the depth of his thinking, his understanding of his society, it’s people, its ways and mankind in general.

The story begins with Binoy Bhushan Chatterji, a sober but sensitive, thoughtful Hindu boy becoming attracted to Sucharita. Sucharita, living some distance away from Binoy’s house, though a Hindu girl, is a Brahmo, as she lives with her foster parents who happen to be Brahmos.
Paresh Chandra Bhattacharya – the head of the Brahmo family, is a mature, wise, tolerant and quiet man, respected by all in the family and is a support to Sucharita whenever she is in doubt or dilemma.

Binoy starts visiting them under the pretext of having to meet his new and young friend Satish who is Sucharita’s brother. As he becomes acquainted with all the family members, his feeling for Sucharita dies gradually. And the gradual dying of the feeling within a short time without an explanation is something I liked. I think this is quite rare to find; it usually reaches a crescendo and then there is fulfilment or tragedy.

Meanwhile Baroda, who happens to be Paresh babu’s wife gets friendly with Binoy, hoping to initiate him into the Brahmo religion. It was Baroda who changed Sucharita’s actual Hindu name ‘Radharani’ to Sucharita.

Haran is a friend of the family and is unofficially engaged to Sucharita. Haran is a staunch Brahmo who holds strong feelings of resentment and derision about the Hindu society and its customs. Haran disapproved of this (reading Bhagavad-Gita and Mahabharata) for he wanted to banish all such books from Brahmo households. He himself never read them, wishing to keep aloof from all such literature favoured by the orthodox. Amongst the scriptures of the world religions his only support was the Bible. Haran’s sectarianism and his narrow mindedness often vex people...

Binoy happens to be a long time friend of Gora or Gourmohan Babu. As far as his friendship with Gora goes, Binoy is portrayed as a boy, who is sometimes confused and who feels emotionally bullied by his friend Gora, a staunch Hindu with a strong personality and strong set opinions who not only practises what he believes in but convinces others too to follow him, by way of debating and discussing with them at the first opportunity.

Anandamoyi, Gora’s mother, is similar in character to Paresh Babu – patient, mature, wise and having a broad outlook. Anandamoyi is a mother, not just to Gora but also to Binoy and the two are very attached to each other.

Krishna Dayal Babu – Anandamoyi ‘s husband – who was modern in his ways in his younger days, who made a mockery of traditions and changed his orthodox and traditional wife, returned to orthodoxy and ceremony in his old age. Anadamoyi however, retained her change unable to follow her husband in his somersaults. The secret of Gora’s birth is known only to her and her husband.

Notwithstanding Gora’s disapproval of his interacting with members of a Brahmo household, Binoy continues to visit Paresh babu’s house, sometimes with and sometimes without the knowledge of Gora. As he interacts more and more with Paresh Babu’s family and gets to know Lolita, one of Praesh babu’s daughters, he falls in love with her and she with him.

Gora’s elder stepbrother Mohim, born to Krishnadayal’s first wife has daughter by name Sasi. Mohim has plans to wed his daughter to Binoy and expects Gora to persuade Binoy to give his consent!

Gora, so sure of his allegiance to Hindu religion and society, who has taken the oath of Brahmacharya for the sake of discharging his duty towards country and religion and who warns Binoy to keep away from the Brahmo family inevitably feels drawn towards Sucharita, and Sucharita who was initially offended by Gora’s opinionated talk and found him abrasive, eventually falls in love with him.

Haran Babu who had been hitherto exercising control over Sucharita gradually loses his grip over her and becomes frustrated.

These are the main characters, around and about whom the story evolves. The story is centred at one time around one family or one character, and at another time, another family, another character... you can actually feel what the character is experiencing and you identify with all the characters at some point or another. I like such realistic works where there are no fixed protagonists and antagonists.

All the characters, so sure of themselves and their purpose in the beginning, begin to re-evaluate their beliefs as they interact with one another and get exposure to new situations and experience emotions they have never known before. Long standing opinions and surging emotions battle with each other. As always, in the end, love wins.

This is a book of very interesting and insightful conversations and arguments between various characters about Hinduism, religion, society, customs, duty etc. It’s a very fine job of character sketching. You can see the characters in your mind. And most of the character sketching is achieved through these conversations.

One of the aspects typical of the generation of those times that the story presents is the extent of maturity in women, which is reflected by their conversations. The female characters are all less than 18 years old but their thoughtfulness, their sense of responsibility towards family and society are remarkable. Their traits are typical of an era where social interest was above personal interest and individualism was almost absent.

This work is special in that, it provides close views of the Brahmo society, the ways of the Brahmo people, their outlook and hence it provides an insight into the religion itself. This triggered some deep thinking and some verification of preconception. More on this in another post...

A monumental work. I could read it again.

As usual, I wish to mark a few lines from the work ... either for the use of language or a meaningful insight they provide...

Satish refusing to take Binoy’s help – ‘He began to give all kinds of precedents to show how usual it was for him to go about alone...’

Gora to Binoy, ‘Your idea of the best method of navigation will be reduced to drifting anyhow....
I am for each one of us keeping to our limits; once you yield a pin’s point of ground, there is no knowing where you will end.’

It was difficult to say how far Binoy, who was largely guided by the heart, accepted the principles Gora preached for their own sake and how far because of his friendship for him.

Gora “We must refuse to allow our country to stand at the bar of a foreign court and be judged according to a foreign law. Our ideas of shame or glory must not depend on minute comparisons at every step with a foreign standard. We must not feel apologetic about the country of our birth...”

‘Whatever religion is really yours according to your own karma, to it you will have to return sooner or later, - no one can stand in your way... ‘, Krishnadayal

On Paresh Babu’s comment on deity having a finite form and form being limited and Baroda questioning idol worship...
Gora “Nothing can become manifest unless it has limits. The infinite has taken the help of form in order to manifest Himself, otherwise, how could he be revealed? That which is unrevealed cannot attain perfection. The formless is fulfilled in forms just as thought is perfected in words. If the formless had been the real perfection, then form would have found no place in the universe at all.

In response to Haran Babu’s claim that our country can never progress, that the Indians have many flaws in Indian society, customs...
Gora, “Falsehood is a sin, false censure is a still greater sin, but there are few sins to compare with the false revilement of one’s own people. When you are able to condemn all the evil customs of the English with as much honest indignation, you will have a right to talk about evil customs of our society.

Sucharita understood somehow that in this protesting orthodoxy of Gora there was a spirit of defiance, - that it had not the naturalness of real conviction, - that it did not find its full satisfaction in his own faith, - that in fact it was assumed in anger and arrogance in order to hurt others.

Stimulated by his own unexpected cleverness and power of expresssion, Binoy felt a joyous exhilaration which made his face radiant...

When Binoy confessed his love to Gora who did not quite approve of it...,
Gora “I can’t honestly say that I exactly understand this kind of thing, nor would you have understood it any better a few days ago. I can’t even deny that, amidst all the immensity of life, this side of it, for all its effusiveness and passion, has struck me as utterly trivial. But perhaps it may not be really so – that much I am free to admit. It has seemed to me thin and unsubstantial because I have never experienced its power or its depths. But now I cannot dismiss as false what you have realised so tremendously. The fact of the matter is, that if the truths outside the field of one’s own work did not appear of less moment, no man could have carried on with his duty. Therefore God has not confused man by making all objects equally clear to his vision. We must select for ourselves the field on which we would focus our attention and forgo our greed for all the rest outside it, else we shall never find the truth at all. I cannot worship at the shrine where you have seen truth’s image for if I did, I should have to lose the inner truth of my own life.

When I see the defects of our society, the abuses of our caste system, I cannot but express my doubts; but Gora tells me that doubt is only the result of trying to see great things in too much detail- to regard the broken branches and withered leaves as the ultimate nature of a tree is simply the result of intellectual impatience. Gora says he does not ask for any praise of the decaying boughs, but asks us to look at the whole tree and then try to understand its purpose.

The less the outward proof of offense, the more importunate becomes the accuser...

He was not indulging in any play of words but that his opinions had long years of thought and practise behind them...

Because, so long he had not acknowledged her sway, Nature had now taken her revenge by enmeshing him in her magic net... with a strong effort, he threw off the web of absorption that had cast its spell around him...

Network of leaves with so many glittering bayonets...

She had been his first waking thought...

According to scriptures, the urgency of doing justice appertains to the King. On him recoils the crime of injustice...

Something in her face and tone of voice seemed to hint to a tear purified life of sorrow...

Those who are in prison are bearing the punishment for the sins of those who judge others, but not themselves. The faults of many go to the making of a crime, but only these unfortunates have to bear the brunt of it. When or how or where the sin of those who are living comfortable and respectable lives outside the prison walls will be expiated, we do not know.

How much more terrible was man’s tyranny over man than all the other cruelties in the world, and how vast and intolerable it had become with the combines power of society and government behind it!

The more he felt that he was gradually losing the respect of everyone in this house, the more desperately he struggled to maintain his position in it, forgetting that to clutch tighter a weakening support only makes it give way the sooner.

That Lolita could possibly be in love with him was a supposition which Binoy had not sufficient self conceit to entertain.

The silent are always found guilty. In this world, those who lodge their plaints first win their suits...

How true man is himself and how false the things about which his quarrels divide man from man...

Some people are constitutionally incapable of taking a hint...

He girded up his loins for a renewed struggle that day onwards...

It is always easy to obey with alacrity the call of truth and duty when it prompts us to condemn and punish other’s transgressions.

One puts a premium on evil by suffering it without protest. The proper remedy for evil is to fight against it.

It was his habit to walk up and down in the garden at night all alone with his head bowed in thought– it was as if he were smoothing out from his mind all the creases of the day’s work in the pure darkness of evening and preparing himself for the night’s rest by storing up in his heart deep thoughts of unsullied peace.

Binoy, upon Haran’s questioning Lolita’s character for her travelling alone with Binoy on the boat, “If you are going to place on an equality some purely external event with a fault of the inner life, then what need was there for you to leave the Hindu society and become a Brahmo?...

Religion is not built up on the foundations of society and the individual, it is society and the individual which depend on religion. If you once begin to call that religion which society happens to want then society itself will be ruined; if society puts any obstacles in the way of a right religious freedom, then by surmounting such unreasonable obstructions, we are doing our duty to society.

Those who have large hearts are such interested friends...

Paresh Babu “It’s a mistake to think that it’s one’s duty to be doing something always; often enough one’s chief duty is not to do anything at all ...”

You have always exaggerated more than ordinary people do. There was a hollow space in your mind and you had to use plenty of mortar to fill it up. So much would not have been so necessary if your faith had been simple.

Hindu society has always given shelter to new sects, and it can be the society of all religious communities...

If Hindu society remains in such a narrow condition, then we must undertake the responsibility for rescuing it from that state. No one wants to reduce to ruins, a fine building in order to get more light and air, when it would do just as well to enlarge its doors and windows.

The more inclined we are to regard things with pity the more completely do we lose our power of seeing truth as a whole and unchanging – we obscure what should be light by our compassion just like smoke obscures fire.
Therefore it has always been the rule in our country for those who have to bear the burden of the welfare of all to remain aloof. The idea that a king can protect his subjects by mixing intimately with them is entirely without foundation. The kind of wisdom that is needed by a Raja in his relationship with his subjects is defiled by association with them. It is for this reason that the subjects surround their king of their own free will with a halo of aloofness for they realize that if their king becomes their companion, then the reason for his existence disappears.

To invest someone with a sacred thread... sacred thread investiture...
He had a caste mark of Ganges clay on his forehead...
Perform ceremonial cleansing after sitting down for a meal...
Anything savouring of orthodoxy had her allegiance...
They were having an esoteric conversation...
I do not have force of conviction as him...
He was imbued to the bone with western ideas...
She went inside precipitately when she saw a group of boys approach the gate...

How supinely unconscious of its own power was this vast expanse of rural India!
Pluck – courage, spirit – he had admiration for her pluck...
He cast covetous eyes on her property

Dinning – force information into a person by constant repetition – go on dinning the same thing over

Her joy was not unalloyed – there was some anxiety, some sorrow...)

Binoy in love – Binoy assured himself that in the ordinary relationship between and woman in worldly society, it was impossible that such a supremely lofty note could be heard, and again and again he told Gora that he must not compare it with the relationships with others. It was doubtful whether ever before quite what had happened to Binoy had occurred to anyone else! If such experiences had been universal, then the whole of human society would have become restless on every side with the surge of new life just as with the breath of spring, all the forests rejoice in their fresh leaves and blossoms. Then people would not have spent dull lives in sleeping and eating as they do now. This was the golden wand the touch of which no one could afford to neglect or remain insensitive to. By it even the most commonplace people became exceptional, and if once man tasted the strength of this rare experience he would acquire a knowledge of the truth of life.



10 comments:

Satish said...

Wooh!!!! on 2 counts...
1) For finshing of the 500 pages of literature, not sure how much time it took.... Good books are like whirlpools, they just trap you

2) For putting up such an elobarte posts. Really wonder how you manage to type such long posts, that too nearly 200 of them now.. One day you can publish - Collected posts of Narcissist :)

Indian literature ( English and Verancular) is littered with so many jewels. Mills and Boon, Jeffery Archer, Sidney Sheldon may not match upto them. I'm not sure how much you concur on this point

Anonymous said...

Wow! elaborate and meticulous s always :)

The few snippets that you have marked are itself so enlightening. This book goes to the top in my to-read list!

- Smita

P.S: I think Jeffery Archer has written some gems :)

Sowmya said...

Satish,

Thanks :) Did not take me that long...less than three weeks I think.
I hope I will be able to publish...not my blog posts but something more substantial and worthwhile... :)

And Tagore cannot be compared with Sidney Sheldon or Jeffrey Archer... perhaps Somerset Maugham or someonje higher...

Welcome Smita,

Thanks for reading this post...to both of you... donno how many will have the patience ...

Like i said, Jeffrey Archer belongs to a different league... I will let Satish respond to your comment :)

Satish said...

My assessment of Jeffrey Archer is based on the two books that i have read - Kane and Abel; The Prodigal Daughter

I found them to be good novels, but not on the same level as vernacular works by Bendre, Byrappa and few others.Lastly, works by sanskrit poets like Kalidasa, Bana Bhatta, Shudraka

Anonymous said...

U wont believe but ur post helped alot in guess what? My internal paper......Havnt yet read the book and the teacher expected us to finish it in a short period. Thanks to u ur post has helped.....

Sowmya said...

Anonymous,

welcome to this place and I am glad to know that my post helped your studies.

What are you studying and in which college?

But please refrain from plagiarism. All my work is copyrighted...
:)

SUDIPTA MUNSI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SUDIPTA MUNSI said...

Dear Sowmyaji,
Being a Bengalee, I’m privileged of being able to read Tagore in the original. What struck me about Tagore’s novels was neither the plot nor the religious, social or political dimensions of his novels, but the language, the extremely powerful language. In fact it is the language alone that holds Tagore’s novels together. And it is his language which constitutes both the form and content of his novels. And ultimately the novels of Tagore are novels written by a ‘poet’. So it has all the qualities of a ‘poet’s novel’. And this is best exemplified by his Shesher Kavita, translated as Farewell My Friend by Krishna Kripalani. I appreciate your keen interest in Tagore.
Regards,
S. Munsi

डा. फीरोज़ अहमद said...

I have been working as an assistant prof. in H.M.P.G College Kanpur. I read your article on GORA which is marvelous and illuminating . The article shows your depth of knowledge and scholarly wisdom on Tagore. My contact no. is 09450592038

smriti said...

This is such a beautiful novel with so much depth. Loved reading it and in search of finding its review I stumbled on your blog. I liked your review. Every character is relatable.