- The beauty of the series streaming on Netflix is that even though the narrative takes place in1920s Bengal, the social issues are relevant even today.
“Stories by Rabindranath Tagore” is streaming on Netflix (the television series which aired on the EPIC in 2015). It is directed by Anurag Basu. If you have still not watched the program, I recommend that you do. This is a beautifully crafted Hindi language series based on a Bengali literary collection penned by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The beauty of the narrative is that even though it takes place in1920s Bengal, the social issues are relevant even today.
To quote from “Mrinal Ki Chitthi” (Wife’s letter,1914): “You can always find another wife…women are plentiful in Bengal like cholera and hepatitis.” How misogynistic. But the groom’s family is in for a shock. Little do they know that the fair-complexioned Mrinal or the prospective chhoti-bahu (younger daughter-in-law), unlike the dusky, docile badi-bahu (elder daughter-in-law), whom they shun is not all “milk and honey.” Mrinal, the-lotus stem-namesake had an iron-clad intellect behind her kohled (eyes).
There are many striking young ladies portrayed as Tagore’s girls, who are beguiling in their puffed silk blouses, Benarsi and Dakhai saris but are not paper dolls. Despite ornate jhumkas, muttar-mallas and matha-pattis (bridal gold accessories) they are free-thinking individuals. How young “Binodini” (played by the inimitable Radhika Apte), the famous “Chokher-Bali” (Speck in the Eye, 1901) with cascading tresses slips into the role of a seductress rather than a temperate widow; evokes a conundrum of passions in the reader by a display of jealousy-of-the-jilted, dogged persistence and selfless sacrifice. The railway waiting room is a crossroads where these seemingly commonplace, yet heart-achingly fragile characters meet and depart on their separate journeys.
My heart stopped when Kalyani’s father asks her to remove her nose-ring and kangans-bangles in “Aparichita” (The Unknown Woman, 1916) so that the bridegroom’s family can examine the gold for its purity, but I wept for joy when “Kalyani” decides to remain single and embrace a larger purpose of educating orphans to fit in the enigmatic jigsaw of life. Who can forget “Bindu” (the beginning and the end) and her letter that tells the tragic tale of the funeral pyre she lights to escape from a lunatic husband? Sharmila’s infinite faith is commendable but her willingness to sacrifice her home, her jewels and her marriage to fulfill his dreams while suffering from aplastic anemia seems a bit unrealistic in “Tyaag” (The Renunciation, 1892). However, Kamala’s story of a turn of events that unfold after being ambushed by a Muslim dacoit from an unwanted wedding, while her own aunt spurns her as an outcast is thought-provoking “Musalmanir Golpo” (The Story of a Muslim Woman, 1941).
But the most poignant story is of Mini in the short “Kabuliwala” (1892 short story). I remember this story from my childhood and while I was delighted in revisiting Mini’s innocent play with an unlikely playmate from Afghanistan. It transported me straight on the buoyant wings of memory to my happy childhood. But after watching the story of Mini after marriage, I was horrified. I cannot divulge the extreme pain that has settled in my heart on the fate of this happy-go-lucky girl bride. Rabindranath Tagore’s writing has opened my eyes to the tragic fate of many Minis. I feel sad for them, but I watch their lives unfold with a heightened awareness. I am spellbound with Tagore’s work. With a delicate flick of his artistic fingers, the maestro portrays a kaleidoscopic beauty of Bengali girls as they hop-scotch, fry fish, paint rangolis and accept the red sindoor (vermilion) on their foreheads with grace.
Today, I sit in padmasana on the banks of Ganga and watch the reeds fluttering like delicate gold lace on a bride’s forehead as the sun sinks into the water. I say a prayer for my mother’s red bindi tied to the well-being of her husband. I still my thoughts, focus on my breath and twist my torso. I look over my right shoulder and see all the women who have walked before me with their eyes full of pride at the glory of my unfettered life and as I breathe out and look over my left shoulder, I see the expectant eyes of all young girls waiting to be born. Curiously assessing what I am going to do with the pearl of consciousness my dear dad bestowed on me? Hopefully a lot of good.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published many poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and two books, “My Light Reflections” and “Flow Through My Heart.” You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.