‘I had come to understand
that never would I be free until I could set free’
Nikhil-The character in Tagore’s novel
Ghaire Bhaire-Home and Outside
HOME AND OUTSIDE
SUBTITLE- On Indian Independence day-2016-Part II
Tagore’s complex dissection brings out the differences between Militant Nationalism and Universal Humanity.
In the second discussion- we look at Home and Outside written in ‘multi-confessional
form’, alternating the perspectives of three narrator-protagonists:
Nikhil, a wealthy zamindar or landowner,
his wife, Bimala, and
his friend, Sandip, who is a militant Swadeshi Nationalist activist
The novel deals with the impact of Sandip’s arrival on Nikhil and
Bimala’s happy marriage.
Bimala has spent much of her life in the ‘andarmahal’ or women’s
quarters (the home or ‘ghar’) even as Nikhil has been encouraging
her to come out into the world (the outside, the space beyond the
She finally takes a tentative step out in Sandip’s honour, drawn to his
fiery nationalist rhetoric and political charisma.
He in turn deifies her as a living symbol of the Goddess or ‘Mother
India’ to whom the cry ‘Bande Mataram’ (worship the Motherland)
might be addressed. They teeter on the brink of a romantic and
sexual relationship while Nikhil watches with growing pain but
without intervening. Refusing to commit an act of tyranny by curbing
Bimala’s newly awakened desires, Nikhil also refuses to support
what he perceives as the tyrannies of Swadeshi activists being visited
on poor traders and tenant farmers. He finds himself increasingly
estranged from both his wife and his friend as Bimala too becomes
involved with Sandip’s Swadeshi activism.
Bimala and Sandip’s relationship takes a downturn when he asks her
for money to fund the cause; she procures it by stealing from the family safe.
Meanwhile Bimala also strikes up a maternal friendship with Amulya, a young
protege of Sandip’s, and eventually both of them come to see through
Sandip and what is depicted as his false heroics. At the end of the
novel, Amulya dies during a raid while Nikhil is seriously injured, his
fate hanging in the balance.
CRITIC OF NATIONALISM
Tagore’s controversial and critical engagement with nationalism that
makes Home and the World a text of continuing relevance.
[Sandip] was familiar with my husband’s views on the cult of Bande
Mataram, and began in a provoking way: ‘so you do not allow that there is
room for an appeal to the imagination in patriotic work?’
‘It has its place, Sandip, I admit, but I do not believe in giving it the whole
place. I would know my country in its frank reality, and for this I am both afraid
and ashamed to make use of the hypnotic texts of patriotism
The critique of imagined communities as represented by the
Hindu nationalism of Sandip is, at its core, a condemnation of the
exclusions such communities inevitably enforce.
In Home and the World, it is not only Muslims who are vulnerable to exclusion
or containment but also the poor who cannot afford to embrace
They are represented here by Panchu, the tenant farmer, whose merchandise is destroyed by zealous activists for his failure to adhere to the boycott they impose.
Through Nikhil who refuses to force his tenants to adhere to the boycott of foreign
goods, Tagore pronounces aphoristically:
‘To tyrannize for the country is to tyrannize over the country’
READING GROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1-Contrast the nationalism of Sandip and Nikhil, what trends do they represent
This question can be discussed under the framework of opposing conceptions
Sandip and Nikhil represent opposing conceptions of masculinity,
the former modelling himself on a ‘muscular’
and appropriative Western ideal and the latter a ‘spiritual’, Eastern
way of being a man, which asks:
‘But is strength a mere display of muscularity?
Must strength have no scruples in treading the weak
Muscular masculinity as embodied by Sandip and militant nationalism
as ‘derivative discourse’ from the West are essentially grasping and greedy (‘fleshly’)
in their particularism,whereas Nikhil represents a true, indigenous alternative that is, at
the same time, universal in its humanism.
If Sandip’s nationalism ultimately requires a worship of the ‘self ’ as the highest embodiment
of the particular, Nikhil’s humanism holds that there is a contradiction
in ‘the worship of God by hating other countries in which He is
equally manifest’; he refuses accordingly to ‘permit the evil which is
within me to be exaggerated into an image of my country’
2- The Self representing female
Though Bimala is the site for an interpretative contest between two men over the meaning of nation, the fact that ‘the woman here speaks for herself
alongside the two men who talk about her’ constitutes a radical
literary departure; a self-representing female was ‘a startlingly new
character on the Bengali literary landscape’.
Discussion: Again the role of women in shaping community, society and concepts
Of Nationhood and the interfaces with Humanity , as is manifest in different countries
Comes through in a rich complex way through Tagore’s work.
Tagore’s incisive critique of the power of the ‘Mother’ as a nationalist
icon also emerges as concern about unleashing female desire:
In that future I saw my country, a woman like myself, standing expectant. She
has been drawn forth from her home corner by the sudden call of some
Unknown. She has had no time to pause or ponder, or to light herself a torch
as she rushes forward into the darkness ahead . . . There is no call to her of her
children in their hunger, no home to be lighted of an evening, no household
work to be done. So, she flies to her tryst . . . She has left home, forgotten
domestic duties; she has nothing but an unfathomable yearning which
hurries her on . . .
END NOTE…on going through the dilemma of the character Bimala in this novel, some
Expatriate workers reflected on the effects on their families , by their long years of staying
Overseas, working to build a better future for their next generation.
Internationally, workers are known to leave their home countries (become Diaspora) and
The rich text of Tagore, brought out some of these issues almost 100 years after Ghaire Bhaire
(Home and Outside) was published in Serial form in 1915-1916
Notes from-Priyamvada Gopal-Indian Anglophone Novel