Home and Outside


‘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



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



2016 8 ind day India 4
Source – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvSsXK4JVLQ

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

inner quarters).


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.




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

Swadeshi unconditionally.


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’





1-Contrast the nationalism of Sandip and Nikhil, what trends do they represent


This question can be discussed under the framework of opposing conceptions

Of Masculinity


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

underfoot?’ .


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



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