Genre: Fictional autobiography
Short Synopsis: Set on a Bengali noble’s estate in 1908, this is both a love story and a novel of political awakening. The central character, Bimala, is torn between the duties owed to her husband, Nikhil, and the demands made on her by the radical leader, Sandip. Her attempts to resolve the irreconcilable pressures of the home and world reflect the conflict in India itself, and the tragic outcome foreshadows the unrest that accompanied Partition in 1947.
What I liked:
1. The characters. Each POV from the three central characters brought me to their shoes. I struggled with Nikhil in keeping his morals, I lost my way to sensationalism and terror with Bimala, and I breathed in Sandip’s clouded fanaticism. These internal turmoil that each character go through make the story relatable.
2.The depth in this slim volume. It talks about infatuation — one that goes beyond the physical attraction. It weights the pros and cons of being infatuated with an idea. It tackles the concepts of freedom and bondage, pitting rationalism, nationalism and humanism against each other, backdropped by the political scenario of the Swadesi movement.
3. Tagore’s poetic power. I know people did not miss the faulty translations but that did not hamper Tagore’s beautiful prose.
What I didn’t like: None? Haha I’m an easy-to-please reader in general. The only thing I could wish is to be able to read and understand the novel in its orginal language. Perhaps I’m also slightly disturbed by Bimala’s representation of women (her gullibility) but I understand her chosen path of freedom and the form of redemption she received in the end.
“I am willing to serve my country, but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it.”
“To tyrannize for the country is to tyrannize over the country”
“So long as we are impervious to truth and have to be moved by some hypnotic stimulus, we must know that we lack the capacity for self-government. Whatever may be our condition, we shall either need some imaginary ghost or some actual medicine-man to terrorize over us.”
“Is there any country, sir,” pursued the history student, “where submission to Government is not due to fear?” “The freedom that exists in any country,” I replied, “may be measured by the extent of this reign of fear. Where its threat is confined to those who would hurt or plunder, there the Government may claim to have freed man from the violence of man. But if fear is to regulate how people are to dress, where they shall trade, or what they must eat, then is man’s freedom of will utterly ignored, and manhood destroyed at the root.”
“It is only when we get to the point of letting the bird out of its cage that we can realize how free the bird has set us.”
“I tell you, sir, this is just what the world has failed to understand. They all seek to reform something outside themselves. But reform is wanted only in one’s own desires, nowhere else, nowhere else!”
“To clutch hold of that which is untrue as though it were true, is only to throttle oneself.”
“Only the weak dare not be just.”
Final Thoughts: I first read this book in 2017. It is much more than a classic literary masterpiece to me. Each page is an awakening about the fragility of humanity. This book resonates deeply, especially with what is happening to my country and to the rest of the world today.
Have you read The Home and the World? Did you like it as much as I did?