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Rabindranath Tagore's Norm-Defying Novel, Chokher Bali

Updated on June 6, 2017
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The Great Sage - Rabindranath Tagore
The Great Sage - Rabindranath Tagore

Who is Rabindranath Tagore?

Rabindranath Tagore, (1861-1941) addressed by the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi as 'The Great Sentinel' has been a multifaceted personality who hailed from West Bengal, India. The Western World got acquainted with him through his poetic work 'Gitanjali' The Song Offerings (1912). He became the first Asian to receive Nobel prize for his devotional poetic collection in 1913.

Fondly called as 'Gurudev', Tagore was an educationist of highest mark. A humanist, nationalist and internationalist, musician and painter; a poet, novelist, short story writer and playwright - Tagore was all in one. A prolific writer and the harbinger of Bengali Renaissance, Tagore engendered a magnum opus of literary art both in verse and prose form.

List of Rabindranath Tagore's Fiction Work

The name Rabindranath Tagore needs no introduction as a literary figure. But among Tagore's works, his novels remained the least-acknowledged for a long time.

His Fiction work includes Eight Novels:

1. Chokher Bali (1902)- The Grain of Sand

2.Noukadubi (1906)- The Wreck,

3. Gora (1910) - The Fair Faced,

4. Chaturanga (1916),

5. Ghare Baire (1916) -The Home and the World,

6. Shesher Kobita(1929),

7. Jogajob (1929) and

8. Char Odhyay (1934)- Four Chapters.

Internationally known for his poetic brilliance; Tagore's novels are also an interesting and compelling study. Movie adaptations of some of his novels has resulted into a renewed attention and making his fiction work popular once again. Film adaptations by some renowned directors like Satyajit Ray and Ritupurno Ghosh has been exemplary.

Meaning of Chokher Bali

Chokher Bali is a regional word of Bengali language which literally means 'sand in the eye' or a constant irritant to the eye.

Tagore originally wrote in his regional Language Bengali. Later his works have been translated into English by himself and by other translators also.

The title of the novel Chokher Bali explains the story line :

Two young friends Binodini and Asha gradually become the irritant of each others eyes. The writer skillfully depicts the story of sorrows and unhappiness, desires and hurt ego resulting into emotional conflict, jealousy, deceit and distrust; creating a havoc in the life of all major characters.

Chokher Bali - Book Cover

Book Cover of Chokher Bali
Book Cover of Chokher Bali

Story of Chokher Bali

First published in 1902 A.D., the novel Chokher Bali can be called India's first modern novel. Portrayal of the protagonist Binodini is done by Tagore in a most accurate and realistic manner.

The story is set in late 19th century. It’s a story of love, friendship, desire, ego and deceit. Tagore tells a compelling story of entangled relationships and probes deep into the psyche of main character Binodini. The story revolves around the lives of Mahendra, Asha, Binodini, Bihari, Rajalakshmi & Annapurna and it is Binodini who is always at the center of action.

It is the story of a young,educated and beautiful woman Binodini, who is soon widowed after her marriage. At an age when a girl wishes to wear colorful robes and enticing jewelry, she dressed herself in white and stayed with other widows in her village.

Mahendra (Mohan), is a pampered son of Rajalakshmi and studying to become a doctor. Mahendra is an indecisive, proud, insecure and immature person.

Asha is Mohan’s childish bride. She chooses her husbands love over her duties towards her home. She is innocent and her trust on Binodini and her husband makes her a victim and a loser.

Binodini, a widowed young woman has come to take care of her aunt Rajalakshmi but soon becomes jealous of Asha's happiness. A secure life of love and care, which could have been Binodini's, if Mohan would not have refused to marry her earlier.

Bihari is a childhood friend of Mahendra. He seems to be the only balanced character in this novel. He is loved and respected by everyone. Unfortunately, he also gets entangled in the game of deceit and revenge.

Mohan and Asha, the newly wed couple are engrossed in their own world of happiness which is full of mutual love and passion unlike Binodini. Their dream is gradually shattered by the arrival of Binodini. Asha trusts Binodini to be her friend and very innocently names their friendship as Chokher Bali. But Asha is not aware of Binodini's jealousy & hatred for her. Binodini succeeds in attracting Mohan towards herself. He is disillusioned and gets ready to leave her wife Asha for Binodini.

The story of this novel delves deep into many facets of human relationships and how a single wrong decision can make the life disharmonious. Jealousy and deprivation of happiness can result into an emotion strong enough to forget all other ties and relationships.

Aishwarya Rai as Binodini in the Movie Chokher Bali
Aishwarya Rai as Binodini in the Movie Chokher Bali

Movie Adaptation of the Novel Chokher Bali

Chokher Bali won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali and was nominated for the Golden Leopard Best Film award at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2003. Aishwarya Rai won the Best Actress award at the Anandalok Awards 2003.

Rituparno Ghosh has subtitled the film A Passion Play transforming the story into the drama of passion. Binodini plays the role of temptress and being unhappy- avenges her jealousy and unfulfilled desires. Director tried to mold the story of Chokher Bali to attract the contemporary audience by incorporating Rabindra Sangeet ( Songs written by Rabindranath Tagore) into the film.

Aishwarya Rai in the Movie Chokher Bali

Conclusion

Tagore's novels are a radical statement of his unconventional and non-denominational viewpoint which were quite ahead of his conservative times of 19th and 20th century India.Through the story of Binodini, Tagore questions the societal norms. He condemns all kinds of taboos and unjust customs which deprive widows of their rightful existence; confined to live a mournful colorless life. Chokher Bali is truly a norm defying novel written by Rabindranath Tagore. His understanding of the feelings and emotions of Indian women and his sympathetic attitude towards them is remarkable.

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