Sunday, March 28, 2010

REVIEW: Women of the Tagore Household

Women of the Tagore Household
Chitra Deb
Translated By Smita Chowdhry & Sona Roy
Rs 499
Pp 648
ISBN: 9780143066057

The Tagore family has long been the focus of public curiosity. Like its men, the women of this illustrious family have had a great and enduring influence on the life and people of Bengal.

Women of the Tagore Household portrays several generations of connoisseurs, aesthetes and lovers of literature who were nurtured under the umbrella of cultural richness and spiritual freedom that the extended family provided. We meet Rabindranath’s wife Mrinalini and his sister-in-law Kadambari, who had considerable influence on the young poet; the progressive Jnandanandini who sailed alone to England in the nineteenth century, presenting to ordinary women a vision of courage and daring; and Sushama, who broke out of the confines of music, literature and culinary arts, to tread the path of women’s empowerment. This book reveals hitherto unknown aspects of women’s emancipation in Bengal in which the women of the Jarasanko Tagore family were at the forefront-Chandramukhi and Kadambini were the first two female graduates of India, Protiva opened up music and dramatics to women by preparing musical notations for Brahmo sangeet and Hindustani classical music, and Pragya’s prefaces to her cookbooks are still considered storehouses of not only recipes but also homemaking skills.

Women of the Tagore Household by Chitra Deb is the modern Bengali classic, Thakurbarir Andarmahal, rendered into English by Smita Chowdhry and Sona Roy. The Tagores of Jorasanko, teeming with geniuses, had a decisive influence on the cultural life of Bengal. Apart from celebrated male figures like Rabindranath, the family included extraordinary and eccentric women like Swarnakumari (Rabindranath’s elder sister), Mrinalini (his wife) and Kadambari (his sister-in-law). Through her painstaking research, Deb unearths the life and times of these women, some of whom are alive today, and their rich but unsung contribution to art, literature, music, theatre and to women’s movement in modern Bengal. A richly layered and rivetting text, it should have been translated much earlier.

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