GHARE BAIRE (The Home and the World)

Posted: February 14, 2017 in Amartya Sen, Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray

Taken from Amartya Sen’s THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN (Page 108-109)

Tagore’s criticism of patriotism is a persistent theme in his writings. As early as 1908, he puts his position succinctly in a letter replying to the criticism of Abala Bose, wife of the great Indian scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose: ‘Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.’ His novel GHARE BAIRE (The Home and the World) has much to say about this theme. In the novel Nikhil, who is keen on social reform, including women’s liberation, but cool towards nationalism, gradually loses the esteem of his spirited wife, Bimala, because of his failure to be enthusiastic about anti-British agitation, which he sees as a lack of patriotic commitment. Bimala becomes fascinated with Nikhil’s nationalist friend Sandip, who speaks brilliantly and acts with patriotic militancy, and she falls in love with him. Nikhil refuses to change his views: ‘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.’

As the story unfolds, Sandip becomes angry with some of his countrymen for their failure to join the struggle as readily as he thinks they should (‘Some Mohammedan traders are still obdurate’) . He arranges to deal with the recalcitrants by burning their meager trading stocks  and physically attacking them. Bimala has to acknowledge the connection between Sandip’s rousing nationalistic sentiments and his sectarian – and ultimately violent – actions. The dramatic events that follow (Nikhil’s attempts to help the victim, risking his life) include the end of Bimala’s political romance.

This is a difficult subject, and Satyajit Ray’s beautiful film of The Home and the World brilliantly brings out the novel’s tensions, along with the human affections and disaffections of the story. Not surprisingly, the story has had many detractors, not just among dedicated nationalist in India. George Lukacs found Tagore’s novel to be ‘a petit bourgeois yarn of the shoddiest kind’, ‘at the intellectual service of the British police’, and ‘a contemptible caricature of Gandhi.’ It would, of course, be absurd to think of Sandip as Gandhi, but the novel gives a ‘strong and gentle’  warning, as Bertolt Brecht noted in his diary, of the corruptibility of nationalism, since it is not even-handed. Hatred of one group can lead to hatred of others, no matter how far such feeling may be from the minds of humane nationalist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi.

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