In the ancient days, men would hunt and women would stay home. When we were speaking, one of my old grandmothers offered this little gem – “You have to understand, men were basically sent off to do what they like doing the best – grunt, scratch themselves, and chat with other men, and at the end of the day come back with an animal or two, if they got lucky enough. That way they would not be able to do much damage while the women cooked, sowed, cleaned and kept houses.”
Much amused by this, I started examining women, their role, and the changes I have seen over the last century. Women in literature has often been the mirror to the changing face of the society, and from being the quiet, unassuming creature who rarely had any say in anything, her voice had slowly become stronger and louder. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore – the voice of the woman, the key character who kept houses, rebelled, fought, went away from their existing lives, and, in short, made a life for themselves.
But then again, the question arises – why is it so exceptional when a woman does it? When a man leaves his house, creates something of his own, he is rarely given credit. In fact, unless and until he does something exceptional, he is not really acknowledged. But a few changes a woman makes to her household makes her “strong”, and with a stronger character.
Essentially, I have a problem with Rabindranath Tagore writing about women – he sees women as essentially weak, and therefore, any show of strength makes her strong. It is quite evident in the way he not just writes his prose, but also in poetry. Consider the poem, “Pujarini” where the humble temple dancer, a character often used and abused, stood up to the king Ajatshatru, and offered flowers to her faith, the Buddhist Stupa, deliberately going against the king. The fact here is – if she was a man, this incident would probably not have been that impactful – but her obvious status as a “dasi”, as well as a woman, makes her exceptional.
The flaw lie in the quest for “strength”. The essential “weakness” of women that writers take for granted glorifies the strength of one woman, but sets the rest back, and the trials and tribulations of the woman ensures that the reader find the entire story a continual struggle, and thus, might be put off by an emancipated female who ultimately might achieve her goal, but in the process, to a large extent, loses social acceptability.
This is where I feel that emancipation of women in literature has somehow acted regressively at times, where a single woman’s emancipation also shows the number of women who are not, and that is where I feel that a collective emancipation should have been emphasized upon, and not of the self, especially by someone as socially concerned as Rabindranath Tagore.