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Rabindranath Tagore’s Chokher Bali: Liberty of Free-Thinking

Rabindranath Tagore’s Chokher Bali portrays a society in a way that is realistic and on point. Tagore is considered to be one of the greatest writers in modern Indian Literature.

The poet, the composer, short story writer, playwright, essayist, and artist, has achieved proficiency in almost all forms of literature.

On his 160th birth anniversary, we are going to look back on one of his stories “Chokher Bali” to understand how he portrayed the condition of people and the societal set up at that time. He showcased issues that are even relevant till now.

Stories by Rabindranath Tagore Includes Chokher Bali | Credits: Netflix
Stories by Rabindranath Tagore Includes Chokher Bali | Credits: Netflix

Chokher Bali: Synopsis

Choker Bali, a story set in the aesthetics of Kolkata depicts the pain of widows, the societal setup which ignores the needs of women and considers widows as bad omen and keeps them away from happiness.

Through this, he also highlighted the issues of women’s education, child marriage and shows how psychologically confused a person can be because of the pressure by society.

The story revolves around 4 characters Binodini, Ashalata, Mahendra, and Behari.

 Stories by Rabindranath Tagore(2015)| Credits: Netflix
Radhika Apte as Binodini in Stories by Rabindranath Tagore(2015)

Binodini, an educated woman who witnessed the death of her husband at a very young age. She was forced to live her life as a widow for the rest of her life. She was first rejected by Mahendra and he then marries a beautiful but uneducated woman, Ashalata. Binodini’s life became as colourless as her saree.

But when she met Behari, he was Mahendra’s friend a feeling of attraction came to them for each other, but they did not confess. Binodini came to know how happy Ashalata and Mahendra are together, this came with a feeling of envy in her empty heart.

Conflicted thoughts in her brain made her think that Ashalta is living a life that Binodini deserves. These thoughts gave her purpose in her empty life, now she wants Mahendra to realize the mistake he has done to reject Binodini. She uses Mahin’s mother Rajlaxshmi’s dislike of Asha to manipulate her way into their lives. The feeling of envy for Ashalata and Mahin dominated the feeling of attraction towards Behari.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but add color to my sunset sky”.

Mahindra represented the part of a superficial male-dominated society, which ignores the needs of others. He loved Ashalata very much but after he comes across Binodini, his interest shifted. He started taking her for granted.

On the other hand, Ashalata uneducated but an innocent soul, she was unaware of Bindoni’s intentions and she considers Binodini her friend. She worships her husband and was helpless as she must always depend on the man in her life, first her uncle and then her husband. Due to this dependence, we can witness the patriarch of society and the vulnerability of women because of the lack of education.

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Binodini and Ashalata: Victim of Patriarch

Stories by Rabindranath Tagore | Credits: Netflix
Stories by Rabindranath Tagore | Credits: Netflix

Tagore draws parallels between the educated and the uneducated through Asha and Binodini. Binodini is likewise left without any financial provision but is left with education which allows and helps her with the liberty of free-thinking.

She represents a new female subjectivity whose western education transforms her into a woman with her own heart and mind. One who isn’t bound with traditional customs. Binodini to an extent had that sense of differentiating between right and wrong.

Tagore structured the story in such a way that all the decisions by Binodini seem rational and all her desires appear to be natural. Society has restricted her to live in a specific way and she’s liberated to mould her life in accordance with her needs and desires.

Chokher Bali: An attempt to educate people about the needs of women.

A century after Chokher Bali, education is still a struggle for many women to access easily throughout the world. Tagore’s novel is unconventionally presenting a viewpoint that is ahead of the conservative times of 19th and 20th century India.

Through the story of Binodini, Tagore questions most of the societal norms. He condemns all kinds of taboos that are being fed to humans from the start of life. 

Tagore, a man from a privileged background, his understanding of the emotions of Indian women and his empathetic attitude towards them is sensational.

Chokher Bali has been adapted several times in films, television. Most notable examples: Chokher Bali by Rituparno Ghosh in 2003, and the television series Stories by Rabindranath Tagore in 2015 directed by Anurag Basu.

Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2015) | Credits: Netflix
Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2015) | Available on Netflix

Chokher Bali, a work of art presented by Tagore beautifully puts a light on issues related to women, which he witnessed in the 19th century. These social evils are so difficult to get rid of as those issues are even relevant till now. Chokher Bali perfectly encapsulates how gender plays a large role in a person’s treatment by society.

Tagore made us understand that education moulds a person to be independent of societal pressure. Education can emancipate a woman to be liberated enough. Enough to get rid of the patriarchal structure which oppresses them from birth.

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