A Home in the World: People and Places in Rabindranath Tagore’s Chaturanga

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Kamalika Mitra

Abstract

There is a tendency in literature to poeticise rural settings over their urban counterparts based on the proposition that villages bring human beings closer to nature, whereas cities come between them. Problems born and accentuated in urban environments are often, in fiction and poetry, resolved in a more rural atmosphere. In his 1916 novella Chaturanga, Rabindranath Tagore seems to challenge this popular inclination. The story begins in Calcutta, moves to rural Bengal and then returns to the city. After his uncle, who was also his father-figure, philosopher and guide, dies, Sachish disappears from Calcutta. When his friend and the narrator of the text, Sribilash, finds him two years later in a village, Sachish has joined a so-called mystic named Leelananda Swami. He has also changed unrecognisably. Sribilash is shocked at his transformation and is distrustful of Leelananda Swami, but he cannot abandon his friend, so he too, joins the guru. He too seems to leave behind his old self and becomes engrossed and entranced in a new, unreal world. It is only when he returns to the city that Sribilash seems to come out of his trance and shake off the false skin; he misses or becomes his former hard-working and useful self again. Sachish’s path, however, is irrevocably changed.
In this paper, I wish to examine why and how Tagore, who wrote so many thousands of lines in so many different forms eulogising nature, depicted an apparent divide between nature and human beings in this text: when the men are in the city, they are grounded in reality and engaged in meaningful activity; when they are in the lap of nature, so to speak, they seem to become disoriented escapists. I will also address the importance of the fact that these characters retire froity when they are bereaved and spend their mourning period in the villages, and that their return to Calcutta is closely linked to the appearance of a new love interest in their lives. The paper will explore how, in this particular text, people and places seem to affect each other and what they signify.

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