Dastaan-e-Ghare Baire

Dastangoi, is a medieval form of storytelling devised by the Prophet’s father-in-law, Amir Hamza Esquire and contains stories of magic, fairies, truant students and naïve maulavis. The form has been revived in modern India through Danish Hussain and Amar Farooqui. The stories are told by the duo without props or sound effects and in chaste Urdu. The intonation, the phraseology, the syntax and the humour of the dastaan presenters resemble the courtly culture of the elite narrators and their refined audiences in the highly urbanized setting with the scent of spring. There are silver wide mouthed water bowls kept alongside the fat volumes of the dastaans while Dan and Farooqui sit on thick mattresses buttressed by round and long pillows covered in crisp white covers telling us stories of the modern times, the Partition, the sedition and now of Tagore’s novel Ghare Baire with the flavor of Amir Hamza travelling through the sands of Arabia and the streets of Byzantine. I never quite followed why Tagore ever wrote a novel like Ghare Baire; written in the form of diaries with autobiographical voices of the three characters ( rather Chinese style) around which the plot revolves on a story of betrayal and adultery. There are two men, each of who represents the two kinds of characters and hence two kinds of ideologies and one woman who decides each man’s worth. The problem of reading too much in school is that not everything gets absorbed and I for one could never make any sense of this novel of the great poet. I watched Ray’s film Ghare Baire and was so disappointed with the novel that I never returned to read it ever again; Bimala seemed to be a confused sort, Nikhilesh, a saint and Sandip a villain as the film halted, faltered and then rolled off. It was a film made in colour, a medium that Ray could not handle very well except in his children’s films and it was made during the later years of his career when like many of his ilk; he had lost a clear vision of his onward journey. On the other hand, it was a novel written by Tagore in his matured years and like many of his kind, he seemed to have developed a new clarity in his advanced years. Ghare Baire must be located in multiple texts and one such text is the cinema. Tagore explored every art form and stopped just short of cinema; Ghare Baire is that penultimate zone from which were Tagore to live on, he would have certainly graduated into cinema. The cinema in India was not merely an art form, it was born out of discourses that were to address issues far deeper that any kind of art had ever done before; it was a medium that accompanied us in our civilizational journey from tradition to modernity, from ahistory towards history, into a nation state with Western institutions, with changes in family and meaning of marriage, the discovery of a new form of individualism. Ghare Baire addressed such issues, far beyond the merely personal, or simply national, into the idea of citizenship where the person and the nation intertwined, intermingling the home and the world, the private and the public. The dastangois explored Ghare Baire in the spirit of cinema; they were quick to feel the exact points where the pulse beat in the novel, namely over what the ideal of womanhood should be in the context of modernity where women were to inhabit the world as much as the home, where the balance between the two lay and what kind of men women should prefer and how they must define their own femininity vis-à-vis how they define masculinity. Tagore extended the politics of gender, the construction of gender ideal types, the limits of both, their obligations towards each other and one another into the larger politics of the nation as if to show the mindless pursuit of nationalism as aggressive anti incumbency to have emanated in a strong sex drive which has only hedonism and competition at its heart instead of the calm of creative meditation. The two drives, one meditative, reflective and creative and the other glamorous, macho and attractive makes Bimala swing from one to the other. In Ray’s film I got the impression that Bimala was less endowed with a mind of her own and when she was set free by Nikhilesh to explore the world as she wished to she made the mistake of choosing Sandip over him, a mistake that cost her dearly and eventually widowed her imprisoning her back into the home in a far worse state than before; the taste of the world that she got through her husband was nullified in his death. It was important for Nikhilesh to die in the film because it helped Ray to position Bimala in a set of contrasts, powerful as wife and powerless as a vicious adultress now widowed. There seemed to a moral judgment in the film; a growing conservatism of a master who in his fall years found little to look forward to. In the Dastaan presentation Bimala is not helpless; she is a judge who is constrained by her limited experience to evaluate the apparent. Nikhilesh, by bringing her into the world extends her into being a person in her own right from one who merely has the outward signs of modernity by way of style and fashions taught to her by her English governess. As genuinely modernized soul it is important for Bimala to be able to assess tradition and modernity, the merits of being at home and in the outside world, the need to accommodate both, the ability to differentiate between ingenuity and glamour, between a reasoned citizenship and an impassioned patriot. Nikhilesh has ambitions for Bimala; she should be able to accommodate her home in a world which she must decide to shape. She must be an informed decision maker; she must exercise a sense of agency, a sensibility of one in command rather than someone who is an unreflective indolent and flows with the ideology unquestioningly. To the best of my understanding this was also Tagore’s authorial intent. Ghare Baire was written in 1916 with heavy doses of Vidyapati’s verses. Vidyapati’s full name was Vidyapati Thakur and he lived and wrote in Mithila, an area close to where Rabindranath Tagore’s family also came from. Tagore, an anglicized version of Thakur has roots tracing back to the erudite tradition of Mithila and to the Vaishnav tradition of Tripura and Manipur. Many of Tagore’s poems and dance drama are located in these areas of the north east. It is possible that Tagore imagined himself to have been linked to his hoary ancestor, Vidyapati and his novel Ghare Baire may therefore be a fictionalized account of the episode of the poet’s illicit love with the Queen Lakshmi. Ghare Baire too has the zamindar Nikhilesh seriously ill in the end just as the King Shiva Singha in Vidyapati’s case. In 1937, Debaki Bose captures these episodes in his film Vidyapati produced by New Theatres, again a company formed by Pramathesh Barua, a zamindar from the very same areas that Tagore writes of in so many of his poems. Debaki Bose writes his dialogues using the arguments and the tone of discourse from Ghare Baire. Satyajit Ray’s film Ghare Baire invariably draws a comparison with Vidyapati and to my mind performs poorly. One has to understand Ray’s remarkable success with Charulata and his falling out of sorts with Ghare Baire. If one watches Ray’s documentary on Tagore one is struck by Ray’s centering of the poet on Jibonsmriti, a kind of an autobiography in which Tagore looks at the world mainly through the eyes of a child. As a child, Tagore uses the opening of his windows to peer into the world outside, to catch its sights and sounds, to let his imagination run wild into the shades of a huge banyan tree and the water in the pond beyond. This is exactly how Charulata watches the world, this is also how Ray also sees and this is how, as audiences we also watch his films. Charulata yearns for the world, trapped at home. Bimala is fine at home, knowing that as her world, who becomes homeless in the world. It is her challenge to rediscover herself in the world so that her home may expand to include both, the home and the world. Ghare Baire, unlike Charulata is about the outer world, a novel written when Tagore is amidst the vastness of the Padma in Kushthia; it is not a movement inside the private space. Ray’s films are overwhelmingly about the private space that is shaken when encountered with slightest stimuli. Ghare Baire requires the exercise of agency in the public sphere; it is a film about the public space, a space where popular cinema is located. This is why, a popular film maker Debaki Bose addressed the issues of Bimala through the Queen Lakshmi far better in Vidyapati than did Ray in Ghare Baire. Unlike Ray, no popular film maker would want to handle Charulata as their protagonist. Bimala is punished in Ray’s films when she becomes the very same image of her sister-in-law, a category that she has always feared to fall into. This is so similar to Aparna Sen’s film, Paroma, released a year ahead (1984) of Ghare Baire (1985). A few years earlier, in 1977, Hrishikesh Mukherjee cast Chhaya Devi in Alaap, a much older actress now in what the director imagined would have eventually become of Queen Lakshmi in the later years of her life. Dastan storytellers come from the culture that tries to seek a public space, a cultural unity that cuts across specific cultures in India despite using a very culturally rooted tool of the Dastangoi. Theirs is a format which is closer to cinema in India and hence as a theme they could handle Ghare Baire far better than what Ray did. Kudos !! Congrats !! Thanks to them I understand Ghare Baire and Tagore much better than before.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
This entry was posted in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s