Three Women by Rabindranath Tagore

I am scared. I am petrified, in fact and I possibly cannot do this. I for one cannot review Rabindranath Tagore’s works and yet I will write on them because I have just finished reading a brilliant translation by Arunava Sinha (who has earlier translated many a great Bengali works to English).

Having said that, “Three Women” obviously as the title suggests is about three women – the book is actually a collection of three novellas that center around three different women in probably the same time living life in different circumstances. The theme running across “Three Women” is that of love, more particularly extra-marital love. The relationships explored include Bhupati, Charu, Amal (Nashtanir, translated as The Broken Nest, 1901), Sasanka, Sharmila and Urmi (Dui Bon, 1933, Translated as The Two Sisters) and Aditya, Neeraja, and Sarala (Malancha, 1934, Translated as The Garden and the Gardener).

My take on the book is simple: They are beautiful novellas that depict the gradual challenge to these women within the household (antahpur) and the influence of romance (or lack of) on their lives. Each of these stories engage in the woman defying her circumscribed space and personality to face moral and societal dilemmas as Tagore deftly explores the conflicts that such situations throw up.

The stories are more than 80 years old and yet the theme is so relevant even in today’s times. One can sense and see Tagore’s keen sense of awareness as one starts reading these stories – the way he transforms domestic spaces and then emerges the need of the alternate versions of the woman and her self-hood, so to speak.

The stories end conventionally and yet leave you with this sense of wonder – purely because of the writing. Arunava’s translation is worth a mention because he stays true to the original telling (I have a Bengali friend who is blown by his translation) and makes these worlds come alive for us. He shows us the aspect of the multifaceted talent of Tagore. The book captures Tagore in a cusp of a moment of transition, keenly aware of the winds of change for the new woman and yet uneasy about the deeper impact on the familial and societal structures. The careful translation, the choice of inflections and nuances make it an enjoyable read while attempting to remain faithful to the complexity and craftsmanship of the original.

Three Women; Tagore, Rabindranath; Translated by Arunava Sinha; Random House India; Rs. 299

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