The Home and the World

Book number 98 on the list is The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore.  I confess that I struggled with the start of this book.  The writing is quite beautiful, but the style and content is so different than anything else I have read that it was difficult to immerse myself in.  If it had not been for this reading challenge, I would closed this book and chosen another.

However, I am committed to this reading challenge and did continue reading and there has a been a shift, and I am now finding my way through this story.

This book begins by introducing us to Bimala, a young Indian woman who has married Nikhil, a Rajah, and now dwells with him in his family home in Bengal. She is meek and devoted to her husband to the point of worshipping him, though he tries to stop her from doing that.  Nikhil, a good man, loves Bimala and as a modern thinker, he wants her to be educated and even hires her a teacher.

Years pass and the Swadeshi movement is now in full swing.  This was a political movement intended to promote India's independence from Britain and a nationalism arose among many of the people.

Bimana decides to go hear a charismatic promoter of the movement, a friend of Nikhil's named Sandip, speak about Swadeshi.  She is swept away by what he has to say and is attracted to his boldness and pride.  She had never liked him before but now is completely drawn in by him and he too is drawn to her.

Sandip comes to live at Nikhil's family home for a time, and the attraction between Bimana and Sandip continues to grow stronger, and Nikhil is left on the sidelines watching his life crumble.

I am only a third of the way through the book, so there is much left to discover. I think my difficulty with this book stems not from the book itself or the writing but from my own ignorance of Indian culture and history.  It's funny how they say reading makes you smarter, but sometimes it makes me feel like I know so little. I think if I had entered into this book knowing more about the Hindu religion or the history of Britain in India or Indian culture, I would have grasped more of the meaning in the early bits of this book.

However, now I'm in the part of the book where age old themes are taking place and power, lust, and pride have taken centre stage.  It doesn't matter where someone lives or what the history is when it comes back these age old vices.  There is no mystery here and the author spins an intricate web going back and forth between the stories of Bimala, Nikhil, and Sandip, telling the story from their viewpoints and expressing their thoughts and feelings.  It is very engaging and the tensions between the characters and even within the characters themselves is palpable.

I will leave this entry with a quote from the book so you can get a taste of the writing style of this author.  This section is from Nikhil's perspective and he struggles with the obvious attraction between his wife and his "friend".

I was never self-conscious. But nowadays I often try to take an outside view—to see myself as Bimal sees me. What a dismally solemn picture it makes, my habit of taking things too seriously! Better, surely, to laugh away the world than flood it with tears. That is, in fact, how the world gets on. We relish our food and rest, only because we can dismiss, as so many empty shadows, the sorrows scattered everywhere, both in the home and in the outer world. If we took them as true, even for a moment, where would be our appetite, our sleep? But I cannot dismiss myself as one of these shadows, and so the load of my sorrow lies eternally heavy on the heart of my world.

Tagore, Rabindranath (2012-05-17). The Home and the World (Kindle Locations 638-643).  . Kindle Edition.