by Dr. Usha Bande
Rabindranath Tagore’s literary output can well be compared to a perennial source; the more you use it, the more it gushes out. On the same analogy, no new book on Tagore is one too many, nor is it saturating. The work under review, Tagore and the Feminine: A Journey in Translation, is a welcome addition to the scholarly discourse on Tagore that attempts to locate the “feminine” in his oeuvre. The volume offers selections from his memoirs, Gitanjali, travelogues, poems and songs, epics and mythology, letters, essays, lectures, and short stories, and in that, it becomes a journey of re-discovery and a not-so-easy exercise in translation. The contributing translators are all renowned scholars in the field with command over both Bengali and English. That speaks for the quality of the work.
Initially, the word “Feminine” in the title appears problematic: why search for the “feminine” when the sensibilities of the age are attuned to “feminism”? And again, why search for the “feminine” in the works of a patriarch? Malashri Lal’s deep and intense “Introduction” provides a logical answer to these queries: “Revisiting the oeuvre of Tagore through critical sensibilities nurtured by feminist theory and gender studies, it becomes possible to read Tagore in new ways since his words are multivalent, the images mercurial and the emotions brilliantly nuanced” (p.xv-xvi). Prof Lal further opines that Tagore shows a unique ability to enter a woman’s “imagination, experience and language with amazing perspicacity” (p.xvi). This takes me back to my first reading of his story “The Postmaster” and my awe at the subtle and suggestive nuances of a woman’s heart.