Author: Aruna Chakravarti
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Publishing Date: 22 February 2013
If someone asks me to describe Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti in just three words I would choose expansive, wonderful and tragic. A riveting family saga, spanning three generations of the Tagore family, Jorasanko is part reality and part fiction. I came to know about Jorasanko through bookstagram. I had read Rabindranath Tagore’s biography in school. I was always curious to know more about his family, especially his wife and daughters because not much is written about them.
For those who don’t know, Jorasanko is the name of the large palatial mansion of Tagore family in the Jorasanko district of Kolkata. The story starts with the formidable Digambari Devi, wife of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore’s grandmother. She was a deeply religious lady, who banished her husband from her bed and prayer room because he preferred to mingle with foreigners. Her daughter-in-law, the beautiful but indolent Sarada Sundari, was devoted to her husband but she did not subscribe to his philosophies. The spirited Jogmaya who took on Debendranath and split the family in two. The childless but headstrong Tripura Sundari and her fight for justice. Jorasanko is their story.
The stories of the Tagore women are told in the context of their husbands. Jorasanko unravels like a soap-opera. There is politics, grief and heartbreak. The advent of Jnanandini heralds a change in the traditions of the Tagore household. Her modern outlook and progressive ideas encourage the other women to embrace change and mordernisation. She could be a role model for women today. What I liked most was the portrayal of Kadambari. Her angst and loneliness is poignantly depicted. The highlight of Jorasanko was how the character of Mrinalini was portrayed. Her gentleness and sacrifice are truly memorable.
There are too many characters in Jorasanko but it did not feel intimidating while I was reading this novel. I think it was because the characters were strong and extremely evocative. Each character is given importance. This novel is filled with emotion, be it Kadambari’s pathos, Mrinalini’s love or Tripura Sundari’s fight for justice. The Tagore women were indomitable and spirited.
The novel is filled with the women’s triumphs, sorrows, hopes and dreams. Many of them were intelligent and very talented. Rabindranath’s sister Swarnakumari was a prolific writer. However, due to the repressive tradition of purdah many Tagore women did not get a chance to explore their talents. Given a chance, some of them would have been as famous as Rabindranath Tagore.
Along with women we come to see the men in a completely new light. Debendranath Tagore’s paradoxical beliefs in the education of women but discouraging inter caste marriage and widow remarriage was a surprise because he was a staunch supporter of Brahmo Samaj. Satyendranath Tagore’s progressive outlook was a breath of fresh air. Jyotirindranath’s neglect of Kadambari resulted in tragedy. We also witness Rabindranath in an entirely new way. We see him as a husband, as a shy poet and as a father. We see his fantastic achievements, his fame and also his loss and his grief.
I would recommend Jorasanko to anyone who is interested in reading historical fiction, readers who are fans of Tagore and anyone who is looking for a wonderfully absorbing read. I can see Jorasanko becoming a classic period film and it makes me want to go and see the Tagore Mansion myself!