It is strange, isn’t it when a book that’s regarded as a classic fails to have any impact on you save for mild annoyance?
I’d like to believe that Rabindranath Tagore’s Chokher Bali got lost in translation. Rather, I want to believe so. Tagore’s Parrot’s Training still remains one of my favourite short stories of all time, but to my mind the authors of the two can scarcely be the same person.
I bought/started reading this book in 2009, and abandoned it after the first few chapters. Abadoning a book just seems so wrong, unless the book is so bad (cough *50shadesofgrey* cough) so I gave it another go.
Chokher Bali (grain in the eye) is a story about a husband and wife whose lives are turned upside down with the arrival of a young widow, who is far more beautiful and intelligent than the wife. As a result, the husband falls for her. Although she played along, she realizes that this man is an arrogant pain in the places-that-were-not-talked-about-in-the-period-this-book-was-written-in. Chokher Bali is the name that Ashalata (the wife) and Binodini (the widow) give to their friendship (yes, they were friends).
Let’s talk about the characters. Mahendra/Mohin, the husband mentioned above is an insufferably arrogant young man. Spoilt by his mother to an extent that he still throws tantrums like a child. But because he is a grown man, the tantrums are more of the passive-aggressive kind. He falls for Ashalata, a girl meant for his best friend Bihari, at first sight, and because of the power and dominance he has over Bihari, he snatches the girl from him without so much as a “May I?” With Mohin, it’s all “Yeah, this is mine. This too. And that. Plus this.”
Ashalata is a simple girl. Too simple, silly, unaware of the ways of the world. She is such a simpleton that when she finds a friend in Binodini, she tells her the tales of all her trysts with her husband, thereby evoking Binodini’s passions and desires that ultimately lead to the mess.
Binodini, on the other hand, is the one character I liked. She is supposed to be a character with negative shades, but how can you not sympathize with her – rejected by Mahendra (before he married Asha), rejected also by Bihari (who she was thrown to as a crumb when Mahendra rejected her) and then widowed at a young age. Add to that the fact that she considers herself superior to Asha, but sees both the men in the story desire Asha, and not her. It is a frustrating scenario, irrespective of the time the book was written in.
Let’s now talk about the writing, or the translation. The first and foremost – scenes end abruptly for no valid reason! You’re talking about something, say, a conversation for instance, and suddenly – bam – it’s over and we move to something completely unrelated, and you’re wondering, “Ok, but what happened to what we were talking about earlier?”
The women in this book cry all the time. Women – why do you cry so much in this book? Why are you always crying? Is life so hard? Sometimes you cry for no reason at all. Are you that silly? Why are you crying even when you’re happy. Why are your tears of joy also described as something painful that no one would ever want to experience? Binodini, you’re being shown as a strong woman – but you too are too much of a weeper.
We know about Binodini’s “awakened passions” only because of the blurb on the back. As a reader, I know Binodini’s frustrated only because we are told she is trying to flirt with Mahendra, and she does. But her reasons, her anger, her resentment, her regrets are not explored as well as they could have been. It’s rather inarticulate, and we are just supposed to assume, “The woman is pissed.”
It all dwindles to the most frustrating endings of all time. It may have been pertinent to the time it was written in, but if you apply the scenario to a more modern setting, I feel it is unjust and almost cruel. Without giving out too many spoilers, all I am gonna say is to forgive isn’t always divine, or even necessary.