Chokher Bali, A Grain Of Sand has been edited by Nidhi Shah.
Chokher Bali is a Bengali novel that pricks the nuisances of the society. What cuts silently, with grace through the traumas of the post-independence struggles is the subtle rebel of words Rabindranath Tagore initiates. Tagore had stunned the world with his profound literary pieces and still cites a place in every reader’s heart. With words so well-chosen that capture emotions in the most precise way, his works find their significance in every decade. Addressing the worldly emotions with such expertise distinguishes the noble laureate from other writers across the world.
The novel is a tale of revulsion towards remarriage of widows in spite of receiving the legal recognition. He goes deeper into his story and poignantly addresses the mental and physical deprivations of widows, especially the younger ones. The exact date of release of the novel may not be known, but the translator of the novel, Sukhendu Ray states that the story happens to revolve around the end of the nineteenth century and thus the novel may have been written then.
The story weaves through youthful yearning, fits of passion and motherly love that denies every fault of a child. Also, the profound burden of widowhood. It speaks of a young widow, Binodini, beautiful in all aspects, an epitome of genius. She loses her husband soon after marriage and struggles to find her place in the society. She finds a companion in Asha, the young bride of Mahendra with a child-like mind completely swooned by her husband. Mahendra was his mother’s darling until he gets smitten utterly to Asha and lags behind in his education to become a doctor. In a stark contrast exists his childhood friend Bihari, who is spiritual, selfless and a devotee of his friend. Their lives succumb to worldly passion and regrets when Binodini enters the household of Mahendra under his mother’s command.
With early friendship budding between the widow and the young bride, a lovely nickname strikes amongst the two to address each other- Chokher Bali, a grain of sand.
Binodini is a feisty and proud woman who finds Asha’s child-like ignorance and innocence a source of annoyance. To quench the thirst of love and tenderness woos Asha’s Mahendra into her charm only to realise that the rich, well-to-do Mahendra has lost all his mind and significance in yearning for her and is as dependable as a child. The society berates for her disgraceful behaviour and discards her from her home. Her disgust for Mahendra’s dependency on her grows. Her reverence for Bihari, the man aware of her feats, who saw her beyond a widow and held her in sight of divinity, proliferates. She gives up the worldly pleasures and seeks God by the Ganges at the end of the book.
This story says that simplicity is profound. The ending touches a cord, the conversation between Binodini and Bihari questions our conscience, our purpose.
“It is easy to drown yourself effortlessly into that which is truly profound and do not realise its true worth. And since the restless illusion which brings no pleasure even if you drain it to the dregs lead us by the nose and makes us dance a merry dance to its tune and we take it to be the lost desirable thing”
― Rabindranath Tagore, Chokher Bali
Tagore said that he regretted the end of the novel. He perhaps regretted not uniting Binodini and Bihari and thus abolishing the societal pressure, or at least challenging it. But personally, I find the end liberating, that Binodini didn’t give in to the society. On the contrary, she gave in to herself, dedicated her being to the supreme one, respecting herself and her choices.