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Rabindranath Tagore, "A Wife's Letter" Essay

2817 words - 12 pages

A Wife’s Letter Rabindranath Tagore
Translated from Bengali by Prasenjit Gupta To Thine Auspicious Lotus-Feet: Today we have been married fifteen years, yet not until today have I written you a letter. I’ve always been close by your side. You’ve heard many things from me, and so have I from you, but we haven’t had space enough to write a letter. Now I’m in Puri on a holy journey, and you are wrapped up in your office work. Your relationship to Calcutta is a snail’s to its shell--the city is stuck fast to you, body and soul. So you didn’t apply for leave. It was the Lord’s desire, and so was His granting me my leave application. I am Mejo-Bou, the second bride in your joint family. Today, ...view middle of the document...

Otherwise why would you have taken all the time and trouble to travel to our distant village? In Bengal no one has to search for jaundice, dysentery, or a bride; they come and cleave to you on their own, and never want to leave. Father’s heart began to pound. Mother started repeating Durga’s name. With what offering could a country priest satisfy a city god? All they could rely upon was their girl’s appearance. But the girl herself had no vanity; whoever came to see her, whatever price they offered for her, that would be her price. So even with the greatest beauty, the most perfect virtues, a woman’s self-doubt can never be dispelled. The terror of the entire household, even the entire neighborhood, settled like a stone in my chest. It was as if the day’s sky, its suffusing light, all the powers of the universe were bailiffs to those two examiners, seizing a twelve-year-old village girl and holding her up to the stern scrutiny of those two pairs of eyes. I had no place to hide. The wedding flutes wailed, setting the skies to mourn; I came to live in your house. At great length the women tabulated all my shortcomings but allowed that, by and large, I might be reckoned a beauty; and when my sister-in-law, my Didi, heard this, her face grew solemn.

But I wonder what the need was for beauty; your family didn’t love me for it. Had my beauty been molded by some ancient sage from holy Ganga clay, then it might have been loved; but the Creator had molded it only for His own pleasure, and so it had no value in your pious family. That I had beauty, it didn’t take you long to forget. But you were reminded, every step of the way, that I also had intelligence. This intelligence must have lain deep within me, for it lingered in spite of the many years I spent merely keeping house for you. My mother was always very troubled by my intelligence; for a woman it’s an affliction. If she whose life is guided by boundaries seeks a life guided by intelligence, she’ll run into so many walls that she’ll shatter her forehead and her future. But what could I do? The intellect that the other wives in the house lacked, the Lord in a careless moment had bestowed upon me; now whom could I return the excess to? Every day you all rebuked me: precocious, impertinent girl! A bitter remark is the consolation of the inept; I forgive all your remarks. And I had something else, outside all the domestic duties of your household, something that none of you knew. Secretly I wrote poems. No matter if it was all rubbish, at least there the boundary wall of the inner compound could not stop me. There lay my freedom, there I could be myself. Whatever it was in me that kept your Mejo-Bou detached from your family, you didn’t like it, didn’t even recognize it; in all these fifteen years none of you ever found out that I was a poet. Among the earliest memories that I have of your house, the one that comes to mind is of your cowshed. Right next to the stairway leading up to the inner rooms...

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