Chokher Bali or A Grain of Sand by Rabindranath Tagore

Title: Chokher Bali
Author: Rabindranath Tagore
Translated from Bengali by Sreejata Guha
Paperback: 287 pages
Set in: Kolkata (India)
Publisher: Penguin Books (January 1, 2003)
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:

Chokher Bali is a Bengali novel written by Rabindranath Tagore. He needs no introduction to Indian’s but those who haven’t heard about him, he was a celebrated Indian writer who won the Nobel price in literature in 1913 for Gitanjali. He has also written the national anthem of 2 countries-India and Bangladesh. So I felt bad that I hadn’t read anything by him even after having his translated works around. When I saw this book in the bookstore, I couldn’t resist buying it.

Choker Bali or A Grain of Sand is a story of an extra marital affair. This is just putting it in a nutshell. But not really, calling it an extra marital affair story would be grave injustice. This is a story of love and what people can do for it. Mahendra gets married to Asha, a shy and timid girl who is an orphan and unaware of how the world works. She is just happy to be someones wife and is happy to finally have a home to call her own. She is extremely devoted to her husband. Mahendra is spoilt by his mother and is used to have everything placed before him at his command.

Mahendra and Asha are enjoying their life and are totally consumed by each other as newly weds usually are. Into this bliss enters Binodini, a young orphan woman who was widowed just one year after her marriage. Asha takes to her completely and treats her like her sister. Binodini is envious of Mahendra’s and Asha’s love and yearns to have a home and a man who is as devoted to her as Mahendra is to Asha. Driven by this jealousy and her own desire to be loved, she sets upon seducing Mahendra. Into this cast of characters is Mahendra’s mother Rajalaxmi who is responsible for spoiling Mahendra and Behari, Mahendra’s best friend, an overall awesome guy who is content to stay in Mahendra’s shadow.

Chokher Bali is not all black and white though. In spite of Binodini being the enchantress, she was someone I really understood. I’m not saying what she did was correct but considering she was an orphan and a widow, her need for love and affection was something that endeared her to me. In those days, widows had a lot of restrictions. They had to wear colorless garments and they could not enjoy the worldly pleasures like other woman could. Asha was a naive woman, a girl child who didn’t know disaster until it was right in front of her.

The only person I did not like was Mahendra. He was spoilt right from his childhood. He had a beautiful, devoted wife whom he loved. But he wanted everything. He could not understand why he couldn’t have Asha and Binodini both at his side. Believable and compelling characters is probably what the major plus point of this book is and someone who can create woman like Binodini and Asha is worth applauding. The book was very easy to read, I’m not sure if it’s meant that way or because it is translated from Bengali. Nonetheless, A Grain of Sand is a book I heartily recommend.

This one’s for The South Asian authors Challenge.

Chokher Bali-the Movie:

It’s a Bengali movie, so I watched it with subtitles. It is directed by one of the most celebrated directors of Bengali cinema: Rituparno Ghosh. I was surprised by how different the movie is from the book. While the book concentrates on all the characters and the relationship between them, the movie concentrates on Binodini. The movie is more of a Passion play as the tag line suggests. The movie shows Binodini to be cunning  whereas in the book she is simply a widow who is looking for affection. Suffice to say I didn’t like the movie as much and I wonder if I would have liked it more if I had seen the movie before reading the book.

This one’s for The South Asian Authors Challenge