It is a book that immerses the reader in its rich descriptions of a life that ceased to be more than a century ago. It is not about a person or persons; it relates to a house, a way of life, and describes the changing social landscape of pre-Independence Bengal. Aruna Chakravarti’s well-researched book Jorasanko illustrates the life of the Tagores in their historical household of the same name. The vividness of the characters, the richness of the text, the beautiful and lively descriptions of the various aspects of the life in Jorasanko, delve into the depths of the multi-layered lives of the members in the elite Tagore family.
In a wonderful departure from the popular beaten path, it is a study of the women’s chambers, their days and daily chores, their loves and losses, their accomplishments in the shadow of their great men, and their not unsubstantial contributions to the creative arts of their age. It is an absorbing work, making the reader feel the pain, happiness and unhappiness, hope, despair, and agonize along the various characters. Each of the characters in the book stands on her own.
The book shows various shades of womanhood, be it in the form of the stern orthodox Sarada Sundari or the sophisticated and modern Jnanandini who brought a breath of fresh air into the old , ancient Jorasanko.
The book also illustrates the varied contribution of the Tagore women in different fields like drama, poetry, science etc. The book unwinds slowly, like a soap opera and has its own share of drama, heartbreak, romance and pain. It captures the life of the first bard of Bengal – Rabindranath Tagore, from an insider’s eye. His childhood unfolds among the women in his palatial home, and his journey to the heights of fame and back – all are intertwined with the lives of the Jorasanko women.
The author describes, beautifully, the relationship between Rabindranath and his wife Mrinalini and the special bond he shared with his older brother’s wife, Kadambari, who was famously known to be his muse. Amidst all of this, there is also a hint of politics, of a large household, of a country in the throes of change, and the renaissance of Bengal.
The best part about the book is that it does not intend to put the characters onto a pedestal for the virtue for being a Tagore. It shows the bright as well as dark sides of all the characters, the ways in which each one of them failed, their weaknesses right alongside their accomplishments.
The reader can sense the vulnerability of Kadambari; the simple unconditional love of Mrinalini is on silent display; the wild streak in Jnanandini is delightful. There are verses by the poet; one of them which the poet wrote for his sister-in-law is: “Tomaarei koriyache jeban er dhuruba tara (You are my lodestar, I shall follow your light , never again shall I flounder in this ocean of life!)
The Jorasanko women were trendsetters in their own ways. They lived at a time and in a place where history was being made every day… this book takes the reader behind the scenes in the history books, to live the real lives of real people in a real world.