Like other colonies of Britain, India was left in a woeful mess. The psychological and physical scars left by years of colonialism can only be imagined by outsiders. This paper will attempt to take a peek at those scars and one individual’s manner of dealing with it through an exert of one of his works: ‘The Conclusion’. It will consider the social and quasi-political background of the author and ultimately the educational argument that rather glaringly leaps forth from the written word of Tagore’s writings when the historical background is considered, specifically as depicted by the couple described in the story.
Utilizing the “keys…[of] superior weaponry, a strong profit motive, and Eurocentric confidence[,]”(“Learn About British Rule in India“) Britain managed to subdue an entire nation with its own rich history spanning centuries. The author, Tagore, was born ”three years after Britain took over the government of India.”(949) That is, the Bengali, Tagore, was born three years after rumors, if we are to believe this explanation of events, “…that the cartridges [of the Indian Army] had been greased with pig and cow fat, an abomination to both major Indian religions [caused the “Indian Mutiny”, which was started by] mainly Bengali Muslim troops.”(“Learn About British Rule in India“)
After this mutiny, the British Raj started, and along with controlling the government of the Indians, Britain began “educating them in British modes of thought, and stamping out cultural practices…”(“Learn About British Rule in India“) Though Tagore “benefitted… from the early example of the Bengali reformer Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) who, offered an early synthesis of European enlightenment with brilliantly reinterpreted Hindu tradition[,]”(949) we find that “he found his outside formal schooling to be inferior and boring and, after a brief exposure to several schools, he refused to attend school.”(“Rabindranath Tagore on education“) One may well wonder what it was about the education system in India at the time that produced such a dislike. Shades of this dislike can be found in his work.
Briefly, The Conclusion is the story of Apurba Krishna, a hindu who has just passed his BA exams in Calcutta and no longer has an excuse for warding off marriage. Instead of marrying right away though, he goes to see the girl, a meeting that is disrupted by the village “pagali”, Mrinmayi, whom he finds intriguing. Upon returning home he announces his intention to marry this rebellious madwoman and digs in his heels in the face of his mother’s opposition. The marriage gets off to a rocky start, appears to smooth out when the couple visits Mrinmayi’s father, hits a roadblock once they return home, and then finally comes to a “blissful” end once Mrinmayi realizes she loves her husband.
The work itself cannot be mistaken for anything but Indian, steeped as it is in that culture. Mouth watering references to “rice pudding, curds, and rui fish,”(951) and “dal and rice”(956) flesh out a story punctured with descriptions of clothing that is distinctly Indian in name. Apurba sets out to see his bride-to-be, decked out not in his “usual dhoti and chadar”(951) but in a “long silken chaplain, a puggree on his head…”(951) and finds her “trembling…painted and polished, tinsel round the bun in her hair, and wrapped in a fine colourful sari…”(951)
However, there appears to be a certain subtext running underneath it. Considering the fact that Tagora disdained formal education, as we have mentioned earlier, it is impossible not to view Apurba’s refusal to marry until after passing his BA “in keeping with the slogan of the day”, as something viewed in a positive manner. This is compounded by the fact that instead of being a dutiful son, Apurba refuses to marry the woman picked out for him by his wise mother and chooses a “pagli”(950) tomboy “bone-burning good-for-nothing”(950) who, “[i]n the ranks of biddable children […,] was regarded as a scrouge(sic)”(950) and who had the village woman in “a constant state of alarm at her wayward behavior.”(950) Clearly, cultural practices are being undermined by formal British education, it being assumed that Apurba would have dutifully submitted to his mother’s wishes had he not been polluted by outside influences.
It is rather noteworthy that these two mismatched people are Other in the face of an organic and wholesome social structure. They both stick out like sore thumbs. Apurba causes trouble in his family, arguably due to his formal education, while Mrinmayi’s agitation seems due to a lack of proper upbringing, her father’s utter fondness for her preventing “her mother from imposing too strict a discipline.”(950) Thus we see that Apruba’s descision to marry Mrinyamayi is not due to love, but due to a revulsion at his mother’s choice. “The more he thought of the dolled-up kind of girl, the more repulsive became the idea of marrying one.”(953) This choice of his, and here one may wonder if it was not caused by exaggerated romances studied during the course of gaining his BA, can be contrasted by Mrinyamayi’s response.
In spite of the fact that she is “mad”, and had orally refused to marry: “I’m not going to get married,”(953) we find that she does get married, and we are not led to believe that she did so because she was forced to, the picture having already been painted of a free-willed individual who will not bend. In fact, she runs away multiple times after she is married, however, and quite unlike Apurba, she takes her rightful place in society, becoming the epitome of her father’s words, “Let no one find fault with my Minu.”(956)
Thus we find that though Minu is Other she is redeemable, whereas no such indications are given in the case of Apurba. Certainly he comes to love Minu, but do we ever see him change from the arrogant man-child just returned from exams who finds fault with his mother’s match? Does he mature over the course of the story? It is hard to tell from this brief excerpt, but from what we are given, very little about him changes and he never appears to integrate fully back into society in spite of the impressive alphabet soup he is acquiring at the end of his name, and that, it would seem, is the problem Tagore has with formal education.
“Learn About British Rule in India.” About. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://asianhistory.about.com/od/colonialisminasia/p/profbritraj.htm>.
“Rabindranath Tagore on Education.” Infedorg. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://infed.org/mobi/rabindranath-tagore-on-education/>.
Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Conclusion.” The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. 1st ed. Vol. E. N.p.: n.p., 2004. 949-60. Print.