Rabindranath Tagore’s Gora (1909) has been viewed variously as “the most competent description of nationalistic Neo-Hinduism” (Nirad C Chaudhuri) and as the first of his three overtly political and anti-nationalism novels (Ashish Nandy). This paper will revisit the novel and analyse it instead as a site of the struggle between domesticity and worldliness, between rootedness and domicile that characterises much of Tagore’s vision. I argue that this opposition is the central problematic of Tagore’s fictional oeuvre, one that he himself self-consciously titled as that of “the home and the world” in his later 1916 novel, Ghare Baire. This paper departs from the oft-repeated estimate of Tagore as a transcendental, mystical poet and argues for the utter materiality of his engagement with the world: a world of modernity that is staged within the intimate space of the household. In making his titular ‘alien’ protagonist the flinty spokesperson for an autochthonous bharatvarsha, Tagore presciently challenges notions of being and belonging, authenticity and performance, the public and the private and national and universal identity.
Mridula Nath Chakraborty is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. She edited (with Dr Rani Ray) A Treasury of Bangla Stories (Srishti 1999). She is currently editing a volume of essays on Being Bengali: at home and in the world (Routledge).
Mridula also spoke to Radio National regarding the Australia-India Literatures International Forum, listen to the podcast here.