Real Wisdom from Asia's First Nobel Laureate
To Thine Auspicious Lotus-Feet".
The wife opens the letter by saying in fifteen years of marriage she has never written a letter to her husband even though they have shared many confidences. The wife is deeply religious. I was very moved by these lines:
"I am Mejo-Bou, the second bride in your joint family. Today, fifteen years later, standing at the edge of the ocean, I understand that I also have other relationships, with the world and the World-Keeper."
It is almost as if her acceptance of her role as second wife is so deep within her psyche that she almost sees her relationship with the World-Keeper (an expression I like a lot) as a form of infidelity.
Her husband's first wife was considered quite plain, so plain his mother insisted that he redeem the family name by taking a beautiful second wife. Mejo-Bou is considered incredibly beautiful by all, even the envious other women of the household. She never has any sense of her own beauty. These lines are heartbreaking:
"Long ago, in my childhood days--in the days when my preordained marriage to you was known only to the Omniscient One who writes our fates on our foreheads--my brother and I both came down with typhoid fever. My brother died; I survived. All the neighborhood girls said, “Mrinal’s a girl, that’s why she lived. If she’d been a boy, she couldn’t have been saved.” Jom-Raj is wise in his deadly robbery: he only takes things of value."
Even death does not want a young girl.
As she writes the letter she is alone on a religious pilgrimage. Her husband is so devoted to his work that he cannot leave Calcutta. She talks about how lonely she was when she first went to the house of her husband. (She was 12, the first wife was 27 and not really happy about this new arrival!) For a long time her only friends are three cows.
The wife has a curse, she is intelligent:
"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."
To quote once more, there is so much beauty and depth in this story:
"My daughter was born--and died. She called to me, too, to go with her. If she had lived, she would have brought all that was wonderful, all that was large, into my life; from Mejo-Bou I would have become Mother. And a mother, even confined to one narrow world, is of the universe. I had the grief of becoming a mother, but not the freedom."
An interesting and dramatic development is revealed in the letter and I will leave it unspoiled for potential readers.
"A Wife's Letter" was translated from Bengali by Prasenjit in 2009.
You can read it online HERE.
I think this might make a good first Tagore.
To me the short stories of Tagore are a world class treasure.
Please share your experiences with Tagore with us