Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Short Stories on Wednesday: A Wife’s Letter by Rabindranath Tagore

   Risa, who hosts Short Stories on Wednesday, has switched things up a bit this year to add a little excitement to the event. One of the new elements is that the last Wednesday of every month will be theme-based. Risa comes up with a word or idea and we read a story (or several stories) to match. This time around, the theme is ‘letter’. We are to interpret that anyway we please. I love the idea, mostly because, when deciding on a story to read, this gives you a definite direction to look in but it’s still broad enough so you don’t feel limited.

    A couple of weeks ago Mel U had done an excellent guest post on Breadcrumb reads about Indian short stories and one of the author’s he mentioned was Rabindranath Tagore. I’ve read a couple of Tagore’s translated poems and maybe a short story or two very long ago but nothing since then. Happily, this week’s theme gives me a chance to revisit Tagore.

A Wife’s Letter

    This is an epistolary story i.e. the story unfolds within a letter. Mrinal writes the letter to her husband of 15 years. As she reminisces on her past and their life together we learn of their arranged marriage when Mrinal was a mere child of 12. Her husband’s family, though not outright cruel, are mostly indifferent to her, as is her husband. Her beauty is considered her only asset and her intelligence is treated as an affliction. Then one day, Bindu walks into their home and family. Bindu is the orphaned, unwanted younger sister of the family’s eldest daughter-in-law. Mrinal takes the scared and abused girl under her wing and starts to care for her. Bindu in turn, adores Mrinal and the two create a sort of parallel world of their own. But then Bindu’s marriage is arranged to a mentally unstable man and she is to have no say in the matter. Mrinal tries to fight for her but is powerless in the face of her family’s adamant insistence. What follows is heart-wrenching to say the least.

“In Bengal no one has to search for jaundice, dysentery, or a bride; they come and cleave to you on their own, and never want to leave.

    The first thing that strikes me about this story is that it is one of those rare ones where a male writer writes in a female voice and gets it so absolutely right. I’m not being sexist here; it’s equally rare for women writers to write in a male voice without sounding contrived. Even though the culture and era that the story is set it in may be alien to most, Mrinal is recognizable and she wins your sympathy and respect right off the bat.
If you would like to read this story, you can find it here.


  1. That was a fine review. I read Tagore many years ago. Bengali films and literature were based on powerful social themes that exposed the injustices in an unequal society.

  2. Glad to know that. Hopefully I will explore more of Bengali literature in the future.

  3. The first thing that strikes me about this story is that it is one of those rare ones where a male writer writes in a female voice and gets it so absolutely right.

    For that alone I plan to read it. But I'm also interested in the window into another culture. I also remember reading and enjoying some of Tagore's poetry and recommend it too.

  4. Thanks for mentioning my post=Tagore is a great international treasure and a source of real wisdom-I enjoyed your post a lot

  5. Wow, that was an interesting piece to read. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of this.