Renuka Devi was one of Rabindranath’s daughters. She died when she was only thirteen years old. According to Kripalani, Tagore was very attached to Renuka (or Rani, as she was called), who “was a remarkable girl with a will of her own”. In 1901, when Renuka was ten and a half years old, her father married her to a husband she had never met.
This is surprising, as Tagore also speaks out against child marriages as early as 1887. In a letter to his wife (20 July 1901), he argues that the Tagore family’s education, taste and language differ so much from other Bengali families that he deems it necessary for his daughters to be separated from the family when they are still quite young in order to learn to appreciate their husbands’ families’ ways.
There might have been a number of other reasons for this radical step. Financial worries might have meant that marrying while Rabindranath’s father was still alive, he would pay all wedding expenses and dowry. Dutta & Robinson further mention a strong dislike for the current family atmosphere at Jorosanko and further emphasize Tagore’s wish to completely focus on his new idea of his school at Shantiniketan that made it necessary for him to disencumber himself from family commitments.
Bizzarely, Tagore wrote Nashtanirh (The Broken Nest) at the same time, when he was arranging his daughters’ marriages – a novella that describes the agony child marriages can cause to those involved. Dutta & Robinson ask:
“Was he conscious of the grotesque contradiction – or did the two activities dwell in distinct mental compartments? There is no way of knowing. In later life, however, Rabindranath betrayed many guilty feelings about the marriages of his three daughters.”
In the same year as her mother’s death in 1902, Renuka fell ill with tuberculosis. According to her doctors’ advice, Tagore took his daughter to the Himalayas in May 1903 for a change of climate. The journey was long and difficult. Kripalani writes that “at one stage in the mountains the poet had to carry his ailing daughter in his arms. (…) [H]e had not only to tend and look after his daughter but keep her entertained and cheerful, for she was moody and high-strung.”
On this journey, Tagore wrote many children’s poems that were later – together with some earlier children’s poems –, published as Sisu (The Child, 1903) that became later known as The Crescent Moon. Half a year later, in September 1903, Renuka died. She was only thirteen at the time.
Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography. New York: Grove Press, 1962, p. 201.
Dutta, Krishna, and Andrew Robinson. Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995, p. 130-1.
Dutta, Krishna, and Andrew Robinson. Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995, p. 131-2.
Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography. New York: Grove Press, 1962, p. 216.