The Mind Illumined: Tagore’s Radical Reflections on Home and the Nation in Ghare Baire by Jaydeep Sarangi

Tagore’s Ghare Baire is set in the backdrop of the tumultuous period of history of Bengal. Partition of Bengal in 1905 and the anti-partition upheaval in the following decade shaped Tagore’s thoughts. Ghare Baire is a social document of the time, the Zamindari system, British misrule, religious riots and the Swadeshi movement.

Gandhi in the Swadeshi movement
Gandhi in the Swadeshi movement

Tagore travelled a lot. He digested the best of different nations and nationals. His world view is universal; beyond a limited boundary determined by any particular ideology. Nikhilesh is his mirror image. Through him, Tagore flagships radical worldview. Tagore also criticises narrow forms of Swadeshi i.e. burning of foreign goods and communal atrocities which is in a sense self-limiting and self-defeating.

Tagore expresses his anxiety for Nikhilesh. Bimala portrayed as a woman of transition. She defies traditional boundaries of stratified rural Indian society. In the novel Tagore constructs an illumined mind—opens for all sections of people, race, religion and nationality. In the full paper, I shall look into Tagore’s ideas of home and nation through the art of characterisation and contexts embedded in the plot. Tagore unfolds the enigma of orientation—the destiny of man and society.

Key words: partition, proclamation administered, motherhood, illumined


Socio-Political Weaves

On July 20, 1905 the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon issued an order dividing the province of Bengal into two parts: Piston Bengal and Assam with a population of 31 million and the rest of Bengal with a population of the 4 million of who 18 million were Bengalis, and 36 million Biharis and Oriyas. East Bengal consisted of Dacca, Mamansingh, Assam, Rangpur, Bogra District etc. Dacca was the capital.

East Bengal had Muslim majority whereas West Bengal became the Hindu majority province. The capital for West Bengal was Calcutta (now Kolkata). Bengal was the biggest province of India extending over 1,89,000 square miles with a population of approximately 80 million which caused headache for the British administrators.

The reason behind the partition that was officially announced was that the Bengal province was too large to be administered by a single governor and so it would be partitioned on administrative purpose. There were other administrative reasons the British administrators recorded to promote the development of backward Assam and to unite the scattered sections of Oriya speaking population under one administration.

Rivers and forests made things difficult for communication. The law and order situation of a vast territory couldn’t be administered properly because of these reasons. The eastern part was thought to be under ruled.

If we penetrate the surface, the real reason for the partition of Bengal was not administrative but political. In the-then time, Calcutta was the hub of anti-British politics and the Bengali speaking people became good orators and mass pullers. They used to take control of High Courts and legislations. The whole of their activity was directed to create an agency so powerful that they could one day be able to force a weak British government to give them what they desired.

These political reasons made an outcry among the White administrators and they thought the political divide would lead to a peaceful demise of the Indian National Congress. The civil jurisdiction was under the high court of Calcutta. Keeping all these seemingly important aspects in mind they came out with the Proclamation of partition:

“The Governor-General is pleased to constitute the territories at present under the administration of the Chief Commissioner of Assam to be for the purposes of the Indian Councils Act 1861… a province to which the provisions of that Act touching the making of laws and regulations for the peace and good order of the presidencies of Fort St. George and Bombay shall be applicable and to direct that the said province shall be called and known as the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam….

The Governor-General in Council is pleased to specify the sixteenth day of October, 1905 as the period at which the said provisions shall take effect and 15th as the number of councillors whom the Lieutenant-Governor may nominate for his assistance in making laws and regulations.

The Governor-General in Council is further pleased to declare and appoint that upon the constitution of the said province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, the districts of Dacca, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Backergunge, Tippera, Noakhali, Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Rajashahi, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Rangpur, Bogra, Pabna, and Malda which now form part of the Bengal Division of the Presidency of Fort William shall cease to be subject to or included within the limits of that Division, and shall thenceforth be subject to and included within the limits of the Lieutenant-Governorship of the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.” [1]


Partitioning of Bengal
Partitioning of Bengal

When the Mind is Divided

The Hindus did not subscribe to this superficial concept of partition. It was telling blow to the Hindu monopolies on social, economic and political life of the undivided Bengal. To some extent, the Muslims welcomed this political divide. [2] This move could result in political uplift and securing represent action in the Government.

They also found it an occasion to get opportunities of services and advancement of the plights of farmers. Rabindranath Tagore was never actively involved in politics. But, as a committed social artist and composer he contributed a lot to the anti-partition cause. A staunch non-believer of partition of Bengal, Tagore inspired his countrymen in the song, “Banglar mati Banglar jol” (‘soil and water of Bengal’).

This period in Bangla music witnessed the emergence of creative stalwarts Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Dwijendralal Roy, Rajanikanta Sen and Atulprasad Sen. The ceremony of Rakhi Bandhan was observed on 16 October 1905 as a symbol of unbreakable unity and fraternity among the religious groups.

The Vande Mataram; ‘Hail Motherhood’ became the song of solidarity and harmony among the Indians. India was on the path of social awakening and political reforms. When Lord Hardinge assumed the office of Governor General of India a representation was sent to him to investigate the matter and Lord Hardinge recommended the same to the British Prime Minister for Indian affairs.

The result was the annulment of the partition of Bengal. The boycott of British goods was urged by Swadeshi activists and newspapers. Tagore is a committed artist who is aware of his immediate and universal. For Tagore, writings are doors of the mind.


Psyche of the Artist and his Creations

Sudhir Kakar in his book Young Tagore: The Making of a Genius lays bare the psyche of the artist and shows how Bengali ethos, society and family relations structure his mind. [3] He looks into general truth that underline intense personal experiences in different domains. Tagore transforms his memories into narration consciously and unconsciously.

The flowering of Tagore’s lotus of social novels needs mud as much as it needs light and the Sun. Here mud is not dirt. It’s a mix of the elements of soil and water of one’s own native space and its people.

If we examine Tagore’s literary works ‘mind’ is an important word. He is a soul maker at several planes. For him the level of mind controls human actions and movements. In Ghare Baire there are many places where the characters introspect. They refer to their within:


“When our heart is involved in one arena, we lose all our senses of other spaces. This is why we are devastating; we cause havoc through our innate nature and not through logic.” [4]…“The human mind is a strange thing; how suddenly the wind changes and the sail turn around.” [5]


Physical matters are imprinted in the mind. Tagore goes on constructing the amorphous state within which hold truth. Before Tagore Swami Vivekananda, the cyclonic monk of India moved many thinking heads by his thoughts and speeches in India and abroad. He made great impact in the US. Vivekananda philosophised the internal power in man.

If we keep aside his spiritual sides, the mind is the epitome of awareness. All three prominent characters in Ghare Baire, Nikhilesh, Sandip and Bimala get their monologues which give the reader an insight and clue to their psyche. As the novel begins with Biala’s narrative, we could say that Tagore being a male author, apparently grants his female heroine precedence over the male counterparts.

Until Bimala is affected by the fire of nationalism or infatuated with Sandip, she continues to have a strong sense of wifehood. The structure of the novel is out of the ordinary. The mode is self-revealing. Characters are viewed and gazed by other characters in the novel.


Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda

Character Gallery

Tagore is a master character builder. Like Swami Vivekananda he upheld the spirit of man/woman as one who is always victorious. For him, a new society is born on the new image of man/woman. The quest for an objective society is always of good and evil.

Tagore doesn’t mind in taking this challenge. He proved to be radical in delineation of characters. If there was a radical in Tagore’s time that was he. He broke social stereotypes and hammered age old social evils with liberal and constructive ideas.

Tagore travelled a lot, all continents except Australia and grabbed the best for humanity. The plot of the novel moves around an upper-middle class Bengali household.  His heroines in novels are embodiments of progressive liberation and qualitative individual Shakti (power). Bimala is Tagore’s new woman, an enlightened soul.

Her sensibility navigates on hearts that comes out of the rains to the sunshine, in search of truth of the world. She comes under the spell of a Machiavellian politician, Sandip for his eloquence and Swadeshi vitality. Bimala leaves the protected orthodox shelter of her house hold and enters the world of urban lures.

As the story unfolds, Biala’s emancipation takes place. Bimala’s fascination for Sandip is not permanent. Tagore leaves it to his women to blossom with effortless grace. Enlightened Bimala dismisses Sandip’s social Darwinism and amorous advances when her heart is illuminated with practical wisdom and truth in the course of the novel. She radiates from the power within.

The novel begins with Bimala’s autobiography. She portrays her husband as an enlightened landlord. His attitude towards the women in the household reflects his true education. Bimala touches the feet of her husband. Nikhilesh objects her to do so. He treats all human being as equal. Bimala’s account informs us that the family of her husband was very orthodox. Nikhilesh is a free spirit. Nikhilesh introduces Bimala to the outside world (‘Baire’). He takes Bimala to a political rally.

Bimala also notes how Nikhilesh heart brims over with sympathy for women. He wanted Bimala to step outside the inner chambers: “The world outside may be in need of you.” [6] Bimala is happily married to a forward-thinking man who encourages her to educate herself. But their relationship is challenged when Sandip, a cyclonic man with great voice, enters their lives. In the novel Nikhilesh says, “I have to free her completely or I will not be free of the lie.” [7]

His views on Nationalism and Swadeshi resemble closely those expressed by Tagore himself. Tagore is a global citizen. Experience of a writer determines his range of subjectivity. If the experience is varied, it helps. We cannot deny the intermingling of thoughts, contexts, engagements   and concepts of these writers, which make them unique. A writer like Tagore is an evolved self who can think beyond a definite territory.

The image of self is developed from membership of writer in social group(s). When the matter of discontent arrives Nikhilesh argues that a person must learn to control his or her passions. One need not be weak and liquid. Tagore doesn’t give up dreaming, even when he accounts for the river of life passing through a gutter. Ideas unfolded in Home and the World are rich in aesthetic responsibility towards life, contexts and social manners of the time.


Towards the Illumined Mind

In the Home and the World Tagore constructs an illumined mind – opens for all sections of people, race, religion and nationality. Illumined mind is free from prejudices, stereotypes, illusions and age-old rituals. Mind involves empathy, thinking aloud, conflicts and creative imagination of another’s perspective. Nationalism, an important book by Rabindranath Tagore, was first published in 1917 from Macmillan in New York.

After hundred years of its publication, the book has become all the more contemporary in the Indian milieu. Nationalism was translated into English from the Bengali by Tagore himself – and the first volume included three lectures delivered in his tour in Japan (1916). In these talks Tagore comes heavily on national jingoism, extreme patriotism.

Tagore frankly declares in his first lecture that “We are no nation ourselves!” During the time these lectures were delivered, World War I was on and World War II was to follow, in 1939-45, bringing into focus the extreme nationalism of Hitler and Mussolini. Tagore warned the global society for too much cheering for nationalism which might prove to be an evil menace. Tagore was a follower of universal humanity; humanity without illusion and discontent.

For this he used the lamp image as a stock device in his works. Tagore opines that the real problem of India is not political, but social. Tagore was a card core patriot without quite being a nationalist. His words sound like Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), the leader of the Dalits in India who emerged as a towering figure in India in 1920s onwards. Ambedkar criticised Hindu orthodox religious leaders and the age-old caste system in general.

Tagore wanted to bring the world under one nest. His Visva Bharati project was on this line. He wanted to break the evils of narrow domestic walls by true education of the mind. His liberal thoughts and ideas embraced the best in Vaishnava cult, Baul Minstrels, Christianity, International awareness and local values. He wanted to make a synthesis of the local and the global. Between 1878 and 1917 Tagore set foot in more than fifteen countries.

From May 1916 until April 1917 he lectured in Japan and the US. He denounced narrow Nationalism during these lectures. His essay “Nationalism in India” got immediate notice by Romain Rolland, the noted French dramatist and historian. He started propagating the idea of contextual modernism—a liberal all-inclusive term. Tagore started taking about the evils of aggressive patriotism and nationalism. It can do more harm than good.

Nikhilesh in Home and the World refuses to take part in swadeshi even though when he is benevolent to farmers and the land. Whereas Sandip pretends to be a Swadeshi leader falls in trap of greed and id. Sandip likes tangible things, flesh, passion, hunger and money. He cannot keep himself abstain from luxurious habits. Sandip can never be an image of Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru. Tagore has portrayed him as a man with so many basic faults. He is like any other Swadeshi leader of the time.

Tagore was disillusioned with Swadeshi leaders in general.  Sandip is foppish and a firebrand extremist. Through him Tagore unfolds the elite bhadralok cult in the Swadehsi Movement.  This movement was divorced from the common mass of India. Sandip and his co-workers exploited poor peasants, Muslims and small-scale businessmen, and propagated the communal divide. This is what Tagore couldn’t accept in real life. In the novel we come across how Mirjan’s boat was destroyed by the Swadeshi people.

Tagore’s heart was pierced to write the account of burning of German shawls of a Muslim shopkeeper. Sandip betrays the ethics of altruism and is identified with the demonic selfish power. Tagore had composed the national anthem of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He developed the idea of syncretic civilisation as a basis of nationalist civilised unity. Nikhilesh is portrayed as a shadow of Tagore. He embraces a union or attempted fusion of different religions, cultures, or philosophies of the day.

If we study Tagore closely and carefully we understand how he emerged as the critic of the modern idea of the nation and nation-state. His Nikhilesh is a non-sectarian humanist who stands out as an integrated man far above the selfish motifs and masculine aggressiveness and dogmatic aptitudes. He invites the world to come under one umbrella. Nikhilesh drums up optimism in the midst of testing times. He is a cool customer.

When Miss Gilby is humiliated by Sandip’s Swadeshi army Nikhilesh extends her hands and love for the foreign lady. To him she is another human being with flesh and blood like him. Love is a companion of his soul. Tagore signs in the ‘peace accord’ of minds. Nikhilesh and the novelist share the view that we are of a self-luminous Brahman.

Like Tagore, Nikhilesh also propagates global sentiments. He can be none other than Tagore himself. Home and the World has a certain allegorical quality in that Nikhil and Sandip seem to represent two opposing visions for the nation – with Bimala, torn between the two poles, not knowing for sure what should be her model stance – signifying Bengal tottering between the two possibilities. The presentation is realistic.




Being a progressive thinker and widely travelled sage Tagore’s writings often are based on radical subjects that were far ahead of his time. Creativity is an aroma of human heart. Home and the World records illumination from within. There is the pleasure in the recognition of a shared moment in literary creation followed by a heightened awareness and sensibility.

Tagore’s narrative pool is redolent with a hurried system of questions and answers within. The ending leaves a few possibilities open for readers. What happens to Bimala? Is Nikhilesh a martyr?  Home and the World illustrates the battle Tagore had within himself, between the ideas and social nuances of the Western Cultures and masculine resistance and protest the Western culture.

Bibliographical Notes

[1 ]

[2] Brown, Judith M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. p. 184.

[3] Kakar, Sudhir, Young Tagore: The Making of a Genius. New Delhi: Penguin, 2013.

[4] Tagore, Rabindranath, Home and the World. Trans Sreejata Guha, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2005. p. 44. [Hereafter Home and the World]

[5] Home and the World. p. 74.

[6] Home and the World. p. 10.

[7] Home and the World. p. 88.