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The Wreck by Rabindranath Tagore, and the Indian Society in the early 1900’s

The catastrophe here, was as minor as a wreck. A wreck, making the riddle of fate’s existence. A wreck trampling love and exchanging lives. To let you be introduced to the gruesome tale of  , I sing:


The history of the known

knows no bondage of the past,

Its land was a father to all,

Once a beaming sunrise or the gazing sunset,

The other being the dominant fate or the ignored wife ,

Picturesque revelry of the Ganges,

And a tinge of the forgotten Howrah,

The painted India and what contains its galore is deeply sown. 


‘The Wreck’ by Rabindra Nath Tagore sketches the greatest works of the wheel of fortune. Timeless tides, destined stroke of luck and an ambiguous human mind, all imbibe in them the undying threads which surrender the present to the anxious past. Fate, we shall see plays the game throughout the cycle of the book. It was not just the lives of the four characters, namely Kamala, Ramesh, Hemnalini and Dr. Nalinaksha who suffer the consequences of the wreck, but their destiny, the course of fate and the sufferings, everything.


Early acquaintance to the ideological differences between a Brahmo an an orthodox Hindu lays the foundation of the early Indian state. A state carefully mentioned in each fictional world belonging to Tagore. This difference, however, intervenes in a tender romance between a law student named Ramesh and his friend Jogendra’s sister Hemnalini, when Ramesh’s father summons for him from his village home. There, a dutiful son witnesses fate’s dominance. The arranged wife and marriage, both seemed to him a complete sham and he rejected the proposal. However, the history has in it that fathers and sons have never been of the same opinion in matters relating to marriage, children and love, of course! One has to bow down.


The auspicious date and not-so-auspicious ceremony takes place and right after the ship of our story sets its sail, with the women in one boat, the older men in another, the bridegroom and younger men in a third,  the pages overturn and ‘the wreck’ speaks for the destined thunder.


“What happened next will never be known. At whirlwind, following as usual a narrow path of destruction descended on the boats, uprooting and overturning everything that lay in its track, and in a moment the hapless flotilla was blotted out of existence”.


The haze of Ramesh’s life covered the great expanse of sand and in the midst of an empty existence, he sees the unconscious form of a young bride. The two move off, take a train to Calcutta, the bride wondering why they were not going to Kashi, but trusting her husband’s deeds and values implicitly, no different from a perfectly painted Indian wife.


” On the one hand the eternal peace of the Infinite, on the other  the eternal conflict of the world! How can the two exist side by side? ”


Hemnalini pines inwardly as Ramesh keeps her waiting on her birthday, not aware of what is going on his life. Ramesh, on the other hand is left surprised on knowing that the girl he bought Calcutta to, is some other girl, not the one he had married. Rigorous research in and out of Calcutta, he comes to know about Dr. Nalinaksha, the person who was rightfully the girl’s (named Kamala) husband.


On the other hand the riding confusion hides the truth from Hemnalini until one day the physical encounter of  , Hemnalini’s brother and Kamala forces Ramesh and Kamala to leave Calcutta with the truth concealed and forgotten.


Here, Ramesh and his intentions became a plate of too many dishes served at once. On one hand, he is intent on knowing Kamala’s husband, Nalinaksha’s identity and the other half of his soul started to develop a soft corner for Kamala. Not a night, however was spent as man and wife between the two but the inner ties of equal struggle strengthened the souls steadily.


Tagore beautifully addresses,

“He who sees his tangible possessions glide out of his grasp is unfortunate indeed; but the human soul in the very act of losing; retains the power to win back with interest that which is lost.”


As the cycle of fate wrote what was assigned to it, Kamala read a letter written by Ramesh to Hemnalini consisting all which was incomprehensible for the little soul to reconsider. Determined to kill herself she tries to drown in the river that changed the course of her life. She was rescued. Sorrow, it is said is an emotion which is not content to exist merely as to find an outlet in the performance of some difficult task.


Kshmenkari, Dr Nalinaksha’s mother rescues Kamala from the clutches of fate. How her screaming past abducts the blissful present, every jewel of time has woven together life and times of a typical sacrifice inbuilt in an Indian women. Tagore closely enraptures a woman who is afraid of the dark, leaves matters to faith, abandons the world when encounters the truth, accepts fate and what contains it. In one such event, Kamala unravels the eternal conflict of being a perfect house-wife to her husband.


The internal conflict of my mind calls for my freedom,

The passage of time solves that reason.

I shall never be worried,

I shall never be pale

Even if I die,

I shall sail.


Thus, I write and Kamala feels.


A perfect tinge of the Brahman supremacy also gives us a deep insight into a world of hindu society, where the human race is denied oneness and the division of humanity is diverse and deep. Tagore through one of the characters ideally emphasizes the prospect of obtaining the services of a Brahman lady-cook gratis.  Nonetheless, Tagore leaves before us a deep pun in the fact that qualifications can be put aside if one proves to be from a brahman household.


Hemnalini’s fate?


Self-submittal of a daughter to her father’s wishes as against her own is one other fruit served to our platter. Every nook of the book gives us a deep analysis of the Hindu society and its hypocrisy. The strong cultural stench is nowhere to be seen except in Tagore’s own pen and paper.

Heartbroken, she also lands up in Kashi with Ananda Babu, for ‘A change of scenery’ where she ends up meeting Dr. Nalinaksha. Their relationship is one blooming out of personal losses. For Nalinnaksha, it has been a year waiting for the news of Kamala’s existence while Hemnalini is on the brink of retiring from the thoughts possessing Ramesh babu and his truth. Their pain is about to bring them closer when luck, again turns the whole meaning of life and it’s existence topsy-turvy and Kamala breaks the silence thus enforcing her rights over what was rightfully hers. Luck presents itself to be the mainstream media of life’s curve in ‘the wreck’.


While the near-correctness of the story brings home the lives of the four individuals together, one must stop thinking what was in store for Hemnalini or Ramesh thereafter. Neither of them questions their better-halves, and instead accept the truth as a reason to forgive and forget. Both love and marriage become malleable concepts that can slip anytime out of fate’s wallet. The custom of the arranged marriages is brought forth before the ever inquisitive audiences, emphasizing the conventions of the institution of marriage dancing at the mercy of destiny. The wife thus procured from this institution worships what is given to her by chance and asks for nothing more than that.


“Suddenly she became aware that Nalinaksha had emerged from the room and was standing before her. In an instant Kamala sprang up-knelt before him, and bowed her head till it touched his feet; her loose hair, wet from the bath, fell all about and covered them to the instep”.


Like an alternative play, the protagonist seems to be an intangible force in Tagore’s imagination. The story continues to leave pages unturned, characters unknown and questions unresolved. The tears of joy answer to all the possible questions of the inquisitors. With a perfect wife, a perfect household and a perfect life becomes a perfect end. The cultural freedom of the rich society brings home the exclusivity of our traditions and values. With what Tagore wrote about it, ages shall sing songs under his pen.



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