Review: Daughters of Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti

Daughters of Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti is based on Rabindranath Tagore and his extended family, especially focusing on female members of the clan. But that’s just not what makes this book interesting. The constant tug of war that Rabindranath faced between fighting against evils of society and tackling same evils lurking around his family, that’s what makes this book one of my favorite ones.

Very few books have the ability to share a unique story with right facts and strong research. Daughters of Jorasanko is one of those. The book is a sequel to Jorasanko published by the author in 2013.
In Joransako, we explored early life of Rabindranath Tagore through the lives of the women Jnanadanandini, Kadambari, and Mrinalini, who helped him and shaped him to achieve what he is known today. But Jorasanko ends with a tragic climax, where Rabindranath’s wife, Mrinalini dies a tragic death.

Daughters of Jorasanko is based from 1859 to 1902 and begins when Rabindranath is gripped with the loss of his wife. Though known to many as an unworthy spouse, Daughters of Jorasanko clears the air about how much Rabindranath missed and yearned for Mrinalini and her constant support and loyalty. It is a story depicting the time when Tagore household was falling apart. Rabindranath, who was making waves in Kolkata as a poet and a writer, on the other hand, was struggling to keep his family together, especially his daughters.

Jorasanko, a small town in North of Kolkata has been linked to Tagore clan forever. With a feminine poise, the book shares the story of Digambari, Prince Dwarkanath’s wife who banished her husband from their home because he hosted receptions where meat and liquor were served. And that’s where you get the first glimpse of Daughters of Jorasanko. This strong act of Rabindranath’s grandmother establishes a concrete base for the existence of women with a voice in the Tagore household.

The time period covered shows the transition of India from a derogatory mindset to a free one, and in between the transition is Rabindranath Tagore and his daughters. A father, whose sister in law Jnanadanandini pushed him harder every day to be the greatest poet of all times, a beacon of new Bengal was torn between the evils of society, some of them created by himself within his household.

The sons and daughters of Rabindranath had a cruel fate too. The poet single-handedly brought up his three daughters and two sons. Even though a modern writer who used to share his views on upliftment of society from bad practices, his mentality was still shackled with old age traditions. One of them that he religiously followed was getting his daughters married at the tender age of 15. Renuka dies young because of a disease, Madhurilata and Meera face the wrath of torturous marriages along with husbands who were unworthy of their soul. Even though Rabindranath could sense his wrong doings, he kept on ignoring them until one day, his daughters left a gaping hole in his heart.

Daughters of Jorasanko for me was a journey back in time to meet Rabindranath Tagore. Not the poet and celebrated author that we know today but the Rabindranath who was living with a lot of pain. Managing a huge empire with a little amount of money, keeping the daughters, sons, and son in laws together and taking care of the extended clan took a toll on him. Through Daughters of Jorasanko, you also get to meet some really interesting women who had a deep influence on Rabindranath. Ranu Adhikari, a young girl of the age of 12 with the energy of an atom bomb. She brought sparkle in Rabindranath’s life, and when she went away, the spark also died bit by bit. It was ignited again by yet another intriguing Argentinian woman, Victoria Ocampo. 35 years old, she became his muse for many of his remarkable verses and poems which are thoroughly romantic.

Chakravarti’s writing style is simply amazing. A biographical fiction, Daughters of Jorasanko has been written with such an exquisite style which makes the story easy to comprehend from the very first page. Each of the characters and plots is written with utmost clarity and with such a lyrical writing style that the reader feels everything unfolding right in front of his eyes. The amount of research done by Chakravarti is brilliant and shows the hard work of three years she took to write Daughters of Jorasanko.

There is nothing that I disliked in this book, as simple as that. And another simple fact, Daughters of Jorasanko is a must read. Not just for people who love Tagore, but also for those who are looking for a brilliant autobiographical fiction.

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