Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Blind Cave of Eternal Night: The Work of Mourning in Tagore's Play of Four

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Blind Cave of Eternal Night: The Work of Mourning in Tagore's Play of Four

Article excerpt

finally there is the painful riddle of death, against which no medicine has yet been found, nor probably will be

(Freud, 1927, p. 16)

Rabindranath Tagore's novella Play of Four (my translation from the original Chaturanga) was published in 1916, and Sigmund Freud's 'Mourning and melancholia' in 1917. In this essay, I am going to read the second chapter of Play of Four alongside Freud's text.

It may not be out of context here to point out that Tagore's text has had much fewer readings, at least in Western academia, than that of Freud. Unlike Ghare Baire, Tagore's other novel of 1916, which was translated into English (The Home and the World) as early as 1919, possibly the first noteworthy English translation of Chaturanga is the one by Kaiser Haq titled Quartet, which was published as late as 1993. Compared to the critical attention 'Mourning and melancholia' has received - Maria Torok and Nicholas Abraham on Freud, Jacques Derrida on Torok and Abraham, and Elissa Marder on Derrida, to name but one chain - detailed analyses of Tagore's novella are therefore relatively rare. This makes it all the more necessary to present fresh readings and arguments, especially in the light of Freudian psychoanalysis.

Tagore and Freud having been contemporaries, and as influential as they were in their respective fields, the question arises naturally of a dialogue between the two. However, as Santanu Biswas elaborates in his essay 'Rabindranath Tagore and Freudian thought' (2003), such a dialogue was conspicuous by its absence, despite Tagore and Freud's meeting in 1926. Biswas's essay also talks about Tagore's initial so-called 'resistance to psychoanalysis'. While it should be clarified that Tagore's objection had been more to a blind categorization - and therefore reduction - of literature into psychoanalytic theories and jargon than to psychoanalysis itself, it also means that Tagore would not deliberately 'follow' a Freudian theory as such. The joy of reading the two in juxtaposition is often to discover how beautifully, while writing from two different worlds, they complement each other. This essay should prove to be an instance of the same.

Play of Four is divided into four chapters named after its four protagonists: Jyathamoshai (Bengali for 'uncle', referring to Jagmohan), Sachish, Damini and Sribilash - in that order. In the first chapter, Sribilash, the narrator, meets and befriends Sachish. Sachish rescues a woman called Nanibala, who is pregnant with his debauched brother's child. He proposes to marry her, not out of love, but from a sense of duty. However, Nanibala kills herself.

'Sachish', the second chapter and the one I want to focus on, starts with the death of Jagmohan (of plague while nursing a marginalized section of the society - to the end a heroic character) and Sachish's subsequent disappearance. When Sribilash finds him after two years, Sachish has become a devout follower of a religious guru called Leelanandaswami. Despite his misgivings, Sribilash joins the guru as he cannot bear to part from Sachish again. They meet Damini, a young widow, who is the guru's ward. Although she is initially rebellious against the guru's authority, she soon falls in love with Sachish (and Sribilash with her) and appears to become more docile.

In the third and fourth chapters, Sachish, Sribilash and Damini leave the guru and set off on their own. However, the tension between Sachish and Damini eventually leads her and Sribilash to go back to Calcutta. There, they get married and embark on a blissful marital life. But their happiness is short-lived as Damini dies soon afterwards from an illness she had contracted during a trip in Chapter 2.

It will be clear from this summary how this short novella seems to be predominated by death. Chapter 1 ends with Nanibala's suicide. Chapter 2 begins with Jagmohan's demise. The third chapter ends with the three of them leaving the guru, a departure prompted by a suicide within the circle of devotees. …

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