The name of Rabindranath Tagore is certainly not an unfamiliar one. Apart from being the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize, the poet laureate exposed us to a very sensitive portrayal of his world view through his books, short stories, poems and plays. His extensive works have left a long legacy that finds its relevance in contemporary times through films of legends like Satyajit Ray and a popular genre of Bengali folk music, Rabindra Sangeet.
We have curated a list of the best works of the poet laureate if you want to be entrapped by his magic.
Needless to say, the top of this list is Tagore’s magnum opus, Geetanjali, which was the foremost work for which Tagore got the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
This collection of over 100 of his poems should be at the top of your reading list for your foray into Tagore’s world. It gives one a very extensive portrayal of how Tagore viewed the world. Further, it goes into a deep introspection into life, death and nature. One of the biggest admirers of Geetanjali is the poet stalwart of the west, YB Yeats, who insisted on writing an introduction to the poetry collection upon his reading and he said,
“’I read Rabindranath every day, to read one line of his is to forget all the troubles of the world.”
Nastanirh (The Broken Nest)
The next masterful work of Tagore is undoubtedly Nastanirh or The Broken Nest. This novel gives an intricate portrayal of the 19th-century affluent Bengali households who were inspired by the cultural renaissance happening at that time to reinvent the Bengali culture from the hands of colonial masters. Tagore’s portrayal of marriage, household and culture in this novel not only holds cultural but historical importance because of its accurate portrayal of Bengali culture at the time.
It tells a story of a woman who is married to an older man and as they are stuck in a lifeless marriage, the wife’s affection for her husband’s brother. Through this triangle, the more serious themes of feminism, women’s choice, monogamy in the 19th century are explored.
Nastanirh went on to be the prime inspiration for the legendary Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray in his film, Charulata in 1964, which was hailed as one of the best films by the filmmaker. Tagore’s description of Bengali culture in Nastanirh has left a deep impression on every filmmaker till date, with contemporary films still paying homage to Tagore’s timeless piece.
Chokher Bali (Eyesore)
Chokher Bali or Eyesore is yet another masterful work of Tagore that explores the lives of the bourgeoisie in early 20th century Bengal. It has been hailed as masterful because of its progressive themes such as patriarchy, the fate of the widows and women’s literacy in early 20th century India.
The novel follows the story of Binodini and her extra-marital affair with Mahendra and her complicated friendship with another character Asha. With the intricate web of friendships and affairs. A deeper understanding of the conservative nature and the sensibilities of early 20th century India emerges.
Chokher Bali has gone on to be an inspiration for several acclaimed contemporary films and web series including Anurag Basu’s series, Stories of Rabindranath Tagore and Rituparno Ghosh’s film of the same name.
Gora or white, published in 1910, is one of the most prominent works of Tagore along with being the longest novel written by him. It gives a view into colonial India in the 1880s along with giving an outlook into Tagore’s progressive views into philosophy, religion and universal brotherhood.
The novel follows the story of 2 couples: Gora and Sucharita, Binoy and Lolita. The adventurism and their emotional journey in the backdrop of the political turmoil of colonized India make Gora an essential read to understand the sensitivity of Tagore towards independence, nationalism and religion. Granted, that it may not be the easiest of Tagore’s books but it certainly is one of the more essential reads if one wants to understand him
Ghare Baire (The Home and The World)
Ghare Baire or The Home and The World published in 1913, is one of the most recognized and one of the most valuable works of Tagore. This novel highlights a prime discrepancy that Tagore battled all his life, between accepting the western traditions and values and on the other hand rejecting and propagating an anti-western culture. This very discrepancy is the heart of the intellectual movement which arose in Bengal before the Independence and this book highlights the cultural sensitivity and understanding of the people at that time.
While the plot of the novel is too vast to be explained in a gist, it essentially follows the story of Sandeep and Nikhilesh, who are an active part of the freedom movement but there is continuous strife between the two over the methods through which the freedom movement should proceed. The strife shown between the radicals and the liberals is a direct metaphor for the strife between the two movements which emerged in pre-independent India. It is one of the most culturally and historically significant works on Tagore, without a doubt.
Selected Short Stories of Tagore
Amongst the vast works on Tagore, the things which immortalized him into the psyche of the modern reader are his short stories. One cannot possibly go without mentioning the immortal short stories like Kabuliwaala and The Postmaster while talking about Tagore. These short stories weren’t as detailed exploration into the lives of people like his novels, but these short stories fictionalized and chronicled the simple daily lives of the subaltern masses which Tagore saw around him.
The reason why these stories are immortal is that they are the ones that resonated with the common people the most. Tagore wrote the stories of common shop owners and low-level government employees and gave a view into their daily lives, daily politics and these short stories remain one of the most memorable works by him.