“Today I am Bharatiya. Within me there is no conflict between communities, whether Hindu, Muslim or Krishtan. Today all the castes of Bharat are my caste…” is the ultimate realization that strikes Gora, the central character of Tagore’s novel by the same name. Sadly, even after a century past this novel, how far-fetching such an understanding within us seems!
Gora is the largest and the most complex of the 12 novels written by Rabindranath Tagore. Undoubtedly a classic, this epic debates a number of issues and concerns that seem contemporary even today and easily applicable to the current scenario of our country. This book is a reflection and analysis of the multifarious social life in colonial India. It is about variations in one’s own beliefs as a result of changing times, society and its manifold influences on the people, their thinking, ideologies and philosophies, and in the process, an overall transformation seen and sensed within an individual and the society in general.
Gora is a story set in the disruptive times when the Bengali society in Kolikata (Calcutta) was starkly divided into the traditional orthodox Hindus and the modernized liberal thinking Brahmos – indoctrinated by the Brahma Samaj. The Hindus unfailingly followed and took pride in their renascent practices and ceremonials while the Brahmos were in constant clashes with orthodoxy and vehemently opposed all idol-worship, caste system etc. Yet both communities were not devoid of their own hypocrisies, contradictions and flaws. These were also the times when the English education had become more acceptable across the society and the intellectual awareness amongst the the youth was at rise.
Pitted against such a social background are numerous characters each of which is unique and strongly individualistic. In fact, it’s through these various characters and their stories that Tagore looms upon almost every single concern of the society mainly the religious narrow-mindedness. Hence the novel is woven with several sub-plots, intermediary stories and events which, though sometime seem to meander away from the main theme, add on to the beauty of the story.
Gora, the protagonist, is a strong advocate of Hinduism and practices his religion with high regards, thorough conviction and strict austerity. He is a natural leader with exemplary oratory skills, fair and tall stature and a resonating voice. However, his forthrightness and impelling attitude make him seem an arrogant, self-asserting, violent person who thrusts his opinions unto others. But Gora at heart is an eternal optimist dreaming about his ideal Bharatvarsha, a prosperous and happy India, which according to him is achieved by uniting all classes under the large umbrella of Hinduism. As a person he is highly patriotic and sympathetic – cannot stand injustice and high-society atrocities over poor and the downtrodden.
His denial of his newly developed feelings for Sucharita and then the slow dawning of role of women in his dream country Bharatvarsha, his hurt when he learns about Binoy’s inclination towards Brahmos, his shock upon knowing the facts relating to his birth, then his aversion to religion/ caste system and his final repentance for forsaking his mother’s feelings in his pursuit have all been beautifully brought forth. This particular character has been etched so very well that you love and hate him both at the same time or constantly keep oscillating between the feelings of repugnance and appreciation.
Binoy, the best friend of Gora, is on the other hand a soft spoken, easily convincible and compassionate gentleman who initially comes across as a mere shadow of Gora but, in subsequent development, emerges as more genuine and self-analyzing. A golden-hearted person with high conscience, who cannot intentionally hurt anyone or refuse anything, is in constant dilemma about rights and wrongs. This is the character with which most of us can identify ourselves. He symbolizes the uncertainty that we undergo in our lives at various stages. He is also the reflection of the contradictions and ceaseless conflicts within us, between the heart and the brain, selfishness and humanity, good and the bad.
The story takes shape when these 2 Hindu boys come in contact with Poresh Babu, a mature and high thinking gentleman, and his family who represent the other facet of society, the Brahmos. They have adopted a more open-minded life style where even the ladies of the house have equal prominence. Sucharita and Lolita are the heroines who are educated and with their own point of view in life. The latter character is much ahead of her times and during the course of the story undergoes transition from a confused, guilt-ridden meek girl to a brave realistic person who has no hesitation about accepting her feelings for Binoy. Sucharita on the other hand maintains her demeanor throughout even while undergoing an agitation within herself for being attracted to an opposite mindset personality, Gora.
Tagore here voices a strong protest against alienating women from the main stream by lending them devotional status of goddess or mother. His heroines are full-blooded normal human beings having their emotions, feelings and responsibility towards society. The ladies are characterized as strong individuals with independent thinking and self-confidence.
There are many other interesting characters like Anandmoyi - has no religious affinities, believes in one God and is symbolic of Mother India; Baradasundari and Haran Babu – relentless Brahmos; Krishnadayal and Harimohini – fanatic Hindus; Mohim and Abinash – the hypocritical part of the society. Each of these characters in its own way contributes and justifies the status of society.
At times the book leaves you confused, unsure and drained yet no questions raised seem inappropriate or irrelevant. The story line is not preachy or advocating any principle instead full of debates, arguments, contemplation and musings that may be interpreted in various ways. There is no definite conclusion thrust upon the reader, rather it keeps you thinking about virtues of your ownself, your religion and the rectitude with which you follow what you perceive is right. Even the end is not definitive but only a new beginning of the concept of secularism.