Last year I happened to watch a movie and a short Web series on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel “Chokher Bali”. (Here’s the blog)
After watching both of them I was kind of baffled, I really did not understand the character of the female lead of the story, Binodini… So in order for me to judge her actions fairly I had to read the original novel from which the the movie and web series were adapted.
The original story of Chokher Bali:
Mahendra was a guy of 21-22, lived in Kolkata with his windowed mother and aunt- Rajlakhsmi and Annapurna. His best friend was Bihari. Bihari lost his parents in childhood and he did not have any other relative. He called Rajlakhsmi mother and treated Mahendra as his own brother.
Mahendra was a spoilt brat… His every demand was fulfilled by the people around him. His mother used to take care of him like a little boy.
Rajlakhsmi wanted to marry his son Mahendra with Binodini, a girl from her native place. Mahendra rejected the marriage without a second thought. After a lot of struggle Binodini was married to another guy, who died barely in a year.
Only few days after calling off his marriage with the excuse of “studies will be disturbed”, Mahendra got married with Asha, Annapurna’s orphan niece. The match was originally for Bihari but Mahendra could not restrain himself after seeing her…
Rajlakhsmi never bothered about what Annapurna wanted or what Bihari wished… The newly married young couple were madly in love…Mahendra would not allow his wife to come out of the bedroom through out the day. Rajlakhsmi wanted her young daughter-in-law to get involved in cooking and chores but her entitled son didn’t allow.
Rajlakhsmi was partly hurt and partly jealous of the fact that his one and only son was going out of her grip. She was enraged on her sister-in-law and daughter-in-law for all that was happening. One day she decided to visit her native place in the hope that her son would bring her back…
Days went by, Mahendra did not even write to his old lonely mother. In the village, Rajlakhsmi met Binodini again, this time she was a young widow.
Binodini was a beautiful girl, she was well educated(in the pre-independence era in India when only boys were allowed to get education), she was very good in taking care of people and the house-holds. Only in few days, she won Rajlakhsmi’s heart by taking care of her.
Bihari was staying with Rajlakhsmi at that time, he too was amazed with Binodini’s efforts…
After realizing that Mahendra would probably not write to his mother and this would break the old lonely one’s heart Bihari forced Mahendra to write a letter and get back to their home in Kolkata. Rajlakhsmi was so pleased with Binodini, she brought her along with her- after all Binodini did not have anyone in this world.
Within a few days, Binodini became a very good friend of Asha. They named their friendship as “Chokher Bali” (literally a sand in eye- a common idiom in Bengali that means “enemy”). This actually foreshadows the unpleasant turn of their innocent friendship.
Sometimes Binodini would sigh looking at the young couple. All this love could have been hers- but now it was somebody else’s. Binodini would do all the house hold work and take care of Rajlakhsmi. In the afternoon, Asha and Binodini used have their girly gossips… Binodini always tried to hide from Mahendra, she had that grudge of previously getting rejected by him although she never expressed that.
Binodini’s empty love-life and desires of youth were burning her every single day, yet she used to keep herself busy in work.
Eventually she met Mahendra, they vibed almost instantly. Binodini was literate and could understand Mahendra’s intellectual talks. Like a loving wife, she turned Mahendra’s shabby house into home.
Slowly Mahendra was drifting away from the girl, once he was so madly in love with. The very things that he once liked about Asha began to irritate him. Poor Asha could not understand why his loving husband suddenly turned against her- it must a grave mistake indeed.
Mahendra was desperately looking for opportunities to cheat on her. Asha on the other hand, completely unaware of her husband’s love affair followed his orders blindly and went to Kashi leaving Mahendra and Binodini in Kolkata. Rajlakhsmi trusted Binodini to take care of Mahendra. Probably the worst decision ever!
Binodini’s desire for love was a blazing fire but soon she realized that she was not in the right path… Mahendra was a selfish guy after all- he was cheating on his innocent wife and claiming that his love for Binodini was real… Binodini started retreating from that she had taken with Mahendra…
Bihari already knew of Mahendra’s affair and confronted him. In his defense, Mahendra accused him of liking Asha. Asha started hating Bihari after this false accusation. Binodini approached Bihari for help. Binodini had a soft corner for Bihari, she had different respect for him that Mahendra never earned.
One night Binodini came to Bihari heartbroken, pleading him to take her away but he did not accept it. Bihari was disappointed with her for ruining a marriage… Binodini had realized her mistake long ago and wanted to have a fresh start away from Mahendra and Asha. Bihari’s rejection shattered her into thousand pieces. She went back to her native place alone.
The news of her affair with Mahendra was everywhere. She was trying her best to get her life together- Mahendra went to her place and insisted on going with him. Villagers knew about Mahendra’s marriage and they would not allow Binodini to live at her place anymore.
Helplessly Binodini went with Mahendra. She was no more infatuated with him, she tried to push him away but Mahendra won’t. Though rejected, Binodini could not think anyone but Bihari. She tried every possible way to reach him. It was no secret to Mahendra as well.
Bihari too started feeling guilty of turning her love down, the kiss he did not honor that night was making him restless. When the guilt turned into love, he did not realize. He left home travel and settle his mind…
The broken marriage of Mahendra and Asha shook Rajlakhsmi to her core. She denied taking her medicines and was terminally ill. Mahendra and Binodini came back to her at her last days of life. Bihari too came back.
Asha was changed person- she was no longer shy, weak or hesitant girl. In absence of her husband, she took the responsibility of the house-hold. Neither did She get into a fight, nor did she complaint.
Mahendra was feeling hesitant like a guest in his own house. Binodini apologized to Rajlakhsmi before her death.
Bihari finally proposed Binodini to marry him (marrying a widow was still not accepted in the society). “Your soul is pure… and I am a sinner. I do not deserve you. Expiation of my sin is necessary and I will pray to God to have you in my next life.” said Binodini and started off for Kashi (a place where widows spend the rest of their lives worshiping God)…
My Thoughts on Chokher Bali original story:
- Mahendra was an absolute trash. But a character like Mahendra would not be so hard to find even today – so entitled, demanding and self-centered.
The only thing that makes the character different is how he kept his promise to Binodini.
After getting rejected by Bihari and shamed and rebuked by the society Binodini stayed and traveled with Mahendra. She took a promise from Mahendra to never force her again to be close with him. He left his mother and wife for staying with Binodini, the promise was against his own interest yet he kept it.
- Rajlakshmi’s double-standards
Rajlakhsmi’s blind love and endless pampering too contributed well in Mahendra’s irresponsible nature.
When the marriage failed, Rajlakhsmi blamed Asha for not being able to capture his son’s attention for long, for it is normal for male to fickle-minded and unfaithful.
This is the same Rajlakhsmi who hated Asha, when she was following her husbands commands blindly after marriage. “She bewitched my innocent son”, she used to think!
Such a double-standard! To be honest, while reading the book, I could not stand her at all.
Sadly, I have seen people like Rajlakhsmi up close in real life… I have seen wives to be blamed for a failed marriage even when it’s the husband who cheated. The novel that was written more a hundred years ago, depicts the unfair life so perfectly.
However Rajlakhsmi’s character traveled an 180 degree arch at her last moment. Her heart cried seeing the heart-broken Asha. She wanted to unite Mahendra and Asha using her illness that took her life.
- I cannot imagine a girl like Asha- so pure and innocent. She never doubted her husband or her best friend- maybe she was too good for this vile and unfair world.
- Everybody needs a friend like Bihari. His love and affection for Mahendra was beyond match. He confronted his friend multiple times to save his marriage.
Bihari probably did not have the best presence of mind. He is not the best lover one would ask for!
- Annapurna, the widow auto Mahendra was a wise lady. In her small presence in the novel, she won my respect.
Rajlakhsmi used to taunt her for marrying off her niece with Mahendra… One day Rajlakhsmi set out for Kashi giving it all to Rajlakhsmi.
When Asha came to meet her in Kashi and asked her how she could please her husband. Annapurna who lost her husband long back, had turned to God with her emptiness. Her devotion towards God filled her in… She kind of sensed the broken relationship of Asha and Mahendra, she answered Asha that “You keep on serving your husband (whom you consider as your lord), even if he doesn’t honor your devotion God will…”
Innocent Asha was married to Mahendra at very young age, she never got so much love and admiration before. Mahendra became everything to her. When everything seems unfair, it’s wise to turn to God for he only is fair.
- Last but not the least- Binodini, the “Chokher bali”, the female protagonist.
Binodini is surely the heart and soul of the story but she is not flawless as a Goddess.
Losing her husband only after a year of marriage barely at the age of 15-16 is not easy. The rituals that a Hindu widow had to follow at that time in our society were only to make her life hell.
Binodini’s mind was rebellious against these so-called societal norms… She used ask herself why she should not get a chance to live her life!
I would not glorify her getting involved into an extra marital affair with her best friend’s husband stamping it as “her choice”. But being true to herself, realizing her mistake and restraining herself after that proves her good nature.
Few more points I would like to mention about her course of actions in the novel. Binodini could have gone to Kashi in the first place when she was trying to move on from Mahendra… Just saying!
Rejecting Bihari when he finally gathered enough courage to propose her seemed to make no sense to me at first. But it was not a selfish descision after all.
Binodini loved Bihari so intensely that she could not bear the thought of Bihari being rebuked by the society for accepting her. She was still guilty of her deeds.
Marrying Bihari would mean that either she would have to face Mahendra and Asha or Bihari would have to stay away from his childhood friend. Binodini alwsys adored their friendship – that might be one of the many reasons for making her mind for Kashi.
Which one did I like the most (Chokher Bali movie/series/original novel)?
I liked the novel better than both the movie and web-series. The novel did a far better job in justifying the characters and their actions. Well I already spoil the story but I do recommend reading it… I too sort of knew the ending as I watched the adaptation before reading the novel, still it was enjoyable…
Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash