My Reaction to Kadambari Devi’s Suicide Note by Ranjan Bandyopadhyay #227

Kadambari Devi was married to Jyotirindranath Tagore (older brother of Rabindranath Tagore) at the age of 9. Rabindranath and Kadambari were of the same age-group. Growing up in a giant family with so many siblings, Tagore did not get much of his parents attention. Kadambari was his playmate, the very first audience to his many of his timeless literary works, a fan and a critic. Tagore on the hand was the only friend in Kadambari’s life who would understand her more than anyone in the world.

I have heard the rumour of Rabindranath and Kadambari Devi a couple of times in my school-life. Tagore, who is the author of our national anthem, who won Nobel Prize in literature in 1913 (the first Indian and one of the 2 Nobel prize-winners of India till date), we grew up reading his novels, short-stories, poems, singing his songs that are also known as Rabindra-sangeet. The more I read his writtings, the more I fall in love with them, the more I have respect for his passion. Tagore did not confess his love for Kadambari devi ever, neither did anybody from Tagore family shed light on the truth.

Kadambari Devi killed herself four months after Tagore had married Mrinalini Devi following his father’s order. Ranjan Bandyopadhyay used his creative freedom to write the suicide note on behalf of Kadambari to her beloved Ravi. As a reader I could not tell apart what was true and what wasn’t. Nevertheless it brought tears to my eyes…

Kadambari Devi took poison for the second time in her attempt to suicide. Not even a drop of water she would allow to pass through her lips to quench her thirst. She closed herself in her bedroon, the letters between Kadambari and Ravi are scattered all over the table. The letters that they exchanged even when they were living in the same house.

Kadambari sat down to write to the love of her life for the last time, her mind was restless, head was spinning, she was getting cold and numb, yet she could not help but write the memories that she lived for and the memories that she was dying for.

  1. She talked about how she got married to Tagore’s elder brother Jyotirindra at the tender age of 9*. Kadambari’s husband was 19 already. Little Kadambari barely knew her husband. Jyotirindra never gave her the love or respect of his wife. After all, this marriage was forced upon him by his father. The other family members too (like another brother Satyendranath and his wife Gyanadanandini) always looked down upon the new bride with the thought “our boy deserved much better than her”… Kadambari figured out the real reason of her marriage later. Tagores were high-born Hindus, renowned and affluent. Yet unlike the other conservative Hindus they would not mind to mingle with Muslims or have a meal with them.

    While the affluent and conservative Brahman families would not give their daughter’s hands, Kadambari’s father, a faithful employee of Tagores would not reject the proposal.

    [ When communal tension was raising in British colonized India, Tagore promoted communal harmony by tying Rakhi around the Muslims and called them brothers. Rakhi is a symbol of brotherhood, that is tied by a sister round a her brother’s wrist according to Hindu belief.]
  1. The family-members accused Kadambari’s incompetence as a woman for not having a child. But in reality it was for the absence of love and intimacy between them.
  2. Kadambari called her relationship with her husband as “staged”. “There is no life in this relationship”, she wrote.
  3. Kadambari confessed to find a love-letter in her husband’s pocket. Her husband spent a lot of time in theater, he was hardly to be seen in his own house.
  4. One day Kadambari requested her husband to come home early as it was her birthday. Her husband did not turn up home that night.

Kadambari Devi’s parents and family:

Kadambari mouned about his father in her letter, who was never given due respect by her in-laws. Her father worked for the Tagores and continued his service even after her marriage.
Kadambari did not remember much about her mother, except one event. Kadambari Devi’s marriage was fixed on 5th July which happened to be her birthday as well. According to Hindu belief, marrying on the same date brings ill luck. Kadambari’s mother raised this concern but nobody paid attention.
Kadambari Devi was actually related to the Tagores even before the marriage but they decided to hide the truth.
Her grandfather was a great singer. Tagore used to say, Kadambari too got the passion for singing from him.

Kadambari Devi’s relationship with Rabindranath:

  1. Kadambari grew up in the ground floor of Tagore’s huge house with Tagore’s other poor relatives. She had seen Rabindranath a couple of times before her marriage but they never talked before.
  2. When Kadambari was married to Jyotirindranath, she was upgraded to the upper floors where Tagores lived. She met little Ravi, who was seven at that time.
  3. Tagore women’s heartless rejection and direct and indirect taunts, lack of empathy, love and intimacy in her marriage life, endless hours of loneliness
    were killing her everyday. Ravi was like the ointment to the pain of her everyday life. He would understand her like nobody else.
    Ravi wasn’t unaware of his brother’s ignorance towards Kadambari.

    Kadambari was dark and exquisite, Ravi could not stop praising her beauty in his letters.

    He would read his poems to her, sing the songs together, they made a garden together which Tagore named as “Nandan Kanan” (the garden of heaven).

    One day Rabindranath was telling Kadambari that everyone in the family is starved of pampering (“Adorer upobaash” in Bengali). Embracing him, she said, “Pamper me”… He answered it with a quick kiss on her lips. Kadambari could remember every little details of that day at the time of her deaths. The love that kept her alive for so many years became the very reason of her death at last.
  4. When Tagore went abroad to study, he used to write about the beautiful women around him. He mentioned about Western culture of worshiping beauty. He said that, “Beautiful women here know of their beauty as the men would shower them with complements, but beautiful women in our country don’t even know about they own beauty. They beauty is wasted inside the four walls (women were not allowed to step outside or roam freely)…” Ravi, talking about other women in his letters to Kadambari would tease her, hurt her, yet intensify her desire for him.

    Kadambari could not bear the pain of being apart from Ravi when he went abroad and tried to kill herself, she failed.
  5. Kadambari and Rabindranath rehearsed for a theater as 2 lovers (the author of the drama was her husband himself), in front of her husband and sister-in-law.
    The rehearsal turned into a public proposal of Kadambari to Ravi real quick!
  6. Soon, Rabindranath’s father asked him to get married and the responsibility of finding a girl for him was given to Kadambari. The IRONY!
    Tagore remained silent, he was ready to get married to anyone of Kadambari’s choice. But Kadambari could not find a suitable girl for him.
    Just when Kadambari was a little relieved of the marriage getting delayed, Gyanadanandini (Tagore’s another sister-in-law) stepped in the matter and Rabindranath was married to Mrinalini Devi in the same year.
  7. Before the marriage, Tagore handed over all the letters that he received from Kadambari to her. He had worshipped Kadambari as Radha has been worshiped in Vaishnav Padavali. Their friendship, love, intimacy – all came to an abrupt end.
  8. Tagore would not recite his poems to Kadambari any more, neither would he sing to her. One day she could not resist herself and ended up going to Rabindranath’s room. She picked up his notebook to check out his new poems
    she found this two lines-

Hetha hote jao puration, hetha nutoner khela arombho hoiyachhe…

loosely translates as “Old(/past),Go away from here… Here the new sport has begun”

She flipped over few more pages in the hope that his poems would lift her mood. She found some intimate poems. She was wondering if those were about the new girl!

Kadambari knew that she had lost the only hope of her life and there was no going back. To quicken her death, she stopped taking the medicines.
The messenger of death was at her door soon, at the age of only 25, only 4 months after Tagore’s marriage…

My thoughts :

  1. I felt disgusted with Kadambari’s husband. If he couldn’t deny his father’s order, he should have been a fair husband too.
    Love cannot be forced, so I am not expecting him to love Kadambari. Yet he could be a great companion to her. After all she was his responsibility.
    There is no story from his part, so it’s hard to tell why he was so ignorant towards his wife.
  2. The toxicity of the Tagore women, who could not accept Kadambari. Kadambari might or might not be the ideal match but the marriage wasn’t her fault.
    At least they could have accepted her with open arms. They could have initiated to the mend the relationship between Kadambari and her husband.
  3. I have no words for Kadambari. She was the victim to the brutal fate. The girl who got married at 9 and never had the company of her much elder husband, ended up giving her heart to someone who truely adored her, who was always by her side. Do I support extra-marital affair? No. Cheating is never the right thing to do. But was she really cheating? A marriage is nothing but a meaningless ritual if the husband and wife don’t see it as a life-long commitment to each other.

    My point is, it was very much possible to turn her away from the affair if her husband really cared about the marriage instead of looking for escape from reality in the theaters. Love and guidance from the elders, could have saved her life too.
  1. Kadambari reminiscing the time she spent with Ravi brings tears to my eyes. Truely, is it possible to experience love like this in real life?

They embraced each other in the garden so many times. Is it really possible to do so without being noticed? TBH I can’t relate to the life of affluent people.

Kadambari spent many afternoons lying on a bed listening to the poems recited by Tagore- Where are the servants? Where are the people of the house? The personal space that Kadambari told in her letter, is something I can never imagine. Being the inspiration of someone’s poem must be a rewarding feeling.

That’s all for Kadambari Devi’s suicide note by Ranjan Bandyopadhyay.

I would have loved to know Tagore’s part of the confession too.
Does an artist need to confess his/her feelings directly?
Probably Tagore had poured all his heart down in his novels, his poems and his songs, in each of his creations. A wise reader only can decipher his confession inside in writtings. For the rest us, only imagination is the answer.**

* According to Wikipedia, Kadambari Devi was 10 when she was married.

** “Bouthakuranir Haat” and “Nosto neerh” by Rabindranath are believed to be inspired by Kadambari Devi. I would like to read those and share all the tea with you all.

Photo courtesy : The pic of Kadambari Devi is taken from public domain.

Post Author: Molten Cookie Dough

A typical Pisces person.

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