Friday, 7 January 2011

What was she thinking?

What was she thinking?

A recent character analysis of the Tagore heroine Lavanya, in one of the most avant garde of the poet’s works – Shesher Kobita, raged furiously on discussions on Facebook.

There have been many interpretations of the thought process of Lavanya which causes her ultimately to turn her back on the romantic heights of Amit’s poetic overtures and settle for the staid and simple depths of admiration of Shovonlal. The conjectures are aplenty since Lavanya, while playing the object of attention of the garrulous Amit, never really opens up and voices her own points of view. She remains the archetypical heroine who will sigh, sit silently and on occasions feed breadcrumbs to squirrels while her male counterpart would etch new dimensions of romanticism in Literature.

 In the following piece, after providing a brief synopsis, Romantix attempts to answer the question that might have plagued many a mind reading the novel – What was she thinking ?!

Lavanya marries off her widower father and leaves home to take up a job as a private tutor in Shillong. There in the misty mountains, she has a chance encounter with an Oxford returned barrister Amit, there on a holiday. He storms through her polite defences to strike up a friendship based on a mutual love of poetry and literature. Having been used to charmingly sidestepping the offered hearts of society girls desperate to ensnare him into wedlock, Amit finds a refreshingly unassuming and well-bred companion in Lavanya. He spews forth his verses and musings about everything under the sun to an eager and intelligent listener well versed as much with the sciences as with the humanities. Amit’s iconoclastic irreverence for ritual and tradition is like a breath of fresh air in Lavanya’s otherwise staid life. She is swept away on a wave of feeling that is completely alien to her. Her reason and prudence hold her back but she ultimately gives in to Amit’s ardour and agrees to accept a betrothal ring from him.

The day Amit is to leave for Kolkata after having secured Lavanya’s consensus to make arrangements for their wedding, he gets to know of the sudden visit of his sister and her friend Katie to Shillong and stays back to acquaint them with Lavanya. During their subsequent conversation he tells Lavanya about a history scholar Shovonlal having taken to the road in the quest to unearth historical trails through the Himalayas. He hints at the possibility of Shovonlal having been hurt by a member of the gentler sex in his past leading to his wanderings away from his place in time and space, into paths and pages of history. Lavanya is shaken at the long forgotten memories that seep in. During her college days, she had been worshipped in private by Shovonlal, then a fellow student of the MA course. Shovonlal would come to their house for lessons from her father. The fact that he was favoured by her father for his academic prowess caused her much jealousy. His shyness compounded with her competitiveness prevented their interactions from flowering into friendship. Lavanya only got to know of Shovonlal’s quiet devotion for her when his father discovered a her picture kept by Shovonlal in a tin box adorned by rose petals and accused her father of trying to fix a match between them. After staying away from their home for long due to his deep embarrassment, Shovonlal resumed his visits to access her father’s library for his dissertation. Their story came to an abrupt end when Lavanya accosted Shovonlal for having no qualms in insulting her by coming to their home despite his father’s insinuations.

Meanwhile, Lavanya senses Amit’s discomfiture at having to introduce her to his family. In the very first meeting with his sister and K, Lavanya realises the difference in their family backgrounds. And much to her surprise she also discovers that Katie still wears a diamond ring gifted to her seven years ago by Amit assuming that the promise made in youth would mature into a commitment for life. Lavanya finds herself at crossroads …

These past two months have flown past since that first meeting with him. A new person has come alive within me at the touch of his magic wand. Almost as if he had cast a spell with the words that gurgled forth like a mountain brook. All that he has read or heard of has left a mark on his intellect that wants to sharpen itself through dialogue and debate. It seems there is nothing he wants to accept without dissecting it to death. It has often been overwhelming to absorb all that he says but the conversations have been intellectually stimulating. And it has been quite flattering to be wooed so ardently as if I am the one he had been waiting for all his life. With his ring on my finger, I feel like I am on cloud nine right now but deep inside I fear this phase will pass and then what?  What if fidelity to his creative self takes precedence over loyalty towards his spouse? Am I not deluding myself when I think that I am the one he seeks. Seven years ago he thought it was K, today he thinks it is me, tomorrow it might be another. He is like a child whose mind is all too eager to absorb every new experience and expand its awareness.  I guess the past two months have been a novel experience for him, away from the society in which he lives. He hardly even knows me except through the common love for poetry that we share. There hasn’t been enough time for him to get to know my vices et al. So far he has chosen to see only the part of me that fits in with the ideal he has in his mind. He has painted a picture of what life will be like with me and he is in love with that image. At some point in time I might cease to be the inspiration that I am for him now and he might seek out newer experiences. Much as I like to believe that my love does not expect anything in return, when the time comes will I truly be able to live up to such an ideal. I know I would not want to hold him back from realising his potential as a creative artist. At the same time I doubt if my ego would be able to accept a reality where I am simply a wife who provides him with a comfortable home and hearth while he seeks intellectual companionship elsewhere.

With Shovonlal I have no fear of unmet expectations. He is well aware of my background and limitations. Though we’ve never really conversed with each other, he did seem to be a thoughtful person interested in books and learning just as I am. I doubt if he has the exuberant flair of Amit, but he has a steadiness of purpose that is reassuring. If only I had not been so focused on faring better academically than him, who knows we might have shared a camaraderie and friendship that might have developed further into love given time and space. Love is not just about the thrill of being with one another; it is also about learning to respect each other through a mutual appreciation of virtues and tolerance of faults. Despite the hurt I caused him, Shovonlal continues to have harboured the feelings he had for me. Such perseverance can only emanate from one capable of deep commitment.

If I could not control the jealousy at father’s admiration of Shovonlal, I cannot even imagine the feelings that might surface if I see Amit tire of me and favour someone else. Would I then be able to share my thoughts with him or will my pride, like always, keep my feelings locked up within me. Katie is so much more direct than I am. She would never hesitate from speaking her mind and making it clear to Amit what she thinks she is entitled to as a wife. Maybe that is what he needs, someone who can keep him grounded. And maybe I’d be happier living on in his imagination as his muse. The times we spent together would remain sweet memory for both of us, an everlasting romance never to be tainted by mundane domesticity.

Why am I so apprehensive that this romance cannot be converted into a loving relationship? Is it because Amit appears to be too flighty to take up the responsibilities of marital life? He seems to be an escapist wanting to flee from the rigours of day to day existence in his poetic fancies. And why was he so reluctant to introduce me to his sister. Is he embarrassed about my being a governess? He loves weaving a dream with just the two of us – but his family and social connections are realities he cannot ignore. Is he afraid I will not fit into his social strata?

Shovonlal knows his father will throw a fit at an inter-caste marriage, but he seems to have the quiet strength to deal with that. I am sure it was not easy for him to have resisted wedlock for so long. But he chose to wait, not knowing if his hope would ever be fulfilled or not. It would not be right to ignore such depth of feeling.

Isn’t it the same hope and expectation I see in Katie as well? Maybe her tough exterior has been chiselled by the lack of attention from Amit. If he had been more attentive and loving towards her, she may never have had to resort to scorn and sarcasm to make her presence felt. Amit would be stepping away from his duty if he chose not to see through her tears into the expectant lover within who has been waiting for seven years for her beloved to pull her closer to him again.

Would it be fair to these two who have waited so long if we chose to build our love nest on their shattered hopes? If we yielded to their expectations from a sense of propriety but continued to nurture tender feelings towards one another?

A sacrifice needs to be made, and I think I know the answer…

Romantix and Senantix are the co-transcreators of Rabindranath Tagore's Shesher Kobita. Their WIP transcreation is called Swansong, tries to keep the poetic flavour intact and is available at

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