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Why The Movie Kadambari Made Me Appreciate My Freedom Just A Little More

Posted: February 12, 2020

Suman Ghosh’s Kadambari talks about the life of a woman who couldn’t claim her own identity owing to the era she was born in. Here’s why it’s a must watch!

“Tomarei kariachi jibaner dhrubatara
A samudre ar kabhu habo nako pathahara.”

(I have made you my life’s cynosure,
Ne’er again shall I be lost in this ocean.”)

This song was written by Bengal’s Nobel prize winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore. It was published in the year 1880 as a part of his collection of poems titled, ‘Bhagno-hridoy.’ He was merely 19 years old when the poems were published.

In this book, for the first time, a dedication page was included and this song was used. The page indicated that the book was dedicated to a ‘Mrs. Hey…’ A lot of research has gone into deciphering the code name. The main witch from Macbeth is called Heckety and it was later revealed that Rabindranath would call his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, this name to ridicule her.

Researchers are almost certain that this ‘Mrs Hey…’ is none other than Kadambari. Director Suman Ghosh’s film ‘Kadambari,’ based on Kadambari Devi’s life, ends with this song.

Who was Kadambari Devi?

The film is based on Sunil Gangopadhyay’s “Prothom Alo,” Mallika Sengupta’s “Kobir Bouthan” and Rabindranath Tagore’s writings. It scans the life of Kadambari Devi from the time she entered the Tagore household as a young bride till she killed herself. Kadambari’s suicide was one of the most sensational events in the cultural history of Bengal. It explores the relationship between Rabindranath and Kadambari Devi and the lives of the women in the Tagore household. Rabindranath Tagore was particularly fond of his sister-in-law.

Kadambari Devi was the wife of Jyotirindranath Tagore and Debendranath Tagore’s daughter-in-law. Almost a decade younger than her husband, she married him on July 5th, 1868 at the tender age of 10. At that time, it was customary of girls to get married early and Kadambari was no exception. However, since she was a daughter-in-law of the Tagore household, she did enjoy some privileges like getting educated and riding horses. These were privileges not all women of her generation were allowed to have.

She was the daughter of the Tagore family accountant and this prompted a number of the women of the household to look down upon her. Especially Jnanadanandini Devi, wife of Satyendranath Tagore resented her. Early in her marriage, Kadambari, had to accept that she would never be the ‘ghorer bou’ of the Tagore household.

Robi and Kadambari

Kadambari’s brother-in-law, Rabindranath was nearly her age. Jyotirindranath was often busy with his literary nuances, theatre, his hobbies and ship and other businesses. At such times, her only confidante in the massive matrimonial palace became Robi.

Robi, too, found the biggest critique and greatest admirer of his literary endeavours in his notun bouthan. The friendship that blossomed between the two cannot be termed as love. Yet, Kadambari found an emotional anchorage in the friendship, especially given the almost non-existent role of her husband in her life.

Kadambari failed to bear any children from her marriage and was taunted as ‘banja’ by the other women of the household. She found solace in a little girl Urmila, daughter of her sister-in-law. Urmila died an untimely death. She fell down a staircase while Kadambari was asleep. Everyone in the family accused Kadambari for Urmila’s death.

Meanwhile, Kadambari’s growing intimacy with Rabindranath irked other members of the Tagore family. They hastily arranged his marriage, this made Kadambari further lonely. At that time, she desperately sought the much needed solace from her husband, who was supposed to be her partner for life.

Her life was not an easy one

But it was at this crucial junction in life, she found out about the existence of another woman in her husband’s life. This ultimately propelled her to take her own life on April 19th, 1884, mere four months after Rabridranath’s wedding to Mrinalini Debi.

What prompted Kadambari to end her life prematurely, at the tender age of twenty-six? By no means is 26 an age to die. Was she seeking something more than friendship from her childhood playmate Rabindranath? Or was the friendship bordering on the fringes of love?

Was it her inability to conceive a child? A child, could perhaps have saved her loveless marriage with Jyotirindranath. She never left any suicide note behind, so we can only speculate her reasons to end her life.

Or was it all these factors together that took a toll on her? Intrigued by the movie, when I searched the web to know more of this woman. The sepia coloured portrait that came up gave me the impression of a lonely, bereft woman.

What the movie taught me

Kadambari’s life serves as a reminder to all of us of far we have come from the era where women didn’t have any other identity. They were either someone’s wife or mother. It gives us a reminder of the struggles that our mothers went through. 

A dysfunctional childless marriage spoilt a woman’s life- a life that could have been on with a brilliant literary career. We are fortunate enough to have been born in the time where we can think of a life outside marriage and kids.

Kadambari reaffirms this fact and that is why, I believe, everyone must watch it.

Picture credits: Still from the movie Kadambari.

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An engineer by education, I am a civil servant by profession. A doting mother. An

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