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Ashalata And Binodini: An Epitome Of Antithesis

Tagore successfully intertwined the two feminine characters, Binodini and Ashalata as one antithesis of the other in "Chokher Bali".

Tagore’s novels have always revolved around the issues of child marriage, women’s emancipation through education and the socio-political milieu of his times, and Chokher Bali is an archetype of those novels.

Binodini was the representation of those widowed women of the early 19th century whose desires were crushed after the death of their husbands. Ashalata, on the other hand, represented the girls who at a young age were lured by their parents to marry following the structures of a patriarchal society that sealed the fate of girls with marriage.

Binodini was a convent educated woman who was deprived of all the pleasures of life being a widow. On the contrary, Ashalata was an illiterate naive woman who was subjected to subjugation after marriage. Though both of them had disparate personalities yet both of them were two sides of the same coin. Both were victims of stereotypical norms of 19th century Bengali society which prevented a widow from getting remarried and shunned a young girl’s freedom by forcing her into marriage.

The culmination of their friendship emerges from the need to fulfil both of their unfulfilled desires. Binodini is everything that Ashalata is not while Ashalata had everything which Binodini didn’t have. Ashalata being illiterate always wanted to be guided by the light of education like Binodini, while Binodini being a widow yearned to enjoy the marital bliss that Ashalata had. The thirst of their parched souls was momentarily quenched in a relationship of reciprocity disguised as friendship.

The parallels between the educated and the uneducated were reflected through Ashalata and Binodini’s relationship. Education for Binodini became a weapon with which she manipulated Ashalata as she envied her blooming marital life. Illiteracy for Ashalata made her an object of suppression as she was easily gullible, devoid of any ability to judge between right and wrong. Binodini’s education allowed her to defy the traditional norms of society, while Ashalata’s illiteracy suppressed her voice making her dependent on the male patriarch of her life.

Ashalata’s life eventually acted as a foil to Binodini’s new phase of life. While Ashalata’s marriage was on the verge of being broken, Binodini’s new phase of life progressed with Mahin.

Ashalata’s illiteracy was the driving force behind Mahin’s adulterous relationship with Binodini originating from those letters which Binodini wrote to Mahin at Asha’s request, and Mahin knowing Asha’s incapability to weave such articulate words, realizing it was her Bali who wrote for her. The intellectual compatibility between Binodini and Mahin that germinated their adulterous relationship also highlighted how lack of education turned Asha into an object of exploitation at the hands of her husband.

While the bond of Ashalata and Binodini traversed from Bali to Choker Bali (eyesore) it can be deduced that the impact both of these women had on each other is an indispensable part of the experiences they gathered from life. While Binodini and Mahin’s betrayal helped Ashalata to discover her self-dignity and individuality, Binodini blinded by her lustful desires finally realized the harm her presence as a widow inflicted on the lives of the people she loved (Bihari, Mahin and Asha) and therefore she embraced solitude leaving for Kashi in the quest of inner-peace or salvation.

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Tagore successfully intertwined the two feminine characters Binodini and Ashalata, one antithesis of the other, as a symbol of women’s emancipation, highlighting the importance of education through Ashalata and condemning the unjust customs that confined the widows to a mournful colourless life through Binodini.

Image  Credits: A still from Chokher Bali (film) 

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About the Author

Srilekha Mitra

A full time overthinker and a part time writer. Words are my antidote on bad days. I prefer to bask in fictional world of cinema than reality. Food and music are my refuge on gloomy read more...

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