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Sandeep as a Criticque of Swadeshi in “The Home and the World” by Rabindranath Tagore

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The novel, “Home and the World”, by Rabindranath Tagore, originally published in Bengali in 1915, is set in the backdrop of “Swadeshi”, a nationalist movement in which British goods and commodities were boycotted and substituted for indigenous products. The narrative is structured in the form of diary entries written by the three characters: Nikhil, a benevolent and enlightened landlord; his wife, Bimala, torn between her notions of tradition and modernity; and Sandeep, a selfish and calculative individual but a charismatic leader. The novel is written with an implicit objective to put forward Tagore’s view on humanism which is embodied in Nikhil, and to counter the vengeful and vicious farce that extremists like Sandeep called “true nationalism”. Nationalism, as a philosophy, refers to a movement favouring independence for a country that is controlled by or forms part of another. Under this philosophy, the nation-state is believed to be paramount for the realisation of social, economic and cultural aspirations of a people. It is characterised by shared history, a collective “we-feeling” and a sense of belongingness to a common national identity. In the Indian context, the concept, in its conventional western sense, is mostly inapplicable due to the presence of different “races” of people within the same border.

In his essay, “Nationalism in India”, Tagore said, “India has never had a real sense of nationalism. Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.” In his novel, Tagore’s resentment of fierce and violent nationalism is brought out in the debates between the characters of Nikhil and Sandip, where Sandip’s arguments sound out with passion and over-zealousness whereas those of Nikhil sound out with morality and practical application.

Sandip, the revolutionary, enters the novel as a guest in the home of Nikhil and Bimala. As a character, Tagore has sketched him as a diametric opposite to Nikhil, therefore making him more vocal and violent about his views. His radical and parochial notion of Swadeshi and his skilful oration instill an intense feeling of patriotism among those around him, including Bimala. However this patriotism, not unlike his own, threatens to replace humanistic thinking and moral sensibility with blind fanaticism. Bimala gets caught up with Sandeep and his radical ideas about nationalism. Her seemingly increasing “patriotism”, encouraged by Sandeep’s flattery and flirtatious nature and his comparison of her as “the sole representative of Bengal’s womanhood”, drives her toward him, and Sandeep, seeing it to his advantage, does not hesitate to woo her in her husband’s home. He even convinces her to rob her husband and at one point in the novel, tries to incite her to flee from home for the “cause” of the nation. Where Nikhil is reserved and proper, Sandip is impassioned and stirs the emotions not only of Bimala, but the people of Bengal. Nikhil has much of Tagore’s own self and ideals in him; and Sandip, who is Nikhil’s polar opposite, is all unscrupulousness and evil, representative of the kind of nationalism that Tagore feared.

He is selfish, manipulative, irrational, oppressive, and tyrannical. His character is far from the ideal patriot. Most of the time, his motivations arise from the selfish notions of bettering his own social position. Tagore believed that nationalism of the kind that he made Sandeep portray, would only spur war, hatred and mutual suspicion between nations and also within Bengal. His alter ego in the novel, Nikhil, is a patriot, but he is unwilling to place the nation above truth and his conscience. However, Sandip, to whom any action in the name of the nation is right, no matter how far it may be from truth or justice, exclaims that “(the) country’s needs must be made into a god”, and one must “set aside conscience by putting the country in its place” Tagore saw radical views such as these as a prediction of disaster. He thought any nationalism that weighs itself over truth and conscience to “breed exclusivism and dogmatism through the Hegelian dichotomous logic of self’s fundamental hostility towards the other”, as Mohammad A. Quayum says in his essay, “Tagore’s View on Nationalism”.

Tagore was also fearful of “swadeshi” turning into a violent terrorist movement, and was constantly of the belief that nationalism was inherently destructive to the spirit of unity and wholeness. If asked about the future of India under the colonial rule, Tagore’s unequivocal reply was, “Let us… set our house in order. Do not mind the waves in the sea, but mind the leaks in your vessel.” In the place of a collective outburst based only on impulsivity and strength, Tagore believed social work and education to be mightier in strengthening India against political and cultural tyranny. In the novel, Sandip envisioned a life full of unrest and revolt. In the process of achieving nationalist goals, he deems moral values as inconsequential, believing them fit only for the lower classes and the ordinary men. He says, “let moral ideas remain merely for those poor anemic creatures of starved desire whose grasp is weak. Nature surrenders herself but only to the robber.” Such disguise of fanaticism under the name of nationalism was what frightened Tagore of an impending disaster.

In conclusion, it is apt to say that Sandeep is representative of the critique of Nationalism, in the true sense of the term. In the end of the novel, it is he who flees the bloody religious riot that he himself instigated among Nikhil’s subjects. It is Nikhil, the practical humanist, who remains till the end of the novel, a man of truth, to be victimised in return for the good faith he maintained with a friend, who did not hesitate to betray his trust. Tagore, through his novel, attempts to stress upon the value of true patriotism as opposed to blind fanaticism; and the concentrated efforts of social work and education, combined with a non-violent method of expressing dissent as opposed to an impulsive and dangerous relentlessness of mob psychology, to express love for and dedication to the nation.

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