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Punishment – Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (4)

Punishment - Stories by Rabindranath Tagore

The marriage of Mini gives way to the next story ‘Punishment’. Mini’s married life starts happily in a wealthy family, with her loving husband, Upendra who always takes care of her and promises to be at her side at all times. However, Mini’s elder co-sister, Radha, keeps taunting her for her inability to help in the housework. She keeps finding ways to ridicule Mini and complain about her to her husband, Devendra. Having grown up in a protected environment, pampered by her loved ones, Mini, aspiring to be a writer like her father, finds it hard to adapt to the lifestyle of a housewife filled with household chores. Soon, Devendra and Upendra lose their tea estate causing the family to lose their wealth gradually. The changing situation makes Radha more spiteful against Mini and she sells Mini’s books for money. Devendra, who is always supportive of Mini, is enraged when he learns about Mini’s books and picks up a fight with his wife. Soon, the verbal fight reaches a crescendo and Devendra, in a fit of rage, smashes a flower vase on Radha’s head, which causes her death.

This sudden change of events puts the family in a vague situation. When the police arrives, Upendra assures Mini that he will set things right and asks her to remain quiet. Upon questioning, Upendra tells the police that it was Mini with whom his boudi (sister-in-law) had had a fight and that she had smashed the flower vase on her head. Mini is shocked to hear that, but remains quiet when the police question her. After the police take her away, Upendra confesses to her brother that he could always get another wife, but he would not be able to get another brother. As the trial go on, Mini continues to remain quiet. She neither confesses to the murder nor reveals anything about the actual incident. When her father comes to visit, she tells him that she is only doing what he had taught her to do, i.e. to obey her husband. And as he had asked her to remain quiet, she is doing the same.

Meanwhile, Upendra repentent of his doing, tries to take the blame of the murder during the court proceedings. Upon which, Devendra owns up about committing the crime. The judge, confused about the subsequent confessions, asks Mini to say something in her defence. But, Mini remains quiet. Soon, assuming Mini’s silence as confession to the crime, the court gives her capital punishment. Later, when she is being taken to the gallows, Upendra seeks to meet her. But, Mini refuses to meet him and she is taken away to be hanged.

Mini is punished, for a crime she did not commit. But whose punishment was it ultimately? By sacrificing her life, she gave a life long punishment to her husband. A punishment to live a life of guilt. Theirs had been a beautiful happy life, filled with love and trust. But, with one stroke Upendra quashed it with his own hands, for he chose to support his brother rather than stand by the truth. He proved that blood is indeed thicker than water. Mini, burdenend with duties of a wife & daughter is perplexed with the turn of events. By remaining quiet, she was, as they would say ‘obeying her husband’. But in reality, with her silence, she was revolting. Revolting against a society that looked down upon women as mere objects and could be used as and when they would fancy. Mini, by remaining quiet, punished her husband with a life sentence.

A staggering story, it also made me think. Daughters, when growing up are always called as ‘paraye ghar ki beti’ – a girl belonging to another house. Which means that she does not belong to the house of her parents, but to that house into which she would be ultimately wed. But, when she does get married, does she really belong to her in-laws house? Is she wholly accepted by them? The in-laws feel that she has come from another house. Does the girl really get the feeling of belonging in her in-laws house? And then, one fine day, to save the family’s honour, this very girl, the bahu – daughter-in-law is asked give sacrifice. It’s the easy way out, they could always get another bahu. So, which house is it, where she is secure and can call her own?

‘Shasti’, the story written by Tagore on which Basu’s ‘Punishment’s is based, is actually the story of two brothers who are poor agricultural labourers and whose wives would bicker and fight all day. Chandara, the younger bahu, who is sent to jail, resolves to stay quiet and give up her life in order to impart a punishment to her husband.

As a first, the status of the family in Anurag Basu’s version is changed. The resolve shown by Mini to punish her husband is not very visible. It seems for most part of the story that she is obeying her husband and letting time take its own course. Only towards the end does the resolution come forth.

Another first in this series is the continuation of characters from the previous story in the new story. Mini, the kabuliwala’s little kuki is shown as the protagonist in the next story. It is therefore, not a pleasant feeling to assume that the little chirpy girl, loses her life post marriage. The story of kabuliwala has a bitter sweet ending. Although, now separated from his kuki, the kabuliwala returns home to meet his daughter with the satisfation that Mini is now married happily. This happy thought conveyed in the end is robbed of its innocence when Mini becomes part of ‘Punishment’. It would have been more appreciable if the main protagonists of ‘Punishment’ were not connected to the previous story.

 

Other write-ups on the series: 

 

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2 Comments

  • sehgal_rachna@hotmail.com'
    Reply
    Rachna
    May 8, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I watched the two stories yesterday. It filled my heart with a deep sense of heaviness. it destroyed the ‘feel good’ story of Kabuliwala that had been etched in my brain since school days. its almost criminal on the part of Anurag Basu to join these two stories. It conveyed that even if blessed by two father figures, Mini ended up being hanged! It really shook and hit me hard. I would urge Anurag Basu to re explore the idea with different protagonists so that our happy childhood memories are not clouded by disdain.

    • Reply
      DurgaS
      May 9, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      Hi Rachna. I agree totally. I watched the episodes again on Saturday. And it wasn’t really a happy sight when they showed flashbacks of little Mini before she was being taken to the gallows. As I had mentioned above, they should have kept both the characters separate.

      I remember when the episode was first aired on Epic channel, there were complaints about the same and Anurag Basu had tweeted that he regretted the decision. Here’s the link
      https://twitter.com/basuanurag/status/625915084028514304

      Anyway, I hope this one blop doesn’t erase our happy memories of an innocent Mini.

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