A soppy love triangle- that’s what the story would have been reduced to had it not passed through the pen of a writer of Rabindranath Tagore’s caliber, and the author being who he was elevated the theme of boredom (read frustration) and temptation in marriage to a higher plane to encompass all types of emotions and all shades of love. The novel essentially deals with the happy conjugal life of Nikhil and Bimala. Nikhil belonged to aristocratic family of Bengali Zamindars (landlords), a family proud of the beauty of it’s women and equally proud of its dissipated, self destructive men. But Nikhil did away with the long established tradition of losing oneself in wine and women, and not only did he get a modern scholarly degree but also married a woman who not only was poor but was also not pretty (read dark). Bimala literally had her stars to thank, for they alone were responsible for enabling her to enter a family by far superior to hers. From the very first page of the book the love between the two is idealized as something sacred. Nikhil was definitely devoted to his wife and he tried hard to educate her and enable her to discover herself not in the confinements of the four walls of the house but in the big wide world outside. Bimala’s initial reluctance to change herself as per her husband’s rather eccentric desires (he bought her western style gowns that she looked ridiculous in) was replaced by an enthusiasm of alarming proportions the moment Sandeep the young "duan Juan" revolutionary and an intimate friend of Nikhil entered the scene. India’s political situation at that time was in a state of turmoil and the general public was up in arms against the tyrannical British government. Sandeep was a powerful orator and his stirring speeches captured the imagination of the local populace, and the young men of the province hailed him as their leader. Soon the entire province rang with the war cry of "Vande ma-tatam" ( Heil Motherland) and the movement of Swadeshi (using indigenous goods) & Boycott (of foreign goods) was initiated in the province as a part of the all India campaign. All this had a cataclysmic effect on Bimala, who suddenly felt the pull of the outside world like never before. Sandeep’s oratory had captured her mind and soul. It was as if she was reborn. The Bimala who whose life used to revolve around her husband and her home, was transformed into a revolutionary.
She started meeting Sandeep at odd hours to discuss issues regarding the movement and he did his best to encourage this sudden burst of patriotism. He even hailed her as the "Queen Bee" of the revolution but as the novel progresses it becomes obvious that Bimala is not so much stirred by patriotic emotions as she is by her feelings for Sandeep. After meeting him she realized that she had found in him what she had searching in Nikhil ever since their marriage – manhood. Nikhil was too idealistic, too genteel to suit her taste. She desired a vital male not an immaculate angel. She started helping Sandeep with money and even "took" from the household funds without telling Nikhil. She wanted too believe that this sudden transformation in her was due her awakening to her duty for her motherland, but she couldn’t fool herself. She desired Sandeep as a woman desires a man. She knew it and so did Nikhil. But he was too idealistic to put his foot down. He had once said to Bimala "only if we meet in the outside world unfettered by the chains of tradition and realize our love for each other…). He thus in the words of a noted critic "forced Bimala to take a weird fidelity test" as he watched from sidelines like a mute spectator as Sandeep ensnared his wife. I personally believe that Sandeep’s character is the most fascinating one in the novel and this can be attributed to the author’s confusion as he sketched it. Sandeep is simultaneously made to appear a patriot and a self-serving politician, a tempestuous lover and a lecher and it was this that made his character ambiguous and fascinating. The novel ends with Sandeep running away like a common thief after the communal seeds that he had sown in the once peaceful community results in a bloody riot. Bimala loses both her home and the world as Nikhil almost dies trying to quell the riot.
A beautiful novel and a must read for all lovers of literature.