Why I enjoy reading Punishment a short story by Rabindranath Tagore

By: Sourav

punishment, rabindranath tagore, short stories, chandara character, bengali literature,  women in society, hanging, online literary magazineI enjoy reading the short story “Punishment” to my heart’s content. The story is engaging from the very beginning till the end. It has a smooth narrative drive sweeping the reader from cover to cover. This story from Rabindranath Tagore’s literary treasure appealed to me for multiple reasons.

Though “Punishment” is a short story, its plot is a complex blend of psychological aspects and social facets. The kernel of the story or the crux of the plot is the protagonist Chandara’s unjust legal death punishment. The story threw a question to me, “who or what is responsible for her death?”, and left me wondering to find its answer.

“Punishment” is a mirror to the harsh reality that bites the poor in the rural society. “Punishment” is unlike Rabindranath Tagore’s other stories which portray the upper class of society, its people and their lives. In this story, two brothers Chidam and Dukhiram are poor laborers who live at the bottom layer of the social ladder. Their poverty-driven life is full of cares and worries. Hunger, deprivation, exploitation and lack of peace are parts of their daily life. Under economically unfavorable circumstances driven by poverty, the elder brother Dukhiram kills his wife unintentionally. Though this feat of a moment’s rage is a crime n the eyes of law, not he but circumstances are responsible.

It seems from the upper surface that Chidam is mainly responsible for Chandara’s unjust punishment. But the thorough reading of the story with an analytical approach to studying the characters proves it to be wrong. In the rural society where men like Chidam have been brought up under the conception that men are more powerful than women and women are there to server their whims. Women are treated like a piece of furniture in the patriarchal society. Therefore, Chidam having this kind of narrow mentality puts his wife’s life at risk in order to save his elder brother from the arms of law.

In those times, remarriage was no problem for a man. So, he thinks that if he loses his wife, he can remarry to get another wife. Having found no way to save his brother, Chidam takes this wrong decision impulsively. He is sure that he would be able to save Chandara by giving a just and strong reason in her support.

To her utter surprise, Chandara realizes that she does not exist in her husband’s life. But stung by the humiliation of being neglected and driven by her self-respect, she stands her ground that she herself has killed her elder sister-in-law and begs for death as punishment. Chidam regrets his decision and tries to save her by taking the burden of the guilt on his head, but in vain.

The story takes a turn at the end when Chandara neglects her husband by refusing to see him for the last time. The ending is well-crafted leaving the reader spellbound. The expression “Morose” (‘Moron’ in Bengali) uttered by Chandara is full of impact.

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