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To finding her own personhood: Mrinal ki Chithhi.

"Mrinal ki chitti" (directed by Tani Basu) from the anthology "Stories of Rabindranath Tagore" under the direction of Anurag Basu, first aired on EPIC, and now is available on Netflix, it talks about the problems of a woman in a traditional household. It is based on Rabindranath Tagore's short story “Streer Potro” (translated version: “Wife’s Letter”).

The episode unfolds following the narration of a letter. It’s the first letter Mrinal has ever written to her husband and it would perhaps be her last too. It takes us on the journey she has been on, starting as a girl whose dreams couldn’t go farther from getting tangled in just household chores. She does try to fit in and embraces the only life she has ever known or could have imagined for a woman of the time.

But her first disillusionment occurs while being pregnant with her first child, her so-called progressive family compels her to follow an archaic custom where women are considered too impure to be a part of the household. She is forced to live in a shed unfit even for livestock until the baby is born. This primitive monstrosity devours her firstborn; it deeply hurts her so much so that she aches why she wasn’t too. She tries to justify her reason for making out alive, believing there is still some purpose she is left to fulfil. She tried so hard to live the life she was expected to that she had forgotten that her mind was too independent to be held captive. Her vision was too broad to be limited by society’s narrow vision but she didn’t muster the courage to stand up to it UNTIL BINDU.

Still from Stories by Rabindranath Tagore: Mrinal ki Chithhi, now streaming on Netflix.

Bindu could be considered a catalyst in the narrative but she is more than that. She is the very essence of a person, stripped of all their privileges. She is the vision of the daughter Mrinal lost, Mrinal lives the potential life she could have had with her daughter through Bindu by giving her the life she truly deserves. She marches bravely and mostly alone to fight for Bindu. More often than not, she’s met with resistance and every resistance leads to disillusionment within her.

But she gives in, she lets her family gratify their whims by getting Bindu married to a man none of them have ever met. Citing the fact that her feet are shackled too, she doesn’t have the independence nor an inheritance she can leave to Bindu if something unforeseen happens to her. She lets her fears have the better of her and chooses to let go instead of choosing what she knew was right and this self-awareness is what will come to haunt her consciousness.

Still from Stories by Rabindranath Tagore: Mrinal ki Chithhi, now streaming on Netflix.

Every step of the way, the idea is reinforced on us that Bindu’s life doesn’t have any value. Everything from her class, gender, to her family is used to belittle her existence. However, the same girl ruptures the very foundation of the BHADRO family with her passing. This end is forecasted in the story early on, where it is suggested that her name implies, “Everything starts with her and ends on her too.” Bindu's death and the torturous life she lived are a tribute to the many women who did not have a voice or an acceptable way to convey their plight.

But when everything starts to make sense, it's already too late. This realization is defeating but something within Mrinal is altered forever. It gives her the courage to step out and to see the world for what it is for the first time. Once she has confronted it, there was no coming back.

Still from Stories by Rabindranath Tagore: Mrinal ki Chithhi, now streaming on Netflix.

Women are seen as the society's barometer of respectability, which only contributes to further policing of their conduct. They are charged with preserving the "Indian culture and tradition."

As a result, reforms are made- not to give women agency, not to be their person but only to keep up appearances of a progressive family which is hollow in terms of values. While an episode like this, cannot help us solve practical issues but it does provide us with a greater capacity for empathy. It was impactful because it helped me realize the privilege we yield today. I can also see how these small privileges are rooted in the sacrifice of the other women who have paved the way. The story is a reflection on the condition of women, how many lives have transformed since but also how in some ways they remain the constant!



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