A Wife’s Letter

By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated from Bengali by Prasenjit Gupta

To Thine Auspicious Lotus-Feet:

Today we have been married fifteen years, yet not until today have I written you a letter. I’ve always been close by your side. You’ve heard many things from me, and so have I from you, but we haven’t had space enough to write a letter.

Now I’m in Puri on a holy journey, and you are wrapped up in your office work. Your relationship to Calcutta is a snail’s to its shell–the city is stuck fast to you, body and soul. So you didn’t apply for leave. It was the Lord’s desire, and so was His granting me my leave application.

I am Mejo-Bou, the second bride in your joint family. Today, fifteen years later, standing at the edge of the ocean, I understand that I also have other relationships, with the world and the World-Keeper. So I find the courage to write this letter. This is not a letter from your family’s Mejo-Bou. Not from the second wife.

Long ago, in my childhood days–in the days when my preordained marriage to you was known only to the Omniscient One who writes our fates on our foreheads–my brother and I both came down with typhoid fever. My brother died; I survived. All the neighborhood girls said, “Mrinal’s a girl, that’s why she lived. If she’d been a boy, she couldn’t have been saved.” Jom-Raj is wise in his deadly robbery: he only takes things of value.

No death, then, for me. It is to explain this at length that I sit down to write this letter.

When your uncle–a distant relative–came with your friend Nirod to view your prospective bride, I was twelve. We lived in an inaccessible village where jackals would call even during the day. Fourteen miles from the railway station by ox-cart, then six more on an unpaved road by palanquin; how vexed they were. And on top of that, our East-Bengal cookery. Even now your uncle makes jokes about those dishes.

Your mother wanted desperately to make up for the plain appearance of the first bride with the good looks of the second. Otherwise why would you have taken all the time and trouble to travel to our distant village? In Bengal no one has to search for jaundice, dysentery, or a bride; they come and cleave to you on their own, and never want to leave.

Father’s heart began to pound. Mother started repeating Durga’s name. With what offering could a country priest satisfy a city god? All they could rely upon was their girl’s appearance. But the girl herself had no vanity; whoever came to see her, whatever price they offered for her, that would be her price. So even with the greatest beauty, the most perfect virtues, a woman’s self-doubt can never be dispelled.

The terror of the entire household, even the entire neighborhood, settled like a stone in my chest. It was as if the day’s sky, its suffusing light, all the powers of the universe were bailiffs to those two examiners, seizing a twelve-year-old village girl and holding her up to the stern scrutiny of those two pairs of eyes. I had no place to hide.

The wedding flutes wailed, setting the skies to mourn; I came to live in your house. At great length the women tabulated all my shortcomings but allowed that, by and large, I might be reckoned a beauty; and when my sister-in-law, my Didi, heard this, her face grew solemn. But I wonder what the need was for beauty; your family didn’t love me for it. Had my beauty been molded by some ancient sage from holy Ganga clay, then it might have been loved; but the Creator had molded it only for His own pleasure, and so it had no value in your pious family.


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