Country and the City

A shaky Bengali modernity on the cusp of town and country forms the canvas of many of Ray’s films. A restrained rebel against societal structure recurs in Apur Sansar, Samapti, Devi. In Postmaster, the protagonist lives in the village but feels the tremors of the modern overhaul brewing in the city. Ray’s poetic stroke captures this inroad, famously, as the train that cuts through the panorama of countryside, as a young Apu watches in exhilaration and horror. A rupture is marked. Many of Ray’s other films, especially Samapti (the third short film in Teen Kanya) which I re-watched tonight, show intimate moments of life lived through such rupture. A man rebels against the norms of caste-and-creed-based arranged marriage. He is educated in a Calcutta college, presumably on the support of his family village-based property. A resource base and a maternal presence pulls him back to the village. He can’t entirely extricate himself. The city, though, is his primary intellectual locus. He wants to engineer companionate life in the manner of ‘these days’ – meaning, essentially, in exercising individualistic choice, taste, disposition in the selection of a marital partner. His decision is finally irrational. A current of female energy passes by, named affectionately and politically in the village ‘pagli’. The epithet of madness carries with it a ticket of escape. She escapes the social order simply in flights, hideouts, befriending nature, crucially a squirrel. Such is a freedom, unaccounted for in his tomes on liberty, individualism.  Hers is not a choice commensurable in doors and windows, locks and keys. She is perhaps an ur-subject. Or a non-subject. Naturally, her inscrutability, excess and illegitimacy maps onto her femaleness. A natural colonial expanse – threatening, desirable, and demanding subjugation. The obvious antithesis of his rational argument with archaic social forms.

Naturally, his exercise of choice results in the curbing of hers. She accepts the sudden proposal of marriage in passivity. Resisting with weapons of the weak. Trying to chop her hair off. She runs off in bridal finery on their wedding night. He falls off to sleep on the chair, emasculated. The imagination of encapturing such energy and freedom that he had carried, had the crucial endpoint of harnessing into the fabric of marriage and sociality. Much like the Marx’s reminder of capital’s view of nature, a force that must be cited, tended to, harnessed and ultimately put to the logic production. He is oblivious to the annihilation of the force in the harnessing.

Her taming is made sweeter to the audience by the choreography of desire. When he returns to the village many months, there is the hint of conjugal submission in her eyes. Winds now blow to the dictates of the whistle. It is understood he will now enact the role of the humane husband who reads poetry out to his ill-educated wife. 


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