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Chaturanga

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Rabindranath Tagore, Chaturanga [Kolkata; 1916]

A perfectly-formed novella which could easily have stretched into a novel in terms of incident and passage of time, but not a line is wasted. "Chaturanga" apparently means "four parts" or "quartet" in Sanskrit, and as the translator notes, it's structured like a four-part musical movement: exposition, variation, development, recapitulation. (The four-part story structure of Kishōtenketsu is also applicable.) Intensely metaphysical without ignoring the senses, it's a story of upper-caste Bengalis swept up in certain philosophical and religious movements around the turn of the twentieth century; but it's primarily about four distinct personalities, and how they shape each others' lives. It could be a tragedy -- it looks like a 2008 movie adaptation took that route -- but Tagore's metaphysical pluralism draws all things to a graceful conclusion.

I admire it a lot, while also being certain that there are vast depths of reference to Indian and particularly Bengali culture and history and literature that went over my head.

August 18, 2017