Nandini of “Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders)” and Greta Thunberg: Their struggle against capitalism for life and nature

সোমবার, নভেম্বর ২৫, ২০১৯ ২:০০ AM | বিভাগ : English

In fact there is nothing common between “Nandini,” the imaginary female protagonist of Rabindranath Tagore’s play “Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders)” and real life Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg of our age.

“Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders)” was written by Tagore in 1923-24 during his visit to Shillong, Assam and the female protagonist of this play is a lovelorn girl with amorous songs on her lips for her fiancée Ranjan and garlands of red oleanders in her hair and hands. Greta Thunberg, on the other hand, is a Swedish girl of 21st century with hardly any makeover and she conveys her climate messages in a direct tone. But still there’s some resemblance between Nandini’s dialogues and Greta’s climate messages: that’s their common fight against capitalism on behalf of life and nature!

In the words of Kathleen M.O’Connel, “Red Oleanders (Raktakarabi) is one of the more than sixty plays, dance dramas and dramatic sketches by Asia’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The play, written in 1923-24, was begun during a visit to Shillong, Assam, and inspired by the image of a red oleander plant crushed by pieces of discarded iron that Tagore had come across while walking.  A short time later, an oleander branch with a single red flower protruded through the debris, as if, he noted,  “created from the blood of its cruelly pierced breast.”

The play revolves around how human greed does not acknowledge the exuberance of nature and life and transforms our lives into machines and mere means of production. The king of Yaksapuri is the epitome of capitalist greed to make more and more profit. The labourers of his gold mine get gutted down in the hellish fire of that greed. The king does not consider these mine workers as human and rather they are just machines to extract gold from the mines. But Nandini comes with her garlands of red oleanders and sings the song of winter harvest to the residents of Yaksapuri.

The king of Yaksapuri does not get moved by Nandini’s call to celebrate the harvest songs. The professor is all too burdened with his scholarly routine activities and the hermit is obsessed with his prayers. The king, however, wishes to get Nandini in the very way he wishes to extract gold from mines, i.e., by force. Other characters of the play like Kishore and Kenaram, thrives for the fresh breeze outside the mechanized Yakshapuri. Nandini’s lover Ranjan is also entangled within the complexities of iron machines which disconnects him from his passion for life. Nandini too revolts and dies the death of a martyr against the capitalist greed of Yakshapuri.

Let us now come to the excerpts from the transcript of Greta Thunberg’s speech at the U.N. Climate Action Summit:

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

"For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

Tagore wrote his play “Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders)” in 1923-24. And this is the year of 2019. Even almost a century has passed, the Yaksapuris of capitalist greed are still smashing our lives and nature, destroying our forests and polluting our oceans, depleting our glaciers and transforming Mother Earth into a toxic planet.

Can’t the struggles of Nandini or Greta, be imagined characters of play in Bengal or real life characters of west, make our blue earth  a little more livable?

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Divisional Editor,