Jade Parry is a UF student currently enrolled in Gender and Food Politics, a course that seeks to provide a historical context for contemporary environmental and anti-globalization activism within the European Union, in the European colonial encounters in North Africa and Asia, and in modern-day nations of South and Southeast Asia and North America. The Home and The World by Sir Rabindranath Tagore is assigned reading for the class.
The Home and the World by Sir Rabindranath Tagore
The Home and the World is an allegory of the unrest in India between the 19th and 20th centuries involving the partition of Bengal that separated the Muslims and the Hindus. The big question facing the state of Bengal is whether to follow the ways of cosmopolitanism or nationalism. Sandip, the character who stirs up unrest in the home of Bimila and Nikhil, is a supporter of the nationalistic ideals. Throughout the book he campaigns for the people of India to separate themselves from the rest of the world and invest only in their community; buying only from producers of their town, eating food only grown from familiar ground, and not allowing trade or use of foreign goods. Nikhil represents the cosmopolitan ideas that were trying to be implemented in Bengal during the 1900’s. Nikhil supported the use and trade of foreign goods and investment in the world as a whole.
As someone who grew up in a very multicultural country like the US, I feel like I identify more with Nikhil and believe that I am a citizen of the world before my own country. But then I find myself extremely conflicted when I think about what localism is and how much it means to me in my present life. I want to think about my neighbors and evaluate how my choices can better their life. I want to think about my community when I decide where to eat or buy groceries this week. I want to think about how my money or time could be better invested in my hometown versus 3000 miles away. But I also believe as citizens of our small community we are supposed to think about and be conscious of the rest of the world. The philosophy “think globally, act locally” is a true testament to how difficult it is to separate one from the other. It might be easier for most people to just go to Wal-Mart and buy cheap “global” goods instead of buying from a local farmer’s market with a conscious mind. Many would say that shopping at this large corporation is cheaper then trying to purchase only local products. The problem the Home and the World presents is that Nikhil is able to provide elite goods for affordable prices to the majority of the community through foreign trade. Nikhil knows if he joined the nationalistic movement his community of workers would be helpless and abandoned.
On the other hand, Sandip’s ideals are similar to Gandhi’s in that he didn’t want India to conform to western culture. Gandhi advocated for a self-sustaining community, one that didn’t relish in British goods and their way of life. He wanted his people to get back to thinking about what they were putting in and on their bodies. Gandhi was an advocate for slowing down and returning to a simpler way of eating, traveling, and living. Gandhi’s ideas are reminiscent of Slow Food and our advocacy for localism and appreciation of what we’re eating. The idea that “work is not the be-all and the end-all of man” but that there is humbler way of life is representative of both Slow Food and Tagore’s philosophy (205).
And Bimila, the protagonist is stuck in the middle of these two ideals, much like the state of Bengal is stuck between Western and Indian culture. As a woman, Bimila is isolated to the domestic sphere but she represents the mother of the nation and proves her incredible importance. Bimila is a strong figure and Tagore tries to address the role women will play during this turning point in history. Women are starting to feel like they “ought to stand up for [their] rights” (16). Through the interaction between the three main characters we see how the world and the home can influence each other: “We relish our food and rest, only because we can dismiss, only because we can dismiss, as so many empty shadows, the sorrows scattered everywhere, both in the home and in the outer world.” (83).