February 9, 2023
“Toder acche moner kotha, amar acche koi?” You both have words of the heart, I do not.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote these lines in the song “Olo Soi” (“O Dear Friend”) on seeing his wife, Mrinalini Debi, and her close friend Amala Das, sister of activist Chittaranjan Das, sprawled on the floor, deep in conversation with each other.
Tagore’s words of melancholia and desire — to have intimate, heartfelt conversations with a friend — immortalize a tradition now lost in the folds of modernity: that of soi patano. The formal ritual of friendship was common among Hindu Bengali women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They gave each other gifts, christened each other with pet names, and became each other’s most trusted confidantes.
At a time when relationships were foisted upon women through marriage, these friendships were in a category of their own: unbreakable bonds Bengali women had chosen for themselves. Centuries later, these rituals and traditions have faded away. In a society that pits women against one another, soi patano reminds us of a different time.