Monday, January 3, 2011

Literature: Why and how Saratchandra's female characters were submissive?

On the personal front in retrospect in the year bygone, 2010, I did encounter many things new. There is nothing special about it as it happens every year and definitely with everyone. Life is all about such new phases amid continuity. But down the memory lane as I look back, I often wonder did I do everything right. Definitely not! There were several mistakes. In lighter vein, often I took up fight with wife – for reasons right or wrong – often I screamed at my mother and also did argue with my father, brother and colleagues and occasionally scolded my daughter.
But I don’t have much regrets over those as somewhere I have read, --

So such is that defiant mood that it must have helped me to chalk out the roadmap during the circa 2010 often.
Well, launching this blog was one such move.
Now was that decision right? Well, if I feared being wrong, I would not have dared to start the blog and also undertake the few risks I took. One of them was to write a book on Ayodhya verdict. At the end of the year, ‘Ayodhya; Battle For Peace’ was published by Har-Anand Publications.
Whether that was a risk worth taking would be decided in months to come and therefore as my guru R C Rajamani often has a pet phrase, “the answer to that question remains in the womb of time”.

So far so good. Now a suggestion has come from my brother-in-law Mukesh urging me to try something new --- “more creative” as he puts it. His obvious reference has been to the overdose of blog contents here and also my three books, ‘Godhra-A Journey to Mayhem/ (2004), ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ (2008) and now the latest one on Ayodhya.

So what’s the new ‘more creative?

‘Fiction writing’, quipped my brother-in-law and smartly added “there are characters all around you”.

Just then as I looked around, two people were around me in the tiny rented flat I do reside in Delhi, wife Swati (Mili) and quite a demanding daughter Tanvi…. Tinni.

So am I to write stories….. aha novel based on these two people. I am not quite sure. But as I was pondering about such a possibility…….. suddenly thoughts flashed in my mind about great Bengali writer, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee), my favourite among regional litterateurs.

More so because – his female characters had always left me in utter bewilderment!

Sorry, I am not talking about characters as portrayed in Bollywood films – especially Sanjaly Bansali-variety ‘Debdas’ --- the latest of which in 2000 - which I am sorry to mention - has possibly left poor Sarat Chandra much disappointed above.

But lets give a little space to his characters in critically acclaimed novels like ‘Charitraheen’, ‘Shrikant’, ‘Swami’, ‘Arakahaniya’, ‘Patherdabi’, ‘Palli Samaj’, ‘Pandit Moshai’ and even ‘Debdas’.

Many students and albeit scholars on Sarat Chatterjee’s works have not missed the point that he was highly comparable to Charles Dickens especially in terms of portraying the poverty and the much deprived and exploited women characters.

Saratchandra truly depicts Indian women as an exploited class. This exploitation only gets heightened when he paints them in poverty as well as through the prism of strong caste system prevalent in then Bengal.

In practically, all his works, tenderness and beauty tempt her and the women protagonists is more often left in tears – often isolated.

As I discuss the issue with my wife Swati Deb, a more genuine student of Bengali literature and Saratchandra’s works than me, readily agrees and argues rather eloquently that in most cases, the characters like Saudamani (Swami), Parvati (Debdas), Rajlakshmi (Shrikant) either died or withdrew themselves from any affair/relation.

Strikingly, she opines Saratchandra hardly showed widow marriages unlike other contemporary Bengali writers of his time.
At one point, my wife, said, “Caste divisions remain a dominant feature is Saratchandra’s writings and he hardly showed smaller and neglected caste characters getting justice from zamindars and Brahmins”.
So does it mean, Saratchandra lacked the revolutionary fire unlike say Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay of ‘Ananda Math’ fame?

Bankim’s characters like ‘younger daughter-in-law’ in ‘Devi Chaudhrani’ and Kapalkundala were far more stronger.

Does it also mean, Saratchandra also preferred exuberance of sentimentalism and dreamy characters? So were characters like the affectionate and sobbing ‘step mother’ in ‘Baikunther Will’ unreal and too idealistic to be real?

But we must not miss the point that even in an era dominated by masters like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim and for that matter the political emancipation of Mahatma Gandhi and Aurobindo; Saratchandra had his distinct individual tenor.

To sum up, one must say, today’s Marxist-over ruled Bengal has been always a land of poverty and idealism. This unique synthesis is hardly understood in other parts of India. In portraying the characters, Saratchandra not only thus gave them flesh and blood, but discovered the soul pretty well – notwithstanding the limitations he showed in highlighting the pathos.

But somewhere Saratchandra, to use a Bengali phrase ‘sroter tane ga bhasiye deoa’, he floated with the wave. If one ought to sound caustic, probably Saratchandra had no strength to dissociate himself from the bondage of tradition – the feudal structure and crystal clear male domination. His characters thus reflect the real life of courtyards of Bengali homes and this he has done successfully. Saratchandra’s female protagonists are not extraordinarily brave or revolutionary but rather remaining aloof in the margins of society and family – and that he has done pretty well.


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