Sunday, January 16, 2011

Literature: Why Saratchandra’s women characters could not attain happiness?

My previous blog on Saratchandra Chatterjee’s portrayal of female characters has predictably sparked off a bit of debate among patrons and friends. Well it’s on the expected lines.

Predictably, a few friends among Bengali-pride obsessed giants have taken the opportunity to slam me on usage of phrases like ‘Marxist-over ruled Bengal’ and that Saratchandra had inherent ‘limitations’ in highlighting the pathos of his female protagonists.
Well, to make first thing clear, I am personally a big fan of Saratchandra and my desire to take the liberty in penning the blogs on his works is only essentially based on utmost love and respect for the ‘katha-shilpa (an artist of fictions)’. Secondly, on political front it’s a reality that West Bengal is in effect “over ruled by Marxists” and so much has been its impact that today the state is looking for an alternative in someone like Mamata Didi….

As of now, like millions others I am also afraid that she can be only a governance disastrous! And one wishes sincerely that the fear does not translate into a reality.
Now to come back to Saratchandra’s works…. Let’s continue the debate.

One might not agree to the manner he dealt with his characters; but the clarity of thought and speeches Saratchandra gave them are extraordinary in many ways. That is precisely the reason his stories retain their freshness even a century after they were written.

For instance his portrayal of Saudamoni in ‘Swami’ talks about a woman who wants to break free the old cobweb and seeks liberty from her highly idealistic husband for her pre-marriage lover Naren. But in the ultimate, Saratchandra’s perhaps own faith in the social system prevails strongly.
It is therefore, Saudamoni abandons her move to elope with the lover at the last moment and instead fall at her husband’s feet, who graciously forgives her saying any genuine seeker of pardon ought to be pardoned. This is an instance I have tried to pin point in my previous blog while arguing that Saratchandra’s women characters did not go for the kill while they could have done it easily.
In ‘Baikunther Will’, Saratchandra portrays a jewel-hearted-step mother, whom the middle class world and the then Bengal society had always seen with a jaundiced view.
Thus far, while portraying the character of the step mother, he highlights a new sense of humanism among the female protagonists. The portrayal simply challenges the established beliefs that a step-mother can be no do good.
Similarly in other characters also, Saratchandra was able to spin out intriguing situations often depicting conflicts between conservatism and social change; idealism and pragmatism and superstitions and rebellion.
But in doing so he ensured in a steadfast manner that no protagonist of his would flout the established moral basis of then Bengali Hindu society.
Typically, this characteristic is unlike other writers including Bankim Chandra Chatterjee though critics largely agree that in his initial years Saratchandra was definitely influenced by Bankim among others.

But having said these, one ought to state that however, Saratchandra’s women would be known for courage, tolerance and devotion to the social values. But hardly the women characters could attain happiness for them.
In his quartet Srikanta published in 1917, 1918, 1927 and 1933, he typically exemplifies in sketching the characters dealing with conflicts between their individual and social perception of profanity and piousness.
So the next question is why did he do so? As someone brought up in poverty, did commercial compulsions dominated overwhelmingly? Well, this issue too needs a bit of debate and objective analysis.

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