Friday, May 15, 2009

Srikanta, by Saratchandra Chattopadhya, translated By Aruna Chakravarti and reviewed by Bharathi Prabhu

Srikanta, an important work by Saratchandra, is, by the author’s admission “A series of scattered memories”. What vivid memories they are! They succeed in making the reader reflect on how things have changed and yet how they have remained the same in nearly eight decades since its first publication.

Saratchandra was aware of the novel’s universal appeal and wanted it to reach a larger population through translations. A task that Aruna Chakravarti has ably accomplished through her English translation of this modern classic.

Srikanta tells the story of the eponymous 19th century Bengali Brahmin from the time he is a young boy to the time he settles down into domesticity in his late thirties. Reluctantly or otherwise is left to the reader’s interpretation. The novel covers a period of roughly 20 years in which Srikanta encounters various characters and situations. Srikanta offers his own insights into events, personalities and his actions or lack of them. Contrary to what the novelist and the protagonist (the work is supposedly semi autobiographical) say, Srikanta comes across as a person who takes action when it matters, he goes to assist people when they need him most- accompanying his friend Indranath into the gushing waters, nursing a dying friend at the risk of catching fatal illness, being the pillar of strength for Kamal Lata... our hero gently worms his way into the reader’s specially the female reader’s heart.

The other important characters, Pyari(later known as Rajlakshmi),who is forced into prostitution but who later reclaims her life and love(Srikanta), Kamal Lata, the devout Vaishnavite who sees no contradiction in nursing a musalmaan or falling in love with Srikanta, Ratan, the faithful servant, are well etched with all their human frailties. Even the briefly appearing Gahar and Ananda leave a lasting impression because of the Author’s ability to suffuse them with endearing and credible traits. Srikanta’s inability to resist his life’s steering by Rajlakshmi is the Lei motif of the later half of the novel. Rajlakshmi is beautiful, wealthy and charming and her idolization of Srikanta since childhood binds Srikanta in golden shackles. His brief stint at Burma to earn a living or his considering joining the Vaishnavite akhra and spend his life with the less charming but also less controlling Kamal lata are his half hearted attempts at rebellion.

The novel suits the sensibilities of the time it was written in. There is just the hint of physical proximity between Srikanta and Rajlakshmi. The description of rural Bengal with its flowering plants, the life styles of peasants and the upper class transport you to a by-gone era. The novel reminds the present generation reader very much of Amitav Ghosh’s Booker nominated “Sea of Poppies”. The Bengal setting with its caste hierarchies, the powerful yet traditional women, the languid pace and epic sweep are present in both the works. When one is through with the novel, the feeling is akin to finishing a long nap and you are left wondering…. “Ma go! Is it over?”

Find out more information on Srikanta, by Saratchandra Chattopadhya, here.

1 comment:

  1. Undoubtedly the best of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Srikanta at first sight might seem like an extended travelogue but the work, running through the frame of the protagonist, becomes a statement on society, its norms and larger human relationships. An ode to the mind of a wanderer