I read the Hindi version of this very famous novel by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee – one of the earliest literary genius of India. This book is the one which has the origins of our National Song – Vande Mataram.
The novel is based in an era when Mir Jafar was ruling in Bengal and the British had started their business and were dominating trade but not the politics as of yet. How the famine affected the lives of the people then and that finally brought them together led by the Sanyasis to wage a revolution against the Mughal ruler.
The book is not entirely conversational nor entirely descriptive. It uses both the techniques. One feels that one was living in that times when you start reading the book. A thing that I was shocked to find in that was the very apparent and indicative hatred towards the Muslims. In fact, the novel concludes with the suggestion that the replacement of Mughal rulers by the British ones was in fact good for the country and that the people should rather be happy that they have come. It reflects clearly the thoughts of the author and perhaps of the rest of the intellectual Bengali community too who thought that the Britishers were a welcome change. It is another thing that Bengal turned out to be one of the most exploited states later. The existing caste system and the boiling vengeance is shown very piercingly.
In his female characters, the author has painted a sort of contrast in the characters of Shanti and Kalyani. Whereas one is self sufficient and more than that , Kalyani is the typical domesticated wife who was even ready to give her life ( and almost gave away ) so that his man could concentrate on his work. Whereas Shanti is assertive and bold, Kalyani is meek and submissive. Whereas Shanti can fight and kill men, Kalyani cannot even protect herself. It is an interesting contrast and I am pleasantly surprised to find it in a work of an author of earlier times when at other places he has placed the social prejudices as they were.
The Sanyasi movement which Chatterjee has portrayed is not in itself is a movement for independence, but it is a movement for the displacement of Mughal ruler and rule. The fact that the novel ends with the Swami Satyanand being told to go away without establishing the rule of the native people surprises me and not in a good way. The hatred towards the Muslims is immense as depicted. Now I understand why Muslims were so against the song Vande Mataram. They perhaps see it in this context.
Nevertheless, it invigorates something in you. The picture which Chatterjee paints is not complete. Rather, it is a microscopic view but still it instills a revolutionary idea. I am pretty sure it must have deeeply moved the people then who were impatient and restless for a change of situations. Sitting in a free India with all the basic necessities of life fulfilled, I am getting a different impact but I can not ignore the effect which must be mammoth in its times.
As for the song Vande Mataram, it is most poignant and moving. Never has it occured that whenever I hear it or sing it I do not feel a pang of patriotism. What Bankim has tried to convey is the “religion of Patriotism” is what should be followed.
It was a refreshing read but I am ashamed to say that I had a rather difficult time in comprehending the complex Hindi words which were used and seemed to me like things of distant past. It is diasppointing and I think that I will like to make amends regarding it and improve my Hindi. Also I would like to read more and more Hindi novels.