Come march and the whole world will be gripped by Oscar fever. Though Indian entry for Oscar in best foreign film category (Devdas) is out of the race now. It was released previous year and proved to be a success in India and abroad. After the premier of this film, actress Rekha told Sanjaya Leela Bhansali's mother that she would want a son like hers. I haven't seen Devdas nor have I met Bhansali. But I have known the author of this great novel since I was in my teens. He has been a friend, guide, mentor and advisor. My Ma introduced me to literature and Saratchandra made me fall in love with it.
On learning about my fetish with stories, my father's friend gave me 'Badi Didi'. I won't say I wept like hell when Surendranath died, but the story was good. And when I read Ramer Sumati, I couldn't help imagining myself in Ram's place. Same thing happened when I was reading 'Parinita'. Only this time I was Lalita. Such is his style of writing that every word became alive. For a long time I read his stories and novels for their sheer romantic appeal. But Sesh Prashn (Final Question) opened my mind's eyes. t took me to another world, of right and wrong, of arguments, criticism. Kamal, the heroin of the novel, urged me towards asking questions.
I was in my final year of graduation ,when we were asked to write an essay on Taj Mahal in Russian. when I started writing, I thought about Kamal . She denounced Taj Mahal as epitome of 'eternal' love. She said if Taj Mahal was a token of love of Shahjahan for his wife Mumtaz then how come he had hundreds other wives in his harem. Shahjahan, like any other emperor, wanted to prove his greatness in front of the whole world. Mumtaz was only a medium to serve his purpose. As I fully agreed with Kamal I penned down 'my' thoughts. Though my family and especially my brother doubts my literary ability, but (fortunately) my teacher had other opinion. I got an A in that test.
Kamal surprises men by her rational thinking and independence, be it of ideas or life. She is accused of parroting Shivnath's immoral thoughts. It doesn't bother her. Imagine the accusations of high and mighty of society not worrying a woman! Here I m reminded of Anna Karenina .Who yearns to be free from a life of pretence and lies, finds love but succumbs to the pressure of living a life of pariah and inacceptance. Kamal couldn't have met the same fate because she lives what she believes and she has the courage to stick to her beliefs, which is thought as a man's prerogative even today. Kamal says she is not anybody's property. he owns herself and no other human can own her. At one point Nilima says, 'had Kamal married traditionally, if she had husband and kids, then she would have totally devoted herself to her family. But if she felt that her husband is trampling her 'self', she would leave all the happiness in a second.' I agree with Kamal that marriage is one of the many things happening in life. The day it was made the sole purpose of woman's existence, the biggest tragedy of her life started.
kamal is my favorite (may be because we both are misfits) but I also like Bharati (Pather Davi) and Vandana (Vipradas). Some people say that the lady characters of Saratchandra's novels are weak and emotional and he glamorized their silent sufferings in feudal India. They are emotional I agree but I don't agree with the weak and fragile part. Take for instance, Abhayaa of Srikant. She comes to Burma in search of her husband who had promised to come back soon. She finds out that he has (re)married a Burmese girl. Abhayaa still stays with him. But when he physically abuses her , she leaves him. And decides to start life afresh with Rohini babu who has been in love with her. She asks Srikant that her husband took same vows in front of Agni but those were mere silly utterances for him. He broke each vow then should I be the only one to fulfill the vows and duties? Then there is Vijaya, (dutta) the brahmo girl, who does not shirk her responsibilities after her zamindar father dies leaves all the inheritance to her. Her rebellious nature makes it difficult for the wiley Rasbihari to take over her land. She also steps forward in recognizing her love for Narendra. She is not a pretty damsel (in distress) who needs prince charming to be freed from the clutches of evil Rasbhihari. She is capable to think for herself and her PRAJA. Her fianc'e doesn't want to allow villagers to hold durga pooja. He tries to force her to accept his decision but doesn't succeed.
Depiction of women was Saratchandra's forte. With an accurate and deep insight he could bring out subtle shades in the psychology of the contemporary Bengali woman ' whether an educated Brahmo girl of Calcutta, or an unsophisticated rustic housewife, or a prostitute. His sympathy for and understanding of their sufferings, their often unspoken loves, their need for affection, their fight for emancipation, made them stand out as authentic pieces of portrayal. Although he could never completely break away from certain traditional values and sentimental fads like admiration for enlightened landlords or a wistful longing for virtues in so-called fallen women, one has to admit that Saratchandra created a world of fiction where every woman could find a place for herself.