Mukhopadhyay Aju: That House That Age.
Earth Vision Publications, Gurugram, India 2021. pp 217. Price Rs.295
That House That Age’ is the thirty-ninth book and second novel by the well-known writer, Shri. Aju Mukhopadhyay. One realises quite quickly that ‘That House That Age’ is a quasi-historical socio-economic-political novel, which is replete with well sketched characters, who seem more real than fictional. The book is authentic as it has intelligently woven fictional elements with the real story of the struggle for Indian independence. The book is about how the history of a nation or a place affects the life of ordinary individuals. ‘That House That Age’ is also a powerful story of how the so-called ordinary individuals can play such a vital role in a nation’s history and progress. The novel traces the lives of multiple characters and deals with both the personal lives of the characters and their influence/impact on the Independence struggle. Of course, the novel narrates the stories of several real-life characters including Subhas Chandra Bose, Shri. Aurobindo Ghose and Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. However, it is the realism of the fictional characters that makes the novel stand apart.
One notices that the narrator is able to tell a story in different ways. The novel successfully amalgamates the personal lives of the characters with the historical happenings of India, especially India under colonial rule, India after the arrival of independence and the development of modern India. The novel’s time line is also reflective of the life and times of the author.
The reader may feel that the novel is a story to bring the truths about the British rule in India before the eyes of a discerning public as well as to show the way in which the Indian revolutionaries, especially from Bengal played an important role in obtaining freedom for India. The historical part of the novel is one which has been well researched.
The novel exposes the patriarchal behavioral pattern of men with the women folk in pre-independent India. One realizes how the women were not given much respect in pre-independent India. It is not that the situation of women in independent India is far better but it is definitely better. The women were expected to fulfil their roles as child bearers; mothers, nurses and wives. The psyche of the married Indian Hindu male has been excellently portrayed. The author has dealt with the situation of women very sympathetically and candidly! He has brought to light, the problems of women. One of the aspects of the book is its sympathetic treatment of women characters.
Another revelation of the book is the true depiction of society as it existed in the colonial times. One is able to experience the ruthlessness of the British rulers, the fight for rights by the Indian revolutionaries, the struggle of the families of the revolutionaries, the status of women in middle class Indian homes, the social problem of child marriage, the selfless and sacrificing nature of women, the economic, social and cultural aspects of colonial India. The novel is a complete package of the socio-economic-cultural-politico-psychological aspects of human life. Thus, the novel is a very powerful book encompassing the life and times of a bygone era. One is also able to see the impact of the British colonization on the spirit of India. The current state of Indian consciousness, the state of the society, polity and the economy are all drawn from the past of India. The India of today is just an extension of the past consciousness of India.
The state of women before independence has been clearly depicted. “It is a fact that she gave birth to 17 children in 17 consecutive years” is a candid line on page 13. “Balaram kept silent with a suppressed feeling of disapproval” on page 13 gives the fleeting idea that the Bengali society was definitely a patriarchal society before Indian independence.
Another important aspect of the novel is its clarity about the British injustice and cruelty during the colonial days. The cruelty inflicted by the British on their prisoners in the infamous cellular jail in the Andamans is well known. The novel brings this fact to the view of the public. The author uses the voices of characters like Upendranath Banerjee and Hem chandra Kanungo to tell us about the struggles of our freedom fighters under the British.
The author, Shri.Aju Mukhopadhyay appears to have undertaken a lot of research to get the facts of Indian history, right. The narration is very clear and effective. The storyline is cogent. However, the major and minor plots are not well planned. The characterizations are shining and the dialogues are impeccable. The standard of literature in the book is quite good. The author is a master of details. A good example is the manner in which minor details regarding the conduct of the British judicial courts with respect to Indian prisoners as opposed to European prisoners are all factually correct.
The life of Aurobindo Ghose has been covered well in the novel. The novel reveals the ‘Sadhak’ state of Aurobindo Ghose. One of the important highlights of the book is the sensitive portrayal of the sufferings of the freedom fighters and their families. The larger impact of the freedom struggle on the lives of the freedom fighters and their families have been well represented through fictional characters by the author.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding a real-life event, i.e., the demise of the great leader, Shri. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee has been elaborately discussed. The character of Sumatha Nath Roy Chowdhury as the youngest surviving child of Ram Nath Roy Chowdhury and the character of Shodashi are quite intriguing. Characters like ‘pagal kaka’ are endearing and very well sketched. All the major events leading to Indian independence has been written about in the novel.
In some portions of the novel, it feels like one is reading the personal family story of either the author or someone close to the author. In some places, the book feels like a mundane recital of family events in the manner of a grandmother narrating family history to her grandchild. One does not notice any sign of imaginative genius in the work. This novel may feel like a mildly disappointing read for those looking for a substantial story. However, the novel is likely to touch the right chord with the masses with its brilliance in amalgamating the personal lives of the characters with India’s struggle for freedom and identity.
The book contains a lot of actual historical narrative – from the various ‘andolans’ or movements for independence to the contributions of Subhas Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Aurobindo Ghose. The novel contains a lot of intrigue, interesting moments and some humour , too. The many shades of Bengal and its people as well as the many shades of India and its people are revealed at different junctures. A number of historical events have been recorded with precision by the author. The years leading to Indian independence has been rationally analysed. The contributions of patriots like Subhas Chandra Bose have been fully incorporated in the book. Several glowing tributes to S.C. Bose have been paid.
In the thoughts and words of Rano, one of the descendants of Sumantha – “The traitors to subhas Chandra, inside and outside the country forgot that he was the greatest of the patriots in India”. The author has used his writing skills effectively to bring out multiple truths in Indian history. The story has been said in different voices or by different protagonists. The narrative style of Shri.Aju Mukhopadhyay is very unique!
The debilitating causes and consequences of the Bengal famine of the 1940s has been covered really well. The path to Indian independence has been well understood by the author.
One of the highlights of the novel is its setting. The old-world charm of yesteryear Bengal has been recreated. Even the partition of Bengal has been discussed in different ways by different people in the book.
The book is a living documentary of how life was in the old-world Bengal and in the old-world India. The author has observed the events of Indian history contiguous to his own life. The author has covered even minor details with great attention. Small details like the minor details of the layouts of homes in pre-independent days has been noted well. The author makes us realise that there are loyal people as well as traitors in the country. This is the continuous state of the Indian political affairs of the country.
All aspects of the Bengal famine find expression in the book. The book clearly indicates as how the Bengal famine was used by the British to keep Netaji Bose from entering the sub-continent.
The narrative style in the book is quite good. The storyline is clearly maintained throughout the book. The book is also narrated from the point of view of Rano. The narration by Rano is one of the significant highlights of the book.
The contributions of two important freedom fighter, Shri. Aurobindo Ghose and Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee have been given importance! An exclusive chapter has been devoted to Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. The historical facts of conspiracy around the death of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee has been covered. The author has made use of multiple narrators –to explain the intertwined lives of the families of freedom fighters, common people and the freedom struggle.
The book is quasi-historical like Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities or George Eliot’s Romala. In terms of characterisations, storyline and pacing, the novel is comparable to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The planning of the scene and the timing of action is very good. The style of the author is unique. However, as a reader, one may not be too happy with a lack of clear set of major or minor plots. The view of life as presented by the novelist is very large and beautiful. Each and every character is memorable, related and very well created and developed. The dialogues are also good!
The author tries to arrive at the conclusion that although imperialism has disappeared; there are many who are still trying to utilize the country to their benefit. A mature reader may be able to sense a bit of the author in ‘Rano’. Rano believes that India is a multilingual and multi-cultural country and it has the great advantage in her to develop and surge ahead through many routes of different traditions and cultures.
This is a book with a universal and attractive appeal. The reader is bound to cherish the words of ‘Rano’ on page 69 of the novel that “The greatest pitfall in India is that we are competing with the world, especially the developed material world, thereby losing our inherent inner resources.” Wise words, indeed!
The novel is a treasure house to be cherished in many ways. The book has been written in simple and beautiful language. I recommend the book to readers from all backgrounds and with varying expectations.