Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sharat Chandra the revolutionary Novelist of Bangla Literature

     Poverty is a smoldering fire in the belly and in the heart. It drives one to reach out, to explore and at times to explode. But when the heat is too much to bear, it could reduce one to ashes which any can trample upon with impunity. It takes great courage to be poor and to live with dignity…….Sharat Chandra Chatterjee

    The history of Bengali literature is very old and affluent. Among all those people who made Bengali literature rich and wealthy with their writings held a special place of concern, Sharat Chandra Chatterjee was one of them. Today I am going to discuss the life and works of Sharat Chandra Chatterjee (15 September 1876 – 16 January 1938), who is one of the most popular Bengali novelists and short story writers of early 20th century. His work represented rural Bengali society and secret sides of human mind that were often ignored by the nobles of the society. He was the one who explored the true picture of the society of that time and  raised his voice and wrote against social superstitions and oppression. His inspiration, ingredients, story lines, use of magical words and charismatic style of writing appeared to be a welcome break for the readers, from the tradition of that time. He gave the rural Bengal a character in itself, a character of simplicity yet strength.

Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee), nickname Nyarha was born in Devanandapore - a village in Hughly district of West Bengal ( Greater India). His early years were spent at his maternal uncle's home in Bhagalpur where he received his school education and college education for two years. After the death of his mother in 1895 Sharat Chandra left his college education and give up studies for ever. As young Sharat was very sensitive and fragile, he left home following a disagreement with his father. Forced to earn his livelihood, he started working early in his life. Sharat Chandra started his career as an assistant to the Settlement Officer of Baneli Estate. He subsequently worked as a translator at the Calcutta High Court and as a clerk in the Accounts Department of Burma Railway. For a short period he was a sannyasi, a Hindu ascetic who abandons the material and social worlds. He was also associated with the Bengal Congress. In 1921 he took part in the non-cooperation movement led by Congress and was elected president of Howrah District Congress. 

As regards his literary activities, his earliest creations were two short stories 'Kakbasha' and 'Kashinath' (later expanded into a novel) published during 1894 in the handwritten magazine while he was studying in Entrance class at Tejnarayan Jubilee College, Bhagalpur. In 1903, on the eve of his departure to Rangoon in search of a job, he at the instance of his uncle Girindrandra nath sent a short story 'Mandir' for the Kuntaleen literary competition. From among about one hundred fifty short stories that entered the competition, Mandir was adjudged the best for the year in 1904. For some reason, Sharat Chandra continued to send his stories in someone else's name. He contributed stories regularly to the Jamuna magazine in three different names - in his own name and in the name of Anila Devi (his elder sister) and Anupama. His long story 'Badadidi'(1907) was published in two installments in his own name in Bharati. His instantaneous fame and continued popularity are without a parallel in Bengoli literary history. 

Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay is considered to be an author, who understood the Bengal villages the best. His works have a rural essence, as it speaks of the simple day to day life stories of the families, living far away from the cities in the tranquility of nature, growing old among the rivers, trees and farm lands. He voiced his protest against the social discrimination, injustices and superstitions that went on in the name of religion. Sarat Chandra refuses to be judgmental. His critique on social norm was only a message and never an agenda. He lets his characters to speak for themselves; and lets the reader form his own opinion of the purity concept in the Hindu Society. He tried to heighten the social awareness; and to ignite revolt against the oppressive social cults, which debased and degraded humanity.

In most of his writings Sharat Chandra wrote of the women very highly and talked about their situation in a patriarchal society frankly and honestly. He was at his best when he wrote with understanding of women, their sufferings, their often unspoken loves, their need for affection and their desperation for emancipation. His portrayal, particularly, of strong-willed women of rural Bengal defying the convention; and also of women rooted in their sense of values and who set a benchmark for other characters to be judged by the reader, stand out as authentic. His women are admirable for their courage, tolerance and devotion in their love for their husbands, lovers or children. These stories also picture husbands who do not know or do not care to express love for their beloved ones. Somehow, the women in his stories never attain happiness in their personal lives. Some of such stories include 'Bindur chele' (Bindu's Son, 1913), 'Ramer Sumati' (Ram Returning to Sanity, 1914), 'Arakshaniya' (The Girl Whose Marriage is Overdue, 1916) etc. 

In 'Devdas' (written in 1901, published 1917), Parinita (The Married Girl, 1914), 'Biraj Bau' (Mrs. Biraj, 1914) and 'Palli Samaj' (The Village Commune, 1916), the themes and their treatment are not very much different from the older Sharat Chandra's but they are presented in a modernistic setting and in an easier and more matter-of-fact language. He is certainly critical of his own ideas but he never flouts the accepted moral basis of the Hindu society of anytime. 

Sarat Chandra  is at his best when he draws from his experience. To name the more important of such works : 'Srikanta' in four parts, 'Charitrahin' (Character-less, 1917), 'Biraj Bau'(1914), 'Palli Samaj'(1916), the first part of Devdas (his first novel) and his first published short story Mandir (1904). It may be noted that these belong to the first phase of Sharat Chandra 's literary career, that is up to 1913 when he had been just recognized as a powerful writer of fiction. 

The second phase began with the conscious attempt to tackle a plot that is akin to Tagore's Gora. The result was his the biggest novel 'Grihadaha' (Home Burnt, 1919). The spinning out a thin story is rather wearisome and it was never received with the usual acclamation. Before he finished 'Grihadaha', Sharat Chandra had reverted to the romantic love story 'Datta' (The Girl Given Away,1917-19) and 'Dena-Paona' (debts and demands, 1923) were written.

His novel 'Pather Dabi' (1926), was however, banned by the British government for its revolutionary theme. The novel for no cogent reason was proscribed by the Government. In 'Bipradas' (1935) Sharat Chandra returns to the domestic novel but it scarcely reveals a new approach or a fresh appraisal. His last complete novel 'Sesh Prasna' (The Final Question, 1931) is an attempt at the 'intellectual monologues' novel where the meager theme is inflated by high brow talks on problems of the individual and of the society relating principally to love and marriage. 

Some of the popular tales of Sharat Chandra were dramatized and performed on the public stage with considerable success. Sharat Chandra's works have been repeatedly translated into all the major Indian languages. A number of successful movies, in different Indian languages, have been based on his novels: Devdas, Srikanta, Ramer Sumati, Dena-Paona, Birajbau etc.

In recognition of his contribution to literature, Sharat Chandra was awarded the 'Kuntalin Puraskar' (1903), 'Jagattarini Svarna Padak' (1923), membership of 'Bangiya Sangeet Parishad'(1934), and an honorary DLitt by the Dhaka University Dhaka (1936). 

He died at Park Nursing Home in Kolkata on 16 January 1938.

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1 comment:

  1. The writer should have been careful about the sentence compositions and grammar.

    Niaz Rahim, USA