Title: Along Deep Lonely Alleys: Baul-Fakir-Dervish of Bengal
Author: Sudhir Chakravarti
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Pages: 392; Price: Rs 595
The book ‘Along Deep Lonely Alleys: Baul-Fakir-Dervish of Bengal’ by Sudhir Chakravarti is a translation from the Bengali original Gobheer Nirjon Pothey by Utpal K. Banerjee. The book opens a conversation about the mystic minstrels that have been part of the Indian society for centuries, yet very little attempt has been made until now to understand their art and lifestyle which is both unique and intriguing. As the author takes us on an anthropological journey that has been narrated beautifully in the book has taken him two decades that involved extensive travelling to the remotest areas of Bengal such as Nadia, Murshidabad, Birbhum, and Bardhaman. At first the book gives an impression of an eclectic collection of folk life and folk culture in rural Bengal but in close inspection it soon reveals itself as an anthology of bauls and fakirs that stood against deep rooted social issues of caste discrimination, religious fanaticism, and religions enforcing religious scriptures and using it as a tool to oppress the poor and the illiterate. As the author says, “If proper accounts were taken, it would be seen that in the late 18
As the author says, “If proper accounts were taken, it would be seen that in the late 18th century, a very large number of lower-caste Hindus and poor Muslims gave up the larger Hindu and Muslim communities and joined the Baul and Fakiri religions in eastern and northern Bengal. It would also be noted that the deserters from Islam were very large in numbers. Lalan Shah and many ascetic religious leaders attracted several common men to their sub-religions through their honest living style, secular ideals and unitary thinking systems.”
The book highlights on baul songs that are rare, mystic with subtle nuances in their interpretations of the lyrics that arises from a different line of thought. The time and age that we are living in, the philosophies professed by the bauls, fakirs and dervishes can surely provide us with a refreshing outlook that encompasses inclusiveness, clear and simple approach to life and beliefs. It is a challenging and sensitive topic that has been documented immaculately by the author.The reader gets a detailed and positive understanding of the mystic minstrels. Also the book defines comprehensibly the important contributions of the bauls, bairagis, dervishes, fakirs, sahajiyasin the Indian society as they raised their voices against the adverse human conditions of oppression and isolation that they have faced for centuries. The ability of the author to permeate through the hard exterior of the community by gaining their trust, and living with them in order to understand their philosophies is both commendable and brave at the same time.
The passage from the book surmises a lot of what you might take away from the book. The author writes, “Whatever these apparently ignorant and illiterate people had shared with and taught me, had I received a fraction of that knowledge from the so-called civil, educated society?” It is indeed a window to another world of ideas that might be able to give us answers on issues of cohabiting ina world riddled with intolerance. An important question for all of us to ponder on.