Innocence and Reality
Author: Saratchandra Chattopadhyay
Translated by Anindita Mukhopadhyay
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Price: Rs. 295
Saratchandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) is a great Bengali writer whose name is synonymous with his Masterpiece called Devdas. In all Indian languages, Devdas is created 31 times on celluloid. So if Devdas is capable of 31 versions then the issue of relevance is settled. So for millennial generation, this is a kind of introduction to literary world of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay.
This collection of short stories are divided in two sections. First section deals with innocence of childhood and second section deals with adolescence. In second section all are a kind of coming to age stories.
In the first section, stories of Lalu are charming but now it seems outdated. In this section “A Day’s Tale From Some Fifty Years Ago” is remarkable. In this multi-layered story, Saratchandra presents a character of Matriarch who represents a bygone era and his grandson who represents the upcoming colonial era. And Nayan Baagdi represents a reformed thug, who does not have faith in police. Young narrator and Nayan da confronts thugs and in the last N ayan da emerged as a moral hero of bygone era and faith of grandson is misplaced in police. In this story, Saratchandra presents beautiful craft of storytelling which captured various social values of an era which is undergoing the transformation. This is the beauty of short story format – it represents a sense of changing time without disturbing social milieu.
In second section most of the stories are wonderfully selected and translated. Particularly ‘Mohesh’ is interesting in today’s context. When PETA is not around and animals were part of the family, Saratchandra presents story of Mahesh, who is beloved Bullock of Gofur and his daughter, Amina. Though past his prime, Mohesh is precious and beyond mere utility because he is a religious symbol of Brahmin dominated village. Tragedy is that all the grassland and water ponds are controlled by powerful Hindu Zamindar and hence is not available for Mohesh. Mohesh trespassed Zamindar’s garden and gofur got public beating. Finally, Gofur is ready to leave village and work in jute Mill, a decision which is enthusiastically welcomed by his 10 years old daughter Amina. Thus began industrial era in Bengal, which is Nicely captured on celluloid in form of ‘Do bigha Zamin’ by great director Bimal Roy. This story provides perspective about why and how urbanisation began and rural society declined.
Another interesting short story which provides insight in feudal mindset is Bilasi, which is written at the request of Rabindranath Tagore in 1917. This is a 100 years old story, narrating power of love and how feeble it is against might of time. In this story, narrator reveals a blinded and crippled self-seeking social structure where no one can escape rigid norm of caste enveloped in self-interest. The village turns into a micro-study of the darkness of self-inflicted misfortunes of an entire rural community, except that the victims remain unaware of their social and mental barrenness. For more details it is better to read this story.
After a century these stories are still relevant and it provides interesting glimpses of bygone Bengali era. On long Summer day, this is interesting way to get lost in nostalgia.