First of all, I sincerely thank my friend and fellow blogger Ranjana Mishra for inspiring me to write a review of this book. It’s a very popular Hindi novel written by renowned Hindi novelist Shivani. Shivani’s real name was Gaura Pant but she wrote under the pen name of Shivani.
Chaudah Phere (fourteen rounds) was first published in 1972 and it is definitely one of the most popular novels of the lady writer who has earned herself a prestigious place in the world of Hindi literature. Several subsequent editions of this novel speak of its immense popularity. In the Hindu custom of marriage, the bride and groom have to take seven rounds of the sacred fire together (called Saat Phere). The title of the novel has been kept in that perspective only.The story belongs to Ahalya, daughter of a Kumaooni businessman, settled in Kolkata (or Calcutta) whose has never respected his illiterate wife from his native hilly region. After suffering a lot, she leaves him and moves to some Aashram in Kumaoon (hilly region of U.P.). A smart and well-educated Bengali woman, Mallika takes her place in the life of the man. Ahalya is sent to boarding school and gradually she forgets her mother.
When she grows up, her father takes her to the native place for attending her cousin’s marriage and then she is able to see her roots, the status of women in the family and the matrimonial developments. She comes across Raju and falls for him but he does not pay that much attention to her that she is striving for. He turns down the matrimonial proposals brought for him too because he is a soldier and writing was already on the wall regarding the war with China. Ahalya breaks down when after some time she gets the news of his demise in the war (actually he was among the list of the missing soldiers). Suffocating within herself, she is not able to share her sentiments towards him with anyone but her cousin Basanti (in whose marriage she had met Raju) and her husband had already seen the smoke arising out of the fire in her heart.
Ahalya’s trouble starts when her father, despite all his modern life-style and approach, is unwilling to get cut from his roots and tries to get her married to a govt. officer in his community only without giving any consideration to her will and sentiments. The would-be groom is a highly egoistic and chauvinistic person and by no means, the prince of Ahalya’s dreams. Ahalya starts teaching in the same boarding school in which she had studied. She wins the hearts of her students which include a difficult student, Lalita. However she can’t help regarding the matrimonial developments related to herself and mentally surrenders to her destiny. Just three days prior to her marriage, she comes to know that Raju is alive and he has come back to his home. Ahalya finds herself tied in the shackles of her father’s social prestige and mentally prepares herself for the life-long sacrifice but her Taai Ji (her father’s Bhabhi and Basanti’s mother) stops her from making this foolish sacrifice and provokes her to run away to Raju’s place. Finally she gets married to Raju.
The narrative flows quite smoothly and there are several twists and turns in the storyline alongwith many interesting incidents not related to the main plot. It’s a very interesting reading for any lover of Hindi literature. The teasings of Basanti’s husband and the talks of the very old granny of Ahalya who understands that Raju and Ahalya are married, are able to create tickle in the hearts. Ahalya’s suffocation within her heart, her loneliness, her emotions coming to surface upon seeing her mother in the Aashram, the plight of Ahalya’s mother in both her parental house as well as her husband’s house etc. are among the several things able to move the reader.
The biggest plus point is the lively portrayal of the traditional Kumaooni life and the social customs there. Being herself from the Kumaoon region, the lady writer has been able to present a highly realistic portrait of the family and social life in that region including the cuisine, the dress-up, the living in the households, the matrimonial proceedings and the social values prevailing there and finally the status of women in the hilly communities (fifty years back, in 1962). This novel is worth reading for at least this aspect.
The language used is lively and impressive. Though the writer has used regular literary Hindi for her general narrative, she has resorted to the use of Kumaooni, Bangla, Nepali and English languages for the dialogues of the respective characters (with the Hindi versions given for the convenience of the readers). And it’s a pleasure to read such a mixed language in the novel which can be compared to the spices adding to the taste of an already delicious dish.
The characterization of Ahalya, her father, her would-be groom, her student Lalita, her cousin Basanti and Basanti’s husband is quite good. However justice has not been done to certain characters. The characters of Ahalya’s mother, Raju, Ahalya’s Taai Ji, her sympathetic uncle etc. seem to be underdeveloped. The lady writer has toyed with the character of Mallika, the other woman in Ahalya’s father’s life by showing her has running away to Delhi, running a brothel under the cover of a girls’ hostel and finally succumbing to a incurable disease.
Summing up, this immensely popular Hindi novel, studded with several characters and covering several events and twists in the tale is an interesting reading as well as an informative account of the life in the hilly region of Kumaoon half a century back. The people fond of reading Hindi literature should not miss it.
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