Among the non-Hindi and non-English novelists, if there’s an author whose works have effortlessly conquered my heart, then it’s Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the legendary Bangla author. Somewhere else, I have asserted that Sarat Babu’s novels are even more sacrosanct than the flowers used in God’s worship. Almost all the works of Sarat Babu are like that only – stories of male-female love consisting of tender feelings and a kind of piety that is not usually found in our vernacular literature. Datta is one such novel of Sarat Babu whose Hindi version was read by me under a different title – Vijaya.Datta means a girl who has been engaged to some boy or the commitment for whose marriage with a particular boy has been given by her parents / guardians to that boy’s parents / guardians. In short, Datta (literally meaning ‘given’) stands for betrothed (female).The Datta of this novel is Vijaya (as said earlier, some Hindi versions of this novel have been issued under the title ‘Vijaya’ also) whose father Banmaali had engaged her to the son of his childhood buddy Jagdeesh (by words of a letter and not by any ceremony). The story traces its origin to the period of 25 years ago when three friends coming from different villages studied together in school – Banmaali, Raasbihari and Jagdeesh. In that time, their childish innocence had prompted them to take a vow to become successful lawyers, earn money and use it in the interest of the nation. However those were the childhood days which did not know the harsh realities of life as well as the course of destiny that was to follow.
Jagdeesh despite being the most talented of the threesome, could not make much progress in life whereas the other two made a lot of money. When Jagdeesh got a son, he informed Banmaali about it and a commitment that he would marry his son to Banmaali’s daughter. Banmaali, without thinking much, reciprocated his promise. Interestingly, since Raasbihari also had got a son, Banmaali quite lightly (because he was issueless by that time) had given the same commitment to him also.
Now when this story is being told, twenty five years have passed and Banmaali Babu is on his death-bed now. The only thing that worries the elderly man now is the matrimonial alliance of his the only child – Vijaya whose mother had passed away long back. He remembers that he had given his word to Jagdeesh that he would marry his daughter to Jagdeesh’s son. One more important fact is that Jagdeesh had lost all his wealth due to certain vices developed in his personality and borrowed a hefty sum from Banmaali by putting his house as mortgage to him. And Jagdeesh is no more now.
Banmaali Babu requests Vijaya not to make Jagdeesh’s the only son as shelterless while trying to recover the loan amount from him. However Vijaya, considering herself as more practical and a woman of principles, finds it difficult to agree. She also finds it difficult to fulfill her father’s commitment given to Jagdeesh regarding the marriage of herself and Jagdeesh’s son. She is in regular contact with Raasbihari’s son Vilaas who tries to act her friend and advisor (considering himself as her would-be husband). Shortly Banmaali Babu passes away and now Vilaas starts behaving like the guardian of Vijaya. Vijaya comes to know that Jagdeesh’s son Narendra is a doctor. However on the basis of hearsay about him, she has developed a completely negative picture of Narendra in her heart.
But the day she happens to meet Narendra, the scenario starts changing. Now starts the love story of naive and innocent Narendra and Vijaya who gets hit by the Cupid’s Arrow the moment she comes into his contact. Very shortly, she finds out that the hearsay about Narendra is all wrong. He is a very noble person who wants to devote his medical knowledge and in fact, his whole life for the welfare of the mankind especially the deprived ones. She also finds that with the increase in her proximity with Narendra, the true faces of Vilaas and his father Raasbihari are getting unmasked before her. They are greedy of her Late father’s wealth and utter hypocrites. How Vijaya, the Datta for Narendra from the side of her Late father, is able to tie the sacred knot with her noble yet simpleton sweetheart, much to the chagrin of Raasbihari and his son; forms the remaining part of the novel which is very interesting as well as touching.Vijaya is a romantic novel. Very romantic indeed. Any male / female with a romantic nature will fall in love with the story and the characters in no time as he / she moves through the pages of the book. The romantic episodes of Vijaya and Narendra tickle the heart of the reader like anything. As a matter of fact, written in a freely flowing manner, the complete narrative is a heart-conqueror all the way.
Sarat Babu always paid a lot of attention to characterization and allowed his characters to evolve on their own without making any conscious effort from his side. He had seen the rural society and milieu of Bengal during the last few decades of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th century and so he took real flesh and blood characters from that society and that period in his novels. On one hand, we find noble and pious characters, on the other we find greedy and hypocrite ones. Both completely naive and simpleton kind of as well as very cunning and dodgy characters appear in his novel as he had seen both kinds of people in the milieu he witnessed. The characters of Vijaya are no exception.
Sarat Babu (perhaps) did not like the philosophy of Brahmo Samaaj which had come into existence due to the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and influenced a sizable population of Bengal during the 19th century. His description of the impact of Brahmo Samaaj on certain characters of the story renders such a feeling to the reader.
Datta is a signature novel of Sarat Babu which appeals to both the readers of romantic stuff and those fond of reading social dramas. The passage of a century since its first publication in 1915 has not mitigated the tinge and fragrance of this remarkable piece of literature. Translated to many languages, it can be easily read by all the literature-lovers. However fortunate are those who have read it in its original Bangla form.
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