In my review of a Hindi movie – Apne Paraye (1980) which is based on the novel – Nishkriti penned by legendary Bangla author – Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaay, I have asserted – ‘Pooja Ke Phool Jitne Pavitra Hote Hain, Usse Bhi Zyaada Pavitra Hain Sarat Babu Ke Upanyaas‘ (Sarat Babu’s novels are even more sacrosanct than the flowers used in God’s worship). I reiterate it here because the soulful characters and the touching episodes of many of his novels prove to be heart-conquerors for the readers.
Sarat Babu has applied his pen mainly on family and social plots and for most of his writing period, he did not try to touch any political issue though it was the period of the colonial British rule in India and the nationalist sentiments were emerging in all the nooks and corners of the country. Paather Daabi is the only novel penned by him which has a political backdrop detailing the activities of the armed patriots who were called the revolutionaries, aimed for the freedom of the motherland from the shackles of slavery. Perhaps it was the last novel written by Sarat Babu because it appears to be incomplete in a way.Bangla title Paather Daabi means ‘claim of the path’ (Path Ka Daava in Hindi). However its Hindi versions have been released under the title Path Ke Daavedaar (claimants of the path). The novel starts with a Bengali Braahmin youth – Apoorva who is fatherless and despite his mother’s abundant love, finds himself as aloof and feels to be extraneous in the family because of the negative attitude of his elder brothers (negative not only towards him but also towards the mother). The story takes off when Apoorva gets a decently paying job in Rangoon (the capital of Myanmar which was then known as Burma). His mother, Karunamayi who was dreaming to arrange his marriage with a religious Braahmin girl, becomes sad to send him overseas but seeing the attitude of her elder son towards hitherto non-earning Apoorva, she reluctantly agrees for that. However to ensure that Apoorva does not face any food-related problems on the foreign soil, she sends a Braahmin cook, Tiwari alongwith him.
Apoorva’s troubles start with his very arrival at Rangoon. He has to face harassment and humiliation from the people of the ruling race who look upon the Indians (as well as the Burmese locals) derogatorily. Due to the disgusting act done to him by his Christian neighbour, he starts hating Christians but the neighbour’s daughter – Bhaarati proves to be an altogether different creature. First, he has tussles with her pouring his grudge towards her father on herself. Besides, being soaked in the traditional religious beliefs, he follows untouchability too. Hence it takes him a bit of time to get along with Bhaarati. Through her, he comes across an underground and violent organization working against the British rule, titled as Path Ke Daavedaar (claimants of the path). The head of this organization is Sabyasaachi who is called by his comrades as Doctor. There is a very strong-hearted and domineering lady member of this organization – Sumitra who propagates woman-lib also and opposes the traditional belief of a wife’s always being subservient to her husband irrespective of his character and activities. He feels as misfit for this organization and does not join it but his friend and colleague – Raamdaas who is clandestinely involved in patriotic activities there, becomes a part and parcel of this organization.
Sabyasaachi aka Doctor does not believe in unnecessary violence despite opting for violent means to oust the British from his motherland. Despite Apoorva’s cowardice, he likes him and comes to feel the love for him in Bhaarati’s heart. For the sake of Bhaarati’s sentiments only, he does not allow the other members of the organization to take Apoorva’s life despite his giving testimony against Raamdaas as well as Path Ke Daavedaar in front of the police. It is well-known to Bhaarati that Sumitra loves Sabyasaachi but he being fully devoted to the cause of the motherland, does not respond to her feelings. Bhaarati feels ashamed that due to Sabyasaachi’s saving Apoorva’s life from the organization, her tender feelings for him are no longer a secret and she has to bear Sumitra’s taunts also in this regard. However she gets relief from this fact that Sabyasaachi is on her side. But the irony is that Apoorva himself is totally unaware of Bhaarati’s feelings for him. Not only he is unable to get rid of his cowardice but his mindset is so deeply rooted in bigotry that despite all the good things done by Bhaarati, he still looks upon her as a Christian and keeps on expressing his hatred towards the Christian race.
Quite surprisingly, Apoorva’s mother, Karunamayi arrives at Rangoon because of coming to know of Apoorva’s serious illness but then she herself falls sick and passes away. Apoorva keeps Bhaarati in dark in this regard and she comes to know of her demise afterwards only. Despite never seeing that traditional, simple and religious lady; she feels quite aggrieved because being silently in love with Apoorva, she had developed a great respect for his unseen mother too (by knowing about her from Apoorva only). Finally, Apoorva gets ready to move back to his motherland, i.e., India because there’s no reason to continue there (he had lost his job even prior to his mother’s arrival at Rangoon). Sabyasaachi takes leave from all including Bhaarati and Apoorva in a dark, stormy night to further the patriotic activities of Path Ke Daavedaar in different places of the world. And that’s where this novel (the stuff written by Sarat Babu by that point) ends.
I have read the edition published by Saadhana Pocket Books which mentions on the back page that this is an incomplete oeuvre of Sarat Babu. But seeing from a different angle, it can be considered as complete too. The story is as such that if alive, Sarat Babu could have written a lot more of it, adding several episodes but whatever he could write prior to his demise, is also complete in its own right. And despite the flaw that I saw in this novel that it could not clarify the vision of the revolutionary leader, Sabyasaachi for his nation, I have no hesitation in admitting that it’s an extra-ordinary book and should not be missed by any literature-lover, especially that who is interested in knowing about the conditions prevailing during the British times in the Indian sub-continent.
In this first (as well as the last) political novel of his, Sarat Babu has portrayed the plight of the natives in the hands of the foreign rulers quite realistically and touchingly. Through the experiences of Apoorva, the reader is able to visualize the merciless and unjust British on one hand and the hapless natives on the other who existed in that period. Through the character of Apoorva, he has underscored the vice of untouchability prevailing in the Indian society and its adverse consequences for not only the victims but also the propagators. Sarat Babu has emphatically shown the fire burning in the heart of the young generation of that period starving as well as striving for freedom whose flames were throwing their heat in all the directions. He has ably demonstrated its belief that no price was too great for getting the coveted prize of freedom.
While spelling out the political aspect of the story, Sarat Babu has not missed to deal with his forte, i.e., tender male-female sentiments. Male-female love does exist in every setting and in all the conditions because we, the human-beings, are built that way only. Love just happens without any deliberate effort. And that the great author has etched thorugh the characters of Sabyasaachi and Sumitra on one hand and the characters of Apoorva and Bhaarati on the other. Bhaarati’s love for Apoorva proves that even a coward can be loved by a woman (who is courageous herself) because such emotions do not run through common logic. Sarat Babu has also highlighted an eternal truth once again that true love is always selfless and even the lack of reciprocation does not matter for the lover. The author has illustrated it through the side story of Shashipada and Navtaara in which the innocent and true love of Shashipada is betrayed by Navtaara but Shashipada is still so nice that he does not (in fact, he can not) think bad about the girl whom he has loved from the core of his heart.
The novel is studded with highly interesting as well as highly intellectual discussions between various characters. The lively discussions take place on male-female relationships and sentiments, husband-wife relationship in the social context vis-a-vis the human as well as the logical angles, the issue of racism and hating one particular race due to the misdeeds of some members of it, the issue of untouchability that had enveloped the whole Indian society (still the Indian society is not completely free from this vice), the significance of political freedom, the extent to which the use of violence to achieve the desired end can be justified etc.
The characterization of different persons is highly admirable like all the novels of this great Bangla author. Though the story starts with Apoorva, it’s Bhaarati who remains at the nucleus of all the happenings. Bhaarati is a woman of courage and conviction and totally open-minded in her thinking and approach. Still she is a woman after all and can’t help falling in love with Apoorva. Her heart weeps when the organization decides death penalty for Apoorva and she feels grateful to Sabyasaachi who saves Apoorva’s life (because he understands her sentiments). In fact, this peculiar fact also deserves a thought that though it’s Sumitra who loves Sabyasaachi, actually he is understood the best by Bhaarati only. Sabyasaachi and Bhaarati share a perfect understanding between them though their love interests are different. The author has very skilfully etched the characters of Sumita (who sometimes feels jealous of Bhaarati because of her better rapport with Sabyasaachi), Raamdaas, Karunamayi, Tiwari (the Braahmin cook accompanying Apoorva to Burma) etc on the vast canvas of the novel .Paather Daabi is a classic which had created a huge uproar in the corridors of power in India when published for the first time and the British govt. had banned it, confiscating its copies. It’s a must read for all the lovers of Indian literature. Besides, since this different work of Sarat Babu is thoroughly interesting like the whole Sarat literature, therefore it can be read by the readers of regular fiction also who are sure to find it as quite engrossing from the very first word to the very last word.
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