Today is the birth anniversary of Sarat Chandra Chattpadhyay, the greatest novelist that India has ever known, perhaps the greatest in the world, if the impact factor is taken in. He wrote in Bengali and has been the world’s most translated author, perhaps after the Bible and such was the structure of his language that a Telugu reader thought that Sarat Chandra originally wrote in Telegu, or the Gujarati reader thought that the author’s mother tongue was Gujarati and so on. Hence, Sarat Chandra was also the most translatable of all authors. Regrettably, this aspect of the author, namely his semantics has not been studied adequately for us to learn why Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is so translateable? Why is the appeal of his language so universal? We get too hung up on the content of his stories, realizing little the role of the form, namely the language to carry the stories across regions and over generations.
I knew of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay through hearsay, then read his biography in Hindi by Vishnu Prabhakar and finally a sixty-four-part series published in Bengali in the weekly Bartaman. Most, if not all his stories are true episodes from his own life which he lived in northern Bihar. He represented the quest of a quintessential Bengali, that of a practitioner of culture as well as that of a traveller, vagabond, in his own words. Settling down nowhere and yet telling tales of settled people, Sarat Chandra wrote fanatically of individualism and this is why he chose to write so much about women as women, in his eyes were the most contained and controlled elements of the society. He was a feminist because he championed the cause of the creative individual, not particularly the romantic, but of the free willed ones, exercising a singular choice, and that of just to be. Perhaps this makes the author so universal.
Essential to Sarat Chandra is the Hegelian tragedy, tragedy born of the impossibility of existence of things which have been decided upon as being mutually exclusive. Bindu is only an aunt, she cannot be a mother to the child she loves so dearly. Ram is only a brother in law, contender to the inheritance of his widowed sister in law, Narayani and yet, instead of rivalry over property, Ram looks upon Narayani as the mother he never had and he, for Narayani is her first born child. The story of Mahesh, if voted upon could easily be the world’s most intense tragedies. Sarat Chandrian tragedy has constituted the tragedy of the Indian popular cinema of each region. The form and structure of the Indian popular cinema is Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay; those who do not fall into his form are considered as parallel cinema. This is an important fact to be noted and pursued when discussing the writer who could well be called as The Novelist like Aristotle is The Philosopher. Like his feminism, his tragedy is also individualistic, about individuals who unite on an emotional plane, irrespective of the roles and statuses they occupy.
It is due to the great emphasis of the individual, her freedom to be just her, which also makes him, according to his own description of himself, a vagabond that Sarat Chandra is modern, humanist, rational, secular, post-colonial, existential and universal and yet deeply rooted in the ethos of the Indian life.