Today's Beautiful Gem: A book review on `Srikanta' by Saratchandra Chaterjee.

Unlike movie reviews, book reviews are rare on the Digest. I urge the
readers to write book reviews and share their favourite books with us. For a
starter, let me write one on `Srikanta' by Saratchandra Chaterjee (1876-1938).
The influence of Sarat on Indian writers is unmistakably great. In writing
novels and short stories, he excelled or equalled the best of his times,
including Tagore. His novels are trend setters for future writers. They were
translated into many languages including English. I read his twenty-five
volume translation in Telugu in my teens and twenties. Perhaps it is not an
hyperbole to say that the characterisation of women in his novels is
unrivalled in Indian literature. Be it the plot construction of Grihadaha, or
the unexpressed love in Bada didi, or the simple pathos of Devadas, or the
unforgettable character of Savitri in Charitraheen, or the tender feelings of
the wandering hero Srikanta, Saratchandra leaves an indelible impression on us.

`Srikanta' (a 500 page Penguin book translated by Aruna Chakravarti
and priced at Rs 125) is semi-autobiographical. The book is divided into four
sections: The River, Exile, Forbidden Fruit and Journey's End. Our hero
Srikanta comes across four women in his sojourns: Annada, Rajlakshmi, Abhaya
and Kamallata. Annada, a Hindu woman who married a Muslim snake-charmer,
etched on Srikanta's mind the concept of an ideal woman. Next we meet
Rajlakshmi, his childhood sweetherat. She, together with her sister, was
married to an old man. With the suicide of her sister, her mother takes her
to Benares and sells her into prostitution. There she learns music and begins
to entertain the rich and the powerful. She settles in Patna as Pyari Bai.
From the days of her childhood, she worships Srikanta and falls in love with
him. Srikanta goes to Rangoon for work. There we meet the fearless Abhaya,
who had the courage to abandon her cruel and abusive husband and to live with
another man. A writer must have lot of guts to introduce a character like
Abhaya seventy-five years ago! Srikanta returns home and then begins his
endless search for the meaning of life. Though not married, Srikanta and
Rajlaksmi live together like a husband and a wife. At the end of the novel,
we meet the Vaishnavi Kamallata. Also we find the two friends of Srikanta,
Indranath and Gahar. The novel is quite racy and descriptions of nature are
beautifully rendered. The social evils and ills of Bengal at the turn of the
last century are graphically presented. Charitraheen, Pather Dabi and Palli
Samaj are other Sarat novels available in English. I am indeed grateful to a
Bengali friend of mine for lending me three Sarat books.

Om s'aantih: Peace! - J. K. Mohana Rao