Saturday, March 21, 2015

Devdas - Saratchandra Chattopadhyay

Browsing around in Akshara Book Store the other day I found some nice old classics. I picked up Devdas, a story I never read and somehow never cared for. I always felt Devdas was a weak man and did not know what he was up to drinking away his sorrows. Naturally I stayed away from the movies too.

I picked a translated version of the original of course, translated by Sreejata Guha. Devdas was first published in 1917 in Bengali. The book is slim, stark and it told the story well. One feels for Paro certainly, if not for Devdas in the end.

Devdas and Paro are neighbours and soul mates. He is a zamindar's son and she is the daughter of a trader. They go to school together and share much love and affection. Devdas has no interest in studying and Paro stops going to school too because Devdas stops going. The zamindar sends him off to Calcutta to study and he returns a young man with urban graces. Paro falls deeper in love with him and asks him to marry her. He cannot stand up to his parents and runs away to Calcutta after having written a letter to Paro that she must seek her groom elsewhere. But soon he realises his folly and returns. Now its Paro's turn to reject him. She marries an old widower.

Devdas starts drinking. He meets a friend Chunilal who introduces him to the courtesan Chandramukhi who falls in love with him. The one clear angle of love comes from Chandramukhi who shows the clarity, strength and courage to stand up for her love. Paro and Devdas continue their cat and mouse game until the end when Devdas returns to meet her - as promised but dies before he does meet her. Chandramukhi however does all she can do make the object of her affections comfortable.

It all seems such a waste. His love for Paro, Paro's love for him,Chandramukhi's love for Devdas - unrequited love from three souls. The first two have themselves and their weakness and ego to blame for letting things go to what they do finally - I have my own problems calling that love really - but Chandramukhi stands out as a clear example of what one can do when one is possessed by love. She shows strength and conviction and in my opinion, the heroine. Devdas has not risen in my opinion even now.

But a word about those story tellers. Reading Tagore's 'Kabuliwalla' leaves me feeling the same way. These characters are authentic, flawed and in pain. How they suffer and how they make us suffer with them. Such wonderful stories. I still wouldn't see the movies because they would break my illusions of the story. I am fine where I am. But all romantics, go read.

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