Commentary by Sanat K. Bandyopadhyay
The Literary Achievements of
Sri Tarasankar Bandyopadhyaya
An author of more than a hundred books, many of which are of quite substantial volume and with a literary career spread over almost forty years from 1928 to 1966, Sri Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay was a remarkable and outstanding figure in the field of Bengali literature. Born in 1898, the last years of the nineteenth century, Tarasankar could first find a calm tranquility in life and society around. Those were the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign when there was no political consciousness anywhere; British administration was at the highest peak at that moment. The country was reaping the harvest of British Law and order and new national consciousness was yet to spread. English education was spreading fast.
At that time he was born in a small zeminder family. The income was certainly
not much high compared to today’s affluence. But the feeling of feudal pride and
sense of respect was measureless. On the other side from his mother, who has
been the determining influence on him, he imbibed a respect for all catholic and
traditional ideals along with a love and attraction for country and new
This is the background where Sri Bandyopadhyaya’s character was formed. And
under his mother’s influence and guidance he read Bamkim Chandra and
Rabindranath at a very age, came to respect and love Swami Vivekananda and was
attracted to patriotism when he was very young he is inspired by the name of the
great martyr Khudiram and of Alipore Bome Case.
In his youth theses tendencies took shape in the form of writing poems and making secret acquaintance with members of revolutionary parties. Theses two tendencies gradually grew stronger by years and he on the one hand wrote many poems and dramas (which are since lost) and on the other he joined the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930 and courted prison. The source of his inspiration as a literary man may be found here. Tarasankar is all along deeply attached to the soil and to the men of the soil and to the men of the soil as an author and these two elements from the main subject matter of the bulk of his writing.
His starting point as a talented writer is from 1928 when his first short story was published in Kollol. By writing that story he could at once feel that he had enough to write on. Though his first printed book was a fiction, he first discovered his literary powers as a short-story writer.
About his first two novels some lines must be devoted. His first published novel was ‘Chaitali Ghurni’ (The Chaitra Strom) and his second novel is ‘Pashan Puri (The Stone Chamber). The first one narrates the breaking up and disintegration of the village and the second on deals with the life and characters in British prison. For the first time the socio-economic touch into the fold of Bengali literature along with stories of unconquered human lives and desires. The themes are new and the experience is first hand and genuine.
Tarasankar has written nearly two hundred short stories and about fifty novels, most of which deal with common people rooted to the soil and age-old tradition of the country. After Renaissance common people first made their appearance in the great short stories of Rabindranath. They are the creation of a poet and their sentiments and taste are at once ethereal and earthly, but stand for away from the daily odds of life. They carry the ‘poetic truth’ of ‘aesthetic man.’ In Sarat Chandra something new was added. The ‘sentimental man’ appeared in the sphere of Bengali literature. Tarasankar added something new to it. He portrayed the ‘biological man’ troubled with the various hunger sand thirsts of life. After finishing the short story of Tarasankar you may feel that you might have seen him somewhere around you somebody; the incidents will make you remember that you might have heard of them earlier. But if you search for such a man or such an incident you will fail. Even if you can find one you may try to compare the two; but there you will also find that something is lacking in the man or in the incident, which you have come across in the story. If you analyze it you will find that something is in the story, which you fail, to find in the ‘real’ man or incident. That is Tarasankar’s contribution. You may call it either his ‘imagination’ or his ‘interpretation of life.’
Sometimes Tarasankar’s works have been termed as ‘regional.’ This is simultaneously a word of praise and of short coring. Tarasankar is never ‘regional’ in the sense that it is used about Thomas Hardy. The reason lies elsewhere. As an artist, Tarasankar’s experience of and acquaintance with life is vast, his vision objective and accurate. He has seen humanity not in the abstract form but in their concrete and individual shape with all their finesse and oddities. Moreover he is in the habit of seeing them without detaching them from their background; if he seen them in their entirety against correct background. Thus when they appear in his writings they appear with all that they can carry with them. Thus they carry with them, along with their personal longings and behavior, the scent and flavor of a particular region. There society and the rivers, fields, forests, jungles and lands also appear with them in a chain as integral parts of Bengal or in other words India.
It is not hard to explain how this has been possible. The intense love and respect for the life, the people and the land he was born in, with all the history and tradition, good or bad is at the root of it. He has seen and loved the whole show in its entirety, and thus when he goes to depict life he depicts them in their entirety. Thus his characters set in their proper and correct background is never hazy but clear cut and concrete, throbbing with genuine human passion, which are mostly of elemental character. Acquaintances with his characters make one feel that they are like iceberg with some quantity pleating before human eyes while the major portion of the passion is hidden underneath, by which they attain a strength and depth at once.
Along with this, something more is to be added about his vision and creative powers. In his outlook as an artist the known daylight is of course keen; but to depict this well known day light he always remembers and never forgets about the other side of life- the mysterious night with her unfathomable darkness. Even though he could not fathom her depth, he has again and again followed and traced the beguiling gesture of her arch eyes.
“Night, the shadow of light And life the shadow of death.”
As an artist Tarasankar always tries to place mystery of life in the background of the mystery of death. So in his works laws of nature is not the Nemesis of humanity. This destiny has endowed an immense and grand significance and great beauty to the Laws of Nature. For this, while with the keen and wondrous eyes of an observer he observes the sparks of life being the outcome of Nature, he does not take away his vision from the darkness at the background, against which these sparks of life is mainly due to the immense darkness at the background. He feels that the portion of life that lies hidden in the darkness is much more immense and compel the reasoning and logical thinking of the reader to stop and fumble and brings in a feeling of strange and sweet uncertainty in the reader’s mind. It is not an outcome of poetic realization, nor it is akin or nearer to the taste of realization of ‘Brahma’. But this realization is the outcome of concrete life itself. To read and taste them one does not loose the consciousness of life, but he rather feels all the more intensely about a particular pattern of life. Thus Tarasankar presents life in all its multifarious color and variety and with all its contradictions. He not hesitate to portray the ugliest and the most revolting expression of life and can easily give them an eternal art from of beauty as symbols of that great and eternal drama that is on the play. In a word, Tarasankar does not analyze but discovers; he does not explain but creates; he does not prove but exhibits. Thus all his best works carry this suggestion of a symbol; there is nowhere in their about life. His vision discovers the same beauty in both the ugly and the beautiful, in the terrible and the sweet, in the cruel and the soft and relishes every experience equally. There is objectivity of vision in him that has made it possible. Thus in his works, life, the strange phenomenon that we just realize in meditation only, sparkles in his works for the fraction of a moment. Thus in one drop of water one gets the taste of the sea, in the story of two insignificant man and woman the shadow of eternal humanity can be found and in the love-crisis of a couple falls the shadow of a great human tragedy. Through small incidents in a story one can get the glimpse of the unbounded sea of mystery.
What has been said above is equally truth both about short stories and novels. But in his novels something more added to it consciously, which forms the root of the plan. One is the theme and the other is the background. While in this short stories he weaves a piece of life and dramatically debiting it between two clear-cut points he leaves it, at the time of shorting a novel he, first of all, selects a theme and this theme in its form supplies him the background. Around this theme and he weaves his story against the background, the natural outcome of his theme. The theme thus forms the backbone of his novel.
The striking point about his selection of themes is that it is almost always contemporary. Thus he depicts his own age through which he tries to depict the eternal. As he has been alert and alive about the life around him the selection of theme very naturally comes from there. His style follows his theme. Just as temper and tune of music determine the nature and method of accompaniment his style differs from one novel to the other. Ample proof of this statement can be had from his bulk of writings.
Tarasankar has so far written nearly fifty novels. His first two novels, as said earlier, were written on the eve of the national movement of thirty. The theme of one is the decay and breaking up of rural life. It ends with a small note- the Chaitra Strom, the precursor of the summer storm. The other one is about prison life, written in prison. Then after two more novels, four great novels came out one after another within five years. They are Dhatri Devata, Kalindi, Gana Devata and Panchagram. All these novels are classic in pattern, the rural life with all its grandeur forming the background. In each of them are drawn with all their complexities and greatness interwoven by their peculiar superstition and shortcomings. In each of them the socio-economic angle of vision has played its part well. Patriotism, children, is one of the keynotes of each of them. It is evident in Dhatri Devata and Kalindi while it has been very subtly and beautifully punched in the other two novels- Gana Devata and Panchagram. As in the great epics The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, in these two novels also the characters are inextricably connected and woven with the story, and the two are inseparable. Very deep and sympathetic acquaintance with village life and its people is evident in every line on these two novels. But the greatest success of the author lies in the portrayal of the social surrounding. In Ganadevata , the social ties are shown to have gone loose and individual hatred and greed vicate life in the form of social quarrel. But unvanquished life tries to make headway through all odds. Moreover these are not stories of one individual, but of a whole village, wherein one can hear the heart-bit of the whole country.
It is worthwhile to mention here that side by side the national thirst for freedom from foreign rule and struggle for independence, these works of Tarasankar appeared and certainly served as a source of inspiration to the people and contributed to the cause of freedom movement. These books thus fall in line with Bankim Chandra’s Anandamath, Rabindranath’s Gora and Sarat Chandra’s Pather Dabi. By years he developed these themes from various angles and stories of individual lives also reflect one of such social and economic problems along with the expression of the eternal humanity.
Of course with one brilliant exception. In this period he wrote on short novel, ‘Kavi’ (The poet). In it he has depicted the life story of a rustic village poet, composing songs extempore and catering those to the rustic audience. The poet’s life is spent first among his fellowmen, who are devoid of all culture and decency of life. The poet himself was form in a family, who by profession are thieves by generations. But strangely enough the child of such a family sprung up as a poet. He did not take up his family profession, but lived apart and took to composing songs. In his amateur days he would sing to the trees as his audience and practiced composition and singing. In later life he lived among prostituted. But in the life of a rustic village poet the shadow of a great poet can be found who throughout his life, like Valmiki, composed songs, the main burden of which was- I am not satisfied by loving. I want to love more. Ah, why life is so short?
On the other hand he discovered new spheres of creation. His ‘Hansuli Banker Upakath’ (Sana of the Sickle Bend) deals with the lives of reveal people who stand at the threshold of industrialization and feels its impact. So long this life, for hundred years, was stranded by thick bamboo jungles where wild boars and big snakes were their neighbors. The people so long led a quiet life- say it peace or sleep. ‘New life’ appears amongst them in the form of young lad and the clash begins and this new life wins ultimately. Like his Datri Devata, Kalindi, Gana Devata and Panchagram, this work is also epic in character but there is strong difference between them in matters of approach, style and characterization. Then comes his ‘Nagini Kanyer Kahini.’ This book, like his ‘Kavi’ is almost a lyric. In it he deals with the peculiar life with their peculiar approach to life and their superstition. They are gypsies, catching snakes and living apart from divilised life. The tragedies of two girls, whom they worshiped as the daughter of the snake Goddess have been told very poignantly. Seldom to be met.
After this introspection has been wedded with observation and thoughtful and philosophical attitude has been added to his writings. His ‘Arogya Nikaton’, which won for the Akademi Prize, deals with the life an Indian ‘Kaviraj’ (Vaidya). He can hear the silent footfall of death from the pulse bit. He not only cures diseases by prescribing medicines but at time advices not to take any more medicine to be cured but to be prepared for death. In this novel he has, in a masterly manner, narrated the Indian attitude towards death. The famous poet Dinkar rightly wrote about this novel that here was a book, worthy of the award of Nobel Prize.
Apart from being an outstanding novelist and short storywriter he is also a dramatic quality of repute. All his writings are characterized by a dramatic quality and at least one of his dramas ‘Dui Purush’ has been widely performed and read in the country. So far about his creations upto his fifty-seventh years. Tarasankar after ‘Aragya Nikaton’ till date has written at least six novels which are worth mentioning. Without going into further details one can only finish by naming them. They are Vicharak Swaptapadi, Radha, Pancha Puttali, Kanna, Manjari Opera. Each of these later novels deals with new themes, fresh characters and separate background. Yet one never misses that they are creatures created by the master hand and they are ‘real’ man and woman with genuine emotions and passions. In these there are problems, which are eternal in nature, and the angle of vision is rather introspective in character though he never leaves the dramatic method of character delineation.
Apart from what has been said earlier it is necessary to add that in his long range of creation every shade of the society, men of all strata of the society have been represented and depicted. During the years of his literary life that ranges from 1928 to till date, almost all the trends of social and political movements have been both critically and emotionally represented.
In present day Indian literature he occupies a place of honor and in the history of Indian fiction he historically occupies a position in the great line where the great masters like Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath, Sarat Chandra and Prem Chand stand ahead of him like great luminaries. Tarasankar is still a vital force in this field and it is hoped that this creation will continue to inspire the reading public in times to come. Large numbers of his works and stories have translated into various Indian Languages and many of his stories have been included in various anthologies of European languages. Two of his novels have also been translated into English.