The claimants of the path
In my review of a Hindi movie - Apne Paraaye (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 (In Hindi, Path Ke Daavedaar) 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.
Paather Daabi or Path Ke Daavedaar (the claimants of the path) 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 (the 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 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.
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