On my ‘Blogiversary’ I tend to share something very close and personal. So today, I share about my recent family trip to my favourite author’s house, now protected as a heritage-historical site under the West Bengal Heritage Commission Act. I am talking about the great Bengali novelist and story writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and his home for twelve years in Samta village near Panitras in Howrah district of West Bengal.
Many of my readers might not have heard of this great author but his connection to Bollywood can definitely make him recognisable at once. No, he never had any direct connection to Bollywood but his literary works did have a major impact on the film industry.
Devdas, Parineeta, ‘Bindur Chele’ (movie ‘Choti Bahu’ was based on), Majhli Didi, Swami, Charitraheen are among his masterpieces that have been immensely popular as Hindi movies and television series. While many other literary works have been transformed into movies and soaps in other regional languages too.
I have been a big fan of his works since my teens when I first got the taste of his work through his novel Devdas. Then I kept on reading one after the other – short stories, then novel, then again a short story, as and when I could manage my time.
My father has always been another factor in instilling interest in me for Sarat Chandra’s works. His collection of books were full with the literary works of Chattopadhyay. And this easy access to the books was one more reason for my new found addiction then.
I went on with ‘Niskriti’, ‘Pallisamaj’, ‘Mejdidi’, ‘Mahesh’, ‘Darpachurna’, ‘Parinita’, ‘Datta’, ‘Charitrahin’, ‘Srikanta’, ‘Griha Daha’ and so on. His works were based on the then socio-political situation and the prevailing conditions of women. He used to depict every emotion and pain in a very distinctive way with a personal touch that got my young mind and soul captured to become one with the character.
Among all his other works and all my other favourites, I would like to talk about ‘Srikanta’ which I asses to be the best of all. I fell in love with Srikanta, I became one with the character, it seemed that I went with him through all the adventures undertaken by him in the novel. The novel was initially published in four parts.
My young brain and my soul got soaked into the novel. I was immensely fascinated by the character of Srikanta. He was a strong character, thoughtful yet carefree. He was an adventure seeker, a traveller who not only travelled physically but also spiritually. The character became my all-time favourite hero. The time and society when and where the plot was devised might be very different from this day but it hardly mattered to me and it took me along with Srikanta through his adventures of life.
I still get absorbed while talking about the novel. Srikanta as a whole has never been adapted to any movie. Various directors and producers may have their own personal favourite. There also may be other factors that decide whether a novel or a story is best suited for screen adaptation or not. To me who is not much of a movie fan, it hardly matters and I think Srikanta is the best of his creation.
It is said that this novel is partly autobiographical as he penned some of his life experiences to that of Srikanta. He combined it with the then social scenario, incidents and his imagination to create the extraordinary masterpiece – Srikanta.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay was born in a small village in Debanandapur in Hooghly district of West Bengal on 15 September 1876. He was born to a poor family with his father Motilal Chattopadhyay being a daydreamer idling around his days without any regular source of income. He spent his childhood along with his mother Bhubanmohini and his siblings in his maternal grandfather’s place in Bhagalpur in Bihar.
Since his childhood, he was adventurous and meritorious. Even after clearing the entrance examination he could not continue further studies in the college due to financial crisis. He started giving wings to his imagination since his teens and many of his renowned novels and stories were written during this period.
He moved to Rangoon (now Myanmar) in the year 1893. There he worked for the railways and public works account office. A part of Srikanta novel was based on his experiences in Burma. In Rangoon, he married Shanti for the first time and they had a son. His wife and one-year-old son died of the plague in Burma. He remarried an adolescent widow Mokhasda (later renamed Hironmoyee) for the second time. He taught her to read and write.
By then he was a well-recognised author and has many of his works published and acclaimed. He returned back to India in 1916 and settled in Samta village in Howrah District of West Bengal which is close to Panitras his sister’s home. His new home was a two-storied Burmese style house by the banks of Rupnarayan River. He fenced his property including ponds and paddy fields adjacent to his house and named the place Samtaber.
Sarat Chandra’s writings were bold and against the social injustice and superstition associated with Hindu orthodox society then. He portrayed the downtrodden and fallen women of the society and their feelings and aspirations. He beautifully delved inside the heart of women and brought out their emotions and character in an extraordinarily simple yet touching manner that gave his writing the unique identity.
He has seen the life of poverty and has been closely associated with the inequality of the prevailing society and the caste system. He belonged to the upper-class Hindu Brahmin family but he mingled with people of all class and caste. He often experienced resentment from the conservative class and influential men of the time for his open-mindedness and bold works (as considered during that period). In his works, he depicted women to be outspoken and strong-willed which was in high contrast to the prevailing times where they were confined to their homes under the rules of their men.
During his stay in this house in Samtaber, he wrote many stories including Mahesh and Ramer Sumati. The other major works published during this phase were Devdas, Datta, Dena Paona, Baikunther Will and Niskriti. The trunk of the guava tree that was planted by the author himself and has its mention in the story Ramer Sumati is still seen preserved in the courtyard. He also had two pet fishes with golden nose rings in the pond in front of his house – a Rohu and a Catla named Kartik and Ganesh.
The house has been converted into a museum with items used by him during his stay. The ground floor has three rooms which were used by him. The small one facing the river was used for writing. The next one was used as a living room where he held meetings with his nationalist companions including Subash Chandra Bose, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and others. While the last one was used as a dispensary where he used to practice homoeopathy medicines for the poor villagers and also as the worship room.
An elderly caretaker appointed by the government looks after the house and also guides the visitors in batches to show them around. The first floor had the room of his brother Swami Vedananda who was the disciple of Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math. Sarat Chandra stayed here for twelve years before moving to Aswini Dutta road in Kolkata where he died at the age of 62 years because of liver cancer on 16 January 1938. Samadhi of Sarat Chandra, his second wife and his brother lies beside the Sarat Kuthi here.
I was in Sarat Chandra Kuthi in Samtaber near Panitras and watched his peaceful abode surrounded in green beside the river the course of which has moved far today. I wondered wide-eyed in awe, watching the items used by the author who felt the heart of a woman, who portrayed woman and her pain in a way that surpassed all bindings of age, society and time that remained fresh and can be perceived even today.