ORTHODOXY Vs NEEDS OF THE HOUR IN THE NOVELS OF BHABHANI BHATTACHARYA
BY DR. RAM SHARMA, MEERUT, INDIA
Bhattacharya has a firm belief in the synthesis of the opposites to describe the social history of the country, the essential conflict between orthodoxy and modernism in the wake of newly achieved freedom. According to Bhattacharya the Indian social Tradition and orthodoxy are the variance with the requirement of the clay. A man can not live without society, a society also can not flourish without men. In Bhabani Bhattacharya‘s novel So Many Hungers, in the family of Samarendra Basu, all the members have different attitudes, natures and- views of life. His father Devata is .just opposite of him. No one can say that he is the on of Devata. I lis sons Rahoul and Kunal are also different in nature as his father. They all are the representatives of the different ages, Devata represents the old age and Samarendra represents the middle age and his sons Rahoul and Kunal are the representatives of the youth. They all have different attitudes and ideas and even then they do not criticize each other. Devata lives in a village, far from the materialistic life of the city Calcutta. He believes in simple living and high thinking. Rahoul‘s wife, Mai* describes him:
―Grandfather. An eccentric. He had odd ideas. Ever since he retired from his work as a teacher at a city school he had lived by himself in a village not far from the sea; he lived like one of the peasant folk‖i(p.14).
He joins the Freedom Movement when the congress launches it against the British Government. He went to jail several times. He always thinks about the welfare of the villagers.
Samarendra Basu on the other hand, is a lawyer and he is a money minded man. He always thinks about money and his profit. He buys rice from the peasants at very low price and then hoards it hike price. He ‗does not care that thousands of people are dying from hunger and even a single time he doesn‘t think of helping the poor people. Rather the only thought that wanders in his mind is how to gain profit. For him the only meaning of war is to earn more and more money, it is an opportunity for him of making money. It‘s an irony that he is the son of Devata and father of Rahoul and Kunal but he has different interests, ideas and dreams of life than his father and sons.
Rahoul is a scholar and a devoted student. Ile loves his grandmother a lot and wants to become just like his Dadu and not like his father. He takes active pail in the Freedom movement and tries his best to solve the problem of hunger for the peasants. He tells the villagers not to sell
their rice at low price because their this deed would be harmful for
them. He is a staunch nationalist who finally throws in his lot with the
struggling masses. He gives a passionate speech to the students: ―With bitter smouldering rage he had been speaking to the students circle The anger was warm in his voice, and he had paused till his speech was cool again. ―Quit‖ cried all India. ―You have clone us some good along with much evil. For the good you‘ve done you have been paid in full. The accounts have been settled. Now, for God‘s sake, Quit!‖(p.212)
Rahoul‘s younger brother Kunal, is a spirited young man. He does not bother about idealism nationalistic fervour. He is realistic and takes life as it comes in his way. He is entirely different from his family and he prefers an army career. He has also faith in certain moral values and helps a needy Youngman in solving his food-problem by vacating the post he held.
Rahoul was not happy firstly when Kajoli touched his feet but later he calls Kajoli‘s mother ―Mother‖, it is a synthesis between the tradition and the modernity because he is a sophisticated and educated man of city and mixed up with the peasant woman. Bhattacharya expresses this idea through the dialogue between them:
―Father is well! Mother?‖ She asked out of politeness ―Bau-ma (daughter-in-law)? The little one?‖ ―Yes mother, they are well.‖ Mother! The word had slipped his tongue without thought. I lappiness came upon him that he had broken out of his class sophistication and called a simple peasant mother The simple peasant mother had lears in her eyes because of his kindness. (99-100)
In this way we see that there is a harmonious relationship between
each character. All the members of the Basu family have different
ways of life and thinking but they never fight with each other. They
know how to adjust with one another.
Music For Mohini, hints at the essential conflict between orthodoxy and modernism, between the old and the new, between the east and the west and between body and spirit but by and by the clash becomes less and reaches the ideal stage of reconciliation and synthesis. The old mother of Mohini, the mother of Jayadev, the grandfather of Sudha and the father of Harindra have faith in old values while Jayadev, Harindra, Mohini, her father and Sudha have new ideas and attitudes. Mohini‘s father is a professor and she wants his daughter‘s up‖bringing in a modern way. That‘s why he wants to send her in an English convent school but her grandmother was against it and she
wants her to learn classical Sanskrit in place of English because she thinks that Sanskrit is the language of the gods and it‘s the main source of the true knowledge and wisdom. When Mohini gets a contract to sing for all-India Radio once a week, conflict starts between her father and grandmother. Her father was very happy after getting this news but her grandmother scolds the father for praising Mohini. She angerly says to her son:
―I won‘t have this family disgraced. Rogues and roughs and scamps. all the vagabonds and cutthroats in the four bazaars mouthing the name of our girls with a leer, befouling it, and they make her sing at their bidding-
Then there is an another contrast between orthodoxy and modernism, between old and new. Mohini‘s marriage to Jayadev who belongs to a very orthodox family named, The Big House of Behula. While she is a modern city girl and she is modern by her thoughts because of her father‘s teaching. Regarding marriage there was a great difference between the two. Jayadev thinks that marriage is a spiritual union while Mohini thinks that it is a physical aspect of life. Mohini tried her best to adjust with the old ways and disciplines of The Big House. She realizes that her mother-in-law is more traditional and orthodox than
her old mother. Jayadev tells her that she has to face a lot of difficulties in the new house because she has been brought up in a different environment. Mohini‘s mother-in-law advises her not to use powder, not to wear a sleeveless blouse, etc. while trying her best to compromise with old ways and discipline of the house, she realizes that the old mother is a synthesis of the old and the new, her mother- in-law is all for the traditional ways of life. With the passage of time, the two-mother and Mohini-representing the old and the new, adjust with each other and live in harmony.
Bhattacharya‘s depiction of the conflict between orthodoxy and Modernism reaches its climax when the mother blindly by her orthodox superstitions, wants Mohini to offer her blood to the Goddess in the primitive way to get rid of her barrenness. But Jayadev sternly opposes it. Again, Bhattacharya gives an example of Harindra and his rather Kabiraj about different views on Indian medicines i.e. Ayurveda and western medicine, father believes in Indian medicines but son believes in the western medicines, between the Indian and Western styles of medicine. Jayadev is more a thinker than an action- oriented man. So his thoughts has to be supplemented with action. His friend Harindra joins him in order to give his idea the shape of action. Harindra, a city educated surgeon is called by his friend Jayadev in the
village to open a dispensary and also to ―join the forces of progress in an open clash with reaction‖. Jayadev‘s provision of ideological base and Harindra‘s execution of that base into action bring the villagers round to the enlig,htment of reason symbolizing synthesis between reason and tradition. With the help of the ‗ruffians‘, they clear the village pond that has become a breeding ground of mosquitoes. Jayadev opposes childs marriage and supports widow re-marriage. He is not in favour of using the latest solutions for the problems of India, his conviction being that the methods used by each country should be inconsonace with its tradition and culture. He was a scholar of vedic studies. so he read ancient thoughts in today‘s light. He was not in favour of retaining the dead past. His personality is a healthy mixture of the old and the new, the Indian and the western values. He is dedicated to the task of bringing about a synthesis of the cultural patterns of East and the west. When Mohini meets his sister Rooplekha, at the Big House, she explains his essential nature ― A strong mixture of the old and new is he, the new learning holds him as much as the old. He is a man with the message for his country.‖3 Jayadev is not in favour of using the latest solutions for the problems of India.
Bhattacharya believes that city and village should live in peace and not in conflict, the two should come close to each other. Through Rooplekha, Bhattacharya expresses his conviction that there exists a great gulf between a city and village. Rooplekha tells Mohini that the city and the village are apart and that they should exist apart. Jayadev‘s mother thinks that the city education spoils the children and it is against Indian tradition. The Old Mother thinks that Mohini would never be able to live harmoniously with the villagers because she belongs to the city in spirit. But both Mohini and Rooplekha prove that an adjustment of the two different modes of life is possible. Then there is a fight between the karma of the orthodox Indian style and the karma of the western style. The Indian karma stands for fate or belief in the nature. It means that all that we get from God whether it is good or bad is just because of our past deeds and we cannot do anything against it and we can‘t fight against it and we have to act just like a passive character. but the western karma stands for freedom to act. As per astrological prediction Jayadev will not survive his twenty eight birthday if a child is not born of him by then. Then his mother insists Mohini‘s blood letting on to The Goddess of Birth but inspite of her refusal she gets easily convinced. Instead she is already conceived and
provides her mother-in-law a moment of insight in which she understands her son first time.
―...and for the first time, she could see her son clearly. His ideas, his point of view, molded by the new spirit in the land, were different from hers and opposed to them, but they were, nonetheless, true ideals. Right and wrong, he had honest faith in his set of values, his set of tools for improving life. How could she have misjudged him so completely or think him debased? In that moment of insight, the mother almost understood her son and, through him, the new revolt, the restless spirit of the new dawn‖4 (p.187).
Man is free to accept the old, change it or replace it.
Music for Mohini is the theme of harmonisation of many contrastive aspects of human life in the Hindu society of post- independence India. It‘s not merely a contrast of the old and the new or between the orthodox and modernism or between the east and the west and between body and spirit, but the reconciliation and synthesis of the two.
He who Rides a Tiger, is an attempt to remove class and caste barriers so as to achieve their synthesis. Kalo and his daughter suffer a lot just
because of their caste. Iiis daughter Chandralckha is a brilliant child and she always stands first in her class but no one praises her because she belongs to a low caste. Kalo, is a simple man and the blacksmith of Marna town. He has a firm faith in the traditional values of life. He is ―a men of accepted convention‖ he wants to know why the injustice, castism and inhumanity is spread all over. Due to the poverty and hunger he has to leave his village and to go to Calcutta but on the way he is hungry that‘s why he steals two bananas and just because of that he has to go to .jail. After three months imprisonment he works as a brothel-house agent but when he sees Lekha‘s degradation and humiliation in the harlot-house, these are the factors which turn him in a social rebel. He leaves all the old values which he has lived his past life and starts his war against the entire social system:
―His battle was with the accuser, the centuries-old tradition, from which has become the inner climate of his being Kalo had not only to deny but to eradicate the values by which he had been bred: lie had to cut his social taproot and give up his inheritance.‖ °
Kalo disguises himself as a Brahmin and he is called Mangal Adhikari by name. I le acquires a great height or position in the disguise of
Mangal Adhikari, the priest of Shiva temple to whom even the richest person would bow-down with respect. The people respect him a lot and they think that he has a great power to reduce the pain of the people. He befools all those bloated with caste pride. He boldly tells the wealthy people or Calcutta that he is a downtrodden `Kamar‘, has been in possession of their inmost souls-souls corrupted by caste and cash. He makes himself Brahmin and puts the scared thread across his chest. He exposes the hollowness of caste harriers and thus returns from where lie has started his journey, he is no more the Kalo of the past now.
Bhabani Bhattacharya in this novel attacks against the distinctions of castes, classes and vehemently pleads for their synthesis. Motichand one of the richest man in Calcutta wants to marry Chanderlekha. When Kalo opposes his daughter‘s wish to marry him she says that he (Motichand) is a man who does not believe in casteism. Then B-10 by caste he is a Brahmin, shakes off his Brahminhood as he finds it worthless. He wants to marry Chanderlekha because he loves her and he knows that she belongs to the lowest caste and without any obstacle he marries Chandralekha. Thus the novelist, Bhabani Bhattacharya, stresses the integration of the highest and the lOwest castes.
A Goddess Named Gold, touches the theme of synthesis. in a very effective and interesting manner. Bhattacharya‘s belief that, ‗Life is all compromise‘ finds expression in the relationship between Lakshmi and her husband Seth. Lakshmi is a kind woman, she always thinks about the welfare of Sonamitti village and she is one of the six noble women of the village who are busy in doing the welfare of the village. She is wife of the richest merchant of the village but he is inhuman and ever busy in making money at the cost of the poor people. She is against her husband with the village women and a nationalist and takes part in the Freedom Movement, Seth is a wicked and an unpatriotic, while Lakshmi is a patriotic and a great nationalist:
―...She had gone to prison with two hundred others, both
men and women, but her husband? On the crucial day set
for saluting the national flag, an act against the
Englishman‘s law, he had managed to disappear. He was
said to be away on a business trip to town. but the people
of Sonamitti felt sure that he was in hiding, he would
show himself when the strom had passed. A stigma had
clung to him since then.‘ (p14)
They both have different ways of life and attitudes, thinking and ideas even then they both live together. So this is Bhattacharya‘s belief in
the importance of adjustment in life. Adjustment is a common place between man-woman relationship, true union between man and woman is very difficult and rare and is possible only when the two treat each other as equals:
―Where is true union between man and woman unless they accept each other as equals? You can not worship and yet despair. It is the conceit in you that makes you despise.‖8
In fact true union between husband and wife, according to Bhattacharya, is possible only when both stand on the same level. We can .see the synthesis of the tragic and the comic, social and asocial, dream elements and practical wisdom in the character of Atmaram. His life is the combination of both the happy and unhappy and he composed and sung tragic as well as comic songs:
―The throat of listeners grew thick with feeling when his theme was tragic: but when he made mock of bigwigs in doggerel he had composed, there was much laughter.-(p48)
He teaches the villager a lot of wisdom, the practical wisdom. He gives Meera an amulet in an act of practical wisdom. He wants to escape from his life that‘s why he goes to the mountains for months
but after that returns and takes part in the Freedom Movement that is present in the village on Independence Day. Meera and Seth were opposite to each other but when Atmaram gives her an amulet and says that is has the power to change copper into gold, if she does a good work. Then Seth offers her a partnership on fifty-fifty basis and gives her copper in favour of gold but his all dreams are shattered when Meera throws the amulet into the river, they both are opposite to each other rather they start a joint business. In this way we see that Lakshmi, Seth. Meera and Atmaram are different in nature but they try to adjust with each other.
In Shadow From Ladakh, reflects and creates Bhattacharya‘s concern with the synthesis through co-existence and cooperation of the old and new modes of economy. This novel preaches by implication... that India needs a blending of divergent sets of values if she is to cope with the challenge of the time.‖9 The novel deals with conflict and. compromise between two modes of lire represented by Gandhigram and Steel town. The novel deals with the conflict between Gandhian social and political ethics and the modern forces of science and technology. The menacing background of the Chinese aggression against India starting in October 1962 and in this wake of Chinese aggression, the country was facing the desperate need to match its
policies with the contemporary geo-political realities of the world. Stealtown stands for the modern, western industrialisation while the Gandhigram represents the old, Eastern values of life.
In this novel two major characters Satyajit and Bhaskar represents two different attitudes of life. One believes in the Gandhian ideologies and the second in the modern forces of science and technology. Satyajit believes in Gandhian way of life and is the leader of Gandhigram, a true Gandhian in his thought and a true Tagorean in his educational and aesthetic ideals. He believes in Gandhian philosophy of life, believes in simple living and high thinking. Bhaskar is against Satyajitism, has created a new westernized kind of life centred around steel civilization in Steel town. He believes in the western ways of life and industrialization. Bhattacharya is of the opinion that industrial revolution, should not be to transform Indian life into mechanical life. He is of the view that for development of the country on all fronts, there should be a synthesis of the spinning wheel and the spindle.
In the sphere of education. the village follows the basic scheme of craft centred teaching advocated by Gandhiji. Gandhian ethics is reflected in Gandhigram seekino, to build up a new set of values, the most important among them being full equality, non-violence, unreserved fraternity. Satyajit applies the principle of Gandhian
economics and ethics in the regulation of the life of Gandhigram and the conduct of his own life. Satyajit has been selected to guide the destinies of this ideal village so that it may become a model for other villages. He is an embodiment of Gandhi and his ideologies. He is a firm believer in non-violence and plans for a peace March to Ladakh in the hope that he would touch the hearts of the Chinese and make them give up their aggressive intentions. He believes in the idea of facing hatred with love. At all three levels — economic, personal and international, Satyajitism faces antagonistic forces. The Gandhian economics and idyllic life is disturbed by the industrialization. Bhaskar, the young Chief Engineer of the steel factory, with his American training and highly westernized outlook. represents a three dimensional opposition to Satya.iit and Satyajitism. He believes that steel, standing for mass production, is the only solution of India‘s growing population. Similarly, steel is the only shield that can protect infant Indian democracy against all enemies threatening her freedom and security. He argues:
Steel means economic progress. Machine tools, tractors, big industrial plants Development plus defence — a compulsion of our current history. Bhaskar thinks
Gandhigram ―A road block in the path of progress‖ (p.200)
Shadow From Ladakh about to extend to which industralisation is relevant to the Indian situation. Bhaskar and Satyajit represents two opposing points of view in the debate. The board of Directors of the unit of Lohapur steel company finally approves his scheme of expansion and Nehru‘s Government gives him the permission for expansion. This Chinese invasion justifies Bhaskar‘s standpoint and gives added urgency in executing his plan. Bhaskar an embodiment of Nehru‘s vision of industry based economy, has the conviction that salvation of the country lies in industrialization. At the material level he thinks that the problem of India‘s rapidly growl rig population can he solved only by adequate production of the necessities of civilized life. He thinks that Gandhigram is the only main hurdle in his path of industrialisation for he is a man with a soul force ready to match any political or legal pressure. On the other hand, Satyajit is rocked by two burning problems the peril of the country from China‘s attack and the peril of Gandhigram being swallowed up by Steel town.
Bhattacharya‘s method of presentation of the historical perspective is one of the contrast and comparison, the contrast is not just between Steel town and Gandhigram but it is between two opposite thoughts, it
is between two contrary ways of life, it is not between the old and modern thoughts. In this manner, by comparing the activities of Gandhigram and Steel town, the novelist is able to comment on the socio-political, economic, cultural and ethical situation of the country in the wake of Chinese attack.
Before we appreciate the synthesis properly, we should understand the character of Bhaskar. Bhaskar is a thorough Indian. A careful reading of the novel reveals that Bhaskar‘s stay in America for twelve years could not turn him into a cruel industrialist. His westernization is superficial, while he is genuinely an Indian. He was against the Gandhigram and grabbed it at one go but he did not do just because of his Indianess. His Indianess consists in conquering opponents through love and understanding. Rupa a modern girl of her thoughts, is a west- oriented character, observing in her own way the dilemma of every Indian who has been to the west, says, ―The truth is that America as a whole has meant nothing to you. You brought back the industrial know-how. This is the case with every Indian. He goes to the west and becomes a new person. He returns home and at once he is a complete Rupa understands but not the whole truth about him. Unlike Rupa, Bhaskar seems to have in him the spirit of the existence of the western technical know how and the spiritual values of India. It finds
expression in his construction of the Meadow house as a common centre for both Steel town and Gandhigram. In this way he paves the way for the coexistence and cooperation of the two otherwise contrary systems of values. Now he understands the importance of the spinning wheel which the novelist invests with spirituality with in the context of this new evolutionary cooperation. Bhaskar leads a procession of the Steel town people to Ciandigram to persuade Satyajit to end his fast. This gesture is symbolic of the intermixture of the two ways of life, one believes in simple living and high thinking but the other believes in modernism and the two represented by the spinning wheel and the spindle i.e. spiritualism and materialism. Bhattacharya here seems to maintain that the coexistence and cooperation of the old and the new will be effective and genuine if the new will be effective and genuine if the new thinkers are also made to re-educate themselves towards understanding the value of traditional factors as the old folk anyway are being made to re-educate themselves in the modern direction. Satyajit‘s plan for forming a shanty-sena is born of his faith in Gandhi‘s gospel of non-violence. Gandhiji believed that the human spirit had the power to prevail over armaments and armies.
He feels that Shantisena could touch the hearts of Chinese and draw them away f-rom their aggressive designs. The Government‘s turning
clown of Satyajit‘s request for arranging a peace march to Ladakh is suggestive of India‘s declining belief in the Gandhian principle of non-violence, in the wake of the recent threats along the border. Bhaskar is of the opinion that India who has been a slave to the Britishers and Muslims should achieve her full share of free and happy life Bhaskar is, in a way, the supporter of the change in the wake of the industrial revolution. Bhaskar is intelligent and imaginative enough to understand that he may not succeed in making his view point adopted by people through mere force. He is of the opinion that such changes in social structure does take place slowly. Bhaskar‘s fight against the old mores is not limited to the economic plane alone. It touches every facet of life. His clash with Satyajit is the clash between differing sets of cultural values. Satyajit‘s attitude to life is one that of an asthetic which means simple living, poverty, self-help, an infinite capacity to bear suffering, etc. This attitude of his comes to be called ―Satyajitism‖ in the novel. He brings up his daughter, Sumita, in his own mould. She is a symbol of austerity, wearing only white sari, going about bare-footed and eschewing the red mark of personal adornement on her forehead. She does not understand the language of nature and the natural compulsions. Bhaskar dubs `Satyajitism‘ or Indian asceticism as conservative reaction and fights it
booth and nail. He loves life and all those things that make it beautiful and rich. He takes upon himself the re-education of Satyajit via Sumita. Bhaskar takes Sumita twice to a deserted temple and draws her attention to a sculptured portrayal of love on a column of the temple. On her first visit, Sumita betrays ignorant insensitiveness to the sculptured vitality. But on her second visit, her response to the same object is the response of a normal healthy girl of her age. She awakes to full womanhood. The natural development is love and marriage with Bhaskar. Satyajit too realizes that he had imposed himself artificial restrictions and also undergoes a change. He realizes that he has not been fair to his wife, Suruchi, by denying her the claim of a woman‘s primal urge to be nothing but a woman. Satyajit‘s reawakening to the aesthetic aspect of life symbolizes the fact that the Indian traditional values centring round asceticism by way of spiritual richness need to supplemented with the western values emphasizing aestheticism, for only in their union and cooperation lies the resolution of all discords in the Indian society and the music of the Indian hopes of progress.
Bhattacharya‘s portrayal of the importance of ‗Meadow House‘ activities is suggestive of the fact that writer is defending the modernist developments. Meadow ilouse encourages cultural
activities and provides recreation. It is to be a meeting place of Steel town and Gandhigram. In a way Meadow House is a symbol of a planned opposition to the traditional, custom-bound Satyajitism on the socio-cultural plane. Throughout the novel Bhattacharya concentrates upon the problems of bridging the gulf between the old and the new. East and West, and the different cultures so as to bring about their integration.
Suruchi is the first person to comprehend the synthesis of traditional and modern values of life. She favours the harmonious blending of the old and the new which can help in lending a healthy and happy mode of life. Satyajit and Bhaskar realize the essence of one another for the benefit of the country. For Chandrasekhran, it is not a co-existence of different ideologies but a reconciliation and an apt plea of Bhattacharya for adopting the way of integration and synthesis of Gandhigram and Steel town. Finally Bhaskar appeals to the assembled workers to stand by Gandhigram people for all the time to come. Again the same principle of adjustment, co-existence and compromise between orthodoxy and modernism is seen in the marriage of Sumita and Bhaskar. Finally, Bhaskar‘s resolve to expand the Steel town but in another direction, allowing Gandhigram to live as long as it has
vitality with in. This is the real combination of ideologies of Gandhi and Nehru, which is what the country has today.
Bhattacharya‘s concept of compromise and integration between orthodoxy and modernism, in his attempt to project the socio‖historical realities, political. moral and spiritual, of the social history of India reflects the conflict between Gandhian views of simplicity and the new outlooks about life in the name of change.
Bhattacharya, Bhabani. So Many Hungers. Bhabani Jaico, 1974, 1974. All The Subsequent references are to the same edition.
Sharma, K.K. Affirmation of Life: The Vision and Themes of Bhabani Bhattacharya. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1979. p.97.
Bhattacharya, Bhabani. Ahrsic For Mohiui. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 1984.
Sorot, Balram S. The Novels of Bhabani Bhattacharya. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1991. p.75.
Bhattacharya, Bhabani. He Who Rides a Tiger. Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1954.
Bhattacharya, Bhabani. A Goddess Named Gold. New Delhi: Arnold — Heinemann, 1960 and revised 1984.
Sharma. K.K. Affirmation of Life: The Vision and Themes of Bhabani Bhattacharya. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1979. p. 106.
9. Bhattacharya, Bhabani. Shadow From Ladakh. Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1966 and all the subsequent references are to the same edition.
10.Sharma, K.K. Affirmation of ‗,IA,: The Vision and Themes of Bhabani Bhattacharya. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1979. p.1 13.