Stories from Saratchandra Chattopadhyay Present Life Lessons in a Subtle Manner

Stories from Saratchandra: Innocence and Reality by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, published by Rupa, is a translation of his original work in Bengali. Also known as Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, is one of the most famous literary figures in Bengali literature. His most famous novel, Devdas, has been converted into films in many languages. Parineeta, Apne Paraya, and Khushboo, are some of the other films that were based on his stories and novels. I had been wanting to read his short stories for long. This book, translated by Anindita Mukhopadhyay, published by Rupa, gave me the perfect opportunity to familiarise myself with Bengali literature, and particularly his literary genius, more closely. The book, divided into two sections, is a selection of twelve short stories. The first part contains stories from his childhood, while the second part contains stories based on casteism and social hierarchy, among other subjects.

The first section has stories that look at the world through the lens of a child. The language reveals the innocence and mischievousness of childhood and coupled with a curiosity, that is common at this age, presents a slice of life that is entertaining and educating at the same time. The second section has stories from the author’s adult life and deals with stronger subjects like caste politics and social structures, and offers a glimpse of Bengal through the author’s eyes as an adult. Through these stories, the author raises some very critical questions, and makes some relevant and thought-provoking realizations. The contrast between the educated and illiterate, the lower class and the upper class, and rationality and superstitions is very well brought out through the stories that attempt to tell the incidents as they happened without the influence of the narrator’s own opinions. The stories present life lessons in a subtle manner, through unforgettable incidents and relatable characters, and mixed with the incisive social commentary prove to be a powerful narrative. Initially, the stories start with a light entertaining narrative (Laalu -all three parts, the Memories of Deoghar), slowing increasing in violence and making a stronger statement in later stories (Haricharan). Stories like the ‘The Child Snatchers’ and ‘Bilasi’ present the caste divide more strongly than ‘A Day’s Tale from Some Fifty Years Ago.’ The language is simple; with combined with the use of colloquial words and phrases it adds a local flavour. Most of his stories are relevant even in today’s times. One line that particularly stood out for me and reminded me of cruel, not to mention regressive, social crimes plaguing the country even today, was – “It is the power of love that is difficult for the people of this country to understand.”

The stories were so engaging that not once did I feel as if I was reading something that was written over a century ago. The translator’s note at the beginning adds more depth and understanding to the stories and Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s work. I commend the selection of stories for they must have picked up just those stories that still have relevance today. But, I am hoping for a day when his stories, like some of his other stories, including Sati, would be read to understand an India that once existed instead of an India that still exists. Have we really not progressed from then, at all? If these stories were relevant then, have we not imbibed any lessons, how is it that they remain relevant even now? Worse, for how many centuries would we have to keep fighting the same fights? This was the first time I read a translated book and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reviewed by: Piyusha Vir

She turned to writing in 2015, and has since then published articles in various magazines and websites including SHEROES, MyCity4Kids, WomensWeb, and LBB Delhi. When not writing (insane articles that defy all logic; read them all on her blog Wandering Soul Writer) or reading (books that she never seems to be able to finish), she is found day-dreaming about being the next JK Rowling. She is currently working on her novel, which may release sometime before her next rebirth.

Author(s): Saratchandra Chattopadhyay
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: January 2018
Genre: Fiction/Translation
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