Thursday, 18 October 2007

'Shei Shomoy' (Those days) by Sunil Gangopadhyay

I finished 'Shei Shomoy' (or 'Those Days', which I guess you have already read and enjoyed!) finally-- was a rather long, but equally enjoyable,read! I rate it as one of the best novels ever written in the historical fiction genre. To start with, the blend of real-life stars of yesteryears with fictional characters was awesome, to say the least. Vidyasagar, not really the protagonist in the book, strangely left the most lasting impression in my mind. In fact, now I have placed Vidyasagar up there in my list of the greatest men to have graced India-- along with Tagore, and my idol Gandhiji. Nabinkumar, and more importantly Ganganarayan, his elder brother, come just behind Vidyasagar. I literally wept when Ganganarayan's love, Bindubaashini died, ending her miserable life-- not only did she have to stay away from the man she loved, but she was already a widow; and then she had to stand the humiliation of being someone's hired prostitute in Benaras. And still she found enough reason to continue living after having a child!

And then when Ganga returned to fulfill his incomplete duties towards the farmers whom he once ruled, I couldn't help but idolise the man for his extreme sense of responsibility. It was somewhat good that Ganga learnt to love again-- his marriage to Kusumkumari was blissful.While Kusumkumari found a new lease of life, after her hellish marriage with a madman, Ganga found a reason to continue living. And given the useless and dreamy romantic that I am, I was of course quite happy for the two. It was also touching to note how Ganga remembers Bindu, saying that while he once again found life and love, she had to die a sad woman.

Nabinkumar (who is, I guess, based on Kaliprasanna Singha) is an altogether different story. The extremely whimsical, and yet superbly talented and kind-hearted, Nabin is torn between two different worlds. He leaves the world in a turmoil-- with lots of unfinished duties, dreams and ambitions. Nabin, is in my eyes, the best of Bengali multi-millionaires we've heard of. Not only is he extremely sensible and humane, he is always in search of something good and noble. And while all the others babus are busy engaging in wine and women, Nabin writes extensively, and tries to rid the society of evils. A rather nice thing about Nabin is that he likes people who speak frankly, and not sycophants and flatterers. One of the more subtle points in the whole book is the love triangle of Nabin, Ganga and Kusum. Nabin seems to love his wife, Sarojini, and yet he has very deep emotions for Kusumkumari. Nabin avoids talking much to Kusum, because he doesn't want to affect his brother's and his wife's lives. The more intriguing question is that: does Kusum love Nabin? Certainly seems so. After Nabin's death, Kusum is silently mourning. And yet Kusum actually still loves her husband Ganga. Isn't love a strange, and yet very beautiful, thing? Seems so to me!

Harish Mukherjee and Chandranath (the son of the prostitute 'Heera Bulbul') leave their footprints on my mind too. Harish is a tireless fighter, waging wars against oppression (and ultimately dying, leaving the whole thinking world in sorrow), while Chandranath has to fight society all his life long. Chandranath, an extremely intelligent and sensitive boy, is thrown out of school, and later hurt badly, only because he is the son of a prostitute. This makes me question: are we to blame the prostitutes for the sex trade? Don't the two-faced babus themselves go to the sex-workers, and later treat the same people as scum? Isn't the world a hypocrite's paradise? Determined to fight on, Chandranath returns as a gentleman, to eradicate blind-belief in sadhus, yogis and other crooks. It's quite funny to see how Chandranath turns the 'faithful' crowd of devotees against the very babas they worship. Ironically, Chandranath still has to fight society-- babus burn his house down and hurt him very badly, because he saves a prostitute from the hungry and violent claws of the rich and the famous. It's a cruel decision of fate by which Chandranath and Nabin never get to become good friends-- something that has saddened me quite a lot. The other figures whom I shall distinctly and fondly remember are Raimohan (I believe each society needs a master whistle-blower like him), 'Young Bengal', and of course, Michael Madhusudhan Dutta.

The hate-figures finally! Barring the usual plethora of disgusting babus and orthodox Hindus, I hated Bidhushekhar the most. Strange, isn't it? Let me explain. Bidhu never looked at Bimbabati with respect-- all he had for her was lust. What was most disgusting was the way Bidhu forgave his lust all by himself-- all the while saying that Ganga was wrong to desire his daughter, Bindu. That is damned hypocrisy! Also worth mention is the attitude with which Bidhu treated the Singhas-- he kept repeating in his mind that he could destroy the Singhas if he wished too, and the only reason why he didn't do so was his love for his late friend Ramkamal Singha. I believe no true friend ever thinks such about a "dear friend's" family! Also in the list of hate-figures is Thaakomoni, the widowed woman who went onto become a servant, and then the boss of them, in the Singha mansion. One can say that fate had forced her to become the way she was-- I say that if we don't allow fate to take control of us, we can always be free.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sudipto,

I just read the review of Shei Shomoy you've sent. I really think that was a poignant summary of a rich and vast novel as this one... I am absolutely ashamed of myself that even being a Bengali, i don't read it's literature which is so deep and divine. After my 12th Board exams get over, i'll sit with all of them - Bibhutibhushan, Tarashankar, Rabindranath, Sunil, Shirshendu,...(hfff! All of them??! it seems too vast!)

Though i haven't read Bengali literature, i'm totally a freaked out fan of Bengla gaan(bishesh kore rabindrasangeet amar moner aash metay), black and white celluloid, poetry... Oboshsho shobei amar ektu old-fashioned.

For the past Puja, this one is for you:-
"Phuler malar, diper aalor, dhuper dhoyar, pichhon hote paine shujog charan chhoyar,
Staber banir adal tani tomay dhaki,
Tomar pujar chholei tomay bhulei thaki..."
Jawa to noy jawa, tumi amader monei theko maa, andhokar ghuchiye jogote aaro aalo dio...


P.S:- My e-mail id is:

Pushkar said...

very nice commentary.
i disagree about thakomoni though, she's an uneducated village woman in a wstrange new world. i really do not think that she would have the skills to ride it out and stick to her principles, note that she had no support whatsoever. i also despise the way she becomes their master, but then again i only feel pity for her at the end, she was truly a pawn, never anything more.

Angshuman Pal said...

The days pass but Sei Samay never gets old! So here is a 21yo commenting on this very nice post in December 2017.

It has been around three months since I finished the book, and this wonderful flashback today was rejuvenating. I would be hard pressed to find another Bengali novel which has left as profound an effect on me as Sei Samay and Kaalbela.

It was good to know another reader's view on the novel, most of which matched with mine. My respect for Vidyasagar certainly increased exponentially after Sei Samay, as decreased my opinion for certain other elements of 19th century urban Bengali society. Maybe you ought to have given some emphasis on the Sepoy Mutiny as well!

It was even better to note that there have been other readers who have had this profound an influence of the novel upon themselves. In case any of you are still tracking this post, or if anyone finds this after me, I would love to read your contributions to this discussion.

Let the internet be a uniting place for all!