A good book is that leaves as many questions in the reader’s head as it answers.
‘Charitraheen‘ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is one such book which makes the reader pierce its conscience as many times as do the characters in this epic novel do.
This book written about a hundred years ago depicts the Indian society of the time and reflects on the complexities and subtleties of man-woman relationship. One goes off wandering about looking for the character who meets the title adjective of the book ‘Charitraheen’ (without any morals).
Is it Satish who falls in love for a maid working at his place and later tries to hate her because he thinks she left him for another man for money. Or is it Savitri, the maid who absconds with a secret in her heart which she will not reveal till the end. She loved Satish, but did not think herself worthy of him. He is the son of a wealthy man and belongs to an upper caste but the origins of Savitri’s caste are not revealed to anyone and since it was considered to be folly to love and marry outside caste in the then India (a practice still prevalent to a great extent), Satish who is an observant Brahmin does not find the courage to reveal his feelings for Savitri out in public.
Is it Kiranmayee who was deprived of love from her own husband and when her husband is dying of a fatal disease, she realizes that she never loved him. She looks for love everywhere but finds its expression in Upendra. Upendra who is unaware of this, despises her when she tells about her feelings.
Or is it Divakar, who mistakes lust for love and makes it his becoming turning into a miserable wretch. He feels he has committed a crime when Kiranmayee asks him to take her away.
Everyone commits one cardinal sin, they fall in love or mistake lust for love. All characters are in dilemma how to make this wrong correct. But in the end when everything is falling right, the reader is left baffled as to why did Upendra not allow Satish to marry Savitri. They love each other, the doubts about Savitri’s character and intentions have been cleared to everybody. She is the one who has sacrificed everything so far and yet again is asked to sacrifice. Was it because, the writer wanted to reveal the hypocrisy of society by not letting two lovers meet or because he did not consider this love to be pure? As a writer and a person, Sarat Babu had denied all the hypocrisies of the society and revealed the true nature of human relationships, so probably it is the former.
Kiranmayee, the unfortunate widow who lives her life as an experiment and is the only rational character, who understands and believes in reason, but goes mad in the end. It goes on to show another hypocrisy of the society.
If you try to talk reason to the presumably sane, you may go insane.
Picture Courtesy: Ahranya© (The cover of ‘Charitraheen’, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Published by Vani Prakashan, New Delhi)
** Contains Spoilers