STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM IN THE NOVELS OF BHABANI BHATTACHARYA`S
BY DR. RAM SHARMA, SENIOR LECTURER IN ENGLISH, J.V.P.G COLLEGE, BARAUT, BAGHPAT, U.P.
Freedom is a state of mind, i.e. the freedom to be free. The people
have to feel that they are free. The denial of freedom and the struggle for it. The social exploitation and the slavish adherence to the past. Bhattacharya does not stand for all that goes in the name of Indian past. He finds that the Indian society is dominated by a ‗brilliant‘ past and hence at the present time its freedom is arrested. It is living in stagnation. Bhattacharya lived through the traumatic experience of the Bengal famine of 1942-43 and closely witnessed the struggle for political independence.
Bhabani Bhattacharya‘s first novel So Many Hunger (1947) deals with the hunger for freedom, hunger for food, hunger for power, hunger for sex, wealth, and for fame. The Bengal famine of 1943 and The Quit Movement of 1942, it has as its central theme man‘s ―hunger for food and political freedom‖I. The novel is divided into two plots — the first, story of samarendra Basu‘s family with young Rahoul as the central character and the story of a peasant family with the young girl Kajoli as the principal character. The two stories represent the freedom movement or the struggle for freedom and the agonies of the famine respectively. Desesh Basu (Deveta) is the joining link between the two
stories. He is the grandfather of the young Rahoul and father of Samarendra Bas. Samarendra Basu, a lawyer, is quite opposite of his father Devata. He is a greedy and selfish man. His only aim is to earn more and more titles and to please the British rulers. He is badly and blindly after money and for that he can do anything. By forming a trading concern with the ironic name ―cheap rice limited‖ he collects rice and hoards it, and later on sells it at a very high rate. He wants Rahoul to hold the highest post of technical advisor in New Delhi. But his castle of dreams is broken to pieces when he gets to know Kunal missing and Rahoul s arrest for joining the Quit India Movement.
The Bengal famine of (1942-43) left no section of the population untouched. For the haves it was an opportunity to fulfill their hunger for money, fame and position and for sex. The haves are behind the problems or suffering of the havenots. For the havenots, it was the hunger for food and freedom.
Bhattacharya has captured most authentically the state of the nationalist movement for freedom in all its varying aspects. Through the perspective of Rahoul. the reader has a first hand account of what every awakened Indian thought at that time. Thus, Bhattacharya is able to reveal the universal feelings of contempt for the Britishers in every Indian‘s heart, in those terrible times. The hope was that Britain,
fighting for democracy, would not deny India the same that precisely was the reason why the leaders of the national movement, especially Gandhi, at the time of the out break of the World War II are shared by Rahoul in his conversation with his younger brother Kunal. Enough evidence are mentioned here, in this novel, that there was a conflict between soft liner headed by Gandhi and the hard liners headed by Bose, on the issue of rendering help to Britishers combined with America, in the second World War. The followers of Gandhi in the Congress were of the opinion that they should support the democratic forces headed by Britain and America. Bhattacharya seems to be sympathetic with the Gandhian view. Towards the end of Chapter five, we have a telling description of this: ―And the days ran on, the weeks, the months. The national movement still stood inactive, uncertain. which way to turn. It would not hurt Britain in the grave hour of trail. That would not be ahinsa, true non-violence. The National Movement has more morality than strategy‖(p.51)
The decision of the dilemma that Indian should fight for the Britishers against Nazis was resolved. So the National Movememtn ―offered co‖operation, pledging its full strength. to the war-effort, in return for recognition of the Indian people‘s right to freedom‖ (p.42).
The authenticity of the historic event of Quit India Resolution passed on August 8, 1942, has become very evident when Rahoul read the historic Quit India Resolution over and again:
A free India will throw all her great resources into the great struggle...Freedom will enable India to resist aggression effectively with the people‘s united will and strength behind it... No future promises or guarantees can produce the needed psychological effect on the mind of the masses. Only the glow of freedom can release that energy and enthusiasm of millions of people which will immediately transform the nature of the war (p.64-65).
However, the indomitable spirit of the people can not be curbed. The frenzy for freedom reaches an unprecedented dimension with ―Sixty thousand men and women [in prison). A thousand killed, twice as many wounded. Many had been hanged after a hurried trial-peasant lads had gone to the rope crying with their last breath, ―Victory , Victory to Freedom‖ (pp.97-98). The flag saluting ceremonies are organized even in villages and leaders like Devata ―spoke the new mind, the new words of the national movement‖ (p.70). The description of these events of Indian political history is reflective of Bhattacharya deep perception into the immediate social realities of history.
Though, Bhattacharya mainly highlights the Quit India Movement, the other phases of the National Movement and the breaking of the salt law are also referred to with in the corpus of the novel. Early in the novel, the civil disobedience movement is briefly, but effectively described. Like Mahatma Gandhi in the real times of Indian history, Devata, whose character is deliberately developed along Gandhian ideals, organizes a large number of peasants and fishermen and defies the law by making salt from sea-water. He and thousands of others are sent to prison for breaking the salt law. The movement spreads over the entire country. It gets such a momentum as almost every one is ready‖ to break the salt law and be crushed into Prison‖ (p.17).
Another historical fact which Bhattacharya depicts in this novel is Jawahar Lal Nehru‘s trial in Gorakhpur Prison. Rahoul, in the manner of Nehru read the statement given by Nehru in the Court, lying on his research table:
I stand before you, Sir, as an individual, being tried for certain offences against the state. You are a symbol of that state... I too am a symbol at the present moment, a symbol of Indian nationalism, resolved to achieve the Independence of India... Perhaps it may be that, although I am standing before you on my trial it is the British
Empire itself that is on its trail before the bar of the world. There are more powerful forces at work today than courts of law; there are elemental urges of freedom and food and security which are moving vast masses of people... (pp.43-44).
Bhattacharya‘s telling description of the atrocities of the British Empire during the struggle for freedom on the masses is very much evident from his quitting of Nehru‘s statement during his trail in Gorakhpur jail. No historian can describe these barbaric events with that much of liveliness, clarity and aptness with which Bhattacharya presents them in this novel. Though Bhattacharya never records the actual dates and situations in his works as most of the history books present, even then his account of the incidents present a true and convincing picture of Indian political history of the pre-independence period.
Bhattacharya in this book has been able to put forth the bare of political history of the freedom struggle in a subtle and comprehensive manner by creating characters in the manner of national movement leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru, situations depicting the true zest for freedom struggle amongst the Indian masses. Another major socio‖historical reality that touched the creative genius of Bhattacharya in
this novel was the great Bengal Famine of 1943 which is an epitome of the second part of the story which deals with the life of Kajoli and his family living in a village known Baruni. The novel unfolds the tragic story of a largely man-made famine, in which over a million people died of sheer hunger. It is the record of the most tragic calamity in Indian history. The Bengal Famine was so horrible and harrowing that:
Human endurance ebbed Hungry Children cried themselves to death. Streams of desperate men ventured. Out of their ancestral homes in search of food hanging on to the foot boards of railways trains, riding on the sunbaked roof (pp.110-11).
The social fact of hunger in the wake of the Bengal famine shook Bhattacharya inwardly in moral and spiritual terms and compelled him to give his inner urges an artistic outlet. The novel presents the fact that under the stress of starvation, man not only loses his normal reason, he also becomes emotionally dead. Rahoul, the grandson of Devata, while reading a newspaper comes across a story of moral depravity.
―A starving mother with a child at her breast was given food at kitchen. While she etc, the child dies in her lap,
but the mother ate on. She finished her meal, and then left with her dead child.‖ (p.181)
Then there is another instance of depravity caused by hunger. A destitute woman gets some handfuls of rice after strenuous efforts throughout the day. When at sunset she lights tire and is about to take rice along with her three children, a hungry man pounces on her and runs away with the grain.
The fishing boats are destroyed by the government. The peasants are forced to sell their grain to the government agents and greedy hoarder. Finding no hope in the village, the peasants have to leave their village for city because they didn‘t find any other way to get out of these miseries and Kajoli also leaves the village and now they are ready to face uncountable difficulties.
Before leaving the village Kajoli married Kishore but her happiness in short-lived because Kishore is killed in an accident on the railway embankment on his way to Calcutta. But his tragedy is known to Kajali and her family. They begin to live on roots, figs and whatever they can get for food. A brothel agent from Calcutta tries to tempt Kajoli. She angrily rejects the offer. The mother offers Mangala to a fisherwoman attempting to bury her starving child alive. On the way to Calcutta Kajoli is raped by a soldier who had given her a piece of
bread. Just in return for bread he fulfilled his sexual hunger. A jackal attempts to eat up Kajoli but Onu somehow drives it away. Kajoli is admitted in the hospital by the repentant soldier while her mother and Onu had to live on begging as pavement dwellers. At that time the innocent people became animal, just because of hunger and they start eating what the animals refuse to have. In this struggle for food the animals prove stronger than the suffering people. Onu is defeated in his fight with a dog for possession of a jam-tin dug-out from the rubbish. The boys fight with each other for scrap of food.
The scene is simply too pathetic to be commented upon. How the hunger levelled the difference between man and animal, Bhattacharya himself observes:
―Destitutes and dogs in those days often fought for possession of the rich city‘s ten thousand rubbish heaps, in which scraps of rooting food lay buried.‖ (p.171)
Kajoli‘s mother is happy that Kajoli is at least temporarily in a hospital because now there is no need to think about the food after her discharge from the hospital she decides to become a prostitute but is finally saved from it. Mother tries to drown herself in the Ganges. Other scenes of hunger are no less harrowing. A girl of six is sold to a procuress for ten silver rupees. However, the redeeming feature of
these grim scenes is that whereas the rich have bartered their conscience away for money the poor and the rural people show an extraordinary sense of moral values even in the midst of their dire poverty. The scarcity of food transforms the rich people into soulless, money-minded. Kajoli‘s hunger for a sweet home remains unfulfilled. Her dreams are shattered of a pink frock for her to be-born child remains a dream, and her love for beauty expressed in her fascination for bright-coloured pictures are also shattered. Political violence and natures calamity and man-made calamity drain off all her energies.
Music For Alohini is different from So Many Hungers which primarily deals with political freedom. Bhattacharya frequently affirms that social freedom is all important for the real progress of the people because without attaining it political freedom is useless. Jayadev, ―a silent, solitary man with heavy — lidded dreamy eyes in a young tranquil face.‖2 Jayadev dedicated to social freedom which is of utmost significance for India after she has achieved political freedom. Jayadev is a social reformer and wants to make his village Behula a model village socially. He knows that, ―Our political freedom warmth title without social uplift.‖3 He knows that his task is not an easy one but it requires a lots of time and labour and this work of his gives him a lot of strain also. But it is important to do it all cost as he tells
Mohini that without social freedom the political freedom is meaningless. He wants his wife Mohini to teach the poor villagers because he knows that their ignorance is the main cause of their hunger and slavery. Jayadev has a quest for higher knowledge with a view to bringing about a new ideal world order. He has wedded to great ideals, lofty ideas and a sound set of values for the sake of improving life. Jayadev has an unquenching thirst for knowledge, social and philosophical. From the first day of his married life he wishes to see his wife Mohini as a bodiless thinker just like Gargi and Maitreyi but on the other hand Mohini is unhappy because she has a hunger for sex and her husband cannot afford her much physical joy because of his idealistic and intellectual pursuits.
Jayadev launches a social programme according to which an old man • can remarry only when he chooses a widow. Jayadev also intends to bring about a social revolution by banishing the evil custom of early marriage out of India. People were unaware about the social changes and due to this lack of awareness they suffered. The people of the time were also struggling for the freedom of hunger. Mohini, while going to her husband‘s house for the first time says to her younger brother, Heeralal, I am so hungry He thought that she was hungry for food and
that her mother-in-law might not have given food to her but it was not the hunger for food but it was the hunger for sex.
Bhattacharya makes a reference to the Bengal Famine of 1943 which had a devastating effect on the villge Behula. Though the poor villagers were saved by the good deeds of Jayadev. Bhattacharya, through a folk-song sung by a cartman — shows several kinds of hunger, such as — hunger for food and the hunger for sex, the barren woman‘s hunger for a child and the starving man‘s hunger for a morsel of food and the hunger for freedom — freedom from the slavery of the rich. freedom from the ignorance and illiteracy and casteism. He teaches the people to believe that they are not the slaves of the stars. He means to say that the people should not believe in superstitions and its high time to come out of these rubbish things. Jayadev thinks that now the responsibility of serving the country should be taken by the new generation because he thinks that they are the pillars of the future and now India has achieved political freedom and without social freedom it is worthless so they should struggle for the social freedom. Thus we see the struggle for political, social, economical freedom and the struggle for hunger is depicted very well.
Bhattacharya‘s novel He Who Rides a Tiger has the same background as that of So Many Hungers. The Indian freedom struggle and the
Bengal famine of 1943 are the two major themes of his novel. But the treatment of the theme and the final effect is different from that. Kalo, the hero has the courage to face the situation and identity himself with the society. Kalo is a dark skinned, self competent, ambitious and industrious blacksmith of barna town. He has a daughter named Chandralekha. The Bengal famine strikes the land. The tillers of the soil are reduced to starvation. Weavers and the other tradesmen have to sell their implements and are forced to leave for Calcutta in search of food and work. Kalo also has to leave for Calcutta but with him there is a problem of his daughter Chandralekha. He leaves Chandralekha with an old aunt before leaving for Calcutta.
On the way Kalo steals some bananas from a carriage and for that he is arrested and is sent to jail for three months. The magistrate taunts Kalo ―why did you have to live?‖‗ In the prison Kalo meets B-10 (Bikash Mukherjee), a Quit India ,political prisoner. After his release from the jail the hunger compels Kalo to remove corpses of destitutes for a meager wage. He turns into a pimp for a group of brothels managed by Rajani Bose, one night lie hears the protesting cries of a girl near his room and when he goes there he finds that the girl was none other than his own daughter, Chandralekha. He saves her from
that man and after that he becomes bitter in his heart towards the corrupt society. in the jail B-10 said that
―We are the scum of the earth. They hit us where it hurts badly-in the pit of the belly. We‘ve got to hit back.‖ (p.37)
He resolves to take revenge upon this society. Kalo performs the miracle by making a phallic image of Shiva rise out of the soil under an old banyan tree. A temple is also created there. He wears a nine standard scared thread and a saffron robe. Kalo metamorphoses into Manglik Adhikari, the prosperous priest of the temple. A pujari is also appointed in the temple to perform altar and ritual worship. The rich merchants like Sir Abalabandhu and stock brokers like Motichand and even the magistrate who sent Kalo to jail for stealing bananas, come to the temple and even touches his feet. Kalo pretends that he is happy with his new role but he feels disgusted when the small people and the rickshaw pullars, coolies and beggars sacrifice their hard earned money on his fake God.
The political, social religious and economic aspects are also present in this novel. The political situation in the country of pre-independence period is shown by the reference to the Quit India Movement, imprisonment of people for loving their motherland, the relentless
attitude of the British soldiers to the spectacle of hunger and suffering etc. The political prison Biten shows the involvement of people in the struggle for political freedom. Casteism is seriously protested through the inset story of Biten. Biten ‗s sister Purnima is in love with a low- caste boy (Basav). When her parents discover that she is in love with Basav they marry her to a widower. Her unhappy life leads her to commit suicide and Basav always taunts for this. After this incident Biten renounces his Brahminhood throwing away his sacred thread and promising never to speak about his caste. That is why he refused to disclose his caste when Kalo questioned him about it. He decide to take the risk of losing his love. There is another reference to caste- tyranny. Lckha‘s education is criticized by both the upper as well as the lower-class people of Marna. Kalo rebukes Kamar Vishwanath for touching and polluting him while he is wearing the Brahmin mask.
Bhattacharya also deals with the individual freedom. Chandralekha‘s decision to marry Motichand who has already three wives shows her individual freedom. She takes this decision on her own without any interference. Kalo‘s act of disclosing his identity as a blacksmith and not a Brahmin is also urged by his desire for personal freedom. He wanted to get rid of his false image as Brahmin. That‘s why he disclosed his identity.
The Bengal famine of 1943 and the hunger for food are the important parts of the novel. Kalo‘s story of protest shows us the ordeal of countless destitutes and their hunger which instills in them the courage to rebel in an emphatic way. The novel highlights the protest against the evil of exploitation of the poor by the rich. Besides the hunger for food there was the hunger for money or wordly pleasure. Kalo and his daughter Chandralekha, the two principal characters of the novel, suffer from hunger losing their all on account of it. So they decided to ride the tiger of hunger to eke out their living.
The Bengal famine of 1943 and the Quit India Movement in the novel expresses many brutal social realities like- throwing of innocent girls to brothels, imprisonment of men for small crimes etc. All these things lead Kalo, Lekha and Biten to fight against cruel social forces. The novel gets success in hitting back the rich and the high caste Hindus‘ A Goddess Named Gold‘, deals with the theme of the economic freedom of the hungry masses Atmaram the holy Minstrel said that: ―freedom is the beginning of the road where there was no road. But the new road swarms with robbers‖‗. Meera, the heronine of the novel, joined Quit India Movement at the age of eleven and for that she was arrested. She suggested to take a protest march of the village women to the Seth‘s shop demanding hundred saries at their price. They
suggested that they should strip themselves naked and march through the streets to arouse the conscience of the Seth Ji. Meera‘s threat to strip herself‘ did not frighten the Seth Ji but when his wife Laxmi begins to divest herself of her sari, he is frightened and gives two bundles of sarees to the women. The Seth wants to contest the election to The District Board. For this he is to win the good will of the people of the village. Giving two bundles of sarees is not a good act but it is an investment for his winning their votes. Meera‘s grandfather, Atmaram, who is a wandering Minstrel, gives Meera an amulet and tells her that is she does any noble act all the copper of her body will change into gold. After getting that Meera‘s amulet has the power to change the copper into gold that‘s why Seth wants to run a business on fifty-fifty basis with Meera. So Meera‘s body is wrapped with copper ornaments and the Seth thinks that if they do good acts, all the copper will change into gold and in this way he can gain a good profit. Seth makes some plans to change the copper into gold by amulet but all his plans fail at the end and even Meera throws all the copper ornaments. On the evening of the Independence Day the Minstrel arrives in the village. The villagers decide to use their newly won freedom in the right way by casting their vote in favourin2 the Minstrel in the election to The District Board. Meera lives amid the tragic circumstances of
life. But she bears an affirmative attitude towards life. The novel also deals with the hunger for gold, miracle and spiritual experience. The novel depicts Indian villagers including women involved in the freedom movement. The feminist organization, the Cowhouse Five, with its members- Champa, Meera, Munni, Ltxmi, Sohagi, Subhadri plays a big role in the freedom movement. ―Ishe Quit India Movement of 1942 is referred to in the speech of Lakshmi addressed to Meera and others. Meera is annoyed at this insinuation because her craving, for gold is only to do good to others and nothing else. She put off the amulet from her arm and caste it into the river. There is also the economic freedom of the woman through the Gandhian way of Satyagraha and procession. It shows village women launching a movement against the Seth to bring down prices of essential commodities under the leadership of Meera, the image of woman power. It deals with the social freedom also. The novel expresses the novelist‘s lofty concept of freedom through the actions and words of the Minstrel.
Bhabani Bhattacharya‘s novel Shadow From Ladakh, presents the political condition of India, China and Tibet around the year 1962. It shows many social realities of the post-Independence India. The need for overlooking caste- system for the betterment of the society is
emphasized in this novel. Satyajit, who is a devotee of Tagore in Santiniketan, rejects his surname `Sen‘ to become casteless. He marries Suruchi, who belongs to a different caste. Gandhigram is also depicted as aiming to eradicate casteism and untouchability. He thinks that all the men are equal and their rights are also equal because they are casteless.
Bhattacharya, however, makes a distinction between the British Govt. and the British people. His concept of freedom in the national context means freedom ndt from the British rulers but from the British rule. In So Many Hungers, freedom means freedom and democracy for the people of the world. India was asked to step into the world war-II. India‘s fight was against the English rulers, not against her people, who is defeated, would face enslavement. So the national movement offered cooperation and recognition to the Indian people. Non‖violence, as a means and as a philosophy, dominated the fight for political struggle. In So Many Hungers Rahoul and his friends are ready to sacrifice and leave everything for freedom. They represent the student community who gave up their intellectual pursuits to dedicate themselves to the freedom of India. England‘s entry into the second world war for the professed aim of preserving democratic values attracted Rahoul‘s enthusiasm in its favour. He said that the
government was largely responsible for the death of more than two million Indians in the wake of Bengal famine. He reaches the conclusion and said that only through the will power and strength the Indians can solve the problems of Bengal famine students‘ participation gives the strength to the movement-because they are young and full of enthusiasm and their deeds and labour can leave a deep mark on the common man. Devata (Devesh Basu) advises Rahoul, before going to Cambridge, to involve himself in the struggle for freedom. He says that Cambridge could wait but not our country. He knows that illiteracy is also one of the major reasons of slavery. He plans to educate the people.
In Shadow From Ladakh, 13hattacharya, makes Gandhian principle of simple living and high thinking. The novel deals with the different attitudes of life, industrial and rural India, symbolized by Gandhigram, is on the path of progress, a testing time comes with the Chinese aggression. Indian Government‘s point of view is to meet strength with strength but Satyajit is against this view. He is a firm believer in non-violence and he 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 combating hatred with love. I he idyllic life of Gandhigram is disturbed and
Gandhian economics is threatened by the wake of industrialization. Steel stands as the symbol of India‘s freedom. Bhaskar Roy believes in steel standing for mass production to cope with the growing population of India. Ile says that ― We have to get steel, more and more, at any price. The pace of production must quicken.‖6 China‘s attack on India, gets a chance to Satyajit and he puts forward a proposal to the Government k)r a peace mission to Ladakh. The government rejects his proposal but after some time the proposal is accepted with some modification. The Chinese order ceasefire and withdraw their forces unilaterally, but at the end, the nation‘s problem .remains unsolved. Bhaskar‘s love for Sunita brings a change. Satyajit gains Gandhigram at the cost of Sunita, who is free from the curse of anti-1 i fe and asceticism.
I3hattacharya makes Gandhigram a microcosm of India. He shows that Gandhian economics and ethics are true and we can find it anytime and everywhere. Satyajit controls the life of the village where Gandhian economics and ethics are worked. The basic scheme of craft centre education. its main aim it to give education with some craft. Satyajit, believes that non-violence is the main teaching of Gandhi ji and through that he plans to form a peace march to Ladakh. He believes in the idea of dropping hatred for victory in the moral
struggle. Bhaskar is of the opinion that industrialization will change the life of the people.
The novel shows the value and power of winning the hearts of opponents by the Gandhian non-violent agitations and demonstration. The novel also reveals the modern necessity of steel as the only solace against the external aggression. Struggles and crises through the victory of Satyajit in his hunger-strike against the government reflect the new spirit of India. Sunita‘s participation in the peace mission shows women‘s participation in national problems.
Bhattacharya deals with struggle for hunger, struggle for political freedom, hunger for sex and hunger for money etc. If we want to get freedom, for that we are to struggle for it and alter the long period of struggle we can get it but after getting it there is a problem of maintaining and sustaining.
I . Bhattacharya, Bhabani. So Many Hungers. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 1984 and all the subsequent references are to the same edition.
Bhattacharya, Bhabani. Music For Mohini. New Delhi: An Orient paper backs, 1952 and all the subsequent references are to the same edition
Sharma, K.K. Affirmation of Life: The Vision and Themes of Bhabani Bhattacharya. 1979. p.76.
Bhattacharya, Bhabani. He who Rides a Tiger. New Delhi: Arnold-Neinmann, 1977. p.3 I incl all the subsequent references are to the same edition.
Bhattacharya, Bhabani. A Goddess Named Gold. Delhi: Hindi Pocket Rooks. I %O. P.1 I 9.
6. Bhattacharya, Bhabani. Shadow From Ladakh. Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1968. p.31.