Sarat ChandraSarat Chandra is one of those whose writings have attracted much attention in India and abroad, but of whose life and manners very little has been communicated to the world outside Bengal.
Sarat Chandra's eyes were in his heart. His genius is marked by a splendid grasp of the tragic world in its social conflicts. Sarat Chandra the man and Sarat Chandra the novelist equally shared a revolutionary spirit. He found no difficulty in coming in contact with a large variety of people. His experience of life reinforced his liberal outlook on life. He was perfection itself in describing the agonies of women, the abstruse problems of human life, the conception of love. His novels condemn social injustice, social indifference and opposition. And the teachings of his novels can be summed up in two words: love, frustration. He was deeply stirred by the suffering of the middle-class people.
We live in a world which is poisoned with hatred. The pressure of society, he realised, is the root of all evil, and he could not help railing at the leaders of society. He asked them to observe the value and dignity of those persons whom they had so ruthlessly discarded. Softness and sympathy towards deplorable humanity permeate his works. Society may find it difficult to give shelter to a fallen woman, but to ignore her grace and goodness in life, he declared, is unpardonable foolishness. Never did he look at women as women, but as human beings. If the same opportunity were given them, he was certain that they could walk shoulder to shoulder with men.
Sarat Chandra's works tell us that he had the profoundest respect not for the men of vast learning or wealth, but for the men of virtue. He was terribly hurt by the fact that the present society is under the subjugation of the so-called men of learning, and tortured by the men wallowing in the pleasures of riches. His heart was ready to tolerate everything save and except hypocrisy. His life was an illustration of his teaching.
If comparison has any importance, then he can aptly be compared with de Maupassant, as Tagore can be compared with Balzac. We shall not be far from the truth if we hold that Bankim Chandra is the creator of an epoch and Sarat Chandra is the announcer of an epoch in Bengali literature. With his inquisitive mind, Sarat Chandra went deep into the heart of Bengal to discover both her tremendous sorrow and her stupendous joy.
From the very beginning, the creative spirit blossomed into full splendour in the works of Sarat Chandra. His sudden arrival with his Baradidi (The Eldest Sister) in the field of literary creativity was so strange a fact that it sprang a genuine surprise on the readers and adorers of Bengali literature. He wrote it under a nom de plume. Hence people were certain that it was the mighty product of Tagore. But Tagore, too, was frankly bewildered by the fact that Bengal had such a powerful writer.
The uniqueness of his Mahesh can only be felt and not described. It happened that Dilip Kumar Roy, who is one of the true admirers of Sarat Chandra, once made a fervent request to his Gurudev, Sri Aurobindo, to peruse the book. Sri Aurobindo was then in a whirlwind of work. Notwithstanding, his disciple's request did not go in vain. He read it. His comment on the book was, "A wonderful style and a great and perfect creative artist with a profound emotional power."
Let us not forget that Sarat Chandra was all admiration for Sri Aurobindo. In one of his letters to Dilip Kumar he wrote, "What ever brief messages Sri Aurobindo gives you or answers to your questions I read with every care, ponder over and re-read. Of course, many things are past my understanding, I admit. But that should not lead you to think that I have ever said anything against him to any of your friends and relations not favourably disposed towards you. The whole country holds him in profound respect, am I the only exception?"
His Sri Kanta, according to all, wonderfully satisfies all the conditions to win the adjective "unique." On reading the translation of the first part of Sri Kanta, Romain Rolland, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his Jean-Christophe, remarked:
"Evidently Sri Kanta can claim the Nobel Prize."
The life that passes in penury must necessarily pass in obscurity. Sarat Chandra is no exception. He was born of poor parents. He knew what poverty means. Yet he was a stranger to greed. A striking incident:
Fortune had still to dawn on Sarat Chandra when Deshabandhu Chitta Ranjan Das requested him to contribute something to his journal Narayan. Sarat Chandra complied. He gave his story "Swami" for publication. Chitta Ranjan was immensely impressed by the story. He sent him a blank cheque with a covering letter saying that he was not in a position to put a price on such a wonderful story and Sarat Chandra could fill in his own figure. But Sarat Chandra drew only a hundred rupees.
Sarat Chandra used to say that he was wanting in patience, so he could not apply himself to writing poetry, in spite of the fact that he wanted to be a poet. But we know how at times he used to spend hours together to write only a few lines in prose according to his satisfaction.
Now let us observe how the poet Rabindranath, by way of a joke, compares himself with Sarat Chandra:
"In story-writing many people place Sarat above me, but that does not affect me. For even the greatest censor cannot deny my superiority over him in poetry."
Sarat Chandra's death was an irreparable loss for thousands of his countrymen. They felt it as a personal loss. And Tagore, too, was one of those. But the way he consoled his bereaved countrymen is revelatory, and a fact never to be forgotten.
He who has his place carved
In the heart of love,
Death's law can give us no sense of his loss.
He who has been taken away
From the bosom of the earth
Has been held in the heart of his country.
Finally Sarat Chandra cannot better be described than in the seer-words of Sri Aurobindo:
"What is stamped on Sarat Chandra's photograph, everywhere, is a large intelligence, an acute and accurate observation of men and things, and a heart full of sympathy for sorrow and suffering. Too sensitive to be quite at ease with the world, and also perhaps too clear-sighted. Much fineness of mind and refinement of the vital nature."