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SARATHCHANDRA by T.N.KUMARASAMY


Kumaraswamy, T.N. Born 1907 at Madras, Tamil Nadu. Mother tongue Tamil. Writer. Publications include Kanyakumari (short stories) ; Chandragrahanam (short, stories) ; Vidutalai ; Ottuchedi, Anbin Yellai. Translated works of Bankimcnandra, Rabindranath, Saratchandra and other Bengali writers.

SARATCHANDRA AND TAMIL LITERATURE

T N KUMARASWAMY

It was Gokhale who said : ‘What Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow.’ Though it is uttered as a political dictum, it is equally applicable to the progress of Bengal in the fields of thought, religion, literature and society. Any upheaval in India had its origin in Bengal guided by its great men. In the beginning of this century the lion of Vedanta, Swami Vivekananda, and the Ramakrishna movement attracted many enthusiastic youths of the Tamil land to know more about Bengal and its culture. Our great national poet Subrahmanya Bharati was one among them. The unassuming silent worker and Sanskrit scholar Mahesha Kumar Sarma, another Tamilian, practically became a Bengali in thought, word, and deed. It was he who pioneered to bring the good influences of Bengal into this land. In 1900 he gave us the first superb Tamil version of Bankimchandra’s two renowned novels Anandamath and Chandrasekhar. Those two books greatly stirred the patriotic hearts of the Tamil public. Poet Bharati rendered into beautiful Tamil the famous Vandemataram ode specially for his friend’s Tamil Anandamath. Since that auspicious day Tamil lovers waited with avidity to read more and more of Bankimchandra’s romantic stories. Till 1935 this craze for Bankimchandra was perceptible. But there was a setback after that and the Tamils forgot Bengal. Strange to say, when the fame of Saratchandra was sufficiently established in Bengal, Tamil Nadu knew nothing about him. That was a dull period in the history of modern Tamil literature, when no outstanding literary figure rose on the horizon. Though Tamil is a rich language with a glorious past, it cannot claim to have produced authors of the calibre of Bankimchandra, or Tagore, or Saratchandra. Tamil intellectuals who dabbled in English letters did not care to use their own mother tongue to create, as was done in Bengal, newer vogues in writing. They never knew that a writer of Bengal called Saratchandra wrote marvellous stories and novels depicting real life—an objective writer directing his observations upon characters and interpreting them in terms of human feeling. The man who depicted characters like Sorasi, Achala, Saudamini, Kamal, Bharati, and Bindubasini, was not familiar to the Tamils.

I should say that it was my good fortune that I learnt Bengali and acquired enough proficiency in it to interpret the Bengali mind to the Tamils through my translations. When I prepared myself to read prominent writers of modern Bengal, I discovered Saratchandra to be of a different quality of mind. Unlike Bankimchandra, he never intruded himself upon the readers. His aim was not to tell a story to entertain or touch our hearts but to force us to think and understand the deep and hidden significance of the problems of life. He was not of the type of novelists who took liberties to exaggerate, to create a world more beautiful, more consoling than ours. They wanted the good to end happily and the bad unhappily. That was what their fiction meant. I was almost staggered to find his wizardry in characterisation.

In the early thirties, Tamil was having only a few well-conducted magazines like Kalaimagal and Ananda Vikatan. In fact it was these two journals which fostered new writing by giving access to young writers. Other journals of the purist type did not like alien thoughts to enter into the Tamil culture or literature. The atmosphere was charged with conservatism and parochialism ; anything foreign was a taboo. There was no broad acceptance of facts, and it was difficult to push new ideas and new authors into our literature. But times had changed ; suddenly came a spurt among the younger writers of that generation, and the old order yielded place to the new. I found the opportune moment to bring Saratchandra’s novels to the Tamils. The editor of Ananda Vikatan, ‘Kalki’ (R. Krishnamurthy), was a man with vision and pragmatic views. His sympathies were with the younger folk.

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I approached him and read to him select passages from Saratchandra’s various novels and explained to him that the Tamil public would surely relish them and it would open a new vista to the future novelists of Tamil Nadu. There were original novels of course, by Rajam Iyer, Natesa Sastry, Ramaswamy of Mayavaram, Ponnuswami Naicker, but really they were not well-made novels, they were simply homely stories stretched to the length of novels.

In the middle thirties, a coterie of intrepid youthful Tamil writers dedicated themselves to bring about a revolution in the stagnant Tamil literature. They were all conversant with the trend of modern thoughts and literary movements. Some among them were very good linguists. The able editor of Ananda Vikatan, ‘Kalki’, opened the window for them and fresh breeze began to blow in. My translation of Saratchandra’s Bindur Chhele as Amulyan was published serially in that weekly. The Tamil readers welcomed it with gusto. They asked for more ; next came, in the same magazine, my rendering of Saratchandra’s Swami under the title Saudamini. The peculiar psychological aspect in dealing with conjugal problem was something new to the readers and so it whetted their appetite to know more of Saratchandra’s master craft of fiction writing. It was really a great day for me when I was invited by the editor of Kalaimagal, a high class literary monthly magazine, to contribute a novel of Saratchandra to its pages. I translated Dena-Paona as Bhairabi for Kalaimagal. When it came out in book form later, it had the distinction of being prescribed as non-detailed text for B.A. by the Travancore University. Mahatma Gandhi, though not a lover of fiction, was deeply impressed after reading some of Saratchandra’s writings, and recommended them to be prescribed as text books in schools. Perhaps he was well aware that Saratchandra had great ideas of social reforms at heart which he gave out through his novels.

When Saratchandra’s name shot up into glory, many Tamil writers who only knew Hindi invaded the book market with cheap translations of Saratchandra’s novels. Even two or more authors brought out different renderings of the same novel. This keen competition showed the popularity of Saratchandra in Tamil Nadu. If examined, these versions of his novels done from Hindi would reveal the quality of the stuff. When I was intending to translate Pather Dabi and Srikanta, I found to my chagrin that they had already come out in the market. I have to mention here a translation of one of Saratchandra’s novels. My brother, T. N. Senapati, has crieditably done his job of rendering SesH Prasna into Tamil.

After leaving Saratchandra for others to exploit, I turned my attention to write his life sketch, and an assessment of his works’. They came as articles in Manjari, a Tamil monthly digest. I had condensed some five or six long and short novels of Saratchandra like Pariinita,

Biraj Bau,   Palli-Samaj, etc., for the same journal. I participated in many literary forums and seminars and my talks about the various aspects of Saratchandra’s fiction were appreciated.

In a large way I am one of those writers of Tamil Nadu who had come under the magic spell of Saratchandra, that wizard of fiction writing and weaver of unique female characters. My own novels were greatly tinged with his hues. Like Charitrahin of Saratchandra my novel Kaanalnir (Mirage) had also earned odium as a bad book, an immoral piece of writing. Saratchandra had opened the floodgate of inspiration to the younger generation of Tamil writers. Though they are not aware of subtle influence, they are treading his path unconsciously. They have become bold in the delineation of characters, particularly of women.

The name of Saratchandra is still a household word among the Tamil readers. His novels are popular and are enjoyed even to this day. His hallowed name will live in Tamil land for another century.