Shrikant, who has marked shades of stormy and bohemian life of Sarat Chandra, is a saga, spanning four parts.
If I say Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is my favourite author, nothing do I say. Sarat Chandra has been the favourite of millions of readers for so long that it was no surprise when he won the Meghdutam net poll in 2000. Times have changed. Relationships have changed; social norms have turned a new leaf. Yet Sarat Chandra continues to rule the hearts of his readers even today.
His novel, Devdas, has been filmed time and again, in various Indian languages. From Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen and Vyjayanthimala in the 1950s to Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit in the 21st century – superstars down the decades have relived the novel on the silver screen.
The eternal lover, who pines away to death brooding over his lost love, which he, in fact, lost of his own folly, refuses to die really. He is still alive in the form of millions of such lovers who even today are faced with a similar predicament. So what if social norms have liberalised manifold, the age-old obstacles between rich boy and poor girl remain, while the love between them continues to be as alive today as it was a century ago.
However, my favourite character is not Devdas but Shrikant, another of Sarat Chandra’s immortal characters, who has been filmed on screen, in television serials, and still continues to hold the readers and the viewers enthralled. Shrikant, who has marked shades of Sarat Chandra’s own stormy and bohemian life, is a saga, spanning four parts.
Centred in each part is Shrikant’s relationship with a woman, the primary one being Rajlakshmi, his childhood friend, who by quirk of fate ends up as the illegitimate “wife” of a wealthy man, is put in charge of his properties after his death, but has to perform “mujaras” as “Pyaari Bai” to bring up his children.
Shrikant meets her after years, when she comes to entertain his friends in their hunting camp and Rajlakshmi, seeing his penniless situation, forcefully takes him with her to her home. The childhood love is rekindled, but Shrikant cannot marry her for obvious reasons – after all she is “mother” to the children who love her so. The bohemian Shrikant puts his life at risk time and again to help other people, but whenever he is in urgent need for help, he turns only to Rajlakshmi.
The love, in spite of being passionate, is platonic. The two love each other like their own lives, have rights over each other more than perhaps any normal husband and wife, yet stop short of consummating the relationship. Perhaps it is only in Shrikant that we see love taking on a wholly new meaning – that of giving selflessly without an ounce of expectation and yet exercising a right over the person, which is completely binding.
Shrikant also comes across two other women, Abhaya (in Burma) and Kamal Lata (a Vaishnavi). While Abhaya’s courage to forsake her errant husband who had cheated on her, and go unflinchingly to her lover Rohini surprises Shrikant, given the kind of social strictures we had in early 20th century, Kamal Lata’s devotional love adds a new dimension to the perception of love.
Shrikant, written in first person, is almost like an episodic diary of a person who is sometimes floating along the shores and sometimes midstream.
Many people have flayed Shrikant for being a spineless escapist, who seems to run away from involvement, especially compared to the indomitable strength of Rajlakshmi and Abhaya. Yet I feel Shrikant is almost like an outsider, who takes a detached ringside view and yet is closely bound to the characters he meets. And that is his inherent strength.
The kind of platonic love that people often dismiss as something impossible is shown to be such a normal, effortless, ordinary thing, accessible to every lover. Every man has a Shrikant hidden inside him and every woman has a Rajlakshmi within her, who is ready to undergo any suffering to save her lover from pain.
It is not that platonic love cannot be experienced or held on to. It is just that we may be unequal to its demands in this fast paced world.
Sarat Chandra worked on materials that were subject to change, given the rigours of time – the societal makeup, etiquettes, beliefs and manners. But he brought out what is universal: the love, the values, the aspirations. And these would never die.
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