During my weekly visit to the mobile library van, I saw this book, lying on the dusty shelves, appealing me with its simple title and an unusual cover page. A closer look revealed that the novel is a translated version of “Ayananta” by an Assamese writer ‘Arupa Kalita Patangia’.Though, the author was a hitherto unknown entity for me, I was vaguely familiar with the translator Ranjita Biswas, having recently read (and loved) her “An Evening Walk”.
My recent experience with the Contemporary Indian Short Stories, has made me aware of the immense talent of our regional writers, so I picked up the book hurriedly, expecting an original story with a rich local flavor.
And, my hunch proved right. From the very beginning, I was hooked onto this novel, set in the heady years before independence, revolving around a young girl, growing up in a small Assamese town. The book traces the girl’s eventful journey, who is forced to grow beyond her years, by the insensitive society and her insecure family.
The chirpy young protagonist is lovingly named Binapani (A popular name for Goddess Saraswati) by her grandfather, Nanda Barua. However, little did he know that his granddaughter is a living goddess, who has come on this earth to openly challenge the rudimentary customs and traditions of a close society.
Bina is a spirited girl, a champion of underdogs and out-castes. She can not withstand injustice, and as she grows up, and is exposed to the evil practices of the world, she tries to improve other people’s lives and her own fate by defying the age old customs, shaking off the rusted shackles of superstitions, and tries to break the crumbling walls that strangulate the free spirit of a woman.
Even as a child, she revolts against her family and helps a nationalist and his associates. She cringes at the sight of white people exploiting the poor Indians, and nurses a secret desire to reach out and help the natives. At the first threshold of youth, she takes a huge burden on her weak shoulders by taking responsibility of her friend Ruma’s daughter.
However, Bina experiences the fragility of a woman’s body and mind, when Ruma loses her sanity, on being brutally tortured by her much older husband. But, soon enough, the same fate awaits for Bina as well. Her mother is ready to marry her fourteen year old beautiful, delicate daughter to a much older, plump womanizer.
Would Bina be able to change her destiny, without bringing shame to her family, resist the charms of first love, and be able to make a difference to Ruma’s, Tagar’s and Bogi’s life or would she succumb to her family pressure, and waste her life as a docile maid to her rude husband? These questions form the basic framework of ‘Dawn’. In this 300 page novel, Bina shares the center stage with lots of strong women, with Jashoda, Jeuti and Tagar, hogging the limelight and enjoying the status of main protagonist at regular intervals.
Arupa with her effervescent portrayal of characters made them come alive. As the novel progressed, the true colors of her characters came to the fore. Bina as well as I could discover the worth of social out-castes such as Ratan, Gosain and Jakho Bora. The line between the good and evil, the poor and rich blurred, as the richness of heart overpowered the abundance of money. In this intricate novel, Arupa mesmerized me with her mind blowing description of true nature of people, hidden behind the false facade of social pretense.
Arupa’s novel approach towards the age old issue of gender discrimination and her sensitive portrayal of problems faced by women, with a purely non judgmental attitude, makes the novel immensely readable.
Further, the clever setting of this novel during the struggle for India’s independence, in the backdrop of second world war, coupled with the joys and sorrows of innocent civilians and their myriad ways to handle the atrocities of landlords and Britishers raises this novel, much higher than just another tale about a woman forced to follow the diktats of society.
The crisp narrative ensured that I read the novel hurriedly and finished it off in just two days.Though, at times, I could not follow the train of events properly, as Arupa jumped from one event to another, without explaining the time gap. This defect coupled with my own urgency to read through the novel at a fast pace, made the novel seem slightly incoherent.
Also, I noticed an unexplained transition in the storyline after 200 pages or so, as all of a sudden, Bina becomes a bit too malleable and starts believing in the worthlessness of a woman without her man. She commits a blunder by kneeling down under family pressure, compromising her free spirit. Bina, in her role as a mute, docile wife seemed a stranger to me, miles apart from her earlier image of a rebellious, determinate girl.
Though, thankfully, Arupa amends the narrative after faltering for a few pages. She introduces Tagar as a strong young girl at the opportune moment and re-establishes her hold on the story. With the result that Bina, rediscovers her purpose, in the dusk of her life, independent of her family, husband and sons and the novel ends with the promise of a new dawn.
I must say, that barring a few nit picks, I found “Dawn:A Novel” to be exceptionally good. I would like to call this book an admirable biography of a fictional girl, which is so real that every woman can identify with it. It is a good sensitive novel, with an authentic regional flavor and an attractive universal appeal. Indeed, a laudable effort!