“Great things come in small packages”
As I read Nishkriti by Sarat Chandra, the last novel in Sarat Chandra Omnibus, the above said proverb kept ringing in my head. The shortest novel (just 51 pages long) entertained me the most, making Sarat come across as a superb entertainer, a fantastic modern age soap writer and a melodramatic expert, who is adept at wielding his magic wand, making readers cry and laugh at his whim!
As you may have guessed by now, I am in awe of the recently discovered gem of Classic Indian Literature (as far as my own collection goes, as till now I was a die hard fan of Tagore and Narayan and refused to look any further)and my present praises are due not just for Nishkriti, but for Srikanta, Devdas and Palli Samaj as well. And, I really feel that even after a century, Sharat’s works have a deadly combination of refreshing novelty and timeless quality to entertain the modern readers.
However, before I digress any further, indulging in unabashed praise of a writer, I mistakenly ignored for a long time, let me get back to the present book and give you a sneak peek into the story of Nishkriti.
The novel is based on family banter in Chatterjee clan of Bhawanipore, consisting of Girish and Harish, and their distant cousin Ramesh. Siddeshwari is the eldest bou (daughter-in-law), and though the entire household is in her hands, she is of a weak constitution and mind, and relies on the youngest Shailja.
All is well, till Harish’s wife Nayantara enters the household. She is envious by nature, and is not ready to accept Shailja’s authority. The first skirmish happens when Shailja scolds Nayantara’s son Atul on his birthday for his audacity. Unused to matriarchal dominance, Atul takes offense, and Nayantara and her husband Harish support their son’s stubbornness, trying to eke out their own jealous revenge on Shailja’s husband Ramesh, whom they consider nothing more than a burden on the family resources. The seeds of separation soon grow into a huge tree as Ramesh does not earn anything and is easily relegated as a wastrel, with his wife Shailja’s quick temper adding fuel to the fire.
With Shailja being sidelined from the family, Siddeshwari has to take total charge of domestic issues. But will she be able to shoulder the responsibilities? Will she ever be able to get up and come out of the shadow of her younger sister-in-laws and convince her husband to settle property disputes in court? As a big joint family splits into three nuclear families, these and many other questions occupy center stage, adding color to an already beautiful narrative. The translator, Malobika Choudhary also did a good job, keeping some Bangla words intact, as it enhanced the regional flavor of the novel.
However, most of the credit obviously goes to the versatile writer. I simply loved the way, Sarat molded the house politics into an entertaining drama. The story is written in a humorous vein, with lots of amusing characters thrown in for good measure. There were times, when I laughed out loud at the absent minded Girish’s nonsensical actions. He always began with good intention of resolving the issues amicably, but somehow ended up aggravating the problems, as he knew nothing else other than scolding his cousin and sons.
At other times, a slight smile played on my lips, as I read the maneuvering antics of Nayantara, hell bent on deriding Shailja, and the weak approach, Siddeshwari adopts towards her own family. Though, the eldest bou, Siddehshwari hardly had any leadership quality, and kept moving from one side to the other, despite knowing that her youngest sister-in-law is not at fault.
But, the best was the end, where in a jiffy, all the tensions evaporate, as the incomprehensible, humble couple Siddeshwari and Girish deliver Ramesh’s family out of their fatal situation. Thus, justifying the title Nishkriti, which literally means deliverance or rescue!
Nishkriti may be Sharat’s least known novel, but I found it the best as far as situational and conversational comedy is concerned. I always thought Sarat Chandra to be a very serious, sombre writer. But, here he relieved me of all my preconceived notions. The narration is as usual terrific. In his unique style, he states some universal facts, and then incorporates the same in his story in a very specific way.
The novel also has some references to the traditions prevalent in those times in a common Bengali household, for example the prohibition of shoes from the kitchen area, which was an unwritten rule and any violation led to a stormy rebuke from the older womenfolk. Even the pastimes of that era get a mention, as the children stealthily read Anandmath, instead of comics or video games. Sarat with his upright approach hardly uses any abusive language. However, here I noticed a novel way of describing swear words, see the extract below:
“Atul pounced on him in the manner of a half crazed cheetah, mindlessly biting and scratching Moni and calling him relations, taht were completely impossible between cousins.”
Last but not the least, I am surprised that Devdas and Parineeta have seen the big screen of cinema halls, while no film maker has been inspired by Nishkriti! The novel definitely deserves a go!
Translated by: Malobika Chaudhuri
No. of Pages : 51
Edition : 2005
Published by: Penguin Books