Palli Samaj by Sarat Chandra is a scathing remark on the idyllic village life, often portrayed in novels and stories. Most of the books, be it fiction or history, present villagers as innocent, good creatures, who are unpolluted by civic vices, eking out a sheltered life in complete oblivion of human defects like greed, passion or devilry.
But, can any human locality really be so heaven like, or is it a typical case of grass being greener on the other side of the door?
As I read Palli Samaj by Sarat Chandra, I was swayed by many such questions. It is a story of simple, educated Ramesh Ghosal, that made all my delicate dreams about the feel good effect of villages, flying away, leaving a glittering, shimmering dust on the hard marble floor!
Palli Samaj, the fourth novel in The Saratchandra Omnibus, begins on an easy note, with a banter taking place between an old woman and a man. But, soon the scene changes to a sombre one as Ramesh comes into picture, who has come to his native village, Kuapur, to perform last rites of his father, and is dumbfounded at the caste politics and rude craftiness rampant in presumably innocent village folks.
It appears that Ramesh’s father was involved in some property dispute with his best friend, Rama’s father, and till he died, he did his best to maintain bitter relations with the only other influential family of the village. However, Ramesh was educated in Calcutta, and for the most part of his life, stayed away from Kuapur. He has no inkling of the feudal dispute, and only has good memories of his birth place and Rama.
He, in his innocence, believes that all the village heads and Rama were grieved by Ghoshal Babu’s sudden death, and would wholeheartedly pray for his soul, by participating in his Shraddh Ceremony. But, he gets a bitter taste of factional politics, and becomes a nonchalant victim of the skirmishes, that lurk beneath the serene village life. His good nature is taken advantage of, by almost everyone -the self acclaimed village heads, his cousin Beni and even his childhood love Rama. Ramesh becomes dejected with his kinsmen attitude, and at last finds solace in neighboring Muslim village.
In short, Palli Samaj pits a single man against the whole society, and yet, Ramesh comes out unharmed and celebrated at the end. The novel is full of scheming, vicious people. Even Rama, whom Sarat tried to present as a good hearted young widow becomes an unwilling partner in crimes. In a way, she plays a pivotal role in bringing down Ramesh from his coveted status as a Babu, who feels a bit too much of village problems and is always ready to spend money. All his good actions result in more suffering, for himself. However, as Gold is purified by heating, so does Ramesh’s character, who suffers a lot for commoners, and at last becomes their Messiah.
The novel is a very true pen picture of society. Though Sarat chose to call it Polli Shomaj, I think it holds true for every society, be it in a hip city or a satellite town. People are essentially self centered and opportunists and often altruism is looked down upon as a waste of one’s time and effort. The kind man becomes the butt of cruel jokes and an out-caste, till he is able to prove his prowess, by constant sacrifice. But, can human race really survive without such saintly creatures, is a question that requires much pondering.
In a nutshell, I liked the book, for its honest approach. Though, I found the narrative a bit slow in the initial pages, and when the story finally picked up speed, I found that I have almost reached to the end. Further, here also, as in Srikanta, Sarat is swayed by his rebellious attitude towards Hinduism, and a biased favorable approach towards people of other faiths. Though, in my opinion, it is incorrect and shallow to define people rigidly on the basis of caste/religion. It is wrong to judge them on the basis of only their faith.
But, all in all the novel is a good treatise on human predicament, and another good one by Sharat Chandra!
Title : Palli Samaj
Written by : Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
Published By : Penguin India
Edition : 2005(Paperback)
No. of Pages : 107