Kayakalp by Premchand

Kayakalp by Premchand is his second novel I have read so far. And, I must say that even if Premchand wrote nothing else than Nirmala and Kayakalp, these two novels are more than sufficient to establish him as one of the greatest Indian writers. He has singlehandedly won my praise and appreciation by his versatility and creativity and his ability to transform ordinary situations into extra ordinary circumstances. The present novel can easily be defined as a novel of transformation, a change in lives and nature of characters, wonderfully captured by the master writer.

Simply speaking, Kayakalp is the story of an idealistic man called Chakradhar and his wannabe beloved Manorama. Chakradhar is a man of humble origins, his father Munshi Vajradhar had once been a Tehsildar and is now living the difficult, penny stricken life of a pensioner in the holy city of Kashi. But despite being the branches of same tree, father and son are as different from each other as chalk and cheese. For Vajradhar, money and position are priceless, whereas for Chakradhar, riches are worthless shackles. He is more of a bairagi nature and wishes to spend his life in the service of people.

Kayakalp-by-Premchand However, destiny has some other ideas, as a rich girl Manorama, daughter of Thakur Harisevak Singh falls in love with him. This love is not a lustful infatuation, but the highest form of devotion and sacrifice. Manorama adores Chakradhar, he is her ideal, epitome of virtues, messiah of poor people. Had Chakradhar married Manorama, it would have been a perfect match, steeped in harmony and mutual respect. But then, if it had been so, probably Kayakalp could never have been written! Often, the great stories are born out of tragedy. And, this is perfectly true for Kayakalp as well.

So, as luck would have it, Manorama ends up being the sixth wife of Raja Vishal Singh, while Chakradhar is busy rectifying the characters of state prisoners!

But is this a holy match or just a marriage of convenience? Will Manorama and Chakradhar ever be able to reconcile to their fates or is destiny playing some cruel joke on the young lovers? Why is Chakradhar initially reluctant to marry Ahilya? Is he only concerned about the social boycott or is it an irresistible attraction that is stopping him? As I read on, I found myself grappling with these questions, each of them paramount to understand this complicated tale of broken dreams, unfulfilled wishes and discontented desires.

I talked about the aptness of Narayan’s titles in my early reviews, but while reading Kayakalp I was dumbfounded by both the suitability as well as the irony of the present title. Kayakalp literally means rejuvenation, reversal of ageing. However, in vernacular Hindi, it also means a profound and sudden change in physical appearance or attitude, and Premchand has explored both these meanings in the present novel. Be it a transformation in fate, thoughts and action, or be it a literal rejuvenation, in the form of reincarnation and yogic practices, Kayakalp remains true to its name.

In the beginning itself, Chakradhar undergoes a change from a shy, reticent man to a popular, crowd controller. Manorama, who is a carefree young girl is transformed into a sombre, well heeled Queen. Similarly Vishal Singh, who dreams of being an ideal king, working for the betterment of his people, ends up becoming a cruel despot on the very day of his coronation. In short, the novel traces the transformation of its characters, depending upon their circumstances.

Man is nothing but a toy of destiny, is proved hundred percent correct in Kayakalp. An innocent child grows up to be a vicious adult, an ambitious young man stoops to the level of a cruel dictator and a hard hearted criminal is transformed into an honest citizen. And, all this happens by chance, supported ironically by the deeds of the characters themselves. And, this transformation forms the basic theme of Kayakalp, deftly documented by Premchand.

Another prominent feature of the novel is its well timed irony. Ahilya, who is in the beginning, a pitiful child grows up to be a beautiful girl, graciously accepted by Chakradhar as wife. She, who was supposedly an orphan, suddenly becomes the daughter of a king, worthy of being the wife of a successful ruler instead of being married to a mundane social worker. However, ironically, the lucky change in her fate down-slides her good fortune. Chakradhar leaves her for good and even her son Shankhdhar runs away from home. And, Ahilya who was once a doting mother and a dutiful wife, remains oblivious to her loss, enjoying her high social status. And, in exact juxtaposition with Ahilya is Rohini, who fails to win Vishal Singh’s love in her life, but succeeds in alienating his husband from Manorama in her death.

Similar traces of irony is visible in the subplot involving Devapriya and Mahendra. Raja Mahendra takes birth again and again to be the husband of Devapriya, but as soon as they get married, their physical intimacy leads to death and separation. They are madly in love with each other, but ironically their love remains unconsummated. The constant love transforms into eternal separation.

Speaking of subplot, in the beginning I found it to be an aberration in the otherwise well knit tale. The story of Devapriya and Mahendra seemed to be made of fantasy, indulging in never seen before inventions and bordering on the supernatural theory. However, as the story progressed, I found that Premchand’s subplot is as cleverly written as the rest of the narrative. In the climax, plot and sub plot merge wondrously and I realized that Mahendra and Devapriya are nothing but a physical validity of all the changes that take place in the nature, mood and destiny of characters, a literal interpretation of Kayakalp i.e. rejuvenation.

However, I did find a glitch in the climax. Devapriya is suddenly called Kamla by everyone, though this name was never mentioned before. And, since Devapriya never died, it was strange to give her a new identity. Perhaps, in writing a voluminous story, a small oversight was made by the writer. Perhaps, to maintain the veil of secrecy, a different name had to be invented!

But, other than this minor error, the story is immaculate. There can be hardly any doubts about Premchand’s artful Hindi, riddled with wonderful expressions and breathtaking similes. I particularly liked his deftness in expounding beauty of nature, in beatific prose that sounded like a melodious poem. Though, his craftsmanship with Hindi is well known, I was also enamored by the perfect usage of Urdu in this novel, especially, in the beginning, where Chakradhar speaks in chaste Urdu to reconcile Muslims. His Urdu dialogues transformed him into a roaring, confident, convincing man.

Premchand also gave a realistic flavor to this timeless story, by including burning topics of his time. Be it Freedom Struggle, Hindu Muslim riots or inhibiting social customs.

All in all, Kayakalp is a superb novel, deep in thoughts, light in execution. A serious study of human nature in a humorous vein!

Name of Book : Kayakalp
Author : Premchand
Publisher : Gyandeep Prakashan
Price : Rs. 400
Edition : 2008


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