This is the first Bengali novel written way back in 1865. By none other than the author who also gave us Vande Matram – India’s national song. I first came across Durgesh Nandini in the 50 Books, 50 Authors compilation. I started reading it as soon as I could get my hands on it. The fact that this is the first modern novel in India makes it a special reading. Durgesh Nandini does not disappoint at all even 140 years after it was first published.
The story is set in Bengal during the times of Akbar putting it somewhere in the 16th CE. Three main players are the Mughal army, Pathan army, and the Rajputs. And the dynamics between them as three ruling factions fighting for the eastern kingdoms. Main story though is a love triangle between the Rajput prince, a local princess, and a Pathan girl. They move in and out of each other’s lives driven by the external factors and political compulsions. Eventually, they behave as humans, though many lives are lost in the process.
Vimala, a strong female character binds the whole story together. She is a great example of a woman who comes from the lowest social strata but goes on to become a key player in the whole story.
Since it was written when all these factions did exist in the society, though the British may have started dominating at that time, it gives a good picture of the times. It tells how the forts and palaces were secured. The secret passages in these forts if revealed could mean disaster. It tells about the vulnerable position of women even when they belonged to the royal families and lived in all possible comforts. They were pawns in the hands of their menfolk. In the event of any war, they would move from one man’s harem to another one’s. They were lucky if they got the one they loved or the one who loved them, but they could be picked up like assets by the victors.
At the same time, there were strong women who can play the game changer. There are cross-cultural alliances despite discreet divides that existed in the society.
The most important part of the novel is its storytelling technique that swiftly changes speed and direction. Scenes change frequently moving from one place to another, from one scene to another unpredictable one. However, when the author decides to describe the heroines of the story, he takes his own time. He describes each and everything in so much detail as if he has all the time in the world. From a formal court language, he shifts gears to emotional and dramatic ones.
The earring is one word that comes across as an aberration. But since I read the translated Hindi version, I am not sure if the original author used it too or the translator used the easy equivalent. Otherwise predominantly, Hindi has been used with a generous sprinkling of Hindustani that in a way is the need of the story given its characters that come from Hindu and Islamic backgrounds.
You may buy this book – Durgesh Nandini by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay at Amazon.
A highly recommended read…