Just Read: Anandmath
I have finished reading Anandmath by Bankim Chandra Chatterji, translated into English by Basant Koomar Roy. The novel is famous for one reason: Chatterji gave India its National Song, Vande Mataram.
First, the author…
Roy gives a wonderful introduction about Chatterji, talking about his stature as the writer who gave Bengal its wonderful literature and inspired later greats like Rabindranath Tagore and Mulk Raj Anand. Chatterji was finishing his studies at the University of Calcutta in 1858 when India’s First War of Independence began. He was very hopeful that India would finally win her independence. But that did not happen. Chatterji was heart broken. This was also the time when the English language was gaining in popularity in India. People who spoke English got more respect that the ones who spoke the native languages. This was also the time when India’s caste system was at its peak. Feudal Landlords ruled the roost and the poor suffered. Chatterji wanted India to be free of not only the Britishers but also of these evils and he believed that Bengal would have to play a key role in bringing about this change. At that point, Bengal had little in terms of literature. Chatterji chose literature as his weapon of choice.
Dr William Jackson, a Professor at the Indiana University, USA, writes in his preface to the novel, “Preserving a people’s identity and integrity is a continual process, a challenge of a renewal in which many voices struggle to speak for the spirit of the society. It is to Chatterji’s credit that his voice is still worth listening to, still resonant and alive.”
However, there’s something about the book that I thought could have been bettered. I believe it could have been much more larger. The shorter length stops the author from describing the India of those days in depth. Considering his knowledge about the nation, this would not have been very difficult for Chatterji. But then, it’s one of the best selling books; and the fact that it contains the origins of our National Song (should have been our National Anthem, IMO) gives the novel an unmatched status in Indian literature.
The story of Anandmath unfolds in four parts over a period of four years with the famine-stricken state of Bengal under the tyranny of the British rule as the background. All the wealth of the rich landlords is rendered worthless as it cannot buy them anything to eat; the poor die anyway. The extent of the famine can be judged by the fact that villagers turned into cannibals in search of food. Vast extents of deep jungles being their killing fields. They would kill travellers and eat their flesh. At the same time, however, a group of Sanyasis, known as the Order of the Children have decided to take on the British. They are lead by an old and very learned Sanyasi, Mahatma Satya.
In such a scenario, Mahendra, a young landlord in the village of Padachina, sets out for Calcutta along with his wife and new born girl. From here, the story unfolds. The group of ascetics is building and army, Mahendra joins the Children after being separated from his family. Then there’s the other important character, Jiban.
Suffice it to say, it’s an awesomely interesting plot.
The real protagonist of the novel is Jiban. But this becomes clear only in the latter parts. Though the story begins with Mahendra, the focus shifts to the life of Jiban and his wife, Shanti, as it moves forward. It’s important to note here that men who join the Children are supposed to stay away from their families, failing this, death in the battlefield is the only punishment. Therefore, Shanti becomes even more important to the story.
How the Sanyasis take on the British is what the novel is all about.
A movie based on the novel was made in 1958. Here’s the IMDB page.
Internet search revealed this page which says that real life incidents inspired the novel.
Youtube Video of Vande Mataram from Anandmath: