Of poverty – literature – Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

09 Oct

One of my friends wrote lucidly about poverty displayed in arts and cinema. He said, “I find nothing wrong in the approach”. He also referred to the colossus of Indian cinema ,  Satyajit Ray ; and , his Apu trilogy.

There appears to be a stubborn bond between art, artists and poverty. In some cases , the artist might seek it,  because poverty is the great reality; but, in most other cases poverty is the only reality that artist is familiar with. Who can forget Van Gogh who was driven to insanity by punishing poverty, cruel neglect and suffocating loneliness? Somehow, a view has gained ground that the artist is given to sense more keenly than others only while placed in the cauldron of poverty, prison, or illness. Rainer Rilke said; one cannot be a good poet unless one loves poverty, indifference and wretchedness. Accordingly, his world-view became uniquely skewed.  And, in Rilke’s view the city of Paris was not the belle époque, capital steeped in luxury and eroticism; but, it was indeed a city of abysmal, dehumanizing misery, of the faceless and the dispossessed, and of the aged, sick, and dying. It was the capital of fear, poverty, and death.

According to Rilke , the passion in human nature chooses “the one precious thing” ; and, urges him to pay for it through poverty, conflict, deprivation, and endurance of anger from rejected divinities. As if to prove him right, Dostoevsky, Kafka and others of the tribe lived their miserable life in ignominy and penury while producing masterpieces. Strangely, an artist who gains success and affluence would be seen as one who has lost his authenticity; and, he would live the rest of his life on borrowed glory.

And, W.H. Auden, in his poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, with  special reference to Pieter Breughel’s famous landscape painting Icarus, writes about the relation between the miseries of life and  the  European painters, the Masters: “About suffering they were never wrong; the Old Masters: How well they understood Its human position; how it takes place… They never forgot that even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course..”

Whenever a debate about poverty and literature comes up, I cannot help thinking about Charles Dickens and our own Sarat Chandra Chatterjee.

Dickens portrayed the urban poverty, deprivation and the wretchedness it brought, especially, upon the slum – children of the Victorian society. No other author of that era presented a more realistic and “humanized” face of poverty. He created some of English literature’s most memorable characters. Some People might mock Dickens’s style; but no one, I feel, has been able to capture such variety of human nature. His characters are all amazing, so vivid that by the time he reaches the end of the novel, the reader comes to know them on a personal level.


Dickens’s was a study in abuse of power. Dickens’ novels criticize the injustices of his time; but, are indeed dedicated to the suffering poor everywhere. He pictures , poignantly, their starving, rumbling stomachs, bare feet, cold lives, empty staring eyes and the fear lurking behind them. He says, it is all because the mighty ones snatch away their rights; and, refuse to help them. His novels, at a later time, succeed in bringing about some reforms in social conditions and criminal laws of England; and  above all ,  some change in the attitudes towards the poor.


This article is mainly about Sarat Babu ; that is Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee) – (15 September 1876 – 16 January 1938) . He is one of my favorite writers, in any language. His portrayal of poverty was lot more understanding and sensitive. His characters carried around them their poverty with a great sense of dignity. They never were ashamed of their poverty; instead, they seemed to feed on the misery mounting on them; and, eventually  succeeded in climbing  out of the heap , with composure and dignity.

Sarat Chandra Chatterjee knew Poverty very intimately.

He did not have to obtain his material from research. It was his encounters with life as a country lad and youth that provided him the inspiration, ingredients and story-lines for his life-like characters placed in rural family settings. All his stories are about the depictions of the various shades of the characters; the characters with with their flaws ; the characters that had their imperfections celebrated by the author, rather than brushed under the carpet. Sarat Chandra molded them in his own inimitable style. The distinctive features and the essence of purpose that he added rendered them larger than life. That is the reason   his stories have gained such universal appeal.

His real heroes are not those under the limelight; but, are those in the corners, the shadows of life. They are the ordinary men and women placed within their limited confines battling extraordinary situations with courage and conviction; but, finally emerge out of the ordeal with composure and dignity though a bit bruised and looking tired. He seemed to believe: One’s true test is in one’s daily life; and, in one’s reliability and integrity as a human being.

Most of his stories relate to rural life and society. Sarat Chatterjee is at his best when he draws from his experience ; and, writes about women from poverty stricken rural Bengal who hold on to their values even while placed in the very caldron of life. He had a deep affection and respect for Bengali women. Some of his women characters stand out; they are the dominant personalities , without in any way losing their femininity.


Sarat Chandra had a great admiration for the fortitude of the poor and respect for their undemonstrative courage. In his acceptance speech delivered on 2nd Ashwin, 1339 BY (15th Sep 1933) at a gathering organized at the Calcutta Town Hall to celebrate his 57th birthday, Sarat babu acknowledged his debt to the poor and the  depraved:

My literary debt is not limited to my predecessors only. I’m forever indebted to the deprived, ordinary people who give this world everything they have and yet receive nothing in return, to the weak and oppressed people whose tears nobody bothers to notice and to the endlessly hassled, distressed (weighed down by life) and helpless people who don’t even have a moment to think that: despite having everything, they have right to nothing. 

They made me start to speak. They inspired me to take up their case and plead for them. I have witnessed endless injustice to these people, unfair intolerable indiscriminate justice. It’s true that springs do come to this world for some – full of beauty and wealth – with its sweet smelling breeze perfumed with newly bloomed flowers and spiced with cuckoo’s song, but such good things remained well outside the sphere where my sight remained imprisoned. This poverty abounds in my writings.


Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee) (nickname Nyarha) was born in Devanandapore – a village in Hooghly district of West Bengal, on 15th September 1876 (31 Bhadra 1283 BY). For a time, his father was employed in Bihar – the rest of the family lived in Bhagalpur with his maternal grandfather. Because of the semi-nomadic nature of his father’s life and his ever stringent financial situation, Sarat had to change schools frequently. In his own words:

My childhood and youth were passed in great poverty. I received almost no education for want of means. From my father I inherited nothing except, as I believe, his restless spirit and his keen interest in literature. The first made me a tramp and sent me out tramping the whole of India quite early, and the second made me a dreamer all my life.

Father was a great scholar, and he had tried his hand at stories and novels, dramas and poems, in short every branch of literature, but never could finish anything. I have not his work now – somehow it got lost; but I remember poring over that incompleteness. Over again in my childhood, and many a night I kept awake regretting their incompleteness, and thinking what might have been their conclusion if finished. Probably this led to my writing short stories when I was barely seventeen.

Sarat Chandra lost his mother in 1895. He had to give up studies for ever, because he could no longer afford formal education; and, had to return to the native village Debanandapur. But he did not stay there long , as Sarat’s father was forced to sell his home for a mere Rs.225 to repay a debt. The family moved to Bhagalpur, again.

Young Sarat was very sensitive and fragile. He left home following a disagreement with his father. Forced to earn his livelihood, Sarat started working early in his life. In 1900 Sarat found work in Banali Estate in Bihar ; and , later in Santhal district settlement as an assistant to the Settlement Officer. He disliked both the jobs; and , gave them up. Alone, unhappy and indifferent, Sarat lost sense of direction. Dejected and aimless he wandered around graveyards at dead of night. Later, for a while, he joined a group of Naga Sadhus and drifted to Muzaffarpur (1902). On his father’s death , he returned to Bhagalpur ; and, on completion of his father’s last rites he left for Calcutta in search of a job. He worked at a few temporary jobs and later secured a job as a translator for a Hindi paper book on a monthly salary of Rs.30. He then worked as a translator at the Calcutta High Court.

After he lost both his parents, Sarat Chandra left Bengal, in 1903, to live with his uncle in Rangoon ; and,  to find a job there. He often referred to Burma as the karma-sthan of the middle class Bengalis (Bengal being the janma-sthan). Sarat left Calcutta just in time before a severe plague broke out there. But, sadly his uncle died of pneumonia soon after Sarat reached Rangoon. Sarat , rendered destitute and insecure , was on the streets again. After he served a number of temporary jobs, he secured a permanent job in the Accounts Department of Burma Railway- where he served until his return to Calcutta in 1916.


As regards his literary activities, his earliest creations were two short stories Kakbasha and Kashinath (later expanded into a novel) published during 1894 in the handwritten magazine while he was studying in Entrance class (similar to PUC of the present-day) at Tejnarayan Jubilee College, Bhagalpur.

Referring to writings of his early years, he later said:

But I soon gave up the habit as useless, and almost forgot in the long years that followed that I could even write a sentence in my boyhood.

In 1903, on the eve of his departure to Rangoon in search of a job, he at the instance of his uncle Girindrandra nath , sent a short story Mandir for the Kuntaleen literary competition. He submitted the story under name of Surendranath Ganguly, another uncle. From among about one hundred fifty short stories that entered the competition, Mandir was adjudged the best for the year in 1904. The fact that Sri Jaladhar Sen , the veteran editor of the  বসুমতী (Basumati) magazine, (elected twice as the Vice President of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad), was the adjudicator , enhanced  the prestige of the award. 

_Jaladhar_Sen2 bangiya parishad

Mandir published in the name of Surendranath was the first ever printed story by Sarat Chandra. For some reason, Sarat Chandra continued to send his stories in someone else’s name. He contributed stories regularly to the Jamuna magazine in three different names – in his own name and in the name of Anila Devi (his elder sister) and Anupama.

[Later in his life Sarat Chandra recalled with gratitude, the help and patronage he received from Jaladhar Sen. In 1932, Sarat presided over  a function to facilitate Jaladhar Sen , held in Rammohan Library.]

The magazine Jamuna played an important role in setting his literary career on course. According to Sarat Chandra, Jamuna was the catalyst in reviving his literary career whilst he was in Burma. He said:

A mere accident made me start again, after the lapse of about eighteen years. Some of my old acquaintances started a little magazine, but no one of note would condescend to contribute to it, as it was so small and insignificant. When almost hopeless, some of them remembered me, and after much persuasion they succeeded in extracting from me a promise to write for it. This was in the year 1913. I promised most unwillingly – perhaps only to put them off till I returned to Rangoon and could forget all about it. But sheer volume and force of their letters and telegrams compelled me at last to think seriously about writing again. I sent them a short story for their magazine Jamuna. This became at once popular, and made me famous in one day. Since then I have been writing regularly. In Bengal, perhaps, I am the only fortunate writer who has not had to struggle.

The years he spent in Burma (1903-1916) turned out to be a significant phase in Sarat Chandra’s life. It not merely spurred his literary activity but also established him as a leading creative writer. By the time he returned to Calcutta (1916), his stories and novels were being serialized in most leading Bengali magazines; and ,  his popularity was soaring. This period witnessed changes in his personal life too. His first wife Shanti Devi ,whom he married in 1906 , died of plague in 1908 along with his one year old son. To fill the void in his life, he turned to books; read voraciously on sociology, history, philosophy and psychology etc. He also dabbled in Homeopathy; opened a primary school; and , formed a singing group. In 1909 , he suffered a major health problem ; and, had to cut down his studies . He then took to painting. Sarat Chandra married the second time in 1910; and, his bride was Mokshada,  an adolescent widow. He renamed her Hiranmoyee.


Sarat Chandra wrote, in all, more than 30 full-length novels, dozens of short stories, plays and essays. He wrote about the evils of society; social superstitions and oppression. And in his later works , he wrote about the patriotic and rebellious spirit of his times. Many of his early novels were serialized in monthly magazines –just as in the case of Charles Dickens. Both were prompted by the sheer need to earn a living , by pen. But, while Dickens specialized in creating a great number of wonderful and fascinating characters, Sarat Chandra focused on crafting intriguing situations, depicting conflicts between conservatism and social change; superstitions and rebellion;  and, between the pure and the profane.

Sarat Chandra’s earliest writings show influence of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. They display his displeasure with the core of Hindu orthodoxy and the prevailing social system. His impatience and anger against social discrimination, superstitions; and, bigotry in the name of religion simmer through in his writings. His criticism of the establishment is never vitriolic; he never flouts the accepted moral basis of the Hindu society. His novels such as Devdas (written in 1901, published 1917), Parinita (1914), Biraj Bau (1914) and Palli Samaj (1916) belong to this phase. The themes and their treatment are not much different from Bankim’s; but, their presentation, their locales are updated; the language, particularly of the conversations,  is easier and matter-of-fact.

The women in particular step out of the system with agony, passion and intensity to cleanse the guilt ridden system. There is a burning desire to blow away the old cobwebs; and, usher in a new order, a new dispensation. Their restraint; and the clarity of thought and speech are remarkable. That is the reason his stories retain their freshness, even nearly a century after they were written. Many read over and over , weeping and laughing with his characters.

[His Devdas appears to be an exception. 

After the death of his wife in 1895, Sarat’s father moved to Khanjanpur (a suburb in Bhagalpore). There, Sarat came in close contact with a number of people who would play a significant role in his literary career. Notable were Anupama (later changed her name to Nirupama Devi – author of the Annapurnaar Mandir) and her brother Bibhutibhushan Bhatta and Rajendranath Majumdar (Raju). Incidentally, Raju is said to be the model for Indranath character in his masterpiece Srikanto.  

During this period, Sarat was influenced by the then popular romantic English novels by Ellen Wood (better known as Mrs. Henry Wood) and Marie Corelli. His short stories or novels like Abhimaan, Bojha, Anupamar-Prem, Sukumarer Balyakatha, Bardidi, Chandranath, Debdas, Pashan and Abhimaan were written during this period. The last mentioned, Abhiman, was said to be based on East Lynne by Ellen Wood. And, Pashan followed the theme of the then spectacularly popular English novel Mighty Atom by Marie Corelli. His Debdas belonged to this romantic era.

It is believed that Sarat Chandra  completed writing his long-story or novel, Debdas somewhere around 1901, when he was about 25 years young or a little earlier.  And, it does not seem to have been written when Sarat was a teenager of 17 or so. In any case, Debdas was his early work — written some time before he left for Rangoon in his mid-twenties,  in search of a livelihood.

His Debdas, basically a love-story, differs from his later works both in the story-line and the depiction of its characters.

It is said; Sarat Chandra did not like what he had written; and, he did not want it to be published. He didn’t approve the negative and the escapist streak in Debdas.

But, while Sarat Chandra was in Rangoon, his friend Pramathanath Bhattacharya persuaded Sarat to allow him to publish Debdas. Vishnu Prabhakar, a biographer of Sarat Chandra (Awaara Maseeha,1973), mentions of a letter that Sarat wrote to his friend Pramathanath during 1913: “Don’t give Devdas to them. Don’t even think of it. It was written in a drunken state. I am ashamed of the book now. It is immoral… “.

Nevertheless the book got published four years after his letter to Pramathanath. And, it was initially serialised in the Bharatbarsha. Following which, it was published by GCS as a book on 30th June, 1917 (Asharh of [B] 1324).

When he had eventually agreed to publish the story, reluctantly, in 1917 (sixteen years after it was written), Sarat Chandra begged the readers to have pity and forgive Debdas.

And yet, Debdas enjoyed unprecedented popularity first in Bengali, later in a number of other Indian languages as well.

The literary critics point out that – ‘Devdas – a romanticised despair of youth sunk in inaction and defeatism – is marked by an unevenness that may be attributed to the fact that it was an apprentice work. Terseness alternates with verbiage, objectivity with sentiment. The racy childhood chapters are delightful; but after that the novel begins to get bogged down by maudlin attempts to evoke sympathy for a weak-willed and self-obsessed hero.’

Debdas was translated to Gujarati in 1925 by Brajlal Thakkar. And Naresh Mitra made a silent film of it in 1928. Pramathesh Chandra Barua’s Bengali film Debdas was released on 3rd March 1935, with himself as Debdas and Jamuna Barua as Parvathi. And, on 21st September 1936, Devadas was made in Hindi with the legendary KL Saigal as Devdas and Jamuna Barua as Parvathi. And, the rest, as they say, is history.

On the question : why  have Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s works been a  favorite with Indian filmmakers, please read an analysis made by Ms.  Shoma A Chatterji.

For more please check]

sarat_chandra_chattopadhay_midnapore (1)

1st row from left : Himangsu Roy , Gour Hari Mitra ;2nd row from left : Friend of Sarat Chandra, Bijoy Krishna Khan, Sarat Chandra, Khitish Chandra Dutta, Manmatha Nath Das ; 3rd row from left : Tinkori Sen, Binoy Dasgupta, Chandra Sekhar Dutta, Sudhamoy Bandopadhay,  Hemchandra Kanungo, Bibhuti Bhusan Das, Sibomoy Bandopadhay, Shantimoy Bandhopadhay 

Towards the latter half of his life , Sarat Chandra wrote Pather Dabi (1926) spun around a revolutionary movement, inspired by Bengal, operating in Burma and in Far East. His last complete novel Shesh Prashna (1931) was crafted around a slender theme , inflated by ethereal talks on problems of love and marriage; and , of the individual and of the society. These were almost ‘intellectual’ monologues.

But, Sarat Chandra was at his best when he wrote, with understanding, of women, their sufferings, their often unspoken loves, their need for affection and their desperation for emancipation. His portrayal, particularly, of strong-willed women of rural Bengal defying the convention;  also of women rooted in their sense of values ; and , those who set a benchmark for other characters , to be judged by the reader, stand out as authentic. His women are admirable for their courage, tolerance and devotion in their love for their husbands, lovers or children. These stories also picture husbands who do not know or do not care to express love for their beloved ones. Somehow, the women in his stories never attain happiness in their personal lives.

Just to cite an example; his Srikanto quartet (1917, 1918, 1927, 1933), encompassing lives of many women, is a remarkable study in the conflicts between the individual and the social perception of purity and profanity; and , between rebellion and timid submission to orthodoxy. For instance; take a hurried glimpse at the thumbnail sketch of a few characters in Srikanto.

Rajlakshmi, Srikanta’s lover, in order to erase her past (of fallen woman) ; and, to reform her present (her relationship outside the marital state with Srikanta) goes through a series of purity rituals. She is a sort of benchmark to other characters.

In the first book of the Quartet, Annadadidi, a very properly brought up middle class woman, revolts against propriety; and , runs away with a Muslim snake charmer. She suffers not because of her socially unacceptable love; but because, the husband she chose was unworthy of such love.

In the second part, Abhoya, deserted by her husband, breaks out of her social environment, to live in sin with a man she accepted.

In the third, Sunanda, a scholar, rebels against the poverty imposed upon the peasant by the land tenure system.

In the last book, Kamal Lata has walked out on her people and joined a Vaishnava sect based on surrender and devotion.

Sarat Chandra refuses to be judgmental. His critique on social norm was only a message and never an agenda.  He lets his characters to speak for themselves; and, lets the reader to form her/his own opinion of the purity concept in the Hindu Society. He tried to heighten the social awareness; and , to ignite revolt against the oppressive social cults, which debased and degraded humanity.


Sarat Chandra Chatterjee died of cancer of the liver , on 16th January 1938 at Park Nursing Home in Calcutta, just as the whole of Bengal was preparing to celebrate the birth centenary  of the great Bankim Chandra Chatterji  . Bengal and India lost one of its most gifted sons, a tortured soul and one who loved his country and its people from the core of his being.

Sarat Chandra did not write his autobiography because he said he “lacked the courage and the truthfulness to tell his true story”.

Yet; I reckon, Sarat  projected himself , to an extent, as Srikanta. “As I sit down to tell my story in this fading afternoon of my wandering life, I am flooded with memories.” Thus begins Sarat Chandra’s lyrical novel Srikanto. Its protagonist Srikanta – just as Sarat Chandra – was an aimless drifter, a socially conscious passive spectator, who reminisces on the years gone by; subjecting  himself to analysis. Srikanta too , as a young man,  had traveled to Burma seeking  new experiences; came in close contact with a couple of rebellious women; wandered on; and, finally resigned himself to life, breaking free of the social values he grew up with.

sarat chandra chatterji

I gratefully acknowledge the material from the Sarat Sahitya Samagra (Complete Works of Sarat Chandra), Ananda Publishers Private Limited, Calcutta, 1993. And, from the introduction to Srikanto Part I published by Oxford University Press, London 1922.


Poverty is a smoldering fire in the belly and in the heart. It drives one to reach out, to explore and at times to explode. But when the heat is too much to bear, it could reduce one to ashes which any can trample upon with impunity. It takes great courage to be poor and to live with dignity.



[A brief Note on the photographs posted on this page:

On reading this blog, Dr.   Subroto Roy of Kolkata had sent me a Note that the picture of Sarat Chandra (please click for an enlarged view) , which I posted at the bottom of the article was a part of a photograph taken in 1927 when Sarat Chandra visited Dr. Sobrato Roy’s great-grand father Surendranath Roy. The sofa on which the two sit, he says, is still in use at his home; and indeed if you are in Kolkata some day, you are welcome to view and even sit on the sofa.

Dr. Roy also mentioned that the iconic picture of Sarat Chandra, posted at the top of this article, is from a photograph taken at Bourne & Shepherd Photographers of Calcutta ,  at the instance of Shri Manindra Nath Roy.

He added that Sarat Chandra habitually wore long unkempt hair; and, Smt Nirmala Debi (wife of Shri Manindra Nath Roy) combed his hair neatly before the photograph was taken.

According to Dr. Roy, Sarat Chandra/s Pather Dabi is perhaps dedicated to Smt Nirmala Debi.


Dr. Roy also asked me to view and to reproduce on my page, a hand-written note sent by Sarat Chandra (1931) to Manindra Nath Roy (Dr. Subroto Roy’s grand-father). I am told, the Note is about transport of a table (or writing-desk?) by rail. There is also Note (1925 diary entry in English) by Manindra Nath that mentions of  his travel to Shibpur and Sarat’s  visit for  breakfast.  And, they then visit “Ram Mohan Library” . These Notes , thus , provide  a glimpse of the relationship that existed  between Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Manindra Nath Roy.

There is another letter (in 1919) addressed  to Manindra Nath by  Sudhindranath Tagore (son of Rabindranath’s elder brother), which refers  to the literary journal Bichitra ; enquires  about  Sarat.

Please click on the pictures for a larger view.

For details : Please visit Dr. Roy’s pages :

Please also read Tagore and Sarat Chandra


Other references and sources

Illustrations are from Internet


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27 responses to “Of poverty – literature – Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

  1. ari sitaramayya

    February 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you for a very informative article on Sarat.

    Although Sesha Prasna does have barren intellectual debates as you say, I have been fond of the novel for a long time. Kamala has been an inspiration to me.

    • sreenivasaraos

      February 12, 2013 at 9:32 am

      Thank you Dear Sitaramayyagaru , I am glad you read this article. I appreciate and respect your point of view. Regards

  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Dear Mr Sreenivasa Rao:

    I have no words to describe my admiration of your writing abilities. Your blog kept me glued to the script as I hurriedly lapped up the contents relishing every word, every details.

    Your skill in welding together the writings of others that you have referred to is remarkable.

    Thanks for letting us get agood glimpse of this great story-teller.



  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm


    I salute you for this blog on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. You made me feel very proud. I am also feeling highly honoured to be mentioned in your blog. Sarat Babu touched every heart.

    I must thank you Sir on behalf of Bengalis who love reading Sarat Chandra Chatterjee.

    Regards. God bless.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      Dear Shri Ratan Datta, I am delighted you read and am grateful for the comments. I am one of your fans and read fairly regularly what you write. If I do not post comments more often, it is because that most of the times I am incapable of saying anything sensible that carries forward the debate. Pardon me.

      Writers like Sarat Chandra, Tagore, Khandekar or Shivaram Karanth belonged to the whole of undivided India. Generations of young men and women grew upon their works either in original or in translations. The regional or linguistic barriers were yet to be erected. I knew of a couple of Maharastrians who learnt Kannada just for the reason of reading Karanth’s Marali mannige (back to soil).There were of course hundreds of other Indians who learnt Bengali for the sheer pleasure of reading Srikanto in original ; or of singing aloud or almost shouting out Ekla chalo Re. At times, I am saddened that India of today seems to have grown more parochial, regionalist and inward – looking. The interaction among the Indian languages seems to have dried out, except for mutual bashing. Now, I reckon one has to resort to English translations if one desires to read works in Indian languages.

      Earlier, I had a fair understanding of the significant works produced in most Indian languages. Now I am virtually ignorant of readable good books written in Indian languages during recent years. When this topic came up sometime back, I requested Bijaya Ghosh to post a series on the current literary state in Bengal; or select a few recent novels or poetry and write about them. I hope she does write someday.

      Warm Regards

  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Dear srinivasarao saab,

    A detailed account of the life sketch of Sarat Babu in a brief blog. I read few novels of Sarat Babu in Telugu. I remember that two outstanding Telugu films Devdas and Batasari [badi didi] are based on his novels. His stories are gripping and leave a lingering emotion in the minds. Every Telugu fellow is acquainted with Sarat Babu through these films. They are typical Indian stories and every Indian will be proud of Sarat Babu on reading his works.

    Poverty?….. This reminds me of Maha Kavi Sri Sri the all time great Telugu poet and his work Mahaprasthanam which was written he was poverty stricken. Rather Sri Sri opted for such a way of life as he was not comfortable with his jobs, his bosses…. Today is Ugadi…….. The New Year day of Telugu people. A good day to remember Sarat Babu, Sri Sri .Happy Ugadi to all.

    Sir this blog is excellent as usual from srinivasarao saab.


    DMR Sekhar.

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:01 pm

      Dear Shri Sekhar, Greetings. Wish you a very Happy Ugadi. Yes Sir, Sarat Chandra…his stories, his women and the restless search for a meaning have all been a part of our growing up. His works translated into most Indian languages; and his novels rendered as films are all a part of Indian ethos of the last century. Your admiration for Sri Sri is well placed. In my response to Shri Ratan Datta’s comment, I mentioned that the interaction among the Indian languages has virtually dwindled out. I hope we realize our wealth; and let others share. Warm Regards.

  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I have read almoast all his novels but I never knew his life.

    I read the novels (mostly in school) butI had very little understanding.

    But whenever I finished one , the pain of the deprived heroine used to be transferred into me.I used to feel Sarat Babu should have altered the endings.

    However, more than any novel, a short story had greater impact on my psyche. Mahesh is a story of poor Muslim Gaffor , his daughter Amina his cow -Masheh. Mahesh – the cow, and the lovable tramp and Indranath somehow both were my hero.One broke into the Zaminders garden to eat, another laughed aloud at all social norms lived a life according to his value.

    Needless to say, this is an excellent analysis- but your articles always are. Will read again

    Bijaya Ghosh

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      Dear Bijaya Ghosh, Thank you for reading. You were the first one I thought of after I finished writing it; and was aware it would be like carrying ice to Eskimos. After you read again please do let me know.

      As you said , the women in his stories could never achieve happiness in their personal lives. It is interesting you should mention Indranath. Sarat Chandra mentions elsewhere that in a way he too liked his character Indranath based on Rajendranath Majumdar (Raju) whom he knew around 1896.He says, following the death of his mother (1895) he with moved to Khanjanpur (a suburb in Bhagalpur) where he came in close contact with a number of people. Among those mentioned are Anupama (who later changed her name to Nirupama Devi – author of the Annapurnaar Mandir) and her brother Bibhutibhushan Bhatta and Rajendranath Majumdar (Raju). Raju is the original of the famous Indranath character. Please keep talking.


      [P:S: Please also check my response to Shri Ratan Datta]

  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Dear Bharatborn, Thank you for reading and for the comment. Yes, I agree with what you said about Devdas; and his creator too agreed with you. Devdas was Sarat Chandra’s early stories (1901) and he did not like what he had written and therefore did not want it to be published. He didn’t approve the negative and the escapist streak in Devdas. When he eventually agreed to publish the story, reluctantly, in 1917 (sixteen years after it was written) he begged the readers to have pity and forgive Devdas….Regards

  7. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Comments posted by SumathiALN ,by a Note:

    Hello Mr.Sreenivasa Rao

    Neat article. I have not read Sarat CHandra’s works. So I am not equipped to speak of his style or flow (which I think is most important in holding my interest) & approach.

    But I have thought often on this idea – of poverty being a driving force – not only financial poverty, but major losses in life. For, this causes you to think. When everything is handed to you on a platter, you are deprived of catalysts that spurn your thoughts and I guess first hand experience is the best teacher in life.

    On the other hand, all the great lasting artworks left to us, the Indian temples and art were all made possible because the kings provided a source of income for the artists, thus releiving them of the burden of providing for the family. Their minds were thus uncluttered by the mundane and they could concentrate on their creative talent.

    In the first case, success at some level will be a help. Or the artist has to be a driven soul to continue in spite of repeated failures.


  8. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Dear Sreenivasarao

    I know why I missed this interesting profound write up about Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, depicting poverty… his life….it is because I was away from Sulekha in March and your date of posting is March!

    Thanks for this – it will help as a great reference for anyone working on Indian Ethnic Literature… I have read – his complete Rachnabali – even Bankimchandra Chatterjee (we had great luck because in school our Bengali teacher had bought a whole collection of valuable books for us so that though in Eng convent – we would not miss our ethnic literary treasures)


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      Dear Ether, Thank you. I am glad you did read. The appreciation coming from an erudite Bengali like you is truly valuable. I feel, studies on works of Indian authors hardly get enough attention even in the Indian Universities. By the way, please do check remarks of Dr. Subroto Roy of Kolkata (, which I posted in the comments column. Regards

  9. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    A wonderful and informative blog on Sharat Babu!! In the para “But Sharat Chandra was at his best….happiness in their personal lives” you said it all about his women characters.

    My Utterances

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      Dear MU, Thank you. Sarat Babu had a deep affection and respect for Bengali women. His women characters rooted in their values do stand out; some of them are dominant personalities without in any way losing their femininity. Regards

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 7:10 pm

        Dear Mr Rao

        I came back to read your reply and also read bits of the blog one more time. This time I read some comments as well. Can’t express in words my joy to see that letter written by Sarat Babu. The rest of the information about him, and the Roys of Kolkata was also interesting. I would love to visit Dr Subroto Roy’s website.

        A friend’s grand pa was member of Parliament in the Jawahar Lal Nehru governemnt. My friend’s father had shown me a letter written by Pt Nehru. There were some medals and momorabilia as well. After my friend’s death, I wonder who would preserve the same. My friend seems uninterested. And he wouldn’t even allow others to take care of the same. :((

        Dr Subroto Roy deserves applause for preserving the precious pictures, letters, and other things (including the sofa) that have historic significance. And it is so nice of him to share the same with others. Please convey my regards to Dr Subroto Roy.

        My Utterances

  10. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Dear Sreenivasrao,

    Glad I could pick up the link from the homepage. This is a great tribute to the great author. I have read most of his stories and novels! Sarad Babu knew what poverty actually meant in terms of materialistic sense…most of his stories do depict that ; they are sketched on a social canvas with very little socialist twists and turns! This is an excellent article and I am glad that I didn’t miss it.

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      Dear MM, Thank you. I am glad you read. Yes, I agree Sarat Babu’s dissatisfaction or impatience with the then social order and maladies was never spiteful; his expression of anger was tempered with compassion for the helpless. Regards

  11. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Dear Sreenivasarao Garu,

    You have given a very informative and in-depth portrayal of Sarath Chandra. From my limited understanding of his literature which I could read from translations published in Telugu, I agree with your observation that his stories rarely had happy endings so far it concerned women. But he portrayed the role of women in those times very pragmatically. May be most of his characterization is a reflection of his own life.

    Thank you for this informative and analytical review of life and times of Sarath Chandra.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:11 pm

      Dear Radha Reddy, Thank you maa. I am glad you found the post interesting.Sarat Babu had great regard and affection for women of rural Bengal. The women in his stories step out of the system with agony, passion and intensity to cleanse the guilt ridden system. There is a burning desire to blow away the old cobwebs and usher in a new order, a new dispensation. Their restraint; and the clarity of thought and speech are remarkable. And, as you mentioned, the women in his stories, somehow, never attain happiness in their personal lives.

      Many of his characters, as you rightly observed, were drawn from his life.


  12. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    very very well written –
    yes his portrayal of women simply fascinates me – in school when our teachers taught us literature – this they always highlighted too –

    I always admire his maturity and his imagination too – created some role-models for women I must say t- to exert tehmselves – and some survived in that manner only – e.g in Datta – in that century how could ne think of a 18/19 yr old woman who has lost her father to satnd against all oddities and defy the people who though pose as her well-wishers but who actually want her property etc? this shows that he was much ahead of his time too,
    I swa the film Datta fisrt in 1976 , then after a year or two I read the novel and was amazed!

    and then his clarity of vision as u hv rightly said, –
    his analysis too – e.g. in Grihadaho, he neatly analyzes the typical thoughts that a man has – in analyzing Kedarbabu’s thoughts for his daughter’s choice of a husband

    simply superb , but now now your blog is superb too ,
    keep it up, hope to read more like this one,
    best wishes,

  13. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Splendid material and marvelous thoughts…here are various thoughts after reading your blog…

    * I’m glad you mentioned Satyajit Ray and his Apu trilogy…I’ve always been disappointed that Indian film directors have not continued from his work, as say the Japanese have with Kurosawa…

    * That great Director Kurosawa also fell into difficult times in later life…The artist’s preoccupation and passion for art and issues of art leads them, I guess, to live completely in the world of art, ideas and idealism…while the world of material and wealth accumulation is a different world … even Dadi – though he made tons of fortune – lost it …

    * Sarat Chandra: “I’m forever indebted to the deprived, ordinary people who give this world everything they have and yet receive nothing in return, to the weak and oppressed people whose tears nobody bothers to notice and to the endlessly hassled, distressed (weighed down by life) and helpless people who don’t even have a moment to think that: despite having everything, they have right to nothing.”

    I’m writing a series of poems currently, as you know, based on some of the works of Caravaggio…He had a similar approach to art which I’m reminded of by your above Sarat Chandra quote in your blog…Caravaggio, when asked to use the great works of art and sculpture all round him in Rome as models, pointed out to the people in the streets and said: These are my models!

    True artists indeed like Sarat and Caravaggio go to the real source of life – the people…

    Again, thanks you for such thorough blogs presented with genuine passion and and love for uplifting thoughts…

    Raj Armugam

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Dear Raj, Thanks for digging out an old and a forgotten blog. Yes; as I mentioned, for some unknown reason creativity seems to have something to do with hunger: ‘The passion in human nature chooses “the one precious thing” and urges him to pay for it through poverty, conflict, deprivation, and endurance of anger from rejected divinities’. Even otherwise, no artist is ever pleased with himself. There is no satisfaction whatever, at any time. There is only a queer dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps him alive.

      I agree with what you mentioned about Satyajit Ray, Kurosawa and as also of Kafka Dostoevsky and some others. As regards Caravaggio, his life was turbulent almost always on run, playing hide-and-seek with Law. Yes, in his initial stages, street life and poverty stricken urchins were his subject matter. But, after he came under the patronage of Cardinal Francesco Del Mont at Rome, during 1595, he became almost exclusively a painter of religious themes.

      Incidentally, long years back I lived in Bombay among some of its poorest families, for a short period. The following is an extract from what I wrote of those times:

      “ I have never witnessed such spontaneous collective goodwill elsewhere as among the lower income immigrant groups of Bombay. Most were fleeing from the unbearable sizzling cauldron of poverty and humiliation tormenting them in their small towns and villages; and were thrown into the squalor, dirt and wretchedness of the big city, the like of which they had never seen. They were ordinary people who lived dreary lives huddled in nondescript hellholes called Chawls and eked out living doing low paying odd jobs; yet shined as angles when neighbors were in trouble. They realized the needed of each other if they had to survive the encircling wretchedness that was climbing on them. They clung to each other for fear of loneliness, for help and comfort and for fear of big bad wolf. Whenever tragedy struck by way of accident, debilitating sickness or death; or at times of dire need during pregnancy or childbirth; like little ants, together they carried burdens much heavier than themselves. They survived not by standing valiantly against the Goliath but by bending low like grass in a storm. Yet, even if they could not erase the scourge of poverty, they carried it about them with dignity which was neither less nor different from the dignity of any other human being.

      The greatest difficulty they faced was isolation; turning their homes into ghettos. Poverty, they realized, wasn’t only a lack of financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people that could help them.”

      Warm Regards

  14. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Dear Sara, It is delight to see you .Your concerns are valid and logical; I appreciate that. Thank you for airing your views candidly.

    Saratchandra the writer is torturously mingled with Saratchandra the man. His novels depict the tormenting conflicts between instincts and ideals, between social ethics and personal urges. The inner being, élan vital of his characters is not merely alive but is restlessly mobile. There is a perpetual strife to balance reason and passion. Saratchandra just as most of his characters did not live a blemish- less life. His life was far from perfect. His characters reflected his inner struggles.

    As regards his mother, I think, he lost her in 1895 when he was barely 9 years old. He missed her sorely; and that led to his idealizing motherhood.

    His father, just as the son, was a restless soul.Because of his semi-nomadic nature and his ever stringent financial situation, Sarat had to change schools frequently; and received almost no education for want of means. It was neither an ideal household; nor was it a happy childhood.

    Add to that; One day his teacher hinted that it was impossible to acquire learning by continuing at the same school for long. He had also to give up schooling as his father could not afford the school-fee.Sarat’s father sold his home for a mere Rs.225 to repay a debt; and moved out of town. That and without no home and a mother to care for him, turned Sarat into a tramp. His father too died soon after.

    I am neither defending nor justifying his errant nature and the mistakes he made in his life. He was very much aware of his inadequacies. I do not intend presiding over his moral judgment. He lived his life with its aches and pains; but turned his experiences into classics. Saratchandra himself said, “It is true that my irregular life has caused me much pain and loss.But this was more than compensated for by the people I met. They taught me that man was not simply a bundle of faults, sin and wickedness. They gave me a glimpse of the real man behind all this wickedness and sin. Let not my writings insult this real man!”

    Thank you for asking.

    Cheers and Regards

  15. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    February 10, 2014 at 3:32 am
    Thank you for the links. My late father Shri MK Roy was invited to Sarat Chandra’s Sraddha ceremonies; I will post the invitation card at a later date.

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      Dear Dr.Roy , I am honoured by your presence here.
      Please post a copy of the Card.

      Please do read my post Tagore and Sarat Chandra
      I have also talked a bit about the Great Bankim Chandra.

      Warm Regards


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