Sunday, November 16, 2003

Courage derived from nature
Sukhdev Singh

Aparajito, The Unvanquished
by Bhibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, translated by Gopa Majumdar, HarperCollins, New Delhi. 
Rs 295. Pages 478.

In his philosophical musings in The Art of The Novel, Czech novelist Milan Kundera rightly avers that a "novel examines not reality, but existence and existence is not what has occurred; existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he is capable of". Different novelists have tried to explore these possibilities in diverse languages since time immemorial.

Whatever be the language, the kernel of truth shines in mesmerising details the novelist offers in presenting the complexities and contradictions of a heroic life lived in a "turbulent sea of tears". One such specimen of man’s indomitable spirit traversing the ocean of time and alternating between great leaps forward and huge buffets backward in the face of unpredictable vagaries of human life is Bhibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Sahitya Akademi Award winning Aparajito, a sequel to his celebrated novel, Pather Panchali.

The two novels supplied the raw material for Satyajit Ray’s famous trilogy. At the end of Pather Panchali, Harihar Roy, a Brahmin, leaves this world after a hectic struggle and is survived by his wife, Sarbajaya, and son, Apurbo Roy, in an idyllic country suburb, Nischindipur. Apu, having lost his sister, Durga, embarks on a lonely journey littered with grievous pitfalls and dazzling deceptions. It is his survival instinct tinged with pantheistic intensity that shines with unmatched glory amid the vicissitudes of human life, making him an Aparajito — the unvanquished.

Apu is poor by birth and circumstances, but is endowed with rich imaginative faculties, which incite him to transgress the ordinary and hanker after the extraordinary. Living with his mother at Monashapota, he can earn his livelihood acting as an amateur priest, but he leaves this easy way out to pursue the arduous path of gaining school education, during which he becomes aware of deprivation, disadvantage and degrading disappointments.

Living in abject penury, surviving on part-time tuition work or odd jobs and helplessly "relishing" the squalor of Calcutta, his anguished soul turns to the soothing consolation of benign nature to which he pays his heartfelt tribute in times of agonising dejection. Divided between the call of nature and the calling from mundane drudgery, he drifts aimlessly in a sea of uncertainty and stifling boredom.

His life heads from one disaster to another. His mother dies, he leaves studies, marries Aparna, who dies after giving birth to Kajal. This destructive dance of death kindles in him an urge to gain an insight into the mystery of life. The need for spiritual elevation finds an instinctive impetus in his uncomplaining surrender to the benevolent influence of Mother Nature.

Apu lives for five long years in the lap of nature, where the rising Sun, flowing waters, starry nights, humble stones and promising trees tell enviable truths inaudible to poor urban ears. His slow transformation and resultant visionary maturity make him even transcend the reality of death and see life as an unending repetition towards immortality. His insights gain lyrical intensity and he sees everything in a different perspective.

The frightened eyes of a deer make him forego the pleasures of hunting forever. The annihilation of self in the service of others becomes sine qua non for this changed man. He writes his experiences for the benefit of others. Like the Ancient Mariner, he becomes a medium for a meaningful message.

Poverty and opulence are curses of modern life because these ostracise us from nature, the former through lack and the latter through excess. True happiness lies in wondering at the spectacle of cosmic creation while immersed in silent meditation. The unalloyed pleasures of nature can make us see the mystery of things with deciphering eyes.

The spirit of inner adventure in Apu is still struggling to achieve something significant in another realm. Having conquered land, he sees the sea as another means of exploring the facet of existence in a different form. His alter ego, Kajal, is ready to embark on a quest of equally adventurous nature to delve into the depths of his roots at Nischindipur and extract the truth of his existence. These explorers of existence remain unvanquished in their eternal search for an answer to the mystery of life. They are fuelled by the urge "to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield".

Gopa Majumdar’s brilliant translation of this Bangla classic is a deserving gift to the non-Bangla speakers world over.