Palli Samaj – Sarath


Palli Samaj is a Bengali novella by Sarat Chandra Mukherjee Chattopadhyay. Literally translated, it means – the village community. (I never knew Bengali and Telugu have such a similarity!). However, the English version is named ‘The Home Coming’ because it is all about the homecoming of a native of the village, Ramesh and his struggle in the village.

Note: was posted in on 9th June 2005

Palli Samaj is mostly about a typical Bengali village community though with certain minor differences in customs, it could be understood to be any Indian village community.

The story is set in a village near Tarakeshwar, in Hooghly district of West Bengal. It is set in the times of early 20th century. It was first published as a serial in Bharatvarsha between September – December 1915 and later published as a book in 1916. On its release, it received severe criticism saying that it is “immoral literature”.

The novel highlights village factions. The prevalence of caste system in the Bengal villages, the concept of village factions are well introduced in to the story. Ramesh arrives in to the village as an Engineer from Roorkee College to perform his father’s last rites.

Don’t know why but that Ramesh is from Roorkee College is mentioned atleast 4, 5 times in the novella. His father has some major disputes with the village leaders – Beni babu and others. Beni is none other than his brother’s son. But, the disputes go on to such a level that his rivals decide to boycott his last rites ceremony. With this, rest of the villagers, afraid of Beni decides to boycott too.

Further, Ramesh’s decision to invite Sudras of the village to the ceremony adds fuel to the fire. However, the grandeur of the ceremony, Ramesh’s boneless hand, Bisweswari’s(Beni’s mother) taking over charges-all these make people arrive here though Beni still avoids. Here, the plight of certain extremely poor Brahmins who feed their children only on these occasions like a marriage or death is touchingly portrayed.

Rama, a young widow, is a childhood friend of Ramesh. The love story between these two goes along with the story. However, their love is not described in fancy dialogues, poetry etc etc etc… is not direct. It is just understood from their affection to each other. It was for this reason that the book was called immoral – a widow’s love affair.

Rama is a part of Ramesh’s father’s rivals. Her struggle- to support Ramesh and at the same time to torture him by joining hands with Beni are realistically described. The kind of mental disturbance she must have been underwent in contradictory events like for example showing her love to Ramesh and lodging a complaint landing Ramesh in jail is well portrayed.

Ramesh gets fed up with the narrow mindedness of the villagers. He loathes their gossips, their treachery everything. He expresses his disgust with Bisweswari – “If you give them charity, they take you to be a fool. If you do good to them, they assume you must have some interest in it. Even forgiving is a fault. They think you backed out from fear”

With these words, when Ramesh says that he is fed up and wants to leave, Bisweswari’s reply reminds Ramesh of his duty to the village. She says- “Lack of education has made them so blind that they think the weakening of their neighbour is the best way to strengthen themselves. Nothing can be more foolish than being angry with such people.”

Bisweswari is not educated. But, she knows the value of education and makes Ramesh realise the difference he can make in the village.

Ramesh witnesses the impact of caste in a village society. He feels the concept of religion has lost its life in these Bengal villages. “If religion is devoid of life, what is the use of the corpse which is left behind?” – he questions himself.

The mentality of always worrying what other will think is ridiculed in the statement – “O! This fear of others and their fault finding!”

Another thing that was commented most is the way people take interest in gossips – “Possession of wealth has no limit; neither is there any end to the interest one can take in other people”

The status of a widow in a Bengali village community can be understood in a single statement – “Among Hindus, no relative ever prays for the long life of a widow.”

The incident of cutting of embankment depicts the plight of ordinary farmers who live under the control of land lords like Beni. The incident of Bhairab turning against Ramesh after getting every help from them out of the fear of future and Beni is a typical example of the dominance of village factions.

Through a talk between Ramesh and Bisweswari, the author tries to discuss the flaws in the Hindu religion: “One should not only protect oneself and one’s society and preserve it intact. But, one should also try to augment it. We Hindus don’t have that law” – says Ramesh.

“Muslims have a living religion. The Hindus haven’t. True religion has infact dissappeared from villages. What is left are the superstitious customs and practices which gives rise to needless strifes and bickerings” – responds Bisweswari.

On the whole, the book can also be understood as a call for the Youth to come back and work for their places. While vividly depicting the then social conditions, it criticizes severely the Hindu society and the Hypocrisy in it. Abstractness is the buzz word in portraying the character of Rama. Never is her love mentioned directly. The ending however is not as revolutionary as the beginning.

My interest in Sarat started when I read “Devadas” six months back. Ofcourse, prior that I saw some Telugu movies based on his stories. After “Devadas” & “Pather Dabi” this book is a bit dissapointing in the sense that this book is too dramatized at some instances.

For example, with a single incident of Ramesh’s going to jail, everything changes in the village. There are some two, three of such dramatized incidents, everything is fine with the book. The dialogues are very adeptly written. Despite this being a bit of like let-down, it still prompts you to read more of Sarath.

Published in: on July 16, 2006 at 4:12 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A good review on the book. Its well organized and your opinion is clearly presented.

    I never read Sarath, but I want to read this novel. I am especially interested in his criticism of Hindu religion and society. You have quoted some of the excerpts regarding this and I tend to disagree with Sarath on those! This makes me even more curious to read the book.

  2. Well packed criticism of the text. I have read the book. And I was looking for somebody who has similar understanding. But I think there is something else about ramesh which you did not mention . There is a matter of lot of expectation and sheer disappointment about his dream of his village.

    I would appreciate if you mention it later.

  3. kindly give me pallisamaj books

  4. Hi Sowmya… Please correct the name of the author- Sarath Chandra Chatterji…not mukherji.He is so great , you can’t go wrong about his name!!!

    Nice blog!!! Keep it up!!

    • Thanks Sirisha! No one pointed this out in the past 4.5years of this post! Strange!!!

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