Pather Dabi

PATHER DABI – THE RIGHT OF THE WAY

Pather Dabi is a Bengali novel written by one of the stalwarts of Bengali literature – Sarath Chandra Chattopadhyay. It appeared as a serial in a monthly journal Bangabani between Feb-mar 1922 and Apr-may 1926. It was very controversial in those days. The serial was later planned to be published as a book. The story behind the release of the book is a thriller in itself and is mentioned in the introduction to the book. On its release, the 5000 copies printed were sold out in a week! When the police came to the office of Bangabani to seize the copies of the book (it was its editor and his associates who finally released the book), not a single copy of the book was found. Finally, the editor, Ramaprasad Mukherjee obtained a copy of the book from his sister to give it to the police!! The book was later banned and the ban was not lifted until after Sarath’s death.

Pather Dabi stands for – the right of the way. Pather Dabi is actually a secret society which aims at bringing up a revolution in the society. Its ambition is to free India from the British rule. The story line is about the activities of Pather Dabi, the life of Sabyasachi who is the leader of this organization, more popularly called-doctor; a timid & orthodox Bengali Brahmin Apoorba Haldar; the Christian lady who loves him – Bharathi Joseph; another lady who is the president of this organization – Sumitra; Ramdas Talwarkar, a friend of Apoorba and man ready to die for his country and many other characters. The story line, inter relation ship between the characters, the agony and ecstasy of the struggle stirred the public imagination in those days.

The orthodoxy in traditional Bengali Brahmin families and the way they treat certain other castes as untouchables is very vividly depicted in this novel. At the same time, the feeling of Christians that they are near to the British owing to their language, faith and looks, the way the British treat the natives is also detailed to compare both the things. Pather Dabi works for the welfare of factory workers nearby and wants them to participate in a strike against the ownership demanding a decent life. So, Bharathi and Apoorba one day visit the workers’ dwellings to propagate the message. The pathetic conditions in which they live, the way they comment on people who are working for their good, the incident of Bharathi warning Apoorba not to give more money to the poor saying they’ll drink with that money are well portrayed.

Sabyasachi or doctor is portrayed as a super human soul. The character is in lines of the revolutionary leaders of the pre-independence era. The mental strength necessary for such a kind of work is understood from the mould of his character.
“I am just a stone” says he at one instant. The conditions in which the revolutionaries have to take shelter in, the constant danger they face, the way they handle situations, the way even after all these, the doctor remains cheerful and confident all through is indeed an inspiring account. A mention is made of the various revolutions that shook the world to illustrate the need for a revolution.

“Revolution does not necessarily mean blood shed. It signifies radical and total transformation of society instead” – says Doctor to Bharathi at one instant. The doctor also mentions about the various invasions on the Asian countries particularly- India and China.

One conversation between Bharathi and Apoorba tries to make people understand the injustice in untouchability-
“…the bench becomes impure if we sit on it. The air gets polluted if we enter the room…..as if we are not humans…”- says an angered Apoorba after being ill-treated by a group of British guys at an instant. For this, Bharathi replies-
“..Do you really feel for the suffering of men? Is there really no objection in someone’s touch?”

“Certainly not! Colour of man, his country, his faith should not be the criterion on which he is judged. God will never forgive their hatred and malice for others” responds Apoorba. Bharathi laughs at this outburst. This incident shows the contrast in Apoorba’s response to untouchability in two different aspects. He is an orthodox Brahmin who refuses to eat food cooked by Bharati at one instant. And now…..

The orthodoxy in the mindsets of even the educated people is presented by the character of Apoorba in the following words:
“I agree that men and women have rights to serve their country. But, their field of activity cannot be the same. While men work outside, women should try to serve their husbands and children in purity of their households. In doing this, they’ll be rendering a far greater service to the country than jostling with men folk outside”.

A criticism of the conventional practices is done through the character of Sumitra. Certain dialogues like- “…..a society where the main purpose of taking a wife is to beget a son…”, “…..do u believe that just because they’re married a woman can love her husband?…” etc point out the flaws in the system and its treatment towards women. Hearing all these, orthodox that he is, Apoorba dismisses all these thoughts saying- “such ideas as yours sow dissension and discord in our peaceful, disciplined society.”

The conversations between Bharathi and Doctor are very educative and Thought provoking. While Bharathi, though a member of the organization, supports a non-violent struggle, the Doctor supports a violent means to achieve the goal. Bharathi points that the British are good administrators and did a lot to India. She also quotes about the reforms they got in-for example, abolition of sati etc. The Doctor talks at length about the facts ignored and small good deeds coming in to prominence. He comments on their justice saying-
“The concept of justice in civilized European nations cannot conceive why a powerful country should not seize what rightfully belongs to a weaker nation.”

A brief talk between Doc and Bharathi discusses about the indifference of the locals to Patriotism and the way they helped enemies – British or Moghuls.

The book should have been branded a revolutionary book not just because of its criticism of the British. For condemnation of several deep rooted customs of religion, of law, of social structure. It calls the Indian natives as cowards and criticizes bitterly certain deeds of our forefathers especially Bengalis.
“Nothing becomes venerable just because it is old” – says the Doctor at an instant.

When a character says that we have been following these principles since past times, his responds-
“In this ever changing world, there is nothing like unchanging, inviolate truth. Truth too has its births and deaths in every age. In every generation, it adapts to the needs of people. To believe that what was true for past ages would be true in today’s world would be an error of judgement like a blind superstition.”

Through the character of Doctor, the author comments on the irrelavance of caste system and also religions in the following words-

“Religion is basically a sham. Just an age old superstition. Religion is man’s worst enemy”.

The Doctor says to Bharati at an instant-
“My aim is independence and not the welfare of people”
Now, this is indeed a shocking statement!

Further he discusses about the flaws of non-violence.
The writing style is wonderful…..it is an addictive style. Of course, due merit should be given for the translator – Prasenjit Mukherjee. One need not mention more about the great Sarath. he is well known for every interested Indian.

On the whole, the book is unconventional and revolutionary from page 1. It’s a must read for every person interested in knowing what revolution means.
Note: here on, I am mentioning the dates of my articles on which they were posted in some other site: 25thMay2005,telugupeople.com

Published in: on July 16, 2006 at 4:11 am  Comments (16)  

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  1. Sarath again! I learnt more about him through this review. Thanks a lot.

    From what you wrote, it seems that Sarath was an atheist. Or possibly he just had revolutionary ideas about religions, Hinduism in particular, like many Bengal intellectuals in those times.

    As Vivekananda once pointed out, these Bengal intellectuals, mostly influenced by the British, denounced and renounced the Hindu religion. This rather “destructive approach” did some harm to Hinduism.

    • no dear.. please do not categorize the great Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay only as a bengali intellectual..
      he had nothing against Hindu religion. None of his writtings ever harmed Hindu religion. He has books on Bramha Dhrama too.. which was made by revolutionary hindus who hated their religion for being too stupid. He was a versatile writer.. and much like Swami Vivekananda himself. Swamiji respected Sharat chandra a lot. So please dont be misguided just by your predictions.
      Get your facts corrected before you conclude on something, specially when it’s on someone’s character

    • Sir,

      you are mistaken. I actually sent a reply to original poster vbsowmya. The translation he read is not only insufficient but incorrect, may be good English but misrepresentation.
      The lines – “Religion is basically a sham. Just an age old superstition. Religion is man’s worst enemy”. – I cannot find this anywhere in Bangla book, they are complete misrepresentation

      Further..
      Sabyasachi once tells Bharati:
      “My life’s aim is nothing but India’s independence. But I have never committed this mistake to believe that this should be the ultimate goal in human life. Independence is not the end of independence. Religion, peace, poetry, happiness are the higher human values and independence has its meaninig only because of these. Otherwise what’s the use of independence? So I will not have you killed, my dear sister, for the love, the passion, the mercy (karuna) that your heart bears and that has lifted you up far beyond my petty need of independence. I cannot even reach that level with my hands outstreched”

      You may please read my full comments posted today.

      Regards,
      M

  2. I have read the book in Bengali appreciate your comments. The book should be prescribed in the post graduate language class in all indian and international language.s. The writer once said that as a writer he has the right to ask questions which deserve to be answered by the society . He has asked more questions 0than what the human society has the capacity to answer. I think he has surpassed Rabindranath Tagore in his sense of social sensivity and revolutionary philosophy. shyamadas

  3. can this novel be catagorized as anti-racial novel??

    • THis book does voice against the silly practice of racism, but cannot be categorized as anti-racial. Its appropriate to say this book is describing the heart of a revolutionary, so hardened with his goal of independence yet so caring, so loving who values love and life more but is dragged to revolution due to the horrors of British rule and its effect on his childhood days, murder of his brother.
      If possible read this in its original in Bangla

  4. I would disagree with the original posting here, it feels like the posting is done without reading the book and from a translated version. Translations are sometimes very contradictory. I have read the novel in Bangla, so the line –
    On the whole, the book is unconventional and revolutionary from page 1″ does not seem to really represent the book. Its the book about the life of a revolutionary in the center, but it gives more value to human life than revolution. In the words of the author if I translate verbatum, Sabyasachi once tells Bharati:
    “My life’s aim is nothing but India’s independence. But I have never committed this mistake to believe that this should be the ultimate goal in human life. Independence is not the end of independence. Religion, peace, poetry, happiness are the higher human values and independence has its meaninig only because of these. Otherwise what’s the use of independence? So I will not have you killed, my dear sister, for the love, the passion, the mercy (karuna) that your heart bears and that has lifted you up far beyond my petty need of independence. I cannot even reach that level with my hands outstreched”

    The lines – “Religion is basically a sham. Just an age old superstition. Religion is man’s worst enemy”. – I cannot find this anywhere in Bangla book, they are complete misrepresentation. Specially as you see above, he puts value to religion.

    Again – “My aim is independence and not the welfare of people”
    These lines are misintepreted. The author continues here, that he has taken only the task of independence even though he recognizes the ultimate task is poeple welfare and he believes artists like Sashi can do this. Sabyasachi clearly tells Bharati his goal is not human welfare because he has chosen the task of independence and decided to become a revolutionary. But he is actually a lover of life.
    The assence of the book is, how even being a hard core revolutionary, who sees nothing else, thinks nothing else, decides to pardon Apporva, going against his entire team, even though Apoorva acted as a traitor in midst of fear. This jeopardizes his plans and movements and even his mere existence there, as police knows Doctor is Sabyasachi and can be found in hotel room. But Sabyasachi puts his reason of saving Apoorva as “to save the beautiful creation that was developing between Bharati and Apporva”… “Brajendrader mato barbarder debo ta nashto kore dite? – Allow barbaristic instincts of Brajendra to destroy that?”. Because he trusts in life and not in killing.
    He also says “Can you ever achieve something with cruelty? ..” and tells the story of Nilkanta Joshi and his pain and effort to help a Cholera patient at the cost of getting in the hands of police.

    I actually find this book beyond its time, almost as if it tells that the true freedom comes from revolution and not from petition. This is a very debatable topic, but has come forth many times what India got was really freedom or an illusion? After independence, did we really achieve the next goals of religion, peace, poetry, happiness at least for majority of Indians? I think author has forseen this and has already tried to express that by petitions one cannot achieve “pather Dabi”. “Manusher chalar path manush konodin niupadrabe chhere dey ni” – translated “A man’s right of way is never given to him, he had to exert force to earn it” and Sabyasachi points all historical examples of western world with their civil revolution. But the book actually portrays a debate about the political movements that were involving discussions, petitions and their difference with the ways of revolutionary. But offcourse author is proving the veiw of a revolutionary from the mouth of Sabyasachi, who does not believe in petitions, in non-violence, but believes in complete independence without any restriction or condition that has to snatched from the ruler and he says to achieve this goal he is ready to take any means. Bharati, on the other hand even though venerates Sabyasachi says “If this is your way, your opinion, I cannot accept this even from your hand, dada”. Even though author portrays Sabyasachi as a very able, efficient enigmatic character, he has openly kept Bharati nonacceptor of that idea. The arguments of Sabyasachi is a real picture of the controversy between the hardcore revolutionary and the political reformist group. May be the author actually believed the ways of Sabyasachi or may be he actually supported Bahrati, who knows? But the question still remains did we get the next steps after independence, the real goal of human welfare, for which independence was merely a pathway????

    • Manju,

      Thanks for the comment.
      >> “I would disagree with the original posting here, it feels like the posting is done without reading the book and from a translated version.”
      -if you read the blog post fully, you will understand that I read it in English translation. The translator’s name is also mentioned in the blog post🙂

  5. Addendum to the comments before of Feb. 28, 5:09 pm
    “The book should have been branded a revolutionary book not just because of its criticism of the British. For condemnation of several deep rooted customs of religion, of law, of social structure. It calls the Indian natives as cowards and criticizes bitterly certain deeds of our forefathers especially Bengalis.”
    I completely disagree with the author of this posting. The book does not call Indian natives as coward. Sabyasachi says “Apoorba is not a traitor, he loves India, but like most countrymen …” the sentence ends here without completion. The book does challange some old customs by ”
    “Nothing becomes venerable just because it is old”. This statement does not mean all old customs are bad or challangable, but tells just because a custom is old, its not venerable. We do that always in our days. In earlier days, inability of giving birth to a male child was considered the greatest flaw in a wife. Thats an old custom, is that venerable? Customs criticised are like Sati Dah – burninig the living wife with her husband’s body, and custom of considering a person inferior because of his religion or caste, are these venerable customs? Offcourse Bharati tries to explain once getting scared that “revolution will break all existing, will remove the peace of life” and Sabyasachi explains thats what he expects. To him “What is the meaninig of peace in a dominated land where I cannot speak my mind, get my right of way?” If this brands this book revolutionary then any person in todays world when they say “I have the democratic right to speak against my leaders”? What is freedom of press then?
    Again I think the posting was based on a translated version and cannot do justice to the book

  6. Thank you so much vbSowmya for your reply with not agreeing to your posting. I was really happy to see that you read my comment and replied back. Looks like I have to read the translation of Prasenjit Mukherjee or may be someday if I get time, I should try to do a justice by translating this book. My problem is I do not have really such a good English skill to translate this book which is very much feelings driven and not action driven like other revolutionary books/stories. Translating to Hindi would be easier (also sort of my tongue) because its easier to represent social customs of the then society in Indian languages than English. I think English lacks terms like Karuna, Abhiman …
    And I am not a writer by any means. But what hurts me is the comment from KSM Phanindra – who seems to judge the author from your posting
    “Sarath again! I learnt more about him through this review. … From what you wrote, it seems that Sarath was an atheist. Or possibly he just had revolutionary ideas about religions…”
    We all do that but we should never judge a literary writing based on translation!!!!!!!!
    Anyway thank you again for accepting my comment

  7. Does any one of you have any idea what is the procedure for publishing another English translation of this book? Who’s permission do I need, what are the copy right rules? I am not looking for making money, I just want to do it for the love of this book

  8. a successful novel, poem or critical essey is one which raises more questions than it resolves, saratchandra, like the great nineteenth century early twentieth century european novelists, wrote two novels that surpassed even tagore in their critical view of present and future predictions, one is pather dabi, it’s not only a criticism of hindu or indian society, class caste system or call for change, it’s, when read again after the great communist tragedies of twentieth century, a critique of standard revolutionary ideas itself, just the opposite the colonial masters considered it, the central character hinted in all his actions and words how the idea of revolution itself is petty bourgeoisie, in this sense, saratchandra is prophetic.

  9. it is a nice book which i had read properly and completly

  10. This discussion helps me fr my 3rd year exam.thank u

  11. Im a voracious reader but certain things i dont agree may be im wrong but this is my point of view, i born and raised in kolkata so i know the roots and culture what i read in past is little different may be the style of writing nothing else.Regards RKS

  12. Good


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