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