Rajmohan’s wife, it seems, is the first published English novel by an Indian. It has also the distinction of being Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s debut novel as a writer. It is valuable in the sense that he never wrote in English again and turned to Bengali, to become one of the most influential Bengali writers with great works like – Durgesh Nandini, Anandamath etc, which stirred nationalist feelings in the then public. They made him timeless and are still being read by lots of people all over India in various languages. The novel is first serialized in 1864, but did not appear as a book until 1935. The very story from revival of all the chapters of this book till its first appearance as a book is interesting in itself. I think I wrote about it in this post. It has the capability to become a small novella in itself!
Coming to the story, I am not very sure why it was particularly named after Matangini, Rajmohan’s wife. But, it is an interesting read, talking about the plot. Rajmohan is one of the aids of Mathur Ghose who plans to attack his cousin Madhav Ghose. Matangini overhears Rajmohan discussing his plans to attack Madhav’s house with his friends Bhiku and Sardar. She is worried as she has a great deal of affection for Madhav and his wife Hema, who happens to be Matangini’s own sister. Concerned, she ventures out to Madhav’s home and informs him the situation, thus saving them from an attack planned at that very moment. She is welcomed by a furious Rajmohan as she returns home. Rajmohan rushes forward to kill her. At that very moment, Bhiku and Sardar arrive. In the brief interlude, Matangini escapes from the house. By the quirk of fate, she ends up taking shelter in Mathur Ghose’s house, which is nearer to Rajmohan’s house. Dramatically, she disappears when she is sent back to her husband, on his request.
Madhav is held captive by the person who eyes his property. I am tempted to write the full story here, but… in case you want to read it sometime, I don’t want you people to curse me for telling the story from beginning till the end. Better read a book than read about it.
Hmm… I can’t say the book is a very great book. But, yeah, it was a good read. It was gripping enough. However, the language appeared a bit archaic for me. Somehow, after around 150 years since its birth, I think bookish English changed a lot. The style of frequently trying to put on a conversation with the reader like – “my dear reader…” reminded me of my horrible experience with Kanthapura. However, this had such conversations only occasionally. Perhaps, that was why it was readable. The descriptions were greatly elaborate. Sometimes, this elaborate-ness bored me. Who will tolerate those descriptions which appear to be infinite, when one is thinking about what’s going to happen in the next scene?
My final verdict: It can be read for three reasons:
For its historical significance
For its considerably readable plot
A very well written preface and after word by Meenakshi Mukherjee
Thanks to the library, I read India’s first English novel! Thanks to IISc, at which I read this novel taken from my college’s library , for it gave me ample time to read and write about it. Thanks to Microsoft Research too, but for whom, I would have never found this solitude to read it peacefully!