Charulata

(It is the third day of A2Z blogging (at least it is still the third day in some parts of the world!) so we are on C)


Well, after yesterday’s rant on boredom, I thought I’ll give an anti-dote – a movie recommendation. Well technically, it’s more of a character analysis...but both the book and the movie left me with an emptiness that was at once joyful as well as sad. I know no other way to describe it. The movie is Satyajit Ray’s Charulata, based on Tagore’s ‘Broken Nest’...a novella. Need I say more?

Bhupati is the rich young gentleman, with enough money to last for generations. He is a good man, Bhupati – kind, decent and ignorant of the wily ways of the world. When one  is rich and good and gullible, such a character cannot be a superhero. Or, in this case, a suave poet, a romancer or even a practical zamindar. Indeed Bhupati is none of that. Believing all that flattery of his English skills, he starts a newspaper – and we see him toiling on his publication day and night.

Charu is Bhupati’s wife – charming, intelligent and witty. And, lonely. Here, it is important to peel the epidermis of the word ‘lonely’. We must look beyond the literal sense of the word. Charu is not lonely because of the bland reason that her husband has no time for her. Charu is still young, and has led such a comfortable, cloistered life to even understand the nuances of companionship and complain. The loneliness in her case is more primal in nature – she has no one who needs her, who makes demands on account of her affection...someone who makes her feel that yes, she is important in their scheme of things. It is not as if Bhupati does not love her, or that he ignores her – but she exists, as do all the people and things in the house.

Amal is Bhupati’s cousin, a college-going boy, probably in the same age range as Charu. Bhupati asks Amal to keep company with Charu. Charu and Amal become the best of friends, and we revel in their child-like quarrels and the purity of their bond. Amal is like a greedy child asking for treats to do his tasks. He’d want a hand-woven pair of slippers one day...or embroidery done on the mosquito net. Amal fulfils Charu’s greatest thirst – someone asking her...nay...demanding that she do something for them. The audacity that can stem only from affection. An affection that is untainted by any hint of sexuality. With much grumbling and taunting, we follow Charu through her tasks – her childlike way of revealing surprises to Amal. We follow them through their wild ideas of transforming the garden into something exotic – we’ve all done that as kids – imagined building castles and palaces till it became an almost-reality in our heads. We know we cannot build the castle, but we must fight and whisper and conspire about the rich planning.

There is not a single line anywhere that explicitly tells us that Amal and Charu are falling in love. There is a hint of the moment, stealthy, like a whiff of fragrance that was at once overpowering and at once not there. It is the day when Amal first reads his writing to Charu. Charu – she of the limitless imagination – is awed by Amal’s talent. Sharmishta Mohanty who has beautifully translated the original into English puts it as, “That day, under the tree, Amal first tasted the intoxicant that is literature; the girl who served the intoxicant was young, so was the tongue that tasted it, and the afternoon, full of long, falling shadows was becoming mysterious.”

‘In love’ in this complex story becomes such a blasé, such an inadequate phrase. We follow this tumultuous journey – of misunderstandings, of fights, of separations. We struggle with Charu – who cannot understand the constant pain she feels, nor the origin of the pain. At the surface, indeed as Bhupati sees her, she comes across as a child who jealously guards her treasures. But it is only towards the end we see the depth of her love. It is not the love born out of attraction towards a man or a woman. It is not the love born out of a compassionate understanding. It is the love that is as nourishing as her very breath; it gave colour to her imagination, it made her feel wanted, it made her important to someone else. Charu does not have any predictable intentions – no, she does not want to run away with Amal, she does not want to live with him etc – there is no hint of any of these predictable, almost obscene desires. Charu mourns Amal’s absence because he took away the most precious thing from her – that somehow he needed her – even if it was something as silly as reading what he wrote to her, waiting for her analysis. She must now once again become the rich wife under whom the servants do their bidding. She must do a series of duties. She will of course have everything. She will have nothing.

We will never know if Amal reciprocated...in his mind at least – we can only guess by his silences. But it is Bhupati who wins our affections – kind, foolish Bhupati.
It is a moving, beautiful story that is still relevant today. It is a story that makes you search for a silent corner...you’d want to ponder over the trio long time after the story has ended. Do watch, do read.

© Sumana Khan - 2015


Comments

  1. ''it is important to peel the epidermis of the word ‘lonely’.'' - wonderful turn of phrase. I doubt I will get the opportunity to see the movie, but the theme is timeless. thank goodness for google as I did not know what a zamindar was.

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    1. Thank you Zannie. I wonder if the DVD is available on amazon :)

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  2. Sorry to hear you have spam of plague like proportions. Visiting you from Team Macha of A to Z Challenge. These characters sound interesting and complex, so both book and movie sound worthwhile. Thank you for sharing. Maui Jungalow

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    1. Thank you for stopping by Courtney. It is a lovely movie.

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  3. Interesting story. Must look for the book. Thanks for sharing about this book.

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