Bhabani Bhattacharya His vision and themes
Bhabani Bhattacharya was born in Bihar to Bengali parents. In 1927 he graduated with a degree in English literature from Patna University. In 1928 Bhattacharya moved to England to continue his studies. During his time in London, Bhattacharya became closely associated with Marxist groups and an active member of the League Against Imperialism.
While in London, Bhattacharya contributed to a number of journals and newspapers. He published in The Bookman, the Manchester Guardian and the Spectator, which at the time was edited by author of the bestselling Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Francis Yeats-Brown, who would become a close friend. Both he and Tagore urged Bhattacharya to use English as a medium of expression for his fiction, rather than Bengali.
Though Bhabani has written a number of short stories, translated the stories of Tagore, written episodes from Indian History and published a book on Gandhi, it is as a novelist-as the author of So Many Hungers, Music for Mohini, He Who Rides a Tiger, A Goddess Named Gold and Shadow from Ladakh-that he has won recognition and fame from the reading public.
Bhattacharya has his own theory on the purpose and method of writing a novel. On more than one occasion, he has expressed in clear terms what "novel" has meant for him and what he has tried to do and succeeded in achieving through this form. A novelist, for Bhattacharya, is a creative writer, possessing a special gift for such creation and differing from other ordinary men and women in that he is endowed with more than usual sensitivity.
And this unusual sensitivity must be stirred by his power of observation. A true artist cannot exist in an ivory tower of his own and revel in fancies which have no relevance to human life on our earth. On the other hand his observant eyes are keen on noting what is happening around him. He says, 'I have not missed a single opportunity of observing incidents, happenings where I can gain something for the writer in me. Most of my characters have shaped themselves from real earth". Again all truly creative writers are driven by an urge from within him to write. It almost becomes an obsession with them. With Bhattacharya, it is not merely a question of writing for money or to order. On the other hand "it is a compulsion to find an outlet for the living images in him." This inevitability of an artist's craving for expression is at the root of all art.
A novelist, then for Bhattacharya is a man among men, gifted with an extra measure of sensitivity and keen powers of observation. What he sees around him creates an inner urge, a compelling need to express himself. Then and only then a novel is born. Speaking about how he became a novelist he observes: "Then the great famine swept down upon Bengal. The emotional stirrings I felt (more than two million men and women and children died of slow starvation amid a man-made scarcity) were a sheer compulsion to creativity. The result was the novel So Many Hungers".
As regards the medium of expression, Bhattacharya has an open mind. He feels that the creative writer must have full freedom to use the language of his choice for any coercion direct or indirect in the choice of medium by an artist, will only hamper the realisation of the purpose he is struggling to achieve. He writes in English and has two valid reasons for choosing English as his medium. First "The English language is a bridge that carries our cultural values to the world-not only to the English-speaking countries but to most of the other countries as well in translation'.4 Secondly, in English he meets a challenge. He observes: "I have enjoyed the challenge of this literary problem-expressing Indian life in the idiom of an alien tongue." Thanks to W. Yeats-Brown who suggested and encouraged Bhattacharya to write in English in order to gain and be assured of a world audience. And this was not a misguided or misplaced hope, for the novelist has attained world-wide renown and his books have been translated into twenty-six languages, sixteen of which are European.
It has been a subject of unending debate if art should have a purpose or not. There are people who declare that all art is recreational: others who maintain that art is primarily didactic: yet others who preach art for art's sake. Bhattacharya can never accept the concept of novel without a purpose. For him a novel is something concerned with social reality! Time and again, he stresses this point. "I hold," he observes, "that a novel must have a social purpose. It must place before the readers something from society's point of view. Art is not necessarily for art's sake. Purposeless art and literature which is much in vogue does not appear to me sound judgment." Not afraid of being labelled as a propagandist, he maintains that "Art must teach but unobstrusively by its vivid interpretation of life. Art must preach but only by virtue of its being a vehicle of truth. If that is propaganda, there is no need to eschew the word."
So, for Bhattacharya an artist has a responsibility to society, to the world in which he lives. He has to work and plead for a better world. And so Bhattacharya interprets in artistic medium people's hunger for food and freedom, condemns social evils such as-prostitution, exploitation, superstitious beliefs, all anti-life tendencies, stresses the need for mass literacy, attempts to destroy false faith and liberates men's minds arid makes them self-reliant and self-respecting individuals, pleads for intelligent exercising of franchise and reconciliation of conflicting ideologies, advocates widow remarriage, rebels against child marriage and unfurls his banner against untouchability and barriers of caste.
Bhattacharya's third novel He who Rides a Tiger (1954), is a novel of protest-protest not only against a political and economic system which degrades human beings but also against an established social order which stamps on men as superior and inferior by virtue of accidence of birth. Though the backdrop for this novel is the same as his first novel So Many Hungers, the emphasis rests on protest and rebellion and so naturally the accent shifts from mute, helpless and passive sufferings to protest and rebellion. And this is worked out through Kalo, a humble village blacksmith, who takes his revenge on a rigid caste-ridden society by faking a miracle -a miracle that begins as a fraud but truly ends as a legend-and passing himself as a Brahmin priest. At the close of the novel, when his fraud is detected, while the caste~Hindus fret and fume, other low caste people hail him as a brother and a champion of their cause. His story becomes a legend of freedom, a legend to inspire and awaken.
The writer is a freelance contributor.