97. Parineeta and Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay

Parineeta (Bengali: পরিণীতা Porinita) is a 1914 Bengali language novella written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and is set in Calcutta, India during the early part of the 20th century. It is a novel of social protest which explores issues of that time period related to class and religion.
Parineeta-the book written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is a love story between neighbours. The two lead characters are Shekhar and Lolita. Lolita lives with her poor uncle who is burdened with 5 daughters among them two already married. Shekhar’s father Navin Rai has made a lot of money in Jaggery business. In short Shekhar’s family is rich. Lolita’s uncle is under debt and Shekhar’s dad holds their house in mortgage. Lolita’s uncle is under pressure to repay the debt .

Girin the rich Samaritan with a golden heart arrives on the scene.

He offers him an interest free loan with which the house is ultimately saved. There is a misconception among some of the characters including Shekhar that Lolita has been ”sold” to Girin which gets solved at the end.

There are certain things in the novel which require mention.

Shekhar is well educated and an attorney. When he is introduced to us he is almost 26/27 and Lolita is just 13. Lolita as an orphan was brought up and educated at Shekhar’s house. She is dark complexioned and charming where as Shekhar is a handsome hunk. Shekhar’s affection for her transforms into love which Lolita understands only when he explains. Lolita has easy access to Shekhar’s money and behaves most of the time as his wife like taking care of his things, food etc. That is how the name ‘Parineeta’ comes which means the married woman. One moonlit evening they exchange garlands and in a fit of passion Shekhar kisses her mouth.

This seals the relationship with new meanings which Shekhar fails to realize. It is only towards the end of the novel that he realizes his mistake and reveals to his mother their real relationship. Girin on the other hand is related to Charu, a bosom friend of Lolita. He is a rich guy who comes to kolkata to study BA and falls for Lolita. It is for her that he helps her uncle’s family and marries Annakali instead of Lolita. A gem of a human being and the perfect selfless lover, Girin’s character fascinates everyone-those in the novel and outside. Girin is misunderstood especially by the short sighted Shekhar who decides to marry another girl after being convinced that Lolita has been wedded by Girin.

Read the novel to know the destiny of this Love triangle. Like all of Sarat Chandra’s novel ‘Parineeta’ is a reflection of the social structure of that day and age. It’s a story about Love, jealousy, dignity, sacrifice and freedom of choice, all at the same time
A wall divides two houses in old Kolkata. One is two stories another is three storied.The owner of the three storied building is the rich Nabin Roy and the other is own by Gurucharan Babu with his five daughters. They are very poor. Gurucharan had to pawn his property to his close neighbour Nabin to get money for his elderst daughter’s marriage . Orphan Lalita lived with his maternal uncle Gurucharan.Since then she had been known to Nabin’s family members. Nabin’s wife Bhubaneswari became her mother and she was very much intimate with Nabin’s younger son Shekhar. Shekhar was very much dear to Lalita. Shekhar loved Lalita affectionately and his affection became true love when Lalita was an adolescent. In her life,Charubala was Lalita’s friend. Girindranath who was a Brahmo boy was Charubala’s maternal uncle. He came to know Lalit through card palying. She was attracted to him.But Lalita loved her would be husband Shekhar. Nabin put Gurucharan babu under pressure to repay his debt. Gurucharan was very upset. Suddenly Girindranath redemeed Gurucharan’s mortgage by paying of all debts.This behaviour charmed Gurucharan. Now Girindranath became most intimate with Gurucharan’s family. But Shekhar had no knowledge about this incident. Apart from this one day Nabin called Lalita and insulted her. This was cause of misunderstanding between the two families. Shekhar realized that Girindra had brought Gurucharan’s family under his control by his money and power. Shekhar felt uneasy to notice that Girindra’s sole objective was none but Lalita.Shekhar did not like this intimacy. Before going aboard he wanted to be assured of Lalita’s love for him and Lalita silent and spellbound bowed before Shekhar’s feet,. accepting him as her husband.Coming back from abroad he came to know the Lalita was to be married to Girindra .But this is not true.He came that this incident happened due to his father’s intrigue. Girindra married Gurucharan babu’s own daughter. Misunderstanding between then disappeared. Shekhar and Lalita were united.
The third novel in The Sarat Chandra Omnibus ,Parineeta is somewhat similar to Devdas.

It can be loosely termed as another childhood romance, where protagonists, Shekhar and Lalita are neighbors, falling in love with each other by virtue of familiarity. Their liaison is objected by Hero’s father, and much drama takes place, before they can finally be together. So, in a way storyline is quite similar to Devdas, but thankfully, it ends in happiness and union, as opposed to longing and separation in the previous novel.

srikanta-by-sarat-chandra Shekhar is a well educated man, belonging to a rich family, while Lalita is an orphan, living with her mama, Gurucharan, who is a humble clerk and a man of modest intelligence. Apparently, he is a man of limited means and ample responsibilities. He has to take a loan from Shekhar’s father to perform the wedding of his eldest daughter. And, though he seriously considers Shekhar’s father as a loyal friend, in reality he is tricked to mortgage his house, the sole property, he can ever boast of.

As the time passes by, it becomes clear that Shekhar is madly in love with Lalita, though he initially misunderstands his own feelings. It takes the jolt of a charmer Girin, to realize that Lalita is of paramount importance in his life.

In midst of romantic notions, the author brings a twist by sending the Hero away, while the heroine is left alone to salvage her mama from the loan sharks. Will Lalita be able to resist the temptation of Girin, as a possible saviour and remain true to fickle minded Shekhar forms the basic premise of this 54 pages novel.

The story is entirely based in Kolkata, as opposed to Srikanta, Devdas and Palli Samaj, where village life formed a major chunk of the narrative. I also found the clash of orthodox Brahmanical approach and modern Brahmo attitude, quite impressive, almost as done by Tagore in Gora.

In the novel, I found the portrayal of a twelve year old girl as a married woman, who fully understands the question of loyalty to the man, with whom she has exchanged only garlands, a bit unconvincing. To me, Lalita appeared too young to don the mettle of an espoused woman. I don’t know if Doll wedding of yesteryear was actually responsible to cultivate virtues of married women in girls at such an early age, or was the time different, and such maturity was expected of womenfolk, and hence, portrayed by Sarat. But, to my twenty first century heart, Vidya Balan came across as a better fitted Lalita.

Secondly, I could not understand the importance of first scene, where the fifth daughter of Gurucharan is born, as throughout the novel, only Kalli was given any role. Perhaps, the scene was just meant as a scathing remark on helplessness of a poor father, burdened with five girls!

However, still the novel is good and has ample score for expansion. It is one of those books, where written words are few, but the image created is huge, left for interpretation by the readers alone. And, on this point, it really scores well.
When I was in India in August this year I resolved to read atleast one Indian classic every couple of months. So far I’ve read Sarat Chandra’s “Devdas” and Munshi Premachand’s “Sevadasan”, both were excellent and in that happy frame of mind I chose my third classic, Sarat Chandra’s “Parineeta” (Espoused) and I wasn’t disappointed. Parineeta is a beautiful love story that will tug at your heartstrings.

The protagonist is 13-year old Lalita who lives with her mother’s brother because she is orphaned. Her uncle is not a rich man and has several daughters to marry off ( in India,especially in those days when the system of dowry prevailed, it was very expensive to marry one’s daughter as the father traditionally had to bear all the expenses of the wedding andgive his daughter’s inlaws cash and gifts besides).

Lalita is resigned to her fate and mature beyond her years. When her uncle’s wife falls ill she is able to efficiently take over the household duties which include the cooking. You could almost describe her as a child without a childhood.

Shekhar, the spoiled, indecisive son of a wealthy industrialist is Lalita’s neighbor. The two have known each other ever since Lalita moved to her uncle’s house as a little girl. Being much older than her, he (Shekhar) is very protective towards Lalita and the two had an agreement that Lalita could help herself to money from Shekhar’s money box whenever she desired, a habit that started when they were kids and continued right up until adulthood. Lalita, for her part, is totally devoted to him, she cleans his room, mends his clothes and runs errands for his mother.

One night, a night considered highly auspicious by Hindus, Lalita, while helping Shekhar to get dressed, playfully places a garland around Shekhar’s neck (in Hindu weddings the exchange of garlands bears the same significance as an exchange of rings in western tradition), but because it was such an auspicious day, Lalita has inadvertently initiated a marriage with Shekhar.

As time goes by, Shekhar is embarrassed by the exchange of garlands with 14-year old Lalita and how seriously she takes her role as his wife. He is afraid of people finding out and what his parents might say especially as Lalita’s uncle in having converted from Hinduism to Brahmo has deemed himself unworthy in their eyes (India, especially India of the early 20th-century which is when this book was written, had a very rigid caste system). It is only after Shekhar’s dad, the patriarch of the house, dies that Shekhar has the courage to acknowledge without shame to the world that Lalita is his rightful wife*.

I’ve read only two of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novels but both books delighted me to the point that I would slow down my reading just to prolong the novel. It has been said of Sarat Chandra…Saratbabu was to adult readers what Hans Christian Andersen was to children. He created a fairytale world where a neighbourhood girl could take out money from your locker (Parineeta), your sister-in-law could bring your child up as hers (Bindur Chhele) or a sex worker Sabitri could be a sacrificing angel (Charitraheen). Saratbabu was a deft magician who had his readers spellbound in a jiffy.’

If you enjoy good storytelling with strong, resiliant female protagonists and powerful discourses on the social issues that were prevalent in India in the early 20th century like (child marriage, the caste system, supersitions, and best of all delightful love stories diffused with pain and suffering, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is the author for you.

Devdas is a young man from a wealthy Bengali Brahmin family in India in the early 1900s. Paro (Parvati) is a young woman from a middle class Bengali family. The two families lived in a village in Bengal, and Devdas and Paro were childhood friends.

Devdas goes away for a couple of years to live and study in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata). During vacations, he returns to his village. Suddenly both realise their easy comfortability in each other’s innocent comradeship has changed to something different. Devdas realises Parvati is no longer the small girl he knew. Paro looks forward to their childhood love blossoming into their lifelong journey together in marriage. Of course, according to the prevailing social custom, Paro’s parents would have to approach Devdas’ parents and propose marriage of Paro to Devdas as Paro longed for.

Paro’s mother approaches Devdas’s mother with a marriage proposal. Although Devdas’s mother loved Paro very much she wasn’t so keen on forming an alliance with next door neighbours. Also, Parvati’s family had a long-standing tradition of accepting dowry from the groom’s family during a marriage rather than sending dowry with the bride, which was the established custom (and still is, in many parts of India). This alternative custom influenced Devdas’s mother’s decision of not considering Parvati as Devdas’ bride, because she considered Paro’s family to be “trading low caste” (becha-kena chotoghor) family, despite the fact that Parvati (like Devdas) was a Brahmin. The “trading” label was applied in context of the marriage custom followed by Paro’s family. Devdas’s father, who also loved the little Paro, did not want Devdas to get married so early in life and wasn’t very keen on the alliance. Paro’s father, feeling insulted at the rejection, finds an even richer husband for Paro.

When Paro learns of her planned marriage, she stealthily meets Devdas at night, desperately believing that Devdas will accept her hand in marriage. Devdas had never previously considered Paro that way. He feels surprised at Paro’s bravery of visiting him alone at night and also feels pained for her. He decides he will tell his father about marrying Paro. Devdas’ father disagrees.

In a confused state, Devdas then flees to Calcutta, and from there, he writes a letter to Paro, saying that they were only friends. Within days, however, he realizes that he should have been bolder. He goes back to his village and tells Paro that he is ready to do anything needed to save their love.

By now, Paro’s marriage plans are in an advanced stage, and she declines going back to Devdas and chides him for his cowardice and vacillation. She makes, however, one request to Devdas that he would return to her before he dies. Devdas vows to do so.

Devdas goes back to Calcutta and Paro is married off to the betrothed widower with three children. He is an elderly gentleman, a zamindar. He had found his house and home so empty and lustreless after his wife’s death that he had decided to remarry. He spent most of his day in Pujas and looking after the zamindari.

In Calcutta, Devdas’ carousing friend, Chunni Lal, introduces him to a courtesan named Chandramukhi. Devdas takes to heavy drinking at Chandramukhi’s place, but the courtesan falls in love with him, and looks after him. His health deteriorates because of a combination of excessive drinking and despair – a drawn-out form of suicide. Within him, he frequently compares Paro and Chandramukhi. Somehow he feels betrayed by Paro, never realizing that she was the one who had loved him first, that she had said it out loud first. He doesn’t realise this, but Chandramukhi does, and tells him so. When sober he would hate Chandramukhi and loathe her presence. So he would drink, to forget his prejudices. Chandramukhi saw it all, felt it all and suffered silently, but she had seen that real man behind the fallen, aimless Devdas he now was and couldn’t help but love him.

Sensing his fast-approaching death, Devdas returns to meet Paro to fulfill his vow. He dies at her doorstep on a dark, cold night. On hearing of the death of Devdas, Paro runs towards the door, but her family members prevent her from stepping out of the door.

The novella powerfully depicts the prevailing societal customs in Bengal in the early 1900s, which are largely responsible for preventing the happy ending of a sincere love story.
Devdas Mukherjee and Parvati aka Paro of Talshonapur are the protagonists of the novel, amply supported by Chandramukhi, a dancing girl. As I said above, I had already seen the movie, before I delved into this novel, so a comparison between the two is inevitable. I found the basic characters of Devdas, Parvati and Chandramukhi same as in the movie, though unglamorous in comparison to Bhansali’s Devdas, but for the same reason they appeared much more life like and humane.
Sarath Chandra Chattopadhyay
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay was born on September 15, 1876,[1] in Devanandapur, a small village two miles northwest of Bandel in Hooghly, West Bengal. His father Motilal Chattopadhyay was an idler and dreamer who held irregular jobs. He could not finish novels and stories that he had started writing, but passed on his imagination and love of literature to Sarat Chandra. He, wife Bhuvanmohini, and their five children lived for many years in his father-in-law Kedarnath Gangopadhyay’s house in Bhagalpur, Bihar.

Sarat Chandra was a daring, adventure-loving boy. Most of his schooling was in informal village schools called pathshalas.[2] He was a good student and got a double promotion that enabled him to skip a grade.[3] He passed his Entrance Examination (public examination at the end of Class X) but could not take his F.A. (First Arts) examination or attend college due to lack of funds.[4]

Sarat Chandra started writing in his early teens. After finishing his formal studies, he spent much of his time interacting with friends, acting in plays, and in playing sports and games. Several of his famous novels and stories were written during this period.[5]

In 1893, Sarat Chandra moved to Burma. He got a temporary job in Burma Railway’s audit office and later worked for many years in Burma’s public works accounts office. While living in Rangoon, he married his first wife Shanti. He was deeply hurt when his wife and one-year old son died from plague. He married his second wife Mokshada (later renamed Hironmoyee) also in Rangoon and taught her to read and write. She outlived him by 23 years.

In 1916, Sarat Chandra moved backed to India and settled in Howrah, near Kolkata. He devoted himself to writing and established himself as one of India’s major novelist and story writer. He was involved in India’s freedom struggle and served as the president of Howrah district branch of Indian National Congress (1921-1936). University of Calcutta awarded him the prestigious Jagattarini medal. University of Dacca awarded him an honourary doctorate (D.Litt.). In 1938, he died from cancer of the liver.


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