Devdas: An Enigma and a Classic

Devdas; conceived as a character and popularized as a mode of being. A name that rings true in the consciousness of many, a classic eternally etched in Indian literary history. Written in the early 1900s by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and published in 1917, Devdas is a story of love and loss, tenderness and turmoil, of bondage and breaking free, but only to be doomed. The story revolves around three main characters- Devdas, Paro, and Chandramukhi. Set in 20th century Bengal, the story hooks on Devdas and Paro's intriguing relationship, who share a childhood bond. As Paro's innocent connivance and companionship with Devdas blossoms into feelings of love, passion, and devotion for him, their relationship breathes the first scents of Romance but also unravels to reveal the complexities and clutches that hold back the accomplishment of love.

Devdas
Devdas Novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

WHY IS DEVDAS, A READER’S DELIGHT?


Love as an emotion remains relevant across time- periods. Its humanness bears its eternity. But, only a few are remembered and hailed as the great ones when it comes to love stories. Their permanence and impact on people's minds, and the popular culture at large, distinguishes them from many. Devdas is one of those stories. While the popularly understood genre of this story is Romance, it offers the reader an insightful journey into the characters' lives, interactions, and dispositions. It is not a tale of boy-met-girl, fell in love and, after some pushes and pulls, lived happily ever after. It's a tale where the 'hero' is not heroic but vulnerable. Impulsive, aggressive, and finally broken, his story elicits a sigh for its end but a whirlpool of emotions along the way.


M.F. Husain
Devdas Painting by M.F. Husain

Also, Devdas is based on a solid social and cultural background. At different stages of the story, the characters' lives and their choices, some being major turning points, are influenced by the societal norms prevalent in the Bengal of 1900. The novel's Bengali undertone doesn't make the readers feel detached, which may happen because of cultural differences. Instead, while informing the reader of the story's background and setting, the writer managed to keep the universality and relevance of emotions afloat. In other words, a Dev, Paro, or a Chandramukhi could be found in any part or culture of the world. Another interesting element of this classic is its characterization. It challenges stereotypes in its own ways. For instance: Paro is a devoted and passionate lover and a woman with ego and self-respect, a characteristic not seen fit in women, especially in those times. Chandramukhi, a beautiful courtesan doted upon by many men, falls for a man who doesn't even spare a look at her. Her love is unconditional. It consumes her and transforms her. The women in Devdas are tender but also tough, devoted but also unapologetic. Such a portrayal of women characters is in itself a breath of fresh air. All said Devdas reflects the socio-cultural construct it is based upon and challenges it from time to time. It challenges traditional decorum comprising practices and institutions like dowry, patriarchy, caste, and class.

Devdas is a visceral read. It makes the reader wonder how such diverse characters, their stories, their temperaments share the same emotion? Not to clash, but only to converge.


Mohi Gaur

Author

Mohi Gaur

Pratha Chief Editor

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