Monday, May 26, 2008

Mahasamar vs Vayam Rakshamah

Narendra Kohli

It is probably unfair to compare Mahasamar with Vayam Rakshamah. Both works are at least half a century apart in time. And this is not just any half century. It is the half century that separates British Occupied India from the Modern Free India. A world of change has occurred, not only around us, but in our minds as well.

Yet, I find Chatursen’s work to be more progressive than Kohli’s work. Kohli’s work is more polished, far more readable. But Chatursen’s work has an innocent flair and charisma that Kohli lacks.

Women Characters
Chatursen’s women characters are strong. While Chatursen also writes in a male-dominate setup, it seems as if he’s almost forced to do so. His female characters are bristling to burst forth from the shackles of male dominion and establish rules for themselves. And whenever they can’t, Chatursen himself, in the form of one of his characters, asks them to do so. Take, for example, the dialog between Mandodari and Ravan in Vayam Rakshamah. Mandodari, very much like a conventional woman has vowed to be wedded to somebody. Like a traditional woman she shows feels a spirit of loyalty for this man. Ravan, her brother advises her against it. He does not want his sister to go in for a man before she has met more men and made her choice. He wants her to run away, consort with other men, learn what the world is like before she makes her decision. She can come back and marry the same man if she wants. But Ravan wants her to experiment first.

This kind of broad mindedness is missing in Kohli’s work. His women characters are weak, and quietly accept the social conventions. They find themselves helpless in front of their male owners. Be it Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, the three princesses that Bhishm kidnapped to be wedded to King Chitrangad. Or be it Kunti and Madri, the helpless wives of infertile Pandu. Conforming to traditional values is good, deviating from them is bad. So when Satyavati and Gandhari begin to think for themselves, they necessarily bring troubles upon the entire family.
Kohli does raise questions. In fact, his entire first part (Bandhan) must have as many question marks as full stops. However, he invariably resolves the questions in favour of traditional Indian values. I had hoped for something better.

The Craft of Writing
If we consider the craft of writing then Kohli is definitely better than Chatursen. Chatursen’s writing is unedited. He clearly did not have access to good copyeditors or any copyeditors at all. There are glaring mistakes of craft all over his novels. Besides, his writing does not follow the traditional pattern of a novel. There is no character development and the plot itself is shabbily patched together. He regresses into long passages on history in between.

Kohli follows the western novel pattern. His writing is pacey and captures the readers’ imagination. Characterization is really good and plotting is gripping and consistent. In between all this, he gives you a lot of food for thought.


  1. Sharat Chandra has written , which I also strongly believe in that there are many shades in women ,unlike men.Women characters have much more variety.I dont think Chatursen had stronger women characterization then Kohli's .There is a yug difference between Dwapar and Treta.

    Secondly Mandodari could not be compared to Draupadi ,Gandhari etc.
    Draupadi could not be compared to Sita, rather it is unfair to compare Ramayan and Mahabharat.

    Ramayan is very idealistic ,Mahabharat seems the tale of today,illegitimate sons ,will to strip woman .

    I liked the way Gandhari been portrayed , she hit her womb when she came to know that Kunti had delivered Yudi , this is a fact so we can say Gandhari was over ambitious ,she even curse Krishna ,so she must be somewhat negative if not entirely.

    Kunti's distress has been well portrayed. Satyawati was brought up with fishermen, how could she be so good , she has to be unsophisticated. For example can Rabri be matched with Indira Gandhi or Mayawati to Vijayraje Scindia?

    I find Mahasamar as engrossing as Krishnavatar by K.M Munshi.

  2. @ sidd - You're confusing the person with the character. Mandodari, Draupadi, Gandhari etc may or may not have been historical figures. If they were, then who they really were as people is inaccesible to us now. What a writer creates instead are characters. In the kind of historical writing we're talking about, characters are based on a long tradition of how these characters have been represented earlier. Characters are also based on the author's personal experience and ideology.

    Therefore, I'm completely justified in comparing Chatursen's women in Dwapar and Kohli's women in Treta. Instead of the yug-difference, I would be more concerned about the time-difference between the author themselves. Chatursen wrote before independence, Kohli is writing in the present times.

    You're example about Rabri and Indira Gandhi is out of place. They are people and not characters (at least not yet). Once Bal Thakre becomes 'Sarkaar' he can most definitely be compared to Don Corleone. :)