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Banibrata Goswami

Narrative Strategy And Double Marginalization In Aranyak (1938), A Bengali Novel By Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay
Banibrata Goswami Abstract
Marginalization is a socio-economic process in which the less powerful people are uprooted from their original position and are relegated to the fringe, periphery or margin of the space called society. Or it may be that the rightful desire of some poor, honest and simple people to come forward and emancipate is constantly repressed in thousand ways, in order to keep them at the margin which serves the special interest of those who stay at the centre, in the lime light of power and plenty. This is also marginalization. The women, having been dominated under patriarchy, face a second type of marginalization, and hence may be called doubly marginalized in such a society. The present paper examines this position of the women characters in the novel Aranyak (Of the Forest) by Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay, under the narrative strategy of the narrator, a first person voice, often resembling the view-point of the author himself. The division in the self of the narrator, itself exposes the complex process of marginalization here, taking its cue from the feudal patriarchy and the under lying anxiety of its submission to rising capitalism. Key words : Marginalization, double marginalization, narrative, ambivalence, feudalism, patriarchy, capitalism.

I The word marginalization refers to a social process of becoming or being made to marginal, that is, to be relegated or confined to a lower social standing or outer limit or edge in terms of social standing.1 Being marginalized therefore refers to a process of being separated from the rest of the society, to be uprooted from the original place and to have been forced to the fringe or periphery of the circle called society. Taking its root in the spirit, from insatiable greed for power and dominance, marginalization still, occurs mostly through material deprivation. It defies the law of equality, grasps an unfairly distribution of wealth and resources, and culminates in the creation of such binary divisions as rich/poor, advanced/backward, educated/ignorant, privileged/deprived etc. Thse are not fixed positions of course. Due to change in production and production relations mostly, society both allows and resists movement between these positions. The advanced social system, always in touch with continuous improvement and new inventions in the fields of science and technology, advocates dynamism. We call it modern. In contrast, the conservative social system, contested and always in a maze under the unsettled parameters like caste, creed and class, preserves status quo, nay even resists movement to ensure bigotry. It is called orthodox. The picture grows darker when gender comes into consideration. Man and woman should be viewed as equals, both indispensable in the smooth function of society, like the two wing of a flying dove. But parity is abandoned even in this biological determination. Many years ago Saint Ambrose said, Remember that God took a rib out of Adams body and not a part of his soul to make Eve.2 Thousands of similar other arguments under patriarchy have thrust women aside, to the margin, to the prison house of perpetual suffering where voice dies either in resignation, or in false hope of emancipation. The story of their double marginalization intends in this paper to note specifically what is done to them there, and what they are allowed to do for themselves under the politics of narrative strategy. In the modern Bengali novel Aranyak (Of the Forest: Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay, 1938), the women characters especially provide such a


Banibrata Goswami

scope of further analysis in this respect as representative figures. Aranyak does not project a modern society. Its deep forests and serene natural beauty, nurture a poor and laborious flow of unrefined culture, radiant in its innocence and simplicity. On the other hand, its prevalent social structure cannot be called orthodox either, chiefly because of the dominant presence of Satyacharan, the new estate manager, who shapes and reshapes its life force according to his own mixed cultural heritage, vibrant in his narrative. The resulting uncertainty supplies an anxiety, characteristic of a feudal system collapsing fast under the imminent capitalist economy. With this ambivalence into the focus, the male narrative voice of the text allows its readers to understand the women characters as doubly marginalized. Their behaviour and the thoughts, beliefs and motives underlying that behaviour,3 their position and the way they reach that position through their relations and contradictions into those relations with individuals and groups, variously situated in the divided space and time of social reality, - everything enrich that understanding. II In Aranyak, no woman character resides at the centre. The lack of conventional heroine has encouraged some critics to see nature herself as the real heroine of the novel. But in his ultimate return to and resettlement in Calcutta, rejecting and leaving behind the divine beauty of Nada-Baihar, Fulkia and Labtulia, Satyacharan, the male narrator, confirms her marginalization. After Nature, Bhanumati is his greatest attraction. Bhanumati enters the story halfway, at chapter eleven. She is a princess. Her forefathers ruled the vast forestland near Rajmahal, stretched between the northern Himalayas and Southern Chottanagpur. The Eastern frontier was river Kushi and it extended in the West up to the city Munger. They fought with the Mughals courageously for ages and got partially subdued. Then the Santhal Rebellion failed and confirmed their downfall. They engaged in a different sort of struggle, one for existence, fighting endlessly against misery, poverty and shadowy memories of bygone days. While her ninety two tears old Jathamasay, the great grandpa Dobru Panna Virabardy, recalls and muses over those glorious feats of the past, hastens to show the narrator the ruins of their royal castle and grave-yard, growing darker every moment against the setting sun, Bhanumati does not show any such swollen passion. She knows the past but values the grim reality of present more and tries her best to cope with that. She does not hesitate to inform the narrator that her Jathamasay, the old king, now feeds the cows. When she recognizes the narrator as a true well wisher of the family, she extends her natural hospitality to him, and craves for a mirror. Before her simple, honest words and soothing, reserved personality, it is the narrator himself who loses colour and appears puzzled, passing through conflicting waves of passion and emotion in quick succession: I liked her frank friendship. To one of Bengal this is very strange, unexpected, unknown, dreamlike and sweet. Could any Bengali maiden behave like this? Regarding women, our mind is always unduly contracted and stupefied. We can neither think of them in a straight forward way, nor make friendship with them leaving behind the back- pull of uneasiness and prejudice.4 Bhanumati recalls to his mind not only innocence and fresh, youthful feminine loveliness, but the complicated behavioural pattern of the Bengali women also. He then searches for the reason behind and finds that, after all, the fault lies within the men folk itself. The women


Banibrata Goswami

do not stir or spoil the water. But they have to carry the burden of male abnormality, they bear the stigma of what is done to them. In contrast stand the simple, honest, forest-village girls. The narrator continues: I have noted that like the open and generous countryside, the forests, the clouds, the range of hills, free and untrammeled, - Bhanumati was unencumbered, innocent and free in how she conducted herself. So were Manchi and the poet Venkateswar Prasads wife, Rukma. The forests and the hills had liberated their minds, expanded their vision with generosity: in like manner, their love was deep, generous and liberating. They could love greatly because of the greatness of their hearts. But nothing could be compared with the experience of Bhanumati sitting near me and putting pieces of fruits into my hands. For the first time in my life, I experienced a great pleasure the sweetness of a womans frank behaviour. When she is affectionate and loving, it is as if the gates of heaven are opened on our earth. The dictates of refinement and the pressure of the civilized world had erased in her sisters the eternal woman that resides in Bhanumati.5 Bhanumati maintains her simplicity. But it is the narrators own cultural ambivalence that makes him look at Bhanumati sometime as an affectionate sister and sometimes as a would be wife. Ambivalence in fact, lies in the very he/art of the novels narrative strategy. The narrator, an educated and energetic youth of metropolis Calcutta, is spell bound at the nascent and untouched beauty of the forlorn Jungle-mahal where he comes to work as an estate manager. He tries to keep record of his daily interaction with this virgin soil enticing him by its secret wonders, simple, honest and unsmelt like the poor, marginal people who live there. But then there occurs a division in his persona. The narrator who keeps record of the experience and the person who earns it first hand get split. The narrative is keen to register the resulting conflict: The dark forest and field surrounded us from all corners. The starlit sky above shone afar. It also looked dark. It seemed as if I had been transported from my familiar world to take part in this unknown, mysterious flow of life in a new planet. It struck me strange. Not a soul to be found anywhere in this supreme desolation! You cannot get one even to talk with. These foolish, uncivilized brutes cannot understand a single refined word. - Is it possible to stay among them! 6 The narrator is not only an alien outsider here; he is annoyed with this hopeless world. He serves the rich landlord. He has come to redistribute the land for higher revenues. The poor, old owners who lost their land due to the encroachment of the river come back, plead and cry to him for new settlement but most often cannot get anything. The wheel of colonization moves onward steered not directly by the foreign colonizers but their native agents themselves. Despite his sympathy for their legitimate claim and own occasional prick of conscience and confession,which is in fact, the apology of the novel,- the narrator never leaves his job till his work is done. He meets the local people, enters their household freely and receives respect and adoration, but the shadow of his own superior status, culture and ability, never leaves him alone, it follows him closely at heels and sometimes even moves forward. He muses over them, but never becomes the object of their musing and vision. His benevolence can at best be called sympathy or pity. True love is no pity to flow like water from the high to the low.


Banibrata Goswami

But this is the artificial urban culture Satyacharan, the man underneath the narrator, specifically strives to overcome. He assists Muneswar to purchase the iron cauldron. He stands by the helpless widow of Rakhalbabu, he praises the nave poems of Venkatesh Prasad , makes a school for Mutuknath, offers two bighas of land to Raju Pande and gift of two rupees to the rustic dance party which deserves only four annas. He wonders at the skill of Dhaturia, marvels at the breathtaking adventure of Suratia when she entraps birds, he hastens to save Kunta from the grip of the guards when the catch her in the forest, he cannot dishearten Manchi by saying that she has been cheated in her bargain for the hinglaj necklace, nor does he forget to bring the hand mirror for Bhanumati from Munger. The old king Dobru Panna takes him to the burial ground of his predecessors, there under the faint glow of setting sun and approaching darkness he listens to the mockery of silence and reads between the lines of the great tragedy of history that gags the defeated and the conquered: I saw the nomadic Aryans to come out of the North West Mountain passes and enter like wild flood waves the ancient India where the low- born, primitive, non-Aryans had their rule. The Indian history thereafter, is the Aryan history, the defeated non-Aryans have never been mentioned anywhere. Their stories are preserved in these unknown caves, under the grim darkness of forests where sunlight fails to have access, in the endless lines of bones and skeletons kept under the earth. The conqueror Aryans never tried to decipher those scripts. Even today, the conquered have remained neglected, insulted and ignored in like fashion. Banoary, my guide Budhu Sing and me, represent the Conquerors. Old Dobru Panna, young Jogru, Youthful Bhanumati are members of those trampled conquered races. Both the parties have faced each other under this grim dusk.7 This unique vision intends to break all stereotypes.8 That very concept which is derived out of the structure of long term acquisition power and dominance, the concept which gradually grows confident and dis-acknowledges all protest and challenges, however legitimate, get crashed under such momentary revelation and realization.. Suddenly there arises the context of an objective self assessment. The habit of looking through the safe telescope of stereotypes gets shaken and collapses. Satyacharan realizes that the narrator and the characters of his story do not live in the same land. The narrator continually relates his experiences to his knowledge of the external world; the great Taklamakan desert of Middle East recorded in the travelogue of Hedin, the dangerous Sahara or Arizona of South America, National parks of California , South Africa and Belgian Kongo all these recur in his narrative through out. He does not stop to laugh at the simple unscientific analysis of sunrise and sunset by even Raju Pande, who has come very close to him in the novel and whom one can commonly see as his own alter ego. 9 His city bred wisdom does not spare a chance to ridicule honest ignorance. Every night he sees that the poor mother Kunta waits at distance, to collect the leavings and scraps of food items left by him at his dinner, for her hungry children. He never protests that and never arranges fresh food for her children, until the fag end when he offers Kunta some land for cultivation for which she shall pay tax at due time. At the same time, the antithesis in him cannot but feel for the poor forest dwellers, the workers and reapers, for the old and helpless king Dobru Panna and princess Bhanumati. He fears that impending urbanization under capitalism will destroy the happy and peaceful life of the simple forest dwellers. Nay, even there, doubt and confusion capture his words: This forest of Bhanumati will never be lost. This is infertile land for crops. Otherwise it would have been cleared by now. But if it turns into a copper mining belt, things will change.


Banibrata Goswami

The Chimney of the copper factory, trolley line, the coolie slums in rows, drains of dirty water, piles of burnt engine coal,shops, tea stalls, cheap filmscountry liquor counters, tailor houses, homeo- pharmacy, old, familiar, ideal Hindu hotel. The siren in the factory sounds for three P.M. Bhanumati comes out to sell burnt engine coal in the market and shouts aloud, Coal....Four paisa a basket.10 The same theme was taken up by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay at the end of his story Mahesh, where Gafur and his daughter Amina move towards the Jute mill of Fulbede that claims the toll of honour from women. Satyacharan shudders to think this of Bhanumati. Her stout, youthful health, the shadowy forest valley, the hill-protected, quiet fields extended up to the horizon, the nameless tiny springs, birds, beasts, trees all invite him together in their silent voice to settle there amid the profound serenity. He loves to think of this idle images of life too. But the vision fails and gets torn. The proud, Aryan blood wakes up at the right moment, and tries to subdue the romantic spell of identification. The narrator proceeds to test Bhanumatis worldly knowledge, with the conviction that here, after all, she will disqualify: Have you ever seen a town, Bhanumati? No, Babuji. Name a few towns at least. Gaya, Munger, Patna. Havent you heard of Calcutta? Yes, Babuji. Which direction should one take to reach there? I dont know Babuji. Have you heard of India? Bhanumati shook head. She never heard. She never went anywhere outside Chakmakitola. Which way lies India? 11

Satyacharan knows well that it is not after all, Bhanumatis fault that she does not know which way leads to India. The powerful and arrogant Aryan India herself never wanted that she should know her. But her ignorance all the same is a flaw and with this the narrative easily disillusions Satyacharan of his inner calls. Her poverty once gave him access to this royal princess, and poverty again takes her away beyond the reach of the narrator and his middle-class search for security: In that late hour of a Hemanta afternoon, standing in the midst of the thick forest of wild chhatim flowers with the cool breeze blowing around us, I saw the youthful Bhanumati glowing with vitality. I felt as though I had been blessed with a vision of the presiding deity of the forest herself, a goddess as dark ads Krishna! She was indeed a princess. This forest, the hills, Michhi river over there, the banks of the Karo and Dhannjhari on this side, the Nowadar range on the other- all these lands had once comprised the domain of the now vanquished royal family, and the daughter of this family. The royal family was now threatened with extinction, made poor and lackluster by its confrontation with the


Banibrata Goswami

advent of a new ethos, a different civilization, so that in my eyes Bhanumati appeared today like any other Santhal girl. Whenever I saw her, this tragic chapter from the unwritten annals of Indian history flashed before my eyes.12 (Emphasis mine) Manchi, Dhruba, Kunta or Bhanumati- all are then alike to the narrator, in his final judgement. They render his narrative the required rustic and natural touch. They satisfy his own romantic thirst. More than any thing, they provide an opportunity to feel pity for them, to shed crocodile tears from safe distance of urban polish and authority of advanced culture: I had heard that Dhruba too was very keen to marry. She had told some one that who ever married her would never have to hire any one to milk the cows or pound grain; she was herself capable of grinding five seers of wheat into sattu. Alas poor and wretched unmarried Bengali woman! After all these years she must still be preparing the feed for the cattle and carrying back loads of kalhai from the field. Who would ever marry a poor and aging rustic woman without a dowry and carry her home in style in a palanquin? Who would welcome her with the sound of the conch and the ululation of the women that marked the auspicious entry of a bride to her new home? When evening falls in the quiet open spaces, like a parting in the hair, the narrow path that cuts through thick forest on the distant hill comes into view. And Dhruba poor and with her wasted youth- probably still comes down the path with a bundle of firewood on her head: I see this often enough in my imagination. As I have seen too, my didi, she slips like a thief into the fields at night to pick up the discarded cobs of maize, like any other old Gangota peasant woman.13 These women are unfortunate, mal treated by society and extremely poor. But more than that, they are after all women, who all through their life must chase a dream of happy married life, and even if they some how get married, the hope of happiness plays like a mirage in their life, nay, make them perpetually subordinate to the system of society. The men in Aranyak, including the narrator, are also poor and engage in continuous struggle. But they have at least the greater freedom of choosing their master and expressing wishes to him. The women are more unfortunate, because they have to obey and satisfy these struggling men first, as their immediate masters who never bring any light or colour in their life. They and their stories are destined to fade into the deep of the forest like lost, unknown leaves, suffering double marginalization. Ironically, unaware that he is becoming a skillful agent under his own romanticism, the narrators description nonetheless uses these poor, simple women as pawns to glorify patriarchy. For there must not be any confusion that, patriarchy accepts Dhruba because she was capable of grinding five seers of wheat; it accepts Kunta because even amid dire poverty she never revolted but maintained her chastity and honour of Devi Singh, her dead , law-breaker husband; it accepts Manchi because she allows herself to be cheated by Naksadi, the seller of the hinglaj necklace and the unknown man she elopes with, again and again; and it accepts Bhanumati because she is innocent and uncommonly healthy and youthful, because she is after all the tragic princess of molested aristocracy.


Banibrata Goswami

The women are also duped, as they cannot find out their true position. None of them except Machi in one occasion, protests anything or against any body. They are the perpetual victims of their age old endurance, and if they grow conceited to show their hard won bargain, that cleverly conceals their own loss and defeat. And it is here, in this illusion and loss of faith that Aranyak, finally becomes the tale of an imaginary land, its author has claimed to weave.12 But underneath that fiction the novel exposes the grim face of feudal patriarchy which ensures division in the narrator and becomes the driving force of the narrative itself. Notes and References
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Wikipedia: Marginalization, see also Mullaly.B, The New Structural Social Work, Don Mills: OUP, 2007, pp. 252286. Chattopadhyay. Saratchandra, The Value of Woman, (Narir Mulya, in Bengali), Sarat Rachanabali, birth centenary Publication, Kolkata: 1995 (2nd Reprint), vol. 4, p. 575. Bardhan Kalpana, Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants and Rebels. University of California Press, Oxford, 1990, p. 3. Chap. 2, part 2, translation mine (from the original Bengali version, Kolkata, Mitra O Ghosh: 2000, 18th reprint, p.122). Bhattacharya. Rimli, Aranyak: Of the Forest, (translated and introduced by her), Seagull, Calcutta: 2002, pp 181-2. Bhattacharya continually names the girl Bhanmati. But keeping Bibhutibhusans Bengali accent in mind, here, the name Bhanumati has been preferred. Chap.1, part 4, translation mine. Chap.11, part2, translation mine. Das. Sisir Kumar, Aranyak: Bharatbarsher Sandhane in Bengali (Of the Forest: In search of India), in Tapas Basu (Ed.) Aranyaker Annanyata in Bengali (The Excellence of Aranyak), Pustak Bipani, Kolkata: 1996, p. 137. Majumdar. UjjwalKumar, Aranyak: Ajker Bhabnay in Bengali, (Aranyak in Contemporary Thought), Tapas Basu (Ed.), 1996, p. 157.

6. 7. 8. 9.

10. Chap. 18, part 1, translation mine. 11. Chap. 18, part 2, translation mine. 12. Bhattacharya. Rimli, p. 246. 13. Ibid, p.207. 14. Bibhutibhusan writes in the introduction of the novel: The dense forest nowhere lies beside the human habitat. The forest lies afar, where the ripe grapes add scent to the breeze on the banks of the river Godavari. Aranyak is the description of that wonder land. It is no travelogue, but a novel. The dictionary calls the novel a manufactured story. We must obey the wise dictionary makers. But the backdrop of Aranyak is not totally imaginary. The open fields, extended up to the horizon, on the other side of the river Kushi, had been there in past days and it exists still now. The Southern Bhagalpur and Gaya districts are more famous names. Clearly, he calls his story both imaginary and realistic. Here also the same doubt and ambivalence work.