Datta by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay – Book Review


Datta is one of the most popular novels by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. It is a romantic novel set in Victorian Bengal with a backdrop of Bengali society fragmented into Hindu and Brahmo (Brahma Samaj). The main story revolves around the relationship between an affluent Brahmo woman and a brilliant but indigent young Hindu.

Datta means a girl whose marriage has been committed with a particular boy by her parents / guardians to that boy’s parents / guardians. In short, Datta (literally meaning ‘given’) stands for betrothed (female).

The protagonist of this novel is Bijaya, whose marriage is promised by her father Banmaali to the son of his childhood friend Jagdeesh. The word was given when both the friends were in their early teens. They were a group of three friends and the third friend Rashbehari was the witness of this promise. The three friends, coming from different villages and backgrounds, studied and played together. During their childhood, their innocence had prompted them to take a vow to become successful lawyers, earn money and use it in the interest of the nation. However as time passed the harsh realities of life as well as the course of destiny changed their live altogether.

Jagdeesh, despite being the most talented of the three, could not make much progress in life whereas the other two shifted to Kolkata and made a lot of money. When a son was born to Jagdeesh, he reminded Banmaali about their promise and committed that he would marry his son to Banmaali’s daughter. Banmaali also reciprocated his feelings.

In due course of time and the rapidly changing socio-political scenario of Bengal, Banmaali and Rashbehari became Brahmo (Brahma Samaji). Rashbehari wants to marry his son to Bijaya to consume her wealth and property. After twenty five years, when the story is told, the three friends have three different lifestyles and statuses in the society. Jagdeesh had lost all his wealth and there is a vast gap between his and Banmaali’s status. He has also mortgaged his house to Banmaali which further increases the gap.

The novel opens with the death of Bijaya’s father. After his death, Bijaya, who has been brought up in a liberated Brahmo society and is a lady with her own mind, shifts to the village to look after her father’s property and was shocked to learn the evil desire of Rashbehari and his son, to consume the huge property, of which Bijaya is the only heir.

In the village she meets Narendra, son of Jagdeesh, who is a young intelligent doctor. The story line develops from here with the silent admiration of Bijaya and Narendra; who are completely ignorant of their feelings and the emotional attachment they have developed for each other.

Deep into their heart, they love each other but are aware of the fact that they belong to two very different social structures. Although Bijaya is Datta to Narendra, it is next to impossible for them to get married. The religious difference of Narendra, a Hindu Brahmin and Bijaya, an educated Brahmo becomes the main hindrance behind their marriage. Moreover the politics played by Rashbehari and his son Bilas stood against the spontaneous relation of Narendra and Bijaya.

However, the story ends with a happy note with the triumph of truth and human relationship over the religion and other social evils.

Book Review:

Datta is a very romantic story that revolves around the life and activities of Bijaya, the key force of the novel. Although there are no instances of romantic situations or dialogues but the way the story is narrated, touches your soul. It takes no time to fall in love with the story and the characters. One can easily connect with Bijaya & Narendra; and feel their silent love, the agony and pain they are undergoing.

Datta is a simple, gentle and elegant love story full of internal turmoil that grips one’s attention till the end. The strength of the novels lies in its utter simplicity and the detailed depiction of the characters. The novel unveils a deep understanding of human psychology with occasional barbs at religious bigots. Skilfully woven, the romantic tale is set against an era of social and cultural conflicts being created due to reforms during the Renaissance period in Bengal.

Published almost a hundred years ago, Datta is a sensitive story that cannot grow old in its appeal. The novel was highly acclaimed in its time and was also translated in many other languages.

To conclude, Datta is a story that can never grow old as long as human sensitivity prevails. A must read for all who love simple, romantic stories full of human emotions and sensitivity.

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