Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay’s unparalleled realism elevates his creations into a dimension that’s loyal to the real world, and honest to the secret of the soul. The gentle portrayal of life’s innocence, the delicate diagnosis and treatment of wounded wishes, the sublime ecstasy of trees, rivers, and boughs are the signature essence of his work. Life’s subtle joy, disappointments, and the pain of the forgotten are the heartbeat that throbs in each page of his novels and stories.
But apart from these mirroring of existence, there’s something more that makes Bibhuti Babu’s work intimate to the coarse reality of human life. With unmatched eloquence, he unmasks the truth of self on multiple levels. Bibhuti Babu’s pen tenderly reveals the nudity of apparently disturbing feelings and emotions that we are so ashamed and afraid to accept and express. He does so with a sense of innocence in contrast to the tone of his contemporary authors while illuminating on the same issue. Such common sensations are scattered throughout the pages of most of his novels, swarming vaguely in a way that is invisible to the immediate cognition, but intimately familiar to the subconscious.
A subject uniquely common in Bibhuti Babu’s work is the guiltless portrayal of polygamous love. In his work, the idea of romance is beyond the boundary of the physical. Rather, it affectionately resides in the heart with its profound magnificence.
Bhabani Barudye from Ichamati for instance, simultaneously marries three sisters, Tilu, Bilu, and Nilu. Bhabani Barudye tries to maintain an equal relationship with each of the sisters, but he clearly leans a bit toward the eldest, Tilu. The other two sisters, who are aware of this, don’t make any issue of it. In fact, they still care for Bhabani like any girl would for their husband. Bibhuti Babu’s portrayal here presents such unconsented polygamous marriage as fair, and he makes it seem like a perfectly regular form of relationship even to contemporary readers. And readers even accept it because Bibhuti Babu makes the portrayal appear that much organic and natural. However, it’s undeniable that the entire matter is presented from a patriarchal point of view. Well, Bibhutibhusan, unlike many of his contemporary authors, leans a bit toward favoring patriarchal attitudes. From his writing, it’s not clear whether he does this willingly or if his indifference is patriarchal.
Similar to Bhabani, Bipin in Bipiner Sangsar is married and loves his wife. Although he demonstrates frustration about his conjugal life and deems his wife boring, he still cares a lot for her. When Manarama, Bipin’s wife, is bitten by a snake, Bipin realizes the dormant love he has for his wife hidden deep within his heart. The author notes down Bipin’s contemplation, “Bipin thought about Manarama the entire day. The more he thought about the possibility of Manarama’s sudden death, the more Bipin’s heart filled up with affection and compassion for her. Bipin here shows great concern for Manarama when he. He expresses her guilt for not giving Manarama the warmth she deserved. Bipin ponders, “What if Manarama had died today! Have I ever offered any words of love to Manarama?… I have destroyed her. Never could I offer her a satisfying supper or a nice article of clothing, nor did I ever take her to the theatre.”
But still, despite fostering such an intense amount of affection for the wife, his heart cannot forget Mani. He deeply loves Mani and Mani loves him too. However, like Bipin, Mani is also married. A mutual realization and understanding is transparent here. In this novel, similar to Ichamati, Bibhuti Babu portrays ‘love’ as something beyond physicality, yet it’s not quite platonic as well. Bipin nurtures her love for both Manarama and Mani differently but with equal tenderness. He creates such complex scenes and gives such an account of the protagonists’ romantic interest that the reader fails to notice the oddity of the concept.
Aparajito’s Apu too explores this (un)intentional dynamic of emotion. Apu has loving feelings for many but not within the same timeframe. He feels attached to Lila, to Kajal, and to his wife Aparna. However, he only feels attraction to the character he is interacting with at a given scene. He does not go through the linear process of beginning or ending a relationship. His heart just carries romantic adoration for all and these emotions manifest themselves when Apu presents with the specific women.
For instance, even though Apu marries and truly falls for Aparna, he holds an acute sense of love for Lila. In fact, he doesn’t tell Lila about his marriage. It seems as if he doesn’t want to jeopardize the silent, invisible thread tying him and Lila. But there’s no way of knowing this for certain from the novel as it reads, “Apu tried but couldn’t tell Lila about his marriage although he himself realizes that there’s no reason not to.” However, toward the end of the novel Apu admits that he “never loved anyone the way he loved Lila.” It’s noteworthy how carefully Bibhuti Babu avoided justifying or denouncing the situation with any kind of rationality.
It’s not that Bibhuti Babu alone explores the notion of polygamy in the orbit of Bengali literature. Rabindranath Tagore does so but while Bibhuti Babu is implicit, Tagore chooses to be explicit in this matter. Tagore deals with polygamous tendencies with quite an unashamed candor. The way Amit Ray falls in love with both Labonno and Ketoki in Sesher Kabita, is quite in parallel to Bipin or Apu’s attitude toward the concerned characters. But Tagore’s portrayal of simultaneous infatuation is not depicted with the same level of innocence we find in Bibhutibhushan’s work. Rather, it’s quite the opposite. Tagore concisely explains the situation saying, “My relationship with Ketoki is indeed that of love. But it’s like that of water in a pitcher. I will fill up the pitcher everyday and use it whenever I please. On the other hand, my infatuation with Labonno is like a lake. It’s not something I can bring home. My mind is only allowed to swim in it.”
It certainly has a misogynistic undertone to it in contrast to how Bibhutibhushan’s soft words articulate the exact notion.
Similarly, Mahendra in Chokher Bali loves his wife Ashalota but also cannot help falling in love with Binodini. He feels attraction toward both at the same time. This is one kind of emotional polygamy that is also present in many of Bibhuti Babu’s works. However, whereas the character in Bibhuti Babu’s novel is not actively aware of the state of their emotional infatuation, the protagonist of Tagore has a clear recognition of what their mind is craving. In other words, the clear contrast here is at the level of acceptance. Tagore’s characters acknowledge their polygamous tendencies and clearly admit it whereas Bipin, Bhabani, or Apu never confess their recognition of their polygamous emotion. Perhaps that is why Bibhuti Babu’s concept of love doesn’t read like adultery but Tagore’s does. In fact, the way Bibhuti portrays a characters’ infatuation with different individuals with equal intensity but in different manner and successfully maintains the sanctity of each emotion by keeping them discrete from each other infuses innocence in a notion that is widely considered inappropriate.
In a sense, by coating this inappropriate notion with layers of innocence, Bibhuti Babu tells us it’s alright to feel this way. Overall, the way Bibhuti Babu tenderly writes about the realistic yet odd, the authentic yet inappropriate, and the common yet disturbing portion of human psyche with an affectionate touch of innocence and beauty makes it easier for the reader to accept and acknowledge these painfully unavoidable pieces of human cognition. In fact, to a certain extent, it works as a kind of assurance that all of our feelings and emotions are naturally valid. The tender presentation here helps us grow more honest acceptance of the portions of our heart that we usually consider tainted with immoral values. This is the realistic picture of our inner world that we usually don’t find out in the open.
More so, along with the vividity of the interior experience, Bibhuti Babu masterfully structures the exterior world with infallible perfection. He skillfully uses his tools to usher a seamless mirage of reality indistinguishable from our own. The tool here is simply the proper utilization of subtle details. Bibhuti Babu is exceptionally detailed, and this is one of the factors that makes him a realist novelist. It’s apparent that he is very generous with words while describing the scenery of nature. Similarly, Bibhuti Babu’s comprehensive presentation is unmatched, especially when it comes to the subtle, minute, insignificant aspects of life. These details link invisible dots with such strong connection that the world inscribed on the pages of the books feels as real as the one around it. Interestingly, a reader can feel the natural connection with such organic rhythm that they rarely think about it.
In Arannyak, after the death of Dobru Panna, the protagonist goes to meet her grand-daughter, Bhanumati. Seeing the granddaughter overwhelmed with remorse, the protagonist suggests Bhanumati to offer flowers to her deceased grandfathers’ grave. Then the protagonist visits Bhanumati after quite a while and upon his first meet with her after a long period he notices that Bhanumati became healthier than ever before. The author doesn’t give any reason why Bhanumati’s physique altered this way after the death of her grandfather. However, the reason is revealed much later but not in the attempt of doing so. It happens so naturally that though the readers can subconsciously connect the incidents and weave an impenetrable tapestry of reality, they cannot immediately capture the intricate mechanism active in the scene.
At one point long after mentioning Bhanumati’s improved physique, Bhanumati, while talking to the protagonist, reveals, “I daily climb the mountain to offer flowers since the day you told me to.” This makes it apparent why Bhanumati’s health improved. She regularly climbs the mountain, and this exercise contributes to the development of her physique, a connection of which no hint can be found in the novel. Only real-life experience written from photographic memory can form such an atomic link with such level of delicacy.
Bibhutibhusan’s detailed portrayal naturally connects the microscopic dots within the narrative that are invisible to most eyes. It is for these details Bibhuti Babu’s words feel natural and organic. They smell like fresh breeze because of his delicate implementation of the subtle and the trivial. The presence of minor details is the main ingredient that pulls the reader inside a living universe that is not very different from ours. Readers find themselves in the pages of Bibhuti Babu’s novel because of such raw portrayals. The magnificence and the subtleties of life, both are curved with equal intensity. This is why it’s impossible to go through Bibhuti Babus work and not find a glimpse of the self.
His usage of language too is brilliant. A reader is bound to feel at home while reading Bibhuti Babu’s work not only because of the relatable ideas but because of the warmth of his sentences. His usage of a specific consistent native eloquence makes the readers feel comfortably intimate with the words. The dialect of the dialogues in his novels and stories are rarely different from the linguistic style of the rest of the narration. In other words, Bibhutibhushan’s characters and the narrators have the same accent. This is another reason why in these novels the author and the characters appear indistinguishable. This genius utilization of a static accent also amalgamates the reader into the refined mergence of the author and the characters. Here the language brings both the existent (of the reader) and the non-existent (of the novel) universe together into a comforting embrace. This warmth of words, the truth and honesty of life, and the impenetrable web of details are the reasons why Bibhuti Babu’s literary creations enter the strings of the heart and settle within for a lifetime. Whoever read Panther Panchali, Aparajito, Bipiner Sangsar, or Arannyak at least once will always be haunted by the sweet memories of innocence these novels inspires.