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The first Indian novel in English

Before Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay went all ‘Bong nationalistic’ on us, he wrote a slim novel in English.

books Updated: Jan 08, 2010 22:01 IST

Before Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay went all ‘Bong nationalistic’ on us, he wrote a slim novel in English. More Amit Chaudhuri than Anandamath, more V.S. Naipaul than Vande Mataram, Rajmohan’s Wife (Penguin, Rs 199) — first serialised in the English weekly periodical, the Indian Field, in 1864 (a year before his first Bengali novel, Durgeshnandini) — tells the story of the passionate Matangini.

She’s the classic 19th century Bengali woman — except that she’s in love with her sister’s husband and is married to what in contemporary terminology is called a ‘bastard’. Bankim goes inside the tumultuous household affairs in which the protagonist is a headstrong beautiful woman trying to break out of the confines of middle-class society.

He prefigures both Saratchandra Chattopadhyay and Ekta Kapoor in Rajmohan’s Wife.

Written off as Bankim’s ‘false start’ (perhaps because it was written in English), we beg to differ. With a great introduction and afterword by Meenakshi Mukherjee, don’t miss Bankim’s insightful dialogue between two women on rural and urban hairstyles.