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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Saratchandra Chattopadhyay: Literary Giant who is Timeless

Known for classics Devdas, Pather Dabi, and Srikanta, this 20th century author’s novels, novellas & short stories make him one of Bengal’s most prolific man of letters.

ht-school Updated: Sep 20, 2019 14:08 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Renowned author Saratchandra Chattopadhyay began writing from a tender age. His earliest stories, Korel and Kashinath, which he had penned as a teenager, are still widely read.
Renowned author Saratchandra Chattopadhyay began writing from a tender age. His earliest stories, Korel and Kashinath, which he had penned as a teenager, are still widely read.(Illustration: Biswajit Debnath)

Born on September 15, 1876 in Devanandapur, a hamlet located in undivided Bengal during the pre-Independence era, Chattopadhyay was among the five children of Motilal Chattopadhyay and Bhubanmohini. His father did not have a regular job, as a result he spent most of his childhood at his mother’s family home in Bhagalpur, Bihar. There, he attended the Durga Charan Balak Vidyalay.

Early life

Chattopadhyay began writing at a tender age. His earliest stories, Korel and Kashinath, which he had penned as a teenager, are still widely read. While in Bhagalpur, he cleared the university entrance examination.He attended college for two years, but failed to complete higher studies due to his family’s financial situation. Instead, he took up a job in Bihar in 1900.

His first short story was published in 1903 in his uncle, Surendranath Ganguli’s name. Baradidi, a novella, was published in 1907, now under his own name, in the local magazine Bharati. At the age of 27, Chattopadhyay went to Burma, where he was employed as a clerk in a government office in Rangoon. In 1906, he married Shanti Devi and the couple had a son. However, both his wife and son passed away in the plague of 1908. He remarried a young widow Mokshada in 1910.

During his years in Rangoon, he wrote some of his prominent works including Parinita and Biraj bau (both written in 1914), as well as Palli Samaj (written in 1916).

While in Burma, he continued to revise the drafts of many of the works that he had penned down in Bhagalpur, while simultaneously creating new fiction. In 1916, he came back to India and settled at Baje Shibpur, near Kolkata. Ten years later, he moved to his own house in Samtabere, a village on the banks of the Rupnarayan.

Social crusader

Chattopadhyay’s works challenged the religious and caste orthodoxy prevalent at the time. He was also considered to be a feminist, due to the strong female characters that he built in his stories. For example, in his work Swami, the central character of Saudamini, a bright young girl who studied literature and wasn’t afraid to stand up to her mother-in-law. Similarly, his story, Choritroheen, is about four feisty women.

Chattopadhyay also played a role in India’s freedom movement. From 1921 to 1936, he served as the president of the Indian National Congress’ Howrah branch.

Legacy & adaptations

By 1916, Chattopadhyay’s works gained popularity and his fame was firmly established in the literary world. His major novels include Devdas (1917), Srikanta (in four parts; 1917, 1918, 1927, 1933), Charitraheen (1917), Grihadaha (1919), Pather-Dabi (1926), Shesh Prashno (1931), Bipradas (1935). He diedon January 16, 1938, in Kolkata.

Overall, his works have been made into around 50 films in several Indian languages. Particularly, the novel Devdas has been made into 16 versions, from Bengali, Hindi to Telugu. Parineeta was also made twice. The film Sabyasachi, released in 1977, is based on his work Pather Dabi. The other movies based on his novels included Nishkriti.

Interesting facts

1. Chattopadhyay inherited an interest in writing from his father, who reportedly wrote many stories. He once said, “From my father, I inherited nothing except... his restless spirit and keen interest in literature.”

2. In a 1918, Times Literary Supplement review, he was compared to master French storyteller Guy de Maupassant who is known for works such as Boule de suif” (“Ball of Fat”) and La Parure (“The Necklace”).

3. His magnum opus is the story of Devdas, which he wrote in 1901, but it was published years later in 1917. However, this work remains one of his less critically acclaimed novels and reportedly he himself was opposed to publishing it. In a letter addressed to one of his friends, he had once said this about the novel - “Devdas is not satisfactory, not satisfactory at all. I do not want it to be published.”

4. Some of the most endearing characters he created, such as Indranath of Srikanta (1917), or Lalu of Chhelebelar Galpa (1938) are known to be based on his friend Rajendranath Majumdar or Raju from his time in Bhagalpur.

Sources: Media reports and profiles, Wikipedia and

First Published: Sep 20, 2019 13:07 IST

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