The Gujarati magnum-opus that measures up to the best in world literature
--- by Ritwij
Discuss literature with any Gujarati and one name that is sure to crop up is “Saraswatichandra”. No Gujarati worth his/her salt can claim to be cultured enough without having read this mega-novel spanning over four volumes totaling to more than nineteen hundred pages, perhaps alluring to the nineteenth century in which it was written. All the same it is doubtful whether even one percent of the Gujarati reading fraternity would have read all those nineteen hundred and odd pages and rarer still would be the person who has understood it in its entirety.
Yet, “Saraswatichandra” not only heralded the new trend of prose writing in Gujarati but also set highest achievable standards which all aspiring writers aim to measure up to. So much so that even the talented author like K.M. Munshi confesses having resorted to writing historical and mythological novels in order to create a distinct space for himself in the minds of reading population, else he would have been compared with Shri Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi the author of ‘Saraswatichandra” and overshadowed by him. Needless to say till date both “Saraswatichandra” and its author remain unmatched.
Like all epical compositions the achievement or success of “Saraswatichandra” perhaps lies in its creation of a mystic world a part of which is real and known to us while the other part remains in the realm of an ideal awaiting to be realized by the human beings. Though being a work of fiction it arouses in the reader an aspiration to attain the high living standards in all spheres of life; be it individual evolution and refinement, inter-personal relationships, familial ties, integrity in the sphere of work, or in the social and political environment.
Explaining his reason for writing the novel, the author writes in the Preface to the first part “The conviction has grown upon him (the author) that the reality in flesh and blood under the guise of fiction can supply the ordinary reader with subtler moulds and finer casts for the formation of his inner self than abstract discussions and this is especially so with a people who must be made, and not simply left to read."
It is not as if “Saraswatichandra” presents only the goody goody picture of life. Instead it depicts the harsh realities of human life in all its varied forms. The cunning and scheming relatives, the foolish and the debauch people indulging in base tricks to earn a few material gains, the harsh role that of destiny working at the cross purpose of individual aspirations, the social inequities, the national politics, etc. all have been depicted and discussed thouroughly. And yet it aims to inspire man to rise above his environment and evolve into a refined being.
The real beauty of “Saraswatichandra” is that though it is written in Gujarati it has extensive quotations both from the Sanskrit classics as well as English literary masterpieces. In fact in the more serious discussions the author often expresses extensively his own thoughts in English, arousing a feeling of being in tune with the Global humanity in the minds of the reader. With his wide ranging knowledge and high thinking prowess one is often left wondering; why did he not write the entire novel in English itself? Had he done so “Saraswatichandra” would have easily earned international acclaim and accolades as well.