-Subrata Kumar Das
Satyen Sen (1907-1981) wrote twelve novels along with eight books on history and twenty books of other different categories. The very significant information regarding his authorial life is that all the above mentioned books are the products of two decades only. He started to write novels at a very later age and for his huge production his name was soon categoriesed in the list of pioneer novelists of the country. Most of his books deal with historical characters and events in which he had much eagerness and study. His historical novels have placed him in the row of significant writers of the country. The historical novels of Satyen Sen are Obhisopto Nogori (The Cursed City, 1967), Paper Sontan (The Sinned Children, 1969), Vidrohi Kaivarto (The Rebellious Kaivartos, 1969), Purushamedh (Man-Offering, 1969), Alberuni (1969) Kumarajiva (1969) and Oporajeo (The Unbeaten, 1970). In these novels he mostly deals the ancient historical tales set in with moderns view. The other novels of him include Bhorer Bihongi (The Bird of the Dawn, 1959), Padochinho (The Footmarks, 1968), Seyana (The Shrewd, 1968), Sat Nombor Ward (Ward Number Seven, 1969), Uttoron (Reaching the Destination, 1970), Ma (Mother, 1970) etc.
Two novels of Satyen Sen took the ancient Jerusalem as their centre: Obhisopto Nogori and Paper Sontan and the later may be considered as the sequel to Obhisopto Nogori. The novelist took the stories from the Holy Bible, though he has not escaped the historical truths anywhere. But it does not mean that Obhisopto Nogori is merely a book on history, rather the characters are developed in the novel following the historical events and through them the novelist has portrayed the enduring struggle of humans. He has focused the present crisis of humanity through the Biblical stories where the whole nation is dominated and oppressed by the ruling society accompanied by the orthodox religious community. In this novel Satyen Sen has tried to expose the dialectic truth of human civilization in parallel with the ups and downs of a nation. The story of Obhisopto Nogori dates back to 6th century BC where prophet Jeremiah is the principal character spanning 626 – 586 BC, while Jerusalem met its fall in 586 BC. On the other hand the story Paper Sontan falls about half a century later. Though there remain a relation of the chronology and context of the two stories, they appear as individual novels. In Obhisopto Nogori, the character of prophet Jeremiah has been delineated, on the other hand in Paper Sontan the reconstruction of the city Jerusalem is mostly focused on. Both in Obhisopto Nogori and Paper Sontan, Satyen Sen has delineated a long story of the eventful city, Jerusalem and its people. In this regard it is worthy to mention that Satyen Sen is the first novelist who dared to recapitulate Biblical stories in Bangla language and has been able to do it successfully.
Variety of tastes is a main feature in Satyen Sen’s novels. Vidrohi Kaivarto is a significant instance in this regard. The story of novel is about the revolt of the Kaivartos during the Pala Emperor Mohipala II (1070-1075). The protagonist of the novel is Divya or Dibbok who organnised the revolt of the Kaivartos against the feudal king. To revive the bygone heritage of the Koivartos and to eradicate the oppression and depression of the feudal kings Dibbok did this. The other Kaivarta characters are Rodokh, Vima, Parbhu etc. The feudal characters in the novel are Harigupta, Baraho Swami, King Mohipala, Sangkhodevi etc.
The Kaivartos had a long history of independence. They believed that land was their own possession, they were using them generation after generation and no royal king could have any authority over them. History says they had to fight to safeguard their independence time and again. During the reign of oppressive ruler Mohipala II, they again got an opportunity to bring back their freedom. In this regard Divya, a feudal lord took their side and organised them.
Satyen Sen has not merely sketched the historical events in his novel, rather he has given an especial essence to his story. The people of the novel appear before us as living human beings. Moreover it tells about the oppressions by the colonial rulers across the world. Vidrohi Kaivarto is an embodiment of the rebellious people under the rule of Pakistan.
Sayten Sen’s other novel Purushamedh is also a story of rebellion. In this book also the novelist has expressed that revolt under the guise of a historical event of the far past, further than the historical time of Vidrohi Kaivarto. The story of the novel Purushamedh is set against the time of post-Vedic period of ancient India when sacrificing humans was not an uncommon phenomenon. To save the life of Raja Brishaketu, a Sudra child Khetu was sacrificed for which the Sudra community got furious and revolted against the Brahmins.
Khetu is the child of Sudas and Ida, a Sudra couple. When Raja Brishaketu becomes sick, the royal priest Ushasti Chakrayan declared the necessity of ‘Purushamedh Jogna’ which needs 184 people as per ritual, though sacrifice of one human being can also suffice. As a result the Sudras seek for hide-out in fear of being caught. Sudash can do it but his son Khetu is lost. When the Sudras become assured that Khetu has been sacrificed, all the Sudras along with Sudas become rebellious. Unitedly they attack the Kshatriya and Brahman People.
The other two significant characters of the novel are Satyaki and Sudarshan. Sastyaki is begot by an Aryan father and non-Aryan mother. On the other hand Sudarshan is a Kshatriya. Through various incidents in his personal life Satyaki frees himself from the bondage of Brahmanism. He ceases to think himself an Aryan, and gradually comes nearer to the Sudras. It is Satyaki who encourages Sudarshan to come out of all prejudices and superstitions and thus the Sudras achieve the courage to fight against the traditional superior class.
It is obvious that Satyen Sen has manipulated modern his attitude in this novel. He has not ignored the political and economic exploitation under the guise of religious feelings. The exposition of existing class struggle in the content of a bygone history is noticeable in Purushamedh which has made the novel a modern one. Yes, as is possible, in the revolt by the Sudras Satyaki and Sudarshan also meet death, which is a usual feature in the revolutions of different countries in different ages because the Sudras have achieved an uncommon spirit by then. In the language of the novelist:
Hearing the news Ida cried out. But Sudas did not cry at all. Sitting firmly and silently he even did not look at Ida. Only his eyes were burning like the wild animals. This fire was seen not only in the eyes of Sudas, but in the eyes of all the Sudras. Khetu was not a child of Sudas only, he is as if of all of them. Only Sudas has not been childless losing Khetu, but the whole community has been childless. This news spread through villages. Wherever there were Sudras the news reached and wherever the news reached, fire burnt out. (Translation)
The next historical novel of Satyen Sen is Alberuni (al-Biruni) based on the life of the greatest thinker, mathematician, scientist and educationist Abu-Raihan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Alberuni (A.D. 973-1048) of the middle ages. The story of the novel has been created against the historical and cultural perspective of Alberuni’s own time. Though there are many fictitious characters and incidents in the novel, the author has called Alberuni a historical one. The novel opens with the scene when Alberuni is looking for a shelter after leaving his motherland Khorezom. History says when the Arab General Kubeita-bin-Muslim occupied Khorezom, he killed the writers, teachers and linguists of Khorezom language, and burning all books written in that language he wanted to stop its practice only for the sake of Arabic. Being rebellious against this occupant, Alberuni left his motherland and reached Gurgan where the novel opens. Alberuni was later on sheltered by Sultan Kabush-bin-Washmagir, a pseudo patron of knowledge.
In the first three chapters of the novel we have got the picture of the practice of knowledge of Alberuni in the royal court of Gurgan. In the fourth chapter Alberuni returns back to Khwarezm being invited by Sultan Mamun where he was adored as the Royal Alem. Alberuni began to pass his time in national library and with his friend Ahmed. He could realise that the Alems there were being narrow-minded as he observed is Gurgan. Later on invited by the Sultan of Ghazni he experienced a mournful scene of a prisoner of war, a girl of five or six. From there he sought permission from the King to visit Hind and search for Vedanta knowledge.
Thus Satyen Sen has chronologically sketched the development of the world famous thinker Alberuni, but hopefully the novelist has not made it a mere biography, rather it has been a good instance of a historical novel. It is true that Alberuni has been the only character, which the novelist has tried to mould in the novel. But the life and society of Gurgan, Khwarezm, Ghazni, Lahore are also portrayed significantly. Moreover, the characters like Sultan Kabush, Sultan Mamun, Sultan Mahmud and Sultan Masud have contributed to present the ongoing history of the Muslim world. The other significant information regarding this novel is that Alberuni was banned by the then Pakistan government possibly because of the true conflict of the oppressed and the oppressors, which is almost similar in different ages for different nations.
In the introduction of the novel Kumarjiva Satyen Sen wrote:
I want to demand it as a historical novel …. It is true that in the traditional histories the story of Kumarajiva cannot be discovered. This story remained unknown to us for long. The anthropologists have unearthed it – many experts think that it is based on fact. I have considered their opinion as true. (Translation)
The story of the novel is based on the life of the great Buddhist priest Kumarajiva (A.D. 344-413) and on the conflict between different sections of Buddhist community in different regions of Asia. The novel has exposed how a religion can meet destruction for its internal conflicts. The historical figures Kumarajiva’s father was Kumarajana and mother was Jiva. Kumarajiva passed his study time in Kashmir. He traveled many countries including China. So the novel has taken Middle East, China and India as its context. Sometimes long descriptions of different Buddhist ideologies have made the novel boring, but above all the love between Kumarajana and Jiva has added a very romantic touch to the story.
Oporajeo is Satyen Sen’s single novel where he has used the elements of near past history. In this novel he has examined the situations and factors of Sepoy Mutiny (1857) and the reasons behind its failure. The novelist has skillfully studied the personal interests, opportunist mentality and activities for which the deeds of the great sons could not be succeeded finally.
The story of the books opens at the port of Bombay, presently called Mumbai. From the very beginning the writer has exposed the dignity and popularity of the Sultan of Delhi and their firm determination to fight. Feroz is the centre of all these fights and combats. The novel has illustrated all the related incidents happening in Meerat, Delhi, Kanpur, Indore, Lucknow, Rampore, Gorakhpur, Jhanshi, Rohilkhand, Muradabad etc. The novelist has also tried to portray all the heroic figures of this historical event as well as the weak-minded ones.
If we look deep into the novels of Satyen Sen, we will meet a rebellious and struggling humanitarian in them. He could write novels based on little information and wide imagination and through all these novels he has demonstrated the eternal human spirit which always hangers after liberation. In this way he has presented the modern mind of his own time. His historical novels prove his deep learning regarding the histories of man as well as Indian civilization. Form the details given in his historical novels one can guess about how meticulously the novelist has created the contents of his stories. One can easily explore the anthropological past of our nation from his Purushamedh, or the historical time of earlier Indian from Vidrohi Kaibarto or Kumarajiva or even get enlightened about the middle ages of Islamic world from Alberuni. In the perspective of the whole Bangla literature the historical novels of Satyen Sen deserve to be evaluated time and again. In respect of this genre in Bangladesh novels, Satyen Sen is a pioneer whose profound knowledge and lofty imagination helped to establish him as a successful historical novelist in the history of Bangla literature.