Gunahon ka Devta is one of the pioneering Hindi novel by Dharamveer Bharati, the recipient of the Padmashri, India’s fourth highest civilian award. Bharati who is best known for the play Andha Yug and his novel Suraj ka Satwan Ghoda writes this love story or love stories in a love story. Calling it a love story of two people would be injustice to other characters and their emotions. Published in 1949, the story is set in Allahabad and the time period of post-independence. It revolves around the protagonist Chander who is deeply flawed, idealistic and intelligent.
Chander, the protagonist, a research scholar of Allahabad University seems like a traveler in search of his own identity who travels through three different women to explore himself sexually and spiritually. He is just another literary character who faces identity crisis, born and brought up under social prejudices, finding answers to the question of love, lust, sex and marriage. It is remarkable and surprising that even after more than sixty years gone, these questions are still relevant in modern India. In fact the models of femininity that Bharti portrays are also the women of present day. That simply means that the condition and the image of women has not much changed since then, just the background is different. The three major women characters Sudha, Pammy and Binti from three different backgrounds are slyly constructed by the author to represent the then prevalent stereotypes not only in the society but also in his own mind specifically in his sub-conscious of which he himself is not aware of because he does not give an impression of critiquing these gendered stereotypes, instead he puts them forward in acquiescence. It is apparent from his setting up of the background to these broadly classified three types of “young” women characters available for the love of the one true protagonist Chander who seems like an alter ego to the author himself who is also generalized by many reviewers as “one of us”. But not many of the young people today who are “us” are not of the same intellectual level as Chander is.
Sudha, a daughter of a prestigious, well-read upper class Brahmin professor of Allahabad University, Mr. Shukla, who in his ideology like other “well-read” people of his age is against all caste discriminations and other evil social practices ends up marrying his daughter to another socially prominent, politically active “well-read” Brahmin who treats his daughter as an object of pleasure and servitude. The man who truly loves his daughter (according to the author) cannot marry her because firstly he is not of the same caste, secondly and more importantly he is in debt of Mr. Shukla for bringing him up as his own son so Sudha in Mr. Shukla’s eyes is like a younger sister to Chander. So Mr. Shukla asks Chander to convince Sudha to marry a man whom she doesn’t love. Bharati very beautifully evokes emotions at this complicated situation by planning a sacrifice for both Sudha and Chander bringing in metaphors of nature, of day and night, Sun and Moon etc. Stereotypically this disruption in the platonic love of Sudha and Chander and the grievance caused by it is dealt contrastingly by both the characters. Sudha, the naïve young women in her late teens, unaware of her sexual desires or probably devoid of them turns to religion and spirituality hoping to cope with the torments of her husband’s sexual demands to whom she submissively gives away herself physically and never complains about it to anybody accept Chander to whom she tells only after her conscience doesn’t allow her to continue to let the society prolong her sufferings. The only resistance that Bharati could offer her was death. His characters and their circumstances are constrained not only to his but also to the societal mindsets. On the other hand Chander finds his solace in a sexual relation with the “other” woman who initially seems like a character whom feminists might love for her independence not only financially but also mentally. She is in charge of her own desires and her own body. She does not refrain from pursuing sexual relationships against the norms of society. But what is disturbing is her stereotypical portrayal, her unreasoned set up and her unconvincing doom. This character of Pammy who is an Anglo-Indian Christian divorcee who lives with her mad brother is portrayed more as a vamp who lures younger men into her trap for her carnal satisfaction than as a powerful young liberated woman capable of taking responsibility for herself.
Surprisingly unlike many modernist novels like Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers which show a striking similarity with Gunahon ka Devta in terms of its portrayal of different types of women characters met by the male protagonist who is the young budding artist in the town and how his life and his Art shapes after his encounter with these women and also how the lives of these women revolve around ‘The’ male protagonist and their struggle to attain his love and devotion for them, Bharati has been unbiased in treating his male and female characters to respond to their sins(sins according to him). Lawrence however by not showing the inner conflicts of his women characters justifies each act of Paul Morel, his protagonist by showing his deepest conflicts. Bharati on the other hand makes Chander “Gunahon ka Devta” though still attributing him the title of “Devta” because of his sacrifices. But what he doesn’t misses is his dealings with Sudha’s and other women’s inner conflicts as per his understanding of these women which might or might not be true because it is nearly impossible for a man to attain that level of apprehension of women characters as a woman herself would do. French feminism might put this as a difference caused by the difference in their sexual experiences. But both these male authors turn out to be similar in treating their less viable character (according to them) capable of gaining feminist attention by denying them what they have gained as the conclusion of their story. Both Clara and Pammy are again ultimately doomed to be what they are not.
Binti, the youngest who also longs for Chander’s love despite knowing his relation with Sudha who is also her cousin and her sole companion of womanhood seems the most plausible and humanly character for her pragmatism. Despite being from a village, away from the sophistication of the city, she is more aware of life than Sudha is who is elder than her both in terms of age and social status. Though Binti and Pammy haven’t been explored much as Sudha is by Bharati either because he can’t or he feels more inclined to the women like Sudha, virtuous and self-sacrificing. Binti, whose love or desires are called hypnotized by the love of Sudha and Chander does injustice to her character. Binti who has already had bitterness of her life in her childhood who has a horrid mother in place of a mother figure. She wants love and that she sees in Chander and Sudha both. These are her “real” emotions.
Gesu, Sudha’s best friend also suffers like Chander by seeing her beloved getting married to someone else, but she does not turn bitter, she concentrates on her education and starts working. She isn’t the focus of the narrator.
Poonam Saxena, the translator of the novel writes, “The younger generation might not relate with this love story whose foundation is laid on sacrifice. You have to place yourself in another time because if you have to see how they are behaving in 2015, then it is very difficult to understand their turmoil.” Agreeable enough in terms of the emotions of the characters who change with the time but not all characters change with passing time but the circumstances coming with it which have not changed much. Some characters remain intact through generations on intrinsic human grounds.
Bharati, Dharamveer. Gunahon ka Devta. Bhartiya Jnanpith, 2009. Print.
Saxena, Poonam. “Why a 66-year-old Hindi love story needed to be translated in English”. March 2015.
Submitted by: Mrinalini Yadav