Monday, June 5, 2017

Prajapati (Butterfly) [1967]

The journey of Samaresh Basu’s iconoclastic and controversial novel Prajapati and the precedence it set for authors in India, is certain to draw parallels with what Henry Miller’s works achieved – his seminal debut novel Tropic of Cancer in particular, and his Obelisk Trilogy in general – in the American context. It created outrage upon its publication when charges of obscenity were levied against it, leading it to be banned by the Court; the author and the readers had to wait for 17 long years before the Supreme Court reversed the earlier verdicts and allowed its release, and in turn dealt an important statement against the ugly outreach and utter subjectivity of morality. Set largely over the course of a single day (except for the last few pages which spilled over to the next day), and extensively interwoven with flashbacks which made the narrative constantly jump back and forth across time even if the central arc was extremely compact temporally, the book powerfully explored a crucial and potentially the penultimate day in the life of its anarchist, asocial and rebellious protagonist. The tale’s first-person protagonist Sukhen, a college drop-out who’s become a local strongman, is in direct contravention to his two politically connected and antagonistic elder brothers – though they indulge in theft, subterfuge, and fraudulence, they are protected by the garb of respectability, he, on the other hand, is fiercely who he is. He’s unpredictable, lascivious, profane, prone to violent outbursts, and unapologetically in-your-face, and though, from the standpoint of bourgeois conventionality, he’s a lumpen-proletariat and therefore reprehensible, these very facets make him stand apart from the rotten hypocrisy that surrounds him. He’s in a complex, sexually charged and surprisingly tender relationship with Shikha, and, as brilliantly chronicled through his inner monologues captured through gritty, edgy and vitriol-laden “language of the gutters”, of late he’s suffering from intense existential crisis – and these made him a well-rounded character and this a compulsive probe, and a politically loaded one too, into the society’s seedy and avoided underbelly.

Author: Samaresh Basu
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Stream-of-Consciousness/Modernist Literature
Language: Bengali
Country: India

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