Chander & Sudha is the English Translation of the popular Hindi Novel ‘Gunahon Ka Devta’ by Dharmvir Bharti. Published in 1949 ‘Gunahon Ka Devta’ went onto become a huge success catapulting the author as one of the most recognized names in Hindi Literature. 66 years later, Poonam Saxena has given us the English Translation of the novel named Chander & Sudha. As the name suggests, the book revolves around Chander, a bright young student from Allahabad University and Sudha, the daughter of his professor. It is their love story, a love which destroys their lives and those around them.
Set in 1949 in Allahabad in an era where friendships between men and women were frowned upon, the author gives us Chander and Sudha who grow up together. Chander, a bright young student in Allahabad University is a favorite with Dr. Shukla, he treats him like a son. He spends most his time away from college at Dr. Shukla’s house. Dr. Shukla’s only daughter Sudha, who is sent to the village to her aunt when her mother dies, comes back to the city to stay with Dr.Shukla at the age of 13. Thus starts Chander and Sudha’s journey. Having lived in a village, Sudha is a ‘wild little thing’ when she comes to the city and even Dr. Shukla finds it difficult to handle her. That’s when Chander steps in and in no time, they become close to each other. Sudha changes into a calm and gentle woman and they become friends, Confidantes, lovers, a love like the ‘purity of autumn’. They become the Centre of each other’s universe. Their days are spent fighting, teasing and cajoling each other. While on one hand we have Sudha pouring all her cares on Chander, on the other we have Chander taking all major decisions for Sudha which she willingly accepts. Devoid of any sexual attraction, Chander and Sudha believe their love is pure and divine. While Chander frowns at the very mention of marriage, Sudha hopes to stay at her house all life-long taking care of her father and Chander. In fact when Chander meets Pammi, an open-minded Christian girl, who flirts with him, he feels guilty and runs to Sudha.
Their beautiful world however comes crashing down when Dr. Shukla decides to get Sudha married. Sudha refuses to get married and Chander is entrusted with the responsibility of convincing Sudha of the alliance. At crossroads between societal pressures, Dr. Shukla’s blind trust on him, his own idea of pure love and his love for Sudha, Chander decides to sacrifice his love and convinces Sudha to marry where her father wants her to.
‘Both of us should be happy that we have this opportunity to prove to the world that our relationship has been pure, ethereal, intangible- that such a relationship is possible’
Sudha agrees to get married however both of them are not able to come to terms with it. Chander cannot bring himself to accept that Sudha is married and detests her. He decides to punish her by returning her letters and breaking all communication. But it only increases his restlessness and anger. He tries to find solace in Pammi’s love, but realizes he doesn’t love her. As Binti, Sudha’s cousin tries to help him, he misunderstand and insults her thus pushing away everyone. Sudha on the other hand is unable to accept Kailash as her husband and goes through her life simply fulfilling her duties as a wife and daughter-in-law longing for Chander. She tries to find solace in Religion however eventually withers away. The story ends with an epilogue, where we see Chander still struggling to come to terms with the reality of his life and Sudha’s death.
The story is beautifully written. The author weaves Allahabad into the book with descriptions of the city, the parks and the color of the city in different seasons. The descriptions are so vivid, it almost seems it’s a city you know so well. Although the story has a tragic end, the love story that he spins is what stays with you till the end. Kudos to Ms. Saxena for the translating it so well. It is seamless and soulful.
The writer through the story has very aptly described the society in the era the book belongs to. He makes a strong statement with characters such as Pammi, who is liberated and brave. Then there is Dr. Shukla who stops Binti’s wedding, when he finds her in-laws had lied to them, and allows her to study as much as she wants. He even agrees to get Binti married to someone out of caste. We also have Kailash, who refuses to burden the bride’s family with extravagant wedding preparations and gifts which was a norm at that time. What is commendable is that the writer had the courage to bring up these issues 66 years ago, issues which are a reality even today.
While some might find it difficult to relate to the story in today’s day and age of instant gratification. After all isn’t ‘Move On’ the mantra? I however urge you to read the book. Whatever be your definition of love, Chander & Sudha would surely move you.