A great Bengali author Michael Madusudan Dutt, a born Hindu, was attracted by Christianity. he converted. Yet his love for the Hindu mythology dawned a new era in the Bengali literature. His masterpiece, Meghnad Badh Kabya (the slaying of Meghnada) reflects the complexity of contact between Indian and British culture. Being a Bengali myself, I have heard my parents and grandparents praise his work.
His plot is based on the traditional Bengali Ramayana, but ends up admiring the expected villain of the story. This is very similar to the glorification of Karna in Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s Rashmirathi. Dutt once admitted that his telling of the Ramayana was a result of his contempt for traditional Hindu values like asceticism and his admiration for the enjoyment of possessions and power that was associated with colonial Calcutta.
While Michael has shown Ravana and Meghnada are victims of Destiny, his narration brings out a picture of conspiracy by the gods and deception by Ram’s camp being at the root of defeat and fall of Meghnada, not the valor of Lakshmana. He has portrayed Meghnada as invincible in face-to-face battle with both Indra and Ram. He bravely roars- “Father, twice I have defeated Raghav, you give me permission once more, let’s see which medicine brings him back to life this time”. More importantly, Dutt is perfectly able to articulate the colonial dilemma of cultural ambivalence- the state we all live in!
Tomorrow, I’ll write on the women’s take on the Rama’s story…