Chitralekha by Bhagwati Charan Varma
Human nature, it’s changing needs and wants, its relationship with God and the various ways to reach the ultimate truth have always been the subject of human exploration. The questions have come to humans in every era and age. They have taken various journeys both in the physical world and in their mental space to get the answers. Sometimes they felt they have got the answer. Sometimes they felt more exploration is required. And sometimes their Gurus guide them. Sometimes they end up teaching their Gurus. This book Chitralekha starts with an exploration of “What is Paap or Sin?” by the two disciples of the same of Guru.
They are sent to two different people for a year to discover the difference between Paap and Punya, the virtue. One is sent to a worldly man, who is rich and famous. Lives in with the most beautiful and famous dancer of the kingdom. And believes in experiencing the world by enjoying it to the hilt. But he is trained under the same Guru. And is very knowledgeable and wise in his own way. The other disciple goes to a Yogi who takes pride in his knowledge that he has acquired through Tapasya. And by giving up every worldly thing.
Through the play of story, the affection between the various characters keeps changing. They all go through the turmoil that is a creation of the circumstances that they land up in. More often than not, circumstances are not what they create for themselves. They fall in and out of love. And discover their own longings through these changes. They understand relationships and their nature. Based on what they wanted, what they deserved, what they got and how they felt once they got it. There are various debates between good and bad, moral and immoral, love and lust. Truth and lies, change and unchangeable, Yogi and Bhogi. And all these debates make you think about your own situations and your own values.
Chitralekha is a philosophy-based fiction that questions the basic human nature. The impact of conditioning that comes from circumstances that the human being goes through. And tries to say that we are a product of our circumstances. Our concept of what is good and bad or what is right and wrong is made by the series of experiences that we go through. Another subtle point that it makes is that we can never predict our own emotions and behavior. Leave apart predicting someone else’s. A simple story with few but very well defined characters are based on the times of Maurya kingdom and its famous Chanakya, who is mentioned in one scene. I think to provide the timeline to the story.
The protagonists live in the city of Patliputra and there is a visit to Kashi. Description of Kashi as a beautiful city where people come to get away from their worlds. A place of learning where scholars come to learn. And the portrayal of Ganga as a nourishing river is enchanting. The treatment of women is very sensitive. While they have free will and they participate in all arguments and debates, they still remain as feminine as possible. And are aware of the powers that this gives them. They are not hesitant to use their powers when required. The language is another high point of the book. All the characters say exactly what they feel and what they want to say. The debate is meaningful when it is conducted not with the intent to win the argument, but with the intent to understand the issue at hand.
I vaguely remember watching the movie based on this book as a kid, I think I need to go back and watch it once more. Recommend this book Chitralekha to those who want like to see two balanced aspects of these eternal human dilemmas.