Monday, 23 May 2011

Kim's Review: Chandrakanta

My husband who grew up with Hindi Literature, always has an onset of nostalgia whenever anyone mentions the name "Chandrakanta". Growing up down South, where Hindi was an enforced third language, there were no libraries stocking Hindi books, nor did there seem to be any inclination to do so, since no one seemed interested in books written in Hindi.

Chandrakanta was also made into a television serial a couple of decades ago. But that too was in Hindi and we barely gave it a 2nd glance. Our 1 hour ration of tv time on Sundays was carefully conserved for the Famous Five, those Laugh-out-Loud tele-sports programs or the other rare English programming on state run Doordarshan.

Even today my Hindi reading skills are dismal, as I only studied it for 4-5 years, so I eagerly await any English translations of Hindi books that my husband has ever talked about. Unfortunately, a lot of the poetry and language gets lost in translation, but at least I can get the gist and flavour of the story.

Devakinandan Khatri is an author who is highly acclaimed in the Hindi speaking parts of India, as the first author of authentic prose in Adhunik Kaal (Modern Period). A writer who wrote in a version of Hindi that could be read and understood by the masses. Chandrakanta was serialised as bayans/chapters and had people deperately awaiting the next installment. It is said that many people learnt to read Hindi, just to be able to read Chandrakanta for themselves.

The story line is itself straightforward. A Prince - Virendra Singh - is in love with a Princess of the neighbouring kingdom - Chandrakanta. The king's minister's evil son Kroor Singh wants Chandrakanta and her Fathers kingdom for himself and hence forments trouble between the 2 kingdoms. The names of the characters immediately identify them as good or evil.

The mesmerising quality of the story comes from the aiyaars - magicians who are illusionists, herbalists, and many other things combined. Female aiyaaras are as competent as their male counterparts if not more so. Chandrakanta's companion/aiyaaras Chapla and Champa are both very strong characters.

The 2nd setting of intrigue comes from tilisms - an alternate reality with secret traps that seems completely believable to a person trapped inside it and which can only be destroyed by someone (often pre-ordained) who can break all the codes and locks set in place.

It is said the Devakinandan Khatri was heavily inspired by the tales of dastangos and the enchanting ruins of old forts near where he lived and worked.

Deepa Agarwal has done a good job of translating this novel, so that non-Hindi readers too can enjoy this mystical tale. Its well paced and easy to read in one sitting if you have the time. You will most likely find yourself irritated by having to break for mundane things like eating and sleeping.

Devakinandan Khatri has written a much more monumental work in Chandrakanta Santati and then another on Bhootnath I hope someone translates these 2 books too, as it would be wonderful to read the adventures of Chandrakanta's and Virender Singh's offspring too.

Rating: 3.5/5

Other books by Devakinandan Khatri:
Chandrakanta Santati (Hindi in 6 volumes)
Kajara ki kothari: Tilasmi jasusi upanyasom ke janaka ki amarakrti
Katora bhara khuna


Bala Sakthis said...

Hi Kim,
I was searching for the Chandrakanta title song and somehow saw your post. good to hear that an English edition of the book is available. Just now ordered the book. Your crisp review has increased my curiosity.... :)


Sigma said...

Its indeed an amazing work, worth raving about, and worth learning hindi for :-)
You missed a couple of novels in your list - Bhoothnath (7 volumeS) and Rohtasmath (2 volumes).
I was first introduced to Chandrakanta when I was in class 6, and I have read the three (chandrakanta, santati and bhootnath) umpteen times since then. Was able to read rohtasmath only once when we borrowed it from a library, and unfortunately havent found a copy of our own in all these years.

Kim said...

These books that you mention aren't available on flipkart or amazon, so I had absolutely no idea about them :)

Thanks for updating me. Will let you know in case I find them anywhere.

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