Of all the books that I have read, I like Bibhuti Bandopadhya’s novel “Pather Panchali”, Saga of the Wayside. Today it has been filmed and its film version, done by renowned director Satyajit Ray, has won international recognition. Thai, of course, is largely the achievement of the maker of the film, but the cause of its great popularity is certainly the warm humanity and depiction of childhood in the novel.
The story may be said to deal essentially with ‘familiar matter of today’ — the sorrows and joys of village children. It traces the life of ‘Apu’ from his childhood beginnings. The first part describes the social surroundings in which Apu was born and the character of “Indir Thakurani” sets the tone of pathos, which runs through the entire novel. The next two sections deal with Apu’s childhood and the author adroitly depicted the sensitivity of a child’s mind developing under the influence of familiar sights, scenes and sensitive human beings. The portrayal challenges comparison with Kipling’s ‘Kipps’ or H. G. Wells ‘Kim’. Apu’s elder sister ‘Durga’ is the principal character around whom the little child grows up with all his dreams and fancies. What a lovable character is Durga! Few brother-and-sister friendships in the realm of fiction can rival Bibhuti Bhusan’s representation of its delicacy and charm. The author makes a simple affair.
It is through Durga that Apu enters the heart of Nature and for the first time in Bengali fiction Nature becomes a living personality, if not the protagonist.
For me this wonderful novel has a never-ending charm. It is instinct with the spirit of my country. The social problems that Apu had to face and their impact on his life are so familiar that they become, as it were, our own problems. Yet the scenes of poverty seem to be over spun.
No novel in our country, not even of Rabindranah, has brought man into such intimate relationship with Nature. The descriptions of Nature in their vividness and appeal show the highest art, surpassing that of Great Hunger” or ‘Growth of the Soil’. We see Nature with our eyes and hear her subtle music with our ears. As we read the novel, we seem to be wandering in some idyllic wayside of a Bengali village. Bibhuti Bandopadhyay is the most Wordsworthian author in Bengali literature, — not an imitation or adaptation of the great English poet, but one who wrote from the same depth of feeling with the same unerring vision.
Lastly, the human drama enacted in the novel has the most intense interest. The sufferings of the various people have that overtone of pathos, which belongs to the common people all over the Third World.