by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee by Sunanda Krishnamurty (Translator)
Published in 1865, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s first Bengali novel Durgeshnandini revolutionised Bengali prose writing. Many consider it to be the first modern novel in an Indian language. Durgeshnandini is set in the sixteenth century during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar, when the Mughal army was fighting the Pathans for control over territories in eastern India. Many characters in the book—Mughals, Rajputs and Pathans—are historical figures. With this as the backdrop, the author skilfully sets up a romance between a young Rajput commander of the Mughal army and the daughter of a minor ruler. The romance becomes layered when a charming Pathan princess also falls in love with the Rajput commander in defiance of her suitor, the Pathan army chief. Prevailing social norms barred love across caste and religion. Bankim Chandra seems to question this in this novel in an indirect way. The novel ran into thirteen editions during BankimChandra’s lifetime and was translated into several languages.