A few days back, I read the novel ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham. In that, was a character named Philip, representing a man with unbridled emotions, craving to fathom the meaning of life and in the process succumbing to objects of sense gratification and equating it to be the purpose of life.
Coincidentally the next book I finished today, also dealt with a similar theme. The void I had felt in Maugham’s story seemed to be addressed eloquently in this book.
Yayati is born in a King’s family and since childhood tries to understand what the purpose of life is.
..I was dissatisfied with life and thirsty for something undefined
His mother, afraid that he may leave home to become an ascetic like his elder brother makes him take a vow that he will never accept asceticism. But this intensifies his curiosity even more as he wonders what does a renunciate gain, what pleasure they acquire while sacrificing a life of wealth, comfort, and aristocratic pleasures.
The story becomes dramatic when the characters Devyani and Sharmishtha enter the scene. Both of them are beautiful young women and dream of aristocratic lives. They are friends but Devyani is jealous of Sharmishtha. Devyani by virtue of a coincidence convinces Yayati to marry her and by a clever ploy, traps Sharmistha into a pact to become her maid servant.The story becomes quite interesting after that as we see the character’s nature unfolding. Yayati seems to succumb to Devyani’s demands just to please her, and she starts drawing full benefit of his infatuation.
Devyani was smiling now. It was not the smile of a lover only, it was obviously tinged with pride. It was the smile of a pretty woman, who in her arrogance thought she could reduce a man to utter subjection
Yayati, who is trying to find happiness through Devyani, soon realizes she doesn’t love him and so feels drawn towards her servant Sharmishtha. He keeps trying to figure out what will bring him happiness but keeps equating fickle enjoyments as eternal joys. Consequently, he goes on submitting more and more to his carnal impulses and feels perplexed that despite all these he is feeling further deteriorated, dissatisfied.Meanwhile, the drama between Devyani and Sharmishtha intensifies as Devyani begins to see Sharmishtha as a threat between her and Yayati.
Kacha, an enlightened ascetic, and a friend to all these three characters makes appearances at times and his dialogues help a reader feel pacified while contemplating the desperate plight of these three characters. The presence of such a character was what I had found missing in Maugham’s novel. Someone who soothes the reader with some words of wisdom. While in Philip’s case, it had always felt pessimistic, here the presence of Kacha filled that pessimistic void.
..If in the eyes of the world you are a maid, to me you are a gracious queen. The slave is Devyani. She is slave to her splendour, dignity and ego.The man whose soul is prey to selfishness, desire and enjoyment is forever slave in this world.
The author, V S Khandekar in the preface says that he was inspired to write this tale from Mahabharata(one of the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India) The story of Yayati forms a subsidiary part of Mahabharata and not its central theme. Although Khanderkar molded the story somewhat to portray the characters as they ‘appeared to him’ rather than how they had originally been portrayed. He originally wrote this book in Marathi (the language spoken in the Indian state of Maharashtra) and the book was published in 1959. It won him the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award(1960) and the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary award, in 1974.
One interesting thing about this book was its creative narration. The tale progresses with changing perspectives. In first chapter Yayati is the narrator, in the next Devyani and in the next to that, Sharmishtha.In this way, it keeps changing. The same scene which unfolds from the eyes of Yayati is unfolded with a wholly different perspective from the eyes of Devyani in the next chapter. It renders a fascinating effect in the mind of readers. Every subsequent chapter feels like a revelation as one gets to see the ways different characters are interpreting the same flow of events.
A Classic Tale of Lust
The tagline of this book had made me a bit skeptical in the beginning but I soon realized that this book carries no obscenity of language. Having been inspired from a classical poetry, it uses poetic language in its narration. Furthermore, lust has been addressed here not only in terms of Yayati’s carnal indulgences but also in terms of an individual’s unbridled thirst to satisfy such dark desires as jealousy, hatred and, sense of superiority. Every character becomes a representative of one of these malignant yearnings which make them slaves of what Maugham had called ‘Human Bondage’ in his book.
All in all, I found the book quite gripping, interesting , thoughtful and enlightening. After a long time, I got hold of a book that was balanced in every aspect- drawing the plot, sketching the characters, and delivering a message while maintaining the standard of language. I would highly recommend this book to any keen reader who likes books with philosophical themes.
“Oh man, desire is never satisfied by indulgence.
Like the sacrificial fire, it ever grows with every offering.”