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Gujarati classic Saraswatichandra, an accomplished literary work, now in English

Govardhanram Tripathi
By Rajiv Shah
India's pioneering literary classic in Gujarati, “Saraswatichandra”, is finally available in English. Translated by well-known Gandhi expert Tridip Suhrud, who has been instrumental in implementing one of the most ambitious projects of digitizing the entire Gandhi heritage, Suhrud terms the late 19th century novel by Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi as ranking among the “most accomplished literary works” of India.
Running into four volumes, Govardhanram began writing the novel in 1885, with its last, fourth part having been published in 1901. Running into 1,700 pages, Suhrud told Counterview, he translated the classic, because “for 128 years we in Gujarat had not done so", despite the fact that “it is the most important literary work of Gujarati language.”
While the first volume is out and has been published by Orient Black Swan, the other three volumes – which are at the editing stage – will be out over the next about one and a half years. The first volume runs into 408 pages, and all the four volumes would be in around 2,200 pages.
Insisting on the need to share the best of Gujarat with the world, which is what he has done, Suhrud, talking with Counterview, quotes top Gujarati litterateur and Gandhian Manubhai Pancholi "Darshak" as saying that "in the great celebration that is India, Gujarat has two gifts to offer: Mahatma Gandhi, and the jewel among books 'Sarasvatichandra'."
Tridip Suhrud
Mahatma Gandhi, who made a careful reading of “Saraswatichandra”, wrote about it thus: "To the first part he gave all his art. The novel is imbued with aesthetic delight; the characterisation is matchless. The second part depicts Hindu society, his art went deeper in the third part, and he gave all that he wished to give to the world in the fourth part."
One who has been writing on Govardhanram Tripathi since 1994, Suhrud – who is right now director of the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, and has served as faculty at the National Institute of Design (NID) and the Dhirubhai Institute of Information and Communication Technology (DAIICT) – had earlier translated a non-fiction earlier, Narayan Desai's “My Life is My Message”, running into 2000 pages and four volumes. It is a biography of Gandhiji for the period 1869 to 1905. Desai was Gandhiji's secretary.
Suhrud says, among the reasons why he translated Gorvardham's work because the author was “among the most accomplished literary figures of all times in modern India”, who could be placed “alongside Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.”
He adds, “Not many recognise this as in absence of translation (not even in Hindi) of the novel such judgements become difficult. Kavi Nanhalal wrote Saraswatichandra could be compared with Goethe and Victor Hugo.”
Giving details of Saraswatichandra and Govardhanram in the introduction to the first volume, Suhrud says, “Each part has a distinct thematic content, has its own cast of characters and has different beginnings and ends.” Though revolving around protagonist Saraswatichandra's love towards Kumud and her sister Kusum, the novel gives a distinct impression of Gujarat society under the “increasing influence of the East India Company in the affairs of the native states”. 
Cover of the translated novel
In fact, Suhrud says, the novel is “one of the most severe indictments of native states in the literature of that period”, and Govardhanram “depicts a polity based on personal interests, plagued by widespread erosion of morals and values. Oppressed by the existential reality of the joint family, bitter about the nature of patriarchal society.”
One also finds in the novel, suggests Suhrud, “minute descriptions” of the then society, include the “reality” of a daughter-in-law as it existed in a Hindu joint family in the latter half of the 19th century, alongside its “strengths and fragilities”, as seen by Gorvardhanram. Much of it reflection of the upper sections of society of Central Gujarat to which Gorvardhanram belonged.
Ironically, such description came despite the fact that Govardhanram had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the British rulers. Says Suhrud, Gorvardhanram believed the British rulers were “clever”, “selfish aggressors”, “disinterested” and yet “benevolent helpmates.”
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For question-and-answer interview with the translator, click HERE

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