Durgesh Nandini, translated literally it means, “ Daughter (Nandini) of the lord of the fort (Durgesh). It is considered by many as the “First Indian Novel”. It was written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the writer of the Indian national song “Vande Mataram. Durgeshnandini is the second novel he wrote, but his first in Bengali.
I read the 2010 English translation by Arunava Singh with an Introduction by Shirshendu Chakrabarti, Professor of English at Delhi University, a poet and critic in Bengali. In this review, I merely express my views of the novel, for more academic & historical analysis, you may refer to this link, http://rinistudytable.blogspot.in/2012/08/durgeshnandini-as-novel.html, or Wikipedia.
The plot of this novel is familiar, Jagat Singh(the Mughal General & Prince), boy sees girl, Tilottama (Virendrasingh’s daughter), it is love at first sight, the all consuming, passionate kind of love. They have to overcome many obstacles to be together, which they do, despite everything and there is a happy ending, at least for Jagatsingh & Tilottama.
This novel is set apart mainly because; it was published in 1865; long before these types of plots became a dime a dozen and its historical setting; the conflict between the Pathans & the Mughals in Bengal in the late 1500s.
Not to mention the poetic language the author employs to describe his 3 main female characters. He distinguishes each one’s beauty from the other and brings each of them alive. All three are distinct yet stunning. Of Tilottama he says, “O reader! Have you ever beheld in your youth, with light of love in your eyes, a serene, soft-hearted young girl flowering into womanhood? Have you ever seen a young woman whom you have not been able to forget all your life even though you glanced at her but once- an enchanting figure who treads your memory over and over again like a dream, through adolescence youth and maturity, and yet does not provoke a tainting desire? Only if you have will Tilottama’s true image come to life in your mind’s eye”. Bimala, he describes as an aging beauty, “Her appearance suggested that she had been exceptionally beautiful in her younger days. Like the moon that sets only after the sun dawns, the glow of that loveliness was visible even at this age.” And Ayesha, who enters the story in the second part, is “Exquisitely beautiful, but hers was a beauty that is impossible to capture adequately in three or four adjectives. Ayesha’s beauty is like that of a water -lily which comes to life under the rays of the morning sun; fully bloomed, fragrant, honeyed, sun-soaked, neither wilted nor drying up, delicate yet radiant.”
Also, a number of times in the novel, the 2nd person narration is used. Mr. Chattopadhayay addresses the reader directly, which usually ruins the rhythm of the story for me, but here the author does it with a sense of humor and to great effect. Like this bit in Chapter 3, when the author counsels patience and requests the reader not to skip the chapter, “Impatient readers may abandon these accounts, but the author’s opinion is that impatience is not advisable.”
The other interesting element in the book is the character of Vidya Diggaj, the learned Brahmin who is an excellent example of someone academically brilliant but not too well versed with the ways of the world. When Bimala needs a safe companion to accompany her to meet Prince Jagat Singh she decides to take Diggaj with her because as she puts it, “I trust the foolish Brahmin completely. Just as the blind man cannot tell day apart from night, he too will understand nothing.”
In conclusion, I think this novel makes an interesting read, not only for its historical significance but also for its depiction of love before marriage, passion, marriage itself and its women, all of which are far ahead of their times.