First of all, the title of the book. The word Kotha, in its deteriorated form, may ring the alarm bells in many minds. And they may push aside, taking it as eulogizes written by an inebriated majnu of some mujrawalis or kothawali. It did, in fact, in my mind too. But after witnessing a lively discussion between the author and a senior journalist, my perspective changed and the reader inside me became impatiently eager.
The second attraction was city. The city at the centre of the book, Muzzfarpur, is the one, through which I would have crossed at least thirty times within a span of last two years. And I really can’t believe that I had never heard about this place, Chaturbhuj Sthan, a mine of tales, from this point view.
Chaturbhuj Sthan has existed for more than 125 years, may be its raison d’être has been changing from time to time, but that is not the disclosure, the surprise is no writer, poet or historian considered it of any importance. So it should not shock us that history has become a myth. ‘Who the hell say it was such a place? It is mere a red light area,’ many people would say today. So what could have been history has not remained even story today.
Every place has a golden era, and this small place too had its grandeur, its fame and its own golden era, when Panna bai ruled the heart of thousands. And truly, her legendary voice and beauty became myth, because there is nothing to prove that once it was a reality. But fact remains, even though only in the memories of some people associated with the place, that these tales are part of the history of this city; a history that was not written because it mattered to none.
Prabhat Ranjan, who has lived in that part of the city, has dared to tell these tales because he realized that an important part of city’s history has remained untouched. Whereas the same kind of history or stories of many other cities has or have been relived, retold and relished, this city was left because there was no one to believe that it was a significant part of their history and culture. The author does take an oath, in the very beginning, that everything is a lie. May be or may not be. Who knows?
Even if it is a lie, it is a beautiful lie. A real magical world of tales! His world is so charming, so engrossing, so real that sometimes, you feel that canvas is falling short. And you wonder, how you would have felt, if you had watched it on a larger screen. That was the only regret I had reading the book. ‘Why does the story end so fast?’ I wondered a few times.
Be it Panna bai or chhoti Panna bai…Chanda bai or Gauhar khan…Babu Lakshmeshwar Nandan or Barka Babu… characters grip the minds of readers and make them restless, hungry for more. Covering their stories in less than two hundred or so pages is like cramming all the clothes of an entire family into one suitcase. That was my thought. But then, Ranjan says, these are not stories to be read, rather these are tales to be told. And certainly book takes us away from a general way of storytelling. It has a new perspective and it has impacted his style of writing, which certainly has magnetic power and it immediately transports readers into his world of creation.
I don’t know many Hindi writers from Bihar, particularly from north Bihar, who have tried to focus on their region, their history, culture and tradition and have succeeded in projecting them through fiction or non-fiction with acclaimed fame.
I had read Phanishewar Nath Renu (I hope you remember Hirabai of Teesri Kasam based on short story Mare Gaye Gulfam) long back but even now when I look back to my region, just to assess the progress, I find him only there as the one, who stands tall even today for his unique style and language.
Kothagoi is certainly an igniting hope and worth reading. I hope someday like Hirabai or Umrao Jaan, Panna bai too would become alive on the screens. At the same time it has raised our expectations. We hope Ranjan comes back with another, larger and more engrossing tale.
KOTHAGOI(Chaturbhuj Sthan ke kisse) is a recently released book by Prabhat Ranjan. This is not a review but a reader’s view.