Life always gives us what we long for but, with a twist. Sometimes, it tangles it to the level that we loathe our own desire. Biman Naths’s Tattoed Fakir characters are the victims of this inexplicable aspect of life. A tale set in late 18th century, northern Bengal, and of course we have – yet to entrench their base – colonial rulers.
From indigo sahibs to destitute peasants and lecherous zamindars it appears to be a story of poor Indians who are at mercy of ‘gaure sahibs’, but as we dig deep into the book, what we discern implicitly is how each character is a rebel against his/her own society.
Be it Asif , a poor peasant , whose young wife – Roshanara – catches fancy of Kali Babu – zamindar – but is taken away as mistress of Maclean, joins the army of fakirs who wage war against colonial rulers. Or Maclean ‘sahib’ a boorish and crude man, an oppressor on whose mercy are the poor peasants, is seized by his own insecurities because of his humble background and unfair treatment meted out to him back in England and obssesed by only one goal – to earn as much as he can. Or manager of ‘neel kuthi’ Pierre Gaubert and his sister Anne, both dissented against their rich parents for the rights of the poor workers. Or Roshan, an unwanted, half-breed boy of ‘gora sahib’ and Roshanara who gets a black menacing tattoo on his face to stop the ‘world’ from calling him ‘white djinn’. Tattooed Fakir for its name seems quite promising because of the unusual presence of fakirs and ascetic sanyyasis, quite contrarily it is because of them that the story becomes a bit dragged out. Mesmerising characters like Majnu Shah and Musha Shah fail to cast any magical spell.
The book begins with Roshanra abduction and what follows is Asif’s struggle with fakirs to plunder sahibs (but with only one hidden longing – his wife). The seven long years that takes Asif to attack neel kuthi to get her beloved Roshanara out of the clutches of Maclean reveals the helplessness of a man against the wishes of fate. However, his struggle is doomed eternally as he ends up killing his only desire – his wife. But he does not go empty handed, he abducts the half-breed son of his wife only to turn him into a turbulent fakir for his own fulfillment and abandons him one day in another ill-fated fight for his own revenge against Maclean.
The stagnation in Asif’s life may repel a reader. But true solace is found while reading the unparalleled relation of Anne and his brother Pierre and how they have been together through many altercations in life. Be it Anne’s love for brown skinned Yousuf for which they were ousted from the French society or her motherly love for the half-breed son for she thinks of him as her own child she bore to Yousuf but taken away from her even before she could see him. Pierre stays right behind her.
It is only towards the end of the book that Biman Nath weaves in a dramatic twist, which can give you a sleepless night. Feeling outraged because of his persistent insecurity of identity, the boy kills himself in front of Anne. How can a woman live anymore when she witnesses a boy whom she loved like his own child and craved for him, kills himself.
Hence, Asif is left bereft of everything and full of remorse for the rest of his life. And Pierre, robbed of his only sister by destiny, live a secluded life. Read the book if you want to sample the classic case of ‘irony of life’.