Essay

Class Struggle in ‘The Boatman of The Padma River’

By: Mohammad Jashim Uddin

Literature is the reflection of social picture and human life. It highlights the socio-economic condition, religious belief and its impact on human being, changes of the world, ecology and environmental issues, dark-sides of the capitalism, political and human reformation. These issues are very inter-connected with each other and one of them can easily play the vital role to construct, reconstruct or deconstruct any human society.

 Because of literature, happiness and sorrow, – laughter, sob, and complexity of human life get entangled in a single thread. In the justice of literature, the balance of woe is much more than that of weal in human life. The treatment of human life and humanity for the poor of the poorest is purely and acutely presented in Manik Bandopadhyay’s literary genres.

In his greatest novel The Boatman of the Padma River (Padma Nadir Majhi), Manik Bandopadhyay portrays the vivid pictures of a boatmen society and their struggle for survival. Although environment is a key factor, the capitalistic brutal people oppress them in every point of walking towards the boatmen’s existence. Here Hossen Miah represents the greedy and voluptuous so-called civilized upper class and Kuber and Kopila are the marginalized society, who has desire but no voice. They struggle all the time for livelihood.

Thus the writer has apparently presented the pitiable and miserable condition of the boatmen who live very near by the bank of the Mighty Padma. All boatmen have to rely upon the mercy of the Padma; sometimes the mighty river grasps and devours the lives of the poor communities when the tidal waves blow during the rainy season. The 20th -century novelist has unveiled the neglected, helpless, and, above all, the deprived communities of basic human demands as reflected in the novel.

In the novel, Manik wants to emphasize upon the voiceless people who cannot write their history.  Drawing a grim image of weal and woe, Bandopadhyay says, ‘They have to sweat on the dust of the way all the day and night.’ But what do they gain at the end of the day? Can they expose themselves to anyone else?

‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ by Gayatri Spivak critically deals with an array of western writers starting from Marx to Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida. The basic claim and opening statement of “Can the Subaltern Speak?”  is that western academic thinking is produced in order to support western economical interests. Spivak holds that knowledge is never innocent and that it expresses the interests of its producers. For Spivak knowledge is like any other commodity that is exported from the west to the third world for financial and other types of gain.

Spivak is wondering how the third world subject can be studied without cooperation with the colonial project. Spivak points to the fact that research is in a way always colonial, in defining the ‘other’, the ‘over there’ subject as the object of study and as something that knowledge should be extracted from and brought back ‘here’.  Similarly, in The Boatman of the Padma River, Kuber and Kopila are treated as animal.

The society is divided into two groups, the “haves” and the “have-nots. According to Karl Marx, the ‘have-nots’ are trapped by the ‘haves’ as they are in the center of power.   To tackle income inequality and social mobility, the ‘have-nots’ must be aware so that they can ensure their privileges as the other enjoys. 

Marxism is a government structure that was introduced by Karl Marx. Marxism can be labeled as a radical form of socialism, and focuses on the class struggle that has always been existent in human societies. Marx argued that the warring classes were divided into two groups: the ‘haves,’ and the ‘have-nots.’ Whereas, ‘Haves’-the employers (Bourgeousie) Controllers of all means of production
become wealthy and ‘Have-nots’- the workers (Proletariat) performed the horrific labor in terrible conditions exploited by capitalists remained poor.

Hossen, a Bengali Muslim wants to establish a little Utopia on an island in the Padma delta. He doesn’t care if the people who populate it are Hindu or Muslim. t is 1947, just before the partition of India, and the Hindu fisherman Kuber briefly accepts an offer by Hossen to ferry some of the community’s cargo from the island. He would be fishing, except that all the fish he usually catches have been driven away by a big storm. In the process of getting the cargo, he gets to see what the colony is like and, even though he is fully aware of the gripes of a former colony member and the limitations of it, comes to share some of the Utopia vision. When he returns to his home and a variety of unfortunate events make it in his best interest to leave, he knows just where to go.

From the story we see that in the grey monsoon dawn, the fishermen catch hilisha on the Padma. The boatmen Kuber, Dhananjoy and Ganesh count their share of the catch that will be transported to Kolkata in rail wagons. But the money does not necessarily come immediately in return for the fish. Yet, paucity and poverty do not allow protests. Back in Kuber’s hut, a newborn cries greet him. There is his aunt (Pishi), his still-to-be-married daughter, Gopi, his two sons, Lakha and Chandi, and his crippled wife Mala; Kuber worries how to feed another mouth. Contrary to this mundane everyday, Kuber has a secret life where he is happy weaving dreams around his ebullient sister-in-law, Kapila. And then there is the mysterious and powerful Hossen Mian, luring the unwary to his fabled Moynadwip. In the lives of poor fishermen like Kuber, greed, treachery and helplessness are countered by hopes, aspirations, also moments of joy and love. The Boatman of the Padma is a story of the lives of boatmen and fishermen in Ketupur, a village in Bangladesh (then, East Bengal), nurtured by the river Padma, the lifeline of the country.

In conclusion, it is clear that there is a struggle for the survival in such a society where some have no rights, no voice and no ways because of the suppression of the ‘haves’.

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The writer is an assistant professor of English at Northern University Bangladesh.

Categories: Essay, Literary criticism

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