Understanding the Prophet and Patriot
Amiya P. Sen
THE MONK AS MAN: THE UNKNOWN LIFE OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA by Sankar Penguin Books, 2012, 238 pp., 299
March 2012, volume 36, No 3

The work under review is a translation of a hugely popular work, originally written in Bengali, by the well known novelist, Mani Sankar Mukherji (alias, Sankar). Achena Ajana Vivekananda, first published in 2003, is a book that I have always wanted to read but somehow could not in all these years. Ironically enough, reading the work in English translation makes this urge even stronger. Apparently, Mukherji’s treatment of his subject occurs within a narrative framework and employs cultural idioms that are hard to replicate outside Bengal and the Bengali language. With his literary imagination and impressive narrative skills, our author might have attempted an adaptation (and not so much a literal translation) or better still, a historical novel of the kind that has been quite successfully produced by other contemporary Bengali novelists, as for instance, Sunil Gangopadhyay.

Having said this, I must hasten to add that this is more a personal feeling than objective analysis and does not take away from the persistent and probing research that has gone into the making of this deeply sensitive book. Mukherji provides us with such information on Swami Vivekananda as was hitherto either unknown or else ignored. We learn, for instance, of his discomfiture with his younger brother, Mahendranath Dutta, who, apparently, could not be trusted with dutifully and devotedly attending to the basic needs of his family. As the eldest son, Vivekananda remained particularly anxious in respect of his widowed mother (Bhuvaneswari Devi) who suffered a radical change of fortune.

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