In one of the blogs about the novel that I came across, the writer mentions Chandrakanta as one of the most ‘politically incorrect’ novel. It is easy to see the point of view – especially in terms of religion and gender. The book definitely seems to be extremely biased and prejudiced for the readers today.
However one of the oft-cited facts (myth?) about Chandrakanta is that the book was so popular that people learnt Devnagri script to read the novel. Its popularity led the author to write 6 sequels. The characters of the book reappear in various other works that Devki Nandan Khatri subsequently wrote. A text as popular can therefore be taken as a cultural artifact, a reflection of cultural attitudes and perceptions of the times. Though the story revolves around two small Hindu kingdoms, it was widely popular. The hostility between the religious communities, the distinct spheres of gender – all reflect the social set up of late nineteenth century India. Interestingly though, there is no mention of British except once in passing later when Chapla goes out carrying a disguise of an English woman. The central concern is Hindu-Muslim interaction and the bravery of a Hindu Prince and his clever friends.
They carried Ahmed in.
It was morning and the sun was already bright. Tej Singh opened the bundle in which he was carrying Ahmed. He took Ahmed’s pouch which had things necessary for an aiyaar and also the knife at Ahmed’s waist. After putting a lose chain around his feet, Tej Singh woke him. As Ahmed came back to his senses, he remembered Ketki’s face and was too scared to utter even a word.
Leaving Ahmed in the field near a small spring, they came out. Tej Singh turned to Devi Singh and said ‘Push back the tongue of the lion that you pulled out.’ Devi Singh did as he was told. As soon as the tongue was put in the mouth of the lion, the door closed. Both took the twisting path that took them home.
It was still early in the day when they reached Virender Singh. Virender Singh asked, ‘Where did you take Ahmed that it took you so long?’ Tej Singh replied, ‘We have put him in a mountain cave. I will show you that place too. But now I suggest that Devi Singh should live in Vijaygarh for some days in disguise. It will be a great help to me.’
After bathing, worship and other routine things, both men took Devi Singh to the King’s court. Devi Singh asked for a leave. The king was fond of Devi Singh and hence did not want to grant him a leave. He said, ‘We will get you treated here.’ Finally after many appeals by Virender Singh and Tej Singh, Devi Singh got a leave.
The next day, Tej Singh took VIrender Singh to the same valley where Ahmed was kept. The prince was very happy to see the place.
From there, they came home. The prince said, ‘O my brother, now I feel more brave and restless. I can go and fight Jai Singh this moment.’ Tej Singh replied, ‘Your bravery is undoubted but if we do things in a haste then Chandrakanta’s life might be endangered. Why do you worry? Now see what happens. I will go there again tomorrow and find out our enemy’s reaction to Ahmed’s arrest. Next time I will take you.’ Virender Singh said, ‘No, this time I will certainly come. It is not fit for a man to hide at home like a coward.’
Tej Singh said, ‘Alright, you can come. There is nothing wrong with it. But we have to do one thing. And that is ask the king for a leave of 4-5 days for going on a hunt. We can put up our camp at the border. From there, Chandrakanta’s palace will be only about five miles. It will be a good arrangement.’ Virender Singh liked the idea and they chalked out the plan.
After a few days, Virender Singh asked his father for a leave of eight days to go on a hunt and left with some of his men. Some hours of daylight were still left when they put up their camp on the border between Naugarh and Vijaygarh. They stayed there for the night. It was decided that first Tej Singh would go to Vijaygarh to assess the situation.
Nazeem was very upset by Ahmed’s arrest. Krur Singh was worried about himself, that Tej Singh might now kidnap him. So he was always on alert. Yet he went to King Jai Singh’s court everyday and incited him against Virender Singh.
One day, Nazeem adviced Krur Singh to murder his father, Kupath Singh. After his death, Jai Singh would appoint Krur as a Minister in the court. Once he was in charge, everything would fall in place quickly. Finally, Krur Singh poisoned and killed his own father. The king was upset by the death of Kupath Singh and did not attend the court for some days. The town also mourned the death of Kupath Singh, the minister.
Krur Singh pretended to mourn his father’s death and for twelve days slept away from the household. His days were spent in crying for the father and in the nights, he sat with Nazeem to plan his meetings with Chandrakanta and the arrest of Tej Singh or Virender Singh. It was during these days that Virender Singh set up his hunting camp on the borders of Vijaygarh. Nazeem brought this news to Krur Singh and then went to spy on the camp.
After bidding farewell to Virender Singh, Tej Singh came to Vijaygarh and brought back the news of the minister’s death and the mourning in the town. He also informed Virender Singh that once the stipulated time of mourning was over in two days, King Jai Singh would appoint Krur Singh as his Prime Minister.
In the evening, they left the camp to go for a walk and told the soldiers not to worry in case they were late. As they walked, they turned towards Vijaygarh.
It was early in the night when they reached near Chandrakanta’s Nazarbagh.
The night was dark, so they did not have to do much to enter the garden. Carefully, keeping an eye on the guards, they threw the rope and through it, entered the garden. They hid under a big tree and started looking around.
In the centre of the garden, a wax lamp was burning on a clean, gleaming marble platform where Chandrakanta, Chapla and Champa were sitting and talking.
As soon as he saw Chandrakanta, Virender Singh lost grip on himself, became restless and was about to fall. Tej Singh immediately took some laklaka from his pouch. Inhaling it, Virender Singh came back to senses. Tej Singh said, ‘We should not lose control on ourselves in someone else’s house. Now take care of yourself and wait here. I will go and talk and then take you along.’ Saying this, he left Virender Singh under the tree and went upto Chandrakanta, Chapla and Champa.
Bukni or a mix of herbs is mentioned every time a person is rendered unconscious. Bukni was used by traditional healers as a mix of natural herbs to cure disease, for nutrition or as in the story to render people senseless. Similarly every time a person is brought back to senses by inhaling Laklaka, herbs prepared by Indian gooseberry fruit. These herbs and the knowledge of mixing them seems to be an important part of an aiyaars training.