Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Abol Tabol, etc: The Peerless Sukumar Ray. (Part-III)

Author's note: The 1st part of this series can be read: here.

The 2nd part: here.

I cannot think of any other author that has made such an impact through his or her writings, and that too with such simplicity and charm. So much so that even a four or five year old falls under its spell... and continues to read and re-read them well into his or her 70s, 80s and 90s.

Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri, Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray - are geniuses. Three generation of geniuses in a family, imagine!! But there is a fourth one as well - the great Lila Majumdar, Pishi (paternal aunt) to Satyajit Ray and a younger cousin of Sukumar Ray. Together they have laid the foundations of children's literature in Bangla; a 'children's literature' that one never really outgrows. Simply because: they cannot be outgrown, they become a part of us. They are a part of us. Forever.

Here is Lila Majumdar:

Upendrokishore Raychaudhuri, Sukumar Ray, Satyajit Ray and Lila Majumdar will continue to live on, through their works, via people like us, despite the best intensions of firang Bengalis. :)

Sandesh (the popular children's magazine in Bangla) found able navigators (kandari-s) in Majumdar and her prodigious nephew, Satyajit. Both of them edited and prolifically wrote for Sandesh

[Sandesh was started by Lila Majumdar's paternal uncle (jhathamoshai, jyethu; father's older brother) - Upendrokishore Raychaudhuri, in 1913, and was later edited by her older cousin (jyathtuto-dada) Sukumar Ray - for a while; after Upendrakishore passed away in 1915. Tragically, Sukumar too was claimed by leishmaniasis in 1923. Though his younger brother Subinoy took charge, the magazine went through some difficult times and even stopped publication for a while. Satyajit revived it in 1961 and Lila Majumdar (along with her cousin, Nalini Das) was closely associated with it from 1963 until 1994 (i.e. throughout her active writing life.) The much-loved magazine probably is still in circulation. Sandesh is also the name of a popular dry sweet in Bengal; prepared with milk, khoa and khejur gur or jaggery made from khejur or dates. It is yummy, and this magazine was and remains a treat - for kids, young and young-at-heart.]

The Sukumar Ray years established "Sandesh" as a unique magazine that combined literary values with humour and fun, though it also contained a lot of information gleaned from all over the world. Here is the June 1988 front cover of Sandesh:

Many of Satyajit's writings were first published in Sandesh. His 1962 science fiction story - Bankubabur Bandhu (Banku-babu's Friend or Mr. Banku's Friend) was one of them. Ray also introduced his famous characters Feluda and Professor Shonku in short stories he wrote for Sandesh. [His other enduring creation: Tarini Khuro has eluded me so far. Don't know why and how. *Scratching my head*]

Here is Professor Shonku:  

Here is the cover of Tarini Khuro:

Tarini Khuro literally means: respected uncle Tarini. Khuro in old colloquial Bengali means: paternal uncle (father's younger brother). Tarini Khuro is actually Tarini Charan Bandopadhyay (clipped to Banerjee.)

Fortunately, Sandip Ray (Satyajit's son) has now taken up the task of bringing the reclusive Tarini Khuro from Beniatola Lane, at College Street in Kolkata (or what was then Calcutta) straight onto the silver screen. Here's more: link.

Sandip Ray's ghost film: here.

... And it is to be released in December. Hurrayyyyy!

Although humour was her forte, Lila Majumdar also wrote detective stories, ghost stories, fantasies... and much more. Yours truly has been trying to lay her hands on Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho (tr: Aunt Podi's Burmese Box) - for years now, and though the book has proved to be elusive so far (!), yours truly has not given up. And she will not give up until this book has well and truly surrendered, 'coz her Karm Yog for this life will remain incomplete otherwise. :)

[In Podi-pishi, Podi is the name of the person. Pishi = paternal aunt in Bangla.]

Though Satyajit Ray had thought of filming Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho, it was finally made under the directorial baton of Arundhati Debi in 1972 (it turned out to be her most popular film as a director.) Chhaya Debi (one of our greatest and the most versatile of actors) played the role of the young hero, Khoka's famed aunt: Podipishi. The rest of the cast included: Ajitesh Bandopadhyay, Haradhan Bandopadhyay, Nripati Chattopadhyay, Robi Ghosh, Chinmoy Ray, Jahor Ray, Rudraprasda Sengupta, Padma Debi, among others. Umm, looks like my Karm Yog has now expanded to include watching this movie as well. Shall do so gladly.

The cover of Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho: 

Here is the great lady herself (reading letters, possibly from her adoring fans):

Signature of Majumdar and Nalini Das: 

Lila Majumdar: A Granddaughter Remembers: here.

More on Lila Majumdar (pictures): here.

Biographical sketch: here.

Thakumar Thikuji by Lila Majumdar: here.

Some of Majumdar's works translated into English: reviewed here.

The front covers of some of her ever-popular books: here.

The famed Raychaudhuri family's brilliant, ingenious and innovative tradition of writing - enlightened, satiric, hilarious and myriad-hued - founded by Upendrokishore Raychudhuri, perfected by his son, Sukumar Ray, was very ably carried forward by Majumdar and Satyajit, who not only made it part of their own genius, but enriched it too.

People tend to box Majumdar neatly in the children's author category, but I strongly feel it is unfair. Writers of her and say Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay's caliber should not be slotted thus. Their range is too immense to be slotted or categorized. One rarely comes across a writer/author whose work encompasses such varied subjects and displays such myriad shades. [Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay is also known as 'The Ruskin Bond of Bengal'. But having grown up on a healthy diet of his books and magical tales, and given that I still savour them, I would say Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay is Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. You get it, right?]

Here is Srilata Banerjee (Lila Majumdar's granddaughter) and Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay at the book reading of The Burmese Box (Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho translated into English):

Upendrokishore Raychudhuri, Sukumar Ray, Lila Majumdar, Satyajit Ray, Rajshekhar Basu (aka Parashuram) and Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay are in a league of their own. And so is Ruskin Bond. They are an inspiration for other authors, including upcoming ones; as for the readers, generations have fallen under their spell and happily continue to remain thus. They inspire others to take up the pen. I would also include Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, Sanjib Chattopadhyay, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Narayan Sanyal, Premendra Mitra, Shibram Chakraborty, Narayan Debnath, Khagendranath Mitra, Samaresh Basu, Syed Mustafa Siraj, Abanindranath Tagore, Shasthipada Chattopadhyay, Shaktipada Rajguru and Nihar Ranjan Gupta in the same league. All their works are the literary equivalent of (homemade) ghee-bhaat-alu seddho-dim seddho, i.e., total awesomeness. [Of course there are greats like Rishi Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Robi Thakur, Kaji Najrul Islam, Kaliprasanno Singha, et al. But for them, there has been no labeling, like 'children's writer', and so on. So...]

Majumdar's writings are so rich in the fantasies they evoke, in the many different worlds a child's imagination can conjure up. Lila Majumdar was a Bengali writer but one of the finest writers for children (young and young-at-heart) - anytime. Podi Pishir Bormi Bakso came out in 1949 as her third book. [First published serially in a short-lived but popular children's magazine of late forties, Rangmashal, edited by her friend and contemporary author Kamakshiprosad Chottopadhyay, the tale of a missing Burmese box of an overbearing aunt has been uncommonly popular since the time and still stays with the reader.]

An Overview of Podipisir Bormibakso by Lila Majumdar: here.

When she stepped into her 100th year/ Splendid centurion: here.

Obituary/ Children's tales never outgrown: here.

- "To read, and never really to outgrow, Podipishir Bormi Baksho, Holde Pakhir Palok, Maku, Tong-Ling, Kheror Khata and the Shob Bhuture stories is to discover, and then rediscover many times over, all that must be kept alive - the laughing and the losing, the delicious and the terrifying, the sense and the nonsense - to keep us from turning into crabbed, old bores, out of touch with the best things of life."

... I could not have put it any better.

Lila Majumdar (signature):  

Baidyanather Bori (Baidyanath's Pill, 1939), Din Dupure (Midday, 1948), Podipisir Bormibakso (1949), a comic musical drama called Bok Badh Pala (Death of the Demon Bok), Holdey Pakhir Palok (The Yellow Bird), Moyna-Shalikh, Kheror Khata, Batash Badi, Goopir Guptokhata and Bokdharmik, et al are timeless; their magic have not waned. Her memoirs: Aar Konokhane (Somewhere Else) and Pakdandi too are widely read.

Generations of Bengali kids have grown up happily reading, re-reading, re-re-reading... the adventures of Gupi, Noga, Badyinath, Pnachuda and of course of Podi-pishi. [And to think I have missed out on this one! I clearly have a bone to pick with Lady Luck. Grrrrr.] Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho continues to remain one of the touchstones of children's imagination. Here 'children' is not to be defined by their years on this planet, bujhechen?

Here is something I found on the net: link. Looks like: the non-Bangla-speaking world too can now savour this romance with the written word (that generations of Bangla-speaking kids have exclusively enjoyed.) 

Good. Good.

In case you are still wondering as to why I am bringing in Satyajit Ray and Leela Majumdar (and even Upendrokishore Raychaudhuri) in posts dedicated to Sukumar Ray, the answer is that: they have enriched each others works. There are bits and pieces of Upendrokishore and Sukumar in Satyajit and Leela's works, unmistakably.  

Also, both Ray Sr. and Ray Jr. (Satyajit Ray's son: Sandip Ray) have clearly doffed their hats to Sukumar Ray and to Upendrakishore Raychoudhuri. Always.

Two of our most loved characters: Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne have been brought onto the silver screen by the father-son duo of Satyajit and Sandip. There have been three films in all - until now, in the much-loved Goopy-Bagha series. 

Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen (The adventures of Goopy and Bagha), Hirak Rajar Deshe (Kingdom of Diamonds) and Goopy Bagha Phire Elo (The Return of Goopy and Bagha) is satire, sublime satire; actually, satire at many levels, but has unfortunately and for whatever reasons, been classified as 'children's film'. The satire of the Goopy Bagha series is relevant even today and will be relevant 50 years from now. And so would the wit, humour and fun!! [Will discuss them in greater detail in my next post.]

... However, the influence of Sukumar Ray is unmistakable.

According to Leela Majumdar's granddaughter, Srilata Banerjee, her Didibhai (an endearing term for maternal grandma in Bengal) spoke about her 'Jyathamoshai' (paternal uncle; father's older brother) - Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri - and how he had to eat mainly fruits and boiled stuff because he wasn't well. It was only when her (Majumdar) own sugar level suddenly shot up and she was put on a restricted diet for a while, that she realized he may have had diabetes.

Sukumar Ray died tragically at the young age of thirty-six (due to 'kala-azar'). According to Majumdar, even when he was confined to bed, he would show her the drawings for many of the rhymes in 'Abol Tabol' ('Rhymes without reason' or 'Weird and Random'). One of the last illustrations that he did was for 'Tnyansh Goru' [Goru = cow in Bangla. Tnyansh is impossible to translate.] Even when gravely ill, Sukumar had laughingly asked Majumdar whether another twist in the character's tail would suit it or not! He passed away shortly afterwards. But this anecdote gives us a glimpse of the man and his spirit, does it not? What a loss...!

Listen to Tnyansh Goru by Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta (from the album: Pyancha Koy Pyanchani, Abol Tabol - Vol 2): here.

In Abol Tabol we are introduced to a series of unusual animals, and they are all well illustrated (by Ray himself). Tnyashgoru is actually a bird, and Ray gives us the details of its food habits and lifestyle. In his usual fun and satirical way, Ray has depicted anglophiles as Tnyashgoru. This type actually ends up being neither here nor there, they are neither bird nor cow; they can neither fly nor graze. :)

Tnyansh is part of the Bangla language now. If someone walks very slowly or extra-lethargically, it is labeled as: tnyansh, tnyansh kore chola. That is: to walk in a Tnyansh manner. 

Here is Tnyansh Goru:

(Do stay tuned…)

Pictures: 1. Pic 01 - Title card of the documentary-film made by Satyajit Ray (as a tribute to his father, Sukumar Ray). 2. Pic 02 - Lila Majumdar (also: Leela Majumdar). 3. Pic 03 - Stamp in honour of Satyajit Ray. 4. Pic 04 - June 1988 front cover of Sandesh. 5. Pic 05 - Professor Shonku. 6. Pic 06 - Cover of Tarini Khuro.  7. Pic 07 - The cover of Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho. 8. Pic 08 - Leela Majumdar. 9. Pic 09 - Signature of Lila Majumdar and Nalini Das. 10. Pic 10 - Srilata Banerjee and Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay at the book reading of The Burmese Box. 11. Pic 11 - Leela Majumdar - signature. 12. Pic 12 - Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. 13. Pic 13 - Tnyansh Goru

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