Saturday, November 3, 2012

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

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

Satyajit was multifaceted, multi-talented, auteur extraordinaire, a sort of a genius polymath himself. But ask any Bengali (who are very familiar with Sukumar Ray's works, untranslated works, that is) and they'll all say that Satyajit was Sukumar Ray's worthy son.

I mentioned untranslated works (of Sukumar Ray) since much of the original flavour is lost and/or altered and therefore gets lost in translation. Also, Bangla is a language steeped in history, heritage and a rich culture of the land. English, or for that matter any other language, will not be able to grasp its essence or fathom its depth.

But then thanks to translation again, we get to read the works of greats - originally written in languages we do not know and hence, cannot read.

As for the Sukumar Ray's worthy son bit, none other than Satyajit himself understood this best. Deftly woven into some of his works would be his father's (Sukumar Ray) nonsense rhymes. E.g. the Satyajit-directed 2nd Feluda story on screen: Joi Baba Felunath. 

Jatayu aka Lalmohan Ganguly (the peerless Santosh Dutta), Feluda aka Pradosh Chandra Mitter (the one and only Soumitra Chattopadhyay) and Topshe aka Tapesh Ranjan Mitter (Siddhartha Chatterjee, in his 2nd outing as Topshe) are briskly walking down a narrow dark alley. Jatayu is characteristically jittery and draws attention to the eerie silence and the shadows; Feluda responds by reciting some lines from Ha-Ja-Ba-Ra-La (A Topsy-Turvy Tale.) Stunningly appropriate, given that this was the prelude to that chilling murder-of-Shasibabu sequence. [Jatayu is pronounced as: Jotayu.]

[Tapesh Ranjan Mitter, pet-name/daak-naam: Topshe, the sparkling-eyed, teenaged Siddhartha Chatterjee - in his first outing as Feluda's young cousin-cum-satellite Topse in "Shonar Kella" (The Golden Fort) - has been the best Topshe so far and will likely be the best Topshe ever, 'coz, you see, it is difficult to improve upon perfection. 'Mitter' is the Anglicized version of the Bengali surname: Mitra, pronounced as: Mitro.]

In the same film (Joi Baba Felunath, somewhat unimaginatively translated as: The Mystery of The Elephant God), Feluda tells Jatayu: "Aapnar Jnanpith phoshkey gelo" - when the latter is confused by montroputo sholko. Jatayu understands the montroputo bit, which means: mantra infused, but is befuddled by the sholko part. 

[Sholko = machher aansch; the scales of a fish, in Bangla. Jnanpith is the well-known literary award, that along with the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, is one of the two most prestigious literary honours in the country. Phoshkey gelo = missed, especially after one has been trying very hard to get hold of or target something.]

Feluda is quick to realize that Jatayu, despite being the best-selling author of super-daring thrillers and the creator of a detective character with extra-superhuman abilities (Prokhor Rudro) did not know the meaning of sholko. In those four words, Feluda effectively tells Jatayu that despite his racy detective-novels selling like hot cakes, the Jnanpith award eludes him, i.e. despite his novels flying off the shelves, critical acclaim is nowhere in sight. [It is the unmistakable Ray touch! :)]

Here is Jatayu saying 'Areiibass!!' (an exclamation in Bangla, used especially when one sees or experiences something fantastic; film: Joi Baba Felunath). Jatayu is amazed by the sight of the famous bodybuilder, Bishwashri Gunomoy Bagchi, and his temple of muscles. And once Bagchi reveals his vital-stats, Jatayu quickly brings out his notebook and jots down the various details and names: bicep, tricep, quadricep, deltoid, et al - for future reference. Feluda looks on with a hint of impish smile dancing on his lips:

[Moloy Roy, the real-life body-builder and son of the late Manotosh Roy who became Mr. Universe, says in the film: "Eta mandir, aar musclegulo tar modhye sob karukarjyo." (tr: This body is a temple, and these muscles are works of art.)

Jatayu is the name of a bird that we first come across in Maharshi Valmiki's "Ramayan". In the Feluda series, it is the nom de plume of Lalmohan Ganguly's character. Brilliantly portrayed by the irreplaceable Santosh Dutta, Lalmohan Ganguly aka Jatayu appears as an essentially good soul who is not very fluent in English and who gets intimidated very easily. He is a popular children's crime-fiction writer, drawing much of his knowledge from Encyclopedia Britannia.]

Encyclopedia Britannia. You get the point, don't you? That's sublime satire. Ray style.

The Bengali hotel manager (the 1st person from the left, check the 3rd pic from top) speaks about a new holy man, who has arrived in Benares: "Machhli baba. Shobaikeyi uni ekta montroputo sholko daen...". Jatayu is completely stumped: "Sholko?" Feluda casually retorts: "Aapnar Jnanpith phoshkey gelo..." 

The montroputo sholko is given by the much revered Machchli-baba. [Machchli = fish; and this holy man claims to be a manifestation of the Matsya avatar.] 

Need I say more?

Phoshkey Gelo (link) is also the title of one of Sukumar Ray's popular rhymes.

Those of us who do not understand a language usually rely on their translations - in order to read the works of some or the other literary great. But when it comes to Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri or Sukumar Ray's works, it is best if you have a Bengali friend or even a good acquaintance. Get hold of him or her and let him or her translate the works for you, in the process: peeling off the many layers (literal and camouflaged) and revealing before your mind's eye a fascinating world filled with words, phrases, verse, portmanteau, puns, creatures, events and much more - that you would have never 'met' before. It's a treat, and though it may require several readings, it's all worth it. Most translations available in the market do not try to grasp the essence of the writings. More often than not, these are literal translations and given how different the two languages (Bangla and English) are, they (the original and the translations) aren't even close. Therefore, rely on a friend.

Even Satyajit Ray, for all his genius, gave up (trying to translate Sukumar Ray's nonsense rhymes), after a while. However, during the time he somehow soldiered on, he did manage to translate quite a few of them, but the hilarity is greatly diluted. You can read half-a-dozen of Sukumar Ray's poems (a couple of them translated into English by Satyajit): here.

Nonsense Rhymes. Translated by Satyajit Ray. Calcutta: Writer's Workshop, 1970. This volume by (Sukumar Ray's son) Satyajit Ray is the slimmest and is difficult to find.

Here is another book: Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray.

Sukumar Ray's 'Bhoy Peyo Na' (lit: Don't be Scared) has been translated into English by Satyajit as: 'Prey for Me'.

As I said, the hilarity is greatly diluted; it is nowhere near the original. However, this piece (Bhoy Peyo Na) written so many years ago, would pithily sum up the 'if you are not with us, we will bring democracy to your nation' types and their shenanigans (past and present).

In this poem, an enormous devilish-looking creature emerges from a rock or cave - to have this playful conversation with a Bengali babu. The illustration is by Sukumar Ray himself. His sketches accompany his poems and other writings. Here is that creature from Bhoy Peyo Na:

You can find some more of his illustrations: here

Here is an illustration from Ha Ja Ba Ra La (A Topsy Turvy Tale):

The Khuror Kol has seeped into the Bangla language and attained idiomatic usage (khuro = uncle, kol = machine or apparatus; khuror kol literally translates as: Uncle's Apparatus or Uncle's machine.) It is actually a metaphor for a situation/event/apparatus/person, actually: anything that saps one's energy (leaves one helpless and drained in every way imaginable, but from which or whom there is little or no respite). As per the illustration, the Khuror Kol appears to be a 'machine' that dangles food in front of a person - to make him travel faster. In Sukumar Ray's 'Ashombhob Noi', (in Khai-Khai - translated as Eat-Eat, but which actually means: congenital gluttony), the food is a radish dangled before a sahib's donkey. You get it right? Some relationships or even friendships are exactly like Khuror Kol. E.g. our blue-turbaned yogi and Hurricane-didi. Who is in a Khuror Kol is not difficult to decipher, no? :)

Here is the illustration of the Khuror Kol (by the great Sukumar Ray himself):

Sukumar's 'Ekushe Ain' (translated as: 'The Rule of 21' in this link) is extremely relevant even today and is one of my all-time favourites. Here are a few lines:

'Je shob loke poddyo lekhe,
taader dhore khanchaye rekhe,
kaaner kache nanan shhure
naamta shonaye aksho ude,
shamne rekhe mudi-r khata-
hiseb koshaye ekush pata.'

I wouldn't dare attempt a translation. But here is the gist: People that write poetry are captured and put in a cage. They are subjected to cantankerous cacophony at all hours. And they are then (also) made to do mind-numbing tasks.

He is lamenting the forcible death of creativity and talent, the imprisonment (khancha: cage) of a creative person and his or her creativity. (je shob loke poddyo lekhe, taader dhore khanchaye rekhe). Instead of encouragement, there is institutionalized glorification of mediocrity and much worse. Creativity, poetry, etc is forcibly killed. Maybe 'coz it is a threat to many, therefore, the mind needs to be caged/colonized; and this is achieved by subjecting a creative mind (and thought) to cantankerous cacophony (also a metaphor) at all hours. (kaaner kache nanan shhure naamta shonaye aksho ude). A brilliant, meritorious or a creative person is then forced to do mind-numbing tasks, menial tasks. His or her talent and creativity is then well and truly buried. (shamne rekhe mudi-r khata-hiseb koshaye ekush pata).

Such simple words, so very easy to understand and commit to one's memory! They greatly appeal to even four or five-year-olds (of course someone else will have to read it to them). But these rhymes will remain with them throughout their lives; and as they grow older, they will discover yet another layer. It's a veritable treasure hunt.

The way Sukumar has presented it is simply awesome. Such deep and profound thoughts (laced with overt-yet-latent satire and dollops of sublime sarcasm) and written in such a fun and rhymical manner! When he penned them, India was a colonized nation, but even now, when we are supposedly free, they are still relevant and impactful. His seemingly meaningless rhymes have left their imprints on generations. And this will not change. No wonder he never had to ask: aaji hotey shoto borsho pore, ke tumi podicho boshi aamar kobitakhani koutuhol bhore? Aaji hotey shoto borsho pore...

But some people, like Didi, clearly have not read 'Ekushe Ain'. Noye ki? Otherwise, Sukumar Ray's photo would have been 'caged' by now. What say you? :)

Frankly, I pity the neo-Curzons and the many Macaulay-putras and Macaulay-putris that abound this land. In their relentless quest to C for cat, O for octopussy P for parrot Y for yo - youknowwhat and youknowwho - they simply have no idea about what they have missed out on. Tsk. Tsk.

Apparently, Sukumar Ray's works such as the collection of poems: "Aboltabol" ("Rhymes without reason" or "Weird and Random"), novella: "HaJaBaRaLa" (A Topsy-Turvy Tale), short story collection: "Pagla Dashu" ("Crazy Dashu") and play: "Chalachittachanchari" are considered equal in stature to Alice in Wonderland. However, I would say that Bangla (or for that matter all Indian languages) have a richness and depth that perhaps cannot be matched by English. 'Coz if it had, then the full glory of Sukumar Ray's works/legacy would have been fathomed by the English-speaking world (... and to some extent by the non-Bangla-speaking world too). And then, Harry wouldn't have been pottering around...

(Do stay tuned…)

Pictures: 1. Pic 01 - Sukumar Ray. 2. Pic02 - Film poster: Joi Baba Felunath. 3. Pic 03 - The Bengali hotel manager, Feluda, Jatayu and Topshe deep in conversation (Joi Baba Felunath). 4. Pic 04 - Jatayu saying Areiibass!! (Joi Baba Felunath) 5. Pic 05 - Satyajit Ray. 6. Pic 06 - Phoskey Gelo.  7. Pic 07 - The creature from Bhoy Peyo Na. 8. Pic 08 - an illustration from Ha Ja Ba Ra La (A Topsy Turvy Tale). 9. Pic 09 - Khuror Kol.

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