The Bengali literary tradition has a rich and illustrious history. Many stories and poems were written by eminent Bengali writers like Tagore, Bankimchandra and Saratchandra. However, children would have never found their interest in Bengali Literature if it wasn’t for the Ray Family.
It began with Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury who pioneered the art of producing children’s literature. His son, Sukumar Ray, then chose to carry forward his father’s legacy with his innovative writing style that flabbergasted children. Then came his son, Satyajit Ray, with a creative mind that appealed to children as well as adults and gave a new direction to The Ray Legacy.
As a kid, I was first introduced to these writers mostly through TV and radio. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury’s stories form the backdrop for many cartoon episodes that I watched with great delight. Sometimes my mother used to recite Sukumar Ray’s poems and narrate some of his funny stories as well. Satyajit Ray came a little later as I watched delightful movies based on his stories.
The Ray Family influenced my childhood to a great deal and their remarkable creations continue to astonish and impress me even till today.
Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury
Best known for his collection of folklore for children, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury took on the task of simplifying the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata for children. His folklore is considered to be no less than the tales of Panchatantra and Jataka in imparting moral and social values to children.
His most prominent work is the fantasy novel Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen where a singer and a musician get to meet the King of Ghosts who bestows upon them three great boons. The story was further popularised by his grandson, Satyajit Ray, who produced the acclaimed movie based on the novel.
Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury also set in motion the tradition of publishing children’s magazines. With great stories and bright colourful pictures, he started Sandesh Magazine which is popular even today. A lover of double entendre, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury based the magazine’s name on a popular Bengali sweetmeat ‘Sandesh‘, which also means ‘news’ in Sanskrit.
The magazine is witness to the growth of the Ray Legacy as most of the works of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray were initially published here.
The pioneer of the ‘non-sense literature‘ in Bengali, Sukumar Ray rose to fame by his unique composition of pure gibberish literature, written just to poke fun at the world as we see it.
Merging his amazing sense of humour and unfathomed wit with his command over Bengali vocabulary, he produced a completely different taste of humour that appealed to both children and adults. He lived in a completely different world of his own—a world where the word ‘sense’ has no meaning. His creations that had also dropped all the meaning pertaining to ‘sense’ were just a reflection of the unique world in which he dwelled.
In his short career of 35 years, he has brought a new era in the Bengali Literature with his unforgettably weird and absurd creations. His collection of poems Abol Tabol, novella Ha Ja Ba Ra La, collection of short stories Pagla Dasu and play Chalachittachanchari—all stand as the testimony to the weird world he inhabited.
It is sometimes jokingly said that Sukumar Ray didn’t even belong to this world; he came from another planet or perhaps from another place which is totally outside this Universe. He was neither born nor did he ever die—he just arrived on the Earth for a vacation, to spend some time in this unique planet inhabited by the humans.
And looking at the weird writings, it might as well be true!
Walking on the same path as his grandfather and father, Satyajit Ray produced several short stories, novels, detective stories and science fiction tales for children. He imbibed some of the talent from his father, thinking along the lines of the weird way to see the world.
His unpredictable short stories thus present us a glimpse of the fantasy world where humans witness uncanny happenings and encounter supernatural beings. His short stories are woven in tune with suspense and mystery, sprinkled with subtle humour. Some of them act as psychological thrillers where some take the readers on a thrilling adventure ride.
Such is the intensity of the thrill that readers are left biting their nails and holding their breath in anticipation of what will happen next. A thing that is common in all his short stories is their surprise ending which is bound to leave the readers amazed, marvelling at the craftsmanship of the incredible storyteller.
However, the work of art that earned Satyajit Ray immense popularity amongst teenagers is the creation of his famous fictional characters—Feluda the Sleuth in his detective series and Professor Sonku the scientist in his science fiction series.
The spooky anecdotes encompassed in the Tarini Khuro series of the uncle who narrates his weird experiences amid strange atmospheres is also quite popular amongst children. Many movies and web-series are still made based on these stories that continue to impress even till today.
These three literary geniuses were the companions of my childhood days, though my contact with them then was mostly visual through television screen. It is only later in life that I actually read the stories. I laughed with the crazy boy Pagla Dasu. I unveiled mysteries with Feluda. I shivered at the stories of Tarini Khuro and I explored the crevices of science with Professor Sonku.
And in the process, I understood what the great literary value these stories hold. Even as an adult, I’m in absolute awe with their creation–the reason maybe part nostalgia and part sheer exceptionality of the remarkable tales.
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