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My Love-Hate Relationship with Satyajit Ray

June 28, 2023 | By

Sampurna Chowdhury recalls how she used to shy away from Satyajit Ray’s iconic stories, novels and films for children in her childhood and later grew to love them.

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne

The stage of innocence of every Bengali if not every Indian is enchanted by the films of Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen and the stories of ‘Phatik Chand’. But the magician of these creations did not create a spell of awe in my infancy. I was not embraced warmly by Ray’s creations. When I read Feluda running after criminals, the scenes of suspense created an unknown fear within me. Instead of emerging as a hero figure, my concentration focused on the darkness that detective stories expose.  In my wild dreams, I saw the glittering eyes of ‘Bhuter Raja’ and the song Bhuter raja dilo bor. This discomposure created a chasm that became wider with time and I never felt an urge to fill the gap because Tintin and Nonte Phonte soon took its place.

Then, the hangover of colonialism too stifled me, although at that time I was unable to understand that the necklace worn by me was a noose. My childhood days were wrapped in the reverie of fairyland tales of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, and soon Feluda and Professor Shanku became oblivion.

When I was in Stepping Stones school, I heard my friends often gossip about the films Bombaiyer Bombete, Kailashey Kelenkari, Tintorettor Jishu and I felt left behind. But I was always distempered by my childhood twitchiness. Several of my relatives and my school had awarded me books by this great creator, but they always got their residence in a dusty lonely corner in my bookshelf. The curriculum of English medium school also gave Nelson’s Eye to these wonder creations, so I did not feel the need to accept him.

The melting point of this iceberg was a day that I can vividly sketch out. For the first time, our school had decided to put up a Bengali movie show in the campus on “Bhasha Divas” (Language Day) in order to inculcate the importance of our mother tongue. It was a surprise to all of us when we got to see a bald middle-aged man reading a letter, a teenage boy with an intriguing face seated beside him and Sabyasachi Chatterjee having his tea and in deep contemplation while talking with the other members.

The iconic trio was soon unrevealed to be the ones with whom I shared a deep animosity. We were left in bewilderment; my friends were excited and I was in great disillusionment. It was Royal Bengal Rahashya, another masterpiece story by Satyajit Ray, filmed by his son Sandip Ray. My heart pounded and my body shook seeing the growling tiger and its ferocious jaw. I covered my eyes with my hands and the entire film appeared like a black screen to me. Everyone was thrilled to watch the film and some of my friends even had good laugh at my trepidation.

Royal Bengal Rahasya

A quiz was organized at the end of the film, where answers dropped even before the questions were raised. I was held completely forlorn and was quietly weeping when my Bengali teacher noticed it. When I confided my feelings to my teacher, instead of being sympathetic, she made a scornful face and chided me, saying, “Being a Bengali, how dare you show your arrogance towards the creation of such a legendary Bengali? You students are a hybrid generation. You children mimic, rather to be appropriate, stammer in English. And then you show obnoxious feelings towards Bengali language? Chhee chhee chhee.”  That moment at such a tender age, her rebuke hurt my pride.

Back home, I did not show my tears to anyone. I was annoyed at the creator of these stories. With a mix of rage and curiosity, I dusted his books and surprisingly found the same story that our school had shown in the film screening. For the first time, I felt an inner urge to turn over the pages of the book. The book had few illustrations. There was one of the iconic trio standing in the vast greenery of the jungle, but what caught my eye was the sketch of the two sparkling eyes of tiger. Previously, in I Am Old and Tired Now in Wild Child and Other Stories, I had an emotional connection with the old tiger.This spurred me to know about the mystery about the fierce beast that made the title of the story.

I got deeply engrossed in the story of Royal Bengal Rahasya. The gripping moments of suspense did try to rekindle my deep-seated fears, but my strong impulses set them aside. The accidental death of Tarit, the secretary, by the sword acting as a magnet seemed to be an amazing climax drawn by Ray. I praised his brilliance in chalking out the plot so well that the average reader cannot reach Feluda’s ‘mogojastro’ (the brain weapon).


Satyajit Ray’s illustrations for his Feluda detective novel series – ink on paper
(Pic: Osianama)

The journey of Ray’s detective stories began from here. Feluda used to be in my book list, apart from other English and Bengali books at every book fair. When I read the stories the author seemed to me as the persona himself and not the alter ego. When I watched Soumitra Chatterjee, the screen Feluda smoking a cigarette in deep thought, contemplating on the case, I used to picture Satyajit Ray trying to crack the complicated puzzles. The attire, the way Feluda walked, and all the attributes ascribed to him made my imagination blur the lines between reality and fiction, the creator and the creation.

Satyajit Ray's Sonar Kella

Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda and Santosh Datta as Jatayu in Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella

My aversion to detective stories got completely eradicated through the hands of Ray. I started reading other detective stories like Byomkesh Bakshi and Pandab Goenda in Bengali and Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie in English. No matter how much I watch hardboiled detective movies or how I admired Christie’s use of reticence in weaving the plots, my mind rummaged the one with whom I had a love-hate relationship. In every detective story that I read, I missed the idiosyncratic and comical Jatayu, the teenage narrator Topshe who gives witty and plausible remarks and Feluda, the mystery cracker, the reserved yet the one who observes and uses his grey cells to arrive at the inevitable solution. My thirst was insatiable but the creator had departed his creation long before.

As every cloud has a silver lining, I now try to observe and retrospect the stories by Satyajit Ray, where not only Feluda, but Professor Shanku, Bankubabur Bondhu, Tarini Khuro are also the stories of my keen observation. Even movies directed by him, like Hirak Rajar Deshe, Goopy Gayen Bagha Byne, The Apu Trilogy and Joy Baba Felunath are now not mere films but like beads or studs that can together enumerate the garland that I wish to offer to the creator. Through his creations, I get a portrait of Satyajit Ray, his daily activities, his thought processes, his likes and dislikes; as if personal self tries to breathe in through his inventions.

Whenever, I become nostalgic about my childhood days, it amazes me the kind of deep scar Ray had created in my mind that I ran away from him, from his creations. But with time, and thanks to the interjections of my Bengali teacher, my outlook changed forever. Yes, I know that reading or being obsessed with Satyajit Ray’s stories cannot be the representative for the entire rich Bengali literature, but at least my endeavour to know him makes me feel proud as a voracious reader in my mother tongue.

More Must Reads in LnC

The Complete Adventures of Feluda

Why Feluda Works

My Journey with Feluda

Use of Magic and Supernaturalism in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and Hirak Rajar Deshe

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne – The Story of the Kind Bravehearts

Sampurna Chowdhury is a student of English Honours in Gokhale Memorial Girls’ College. Her writings have been published in The Times of India student editions and various magazines including LLP Magazine (June and December 21), and 'Feminism in India'. She has also presented her paper in the National Level Online Seminar on ‘Education in its Juxtaposition with its Aims and Reality’.
All Posts of Sampurna Chowdhury

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Restricted patterns of thoughts penetrate our efforts and constrain our existence which stops our development. Phases in our life are like the plateaus (highlands), the steps towards success. We should not remain on the steps; to progress, we must go beyond them.