Authors: Satyajit Ray
Satyajit Ray was born on 2 May 1921 in Calcutta. After graduating from Presidency College, Calcutta, in 1940, he studied art at Rabindranath Tagore’s university, Santiniketan. By 1943, Ray was back in Calcutta and had joined an advertising firm as a visualizer. He also started designing covers and illustrating books brought out by Signet Press. A deep interest in films led to his establishing the Calcutta Film Society in 1947. During a six-month trip to Europe, in 1950, Ray became a member of the London Film Club and managed to see ninety-nine films in only four and a half months.
In 1955, after overcoming innumerable difficulties, Satyajit Ray completed his first film,
, with financial assistance from the West Bengal government. The film was an award-winner at the Cannes Film Festival and established Ray as a director of international stature. Together with
(The Unvanquished, 1956) and
(The World of Apu, 1959), it forms the Apu trilogy and perhaps constitutes Ray’s finest work. Ray’s other films include
(The Music Room, 1958),
Aranyer Din Ratri
(Days and Nights in the Forest, 1970),
Shatranj Ke Khilari
(The Chess Players, 1977),
(The Home and the World, 1984),
(Enemy of the People, 1989),
(Branches of a Tree, 1990) and
(The Stranger, 1991). Ray also made several documentaries, including one on Tagore. In 1987, he made the documentary
, to commemorate the birth centenary of his father, perhaps Bengal’s most famous writer of nonsense verse and children’s books. Satyajit Ray won numerous awards for his films. Both the British Federation of Film Societies and the Moscow Film Festival Committee named him one of the greatest directors of the second half of the twentieth century. In 1992, he was awarded the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and, in the same year, was also honoured with the Bharat Ratna.
Apart from being a film-maker, Satyajit Ray was a writer of repute. In 1961, he revived the children’s magazine,
, which his grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray, had started and to which his father used to contribute frequently. Satyajit Ray contributed numerous poems, stories and essays to
, and also published several
books in Bengali, most of which became bestsellers. In 1978, Oxford University awarded him its DLitt degree.
Satyajit Ray died in Calcutta in April 1992.
* * *
Gopa Majumdar has translated several works from Bengali to English, the most notable of these being Ashapurna Debi’s
, Taslima Nasrin’s
and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s
, for which she won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2001. She has translated several volumes of Satyajit Ray’s short stories, a number of Professor Shonku stories and all of the Feluda stories for Penguin Books India. She is currently translating Ray’s cinematic writings for Penguin.
My husband was always deeply interested in science fiction stories. It was not surprising, therefore, when he decided to write them for his children’s magazine
One day, he told me that he wanted to experiment with stories other than the science fiction ones.
‘What other kind?’ I asked, although I knew the answer instinctively, since both of us were avid readers of detective stories. He didn’t have to tell me, so he smiled and said ruefully, ‘But there’s a big snag . . .’ I looked inquiringly at him. ‘The magazine is meant for children and adolescents, which means I shall have to avoid sex and violence—the backbone of crime thrillers . . . you do realize the difficulty, don’t you?’
I did, indeed. Still, I told him to go ahead and give it a try—I had so much faith in him!
He did. And that’s how ‘Feluda’ was born and became an instant hit. Story after story came out, and they all met with resounding success. When they were published in book form, they became best-sellers. It was really amazing!
After finishing each story, he would throw up his hands and say, ‘I have run out of plots. How can one possibly go on writing detective stories without even a hint of sex and hardly any violence to speak of?’
I couldn’t agree with him more, but at the same time, I knew he would never give up and was bound to succeed at his endeavour. That is exactly what he did. He never stopped and went on writing till the end of his days. That was my husband, Satyajit Ray, who surmounted all difficulties and came out on top!
One of my earliest recollections of childhood is of struggling to get two thick bound volumes from my father’s bookshelf, with a view to using them as walls for my dolls’ house. To my complete bewilderment, when my father saw what I had done, he told me to put them back instantly. Why? They were only books, after all. ‘No,’ he explained, handling the two volumes with the same tenderness that he normally reserved for me, ‘these are not just books. They are bound issues of
, a magazine we used to read as children. You don’t get it any more.’ Neither of us knew then that
would reappear only a few years later, revived and brought to life by none other than Satyajit Ray, the grandson of its original founder, Upendrakishore.
That Satyajit Ray was a film-maker was something I, and many other children of my generation, came to know only when we were older. At least, we had heard he made films which seemed to throw all the grown-ups into raptures, but to us he was simply the man who had opened a door to endless fun and joy, in the pages of a magazine that was exclusively for us. This was in 1961.
began to publish a new story (
Danger in Darjeeling
) about two cousins on holiday in Darjeeling. The older one of these was Feluda, whose real name was Pradosh C. Mitter. The younger one, who narrated the story, was called Tapesh; but Feluda affectionately called him Topshe. They happened to meet an amiable old gentleman called Rajen Babu who had started to receive mysterious threats. Feluda, who had read a great many crime stories and was a very clever man (Topshe told us), soon discovered who the culprit was.
It was a relatively short and simple tale, serialized in three or four instalments. Yet, it created such a stir among the young readers of
that the creator of Feluda felt obliged to produce another story with the same characters, this time set in Lucknow (
The Emperor’s Ring
), in 1966. Feluda’s character took a more definite shape in this story. Not only was he a man with acute powers of observation and a razor-sharp brain, we learnt, but he also possessed a deep and thorough knowledge of virtually every subject under the sun, ranging from history to hypnotism. He was good at cricket,
knew at least a hundred indoor games, a number of card tricks, and could write with both hands. The entries he made into his personal notebook were in Greek.
The Emperor’s Ring
, there was no looking back: Feluda simply went from strength to strength. Over the next three years,
Kailash Chowdhury’s Jewel
The Anubis Mystery
, the first two Feluda stories set in Calcutta, appeared, followed by another travel adventure,
Trouble in Gangtok.
Over the next two decades, Ray would write at least one Feluda story every year. Between 1965 and 1992, thirty-four Feluda stories appeared.
The Magical Mystery
, the last in the series, was published posthumously in 1995-96.
In 1970, Feluda made his first appearance in the
magazine, which was unquestionably a magazine for adults. This surprised many, but it was really evidence of Feluda’s popularity amongst young and old alike. Between 1970 and 1992, nineteen Feluda stories appeared in the annual Puja issue of
(the others were published in
, except for one which appeared in
, another children’s magazine). Pouncing upon the copy of
as soon as it arrived, after having artfully fended off every other taker in the house, became as much a part of the Puja festivities as wearing new clothes or going to the temple.
A year later, Ray introduced a new character. Lalmohan Ganguli (alias Jatayu), a writer of cheap popular thrillers, who made his debut in
The Golden Fortress.
Simple, gullible, friendly and either ignorant of or mistaken about most things in life, he proved to be a perfect foil to Feluda, and a means of providing what Ray called ‘dollops of humour’. The following year (1972) readers were presented with
A Mysterious Case
, where Jatayu made an encore appearance. After this, he remained with the two cousins throughout, becoming very soon an important member of the team and winning the affection of millions. It is, in fact, impossible now to think of Feluda without thinking of Jatayu. Interestingly, the two films Ray made based on Feluda stories
(The Golden Fortress
in 1974, and
The Elephant God
in 1978) both featured Lalmohan Babu, as did the television film
Kissa Kathmandu Ka
The Criminals of Kathmandu
made by Sandip Ray a few years later.
Ray had often spoken of his interest in crime fiction. He had read all the Sherlock Holmes stories before leaving school. It was
therefore no surprise that he should start writing crime stories himself. But why did the arrival of Feluda make such a tremendous impact on his readers? After all, it wasn’t as though there had never been other detectives in children’s fiction in Bengal. The reason was, in fact, a simple one. In spite of all his accomplishments, Feluda did not emerge as a larger-than-life superman whom one would venerate and admire from afar, but never get close to. On the contrary, Topshe’s charming narration described him as so utterly normal and human that it was not difficult at all to see him almost as a member of one’s own family. A genius he might well be, but his behaviour was exactly what one might expect from an older cousin. He teased Topshe endlessly and bullied him often, but his love and concern for his young Watson was never in doubt. Every child who read
could see himself—or, for that matter, herself—in Topshe. Herein lay Ray’s greatest strength. Feluda came, saw and conquered chiefly because each case was seen and presented through the eyes of an adolescent. Ray’s language was simple, lucid, warm and direct, without ever becoming boring or patronizing, even when Feluda corrected a mistake Topshe made, or gave him new information. Added to this were his graphic descriptions of the various places Feluda and Topshe visited. Sometimes it was difficult to tell whether one was watching a film or reading a book, so well were all relevant details captured in just a few succinct words, regardless of whether the action was taking place in a small village in Bengal, a monastery in Sikkim, or the streets of Hong Kong.
It would be wrong to think, however, that it was smooth sailing at all times. Feluda and his team, like most celebrities, had to pay the price of fame. It was their popularity among adults that began to cause problems. Naturally, the expectations of adults were different. They wanted ‘spice’ in the stories and would probably not have objected to subjects such as illicit love or
Feluda’s creator, on the other hand, could never allow himself to forget that he wrote primarily for children and, as such, was obliged to keep the stories ‘clean’. Clearly, letters from critical or disappointed readers became such a sore point that Feluda spoke openly about it in
The Mystery of Nayan
, the last novel published during Ray’s lifetime. ‘Don’t forget Topshe writes my stories mainly for adolescents,’ Feluda says in the opening chapter. ‘The problem is that these stories
are read by the children’s parents, uncles, aunts and everyone else. Each reader at every level has his own peculiar demand. How on earth is he to satisfy each one of them?’
The readers were suitably chastened. And Feluda’s popularity rose even higher. In 1990, when he turned twenty-five, an ardent admirer in Delhi went to the extent of designing a special card to mark the occasion. Ray is said to have been both amazed and greatly amused by the display of such deep devotion.
By this time, Feluda had already stepped out of Bengal. In 1988, the first collection of Feluda stories appeared in English translation
(The Adventures of Feluda
, translated by Chitrita Banerji). This was followed by my translations of the remaining Feluda stories, which appeared in
The Emperor’s Ring: The Further Adventures of Feluda
The Mystery of the Elephant God: More Adventures of Feluda
Feluda’s Last Case and Other Stories
The House of Death and Other Feluda Stories
The Royal Bengal Mystery and Other Feluda Stories
The Mystery of the Pink Pearl: The Final Feluda Stories
The Magical Mystery
was published in Indigo, a collection of Ray’s short stories, in 2000.
Initially, Ray was hesitant to allow the Feluda stories to be translated as he was unsure about the response of non-Bengali readers. However, the two films he had made as well as the television series made by his son had evoked an interest from other communities. When he did finally give his consent, it was only to discover that he need not have worried at all. The Three Musketeers, comprising Pradosh C. Mitter, Private Investigator, and his two assistants, were received with as much enthusiasm elsewhere in India as they had been in Bengal.
Translating the Feluda stories has been a deeply fulfilling experience for me. Those who have read the originals will, no doubt, notice the changes I have had to make in order to present the stories before a wider readership, but I hope they will agree that these have not affected the main plot in any way.
This definitive edition contains, in two volumes, all the Feluda stories that Ray completed. Included are new translations (by me) of
The Golden Fortress, The Bandits of Bombay, The Secret of the Cemetery
The Mysterious Tenant.
For the first time, they are arranged in chronological order, and one can note Feluda’s
development from a totally unknown amateur detective to a famous professional private investigator. Those who have read them before may be pleased to find them all together in an omnibus edition. To those who haven’t, one hopes it will give an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with a legend in Bengal, and catch a glimpse of the brilliant mind of its creator.