I have been binge watching Satyajit Ray's movies for the last two weeks and am fascinated by his stories even more than ever. Most of the films are Feluda + a few others but of a genre that is very Satyajit. Apparently, he is writing for the adolescents or those permanently stuck there.

The movies are all directed by his son Sandwip Roy but the stories remain stronger than the films to me. It's almost impossible to overtake them no matter how entertaining the films are, even those made by Satyajit himself like "Joy Baba Felunath."

But in the end Satyajit is a filmmaker to most, defined by the Apu trilogy and other widely known works. Of course that would be the case, but he remains an unduly ignored writer with no real serious work on his literature which I think are treasures of its kind. Is it because we see him writing for kids only which makes him a sort of a non-serious author?

Professional writer

Ray wrote professionally, meaning for a living. Feluda series is one of the many books that he wrote but there are many such crime fighters in Bangla literature. Even the Robin Hood type characters are in big supply. Dasshu Mohan is one such character who was immensely popular. We all who grew up in the 50s and 60s read them and loved it. There were more good bandits. Even in Bangladesh there was dasshu Bahram.

Then came Feluda for readers of the 70s and the 80s. He was so popular that even dear Masud Rana of Sheba with his "adult" lifestyle could not push him out even after doing so much, including copy James Bond.

Satyajit understood the Bengali mind very well. And he understood the European understanding of the same as well. Feluda is indeed one of his greatest creations just like its creator is to us. However, a film is a film and Ray has brought Indian and Bengali cinema to the world.

Feluda not unique but great

Feluda is a fascinating character who according to Wikipedia was born in 1938 and raised in our good old Dhaka. His father was a teacher in Dhaka Collegiate School teaching Sanskrit and maths. He left for Kolkata in 1947 and lost his father when he was only 9 years old. He was raised by his paternal uncle whose son or his cousin is Topse, his sidekick.

Feluda, the private investigator, is not an original creation, but an extraordinary one. His kind of detective is common in all literary landscapes of the world. Ray admitted the influence of Holmes and often his uncle whom he consults calls himself Mycroft, Sherlock's intellectually superior older sibling but far too lazy to run around collecting clues away from his Diogenes club chair, sitting, smoking and thinking.

But is it possible that under the pressure of Feluda's popularity, his other stories have been a touch ignored? For example, the pressure of cinema does make his literary being a little less visible doesn't it? I have seen his movies and read his books and I am not wholly sure which soul is greater. Or is it both? But where is the discussion about his writing?

The Twelve and other stuff

It seems to me that one of the reasons why Roy Babu's literature has been neglected is that his writings are marketed as children's stuff. Therefore, children are not adult readers, so they are excluded from the main literary altar. Feluda is incredibly popular, but Satyajit Ray's main literary achievement (to me) is his 'Barota' series.

There are twelve books in this series, no need to read them all. But just read the first few, you will understand how great his literary imagination and storytelling technique was. And I have read most of the books of this genre from all over the world. To be frank, some stories are truly incomparable, world class, maybe among the top ten or twenty in any derby of the same type of literary horses.

The first book in this series is called 'Ek Dozen Goppo'. A dozen tales, another dozen, twelve more, now twelve, that's how the list goes. Let me mention just one, a ghost story. "The Fear of Onath babu " is one.

Onath babu

The characters of the story meet on the train. Onath babu visits various 'ghost' houses in the country observing and documenting his experiences, some of which are quite scary. He is going to the same destination as the narrator to visit a famous haunted house there. The narrator accompanies him when he goes to spend the night in the haunted house and leaves him there on the first floor sitting on an easy chair.

In the morning, the storyteller is worried and goes to that house to look for him. He sees Onath Babu coming out to see him. He mentions he had seen something but it was a bit complicated. He mentions that suddenly at night the surroundings around him changed- the hand pulled fan started to move, the chair remained but it was no longer one wrecked by age etc. As they walk up talking, he says seeing something unusual and it is necessary to go to the place where he spent the night to explain.

They walk upstairs and when the narrator reaches the room where he left the ghost hunter the night before, he sees the dead Onath babu lying on the easy chair.

So who was he talking to?

Afsan Chowdhury is a researcher and journalist.

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