Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | April 20, 2009

Old friends

I was watching this film called Miss Potter on the life of Beatrix Potter, which narrated the difficulties she faced in establishing herself as an author of children’s books.

While watching I was reminded of my younger days when I started reading Bengali literature and my fondness towards children’s books written in my mother language.

There are many people who contributed to my liking of Bengali literature. I was thrilled by the variety it offered and was touched by its sheer magnificence. While Tagore remained the face of Bengali literature, I have read works by many other stalwarts too. Though most of my liking was generated by my family but I was aided by some good Bangla teachers too. I shall always remember those teachers who taught me Bangla during my early adolescence with fondness.

The book that we read during our times in school finals (ICSE) had a good number of short stories which captured my imagination. I liked the way those stories were taught me, however not many of my peers liked them. I don’t remember discussing Bengali literature with any one of my peers.

During my higher secondary tenure at St. Xavier’s College, I do remember studying a course called ‘Bangla Sahityer Itihas’. Most of my friends who were too glued to sciences hated reading the prescribed book. Somehow I liked it.

In fact, I scored quite highly in Bangla and since my marks in some of the other subjects were not quite good, none of my peers gave credit to my achievement. However, I felt happy whenever I performed well and even now remembering those performances brings smile to my face. Those were indeed motivation to read more.

These days, when I meet youngsters from Bengal, I hardly feel they read anything in their mother tongue. I do feel they are missing out on such a huge treasure that is inherently ours.

The Bengali literature of yesteryears speaks a lot of history of Bengal. It talks of how we have evolved as a generation, what we did and we did not. Many of the characters in those works look at the social order that prevailed during those times. Not always society during those years was ideal but still it is important to know how they were at least. For me, the literary works go much beyond mere stories.

I always thought “Kishore Sahityo” (literature for youngsters) written in Bangla was unmatched and I adore some of the characters such as Sadasib (created by Saradindu Bandopadhay), Ghanda (created by Premendra Mitra) and Tenida (created by Narayan Gangopadhyay).

If you have thought Byomkesh and Feluda were the only home grown detectives, try reading detective stories written by Hemendrakumar Roy. In fact, I miss the “dadas” (elder brothers) that Bengali literature gifted me. Other than Feluda, all seem to have been forgotten these days.

Whenever the annual edition of Anandamela used to reach our home, I remember reaching for the Kakababu, Rijuda stories along with the popular Shonku series. It seems like yesterday when I recall these but in reality I have hardly felt similar excitement in ages.

Surprisingly, not many write about these characters these days. As if we have moved ahead a bit too early. With Book Fair transforming itself into an ego issue more than anything else, I fear none would ever get to know that these books ever existed. Even filmmakers don’t make films on these subjects. Feluda thankfully still sells and that is why at least people know of him. I thought even other ‘dadas’ were timeless too but we have developed reasons to neglect them.

An integral part of literature for youngsters was stories written by Leela Majumdar. Her simple stories always brought smile to my face even now. Even the ghost stories written Leela Majumdar were beautiful. Talking of ghost stories, I wonder if I am the only one from my generation who has read the old Deb Sahitya Kutir publication called ‘Odbhut Joto Bhuter Galpo’.

I know it is absurd for me to hope that youngsters growing up on video games and WWF would like apparently childish ghost stories such as those in ‘Odbhut Joto Bhuter Galpo’, but for me they were fun nevertheless.

On this subject, I possibly can write about too many books but not many perhaps would identify with them. However, I shall cherish them through out my life.

Our place in Kolkata houses too many such beautiful books and even if someday we want to donate them sadly there would be no takers. Sometimes I feel may be children who belong to the deprived families and are interested to read might like such books. I wonder though, whether a television showing reality show or old Bengali children books would be a greater gift these days?

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Responses

  1. Seeing that the film Miss Potter has ignited so much thought in your mind, I am eager to watch the film. Is it available for download online? Do you have any link?

  2. Your soft, dreary-eyed, laid back, reverie put me in a tizzy, Tanmoy, and scrape for those childhood nuggets of nostalgia that seemed almost lost in a mind-maze!

    Do you recall the spine-chilling stories, ‘Kankaler Tankar’ and ‘Daktarer Roksha nei’ in “Odbhut joto Bhuter Golpo” ? and the front cover illustration of the smiley, ‘skeletal’, Kankal, which would immediately evoke your heartfelt sympathies, riding piggyback on a cheerless chum? And, of course, Ray’s ‘Anathbabur Bhoy’?

    And if you rewind your mind a wee bit, Dakshina Ranjan Mitra Majumder’s “Thakurmar Jhuli” and “Thakurdar Jhola” also fired our fancies with their images of princes like ‘Dalimkumar’ and the princess who suffered from a bone-crackling ailment- ‘har mormori byaram ‘!! (I just wondered if ‘jhola’ and ‘jhuli’ is also a gendered pair!)

    Tonmoy seems to be much younger to me but I could draw a read connect with him, ‘now and here’, of times and tales, lost in the visages of yore!!

    Love and Regards
    Kaushik da


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