In Bengali literature there are not too many writers who wrote only for the children. The genre of children’s writing is made popular by two people: Upendra Kishore Ray and his son Sukumar Ray. In this article I am going to write about Sukumar Ray.
I first read Sukumar’s poem when I was in class II, ‘Baburam Shapure,’ (Baburam, the snake charmer) one of the most popular children’s poem in Bengali literature. Then in class III ‘PakaPaki’ was in our Bengali text book. However, I enjoyed most reading the stories of Pagla Dashu (Crazy Dashu). Pagla Dashu was a student who just got admitted into a new school in the primary class. In Bengali ‘Pagla’ refers to a person who is crazy by nature and ‘Dashu’ is the abbreviation of ‘Dashrathi’ (Father of Ram in Ramayana). Pagla Dashu became famous in the school from the very first day for his behavior and appearance. It is one of the most popular characters created by Sukumar Ray.
Dashu had a huge head and a small body. The writer compared him to a Walking fish (a variety of fish, tastes very delicious when fried) with human head. Every body who saw his face even for once could not forget him. He had bushy hair and when he talked he moved his hands so much that he would look like a shell-fish. Added with all these, his crazy behavior, made him more interesting. However, he was very good in mathematics and he could make fool out of his friends by crafting clever plots. This was ‘Pagla Dashu,’ in simple words, madcap. When my father brought me the book I finished it in one sitting. I read the stories so many times but never got bored. Dashu with his uncommon physical appearance, fooling his friends and Pundits (during the colonial period in Bengal in the Hindu Schools the teachers were known as Pundits) made me laugh so many times.
Among the stories of Pagla Dashu my most favorite is “Dashur Khapami” (Dashu the Madcap). It is a story about Dashu acting in the annual school drama. Despite his classmates’ effort to stop him from participating in the drama he participated and played the role of ‘Devduta’ (Heavenly angel). At the last scene the Devduta was supposed to return to heaven but Dashu was determined to remain on the stage and so he did and delivered all the dialogues and ended the play. The story is really interesting. When I was writing this article I was reading the story and after all these years I could not help but laugh. The stories never grow old for me. Sukumar was really a great story teller.
Another talent of Sukumar Ray is his ability of composing nonsense verse. Of course, his main audience is the children. Although for the children, the poems are appreciated by people of all ages. Rhyme and rhythm are the main features of his poems. The poems may sound nonsense but there is some kind of rhythm. ‘Khai Khai’ (Voraciousness/ Eating Eating) is a very famous poem of Sukumar. His writing style could be compared to that of Lewis Carroll. Sukumar Ray translated Carrol’s JABBERWOCKY. His other popular poems are- Abol Tabol, Bombar gorer Raja, PakaPaki, Thikana.
Sukumar Ray, was a versatile genius like his father Upendrakishore Ray. He was a great illustrator. He drew pictures for his poems. He went to England and got higher training in photography and printing technology. He was also an expert in lithography. After his father Upendra Kishore, Sukumar became the publisher of the then most popular children’s magazine ‘Shondesh.’ His brilliant illustrations were published in this magazine. It is really unfortunate that this versatile genius died at a very early age (36).
In Bengali literature especially in children’s literature both Upendra and Sukumar are towering figures. They published magazines, wrote stories and poems only for the children. Sukumar’s son Satyajit Ray, was a brilliant film maker and writer. Aside from film making, like his father, Satyajit wrote great detective stories. All of them have died a long time ago; still people cherish them through their poems and writings. There are many people like me who find great joy and pleasure reading the poems of Sukumar Ray.