Children’s literature is a very important field in the world of literature. Almost in all languages there are stories and poems written or unwritten composed for children. Many famous writers in the world wrote stories for children. Recently, J.K Rowling, the author of Harry Potter has earned name and fame around the world.
In Bengali literature children’s literature is not very old. The first book for children in Bengali was Nitikatha, published by the Calcutta school-book society in 1818. Varna Parichay by Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar was my first book. He also wrote Bodhodaya, Kathamala, Charitavali and Akhyanmanjari. Other writers Akshay Kumar Datta (Charupath), Madanmohan Tarkalankar (Shishushiksa) wrote for children as well as for adult audience. Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore had great contributions in children’s literature. Among contemporary writers Humayun Ahmed, Zafar Iqbal, Imdadul Huq Milan are popular among teenagers.
Upendra Kishore Rai Chowdhury is a towering figure in children’s literature of Bengal. He was the first person who only wrote for children. A painter, musician, writer, and printer Upendra Kishore was a multi faceted genius.
UpendraKishore was born in the village Masua, of Mymensingh district and studied in Mymenshingh Zila School. He established a printing press U Ray & Sons in Calcutta on hundred Garpar Street. His famous works are: Chotoder Ramayan (1894-1895), Sekaler Katha (1903), Chotoder Mahabharat (1909), and Mahabharater Galpa (1909).
The first book of Upendra Kishore I read was “TunTunir Golpo” (A Tailor Bird’s Tale). It was a small book with yellow cover. My father used to read it to me in the bed before going to sleep. In that book my favorite story was ‘Tuntuni are Rajar Kotha’ (The story of the Tailor bird and the King). The central character, a tailor bird (Tuntuni), made her nest near the house of a king. One day king’s men put coins in the sun. At dusk they forgetfully left a coin. The tailor bird saw that coin and took it to his nest. When the king’s men heard about it they took it from her nest. This made the tailor bird very sad and she said,
(Translation: The king is very greedy. He took my money away.)
On hearing this, the king told his men to return the coin. This time the tailor bird said,
(Translation: The king got afraid and returned my money.)
The king after hearing this became very angry and orders his men to catch the bird. The men caught the bird and brought her in front of the king. The king handed the bird to her queens and ordered them to kill it and then cook it for him. The queens were very curious to see the bird and suddenly the tailor bird sleeps out of their hands. So the queens caught a frog and cooked it for king. At first the king thought he had eaten the tailor bird but then the tailor bird started twitting.
(Translation: Hey! Hey! The king has eaten a fried frog)
The king ordered his soldiers to cut down the noses of the queens.
This time the king decided to swallow her alive. So again his man caught the bird and brought it to him. The king swallowed the bird with water but could not keep her for long. He vomited the tailor bird. When the tailor bird was escaping one of the king’s soldiers tried to hit her with the sword but failed to do and instead cut the kings nose. The next day the tailor bird leaves the nest and left the king’s penny. It was actually a fairy tale but very funny. The story was written in simple and easy Bangla language understandable and entertaining to the children.
The first story of the book was ‘Tuntuni ar Beral er Goppo’ (Story of the tailor Bird and cat). A cat (Hulo) wanted to kill the tailor bird and her nestlings but at last he failed in his attempt.
As I have said, Upendra Kishore was not only a talented story writer but also a musician and a major figure in printing. He experimented with halftone pictures in nineteenth century. He made diaphragm, ray-screen adjuster and was the inventor of diotype and ray-print process. He built a printing press U. Ray and Sons in his house at hundred Garpar road, Calcutta. It was also very famous.
Now, any writing on the life of Upendra Kishore will be incomplete without Sandesh. It was the most popular children’s magazine of that time. Sandesh is the name of a kind of sweet made from milk posset, very popular in both East and West Bengal. Sandesh also refers to message or news. Upendra Kishore published this monthly magazine from his press. No wonder, the naming was successful. During that time there were not many magazines for children and teenagers. I did not have the chance to read the real Sandesh. Later, Upendra Kishore’s grandson, SatyaJit Ray, a renowned film maker of the Indian subcontinent wrote about Sandesh in his autobiography which I read. In that book I came across few short poems by Sukumar Ray, Satyajit’s father, famous for his idiotic verse published in the monthly Sandesh.
Other short stories of Upendra Kishore that I read are Othoi Joler Rajpuri, Paka folar, Paji Peter, ChotoVai, Fulpori, Vala are Bura, Tarpor,Kujo are Voot, Banor Rajputra, Lal Suto are Nil suto, Jola are Saat Voot, Satmar Palowan, Ghaghasur, Gupi Gayeen Bagha bayeen*,Finge are kukro and many other stories in “Bonoful Series” by Nirmal Book Agency. One important thing is that these are all actually falls into the category of fairy tales. In this regard, Upendra Kishore can be referred as the Hans Christian of Bengali literature.
The story books of Upendra Kishore are my all time favorite. In my teenage I read the books so many times but I never got bored. The books have become a part of my life.
* Gupi Gayeen Bagha Bayin is written by Upendra and later it was made into a popular movie by his grand son and famous film maker Satyjit ray.