Thursday, 17 December 2015

Feluda: A Tribute

When an adult looks back at his childhood and reminisces, the books read in those formative years always lend the background to what kind of a childhood it was: the subtle but omnipresent entity encompassing the flavour of one's youth. My first books, I vividly remember, were Pinocchio in English, and HoJoBoRoLo in Bangla. A little later arrived Sukumar Ray, Ms. Enid Blyton, and then slowly, the bigger names of world literature. These are authors whom we look back at and reminisce fondly about. Yet, if I have to name two authors who provide me as much enjoyment now as they did then, it is not a very tough choice for me. I have simply not outgrown them. The second is Mr. Roald Dahl. The first is Satyajit Ray, and his immortal creation. Feluda.

The first ever glimpse of the Feluda-Topshe duo.
Any child growing up seeks an inspiration or a role model. These are hard to come by in real life, so they turn to fiction. Feluda, for them, is a Godsend. The first Feluda adventure I ever read was "Feludar Goyendagiri", incidentally Ray's first ever Feluda story to be published (Sandesh magazine, December '65 - February '66). Within 34 pages of an Ananda Publishers edition (the shortest completed Feluda story ever), it was something unlike anything I had ever read before. And it was just the beginning. As I completed my collection over the years, I saw the world with Feluda. From London and Hong Kong, to Kedarnath and Jaisalmer (identify the stories for yourself), in each case it is as if it were me accompanying Feluda, and not Topshe, his cousin brother, and as Wikipedia puts it, the "quintessential" accomplice! Jatayu, first encountered by the reader in "Sonar Kella", is a source of laughter, humour and general goodwill throughout. Foreign locations apart, it would be a crime to forget the extent to which Feluda has familiarized me with my own city of Kolkata. Works like "Gorosthaney Shabdhan" have dealt with the city and its history better than any history book. A part of the Bengali lexicon, have become the characters of Maganlal Meghraj and Sidhu Jyatha as well, the archetypal villain encountered in three different stories, and the omniscient 'sobjanta jyatha'. Find the complete list of Feluda stories here, 38 in all, and complete your collection.

Maganlal Meghraj
What is it that endears Feluda to us so much, that even as adults we love to go back to its attractions every now and then? We have read detective novels galore, and some really top class ones at that. In our mother tongue we have the privilege of having the likes of Kakababu and Byomkesh Bakshi, the latter all the more popular in recent times. Feluda himself was a Sherlock Holmes addict. Agatha Christie is regarded as the Queen of Crime across the world. But with full respect to all these men, women and their creators, Feluda holds a special place. Why is that? This is the question I look to answer.

Satyajit Ray
We all started reading Feluda when we were going on from "child" to "youth". As children, our reading content had focused chiefly around the world of fantasy and make-believe, but here was something fresh and different. Here is a no-nonsense character, feet-firmly-on-the-ground, with the incidents occurring in places and circumstances we all can relate to. The characters are people we see around us all the time. In short, realistic. For the first time, I the 'child', were being treated as an 'adult'. And it
does not end here. You have a young man in his late 20's, over 6' tall, trained in the martial arts and yoga, sharpshooter, acidic with his tongue and gifted with a brain of near-Sherlock sharpness. It doesn't take rocket science to conclude that he will be the idol of any adolescent.

And then there is the mastery of the author himself. To comment about the plots and characters manufactured in that supremely ingenuous brain of Ray's would be audacity on my part. Each character is lifelike, identifiable and developed to perfection. The suspense was, at times, Hitchcock-ian. Comic relief was a trademark, which is a missing element in a few of the other well-known sleuths. And I could not over-stress the importance of Topshe in the scheme of things, for every young boy idolizing Feluda has placed himself in Topshe's boots at some point of time just to get that feel of sleuthing, even if in make-believe!

And then we grow up. We meet Poirot and Miss Marple, are introduced to Mr. Bond, and gradually Dan Brown, Alistair McLean, Isaac Asimov, Robin Cook, to mention a few of this genre, enter our reading lists. These are great names, immortalized by the world. Yet the one person who introduced us to this genre, with whom we all solved our first crime stories, retains his charm and attraction; the 'naarir taan' if I may say so! Another of my firm beliefs is that a large part of this charm owes itself to the beautiful language of Bangla we share as our mother tongue, for nothing quite matches up with the joy that comes from reading in the tongue we have grown up speaking!

Stuff of legends.
The advent of Feluda films, teleserials, comics and translations has without doubt further expanded the fan-base of Feluda. Ray's masterpieces behind the camera in shooting the first two immortal Feluda films require separate blogs for themselves, but I am no expert in that subject. The actors who have enacted these characters to life have received the highest compliments for their efforts. But for me, it is the printed word that has brought Feluda to life, and if I had to make a list of the things I would have missed the most had I not been born a Bengali, reading Feluda in Bangla would have definitely featured in the top 5! Watch this video, a tribute to Feluda by three prominent Bengali singers.

I could go on and on about Feluda and his charms. Any small mystery encountered in my schooldays would see me assume the character of Feluda, condescendingly designate one of my partners-in-crime-solving classmates as Topshe, and put my thinking cap on. Trips to Gangtok, Benaras or even Puri would consist of trying to identify the locations and circumstances of a Feluda adventure there. Places like the Park St. Cemetery and Rajani Sen Road, Feluda's residence, have acquired different dimensions. All in all, here is one character etched in our memories and alive in our brains, who has left one big indelible mark on our childhoods, never to be forgotten or erased.

Here is to you, Feluda!