Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reading Pujo: The Nostalgia of Pujabarshikis

This piece was written on the request of the San Diego Bengali Association for their Durga Puja souvenir - Saikat.

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For me, the best part of Durga Pujo was always the Pujabarshiki. It started with Anandamela and Sandesh with the occasional Shuktara thrown in. Desh was, of course, read for the Feluda

Before the schools shut down for the Puja holidays, there was always an ‘end-term’ examination to negotiate. Given my dependence on last minute completion of syllabus, the Pujabarshikis were a serious threat to my academic pursuits. As the advertisements tantalizingly promised spine-tingling adventures of heroes, I had to plod through time zone problems and Sher Shah’s myriad achievements before I could get my hands on them. But, oh – they were so worth the wait.

Needless to say, Satyajit Ray was the biggest draw with Professor Shonku in Anandamela and Feluda in Desh, with an additional story thrown in Sandesh. To reach the stories, however, there was a massive battle to be won to decide who would get to read which magazine first. A classmate (who stayed in a joint family) once got his reading slot between 2 – 4 AM and had to take a nap, set an alarm to wake up at 1:45 AM to read Professor Rondi-r Time Machine! Quite tragically, Ray’s quality (especially for Feluda) dropped a lot in the late 1980s due to his prolonged illness and some of his later novels were not satisfying. In fact, he gave a pretty lengthy explanation (in Nayan Rahasya) for the drop in quality and pledged to write only when he felt the plot was up to the mark (which was probably a subtle message to his publishers). Feluda and Professor Shonku continue to remain favourites as Anandamela Pujabarshiki still carries unfinished manuscripts, comic books and other avatars of these evergreen heroes.

Second to Feluda in popularity was, of course, Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Kakababu. Raja Raychaudhuri was a disabled archaeologist, who was always on the trail of priceless artefacts – assisted by his nephew Shontu. Shontu was a more active version of Topshe and was more useful in a fight (since he knew karate). He seemed to be a pretty normal chap till he stood fifth in the Higher Secondary examination in one story. To add a comic angle, a character called Jojo – a purveyor of tall tales – was introduced in the later stories. Some young girls flitted in and out of the stories as well though no overt romantic subplot was pursued. Kakababu continues to be around though he has become bit of a Metrosexual Hulk as he cries at the drop of a hat, fights off swordsmen with his crutches and burns himself in fire. In his early stories, Kakababu solved problems with his brain and overpowered villains with moner jor. That surely seems to have changed.  Srijit Mukherjee (of Autograph and Baishey Srabon fame) is directing a Kakababu film (with Prasenjit as the lead) and I hope it captures some of the old magic.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay never had a fixed hero. His stories – usually set in rural Bengal (fictional villages like Patashgarh, Hetamgarh, Aghorganj etc) – always had an ensemble of eccentric characters with offbeat names (Karalicharan, Prangopal, Jatadhar etc) and sometimes, strange abilities. One recurring feature of his story was an elderly character who always missed out on international glory (Olympic boxing medal, for example) due to a quirk of fate (a carbuncle on the back, for example). Two of my favourite stories – Hirer Angti and Gosai Baganer Bhoot – have been made into films and that may be a great way to get the old world charm of his stories to the younger generation.

Moti Nandi was one of the most underrated novelists of our times as his sports stories were brilliant in detail, tight in plotting and extremely satisfying in resolution. Kalabati – the woman cricketer of his stories – faced discrimination, fought indifference and rose over the lack of support to follow her passion. I remember his other cricket story – Jiban Ananta – in a Pujabarshiki (that I read repeatedly) for its goose-bump inducing description of an over in which the fast bowling hero took five wickets. (Yes, five wickets in six balls. And it was a brilliant Pujo!)

The other favourites were Buddhadeb Guha with his pipe-smoking hunter Riju-da, Syed Mustafa Siraj with his bearded Col. Niladri Sarkar, Samaresh Majumdar with his handsome young detective Arjun and Sanjib Chattopadhyay with his tragicomic stories.
It is a tribute to these authors that I still remember vignettes of their stories after so many years. For example, Sanjib Chattopadhyay wrote two back-to-back tragedies in Pujabarshikis – Iti Palash and Iti Tomar Ma – that were just heartbreaking. To lighten the mood and pay a tribute to the recently departed Syed Mustafa Siraj, I have to quote a non sequitur from one of his novels – Knatai knatai raat baarota / Begun bhaja aar parota / Kimba luchi ardho dawjon / Ichhe hoy kortey bhojon.    
All thanks to the Pujabarshiki, a treasure chest of memories.

When I was young, my father used to reminisce about his childhood Puja magazines. Many of them were not special issues of regular magazines but one annual number released during the Pujas. The erstwhile stalwarts of children’s literature (and no dearth of them, ever) contributed. I have read many of them and the thrill of reading Narayan Gangopadhyay, Premendra Mitra, Saradindu Bandopahyay, Shibram Chakraborty and Lila Majumdar in the same book is something else! Deb Sahitya Kutir was the most prolific publisher of these titles and my father used to constantly say, “Aajkal standard ekdum porey gechhey. Amader shomoi ki bhalo hoto…”
I am about to pick up this year’s quota of Pujabarshikis and the natural tendency would be to take refuge in nostalgia and say the same. But having read some of the newer authors and their characters, I’d say it wouldn’t be easy to dismiss them.

3 comments:

BongMom said...

Amazing that I too wrote on Pujabarshiki, Anandamela mainly, though mine inevitably was followed with recipes ! And guess what for the exact same mag :) Don't know if they chopped off my writing and posted only the recipes though ;-)
But for me Pujo always meant waiting for Anandomela

innerspace said...

Diptakriti,You took me back to my childhood.Good narrative writing. However one small niggling doubt. Feluda was published in Desh and not Anandamela.Short stories and Shonku stories were published in Sandesh.So just check.Good reminiscent piece.

Anonymous said...

Gosai Baganer Bhoot is a disaster of a movie.

My favourite Moti Nandi pujobarshiki novel is "Aparajito Anando".

Udayan