Bengali poet, fiction writer and playwright Sukumar Ray (1887-1923) was perhaps the most famous practitioner of “literary nonsense” in the subcontinent. He is often compared to Lewis Carroll. His works such as the collection of poems “Abol Tabol”, novella “Ha Ja Ba Ra La”, short story collection “Pagla Dashu” and play “Chalachittrachanchari” are considered nonsense masterpieces equal in stature to “Alice in Wonderland”, and are regarded as some of the greatest treasures of Bangla literature. Close to a century after his death, Ray remains one of the most popular authors among children’s writers in both West Bengal and Bangladesh.
September 10 marked the 94th death anniversary of Ray. He was son of the famous children’s story-writer Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and father of the iconic filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Sukumar Ray was also the convenor of Monday Club, a weekly gathering of likeminded people at the Ray residence, where the members were free to express their cheeky opinions about the world at large.
Sukumar Ray was a versatile genius. He used to compose rhymes at an early age. Along with photography he learnt painting. While at college, he used to write comedies and act in them. He also acted in a play called Goday Galad with Rabindranath tagore and Abanindranath Tagore at Santiniketan. He composed some songs during the Swadeshi movement and also sang the songs himself. After his father’s death, he took over the Sandesh, a magazine published by his father. While in England, he sent stories, poems and paintings to be published in the magazine.
Sukumar Ray was principally noted for his writings for young children. He mixed comic elements and subtle satire in all his works-poems, plays, stories or paintings. His satire is marked by his social consciousness. His prominent writings include Abol-Tabol (Nonsensical Mnemonics, 1923), Ha-Ya-Ba-Ra-La (Topsy-Turvy, 1928), Pagla Dashu (1940), Bahurupi (The Jester, 1944), Khaikhai (I Want More, 1950), Abak Jalpan (Strange Drink), Shabdakalpadrum (The Tree of Words) and Jhalapala (Irritation). He also wrote some serious essays in Bangla and English. He wrote a collection of belles-lettres called Hesoramer Dairi, written in the form of a diary.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
In 1906, Ray graduated with Honours in Physics and Chemistry from the Presidency College, Kolkata (then Calcutta). He was trained in photography and printing technology in England and was a pioneer of photography and lithography in British India. While in England, he also delivered lectures on the songs of Rabindranath before Tagore won the Nobel Prize. Ray also drew acclaim as an illustrator. As a technologist, he developed new methods of half tone block-making, and technical articles about this were published in journals in England. According to well-known poet Shihab Sarkar – “Ray’s brilliant rhymes still remain unparalleled. It is very disheartening that he did not live long. But if he had, he could have given a new dimension to our Bengali literature,”