Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Complete Adventures of Feluda by Satyajit Ray

Although I was an avid reader in childhood, I never encountered the Feluda books (originally written in Bengali) either in my school library or the public libraries I used to haunt. In fact, my childhood reading was strongly anglicised, and if I hadn’t discovered K.M. Munshi’s Krishnavatara (7 volumes) and immediately begun to devour them, I would have grown up to be a complete WOG. Years later, when my son had moved from children’s literature to newer choices in his reading, I began to spot English translations of the Feluda adventures in the bookshops I went to. Not many copies, and not too often. Among the stacks of moral stories and retellings of mythological tales, the Feluda books shone – but were they like Thomas Gray’s “gems of purest ray serene” – hiding in dark unfathomed caves?  I didn’t pay too much attention to them either, dismissing them as pale copies of the tales of Sherlock Holmes. However, recently, curiosity got the better of me, and after spotting a good bargain on Amazon, I ordered The Complete Adventures of Feluda (2 volumes) and began to peruse them.

A Crossover Novel and an Intrepid Hero
In the 50 years since Feluda emerged in the pages of Bengal’s iconic children’s magazine, Sandesh, he certainly has travelled a lot, beginning with the places he visited in the course of his adventures. But Feluda is also an intrepid traveller, for the books have moved from being considered as children’s literature to reading for adults too.   Within a few years of the inception of the series, Ray began to publish the Feluda tales in Desh magazine and not Sandesh, which was associated with children. And of course, the Feluda adventures have been reimagined as films, television series, animated shows, radio plays and traditional stage plays. Both Satyajit Ray and his son, Sandip Ray, have successfully transformed Feluda into a screen hero. Mostly made in Bengali, the films are also available with decent subtitling in English. The latest of the cinematic offerings is Sandip Ray’s Double Feluda. The stories are also adapted into the graphic novel form.  

So why do I like Feluda?
Unlike a lot of Indian children’s book authors of that vintage, Satyajit Ray neither talks down nor proscribes to the child reader. He uses a descriptive style of writing, and upholds a rational way of thinking, rather than a because-that’s-the-way-it-is-done tone.  With their portrayal of suitably exotic places like Lucknow, Jaisalmer, Gangtok and Kathmandu, the tales open up new worlds to the child reader’s imagination.  And most importantly, after an overdose of campus romances, psychologically disturbed protagonists, paranormal occurrences, and toilet humour, it was refreshing to sit with a book that promised to tell a gripping tale - and did a good job of it too.

With renewed interest in detective fiction – think of Sherlock, Elementary and several other adaptations – I am sure readers will also stumble on Feluda and his quirky brilliance.

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