How A Fictional Bengali Detective Kept Me Company During My Teenage Years And This Pandemic Season
This pandemic season, the author rediscovers the joy of reading the private investigator’s adventures when he chances upon a collection online
While growing up in small-town Bengal in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the Anandamela Pujabarshiki was a regular fixture in our household. It was a special Durga-Pujo magazine issue that everyone in our family cherished. My parents used to colour the sections of the magazine that they loved and liked to read the most; it was no different in my case.
As a teen taking baby steps into the world of Bengali fiction, the magazine was a revelation to me. Stories featuring some iconic characters in Bengali popular fiction, condensed and adapted as comics, adorned its pages—Kakababu, Tenida, Professor Shonku, to name just a few. I also remember the popular children’s thriller series, Pandob Goenda, which was serialized in the magazine. All of these stories were duly and meticulously marked out in bright colours and stored in the house attic, if I ever chose to revisit the stories.
Above all, I was completely drawn in by the Feluda comics in these Pujabarshiki editions. The pretty panels, consisting of watercolour illustrations, never failed to mesmerize me, and the year-long wait would be worth it. In particular, I remember the stories set in the hills—Gangtokey Gondogol, Ebar Kando Kedarnathe, Darjeeling Jomjomat. To my teenage self, the tropes I encountered in these stories, which I would later realize were staples of the Feluda stories, were intriguing—impersonations, valuable artifacts stolen, double identities, mistaken identities, a despicable cast of villains all leading up to the titular detective seeing through it all and outwitting his cleverest nemeses. Meanwhile, the picturesque cityscapes and the hilly landscapes in these comics lent a strong sense of wanderlust and allowed me to see and ‘travel’ to places I had never visited.
Two of the best ever: Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda in Joy Baba Felunath (left), Sabyasachi Chakrabarty in Double Feluda (right) (Screenshots courtesy YouTube)
The comic adaptations also dramatized the action fairly well, which was an added attraction. Jatayu, the mystery novelist and Feluda’s companion, though, was the Most Valuable Player for me in the stories. His antics always left me in splits, and yet, a number of his idiosyncratic, light-hearted utterances and observations actually served as hints for Feluda to solve the mystery. This combination of comedy and clever foreshadowing, always in surprising variations, helped keep the series fresh for me, something I always eagerly looked forward to. In fact, I still recall that instance (in Darjeeling Jomjomat, if memory serves me right), where Jatayu, while auditioning for a role in a movie, is asked to light a cigarette and smoke. Having never done so before, first he fails to light the match. Then, when he finally succeeds in lighting it, he inhales so much of the smoke that he starts coughing uncontrollably. The scene was so ludicrously caricatured in the Anandamela issue that you couldn’t help but laugh.
Why this sudden trip down memory lane, you may ask. The truth is, even though I sorely miss them, I no longer have access to Anandamela’s Pujabarshiki issues, and the ones stored in our house have long been sold. On a whim, I decided to try and see if I could find any of the Feluda comics online. It was a delight, therefore, when I came across a collection (on archive.org, that wonderful treasure).
Incidentally, this somewhat fortuitous occurrence happened this year on the maestro’s 99th birth anniversary (2 May 2020). Flipping through the pages, I was able to revisit a few treasured years of my childhood and also realized how many of my first impressions and feelings about the stories still held true on rereading them after so many years.
It also reinforced something that I had come to understand about Ray when I read his Feluda stories for the first time a few years after I had encountered them in comics. The adaptations could only be so gripping because of Ray’s skill as a consummate storyteller, in the first place. The vividly- and wittily-drawn characters, the well marked-out environs, the trademark (Jatayu-centred) humour are all present in the books—and it’s no surprise that so many of these descriptions lent themselves to the visual and the cinematic. For those sorely missing out on nostalgia and adventure, in the midst of this long and dreary pandemic, the Feluda books and their comic adaptations can be a more-than-welcome break from the drudgery.
It’s perhaps fitting to note that my tryst with Anandamela and Ray came full circle when I came to know, this time, that it was Ray who designed the cover of the first issue of the magazine that made my teenage years so enjoyable, by introducing me to the man’s works.
To check Reader's Digest's tribute to the maestro on his 99th birth anniversary, click here.