Professor Shonku’s world not exists. Can he nonetheless solid a spell?

My faculty days within the early 1980s have been enriched by Satyajit Ray’s motion pictures and youngsters’s tales. Ray’s Trilokeshwar Shonku, an ex-professor of Scottish Church College and an eccentric super-scientist, is probably one of many author’s best creations.

Indrani Majumdar, who translated a few of the 38 Shonku tales in The Mystery of Munroe Island and Other Stories (2015) and The Final Adventures of Professor Shonku (2020), puzzled whether or not the filmmaker and the author have been “perhaps two distinct personas”. Blending tales of journey and glimpses of world historical past, Shonku made a clear sweep together with his scientific masterstrokes. However, Ray didn’t direct any display adaption of the Shonku tales. The director’s son, Sandip Ray, lastly did so in 2019 with Professor Shonku O El Dorado, based mostly on Nakur Babu O El Dorado (1980).

The tales are an ideal mix of fictional innovations and nice adventures. For readers of their forties and older, who didn’t have the web or satellite tv for pc tv whereas rising up, the sci-fi tales of Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur C Clarke stimulated the creativeness. A Bengali superhero like Professor Shonku was a welcome determine.

Professor Shonku O El Dorado (2019).

As a boy, I used to be fascinated by the finely-knitted tales of Ghanada, created by famend Bengali poet and author Premendra Mitra. Ghanada was primarily an explorer. By distinction, Ray created Shonku primarily as a scientist.

Shonku was impressed by the tales of Jules Verne, HG Wells and Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger from The Lost World and different tales. In a New York Times overview from 1987, John Gross wrote about Ray’s The Unicorn Expedition and Other Fantastic Tales of India, “Shonku seems to me not only less assertive but also less amusing and less fully realised a character than his bulky Edwardian predecessor. Still, he infuses the stories in which he appears with the agreeable flavor of an old-fashioned pseudo-scientific yarn.”

Ray himself described Shonku as a “mild- mannered Professor Challenger”.

John Gross, nonetheless, didn’t miss the contact of the supernatural and a little bit of pseudo-scientific texture within the Shonku tales. There’s a considerable affect of Erich Von Daniken, in addition to one other attention-grabbing character from Bengali literature, Hesoram Hushiar, who was equally impressed by Conan Doyle and created by Sukumar Ray, Satyajit Ray’s father.

Another path leads again to Nidhiram Patkel, a personality from Sukumar Ray’s brief story Satyi. Among the variations between Nidhiram and Shonku is that Shonku is devoid of Nidhiram’s high-quality humorous contact.

Shonku advanced over time. As translator Indrani Majumdar wrote, “Though the portrait of Shonku began on a note of whimsy and quirkiness, over the years he turned into a no-nonsense scientist… eventually the character became more grounded in the real world.”

Ever because the first story, Byomyatrir Diary, was printed in 1961, Bengali readers fell in love with Shonku, they usually caught round till the final story, Saptaparnee, was printed in 1992. There was a way of satisfaction about Shonku’s devices, which have been invented with little or no cash and elementary supplies in a makeshift laboratory at Shonku’s Giridih residence. The professor was nearly omniscient – he knew 69 languages and was well-versed in medication, physics, chemistry, area science, robotics, laptop {hardware} and synthetic intelligence.

Shonku invented the “Annihillin pistol”, which may annihilate all dwelling issues. His “Miracurall drug” cures each ailment besides the frequent chilly, whereas his “Botica Indica” capsule wards off meals and water for 24 hours. Shonku additionally constructed “Bidhusekhar”, a synthetic intelligence-enabled robotic programmed to reply all method of questions.

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Cracks within the system

Still, I wonder if the Bengali youngsters of right this moment, who’ve grown up with the web, will probably be impressed by Shonku’s creativeness and information. In his movie adaptation, Sandip Ray reveals a hologram-based video name and a complicated cell phone. The younger era is accustomed to much more superior know-how and visible results in Hollywood motion pictures.

Despite being an inventor, Shonku maintains his perception in ghosts and the occult – baggage from tales written years in the past that get carried into the current.

The gripping, analytical, suspenseful and amusing tales are written within the format of diaries – little question inherited from Hensoram Hushyar. This system helps to maneuver the story ahead, however creates uneasiness when it comes to the construction.

A considerably uncomfortable function of Shonku’s tales for me is the absence of the female contact. There aren’t any girls in Shonku’s home or anyplace round. This can be true of Nakur Babu, certainly one of Shonku’s acquaintances, Likewise, Satyajit Ray’s tales starring Feluda, the favored Bengali sleuth, are nearly devoid of ladies. Ray was miserly in deliver lady characters into the universe of youngsters’s tales.

A number of years in the past, my school-going daughter felt that Shonku lacks the human contact and stays a legendary superhero. In the final story Saptaparnee, after studying that his buddy Jeremy Saunders has liver most cancers and two months left to reside, Shonku sends the Miracurall drug to Jeremy. So far so good.

Shonku will get fearful when he doesn’t hear from Jeremy: “Doesn’t Miracurall work in cancer then? Then the name of the medicine has to be changed!”

For Shonku, the effectiveness of his medication and its title are extra necessary than his buddy’s treatment. My daughter was clearly harm by the scientist’s impersonal angle. For right this moment’s era, Shonku’s Bengaliness just isn’t sufficient. They will dissect Ray’s super-scientist character with a razor-sharp ethical knife.

Satyajit Ray's cover for one of the first Professor Shonku books.

Science fiction ought to be an ideal mix of science and fiction. Ray’s Shonku is extra of the creation of an artist. Shonku gives outward descriptions of his discoveries, however the lack of element is placing. While I used to be amazed at Shonku’s tales as a baby, my daughter feels discomfited by lots of Shonku’s splendid discoveries. Of course, right this moment’s youngsters are rather more educated and probably extra delicate too. My daughter is kind of uncomfortable with the Annihillin pistol. She feels that no human ought to possess such a damaging weapon.

Professor Shonku could be a magical genius, however he’s not fairly the lovely hero. His innovations stay insignificant as a result of their non-reproducibility, even inside the area of science fiction. And but, the wildly imaginative world of this bizarre professor continues to be magical. As the famend Bengali actor Victor Banerjee has commented, “Shonku’s worlds are an enthralling escape, a consummation, in a sea of troubles, devoutly to be wishes.”

Is this magic generation-specific? Will the following era inherit our ardour for Satyajit Ray’s superhero Bengali scientist? We do have an inclination in the direction of weirdness and eeriness. I’m nonetheless on the lookout for the reply.

The author is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

Also learn:

Satyajit Ray’s Professor Shonku and his lost project ‘The Alien’

How Satyajit Ray, Premendra Mitra and two others wrote a science fiction story jointly for the radio

Adrish Bardhan single-handedly put science-fiction in the Bengali reader’s imagination

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