Centenary celebration of Ray | Sunday Observer

Centenary celebration of Ray

12 June, 2021

3 Rays: Stories From Satyajit Ray
Edited by Sandip Ray
Published by Penguin Random House

Satyajit Ray, an Indian – Bengali filmmaker and one of the greatest cinematographers of the 20th century was born on May 2, 1921. So, to mark his centenary birth anniversary Penguin Random House India published a special edition as 3 Rays: Stories from Satyajit Ray. It is, in fact, the first book in The Penguin Ray Library series to showcase the brilliance of this Renaissance man. And though it is introduced as Stories from Satyajit Ray, it contains poems, autobiographical writings, translations and illustrations apart from more than forty stories by him. The most important thing is that all the stories in it, are new and previously unpublished ones.

According to the foreign media 3 Rays is considered as the most anticipated book on the centenary birth anniversary of Satyajit Ray. Already many critics have commented on the book, and a poet, lyricist and Indian film-maker Gulzar said “3 Rays is like exploring the Mother Earth, and finding the rare treasures.”

The volume offers a unique glimpse into Ray’s creative mind while they give much delight for the reader.

The Content

The book has four sections apart from a foreword by Sandip Ray, the son of Satyajit. The first section titled Satyajit translates Upendrakishore and includes eight chapters along with one essay on Upendrakishore.

Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury is, in fact, Satyajit’s grandfather. So the eight chapters, rather eight stories were written by Upendrakishore and translated by Satyajit. Next, we find a second section where Satyajit translates Sukumar (Sukumar Ray) which includes one chapter on Sukumar and fifteen chapters – fifteen poems and stories – by Sukumar, all of which are Satyajit’s translations. In the third section, Satyajit translates Satyajit himself and it has nineteen Bengali stories and one chapter titled Satyajit on his literary works, which are also translated by Satyajit. The fourth or the last section is Satyajit’s Original Stories in English which consists of two stories.

The book covers the works of three generations of the Ray family, starting from Upendrakishore to Sukumar to Satyajit, so the title of the book 3 Rays. Its main significance is that it has two original stories written by Ray in English while none of them in their original language have ever been released before in a book.

Unique Sensibility Satyajit Ray’s works offer a unique aesthetic sensibility, so 3 Rays: Stories from Satyajit Ray is an endeavour to capture the brilliance of this Renaissance man and to disseminate the Master’s works to a wide spectrum of readers. The first chapter, Upendrakishore shows reader his ability to say things in a moving, but clear voice: “I have no personal memory of Upendrakishore; and it’s not possible to have any because he passed away six years before my birth.

“The house which he had built on 100, Garpar Road and the same house where he died was also the house where I was born.

My childhood was spent in this house and quite a bit of my growing up years were occupied in one particular portion of the building, within which was housed the U. Ray & Sons printing press.

“What work was being done in that press, how it was being done, how exactly this press was different from the other such presses—I still wasn’t old enough to understand such logistics. Six years after this business had folded up I left Garpar and went to live in Bhawanipore in a completely different milieu.

The only link with U. Ray & Sons that remained was through a few books written by him, a few bound volumes of Sandesh, some of his own drawings and the prints of his paintings.

“As I had not had the fortune to meet Upendrakishore and know him personally, perhaps that was why I tried to discover him through his writings and drawings time and again. This quest for discovery is still on. Thanks to the revival of the Sandesh magazine in the recent past, I have had the opportunity to go through the writings and paintings published during his association with Sandesh, once again in detail.

While studying his works repeatedly I realised that in the way Upendrakishore had captured the spirit of juvenile literature, he remains matchless even today. And the persona that appears through these paintings and writings, is that of a calm yet vivacious, level-headed and dynamic person who is indeed a rare personality.”

The above essay on Upendrakishore was translated into English by Indrani Majumdar.

Impeccable English

The great thing about Satyajit’s writing is that he could write in English as well as in his own mother tongue at the same level. So his stories and his translations in English are very enjoyable for highbrow English readers too. The following excerpt is from a story titled Majantali Sarkar. In fact, it’s a folk tale retold by Upendrakishore and translated by Satyajit. Look at his English usage in the translation that attests to the above fact:

“In a village there lived two cats. One lived in the milkman’s cottage. He had cream and butter and cheese to eat. The other lived in the fisherman’s cottage. All he ever got was kicks and blows on his head. The milkman’s cat was fat and went about with his head held high. The fisherman’s cat was nothing but skin and bones. He stumbled when he walked and wondered how he could ever become as fat as the milkman’s cat.

“One day the fisherman’s cat said to the milkman’s cat, ‘Brother, you must come and dine with me tonight.’ “..........”

It’s English is simple, but still it has all the strength to make the reader feel the experience of the story. As Somak Ghoshal mentioned on the Mint Lounge web magazine in his review of the book, “In spite of a number of fine translations by others available in the market, Ray’s craft stands out, not only for his innately polished command over the English language but also his equally excellent grasp over the nuances of his mother tongue.”

Collective work

3 Rays is a collective work — not merely for the treasure trove of texts it contains but also for being a beautifully designed book, studded with graphics and illustrations by the three Rays. When we see Upendrakishore Ray, the eldest of three, he is a gifted illustrator and painter apart from a writer and a publisher. Sukumar Ray is also an illustrator, fiction writer and poet – he mainly wrote nonsense rhymes and Rabindranath Tagore highly admired his unorthodox poetry. And Satyajit Ray is also a fiction writer, publisher, illustrator, calligrapher, music composer, graphic designer and film critic. In this way, the 3 Rays glimpses three art scopes of the Rays through the windows of this fitting tribute.

Sense of Loss

When reading the ‘Rays’ thoroughly, you can seesee a subterranean strain of melancholy between his sentences except for all the excitement that runs through Ray’s stories. The sense of loss is a constant presence in his writing which is a good quality for a talented writer. And he also can vary the writing style according to the experiences he writes in both languages, Bengali and English. So, one can see very gloomy pictures about life at one moment while one can also can see very happy moments at other times..

This is why film-maker Shoojit Sircar said, “Satyajit Ray’s work is like a beautiful scene from nature, and that’s the reason we get lost in his beautiful art.”