What world was beyond my reach when I sank into those pages?
Satyajit Ray was probably my first intellectual crush. I don't merely mean I crushed on his films (which I did) or his writing (which I totally did) – I mean he was the first writer/intellectual type who I one hundred percent had the hots for.
At the beginning, I just had the writer-hots for him. Feluda was my imaginary-dude crush for ages, and the arrival of the Puja Barshiki issues of Desh and Anandamela were eagerly awaited events for me. Desh's puja issue always carried a new Feluda and Anandamela carried a new Professor Shonku. February's Ekushey Boimela was when I would try to save up, never have enough, and resort to begging and pleading with my parents so I could buy the same novels in book form.
Both Feluda and Shonku were types that I had already encountered in English language fiction: The steely private eye and the eccentric scientist, forever getting embroiled in shenanigans of all sorts, alongside their inevitable sidekicks. Except that both of them, their milieus, were very Bengali; Bengali of a different sort, from opar Bangla, for sure, but Bengali without doubt. And while they were firmly entrenched in Kolkata and Giridhi, they ranged the world: From Kathmandu to Hong Kong to Brazil to El Dorado. What world was beyond my reach when I sank into those pages?
My only objection was that the worlds I saw were very much the world of men; my immersion was never complete.
Then, at some point, I found out he was a filmmaker. A marvelous one. In an unparalleled act of bravery, during Ershad's reign, BTV aired Hirak Rajar Deshe, his satire about tyranny and state oppression. The next day, we were all humming one or the other of the tunes from the movie. One of my mamas taped the film – this was an era when the most advanced device in a middle-class Bangladeshi household was a cassette recorder. We had no other access to Hirak Rajar Deshe beyond that one showing on television – but within a week, we were reciting entire scenes, every rhyming couplet, from the film verbatim due to those cassettes.
We soon managed to hunt down Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne: Between the two of them, these films opened my ears to Bangla music beyond the Pancha Kabi, the five master song lyricists and composers.
Through the years I moved on to Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Mahanagar, Charulata, Parashpathar, Devi, Sonar Kella, Joy Baba Felunath. I didn't like Nayak – mostly because I found Sharmila Tagore a little nyaka. And yeah, Soumitro was an okay Feluda – Satyajit himself would have been perfect. Ray was, I think, the first celebrity for whom I wept; his death seemed a personal loss.
A few years ago, I found a translated collection of his stories in our public library system and filed a request. When I picked it up, the librarian issuing it paused for a moment, looked at me as if about to say something, and then shook his head. I asked if anything was wrong. He said, "No, for a moment I thought … this writer has the exact same name as my favorite director. But it's a different guy. This is a YA book. Can't be him. He's like a legend of classic cinema, you know?"
I loved blowing the dude's mind telling him about Feluda, Professor Shonku, the spine-chilling and whimsical short stories, Ray's revival of the children's magazine Sandesh originally founded by his grandfather Upendrakishore Ray, Ray's illustrious lineage, and also about the fabulous Hirak Rajar Deshe. The only thing I didn't tell him was how, when I was a teenager, I had found an interview with him with photos, and how that was the first time I actually saw what Satyajit Ray looked like, and how my teenage heart fell for him, and how I cut out the interview and pretended it was because I was profoundly so interested in his thoughts on cinema but really it was just so I could gaze at his face dreamily whenever I wanted and sigh, sigh, sigh.
He's still a hottie. Happy birthday, Manikda!
Shabnam Nadiya is a fiction writer and translator.