My younger brother, also a journalist, is now in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, in the quest to pick up the trails of the famous Bengali private detective called Pradosh Mitter, or, better known to millions of fans as, simply, Feluda.
Permit me to refresh your memory: The haunting surrounds of the Jaisalmer Fort was the setting of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda adventure titled Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), which was also made into a film in 1974, starring Soumitra Chatterjee as the Charminar-smoking Bengali private eye.
Every year, Feluda fans go there to experience the setting of an unforgettable adventure and, perhaps, to place themselves in the shoes of the famous Bengali gumshoe. My brother’s visit opened up a floodgate of memories and also reinforced our passion for Ray’s immortal character, who has not lost any of his charm despite the crumbling of almost all socialist values in a time of untamed opulence plus conspicuous consumption.
This enduring cachet of Feluda triggered some sociological thoughts. Ray possibly envisaged that, despite the rapid transformations in society plus evolving of values, with fiction taking in heavy doses of fantasy, the allure of a rather plain role will retain attraction simply because his protagonist will always be a hero within the comprehension of the common person.
If we compare Feluda with other fictional heroes, both local and international, we see that almost all the others have a certain detachment from real life. Either they are using mind-blowing gadgets or driving expensive cars or dressing impeccably in the finest brands.
In contrast, Pradosh Mitter is often portrayed as a guy who we can all relate to -- a man who takes crime solving as a passion, living in a middle-class apartment, having no car of his own, with buying books his main extravagance.
Taking out this character from the crime-thriller setting, we find that such people, with a little Bohemian outlook, are all around us -- the high thinking and moderate living kind.
When Ray, an avid socialist himself, created Feluda, he subconsciously made a detective who is an image of himself -- a well read, soft spoken, courteous man with artistic impulses and a curious mind, but hardly one that aspired to flaunt material possessions.
The competition in the fictional world was tough because Feluda had competitors who were unabashed symbols of capitalist consumerism. Today, even more than two decades after the fall of communism, the magnetism of Feluda survives and manages to create new fans.
To be very honest, James Bond now appears to be a little farcical, with the latest films becoming more like celluloid features aimed at promoting merchandise. Buying a £2,000 suit from Brioni, driving an Aston Martin, and sipping martinis at a plush hotel are, for many, still dreams worth running after, but for a lot of others, they’re a bit over the top, perhaps a little frivolous too.
Feluda became more realistic to us than someone ordering pate de foie gras
Fictional characters always have some connection with the real world in the sense how global political events often impact the public acceptance of a fictional hero and his adventures. During the Cold War, with mind-boggling shenanigans on both sides, 007 could claim to have relevance, but in the current setting, with the world facing human suffering of mammoth proportions, all that high-flying stuff may seem a little facetious.
But not Feluda, because he was never the extravagant type, spending millions in a casino, and then, casually taking the femme fatale to the hotel room for a wild night with the song “Nobody does it better” playing in the background.
Interestingly, Feluda managed to remain popular despite having no major female roles in it and certainly no love interest for the main character. Goes to show, sex is not always on the readers’ mind; a solidly entertaining yarn with things that most of us can relate to is equally thrilling.
Therefore, Feluda, munching hot shingaras or having khichuri with chicken curry became more realistic to us than someone ordering pate de foie gras or smoked Lochmuir salmon plus a bottle of Dom Perignon.
Pradosh Mitter is the quintessential Bengali private eye, and that’s been the key to his never-declining magnetism.
He has a revolver, a licensed sidearm, bequeathed by his father, which again is also credible. By the way, Feluda was only seen using up his full six bullets in Joy Baba Felunath, whereas, other heroes almost wage World War Three.
It does not matter that he takes a lift now and then in the car of his friend, the writer, Lalmohan Ganguli or Jotau; in fact, this only adds to make the stories more real and plausible.
Then, there is the unwritten presence of the very Bengali habit -- adda or chatting in a friendly atmosphere for hours, working as a potent catalyst for the delicious build-up of thrill in Feluda books and films, also being made now by Satyajit’s son, Sandip Ray.
We get a remarkable sense of camaraderie in these plots, the power of friendship between three people, which, again, any Bengali can relate to.
In a world where glitz and glamour seem to be omnipresent, a socialist hero, with very Spartan predilections, still manages to stir us, and that’s exactly why, my brother’s first line in front of the Jaisalmer Fort, known as the Sonar Kella, was: Feluda, I am here ... Can you hear me?
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.