"NOT TO HAVE SEEN THE CINEMA OF RAY means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon,” Akira Kurosawa once said—rather an overblown compliment, but my adult self would end up agreeing. However, to the Bengali child—or even a half-Bengali one like me, who grew up between cities and languages—Satyajit Ray meant much more than his films. His prolific output as a writer and illustrator, targeted largely at children and young adults, forged a very different connection with young Bangla readers than the ‘serious’ cinema for which he is known worldwide. And though I read Bangla slowly, my father, patiently reading aloud to me through family holidays and long train journeys, made sure I was introduced to Ray through his stories—and, because I would first hungrily flip through the books that were going to be read to me—through his illustrations.
These black-and-white illustrations spanned the whole range of his popular literary creations—the detective Pradosh C Mitter, whose crisply Anglicised surname is the perfect foil for the informal Bengali daaknaam by which he is better known, Feluda; the eccentric scientist Professor Shonku, whose unbelievable globetrotting sci-fi adventures come to us via a diary discovered after he’s taken off in a space rocket; and old Tarini Khuro (uncle), whose fantastic tales, traversing romantic historical settings from colonial Lucknow to the palaces of penurious Maharajas, are invariably told over a steaming cup of tea, with his younger self cast in a starring role. Illustrations also appeared alongside the many independent short stories, published 12 at a time in anthologies bearing names like Aaro Baaro (Twelve More) and Aaro Ek Dojon (And Another Dozen).