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    A Brief Essay on Poet Sukumar Ray

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    About the works and illustration by Sukumar Ray.

    Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta, is the birthplace of various remarkable and noteworthy Indians. Their works and contribution towards the society that was under the imperial British rule is worth mentioning. In the field of art, literature, cinema, sports, politics and other things a lot of notable Indians could be found like Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Ritwik Ghatak, Mahatma Gandhi etc., and one of them was poet Sukumar Ray. 

    Sukumar Ray
    © Wikipedia /
    Sukumar Ray

    Sukumar Ray, (30th October 1887 – 10th September 1923) born in Kolkata was a genius ahead of his time.

    His works portray humour created out of ordinary day to day activities of common people and projecting the underneath human psyche and its various aspects with its relation to the society.

    The art of presentation of his works has been done in such an intelligent way that readers not only get a great amount of happiness in reading the lines penned down by him, but they also get a fair idea of 19th century Bengal in its many forms.

    The diverse qualities of not only humans but also animals have been presented in such a way that allows the reader to feel that the animals are not something entirely ‘different’ from humans.

    He has been very successful in making the readers feel that the animals, birds and even insects share some amount of similarity with human nature and behaviour; in doing so he not only makes a child love a creature that is not human but the child does not at all think of it as a mere object for caging, poaching or eating.

    Love for animals has been preached in his works in a very interesting and sublime way where the animals have human like qualities embedded in their larger animalistic nature. The presentation of such idea in the form of poems, rhymes, articles and stories with appealing illustrations has been a masterpiece by Ray. The mood and attitude of his characters in various situations are reflected in his works in a very humorous, engaging and enthralling way.  He was not only a talented author but also a genius in creating illustrations with the magic of transcending a reader visually into the amusing world of the written poems, stories and plenty of other things.

    The works of Sukumar Ray have been mostly acknowledged as works for children but his works also have underlying meanings beneath the colorful horizon of rhythmic words decorated with his superb illustrations.  

    Although Upendrakishore Ray, Sukumar Ray’s father was himself a versatile writer and used illustrations in his compositions for children, Sukumar Ray, as an illustrator, was also one of the first Bengali or rather the first Indian poets to use illustrations profoundly to depict a story. Today, there is a huge market of graphic novels, comics and illustrated children’s book in India and all over the world but Ray used this technique a little more than hundred and fifty years ago in his compositions.

    The idea of present day, ‘mutants’ and ‘talking animals’ could be found in his humorous poetry. Can he be called the forerunner of the modern day graphic novels in India that are so much in demand in today’s world? No other Indian other than Sukumar Ray in his time had shown so much mastery in illustrated stories. His famous composition ‘AbolTabol’ was published after his death.

    He was a great visionary and daring artist to create a new form and new way of presentation that was both rich in content and form and was also in a different track from the hegemonic traditions of writing serious fiction and non-fiction prevalent in his time. Ray’s illustrations even without the stamp of his name hold the same standard as some of the best illustrations meant for comics and storyboarding in the present time. His sense of anatomy, caricature, expressions, actions and proportions are no less than a master’s work.

    Not only his rhymes but his articles and stories on animals hold a very positive approach in connecting and identifying oneself as a human with other non-humans for the greater cause of animal-human harmony and balance. His narrative approach is simple to understand not only for children but also for the adults’ enjoyment.

    The superb use of humour, use of words and metaphors, portraying the similarity of certain aspects of human nature with the animals can be found in essays on animals like ‘Loraibaajjanowar’ (Battle loving animal), ‘AdbhutKankra’ (Strange Crab)and plenty of other essays. The narrative of ‘AdbhutKankra’ (Strange Crab) is so witty and appealing that a reader can’t stop enjoying reading an otherwise informative essay on crab habitat and its way of life.

    He has been highly successful in his commitment of presenting animals as a friend and not something purely inhuman and dangerous. Children get to know various things about the animal and plant kingdom from Ray’s compositions, that breaks away the preconceived notion of ‘otherness’ that has always been associated with fear, ignorance and surprise with respect to animals and the wild nature.

    Children, after learning about the nature of the various animals not only don’t remain ignorant of them but they also develop a loving and compassionate approach towards the animals.

    Ray’s plays’ employs simple and not much of ornamental words. But his narrative technique is unique. He can hold the suspense and thrill in every line right from the beginning until the end in his humorous compositions. One of his masterpieces is “AbakJalpan” (abak- surprising, Jalpan – consuming drinking water). In this play we find such artistic presentation that it holds the reader’s attention and make him feel engaged and wait with thrill for the subsequent lines.

    His plays, like his poetry, take the content from ordinary daily activities and stories of common people. A reader neither gets tensed nor bored while reading his work. Another of Ray’s remarkable masterpiece is of course ‘LakhanerShaktishel’ in which he presented the Epic ‘The Ramayana’, in a humorous and different light.

    It has been said that Sukumar’s poems are meant for kids as well as for adults as they bring not only enjoyment but also relieves stress and makes the person happy. His poem ‘Danpite’ (Naughty) deals with a naughty boy and his mischiefs. The language and imagery used in the narrative reminds us of household parents describing the mischief of their beloved wards.

    The poems have a universal appeal and the characters can be any character from any family; most kids and parents can relate their day to day family lives in these poems. Another poems is ‘Bhoyepeo nah’(Don’t be afraid) which has a strange kind of animal that is both funny, witty and dangerous at the same time.

    Not only his writings but his illustrations are equally of marvellous quality and deserves equal respect. Ray was a visionary to create illustrations in written composition to enrich the reading effect. Unfortunately, his illustrations do not get enough attention as other artists of modern time, but, the standard and style of the illustrations are of international quality.

    Anant Pai, Pran Kumar Sharma were two great Indian artists who paved the way for Indian graphic novel and comics industry, but we should never forget that Sukumar Ray who might not have got the opportunity in his short lifetime to produce any comic series, was the first to use such high quality illustrations in the context of West Bengal and India. Satyajit Ray has been much influenced by the works of his genius father as Sukumar Ray was influenced and inspired by his father Upendrakishore Ray.

    Ray never got any remarkable international appreciation or glory during his lifetime, but his contribution to Bengali literature; Bengali magazines and various societies formed by him were appreciated by Rabindranath Tagore and other contemporary intellectuals who are renowned all over the world.

    He was also a member of Brahmo Samaj. Even in the present time, his genius and capabilities are stranded in a certain level and do not get much appreciation for his artistic capabilities in terms of illustration in comparison to other illustrators those who are given due respect and recognition for creating a new style or way of representing things. After all, it’s not easy to create humour out of ordinary daily activities and present it in such a way that will retain the interest of the readers and bring smile on their faces.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.


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