I grew up reading ‘Tuntunir Boi’, ‘Chotoder Ramayan’, ‘Chotoder Mahabharat’ and ‘Sekaler Kotha’ among a few dozen other books. It was right then that I developed the irrevocable love for reading and a knack for writing. Well, I do have a lot to thank the remarkably gifted popular Bengali litterateur for.
Born as Kamadaranjan Roy in a little village called Moshua in Eastern Bengal, Upendrakisore Roy Chowdhury(1863-1915) grew up to be a multi faceted genius. He might even be the Hans Christian of Bengali literature. Apart from being the author of a myriad of children’s stories, he was also a musician, an artist and a man of science.
Though Upendra spent most of his adult life in Kolkata, the lush green fields and the serene dream-like streams of his childhood home remained etched in his mind. He passed the Entrance examination with a scholarship from Mymensingh Zilla School. He studied for a while at Presidency University but finally passed his BA examination from the Calcutta Metropolitan Institution(now Vidyasagar College).His first literary work was published in the magazine Sakha in 1883.
Upendrakishore had immense linguistic expertise. Fluent in Persian, English and British Indian Legal system, he became a pivotal force in interpreting old land deeds written in Persian. Thus, he got the best possible deals for the landowners from the newly introduced British legal system in India. In due course, he became affluent and his family had enough to afford two elephants.
One of the greatest sons of Bengal, he played the pakhawaj and the violin, wrote folklore and was an active member of the Brahmo Samaj that spearheaded the cultural rejuvenation of Bengal. In the later part of his life, he engaged with the Tagore family to improve the art and culture of the society and take it to a global level.
Upendrakishore was also the pioneer of Bengali printing industry. He was the main brain behind the half tone block making. He prepared various diaphragms, ray-screen adjusters by research and became the inventor of diotype and ray-print process. Later, he started one of the best publishing houses in Kolkata named ‘U. Ray & Sons’.
Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury launched the first children’s magazine in India, called Sandesh. A lover of double entendre, he kept the name after the popular Bengali sweetmeat which in Sanskrit means ‘news’. After his death, the mantle of publishing went to his son Sukumar Ray, the famous writer who ably handled it all. After Sukumar Ray’s death it was managed by Upendrakishore’s grandson Satyajit Ray, the renowned filmmaker. Presently, Sandip Ray, son of Satyajit Ray is the editor of Sandesh.
His prominent works include ‘Sohaj Behala Shikkha’, ‘Sikhak Batorike Harmonium’, ‘Chheleder Mohabharot’, ‘Chheleder Ramayon’, ‘Tuntunir Boi’ and the fantasy ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’.He did most of the illustrations of his books himself. My favourite story has always been ‘Tuntuni ar Beral er Goppo’ (The story of the tailor bird and a cat).It is a tale of a cat (Hulo), who wanted to kill the tailor bird and her nestlings, and how he failed in his attempt. His other famous short stories are ‘Othoi joler Rajpuri, ‘Paji Peter’, ‘Kujo are Voot’, ‘Paka Folar’, ’Fulpori’,’Ghaghasur’,’Banor Rajputra’,’Lal Suto are Nil Suto, etc. Even after 150 years since his birth, his tales never fail to weave a magical spell and transform its readers to the land of dreams.