The beginning of an adventure
Penned down by Satyajit Ray, the first story of Feluda, Danger in Darjeeling was first published in Bengali in Sandesh, a children’s periodical founded by Satyajit Ray’s grandfather, Upendrakishore Chowdhury, in 1965. Turning fifty in 2015, Feluda continues to charm and allure young and adult readers alike as it first did. Inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Satyajit Ray’s beloved sleuth, Ray decided to create a similar figure in Feluda for children. In Ray’s own words, “To write a whodunit while keeping in mind a young readership is not an easy task, because the stories have be kept ‘clean’. No illicit love, no crime passionel, and only a modicum of violence”. However, as the popularity of Feluda augmented and the stories were filmed and adapted for a wider audience, the violence increased and Ray’s concern to retain only “modicum of violence” went unheeded.
Depiction of Feluda
Depicted as a single man of twenty-seven years, with 6’2 height and an athletic figure, Pradosh C. Mitter aka Feluda is an urbane Bengali gentleman with keen observation and razor-sharp mind who, unlike Sherlock Holmes, is an everyman who can be found in every Bengali household.
Narrated by Feluda’s cousin, Tapesh Ranjan Mitra, thirteen and a half years old, the stories retain a child-like simplicity and curiosity. As Watson to Sherlock, Tapesh is to Feluda and like Watson he records Feluda’s adventures faithfully. Inquisitive and eager, Tapesh shadows Feluda everywhere and is often chided by him for his naivety, however, Feluda’s behavior is never condescending; rather their conversations bring repartee and banter often found in filial relationships. As stated by Gopa Majumdar, “Every child who read Sandesh could see himself – or, for that matter, herself-in Topshe. Herein lay Ray’s greatest strength. Feluda came, saw and conquered chiefly because each case was seen and presented through the eyes of an adolescent.” Unlike Byomkesh Bakshi, whose chronicles contained more adult themes like illicit sex, drugs, and gory murder; the stories of Feluda are primarily written for children and adolescents as himself stated by Satyajit Ray in the opening of The Mystery of Nayan, “Don’t forget Topshe writes my stories mainly for adolescents”.
Is Feluda’s prominence withering today?
In the age of social media and internet, the methods employed by Feluda to solve mysteries looks dated, nonetheless, like Sherlock, Poirot, Perry Mason; the mysteries penned by Ray have a timeless quality to them.
Rather than losing its popularity, Feluda’s following continues to soar; the adventures of Feluda transport the readers to the old world which is still untouched by modern gadgets and where Feluda only relies on his grey cells and abundant knowledge to solve crimes.
Ingeniously plotted, Feluda stories continues to daze a generation of readers and as stated by Yasodhara Rakshit in an interview, Feluda “has served as an inner sanctum of interesting and quirky factoids, of fascinating individuals as antagonists and a journey to far-off locales without moving an inch from my reading space in the attic during my summer holidays.”
Although the essence of the original text is often lost in translation; the translation of Feluda stories into English by Gopa Mazumdar, published by Penguin has managed to preserve the simplicity and innocence of the exploits first recorded by Satyajit Ray fifty years ago. Revisiting Feluda as an adult is an experience in itself and therefore, I have decided to review every story as it appeared chronologically and henceforth, I am going to update this review as I will progress with the stories.
Dangers in Darjeeling:
Featuring Feluda for the first time along with his cousin, Tapesh, “Feludar Goendagiri” (English title “Danger in Darjeeling”) was written by Satyajit Ray in 1965-66 and published in Sandesh. Tapesh, also the narrator who records Feluda’s feats throughout, brings first detective case to Feluda and thus, marking the beginning of Feluda’s adventures. First, of the two stories of Feluda set in Darjeeling, it is a relatively small tale written in a simple and lucid language.
The story revolves around Rajen Majumdar, an established lawyer who is now retired and settled in Darjeeling. Threatening his peace and solitude, Rajen Majumdar receives a letter propounding that he will be punished soon for misdeeds of his past. Feluda and Tapesh investigate the matter. Feluda, deploying his acute sharp observation skills impresses the readers as soon as he arrives on the scene and begins to unravel the mystery behind the letter. Like Sherlock Holmes, he applies the power of deduction to find the culprit, “All the nails are new. So Rajen Babu’s passion for antiques must have developed only recently”, “However, I didn’t know then that you smoked. Now, looking at your slightly yellowish fingerprints, I can be totally sure.”
In keeping with the Holmesian narrative style, Feluda explains to Tapesh about things that might be beyond his comprehension, “Feluda told me afterwards that a curio was a rare and ancient object of art.”
The story firmly announces the arrival of Feluda on the Bengali detective scene which remains there for the next twenty five years.
The Emperor’s Ring
Written during 1966-67 and first published in 1969 in Sandesh as Badshahi Aangti, the novella takes the readers to yet another adventure of Feluda and Topshe. Set in Lucknow, The Emperor’s Ring begins with Topshe and Feluda traveling to Lucknow for a vacation where they find yet another mystery surrounding the stolen ring which once belonged to Emperor Aurangzeb. Feluda begins to investigate the case. Traveling to Laxmanjhoola from Lucknow with various suspects and characters in disguise, Feluda finally solves the case much to Topshe’s delight, “I thought quietly to myself: if anyone had emerged a winner in this whole business truly like an emperor, it was none other than Feluda.”
As the novella was published exactly a year after the publication of Danger in Darjeeling, the young Topshe again introduces his young readers to his sleuth cousin; although this time he offers more details about the character of Feluda. As this is only the second story/ novella in the series, the author develops the character of Feluda to an extent, “Some people think him crazy, some say he is only eccentric, others call him just plain lazy. But I happen to know that few men of his age possess his intelligence. And, if finds a job that interests him, he can work harder than anyone I know.” However, as the series progresses, the reader also notices the blind unquestioning devotion that Topshe develops towards Feluda, “I sent up a silent prayer for Feluda. Dear God, don’t let the police win. Let it be Feluda who finds the ring. May the full credit go to him, not the police.” Unlike Watson, Topshe rarely questions Feluda.
The story moves on a rapid pace and the author not only focuses on resolving the mystery but also on geography and history of Lucknow.
The readers get acquainted with interesting details like “You do know, don’t you, that in the ancient times Lucknow was known was Laxmanavati”, “Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula built this palace. He wanted it to outshine all the buildings in Agra and Delhi…It may not be as beautiful as some of the other Mughal buildings, but it is certainly the number one as far as the size of a palace goes…”
Written in simple and plain language, The Emperor’s Ring is an entertaining read and Feluda quite skilfully maintains the mystery surrounding the ring till the end.
To be continued…