Political Economy Of ‘Aboltabol’

The Sense of Sukumar Ray’s Non-Sense Verses

Debasish Paul

[The core value judgements of every society change as both man and his environment continuously metamorphose over time but the classics do not lose their appeal. 'Aboltabol' of Sukumar Ray has earned the status of modern classic. The present article tries to explore the attributes of this best seller in acquiring that status. It is a multilayered literature and a unique kind of word cartoon which had humourous presentation of long relevant reality. A good humour is often a twisted artistic criticism of reality, an instrument of protest but arousing laughter for twisted presentation. It is a rational approach to irrationality.]

Since man is a political animal, as said by Greek Philosopher Plato, all his activities in specific intellectual works are socio-politically manifest in particular in their art and literature which are products of prominent realities and at the same time the classics politically affect over the political economy of his time, society and place. 'Aboltabol' is a rational approach to irrationality. Concept of rationality changes over time. Sukumar in his non-sense verses & with their vivid illustrations exposed the contemporary reality in his non-imitable manner with manipulation of reality instead of photographic reproduction, with overt humourous profile but covert intelligent ideas in inner layers. So it needs second thought while studying Sukumar's non-sense verses signifying their appeal more vivid with his own illustration.

‘Aboltabol’ was a compilation of Sukumar's verses published already in monthly 'Sandesh'and Sukumar's last work in death bed while suffering long in Kala Azar just one year before invention of its medicine by Upendranath Brahmochary.

Satyajit Ray, Sukumar's son became editor after a phase of hibernation of the monthly publication after early death of father with help of the leftist poet Late Subhas Mukhopadhyay had revived the inherited multicolour illustrated family published children & teen-agers' journal 'Sandesh'.

Satyajit had his own rigorous approach to concept of fantasy. He commented on one of his scrutinized &cancelled fictional manuscript of fantasy submitted by a writer for selection and publication in 'Sandesh'—'A work of fantasy should have all details of reality'. His father Sukumar Ray was a vibrant young man with skill of handling reality by his unconventional literary power enriched with a prominent enlightened social company. He belonged to the leading up & doing intellectuals of his time from senior Rabindranath Tagore to Prasanta Chandra Mahalanabis of his same generation. Like his father Upendra Kishor Ray,the founder of 'Sandesh', Sukumar had carried forward the advancing pattern of contemporary children literature so far mostly obsessed with religious 'Purana' origin episodes.

Hence this article explores the background of reality of rhymes of fantasy. As well known, 'Aboltabol' was a compilation of rhymes with some illustrations published in 'Sandesh'& some freshly drawn by ailing Sukumar with help of wife Suprova Ray and aunt Lila Majumdar for the book 'Aboltabol'. It is often assumed that his creations of fantasy was influenced by precursor Lewis Carrol's (PenName) 'Alice in Wonderland' based on an inverted world of reality by this eminent professor of Mathematics,-the mother of all sciences which is strictly based on most particular philosophy of reality.

Since Sukumar was very much conscious of choice of medium to communicate his message conveyeing inherent lampooning of contemporary reality with his apparent motive of entertaining the children & teen age readers, he selected non-sense humour to compose his multilayered writings in order to reach the widest readers from children to adults. At his time, the basic technology of printing also in local language was an inexpensive mass media, being quickly popular while hastened its reach in India by force of the colonial presence of British occupancy of India accompanied by Church to disseminate Christianity.

Printing in Bengali font was quite in fast track initiated by father William Carrey in church yard of Serampore quite near to Calcutta publishing books for serious readers not as a business venture and very soon places like Battola in north Kolkata proper which was initially urbanized ,emerged as centre of non-textual commercial Bengali writings as business. Though for crash commercialism, a large part of the Battola publications were erotic and sometimes vulgar, religious books like Matvagabat Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharata and the like Indian religious classics & epics were also published from Battola. Battola publication of Almanac in Bengali called annual 'Ponjika' also was the most popular product bought by almost every literate Bengali families. Ponjika compiled a brahminical commandments on entire Hindu community endorsing all conventional rituals passed on as Hindu Religious Acts providing priest Brahmins round the year handsome earning opportunities in Hindu households. In 'Aboltabol' one will find an innocent victim who lost his mental balance after visiting an astrologer & was affected by confusing fearsome forecasts of the Astrologer. Even now make believe pseudo science of popular Astrology is a fast money spinner by rank opportunists cashing on fear and greed of common men by Palmistry. Bengali Ponjika of the British period was based on conventional Astrology endorsing each other.

While pen is mightier than sword, printing as inexpensive mass media fortified the power of pen. Installing big home library became fad of Affluent people like breed of British Permanent Settlement Act—the landlord Zamindars, Indian merchants engaged in trade & commerce making windfall gains as dealers of imported modern but cheaper mass-produced commodities by neo-invented steam powered machines churning out industry mass produced consumer goods shipped in India by the British merchants capturing their colonial markets including India.

Sukumar Ray's father, an eminent innovator of Halftone Block improving printing of photographs & multicoloured drawings, founded for children as well teenagers, a Bengali journal namely 'Sandesh'. After his untimely death, the popular journal was in hibernation till Sukumar resumed its publication. Sukumar both edited and had published his own writings in this journal. 'Aboltabol'was a compilation of his writings in 'Sandesh'. Introduction and conclusion in verse in this swan song compilation made his points quite clear.
l   In the introduction Sukumar himself explained the nature of his verse compilation. In contradiction to rationality, he observed a large area of absurdity in human behavior prompted by greed, pride in bookish learning for earning UG & PG degrees and caricature of several human activities with apparent rationality but not conforming to time honoured human values. Thus serious issues of his time were expressed in a funny manner alike 'Alice in Wonderland'.

l   In the first verse titled Khichuri (hotchpotch) Sukumar created animals of non-convergent nature. His son Satyajit Ray, the Oscar Winner for life time achievement, in his indictment of Capitalism in a film 'Jana aranya' depicted a brilliant Shakespearian scholar, enriched in sense of good, bad & ugly. This person later joining in corporate sector, in making career advancement to be board member of a foreign firm, became most inhuman by greed. From his point of view, he did nothing wrong but to his sister-in-law present in his home, a radical economist, he is unable to raise head being caught and thus became a split personality of non-convergent nature. In his book 'Aboltabol' Sukumar edited different animals of his innovation which showed how irreconcilables can be reconciled in the wonder land of 'Aboltabol' subtly criticizing disorder passed on as order in the big bad world of contemporary reality.ln fact human being by nature is a combination of virtues & vices.

l   The second verse is named Kath-Buro (the old wood-man). Here one finds, a self-styled researching wood specialist who has discovered a neo-Botany. It is most relevant topic of his time when Sir J C Bose was discovering startling attributes of plant- life and Sister Nivedita was most active in getting the credit as well patent rights of all these world class discoveries letting no one get again any opportunity to pirate J C Bose's pioneerial discoveries in Botany like functional technical electronic innovations previously in wireless communication in Radio Physics. Sir J C Bose lost his credit to G Marconi for invention of models of Radio or wireless communication. Sukumar's trivialization of Botanical research by a crazy man on his discovery of properties of wood is just a counter point in ridiculous criticism by imperial lobby as funny appreciation of botanical research works of J C Bose. Because India being for two hundred years remained colony of British imperialists, the western world in many cases declined recognition to scientists of colonial origin, knowledge is power, specially in the realm of scientific & technical domains. It would hurt British supremacy in science and technology enriching their war power that was the motive of the then British scientific community serving their imperial interest in discouraging third world science & technology research in all colonies which may in due course evolve into war power. Nivedita was the sentinel against this mean attitude of the west.

It is most unfortunate that NASA being the American centre of their defense research development organization, is mostly populated by third world scientists engaged in scientific research to improve American war power. It also proves that Indian independence was not fully an incident of nationalism which hates imperialism to come back from west.

l   In the rhyme Gofe Churi, a boss in head office is found getting crazy over his loss of moustache. In real life moustache serves no functional purpose of man. But it identifies gender of a man in a patriarchal society which signifies power & authority. University degrees became pedigree after formal British education entered in India subserving the foreign ruler's need of day to day governance & also getting English literate workers to pull up days' works in their merchant firms. Degrees were passports to white collar jobs & symbol of social status. Making time honoured pedegrees of knowledge of ancient Indian Ashrama origin getting lost, Sukumar lampooned the value of British pedegrees as index of level of a job/status aspirants' three 'R' knowledge as the system created cranmers but not creative thinkers and artists of skills. Rabindranath Tagore, the mentor of Sukumar,established Viswabharati as a creative learning centre conferring no degree initially. Later under practical considerations, the Ashramic learning centre became affiliated to Calcutta University at that time conducting Matriculation (school Leaving), UG & PG examinations & conferred certificate/degrees. It must be noted here that Tagore never acquired any of these imperial educational pedegrees. But the clever British ruler awarded him knighthood after Tagore earned Nobel prize as first Asian but still belonging to their empire.

l   In Satpatra Sukumar again lampooned the male chauvinistic values as certifying a worthless fellow as a well chosen groom despite his ridiculous personal and family profile and 19 times failure in school leaving Matriculation examination conducted by Calcutta University of his time as school final threshold to those who intended white collar jobs or higher education. Male is a golden ring, in right or odd shape, this is still a popular norm of gender inequality in this country considered in occasion of marriage. Hence Sukumar marked the worthless fellow as a good groom. Here lies the power of Sukumar to use humour to criticize gender inequality.

l   As Charles Chaplin said that oblique presentation of an intense pain , economic or social; becomes a subject of fun. In his 'Modern Times' in the period of Great Depression in 1930s in USA, he showed an unemployed hungry youth in his desperation to get food & shelter in jail, hurriedly gulped a bread and requested the shop-owner to inform a police who can pave his way to jail. So in the next verse Katakutu Buro who catches a victim to force to laugh at his fictions which are more tragic than comic. Moreover a failure to crack a humour arouses ridicule than laughter.

l   In next verse Ganer Guto there is a narcissistic singer raised the pitch of his song to madden the listeners. Tagore, recognized as first composer of modern Bengali songs which had clear sense from personal to socio-political issues to common men in wide departure from classical songs which were elitist by nature & classical singers were called 'Ostads'. Sukumar as his disciple spread this idea humourously in concluding a mad goat hitting by its horns the singer to scop the crazy nonsense act. Subsequently Bengali modern songs, its origin credited to Rabindranath, became an easy expression of feelings of individual common men and an instrument of collective struggle for freedom movement among mass &radical social change conceived by leftist people among whom Salil Chowdhury popularized mass singing on the then all burning issues of his time.

l   The next verse Khuror Kol had the allure of consumerism expressed as an invention of a funny machine that can infinitely tantalise men especially by tasty food which has quality of instant gratification. According to recent advances in Neurological science, pressure of greed on mind is like the psychedelic drugs which make a man run after material achievement while centre of Euphoria remains in dynamic happy state with increasing wealth & achievement. In animal world, man is distinguished by amassing wealth just to sustain state of Euphoria prompting greed and cementing a feel of superiority over others.

l   The next verse titled Lorai Khyapa lampoons war mongerness as a lunatic act while people live in a world where for its material interest, state glorifies war. It is for two world wars, USA became richest economy as major producer of war weapons but completely remaining unhurt itself in its territory. In today's world, war is stoked by statesmen in order to patronize war industries. Science and technology of space expedition is a sublimation of Missile innovation being the most deadly among war machinery. The recent Mars research expense of India is that classical muscle flexing of aspiring super power in competition with China, the neighbouring super power, while the once leading 20th century super powers led by USA& USSR are reeling under crisis of decline.

l   Kumropotas commands like a autocratic state which misuses its sovereign power. The fat profile is a cartoon of wealth to identify the rich ruling class. Wealth gives power over native and international community. Anyone familiar with Pyramid of motivation knows that power to dictate others' lives is in the pick of the is normal that super rich were pot bellied like pumpkin in days of Sukumar. Slimming centres patronized by nastily rich now-a-days, were not even conceived in that period.

l   Baburam Sapurey is most vivid description of people who want to earn glory of a class of hero by hitting safe targets. Long days thereafter when Satyajit Ray was accused of not making overtly political films, he answered in a befitting manner that he is not one who wants to earn fame by hitting safe targets.

l   Sabdhan is a caricature of self-appointed guardians of society who still run Salicy/Kangaroo court exercising judicial powers under religious garb sponsored by vested interests that baton earlier handled by religious power centres in remote villages has been passed on to political parties in power all over India reeling under political anarchy where killers are rulers

l   Haturey depicts the prowess of a quack doctor who claims to have right panacea over all kinds of illness and even claims to be a surgeon to operate all kinds of illness. After foundation of first Medical College, Calcutta in 1835, the quack doctors appeared claiming their knowledge of modern Alopathic medicine as well surgery and they started making a quick buck which is still a grim reality in the countryside, killing downtrodden people rather than curing the patients reposing faith on them due mainly having no means due to chill penury to go to properly qualified doctors claiming hefty fees and conducting expensive tests. India still lacks proper public health care which may have been prompted by medical vested interests to make illness a good opportunity to make a quick fortune in rural private clinics or swanky private corporate hospitals in urban islands of affluence.

l   Chhayabazi fantasised midday peddlers in streets of newly urbanized British 'Calcutta'. They were selling magic cure batch of medical essentials for the households of fascinating novel fortified qualities. While in those days most women were non-earning housewives but were fond of doorstep purchase. Quack medicines being no-nonsense drug products of dubious origin were brought by peddlers who pampered the female buyer- inmates allowed to indulge in haggling in further sweetening the deal.

l   Bhuturey Khela humourously cashed on popular myth on goblin (Bhuter Phaki) in completely humanized mother-child version with an intention to eliminate all fears built upon goblin from children minds as target readers.

l   In Hat Ganana Sukumar hit the myth of Astrology which as well Swami Vivekananda accused Astrology for weakening mind or pampering greed of much too ambitious. Some myths die hard. Astrologers even today are making booming business stoking aspiration of rich and some dim wit men who have lost their mental strength amidst various personal level crisis.

l   Thikana, Bigyan Shiksa & Note Book were sketches on arche-type of Bengali Adda (Ren dez vous) where dada of each lane or by-lane dominated by big talks of knowing everything. Inspired by Sukumar, Prof Narayan Gangopadhyay with his idol of enormous prowess dominating in Ren dez vous configured in famous 'Tenida' & Sri Premendra Mitra with his 'Ghanada' episodes enriched Bengali children and teenage literature. But their readers were also grown up adults.

l   Tyas goru the verse lampooned the office goers with very little functional knowledge of English emerged as a priviliged middle class 'Babu' mostly who were clerks in British govt. services and merchant firms but in secure jobs of newborn service sector in India as against rain, flood & drought dependent agriculture and the majority of poor Indians who were peasants at that time. This middle class was most loyal to British and not much eager for freedom of India at the maiden period of British rule.

| Paloan was a gymkhana pampered man of inconceivable physical power in inimitable style of Sukumar. There are still channels like WWW which shows enormously big & fat men and women fighting in ring arena in fascinating children of today. Most video games are war games of incredibly violent nature glorifying brute power. Power has had always fascinated human being in personal, social, political and above all in international arena. Superpower aspirations of states like UK, Germany caused two world wars. A third world war is possibly emerging. Peace is a far cry in human domain. That is 'Aboltabol'.

Vol. 47, No. 18, Nov 9 - 15, 2014