Sunday, 4 June, 2023


Mashua’s Ray Family

Zamindars no longer live there. How long had it been since it heard the laughter of a child? How long had it been since it felt the coolness of fresh paint or contained the fragrance of a grand festival? A few dilapidating columns and gates are all that remain of what once was the house of the Zamindars of Mashua. The remaining structures testify of a time when the Mashua’s Ray family was at its peak. The Ray Chowdhury house is situated 31 km from Kishoreganj district town and 8 km from Katiadi upazilla sadar, at the center of the village of Mashua.  Mashua’s Ray family was one of the most creative and influential families of the sub continent. Among the most famous Ray Chowdhurys of Mashua are Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray. They had contributed a lot to shape the Bangla language, literature and Bangalee culture. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury is considered as the father of children’s literature in Bangla language. He is credited for his science articles for children and a variety of other works. One of his younger brothers Saradaranjan Ray introduced cricket in the sub continent through establishing the Dacca College Cricket Club and later the Town Club in Calcutta. Upendrakishore’s son Sukumar Ray is one of the most celebrated rhymesters of Bangla literature. And Sukumar’s only son was the Oscar winner film maker Satyajit Ray. As an author Satyajit Ray pioneered the trend of detective fiction in Bangla literature. The three generations of the Ray family established children’s literature, as a separate section, in Bangla literature. Ardent readers of Bangla literature and choosy viewers of Bangla cinema are well aware that the ancestral home of Upendrakishore, Sukumar and Satyajit is located in Bangladesh. But most don’t know the exact whereabouts. Keeping that in mind,

ahead of the 156th birth anniversary of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury on 10 May and 95th birth anniversary of Satyajit Ray on 2 May, morning tea brings its readers the story of Mashua’s Ray family. Standing in front of the once Ray Chowdhury zamindar bari, one can not help but wonder about the centuries old history and legacy of the Ray family. Harikishore Ray Chowdhury was the local landlord. His zamindari estate was spread up to Mymensingh town. Despite having huge wealth and land, he was not happy, as he had no child. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury was born as Kamadaranjan Dev on 10 May 1863 in Mashua. The name of his father was Kalinath Dev, who was also known as Munshi Shyamshundar Dev for his vivid knowledge in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian language. His mother’s name was Joytara Devi. Harikishore adopted his cousin’s infant son and gave the name Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury matching with his own name. Few years later Harikishore’s own son Narendrakishore Ray Chowdhury was born but that did not reduce Harikishore’s fatherly affection towards his adopted son. He expected that Upendrakishore would take over his zamindari. But soon he found out that his adopted son’s philosophy towards life is quite different. Upendrakishore had great interest towards study, music and art works. As a result, meritorious Upendrakishore was shifted to Harikishore’s Mymensingh’s house and was admitted to Mymensingh Zilla School from where he passed entrance examination with a first division and scholarship in 1880.As the then Calcutta was the center of art and culture of the sub continent, Upendrakishore went there for further studies. He developed a warm relationship with the Tagore family in Jorasanko. He met Keshab Chandra Sen and started to visit different institutions of the Brahmo society, as he liked the liberal attitude of Brahmo religion. Later Upendrakishore embraced the Brahmo religion. Dwarkanath Ganguly was one of the top Brahmo reformers of that time and his doctor wife Kadambini Bose was the first Bangalee female graduate of British India. The name of their eldest daughter was Bidhumukhi. Upendrakishore fell in love with her and married her in 1883.

The newly married couple started their married life in a rented house in 13 Cornwallis Street. Upendrakishore passed BA examination in 1884 from the Calcutta Metropolitan Institution, though initially he was admitted at Presidency College. He didn’t try to seek employment, rather he tried to maximize his creativity through writing, literary magazine editing, acting, painting, violin playing, composing songs, astronomy, publication and blockmaking. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury regularly visited Mymensingh and Mashua from 1881 to 1885. Upendrakishore-Bidhumukhi’s second child Sukumar Ray was born on 30 October 1887. After the death of his foster-father Harikishore, Upendrakishore chose to live in Calcutta. He first invented modern blockmaking, including half tone and colour blockmaking, in South Asia. In 1895, he successfully set up a business of making blocks. Several of Upendrakishore’s technical articles about blockmaking were printed in the Penrose Annual Volumes published from Britain. In 1913, he founded what was then probably the finest printing press in South Asia, “U Ray and Sons” at 100 Garpar Road. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury first introduced new methods for printing colour photographs with great accuracy and detail. He started to publish a popular literary magazine Sandesh in April 1913 (Baishakh 1320) of which Upendrakishore was the writer, illustrator, proof reader, editor and publisher. Apart from his numerous rhymes, his Chotoder Ramayan (1896), Chotoder Mahabharat (1897) and Tuntunir Boi (1910) are the assets of Bangla literature. Like their father, all the six children of Upendrakishore- Sukhalata, Sukumar, Subinoy, Subimal, Punyalata and Shantilata were talented. Among them Sukumar Ray was the brightest one. While studying in Presidency College, he established “Nonsense Club” with his friends. They had a magazine titled Share Botrish Bhaja. Sukumar Ray did double honours in Physics and Chemistry in 1906. After obtaining Guru Prasanna Ghosh Scholarship for higher studies, he went to England in 1911. He received higher education in photography and printing technology at the School of Photo-Engraving and Lithography, London. During this time,

Sukumar Ray first gave the Western world an idea about Rabindranath Tagore by delivering several lecturers on “The Spirit of Rabindranath”. While staying at the United Kingdom he joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1912, from where he gained fellowship in 1922. After completing his study, he came back to Calcutta in 1913 to help his father in the printing business. At that time, Sukumar Ray married Dhaka’s famous social worker Kali Narayan Gupta’s granddaughter Shuprobha Gupta. After the death of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury on 20 December 1915, Sukumar had to take over the responsibilities of the family printing press. He improved the quality of the publication through his newly achieved knowledge and “U Ray and Sons” turned into the most famous printing press of the sub continent. In absence of his father, Sukumar became the editor of Sandesh. A large number of Sukumar’s writings including his children literature, poems, rhymes, stories and articles were published in Sandesh. He wrote, illustrated, edited and published the magazine for eight years. During his short editing career he patronized hundreds of new writers. Later many of them became famous. Sukumar-Shuprobha’s only son Satyajit Ray was born on 2 May 1921. Sukumar Ray organised his son’s blessing ceremony two years later, where maximum scholars of Calcutta were present. At a young age of 36 Sukumar Ray died on 9 September 1923, of Leishmaniasis, a severe infectious fever for which there was no cure at the time. His first printed book Abol tabol was published nine days after his death. Sukumar completed the three-colour cover, illustration and editing of it during his lifetime. After his death Rabindranath Tagore wrote a heart touching obituary. Later Satyajit Ray made a documentary on Sukumar Ray in 1987. Pagla Dashu, Khai-Khai, Heshoram Hushiyarer Diary, HaJaBaRaLa, Jhalapala O Onanyo Natok, Lakkhaner Shoktishel, Shabdakalpadrum, Bohurupi, Bhasar Atyachar etc. are Sukumar Ray’s most praised creations. In 1926, about three years after Sukumar’s death, the ownership of the family printing business changed hands. The family had to leave their Garpar’s spacious house. Satyajit moved to his maternal uncle’s house along with his mother Shuprobha Ray. At the age of eight, he was admitted at Ballyganj Government School. Young Ray had great passion for films, chess and western classical music. In 1936 Satyajit Ray passed his matriculation examination and took admission in Presidency College for further studies. After completing graduation in economics in 1939, he decided to give up his studies. At the request of his mother Satyajit went to study at Rabindranath Tagore’s Vishva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan in 1940. He learned about the oriental and occidental art there. He read books on cinema in the university library and decided to pursue his career in films. He left Shantiniketan in 1942. In April 1943,

Satyajit Ray joined a British-run advertising agency, D.J. Keymer, as a junior visualiser. Within a few years, he became its art director. Ray designed covers for many books, including Jibanananda Das’s Banalata Sen and Ruposhi Bangla, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Chader Pahar, Jim Corbett’s Maneaters of Kumaon, and Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India. In 1948, Satyajit married Bijoya Das. He had a plan to shoot his first full length feature film Pother Panchali. He wanted the do the shooting of the film on actual locations, with new faces without make-up. Shooting in natural locations with unknown actors was thought to be an unfeasible idea in those times and he received negative reaction from most of his friends in this regard. In 1950, Satyajit Ray went on a business trip to London, along with his wife. During his six-months long stay abroad, he saw about a hundred films including Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. The film supported his idea that it was possible to make realistic cinema by doing the shooting at actual locations with an entirely amateur cast. After his return in late 1950, with absolutely no experience in movie-making, Satyajit Ray collected a group of young men to work as technicians. He spent two years in vain looking for a producer. Finally, the state government of West Bengal agreed to fund the film. On August 26, 1955, Pother Panchali was released in Calcutta. It was a box-office success. The film was sent to the 1956 Cannes Films festival and won Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival. Pother Panchali firmly established Satyajit Ray as a world-class director and gave him total control over his subsequent films. Ray made two more sequels based on the novel Aparajito, (1956); Apur Shongshar, (1959) and completed the famous “The Apu Trilogy”. His other famous films are Porash Pathor (1958), Jolshaghor (1958), Devi (1960), Teen Kanya (1961), Kanchonjongha (1962), Mohanogor (1963), Charulata (1964), Nayok (1966), Oronner Dinratri (1970), Protiddandi (1971), Shimaboddho (1971), Oshoni Shongket (1973), Hirok Rajar Deshe (1980), Ghore-Baire (1984), Ganashatru (1989), Shakha Prashakha (1990) and Agontuk (1991). Maintaining the family legacy, Satyajit became the editor of Sandesh. He mainly wrote for the children. His two popular fictional characters Feluda, a detective and Professor Shonku, a scientist are best known. He wrote a collection of ‘nonsense verses’ named Toray Bandha Ghorar Dim. Satyajit wrote an autobiography about his childhood years, Jakhan Choto Chilam (1982). He penned his experiences during the period when he filmed the Apu Trilogy in his memoirs titled My Years with Apu: A Memoir. He also wrote essays on films, published as the collections: Our Films, Their Films (1976), Bishoy Chalachchitra (1976) and Ekei Bole Shooting (1979). Satyajit Ray designed four typefaces for roman script named Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis, and Holiday Script, apart from numerous Bangla ones for Sandesh magazine. Ray Roman and Ray Bizarre won in an international competition in 1971. Over his life, he was bestowed with 32 National Film Awards and numerous international honors such as Silver Bear, Golden Lion and Golden Bear. At the 11th Moscow International Film Festival in 1979, he was awarded with the Honourable Prize for the contribution to cinema. In 1982, he was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award. Same year, he received the “Homage to Satyajit Ray” Award at the Cannes film Festival. While working on Ghare-Baire, Ray suffered a heart attack in 1983.  Besides honorary doctorate degrees and fellowships from different universities in home and abroad,

Satyajit Ray was the second film personality after Chaplin to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University. He was awarded Legion of Honour, the highest honour of France by the President of France, in 1987. The Government of India awarded him the Padmashree in 1958, Padma Bhushan in 1965, Padma Bibhushon in 1976, Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1985 and the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, shortly before his death. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Satyajit Ray an Honorary Oscar in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement. In 1992, Ray’s health deteriorated due to heart complications. He died on 23 April 1992 at the age of 71. Satyajit Ray’s only son Sandip Ray, daughter in law Lalita Ray and only grandson Souradip Ray now live in Kolkata. Among the three generations of Ray family, Upendrakishore spent most of his childhood in Mashua’s zamindar bari. Through the diary of Punyalata Ray we know that Sukumar Ray also visited Mashua several times. Today the local influential persons have grabbed most of the lands of Mashua’s Ray family. The administration should have taken steps to prevent this. Only four bighas of land is left as Ray family property. There is a field and a vast pond in the Eastern side of the house. The meeting room of the family is now used as the Union Land Office. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation made a rest house in 2012 to facilitate the visitors spending BDT 59 lakh. According to the locals no one stayed at the rest house in last three years. The Ministry of Land now maintains the Ray Chowdhury house. But the responsibility should have gone to Department of Archeology under the Ministry of Culture. An organised museum displaying the different materials used by the three generations of Ray family can be established there. Local people have been arranging a Baishakhi fair remembering Ray family, on the last Wednesday of every Baishakh, for more than hundred years. Government should preserve such heritage sites for the future generations. If made a planned tourist destination, consisting of all necessary facilities, Mashua’s Ray Chowdhury house can attract thousands of local and foreign tourists every year, who want to visit the place to show respect to the Ray family.