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Locating Postcolonial Hero In Bangla Speculative Fiction (Part I)— Debraj Moulick

Jun 1, 2023 | Non Fiction | 3 comments

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A deep dive into the world of speculative fiction in Bangla might reveal various underlying aspects like class struggle, gender discrimination, religion dogmatism and futuristic worlds among others. The popular characters of Premendra Mitra ’s Ghanada, Adrish Bardhan ’s Professor Natboltu Chakra and Satyajit Ray ’s Professor Shonku have captivated the minds of readers across generations with interesting plots and unique storytelling techniques. However, it is high time to examine one of the popular characters in the light of a theory which has been creating never-ending waves in the academics; Post Colonialism.

 Let us consider a study of Ray’s Professor Shonku in the light of oriental myth developed by the European people regarding the other living in the oriental countries like India, Philippines, Burma etc.

Edward Said in his famous book Orientalism refers to Karl Marx’s quote (in his book The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) that the people of the oriental countries cannot represent themselves, so they must be represented. The  colonial powers like Britain and France took it upon themselves to provide a perception about the eastern countries. Orientalism speaks about a conception, where the orient is an exotic and mysterious land which is full of romance, haunting memories, despotism and magic. The people are superstitious, illogical and irrational. Rudyard Kipling in his poem “The White Man’s Burden” echoes the same concept. That is the duty or to be more specific the burden of the white race to civilize the inferior native race of Philippines Island.

Take up the White Man’s burden —

In patience to abide,

To veil the threat of terror

And check the show of pride;

By open speech and simple,

A hundred times made plain.

To seek another’s profit,

And work another’s gain.[1]

However, Satyajit Ray shatters this oriental myth about the illogical oriental man. Satyajit Ray’s character is an intellectual entity that is on par with their European counterpart.

In Ray’s short story, “Professor Shonku and the Amazing Creature”, Professor Shonku was offered to engage in conducting practical research about creating life by the German researcher Professor Cornelius Humboldt. Professor Shonku and Humboldt experimented in Switzerland at Humboldt’s personal laboratory. However, it was Shonku’s expertise which led to the final success of the experiment. But, Shonku was charged with murder and stripped of any credit for the research.

Humboldt’s excessive curiosity about Shonku’s personal matters led to a vocal war between the two scientists and Shonku was verbally threatened by Humboldt that no reports should be out and he tried to underline the fact that it was not them but he himself who was going to enjoy all the credit for creating an artificial life in the laboratory. The following lines from the speculative fiction “Professor Shonku and Amazing Creature” provide an authentic look at the above incident mentioned by the researcher:

Humboldt rose to his feet and came closer. He looked straight into my eyes, his face only a few inches from mine. ‘It is Cornelius Humboldt,’ he hissed like a snake, ‘who is solely responsible for creating life artificially in a laboratory. The entire credit must go to him. Just remember that.’(The Unicorn Expedition and Other Stories, pg. 146)

 But Shonku saved himself and again an oriental won over an occidental by wit, intelligence and courage.

“Nakur Babu and EL Dorado ” introduced Nakur Chandra Biswas, an average looking Indian lower middle-class gentleman, possessing the ability hypnotism, telepathy and clairvoyance. Professor Shonku travels to the South American city of Sao Paulo and visits the mystifying forest tract of EL Dorado. Shonku encounters a rich arrogant American businessman Blumengarten, who offers him to buy his latest invention for a hefty sum of money. However, Shonku refuses such an offer and all of his formulas get stolen. Blumengarten was enraged at the unapologetic nature of Shonku and his refusal to accept such a huge amount of cash and thus insulted Shonku for being a citizen of a colonized poor nation. The following conversation between Shonku and Blumengarten supports the fact:

‘You’re one such prime example’, said Blumegarten, jeering. ‘A person of that land who refuses to take money even after it is pushed into his hand. That country is bound to remain poor. But …’ (The Mystery of Munroe Island and Other Stories, pg. 233)

 Nakur Babu recovers all the stolen formulae and defeats the antagonist. It is noteworthy over here that Shonku was the first one to nurture such an extraordinary talent of Nakur Babu. He overcame another western antagonist with the aid of his friends and he never bowed down under the pressure of Western capitalism.

“Dr Daniel’s Invention” which speaks about the beastly instinct present inside the human body highly inspired from Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Hyde, Shonku invents a drug known as X and an antidote known as Anti-X, which can transform a human being into a wild beast and vice versa. Dr Daniel also invents a similar drug and starts hunting all the scientists who refused to believe in his drug and thus starts killing them. Shonku tried to stop this heinous act and traveled all the way to Rome, where he was representing India in an International Conference. Dr Daniel attempted to kill Shonku by engulfing the dangerous drug and in defense Shonku also turned himself into a ghastly beast by consuming that particular drug. Shonku defeated his European antagonist and thus saved the scientific community and humanity from the horror of the violent crime.

Satyajit Ray narrates a story about the resurrection of a dead person brought back to life with the aid of scientific formulae and modern medical science. The science fiction, “Shonku and Frankenstein” follows the central theme of Shelley’s Frankenstein and adapts it to modern day Germany, where the successor of Dr Frankenstein provides all the secret formulas to resurrect the dead body. Ray exposes the rise of Neo-Nazi group in Germany and the story follows risky strategies adopted by Shonku to defeat the German antagonist and relieving the Jews from the horror of torture (discussed and revisited in ‘Swarnopornee’).

 

[1] 1.  Kipling ,Rudyard. “The White Man’s Burden” Karen’s Poetry Spot. n.d. Web. 27 June 2017


Also read Silence by Mikica Pindzo translated from The Italian by Brenda Porster, and published in The Antonym

Silence— Mikica Pindzo


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Debraj Moulick

Debraj Moulick

Debraj Moulick is a  Lecturer (English) in K.J Somaiya Polytechnic, Mumbai, India. He is also a bilingual poet, short story writer, official book reviewer, blogger and a researcher in science fiction literature. Debraj also enjoys conducting workshops on creative writing, poetry and business communication. His writings have been published in various webzines, magazines and anthologies.

Moulick did his M.Phil dissertation in Indian Science Fiction from Department of English, University of Mumbai. He is a lifelong member of Indian Association of Science Fiction Studies(IASFS), Bangalore. India. Moulick has worked as an organising committee member as well as Editor of an International Science Fiction Conferences in India. Debraj has provided expert lectures on various topics  like Science Fiction in Bengal , Thought Experimentation in Bangla Science Fiction, The Need to Popularize Indian Vernacular Science Fiction among others. His articles and official book reviews on speculative fiction have been published in Science India Magazine and Kalpabiswa.

3 Comments

  1. Tarashree Ghosh

    One of the best pieces I’ve read so far! thank u so much sir for this!!

    Reply
    • Debraj Moulick

      Thank You,Tarashree for the kind words.
      Part 2 & Part 3 are on the way.
      Keep reading.

      Reply
    • Debraj

      Thank you for being an enthusiastic reader.
      The second part has been published..
      Please check it out and let me know about it.

      Reply

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