Tag Archives: Satyajit Ray

Stockholm, lovely Stockholm

Stockholm has brought us tiny baby goats, Joe Bataan, Nietzsche’s death mask and more Munch paintings than I have ever seen before, an exhibit on Satyajit Ray and Tagore’s artwork, discovering how good the Swedish modernists were, the best boar sculpture, meatballs and reindeer stew and skinksmorgas, medieval alleys, turf houses and farms, the red room where intellectuals and artists once congregated that inspired August Strindberg’s novel by the same name, knowing that the king encouraged every Swedish household to grow their own tobacco, boats, wood-paneled working mens’ bars…amazing trip. I might write more later, but everything in life is going so fast and I am off to a new farm this morning.

Stockholm

From ferries to amazing buildings to food at Kvarnen and Pelikan, restaurants/bars in Södermalm (which is the area I by far loved the most). The red room in Berns. Boats and stick figures, also inlcuding a few pictures of Thielska Galleriet, where we saw: ‘Olof Sager-Nelson and his contemporaries. “Anywhere out of the world” along with an amazing collection of Edvard Munch and Nietzche’s death mask, a bit of Blasieholm as described by Fredrika Bremer…I love this city.

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Gamla Stan

The petrified medieval centre of Stockholm, with wonderful narrow alleys that we went slinking through so as to avoid completely all tourist thoroughfares. It is hell. of. touristy. But quite beautiful when empty, so I was sorry to spoil it for others with my own tourist self.

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Skansen

Stockholm’s open air museum, this I did want to write more about because I loved the ancient buildings. I am fascinated by the process of ripping them from the ground they grew out of to bring them here. We shall see when I write!

There were also baby goats.

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Snus- och tändsticksmuseum

Part of Skansen really, but incredibly amazing place…I will write more about this too, and it’ going into the novel too, but for now:

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Millesgården

Studio and collection of Carl Milles, and most of it was stunning though that crazy array of statues in front of the sea was a bit overwhelming… but I liked visiting a further island by ferry, seeing a bit more of the everyday city. Satyajit Ray and Tagore — amazing.

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We saw the photography museum as well, missed lots of things but hopefully we’ll be back. When we’re both much wealthier because it was by far the most expensive place we have ever been.

Satyajit Ray: The Wonderful Professor Shonku

Satyavit RayI am only just now discovering for myself the wonderful literary creations of Satyajit Ray — young adult literature that is pure enjoyment for all ages. I finished The Diary of a Space Traveller, and am on weekends working through the large collection of detective stories, Feluda. The first of the stories of Professor Shonku opens with the discovery of his diary in a meteor crater, and this is one of the first lines:

Oh God, was he going to tell me another story about a tiger? Tarak Babu had this most annoying habit of dragging a tiger into whatever anecdote he happened to relate. (2)

Who can resist this? There is no tiger, but an irascible and brilliant old man who ceaselessly invents the most wonderful things. The first entry in Professor Shonku’s diary sets the stage, when he is startled by an intruder — a weird looking man — but finds it is simply his own reflection that has startled him, as his faithful servant has removed an old calendar from the mirror. So he shoots his servant with a snuff gun, ensuring he will be sneezing for next 33 hours. I am not generally in favour of shooting servants ever, but I am indeed in favour of the existence of a snuff gun. I also enjoyed his desire to invent various pills for making annoying people uncomfortable enough to leave him alone.

His is not precise science you understand, more that marvelous old-fashioned alchemical science that relied on bunson burners and vials, glasses full of strangely coloured liquids bubbling over flames and jars full of rare and magical things (like the whiskers of lobsters). And this is not a world empty of what appears to be magic, but one where science acknowledges there is much that it does not yet know.

It is a world of intelligent cats and crows and nosy neighbours and rockets and all things nice.

It has titles like ‘Professor Shonku and the Egyptian Terror’, and another reason to love the professor:

I decided to visit this strange tomb, if I could find the time and opportunity. I love cats. I had to leave my own Newton at home. I feel homesick whenever I think of him. (161)

These particularly reminded me of Verne or Conan Doyle — Professor Shonku is described by  Satyajit Ray as a mixture of Doyle’s Professor Challenger and his own father Sukomar’s creation Hesoram Hushiar. They are told resolutely from a Bengali perspective. A scientist with many friends in European and American circles, who travels widely and is as widely respected, but still within a post-colonial reality where he occupies a certain space. He is told by a sinister Egyptian:

‘You appear to be an Indian. So why are you getting mixed up with these white brutes? Why are you so concerned about the ancient and holy objects of our past?’

Despite this space, he shares some shortcomings that usually I only associate with Americans and Europeans —

But that was really not so amazing, was it? Bengalis might be a most diverse race–two unrelated men rarely look similar. But the Egyptians are different. On Egyptian frequently looks like another. (174)

Oh dear…he says something very similar about the Chinese. But still. His love of ancient and holy objects and knowing the past is actually combined with a strong respect and ethics in dealing with such things found rarely if ever in fiction by white authors. I loved ‘Professor Shonku and the Box from Baghdad’, where they come across both mystery and treasure and this happens:

Al-Hubbbal smiled a little dryly. ‘I don’t mean you, Professor Shonku, but–‘ he paused and glanced at Goldstein, ‘–many of our valuable possessions have made their way to museums in the West. So even if you didn’t want anything for your own use, I fear you might tell some museum or other about things you’ve seen.’

Goldstein looked embarrassed… (211)

Spoiler alert — Goldstein does in fact try to take the marvelous Box, and he is struck down with a fitting punishment.

Finally. Everyone gives a cheer.

This little book ends most delightfully with more information about both Satyajit Ray as author (and, of course, famous director) and Professor Shonku. There are two fact files and these brilliant lists as little games that younger readers can play guessing their meanings. The first list is of some of Shonku’s inventions:

Camerapid
Luminimax
Annihilin
Remembrain
Cerebrilliant

Pretty awesome. And then there are all these wonderful compounds:

Paradoxite powder
Bicornite Acid
Paranoium Potentate
Ferro-satanic Acid
Tantrum Boropaxinate

Immensely enjoyable, the only thing I am saddened by is the lack of presence his hometown of Giridi bears in the stories, or any of the cities he visits. But you can’t have everything.

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