I have grown up on STORYBOOKS and I remember the first fictional character who I really adored - Paagla Dashu, the eccentric schoolboy in Sukumar Ray’s school stories, who was always pardoned for his crimes because he was regarded as having mathaye chhit (bats in his belfry). I met him in the pages of a discounted orange paperback edition of Sukumar Samagra (Sukumar Ray omnibus), which my parents bought for me on their annual pilgrimage to the Calcutta Book Fair. I was about eight or nine years old, ripe for this quixotic madcap.
Although a skinny, short (though big-headed) scarecrow-fellow, Dashu had a booming voice, a flashing temper, a genius for arguing and fooling around and an enormous daring to live life as he wanted to. Once he came to school wearing a coat and loose ‘pantaloons’ because it would ostensibly help him to learn English, braving the mockery of the dhoti-clad majority. Once he burst kalipotka (firecrackers-on-a-string) in an earthen pot under the schoolmaster’s chair, because he wanted to share the inevitable punishment-for-this-crime with the unfortunate boy who had brought that pot to school and who had misguidedly refused to share the mihidana (a delicious fine-grained yellow sweet) in the pot with Dashu.
And, of course, there is that wonderful scene-stealing moment when Dashu peremptorily decides to return in the final act of the annual school stage production. His character of Debdoot (angel of heaven) had said his official farewell in the previous act. Just as the minister explains to the king the finer points of the debdoot’s departure, Dashu stages a comeback: “aabar shey eshechhey phiriya (again the angel has returned) – much to the consternation of the other actors, who immediately forget their lines. Dashu promptly parrots the entire cast’s remaining speeches and shoos the dumbstruck actors out: “jao shab nijo nijo kaajey (go and do your work), before pulling down the curtain. Later on, when rebuked for deviating from the script, he claims that he has redeemed the play by completing the lines when the others were obviously floundering.
That was Dashu. Irascible, incorrigible, unforgettable. Always right even if he is wrong. Always marching to his own beat (or writing his own script, literally). Always daring to be different. Always proving that truth is a perception, not a fact.
I fell in love with his cock-a-snook confidence, his stubbornness and swagger, his unerring skewed logic and his ultimate standing-apart-loneliness.
If he was born in English, he would have been a major money-spinning star for Disney Animation. As it is, he is a majorly cherished memory and a source of much animated adda (conversation) for Bengalis.
Who is the first fictional character who impressed you deeply?