Monday, April 28, 2008


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?


Jaquanda Rae said...

It's strange but I remember a lot more from my 6th and 7th years, than any other young age. One Christmas we played Pixie and chose who we would give a gift to by picking a bit of crumpled paper with a name on it. My father got my name and he got me a book of bedtime stories. I remember him sitting me on his knee and reading Little Red Riding Hood to me. When he did the voice of the wolf I was terrified because my dad has a deep voice that went even deeper. That is my earliest memory with a fictional character...the scary wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.... I read quite a few Enid Blyton stories but that was at a later stage.

Lazyani said...

Hi there. Reached you via JAP. It was a great experience to go along with you on a trip of nostalgia.

My favourite was the quintessential 'Bangali' supersleuth Feluda. I still swear by him and love to cuddle up with a much read story about his exploits even today. I guess the stories had a right mix of adventure, romanticism and travellogue, which attracts me even today!!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks again for introducing us to your favourite fictional character. I loved both Blyton and Feluda (and Ray's Professor Shanku,as well). I am so glad my elder daughter (and hopefully her younger sister, too) likes to read books.

Piscean Angel said...

Altho' I've read many fantasies & many characters have impressed me a lot, my foremost memories of a fictional character who enthralled me is that of Rapunzel. This was my fave bedtime story that my mashi (maternal aunt) told me when I was 2 or 3 yrs old, perhaps. And my poor, hapless mashi knew the mistake that she'd made when every night, no matter what other story she told me, Rapunzel surely HAD to be on the list. :-)