Where have all the Pagla Dashus gone?
Pagla Dashu, the very name evokes a smile and opens floodgates of memories. One of children literature’s most endearing character, Dashu aka Dasharathi is the quintessential school boy whose mad-cap capers and quite-often inexplicable actions carry subtle comedic satire. His bold misdeeds show sparks of brilliance too.His creator, Sukumar Roy was a genius. He was a poet, story teller, dramatist, cartoonist and most importantly, a brilliant mind! His works such as the collection of poems Abol Tabol (Gibberish), novella Ha Ja Ba Ra La (The Absurdity), short story collection Pagla Dashu (Crazy Dashu) and play ChalachittaChanchari are considered nonsense masterpieces. He could delve into the minds of children and adolescents and etch out their myriad feelings and idiosyncrasies.
Take for instance Pagla Dashu, the weirdly funny-looking boy with an unusually big head, round eyes, scrawny physique and a shock of curly unkempt hair, who becomes the unsung hero of the class when he teaches a lesson to the vain class topper, Jagabandhu in the introductory story, Dashu’s Deeds. Teachers always favoured Jagabandhu,but boys generally loathed him because he looked down on his classmates and went around with an air of superiority. None had the guts to confront him though. Once Das huapproached him and requested him to explain an English lesson. The boy rebuked and insulted him. This was enough to provoke Dashu, who left the place silently but devised a cunning plot.
A couple of days later, the teacher asked for the text book while teaching the class. Jagabandhu rushed with his copy. Seconds later, the teacher looked aghast! He had been handed a trashy story book instead of the grammar book. He yelled at the boy and insulted him in front of the entire class. Jagabandhu was puzzled and ashamed. His classmates were elated though. Later, it transpired that Dashu had replaced his grammar book with the crappy book. Jagabandhu, in his enthusiasm to please the teacher, had not noticed this.Is this not how every school kid wishes to extract revenge from the most conceited, egocentric student in the class who looks down at others and tries to exhibit superiority at every possible opportunity?
Another trait that Roy highlights in Dashu is his ability to laugh at himself. When school boys laugh at his strange physical appearance and criticize his intelligence, Dashu not only enjoys the criticism but also adds elements to make the anecdotesludicrous. He tells his friends how he is summoned by his neighboursfrequently,to ward off birds that try to polish off the pickles spread on the roof for drying. Birds mistake him for a scarecrow and fly away, frightened! Dashu has a brilliant sense of humour and is expert at playing pranks with his friends. On one occasion, Dashu goes to school with a big, intriguing box. When teachers and his friends ask him about the content of the box, he mysteriously answers, “My things.” All are curious to know what’s inside the box but Dashu is very secretive and keeps the box close to him, under lock and key. By now all the school boys are curious about the enigmatic box. One day during lunch break, Dashu leaves the box in the gatekeeper’s room and hands over the key to one of his friends and asks him to take care of the box till his return. The boys are jubilant and open the lock to unearth the mystery. They fish out a big bundle of papers rolled into a ball and tied with strings. Inside, there are several such bundles and finally a card pops out that says, “Curiosity kills the cat.” The boys are flabbergasted! Stories of innocent pranks and frolic and mirth galore in all the tales of Dashu which were initially printed in Sandesh, the renowned children’s magazine and later compiled and published in a book form in 1940, 17 years after the author’s demise, with an introduction by Rabindranath Tagore!
Dashu’s innocence and endearing acts remind us of another unforgettable boy, Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain’s protagonist is a mischievous boy with an active imagination who spends most of the novel getting himself, and often his friends, into and out of trouble. Despite his mischief, Tom has a good heart and a strong moral conscience. Dashu has no ally. He is “master of all” he surveys. His escapades are the result of an active mind’s fertile imagination.
This brings us to question the inevitable: where is our contemporary Dashu? Have we lost Dashu in the annals of history? Why don’t we get to see and read the exploits of more such intelligent kids who have the imagination to think out-of-the-box and the guts to commit harmless mischief the way Dashu did? Children have not changed but circumstances have. Our children don’t get the space that Dashu and his friends had. They are pushed and shoved to enter a world of cynicism, early in life They are sucked into the system, where unhealthy competition and ambition replaces innocence and innovation. They are like the racing horses who are constantly flogged and goaded to get the top spot in life. The children are weighed down by a vast never-ending syllabus. They are made to follow a mirage of a dream that drags them, leaving them drained of energy, exhausted and dull.
Most kids these days are not taught to think or act independently so they can never imagine that a character like Dashu was very much a part of our growing up years. Now a days, parents want robots not children and hence with gadgets like computer games and laptops and mobile apps, children follow the file. They spend hours with their eyes glued to their screens, safe and comfortable alone, happily enjoying the confinement within the four walls. Parents and teachers ingrain in their psyche the advantages of being alone and feel “I am the monarch of all I survey…” Nobody wants to take risks and children learn fast and they emulate better. We need to sit and think and provide a different life to our children where they will be children once again and only then we will see a re-incarnation of PaglaDashu in our lives. Till then, we will all have to wait.