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Father of Bengali sci-fi fiction Jagadananda Roy wrote in 1892, even before H.G. Wells

13 October, 2020 11:39:33
Father of Bengali sci-fi fiction Jagadananda Roy wrote in 1892, even before H.G. Wells

Way back in the 1960s, Satyajit Ray’s debut sci-fi short story, ‘The Alien’ was published. It is alleged that the script for Steven Spielberg’s film E.T. was based on the script for The Alien that Ray had sent to the film's producers in the late 1960s.  In his screenplay, which Ray wrote entirely in English, he described the alien, Mr Ang as a cross between a gnome and a famished refugee child: large head, spindly limbs, lean torso. Is it male or female or neuter? We don't know. What its form basically conveys is a kind of ethereal innocence, and it is difficult to associate either great evil or great power with it; yet a feeling of eeriness is there because of Ang’s resemblance to a sickly human child.

Some researchers credit Hemlal Dutta as one of the earliest Bengali science fiction writers for his story, Rohosso (The Mystery). This story was published in two installments in 1882 in the pictorial magazine Bigyan Dorpon (Mirror of Science). But even before Dutta, Jagadananda Roy wrote one of the earliest science fiction stories in Bengali. In 1892, he wrote Shukra Bhraman (Travels to Venus), which was later published in his book Prakritiki (1914). This described travel to Venus and conjured up alien creatures on Uranus. His humanoid aliens are described as resembling apes, with dense black fur, large heads and long nails. This imaginative science-fiction preceded that of H. G. Wells’ somewhat similar The War of the Worlds (1889) by about a decade! 

Bengali sci-fi fiction has a rich and varied legacy that started with Jagadananda Roy and later the baton went to such stalwarts  as Roquia Sakhawat Hussain aka Begum Rokeya (Sultana's Dream), Premendra Mitra’s  Kuhoker Deshe (In the Land of Mystery), Hemendra Kumar Ray (Meghduter Morte Agomon) and later Satyajit Ray who immortalized Professor Shanku or Trilokeshwar Shanku, a veteran scientist with proficiency in 72 different languages and his sidekicks  Professors Jeremy Saunders and Hermann Krol, his neighbour Abinash Babu, his servant Prahlad and his beloved cat, Newton. Adrish Bardhan was also very popular as sci-fi writer. He wrote under the pen name of Akash Sen, and edited Ashchorjo, the first Bengali science fiction magazine. Other notable science fiction writers of in Bengali include mainstream authors who dabbled their hands in this genre including Leela Majumdar, Sunil Ganguly, Shirshendu Mukherjee, Syed Mustafa Siraj, Samarjit Kar, Anish Deb, Siddhartha Ghosh, Rajesh Basu and Abhijnan Roychowdhury.

Bigyaner Galpo and Jagadish Chandrer-Avishkar by Roy

Jagadananda Roy, the torchbearer of the sci-fi fiction genre in Bengali had a very life. He was born in a landed aristocratic family of Krishnanagar, Nadia but all his life he spent in penury. He taught in a local missionary school for some time. His flair for writing on scientific matters in a simple and lucid style brought him into contact with Rabindranath who was then the editor of Sadhana.  Rabindranath found these writings very interesting and when he found that Jagadananda was in dire straits, he offered him a job at his zamindari estate. 

But soon the poet realized that Jagadananda was a wise, erudite and academically inclined man and the work he was assigned was not appropriate for someone of his stature. He deserved a much better position and so he requested Jagadananda to teach his children. Later, when the Brahmacharyasrama was founded at Santiniketan, he brought Jagadananda over to Santiniketan as a teacher. He was the first Sarvadhyaksha of the school. A dedicated teacher, he taught at a stretch till his retirement in 1932, after which he continued to take mathematics classes voluntarily. 

He wrote a number of books on popular science, his mission was to popularize science among the masses in simple Bengali, in the way Ramendrasundar Trivedi wrote. Graha-Nakshatra, Prakritiki, Vaijynaniki, Graha Nakshatra, Pokamakor, Bigyaner Galpo, Gachhpala, Machh, Byang Sap-Shabda, Jagadish Chandrer Avishkar, Banglar Pakhi were some of his books.

Jagadananda was widowed early in life and he had to take care of his four children. His eldest daughter was born with physical disabilities and another son, who was studying medicine, suddenly developed mental illness and left studies. Roy took everything in his stride and worked towards fulfilling his mission which was to educate the masses about the scientific phenome working in all spheres of life and in the natural world as well as the cosmos. 

Rabindranath was very fond of Roy who enacted in many of the plays staged at Santiniketan. He was fond of writing poems and lyrics and was very proficient in playing both the esraj and violin. He received the coveted ‘Kuntaleen Award’ for his short story.  He diligently edited ‘Santiniketan’ and ‘Shishu Sathi’ magazines for a long period. He was an examiner at Calcutta University and at the fag end of his life, he became a member of the Birbhum District Board and Local Board. He also headed Bolpur Union Board Bench Court as honorary Magistrate. On June 25, 1933, this pioneer author of science fiction in Bengali, breathed his last at the age of 64. 

Story Tag:
  • Science fiction

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