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Satyajit Ray is best known for his movies but he lent his creative genius to other fields too. Apart from the 36 films that he directed , he was a fiction writer, illustrator, music composer and graphic designer. In children’s books, Satyajit created two popular characters – the detective Feluda and the scientist Professor Shonku. His short stories were always in collections of 12 and his love for puzzles and puns is evident in them. Most of his work was in Bengali and much has been translated into English as well.
The Magic Moonlight Flower and Other Enchanting Stories published by Red Turtle, the Rupa Publisher’s children’s imprint has four stories translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha. It also contains original illustrations by Satyajit Ray.
In Sujan Harbola, The Boy Who Spoke to Birds, Sujan , a young boy follows his passion and becomes a harbola – a mimic, who brings back the birds and their song to a kingdom and wins the hand of the beautiful princess. A poor orphan’s fortunes change when he finds a rainbow colored stone, and he is willing to give back the lucky stone to its rightful owner in Gangaram’s Lucky Stone. In The Ogre And The Princess, a young boy plays the flute at a fair and sets his eyes upon a beautiful princess ; he suffers a curse at the hands of a tantric and must find true love to become human again. In The Magic Moonlight Flower, young Kanai saves a kingdom , its prince and its weavers from a despotic king when he goes seeking the leaves that will save his father’s life.
Each story is vivid in setting the stage. Through Sujan’s eyes we witness the wealth of sounds that we take for granted – of birds, musical instruments and animals – and what happens when like the princess, one does not get to see the outside world, but only reads about it. Gangaram’s simplicity and lack of avarice make him lovable, and despite becoming an ogre, Ratan knows there are good times ahead for him. There is delightful curiosity about the old man who does not remember the use of the objects he gives Kanai to help him get the moonlight leaves.
Like Ruskin Bond, Satyajit Ray gets the voice right…every single time. The stories are timeless, even though the changing landscape of India does not offer many children the opportunity to engage with the outdoors anymore. There is no overt moralizing, just a subtle celebration of values that are important for all human beings – the love for family, respect for nature and its bounty, faith in the goodness of people, and a desire to help/contribute to the larger good.
While this book is targeted at children, the stories are equally wonderful to be read by any age group. A great read.