In search of Satyajit’s roots | The Daily Star
04:12 AM, May 02, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:20 AM, May 02, 2021

In search of Satyajit’s roots

I

Once upon a time – actually nobody no longer remembers when – Ramshundar Deb was born in Chakdah village in today's Nadia district in West Bengal. His birthplace was not too far away from Darshana, in today's Bangladesh. One day, Ramshundar decided to leave Chakdah in search of fortune. He travelled to the East and settled in Jashodal, which was a part of the then Mymensingh district. Nobody really remembers why he travelled to Jashodal.

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It wasn't too long before Ramshundar found himself in the court of Raja Gunichandra. Being a natural charmer, Ramshundar impressed the Raja with his appearance, wit and intelligence. The Raja was so charmed that he offered Ramshundar his daughter's hand in marriage. Ramshundar spent the rest of his days in Jashodal.

Later, one of the descendants of this Ramshundar became tired of Jashodal. He decided to leave. It's difficult to know which one of his descendants left Jashodal, but one of them settled in a village called Mashua in today's Katiadi Upazila in Kishoreganj. This is where today's story starts.

II

Kalinath Ray was born in Mashua. Again, nobody remembers when though. He was very handsome, but above all, he was fluent in Arabic, Farsi and Sanskrit. Today, this may sound amazing. In those days, those who knew the three languages were in high demand because land records and many official correspondences were in Farsi, which was the official language of the Mughals.

The Zamindar of Mashua then was Harikishore Ray Chowdhury. It wasn't too long before Kalinath attracted his attention. The two became very good friends. It was in this context, Kamada Ranjan Ray was born in Mashua, on May 12, 1863. He was the third son of Kalinath.

Harikishore was a rich man, but he carried a sorrow in his heart. He didn't have a child. In those days, rich people who didn't have a child or a male descendant would adopt a son. Harikishore approached Kalinath. He adopted Kamada Ranjan Roy, when the boy was five. From that day onwards, Kamada was known by the name Harikishore gave him – Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury.

Few years later, a son was born to Harikishore. He was named Narendrakishore Ray Chowdhury. The birth of Narendrakishore didn't change Harikishore's affection for Upendrakishore. Upendrakishore received the best education Mymensingh could offer at the time. He passed his entrance exam (equivalent to today's SSC) in 1880 from Mymensingh Zilla School, which was then, and still is one of the best schools in Bangladesh.

And that was it. Like his forefathers who migrated after some time, it was time for Upendrakishore to migrate to Calcutta, which was then one of the finest cities and cultural centres of British India.

III

Many of us know the rest of the story.

Upendrakishore left East Bengal forever, but he carried in his heart the gift of imagination. "Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne" and "Tuntunir Boi" laid the foundations of children's literature in Bangla for his descendants to take forward.

To the best of the knowledge of this chronicler, Upendrakishore went back to Masua in 1887 when his son Sukumar Ray was born on October 30, 1887. Sukumar's son, Satyajit, was born in Calcutta on May 2, 1921. But that was it. None of the Rays since then in three generations – Satyajit, Sandip and Souradeep – re-established their ties with Mashua.

Life moved on in Mashua. However, life didn't go on forever. The zamindar social system decayed and soon was extinct. Like other parts of what was then East Bengal, and now Bangladesh, very few buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries stand. Many of them have been evacuated, leaving a skeleton to remind the locals of an era gone by. The Ray ancestral house is no exception.

The house of the Ray dynasty starting from Upendrakishore stands today. There is a small sign board that introduces it as the ancestral bhita of the Oscar-winning Satyajit Ray.

IV

Satyajit Ray visited Bangladesh during the first Ekushey February in 1972. At the Shaheed Minar, Ray gave a speech. He narrated his only trip to what was then East Bengal. He had come to visit his uncle with his mother in Dacca when he was four or five. They didn't visit Mymensingh.

Maa and Satyajit were returning by steamer. Early in the morning, when they were nearing the meeting of the Padma and the Jamuna, Maa showed little Manik the two distinct colours of the waters. She also said, "This is where you're from." Alas! Satyajit never had the opportunity to visit Mashua from where his grandfather Upendrakishore began his journey.

On the 100th birth anniversary of one of the greatest filmmakers ever, it's nice to know, not only Satyajit Ray, but Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen also hail from what today is Bangladesh. It is high time we preserve their ancestral homes, so we can pass on history to the next generation to move on.

Asrar Chowdhury is a professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University. He is the author of the fortnightly column ECHOES in Shout. Email: asrarul@juniv.edu or asrarul@gmail.com

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