It is Puja time in Bengal where Puja Pandals are known for displaying creative prowess and strong social and political messaging apart from the routine religious fervour. This time is no different as the state has come alive with people hopping pandals for a visual treat reflected in the creative displays on different themes.

A pandal that has stood out as a centre of attraction this year is one that depicts the creative literary genius of Sukumar Ray, father of legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray. This pandal, in the Navinpalli locality of Hathibagan area in old Kolkata, has brought to life the house and ancestral enterprise of Sukumar Ray while playing with his creation Abol Tabol, which translated literally says there is reason in madness.

Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol leaves us to our imaginations to interpret the wonderful nonsense he wrote and illustrated. Those who have read Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz’s highly imaginative work Harafish which in Arabic means riffraff are compelled to recall it if they happen to visit this pandal.

The locals recall Hathibagan as an area that was the theatre of Bengal renaissance in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is the area that housed the ancestral houses of Swami Vivekananda as well as Rabindranath Tagore. This pandal is surrounded by old buildings, lanes, bylanes and shops, but the organizers have made painstaking efforts to bring out the genius of Sukumar Ray by depicting his nonsensical characters and quotes all around on the walls of the adjoining buildings, on electricity fuse boxes and on railings and gates. These are characters like a cow that could fly, a quack dentist extracting a tooth of a man writhing in pain and whatnot.

“Sukumar Ray can be called the predecessor of cartoonist RK Laxman whose single cartoon could express more than an entire editorial of a newspaper. He lampooned everything and everyone without ever drawing a violent response, something quite unthinkable in present times,” explained Rathin Das who has been an ardent fan of Sukumar Ray and his works including Abol Tabol.

The pandal happens to recreate the life and times of Sukumar Ray. The main pandal has things of vintage era, somethings that one only gets to see in old movies or read about in textbooks. This includes a treadle printing press along with the composing paraphernalia of those times, the old telephone instruments, the painting canvas stand and the lighting arrangement at the printing presses of the vintage era. The traditional idol of the Goddess adorns the sanctum sanctorum of the pandal, which actually depicts the ancestral enterprise of Sukumar Ray in the name of his father Upendra Kishore Roychoudhary. It boldly displays the name U. Ray & Sons on top.

The depictions are funny and leave a lot to the visitors’ imagination. For example, there is a representative illustration of a bodybuilder lifting a club with one hand and an elephant with the other while there is also a boulder tied to his neck. There is a rooster with the face of a cow. Then there is an illustration of a lean man trying to drag an elephant by its tail.

There is an illustration of a boy responding to an old man trying to draw laughter from him. The young boy is saying to himself, “What strange tales he is telling of which strange country. They bring tears to the eyes rather than laughter. There is no head or tail nor is there any meaning. Still one is compelled to laugh while looking at him.”

Then there is a verse depicting the law of the land during his times where he says, “The law of the land is such that a person whose tooth is a bit loose has to pay Rs 4 to the dentist for its extraction. The adolescent on whose face moustache appears is compelled to pay 100 annas in tax. Similarly, a man is tickled on his back so that his neck can be bent to offer a salute 21 times.”

There is an illustration of a man holding a cylindrical object with a hole calling out, “Come let me see your mind through this hole.”

The pandal is a treat for those who grew up reading Sukumar Ray and are now in their 60s, 70s and above. It is also a learning and entertainment opportunity for children whose generation is more hooked to mobiles and laptops instead of the printed word and illustrations in the form of children’s comics or magazines. This reporter was approached by many old men and women seeking the location of the pandal after they came to know about it from the social media or word of mouth. It has been an occasion to relive their childhood and simple joys of that time again.

Nostalgia has immense value for people, particularly those in the later stages of their lives. Having looked at the works of Sukumar Ray once again and then telling the youngsters accompanying them about the creative genius of Satyajit Ray who was much more than a film director given his writings and interests in other art forms, some of them could be heard saying, “Do you now understand that he was literally the father of Satyajit Ray in context of being an artistic genius?”

In fact, another creative masterpiece by Sukumar Ray that goes by the name of similar gibberish as AJBRL (Bangla alphabets) was also prominently displayed and sold at the bookstalls put up by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the only party to put up book stalls at several Puja pandals dotting the length and breadth of the city. The party that was vanquished in the last assembly polls in the state is confident of revival. Perhaps its cadres have deciphered the reason in madness presented by Sukumar Ray in his works.