Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sense in Nonsense

A friend sent me this picture and it reminded me of many people I've known. It also brought back memories of one of my favourite authors, Sukumar Ray, and his collection of nonsense poems in Bengali, 'Abol Tabol'.

Haven't we all met people who want everything? Well, all Sukumar Ray's Kimbhut Kimakar ever does is whine. Why can't he have wings and fly like a bird? Wow! Look at the elephant's imposing trunk. He must have one just like it. And if only he had the kangaroo's strong legs and could jump so high. On a cloudy monsoon day, he became everything that he wanted to be without even trying. Now he sits worrying. Can elephants jump up high? Can kangaroos live on banana leaves? What if people laugh at a fat old elephant that jumps and flies and sings like a cuckoo? What if someone asks him straight to his face? What can he call himself? "Oh god!", he groans. "I'm not a horse, elephant, snake or butterfly. I'm neither fish, nor plant, nor water, nor shoe nor umbrella. I am nothing then!"

Sukumar's greatest talent was his unique sense of humour. And it found it's best and most unforgettable expression in his Bengali book 'Abol Tabol' (Rhymes Without Reason). He saw the ordinary, boring world that we live in and found in it the absurd and the ridiculous. He turned the most common things upside-down to make his readers laugh. His humour was free from malice. But he did poke fun at the absurdities of human nature and draw from us a frank roar of laughter.


Meet Tansh Garu, sketched by Sukumar Ray himself to accompany his poems. He isn't a 'garu' or cow at all, but some sort of bird. Sukumar's drawings are as compelling as his words, convincing us that these creatures truly exist.

In Sukumar's topsy-turvy world, The absurd coexists with the commonplace and normal. Tansh Garu lives not in some exotic and distant jungle, but just across the street in friend Haru's office.


There are humans too, in the world of 'Abol Tabol'. Look at dear old Nanda Uncle, the jolly and adorable elder. Where's his endearing smile? He weeps recounting his visit to the astrologer. He has lived happily for sixty years unaware that he would die. But the astrologer predicted his impending death and ruined Nanda Uncle's peace of mind forever.

And here's Khudo with his miraculous invention, in another delightful sketch by Sukumar. Khudo's eco-friendly machine will solve the world's transport problems. Fit this machine on the laziest fellow, place his favourite snack where he can see and smell it but can't reach it, and you have the most efficient motivator. This machine will help a man run for miles without tiring or complaining.

In Sukumar Ray's works, the spirit of whimsical fun is masked by an apparent sophisticated seriousness. A hundred and nineteen years after his birth, his writing continues to evoke smiles and chuckles.

1 comment:

Simran said...

Hi Moni,

I was just rereading my friend Bhaswati's blog posts on Sukumar Ray. Here it is if you care to check it out. She has some translated stories (Pagla Dashu) from him as well in two other posts


http://athomewriting.blogspot.com/2006/08/making-sense-nonsensically-sukumar-ray.html

Simi