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The Animal World of Satyajit Ray, Rabindranath Tagore and Gautam Buddha

Birth Month Special Article
The Animal World of Satyajit Ray, Rabindranath Tagore and Gautam Buddha
Meghna ‘Phoenix’ Ghatak

Since our beloved Indian Prime Minister talks of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (Self dependent India) as a means to revive the fallen economy during the COVID-19 epidemic, Pawcept brings you a native reading list for the quarantine to read on the animal world.

This month began with the birth anniversary of three important Indian animal lovers – the Oscar winner Satyajit Ray on May 2nd, the Nobel winner Rabindranath Tagore on May 7th and the enlightenment winner Gautam Buddha again on May 7th. While the initial two were Bengali writers of children’s fiction who have been almost entirely translated into English, Buddha’s biography has also been a source of inspiration for many children. Talking of children’s fiction, animals have been an indivisible part of many of these, for it has been found that animals with mystic powers (such as those found in fables) are a favorite of the children. It is amazing that the animals featuring in these stories tend to awe inspire generations of readers. For the adults who have grown up devouring the short stories of these three, and also those who haven’t had a chance, here are the prominent stories of these legends featuring animals.

1.  Asamanja babur Kukur (Mr. Asamanja’s Dog) by Satyajit Ray – this one is my favourite so obviously I began with it.  In the story, a lonely man aptly named Asamanja (confused) buys a strange mongrel pup while grocery shopping. As the mongrel grows up, Asamanja babu realizes that the dog laughed at hilarious situational instances such as when he fell down his chair or a man was toppled by wind. He even gets the dog checked by a vet but he doesn’t get any answers. As the news reluctantly spread, the dog found many buyers but Asamanja babu couldn’t be convinced to sell him as he had formed a unique bond with the dog. The story is simple and unrealistic but witty and funny and teaches us a very essential lesson – not to abandon them for any reason whatsoever.
If you understand Bengali, catch the audio freely available on YouTube in Mirchi Bangla’s May 2018 episode of Sunday Suspense or simply read the English version from any collected short stories eBook available freely on the internet.

2.   Bisarjan (Sacrifice) by Rabindra Nath Tagore – this is a less celebrated drama by the Nobel laureate but a gem nonetheless. The drama begins with an opposition on animal sacrifice in a temple of Goddess Kali in Tripura. A beggar girl’s pet goat has been brought to the temple for forceful sacrifice and she debates with Jaisingh, the servant of the temple, as to how could the goddess who is also a mother, take delight in the murder of an innocent animal child. Govinda, the king cannot answer as to whose rule it is to allow the sacrifice – the gods or the men, so he forbids the ritual of animal sacrifice, much to the displeasure of his court who believe in the ancient laws laid down in the scriptures. The king is about to be executed for his revolt in a political game of power similar to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar but Jaisingh sacrifices himself in front of the goddess to satisfy her blood lust as stated by the priests. The drama concludes with the ideology that the goddess ‘has burst her cruel prison of stone and come back to woman’s heart’.
The entire English translation of the play can be found freely available to read on Tagoreweb.in.

3.   The Jataka Tales – while there are major moral science lessons in the form of fables, the stories in this book basically comprises of the previous lives of Gautam Buddha. Many fables with animals in them have found their way in Panchatantra for they are of similar nature. Hence there are familiar stories such as that of the Golden Mallard where Buddha was reborn as a mallard with golden feathers after living as a father of three daughters. The mallard would give his previous wife and daughters, his golden feathers one at a time to support themselves when the wife got greedy and took all his feathers. Bereft of his golden feathers, he leaves the greedy wife to fend for herself. More such lessons are hidden in the fable stories such as that of The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts where species upon species of animals start a stampede at the false notion of a single hare regarding the end of the world. Buddha in this story was born as a lion and he digs deeper into the grapevine communication and finds out the exact truth, saving the beasts from utter chaos.
Again, the entire English translation is freely available online to read this lockdown at www.pitt.edu, a selection edited by D.L Ashliman, University of Pittsburg, under the hyperlink of Jataka Tales.

Now that we are trying to be ‘Atmanirbhar’ (Self- dependent), let’s remember other poets who were born in the month of May and have penned wondrous tales in native Indian languages. Don’t forget to search for the literature of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Kazi Nasrul Islam, SumitraNandan Pant, Aatreya, Suddhananda Bharati, Anna Sujatha Mathai and many more who have almost completely been translated into either Hindi or English. Can we not emerge out of all the lock downs much more literate and wise in our own native stories to dig for inspiration?




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