We publish books for children and young adults with a strong Indian flavour.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Adventures of Kakababu

In a tradition initiated by Rabindranath Tagore, there is hardly an author writing in Bengali who has not written for children. And, noted litterateur and the current President of Sahitya Akademi, Sunil Gangopadhyay, has enriched this tradition with his enduring character duo, Kakababu-Santu.

Way back in early 1970s, the then editor of Anandamela, a Bengali children's monthly, Nirendranath Chakraborty, asked Gangopadhyay to write something for children for their annual Puja number. Gangopadhyay created a character called Kakababu—an antithesis of a detective—and penned his first novel, Bhoyonkor Sundor that appeared in 1974 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kakababu so captivated the imagination of readers that it has become a permanent feature of Anandamela annual numbers since then. Kakababu has found a place for himself in the pantheon of Bengali fictional detective characters, such as Satyajit Ray's Feluda and Saradindu Bandopadhyay's Byomkesh Bakshi, who have appealed across generations, been adapted into films and television and translated into different languages.

Kakababu's enduring appeal lies in his character.

Raja Roychowdhury, aka Kakababu, earlier with the Archaeological Survey of India developed a physical deformity as a result of an accident while working there. Kakababu is not a sleuth in the conventional sense—he does not detect a crime. Instead, he is on a trail to detect the mystery behind well-known historical facts or to protect our cultural heritage or simply in the quest of the unknown. He is much sought after by Indian authorities for the sheer width of his knowledge and analytical skills and ability to dig out a lead.

His work also leads to physical threats to his person, from which he manages to extricate himself by this sheer intelligence and indomitable spirit. Kakababu's disability is apparent, but his spirit and confidence is what leaves an impression on the minds of the young readers and adds an aura around the character.

Gangopadhyay's craft in his books for children and young adults is particularly striking. He takes his readers to exotic locales—like Kashmir and Andaman Islands—in an equally exotic and unknown quest. Till the last pages, one keeps guessing the outcome—and the outcome itself is quite the unexpected! In the process, the young readers get visually transported to the setting of the story and subtly get to know about our history, geography and culture. In fact, it is said that the legendary itinerant Bengali tourist started to put Andaman Islands onto their radar screens only after reading his much acclaimed Sobuj Dwiper Raja and after it was made into a film by legendary Tapan Sinha.

A lone ranger, Kakababu just wants to be left alone to work on things of his interest. He is always accompanied by his young assistant, his 13-year old nephew Santu, probably the youngest assistant to a detective, much younger to even Feluda's Topshe. It is through the eyes of Santu that the readers first got to know about Kakababu in Bhoyonkor Sundor. Santu is a keen observant who always keeps questioning Kakababu and doesn't mind sharing his candid views about the elders’ way of doing things! As a result, younger audiences connected with him quite well. Another reason for this connect for pre-teens is that Raja Roychowdhury is like a father-figure to Santu, his Kakababu, rather than someone immediately elder in age, the dada (elder brother) or da (Feluda, Rijuda, Tenida, Ghanada, amongst others).

Ponytale Books has published English translations of two of Kakababu classics, Bhoyonkor Sundor as The Dreadful Beauty by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and Sobuj Dwiper Raja, as The King of the Verdant Island by Tridiv Chowdhury and intends to regularly publish more adventures of Kakababu and Santu.

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