VERDICT: A MUST READ
Satyajit Ray recalling when he had to leave his ancestral home:
“I was too young to wonder about the reasons. All I can remember is my mother telling me one day that we would have to leave the house in Gorpar.”
Childhood Days: A Memoir is a small collection of memories of Ray’s childhood compiled by himself. The collection itself first appeared in the magazine Sandesh which was run by his father and which Ray revived later. It was serialized with an aim to bring the admirers of Ray closer to him, which it achieved. The memoir has two halves: the childhood half which spans through the early ages of Ray, and the second movie-making half, which Bijoya (wife of Ray) decided to append to the memoir during translation. The second half is a must read for all the movie lovers.
The earliest memory I have is when I was around 4 years old. However, Satyajit Ray seems to have a very special recalling ability, remembering some moments from when he was only a 2-year old toddler. His earliest memories are with his father who passed away soon after Ray was born.
Throughout the memoir, Satyajit often compares his adulthood days with the childhood days.
Having been lived in Bengal for a substantial part of my childhood, the vivid recollections of the lanes, houses and people of old Kolkata do bring some level of nostalgia in me. The entirety is filled with some comical, some serious descriptions of his family members like Chhoto Kaka making subtle diary entries with four different types of ink or Dhon Dadu who used to enlarge photos of dead people.
Another connection is the early impact of art and the movie world on Ray’s childhood. There are moments when he compares the commotion outside his house to a bioscope and also guides the reader through the working of a stereoscope or when he walks you through his holiday fun readings of Comic Cuts and Film Fun. You can also find a reflection of the non-cooperation movement in his childhood when he used to spin and produce threads on Charkha.
But not everything is serious!
There are so many comic moments throughout particularly of his school memories and his holiday memories. Poems like-
“Rub in your hair Kuntaleen,
On your hankie dab Delkhose,
With your pan chew tamboleen,
And Gratify Mr H Bose”
or lyrics of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star becoming ‘Jiggle Juggle pickle jar’ during the whispering games, or his grade in drawing of 10+F by his teacher where F stands for first – these and many others are little chuckle-worthy moments that make you remember your own childhood.
A very peculiar thing is that Satyajit Ray got opportunities to interact with eminent personalities from his early childhood. He often visited the little zoo of Jagadish Chandra Bose at his house. He also used to visit Shantiniketan annually to attend Poush Mela, one time at which he gave his autograph book to Tagore and was replied with a short poem in it. As such, Ray’s childhood was special although relatable.
There are so many incoherent moments brought beautifully together in this memoir that you are left with the only option to smile and reminisce about your own childhood.
Bored of nostalgia and want to read something interesting? The second half does just that.
It’s a must-read for anyone who has seen or wants to see Ray’s films or just wants to know what kind of film-maker Satyajit Ray was.
Ray immerses you in what a tremendous feat it is to produce a movie. He walks you through the difficulties he has faced in casting, shooting scenes, finding places where to shoot scenes, shooting scenes with tigers (then there was no CGI!), shooting scenes with thousand camels and so many more interesting scenarios.
There are so many nitty-gritties of filmmaking you get to know like when Ray had to film one of the scenes where sweets come falling from the sky in his movie Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne (1969), the difficulties of shooting the train scene in Pather Panchali (1955) or filming through the crowded lanes of Banaras in his movie Joi Baba Felunath (1979).
Having finished my read, I decided to watch Pather Panchali, one the most reputed works of Satyajit Ray. And after you have read the book, you really get to appreciate the film. Fun fact – Pather Panchali was shot over a three-year span on a shoestring budget. A very special connection which I happened to observe was the influence of Ray’s childhood on his movies. The scenes of personal loss and Apu’s family moving away from their village home to Kashi towards the end of Pather Panchali are so much relatable to Ray losing his own father and moving away from his ancestral home at such an early age. However, this discussion remains for another day.
Overall, the small memoir is a very light-hearted easy read. And I would recommend it to every Satyajit Ray fan.
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Have you read Childhood Days: A Memoir? Let us know what you think of the book in the comments below.
22-yo avid reader with a software coding side job. Has a dream to have his own bookhouse some day. Likes to watch Playstation because playing is too complex.