Sukumar Ray, translated by Sampurna Chatterji
Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray
Puffin Classics (India), 2008.
Sukumar Ray was a Bengali writer born in Calcutta in 1887. After being educated in India and England, he returned to his father’s printing press business U. Ray & Sons in Calcutta. At that time, the older Ray had begun publishing a children’s magazine called Sandesh. When Sukumar took over the press in 1915, he began to write for the magazine, producing poetry and stories, as well as illustrations for Sandesh. Wordygurdyboom! is a collection of Ray’s writing and illustrations, translated from the original Bengali by Sampurna Chatterji. As noted in the introduction by Ruskin Bond, Bengali is a language that ‘lends itself to rhyme and rhythm, to puns and wordplay.’ Ray, influenced by the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, carved out his own unique style of verse in Bengali and, thanks to Sampurna Chatterji’s excellent translation, readers can really enjoy his ‘non-sensibility’ in this English anthology.
The book is made up of a selection of Ray’s writings which include poems, stories, and even a made-up hunting diary of a Professor Chuckleonymous. Throughout the book, strange creatures abound like the Limey Cow which is “not a cow, in fact it’s a bird” or the Billy Hawk calf who “is forbidden to laugh.” There’s the Wonster who is a pining, whining, ‘nag-nag’ or the Pumpkin Grumpkin who looks like a walrus-manatee. In the poem Mish Mash, there are all manners of creatures combined to become such oddities as the ‘duckupine,’ the ‘elewhale’ or the ‘stortoise.”
In Ray’s stories, various odd characters appear like the calculating Raven of Haw-Jaw-Baw-Raw-Law or the mischievous school boy Dashu of “Dashu the Dotty One.” There’s Professor Globellius Brickbat who experiments with cannonballs made up of “nettle-juice, chilli-smoke, flea-fragrance, creeper-cordial, rotten-radish extract,” the result of which, as you can imagine, is not flattering to the appearance of the man post-experiment.
Wordygurdyboom! is a delightful collection of writing. What is astonishing, however, is the fact that this is a work of translation. Non-sense verse relies heavily on the nuances of language; that the Bengali could be translated into English in this manner is truly, as Bond points out, ‘deserving of a medal.’ Much credit has to be given to Sampurna Chatterji for bringing this lively, witty writer’s words into English for a new generation of readers to appreciate and enjoy.