Other than our obsession with monkey caps and maachh, what we Bengalis are most often stereotyped with is how we take our literature very, very seriously. And this one is actually pretty spot on.
Literature is our religion. We grow up binge reading whatever we can lay our hands on, and considering the vast array of brilliant literary works that have been written in Bangla, we seriously are spoilt for choice.
From hilarious comic strips, science-fiction, adventure-travel, murder mysteries – Bengali literature traverses all genres. Here is a list of some of the most popular and iconic characters in Bangla literature which will tug at your heartstrings with sheer nostalgia.
Gora, Rabindranath Tagore
One of the most complex and highly-acclaimed novels penned by Tagore, ‘Gora’ is a philosophical study of human emotions. The protagonist is a man of contradictions, with a very nuanced personality. While on the exterior he might exude arrogance and a burning need for self assertion, he is an extremely sympathetic and patriotic person and cannot stand injustice. Gora’s impelling attitude coupled with his optimism and orthodox beliefs, will make you oscillate between feelings of appreciation and repugnance for him.
Feluda, Satyajit Ray
Bengal’s very own Sherlock Holmes, the image of brooding hottie Prodosh Mitter smoking his Charminar cigarettes, while going about unravelling mysteries is one that will induce happiness without fail. Feluda’s whip smart demeanour and dynamic personality, as he’s constantly working on his ‘Mogojastro’, make him the super sleuth we Bangalees worship and will do so for ages to come.
Shankar Roy Chaudhary, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
It was Shankar Roy Chaudhary and his relentless yearning for adventure that instilled a gnawing wanderlust in us Bong kids, much before Christopher McCandless made it fashionable. In ‘Chander Pahaar’ , Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s vivid narration brought to life the travels of the valiant Shankar, his encounters with deadly creatures and challenging landscapes on his expedition across Africa, and how his journey culminates into an odyssey of self discovery. Reading it has been an unforgettable experience.
Byomkesh Bakshi, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay
You’re a disgrace of a Bangalee if you have not grown up binge reading Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s brilliantly intricate detective series. ‘Satyanweshi’ (the seeker of truth) Byomkesh and his partner Ajit became a cult in their own right as they set about solving crimes with oodles of style. ‘Makorshar Rosh’, ‘Adim Ripu’ , ‘Shajarur Kanta’ are some all time favorites which will always stay with us.
Pagla Dashu, Sukumar Ray
The Ray family line is basically strewn with prodigies, and it is largely to their courtesy that Bengali literature is so wonderfully enriched. Penned by Sukumar Ray, Pagla Dashu is a vibrant collection of 25 Bangla short stories. It revolves around the antics of Dasharathi – a free spirit, who often gets away with pranks on uptight or boastful characters, with nothing more severe than a boxed ear. It gives us a glimpse into school life from a different era.
Bimala, Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore’s Bimala spells power. She was perhaps one of the first female characters to have shifted from the ‘pure’ to the ‘fallen’. Her gullibility was her hamartia. So, why do we think she was powerful, then? Because she made all her choices herself and for herself and not for the men in her life. She might have ended up making all the wrong choices, but they were her choices nevertheless.
Indir Thakrun, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
One of the most powerful characters, in one of the most poignant and iconic works in Bengali literature, ‘Pather Panchali’ ‘s Indir Thakrun personifies the tragedy that this novel evokes. Her zest for life, her heart-warming relationship with Durga and her eventual demise brings out a certain sense of sadness and longing that will stay with you for a long time.
Srikanta, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
“As I sit down to tell my story in this fading afternoon of my wandering life, I am flooded with memories.” Thus begins Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s lyrical novel. It is a narration of the protagonist Srikanta – an aimless drifter, a passive spectator, as he unabashedly reminisces on the years gone by. Srikanta is a simple man, an extraordinary character and bold in his self analysis. With Srikanta, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay set the precedent for socially conscious writing in modern Indian literature.
Ghona Da, Premendra Mitra
No. 72, Banamali Naskar Lane is synonymous with Ghona Da’s jaunt, and his storytelling ventures. Ghona Da is author Premendra Mitra’s creation, who narrates tales of his travels across the globe to tackle sinister bad-guys and international conspiracies. Premendra Mitra’s brilliant narration in Ghona Da’s voice is a fantastic trip, with unique stories that range from science-fiction to historical conspiracies, fuelled by tonnes of action and adventure.
Lalmohan Ganguly aka ‘Jatayu’, Satyajit Ray
The quintessential funny man in Bengali literature, Jatayu’s antics are incredibly endearing. His vibrant, exuberant, witty character is perfectly brought to life by the legendary Santosh Dutta in the Feluda movies. The brilliance of the Feluda series would definitely have been slightly lacklustre without Lalmohan-babu’s wide-eyed wonderment and the right amount of comic relief he brings.