The Complete Adventures of Feluda (Volume 1 and 2)
by Satyajit Ray
Published by Penguin India (2005)
I hadn’t read Faluda till this day. Only ever heard of the character, and watched some of the movies while channel-surfing. This is despite my love for Satyajit Ray, to whose work I was introduced in Grade 6 by my school. When it came up for discussion with friends, a close friend was particularly shocked by this gap in my reading, so I proceeded to fill it immediately. Thankfully, these omnibus works, in chronological order of publishing were available, which made the task a lot easier than I anticipated.
The superlatives used by the public describe Ray’s writing and creative ability are words I will try to avoid repeating. I’d like to focus this review centrally on Feluda and the kind of feelings reading a narration of his adventures invoked in me.
As a child, I was a huge fan of mystery and detective books. Enid Blyton was huge, so my parents started me off with the Famous Five and Secret Seven, and moved me through to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys before I leveled up to Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels. When I Googled Feluda, several Indian readers had left comments on various reading threads that one would enjoy these stories if they were a fan of the aforementioned series. Having read the series though, I have to admit that I agree, but only to an extent.
You don’t need to be a mystery-aficionado to read Feluda. Nor do you need to have a fondness for Indian literature. Ray’s portrayal of the character and supporting crew transcends genres.
There are three primary characters. The narrator is Topshe, or Tapeshranjan, Feluda’s cousin. He is younger than Feluda and chronicles all of Feluda’s cases in detail. The device works very well, and perhaps one of the rare cases where a young narrator is not irritating. Feluda, of course, is the detective who loves riddles and puzzles and is smart and intelligent. He is well-read and enjoys having different experiences. Lalmohan Ganguly aka Jatayu is their friend and accompanies them everywhere on their cases. He is a famous writer of mystery stories and gets his ideas from their trips and investigations. Their interaction makes for half of the stories’ delight, and each character is given their own moment to shine, although Feluda is whom the spotlight remains firmly fixed on.
I think the beauty of these stories is that they were intended for a younger audience in the 60’s and 70’s. Today, that allows the stories to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. Ray’s writing clearly invokes Doyle-ianism at several points of plot, right down to missing jewels. However, at no point do these stories pretend to be a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Deep-rooted in Indian references and language, their setting, across the breadth of India, allows you to explore parts of the country that wouldn’t ordinarily come up through a trip – like Gangtok. The second volume shows an evolution in this, with some foreign travel involved, but remains true to the Indian experience, showcasing those travels through an Indian lens as well.
To put it simply, these stories are fun. I now know that I have more stories to read if I’m ever in a slump. They’re enjoyable and feel-good. And that’s what I love most about them.