Stories of scientific exploits of the indomitable Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku, which have held readers spellbound for over five decades, are now available in English.
Prof Shonku, a character created by Satyajit Ray, is a globetrotting scientist and an eccentric genius and his stories open a completely new world of imagination.
In “The Mystery of Munroe Island and Other Stories”, translated from Bengali by Indrani Majumdar and published by Puffin Classics, Prof Shonku is on an incredible world tour. During his course of travel, he confronts a daring doppelganger, undertakes an experiment to create pure gold, unravels the mystery of a scientist’s loss of memory and visits an unknown island to look for an amazing fruit, among other escapades.
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The Shonku stories first appeared in 1961 in “Sandesh”, a magazine for children that had been started by Ray’s grandfather Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury in 1913. In 1916, it was taken over by Ray’s father Sukumar and in 1961 revived by Ray himself.
In all, Ray wrote and published 40 adventures – the last two appearing only as incomplete drafts. Out of these, 18 were written for the annual editions of “Anandamela”, another popular children’s magazine. Ray continued to write and captivate readers with the Shonku escapades for the next 30-odd years.
So Shonku with a bunch of madcap characters try to find out what is the message in the mysterious papyrus found in Cairo and why did scientists go missing in the deep jungle of Congo? Or is there any truth about the sightings of the UFO and what happens when he takes an extraordinary animal to Koblenz in Germany?
Prof Shonku is often accompanied on his sojourns by old friends – Saunders, Crole and Summerville, Nakur Chandra Biswas, his trusted servant Prahlad and his feline friend Newton.
According to Majumdar, the Shonku stories offer the reader not just the suspense, thrill and excitement of the mysteries, but also present a wonderful travelogue across the world and the opportunity to study the scheming and devious minds of people in the garb of scientists, businessmen and ordinary citizens.
“They take the reader to faraway yet imaginary lands while reiterating the eternal human values and emphasising right from wrong,” she says.