Growing up in a Bengali household, I was surrounded by lots of books. From Sanjib Chattopadhyay to Sunil Gangopadhyay, I was a voracious reader of all kinds of literature, but If you ask me who my favourite author is, I would say Satyajit Ray. His Feluda series is my favourite, closely followed by Professor Shonku series, and the short stories.
Feluda, or Pradosh Chandra Mitter, is a fictional sleuth created by Ray in 1965. The stories are narrated by his cousin, Tapesh Ranjan Mitter, or Topshe. They are accompanied in most of the stories by Lal Mohan Ganguly, or Jotayu, a bestselling novelist whose detectivebooks sell like hot kachoris.
While solving a case, the trio often have to travel to different places. The books take readers all over India, and even abroad on rare occasions. The stories feel like travelogues though the primary focus is on the crime solving capability of Feluda. Ray has described the places with such a keen eye for detail that the reader can almost visualise the locations through his minute observations.
Bengalis have a penchant for travelling for which we;ve coined a phrase “payer tolay sorshe” meaning “mustard seeds below our feet.” The Feluda stories capture this essence and tickle our travel buds. Here's a map of India with a rough estimate of the places Feluda and gang have been.
Let us look at some of the places the three musketeers have travelled to.
Part of the holy Bengali trinity of Di-Pu-Da (others being Digha and Puri), this hill station is the setting of the first Feluda story ‘Feludar Goendagiri’ (Danger in Darjeeling) and a later novel ‘Darjeeling Jomjomat’ (Murder in the Mountains). Ray has given a vivid description of this picturesque town located in the foothills of the Himalayas in both these works. I particularly remember the trio enjoying a cup of hot chocolate on the terrace of the famous Keventers. In another scene, we come across Jotayu reciting a poem while gazing at Kanchenjunga in awe.
Another city which is the backdrop of two Feluda stories–‘Badshahi Angti’ (The Emperor’s Ring) and ‘Shakuntalar Kanthahar’ (Shakuntala’s Necklace), Lucknow holds a special place for me as I visited this city very recently, in 2017. While travelling in the City of Nawabs, I felt the thrill of visiting the iconic locations mentioned in Ray's books including Bada Imambara and Residency. While navigating the bewildering maze of the Bhulbhulaiya with a guide, I recollected how Feluda had imprinted the plan of the maze in his mind in just one tour.
In ‘Gangtokey Gondogol’ (Trouble in Gangtok), Ray takes us to Sikkim where the adventure continues in Gangtok and Pemayangtse. We get a glimpse of the famous lama dance in Rumtek Monastery while getting a warning about the dangers of leeches in Sikkim, especially during the monsoon. We also get a close look within the walls of a Buddhist monastery and learn about the Buddhist deity Yamantaka.
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This state is the setting of one of the most well-known Feluda stories–‘Sonar Kella’ (The Golden Fortress). The silver screen adaptation was done by Ray to perfection. The story takes readers to the majestic forts of Rajasthan in Bikaner, Kishangarh and Jaisalmer. The entire story is a travel diary. We can identify with Topshe’s excitement when he realises he might get to visit Rajasthan during the Puja holidays. The movie made some changes to the locations but the major difference is the introduction shot of Jotayu in the film which has become a cult classic mainly due to the acting capabilities of the actor, Santosh Dutta. Jaisalmer gained immense popularity overnight when the film released in 1974. Even now Bengalis plan a trip to Rajasthan keeping Jaisalmer as the focal point.
The backdrop of ‘Baksho Rahasya’ (Incident on the Kalka Mail) is the hill station of Shimla. A curious case about identical suitcases takes our favourite trio to the snow-covered mountains of Himachal Pradesh. I am giving a translated paraphrase of Topshe’s words about Shimla–“I have seen Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling, once while taking a flight to Delhi I even saw the snow-covered Annapurna as the sky was clear, I have seen snow in movies set in colder countries, but I have never been as amazed as I was after seeing the snow in front of my eyes in Shimla. If there weren’t any Indians on the road, then I wouldn’t have believed we were in India at all.” These are the words of a true traveller, which Ray was. In the movie adaptation, Jotayu gets so mesmerised with Shimla that he repeatedly tells Feluda that he has come to Switzerland.
The Ellora Caves in Aurangabad is the place where the plot thickens in the story ‘Kailashe Kelenkari’ (A Killer in Kailash). The plot is about the vandalism of ancient temple sculptures which gets smuggled out of the country by criminals. As the story progresses, we visit Bibi ka Maqbara in Aurangabad which bears a striking resemblance to the Taj Mahal. Ray teaches us about the rich history of our country which is reflected in the intricately cut caves of Ellora, specially the Kailash Temple which is believed to have been carved from a single monolithic structure. You cannot help but gape in awe at the engineering marvels of the caves.
The holy city of Varanasi, or Kashi, forms the main locale in ‘Joy Baba Felunath’ (The Mystery of the Elephant God). Another story, ‘Golapi Mukta Rahasya’ (The Mystery of the Pink Pearl), is also partly based here. This is the place where Feluda meets his arch nemesis Maganlal Meghraj for the first time. Ray has quite aptly captured the essence of Varanasi in his books with its narrow lanes and Ganga ghats. What adds to the charm is the film version where we can see the trio navigating their way through the sea of people while Feluda tries to solve the case of the missing Ganesh statue. The climax scene of Feluda’s confrontation with Maganlal in Dashashwamedh Ghat remains etched in every Bengali’s mind.
The ‘City of Dreams’ is the major backdrop of the story ‘Bombaiyer Bombete’ (The Bandits of Bombay). After going to Bombay (or Mumbai) to see the shooting of a film adapted from one of Jotayu’s book (also titled Bombaiyer Bombete), Feluda gets involved in the investigation of a smuggling racket. This book has a famous chase between a train and horses, which takes place somewhere between Lonavala and Khandala. We get to view Mumbai from a tourist’s eyes as the trio goes from Marine Drive to Gateway of India. They enter the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel to see the inside of a five star hotel and get completely spellbound.
In ‘Tintorettor Jishu’ (Tintoretto’s Jesus), while investigating a missing Renaissance painting, Feluda, Topshe and Jotayu travel to Hong Kong. We get to know the meaning of its name, 'fragrant harbour', the fact that people here always seem to be in a hurry. The film version shows the neon lit cityscape of Hong Kong at night which is really quite beautiful.
The case of a mysterious death takes the gang to the capital of Nepal where Feluda meets his arch nemesis Maganlal once again. The story ‘Joto Kando Kathmandute’ (The Criminals of Kathmandu) progresses at a rapid pace while simultaneously taking time to show the sights around Kathmandu. We see the Durbar Square which is now a UNSECO World Heritage Site and the Kal Bhairav Temple through Topshe’s eyes. The description ofSwayambhunath Stupa and Pashupatinath Temple makes us feel as if we are right there with the trio.
Last but not least, we will talk about the time the trio went to London on a case in ‘Londone Feluda’ (Feluda in London). The sleuth tells us all about the tube system. Seeing the crowd in Oxford Street, Jotayu says, “I am seeing for the first time the fact that human traffic jams can also occur.” Ray pays homage to Sherlock Holmes in this book via Feluda who considers the Brit detective his guide. The trio visit the iconic Baker Street address, where Feluda says, “Master, we are here because of you. My visit to London is successful today.”
This story was first published in August 2020.