ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Creative Zeal of the Rays

The Rays before Satyajit: Creativity and Modernity in Colonial India by Chandak Sengoopta,New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016; pp xi+418,995.

In The Rays before Satyajit, Chandak Sengoopta tries to situate the ancestors of Satyajit Ray in their historical context. The book, in many senses, tries to search for the historical roots of the maestro’s modernity. However, it does much more than simply trace the historical and familial origins of Ray’s genius. In fact, Sengoopta is more interested in narrating the story of Ray’s predecessors and less in writing a biography of Ray in this book. He picks up the case of the Rays to narrate the bigger story of modernity in India. So far, scholars who have written about the history of the Ray family have either tried to make a connection between the early Rays and Satyajit Ray or have focused on the literary contributions of writers like Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri and Sukumar Ray. But Sengoopta argues that in order to comprehend the negotiations that the early Rays made with colonial modernity, one needs to look at their contribution to other fields such as art, social reform, and last but not the least, nationalism. Sengoopta states succinctly that he has chosen to narrate the history of this particular family because this biography “can tell us about the character and ambiguities of colonial modernity” (p 9).

Sengoopta begins by tracing the genealogy of the Rays, for which he turns to Mymensingh, their native place. While most of the middle-class men in Mymensingh chose to pursue government jobs, the Rays traversed a different path altogether. They did not just steer clear from administrative jobs (except Pramadaranjan Ray), they also never showed any interest in pursuing careers in law, engineering, or medicine. While Saradaranjan Ray, Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri’s elder brother, always remained a staunch Hindu, his brothers opted to follow the Brahmo religion. Sengoopta owes much of Upendrakishore’s interest in conversion to his father-in-law, Dwarakanath Ganguli. In fact, Sengoopta further states that the story of the Ray family is integrally connected to the reformism of Dwarakanath Ganguli. It is a well-known fact that Ganguli was a steadfast advocate of women’s education. His passion for designing a proper curriculum for women needs to be situated in the larger context of female education.

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Updated On : 24th May, 2017

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