In Memoriam: Leela Mazumder
The magician of children’s literature
Ashley Shoptorshi Samaddar
Leela Mazumder, a prolific Bengali writer, knitted stories for children and her journey in story knitting continued for decades. She mesmerizes readers with not only fables but also vivid dilemmas, thoughts and experiences that an individual has to surpass from childhood to adolescence.
Born on February 26, 1908 to Pramada Ranjan Ray and Surama Devi, Leela spent her childhood days at Shillong. She began schooling in Loreto Convent in Shillong. Later in 1919, her father was transferred to Calcutta and she joined St. John's Diocesan School from where she completed her high school. She ranked second among the girls in the matriculation examination in 1924. Continuing her studies she enrolled for her graduation in English Literature under University of Calcutta. She stood first in English (literature) respectively in Honours and Master of Arts examination at University of Calcutta.
Her family was quiet prominent in the field of literature especially for children. Sunil Gangopadhyay said that the Ray family were the first ones who laid the foundation of children's literature in Bengali. She was married to Dr Sudhir Kumar Mazumdar, who was a renowned dentist since 1933.
She started her academic journey in 1931 by joining at Maharani Girls' School at Darjeeling as a teacher. Afterwards she received an invitation from Rabindranath Tagore himself and joined the school at Santiniketan. Her stay was very short at Shantiniketan as she stayed only for a year. She joined the women's section of Asutosh College in Calcutta and again did not continue for long. She was respected and stable but her teaching could not satisfy her soul as she loved to tell stories.
After a series of jobs she finally started spending most of her time in writing. After passing two decades as a writer, she joined All India Radio as a producer and worked for about seven years because she loved connecting to individuals, especially children. Humour was the most common and relished emotion in her stories. She commenced a radio programme named 'Monimala' which narrated the story of a very ordinary girl whose grandmother starts writing to her from when she turns 12, continuing into her marriage and motherhood. For a special Mahila Mahal (women's section) series of All-India Radio it was telecasted.
Her incomplete bibliography lists a total of 125 books including a collection of short stories, five books under joint authorship, 9 translated books and 19 edited books. Leela's first published book was Boddi Nather Bari (1939). Her second work Din Dupure published in 1948 which brought her into spotlight as a prominent story writer. Till1950s, her incomparable glittering array of children's classics followed. Although humour was her forte, she also wrote detective stories, ghost stories and fantasies. Her autobiographical sketch Pakdandi provides an insight into her childhood days in Shillong and also her early years at Santiniketan and All India Radio.
Apart from her children's literature she wrote a cookbook and novels for adults like Sreemoti, Cheena Lanthan and a biography of Rabindranath Tagore. She lectured on Abanindranath Tagore and translated his writings on art into English. She also translated Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea into Bengali. Satyajit Ray had thought of filming Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho but later Arundhati Devi made it into a film in 1972.
Her other published works include: Holde Pakhir Palok, Tong Ling, Maaku Gama, Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho, Boddi Nather Bori, Din Dupure, Chhotoder Srestho Galpo, Monimala, Bagher Chhokh, Bok Dharmik, Taka Gaachh, Lal Neel Deslai, Basher Phul, Moyna, Shalikh, Bhuter Bari, Aaguni Beguni, Tipur Upor Tipuni, Patka Chor, Aashare Galpo, Chiching Phank, Je Jai Boluk, Chhotoder Tal Betal, Batash Bari, Bagh Shikari Bamun, Baghyar Galpo, Shibur Diary, Howrahr Dari, Ferari, Nepor Boi, Aar Konokhane, Kheror Khata, Ei Je Dekha, Pakdandi,Sreemoti, Cheena Lanthan,Moni Manil, Naatghar, Batashbari, Kaag Noi, Shob Bhuture, and Bak Badh Pala.
Among her recognised works Holde Pakhir Palok was very prominent as it won State Award for children's literature and Bak Badh Pala also won Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. She had won the Suresh Smriti Puraskar, Vidyasagar Puraskar, Bhubaneswari Medal for lifetime achievement and Ananda Puraskar for her immense contribution in Bengali literature. She was awarded the Deshikottama by Visva Bharati and honorary D Litt by Burdwan, North Bengal and Calcutta University.
Today she is no longer physically present with us but she resides in almost every library, bookshelf and numerous hearts. Leela Mazumder has her name curved as a 'storyteller' in Bengali literature.