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The Rays on Sandesh covers

Parimal Ray points to a cover illustrated by Sukumar Ray that has been used four times. (Sudeshna Banerjee)

Satyajit Ray might be the best-known illustrator of the covers of Sandesh, the iconic children’s magazine founded by his grandfather, but his forefathers who edited it also illustrated the covers themselves.

Parimal Ray has been collecting the covers which were exhibited recently at Nandan 4 to mark the centenary of Sandesh and its founder Upendrakisor Raychaudhury’s 150th birth anniversary.

“It has been tough going as people do not preserve magazines, and the bound volumes in libraries had the covers torn off by the binders,” says the 78-year-old who has been collecting calendars, cigarette cases and matchboxes since childhood. “I never read Sandesh as a child as the magazine folded up in 1935, a year before I was born. When it was revived by Satyajit Ray and Subhas Mukhopadhyay in 1961, I was well past my teens.”

He got a taste of Sandesh during the opening of Satyajit Ray Park in Patuli in 2005 where his collection of publicity materials for Pather Panchali was on display. “In a room, being used by the Sandesh team, were stacks of the magazine with Satyajit Ray’s brilliant illustrations on the covers.” That set him off on his trail, with help from associates like Kazi Arindam, poet Nazrul Islam’s grandson.

Chubby children and sweets were dominant themes in Upendrakisor and Sukumar’s sketches. “But Satyajit Ray’s favourite cover possibly was his father’s sketch of a clown reading Sandesh seated in front of a tiger and a crane. He used it on the cover of the Sukumar centenary issue.”

Of the editors from the Ray family, only Subinoy Raychaudhury, who ran the magazine after brother Sukumar’s death in 1923, could not draw. “He recycled his father’s and brother’s illustrations on the cover,” Parimal says.

In 1970, Satyajit briefly turned the magazine into a bi-monthly tabloid and used comic strips on the cover. The artist for the first issue was cartoonist Saila Chakraborty’s son Deepak, now better known as actor Chiranjeet.

Sandesh, Parimal says, has been published in three phases — from 1913 to 1926 (edited consecutively by Upendrakisor, Sukumar and Subinoy), from 1931 to 1935 (when Karunabindu Biswas, manager of U Ray & Sons, and his brother Sudhabindu acquired the sick company and took in Subinoy as joint editor) and from 1961 till date, now with Sandip Ray, himself an artist, at the helm.

“There is just one cover lacking in my collection, from Upendrakisor’s time,” Parimal rues. He has acquired a black and white photocopy, though.