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Rajshekhar Basu

Illustrations for Parashuram’s stories on display

Show is now on till October 19 at Arthshila, Syambati, Santiniketan

Soumitra Das | Published 08.10.23, 06:12 AM
Rajshekhar Basu with (right) Jatindrakumar Sen

Rajshekhar Basu with (right) Jatindrakumar Sen

The original drawings of an artist without which the humorous and satirical writings of Rajshekhar Basu are unthinkable are being displayed for the first time ever at an exhibition titled Vision & Visuals: Jatindrakumar Sen’s Illustrations for Parashuram’s Stories.

The show is now on till October 19 at Arthshila, Syambati, Santiniketan.

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It is curated by the sculptor K.S. Radhakrishnan. Both writer and artist published under assumed names. While Rajshekhar Basu (1880-1960) was well known by his pen name, Parashuram, Jatin Sen (1882-1966) initially called himself Narad.

The story of the discovery of this cache of original manuscripts of Rajshekhar Basu and Jatin Sen’s original drawings at the Bhowanipore home of the famous writer, who was also a lexicographer and chemist, is documented in the book named after the exhibition published by Niyogi Books. It has a selection of the original drawings as well.

Well-known collector Parimal Ray said it was only because of the generosity of Dipankar Basu, Rajshekhar Basu’s great grandson, that the exhibition could be mounted.

In 2013, on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Sukumar Ray, Parimal Ray was looking for the covers Sandesh published in the last 100 years for he wanted to hold an exhibition of them. Sandesh is a children’s magazine first published in 1913. Both Sukumar Ray and his father Upendrakishore edited Sandesh. It was later revived by Satyajit Ray.

An acquaintance told Parimal Ray that Dipankar Basu had a collection of the magazine. After some initial hesitation, Dipankar, who is Parimal’s neighbour, relented. Rajshekhar Basu dumped all his papers and documents in a storeroom when he had moved to his Bhowanipore house from his ancestral home in Parsibagan in Maniktala in 1935. Besides the old and moth-eaten Sandesh issues, Parimal discovered the manuscripts of Rajshekhar Basu and the drawings of Jatin Sen, much of it reduced to dust, in the storeroom crawling with insects.

When Parimal, who had known Radhakrishnan from his early youth, showed the sculptor Jatin Sen’s art work, the drawings of the rarefied phantoms caught his trained eye. “These are important historically. The relationship between the writer and the artist worked very well. I am from Kerala and the artist Namboothiri was known for his illustrations,” said Radhakrishnan in a telephone interview.

“Illustrations help readers. The crumbling originals are displayed under a glass covering and high quality scans are displayed on the walls. This does justice to the original art work. Viewers can appreciate their high quality that is often lost in printing. Each work is captioned, along with a gist of the story it is meant for.”

Jatindrakumar Sen, who was a pioneer of commercial art, was born in Chandernagore and was raised in Darbhanga, Bihar. He was trained at the Government Art School in Kolkata and enjoyed a close relationship with the unsmiling Rajshekhar Basu.

About 150 drawings are on display and they include Jatin Sen’s illustrations and titles of the first three of Rajshekhar Basu’s nine story books.

Rajshekhar Basu often did the initial pencil drawings of the characters he had written about so that Jatin Sen could easily visualise them. The corrupt turbaned businessman, feisty and formidable ladies, the goat Lambakarna, who is mistaken for a tiger, the fake godman and his gullible devotees, the flapper who gets married off to her boyfriend in a train compartment by a Bengali Brahmin, the creature with a mincing gait clad in a dhoti, and best of all, the galaxy of spooks and other classic Parashuram characters take visible form through Jatindrakumar Sen’s drawings. Included are Rajshekhar Basu’s rough sketches for his condensed Ramayan that were not used ultimately. Jatindrakumar Sen’s drawings are animated by Parashuram’s pungent humour.

Last updated on 09.10.23, 03:33 PM
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