Posts Tagged ‘Satyajit Ray’s mother Suprabha Ray’

Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray

By Tumpa Mukherjee

On October 3 this year it was the 125th birth anniversary of Suprabha Ray. The present generation has hardly heard her name and perhaps the world knows her just by one line – wife of Sukumar Ray and mother of Satyajit Ray.

But her existence and identity was much more than this one line. I am privileged to be born in a family, which knew her very closely. My dadu (my maternal grandmother’s own brother) Dr Surit Mukherjee, was her physician. But she treated dadu like her own son till the last day of her life.

Dadu was popularly known in his time as Noshu babu and I called him Chini dadu. It is unfortunate that Chini dadu is no more with us but everyone, who had ever interacted with dadu, still speak about him with fondness and respect.
In my family my mamas, mashis called Suprabha Ray Tulu mashi. They still speak about Tulu mashi. She was a very strong and dignified lady. After the untimely death of Sukumar Ray and the failure of their family printing business, she moved with her three-year-old son to her brother’s place. But she was never a burden on him.

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan”

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan founded by Abala Bose. I have heard stories from my mom and mashis that she used to tell my grandmother that nobody knows how she struggled and brought up Manik (Satyajit Ray) single handedly.

She was excellent in knitting and stitching especially Kashmiri stitch. In fact Kashmiri wallahs (people coming from Kashmir to sell products in Calcutta) would be stunned seeing her Kashmiri stitch. She was a brilliant cook and excelled in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. She made excellent payesh and she would keep it for my Baromama (mother’s elder brother) because he was very fond of payesh.

She had made a sweater for Manik using two strings and by making knots with the strings, but later on gave it to Baromama. He told me that whenever he would wear the sweater, people would ask him who made it.
It was Chini dadu who convinced Suprabha Ray to accept Manik’s (Satyajit Ray) decision to marry Moinku (Bijoya Das). She was initially not sure because they were first cousins.

Later when Satyajit Ray, after his marriage went abroad, Chini dadu and his family, comprising my dida (Joytirmoyee) and their daughter Krishna and son Bachu, went and stayed with them.

Krishna mashi called Suprabha Ray Didimoni. She told me every morning she would wake up and sing Brahmo upasana sangeet in front of Sukumar Ray’s photograph. She was a very good singer. She had recorded a song with HMV in Calcutta. She used to teach Krishna mashi and tell her stories of Brahmo Samaj, Sukumar Ray and other things that interested her. She would draw two lines and then would make different types of floral designs. She was a perfectionist in everything. from cooking to knitting.

Every afternoon she would sit with my dida and other women and would teach them different types of stitches, different types of cutting, making shameej (a blouse worn mostly as undergarment by women of late nineteenth and early twentieth century), katha. She used to make panjabi, pyjama for her sons which included my dadu.

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate. 

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate.  In fact she had made a lovely bust of Gautama Buddha which I saw occupying pride of place in Ray’s Bishop Lefroy Road home.

In fact, during Krishna mashi’s wedding it was Manik (Satyajit Ray) who had drawn her biyer piri (flat wooden desk type where traditionally Bengali brides sit for marriage).

Suprabha Ray breathed her last on November 27, 1960. It was Chini dadu who performed the last rites. Since Manik was heartbroken and refused to light the funeral pyre, Chini dadu performed the last rites.

I am told she was very down-to-earth, simple, but a strict disciplinarian. It is very sad that very few people know about her talents and potentials. I think she got completely overshadowed by her genius husband and internationally renowned film maker son. I think she was a woman who suffered happiness and sadness simultaneously. After seven years of her marriage her son Manik was born and at that time Sukumar Ray fell ill and subsequently died of Kalazar. From the age of 2 years 4 months she brought up Manik alone .

Satyajit Ray is a renowned name, in fact, a cult figure in Bengal. He enjoys a demi-god status among Bengalis. But he never inherited the creative instincts of his family through direct interaction with his paternal side. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury died six years before his birth. Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was two years 4 months old. But it was his mother who brought him up, taught him, looked after him, cared for him, communicated their creative, literary legacy to him. But it is an irony of patriarchal society that Satyajit Ray is referred mostly as grandson of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and son of Sukumar Ray. Suprabha Ray has faded into oblivion.
But she has always remained with me ever since my childhood through oral narratives of my family members.

Tumpa Mukherjee is working as Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology , Women’s Christian College, Kolkata and is researching for a book on Suprabha Ray.

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