4. Monsters in Bangla Science Fiction

Sami Ahmad Khan (SAK): We are surrounded by monsters. Luciano Nuzzo declares that the monster is always captured within a scientific philosophical or juridical discourse but exceeds the discursive forms of its conceptualization. Monsters not only exists in liminal spaces, they carry liminality within their beings which keeps on changing with the passage of time. Monsters of our times become neoMONSTERS: mutating and mutagenic ontological narratives and space-time echoing realistic situations. Today we talk about monsters in Bangla Science Fiction. 

Tonje Andersen (TA): There are monsters under the bed. There are monsters in outer space. And there are monsters at the gate. Welcome to the neoMONSTERS podcast on zombies in India. "The neoMONSTERS within: the others in India's science fiction" is a project at the University of Oslo, Norway. The NeoMONSTERS project delves into how India's popular narratives negotiate epistemes of monstrousness and manifest contesting ideologies within the nation's popular imagination. In this episode, Sami Ahmad Khan Dip Ghosh, an editor and publisher of Bangla-language SF from India.
SAK: Hi Dip! Thank you so much for joining us. 

Dip Ghosh (DG): Yeah, thanks for the invitation. Glad to be here.

SAK: Now, Dip, we know you as a publisher. Can you tell us more about yourself?

DG: I am a computer scientist but my hobby is science fiction and I'm running science fiction magazine called Kalpabiswa for past six years. Recently we have started a publication wing of Kalpabiswa and we have published more or less 40 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books in past two years. We are doing some science fiction research also in Bengali science fiction and we are preserving old science fiction texts and magazines and helping the other researchers with Bengali science fiction.

SAK: Thank you for that Dip. Tell us, what is a monster for you? Is there a particular form that the monster adopts? Can you tell us about any work on monsters that has been recently published by Kalpabiswa? 

DG: For me the monster is something unusual, which we see as a threat for our daily norms. Some kind of social stigma can be a monster for some science fiction. We have published a story recently where the monster is actually the government where women actually lost all the freedom and they have to be just like slaves to the society. So the society/government who is controlling it is kind of a monster in that story. I believe that monster doesn't need a body of its own. It’s an idea. But if you ask me about Bangla SF, monster are usually from outer space, or are robots or mutated animals. 

SAK: This leads us to monsters in Bangla science fiction. How does a monster manifest itself in Bangla language science fiction? Is there a particular demographic being targeted and what kind of issues do we see linked to the monster in Bangla science fiction?  

DG: I will give you some examples of stories… but we need to remember that even post-2000 most of the science fiction stories in Bengali… they're published in some children's magazine. They can't debate very important or very mature topics in a monster story.

SAK: Can you give us some examples please?

DG: One example is by Anish Deb, who left us recently. It was one of his best stories. Terror from Terra. In that story there is a human expedition to a planet and a shape-shifting creature comes onboard. There is another example by Debajyoti Bhattacharya. It's called “Child of Shiva”, a kind of mythological science fiction, which features a creature buried deep inside the earth’s crust. It has a mental link to a girl on the surface and it want to come up from down under. Again, there are lots of stories by Ray, Mitra and Bardhan but those are pretty old stories written in 1940s, 50s and 60s. 

SAK: This would be a good time to unearth a particular kind of monster, the undead. How does Bangla science fiction engage with zombies? Are zombies are common sight in the landscape of Bangla science fiction? Also, can you give us a few examples of how zombies appear in Bengal?

DG: Somehow I think zombie in Bengali literature goes to horror genre but there are a few attempts in SF. Like Saikat Mukhopadhyay’s “Creatures from the Deep”. It was a story about zombies in a mine. Also, audio studies are now getting very popular in Bengali. These zombies actually retain some of their memories and basic instincts linked to some specific type of sound or song or sight. We have a chant of Lady Durga called Mahishur Mardini which all of us Bengalis listen to just before Durga Puja. It is hugely popular over here. So in this story they went to the radio station and broadcast it and that cures zombies by bringing back their memories and their feelings.

SAK: Oh that's very interesting! Perhaps Indian mythology and religion can be a cure for the zombie infection. This reminds me of a recent Telugu-language film called Zombie Reddy in which holy water from a temple cures a zombie epidemic. But does a mythic framework always succeed in curing zombies?

DG: I should say there is some basic difference. Here is not about the power of the holy water or chanting: the cure is not religious. It's about our social association with the chant, that is, chanting is not the cure, but since everyone gets in the morning and listens to that chanting at the start of the Durga Puja, it’s a social association that cures the infection. 

SAK: Understood. So it's not just about the mythic as a core of resistance against the undead but it is more about how the social impact of religion can humanize us and bring people together rather than cleaning them apart. A much-needed thought for our times. Talking of today, we can jump to another monster that has plagued contemporary science fiction: aliens. Can you tell us about the history of alien narratives Bangla with a few examples?

DG: There are lots of aliens but I think if we go at the beginning, the first alien we saw was in the story "Shukra Bhraman" by Jagadananda Ray. He was the first one who went to Venus and encountered the aliens. Then came Hemondro K Ray. It was kind of a mishmash story of alien abduction. The aliens came here and abducted our people and went back. So these kind of stories were common. Satyajit Ray also wrote lots of alien stories. The most famous of which is "Bonku Babu’s Friend".   

SAK: Building on your point Dip, aliens are not always present in the future. Sometimes they appear in a past. Can you give us a few examples of ancient aliens in Bangla science fiction?

DG: There is a series of stories by Debajyoti Bhattacharya. The premise of the series of stories is that during that the Indus Valley Civilization, different alien species came to Earth at that time and they helped the Indus Valley Civilization progress. Some of them are good, they have good intention and some of them are bad and some try to destroy that civilization. 

SAK: Okay, so this is reminiscent of Erich von Daniken's ancient astronaut hypothesis, just as it is in Mainak Dhar’s novel Vimana. Are there any other examples of zombie films or graphic novels in Bangla that you would like to share? 

DG: So there is a movie called Zombiesthaan which is set in Bengal. The zombie apocalypse has happened and some people hear about a pocket of humanity which is residing somewhere in Murshidabad or some  remote part. They try to navigate through but are stopped by various forces. It's kind of generic but is the only recent zombie movie in Bangla. There is also the character of TNT, Taranth Tantrik, who is a cult character in Bengali literature. He used to be a witch doctor and now he tries to help people by his knowledge and power. Recently, there is a graphic novel by Samik Dasgupta. 

SAK: Talking to you makes me realize even more that India's languages have had such a rich tradition of Science Fiction. I wish more translations occur between Bangla, Marathi, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, and other languages of India so that readers like me can access more of India's multifaceted polyphonic science fiction. 

DG: Yes, translation is the only way!

SAK: Can you talk a bit about Kalpabiswa and its recent publications on monsters?

DG: Actually Kalpabiswa started at the early 2015 with some of our friends who used to read science fiction. We were discussing about current state of SF in Bengal and some people challenged us that there cannot be good and mature science fiction in Bengali. We took it very personally and started a science fiction magazine and we tried to contact authors and SF network with various groups. Also, there is a rich history that was missing and we actually started collecting the old magazines. We found these magazines in different libraries and we started scanning them and making the repository. Bodhisattva also helped us a lot with his resources. We have published also 40 plus titles till now.  

SAK: Can you name some authors who you have published?
DG: Yeah. We published Adrish Bardhan, one of the grandfathers of Bengali science fiction. Most of his stories were lost actually but we found them in a box and we are going to publish them. From Bengali science fiction we also publish Sumit Bardhan, Rijo Ganguly, Soham Guha, Debojyoti Bhattacharya, they are all doing wonderful work. We are working with some of the authors from Bangladesh like Depen Bhattacharya. Also, some SF writers whose works were published in 60s or 70s, their works were lost so we found those works. One of them is Siddharth Ghosh,  a prominent SF writer and a scientist back in 80's and 90's. There is a story about child sex trafficking. He has written it in like 90s maybe and it was a very dark SF. Nobody likes dark SF in Bengali!

SAK: This has been very informative. What do you think is the future of the monsters, whether zombies, aliens, mutants etc,. in Bangla speculative fiction?

DG: In Bengali, zombie as I told you, hasn't been really explored. There is lots of scope. I personally am more interested in our inner monster. I'll be much happier if I see that people are exploring the inner monster like through Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

SAK: Thank you so much Dip for sharing your ideas with us. I hope to locate and understand more monsters around us.

TA: This podcast is part of the neoMONSTERS project. To learn more about the project log on to www.neomonsters.cofutures.org. In the next podcast, Sami will explore even more monsters from India. Monsters of the World, Unite!

Published Feb. 22, 2022 11:38 AM - Last modified Feb. 23, 2022 9:59 AM