Raj Raj Mukhopadhyay
M.Phil. Scholar, Department of English, Visva-Bharati
The eminent Bengali litterateur Saradindu Bandyopadhyay is famous for his two extremely popular characters, notably Baroda, the bhutanweshi or the ghost-hunter and Byomkesh Bakshi, the satyanweshi or the truth-seeker. However, the frameworks within which these two figures operate are entirely different from each other. Whereas Byomkesh Bakshi, being the detective uses his scientific and logical reasoning faculty to search the truth and solve the case; Baroda encounters supernatural events in his life and proceeds to narrate his occult experiences which are devoid of any apparent rationality. Nevertheless, the author presents a unique glimpse when these two fictional characters confront each other attempting to establish the supremacy of their respective ideas and thinking processes.
My paper entitled “When Detective seeks the Ghost: Exploring the Paranormal in Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Baroda and Byomkesh Stories” is a modest attempt to explore the intricate structure of both detective fictions and ghost stories of Saradindu Bandyopadhyay. In the story “Byomkesh O Baroda” the detective Byomkesh Bakshi is able to outwit Baroda proving his explanation of paranormal activities as vague and irrational. However, in another story “Shailarahasya”, Byomkesh succumbs to Baroda’s notion of ghost as he himself experiences the existence of ghost or unearthly spirit, which becomes a crucial factor in solving the crime. This study aims to provide a critical response to the antithetical treatment on part of the author where neither scientific rationality nor supernatural theories achieve predominance. This paper also focuses on the problematic representation of Baroda’s character who manages everyone into believing his concept regarding the existence of ghosts and evil spirits.
Keywords: paranormal, supernatural, ghost, rationality, logic
Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, a worthy name in the literary genre of historical romance also finds a prominent place Bengali literary tradition for creating the characters of detective Byomkesh Bakshi, the satyanweshi who apart from solving perplexed crimes also seeks to explore the truth; and Baroda, the bhutanweshi who comes across several paranormal incidents and narrate his occult experiences to his friends simultaneously trying to provide a possible justification while shaping his inconclusive arguments. Saradindu is best remembered for his excellent craftsmanship and artistic imagination and these qualities are reflected in both Byomkesh and Baroda stories. Considering the detective fictions, Saradindu has written thirty three adventures of Byomkesh Bakshi where the sleuth solves the crime exercising his logical thinking capacity and power of intuition. Only in two stories, the reasoning ability of detective tussles with the uncanny phenomenon but providing two different outcomes. In “Byomkesh O Baroda”, the detective Byomkesh Bakshi not only solves the crime but also unravels the mysteries of Baroda’s ghost giving a rational exposition to the delusive idea of planchette describing Baroda’s views on ghost as a figment of his imagination. In contrast, “Shailarahasya” offers an alternative ground where the ghost himself plays a vital role helping Byomkesh to solve the case. This event foregrounds his belief on the existence of supernatural powers and subsequently conforming to Baroda’s concept of ghost and shadowy apparitions. In the twelve ghost stories of Baroda, Saradindu frames a network where the principal character through narrating his story, entangles his audiences into believing the paranormal incidents (this literary strategy is much identical with Satyajit Ray’s Tarinikhuro series). Although, characters like Amulya and Sudhangsu often question Baroda’s narrative but at the end they all come into contact with eerie and supernatural occurrences. Therefore, ridiculing the delusional hypothesis of ghost by applying logics at the primary level, but gradually accepting the supernatural conceptions where scepticism has no part delineates Saradindu’s problematic approach towards the fallacy.
Encounter between Rationality and the Supernatural:
The encounter between detective Byomkesh Bakshi and ghost-hunter Baroda in “Byomkesh O Baroda” signifies the conflict of rational arguments and occult beliefs. The story begins with the fundamental difference in character of these two individuals. Byomkesh is satyanweshi or the seeker of truth, a man of science who is devoid of all blind faiths and prejudices. On the other hand, Baroda is bhutanweshi or the ghost-hunter who believes in the existence of ghosts and considers planchette as an effective medium to set up conversation with the dead spirits.
It is not a very old episode when satyanweshi Byomkesh Babu once met bhutanweshi Baroda Babu. (my trans; 222)
The story takes place at Munger town in Bihar where Baroda used to live. Byomkesh went there for a tour at the invitation from his friend, Shashanka Babu who drags Byomkesh to solve the murder of Vaikuntha, the jeweller who was supposed to have amassed a huge amount of wealth and riches before his untimely death. In due course of investigation, Byomkesh sees the apparition and also participates in conducting planchette with Baroda. However, it is interesting to note that this act of planchette becomes a method of knowing the criminal rather than establishing the existence of ghost. The moving of tripod during planchette was consciously done by Shailen Babu who happens to be the murderer of Vaikuntha. Byomkesh by applying his excellent reasoning capabilities unfolds the way in which the crime was committed and at the same time, he also explicates the mystery of the frightening ghost which entirely debunked Baroda’s fictitious rendering of paranormal events at the end. Whereas Byomkesh is the embodiment of scientific rationality, Baroda epitomizes supernatural experiences and the confrontation between these two figures registered the former’s victory over the latter.
This rationalization of paranormal accounts by the detective finds a homogenous portrayal in famous Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. In The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), detective Sherlock Holmes encounters a terrifying, fiendish hound of mysterious origin which is supposed to have caused deaths and murders. Nevertheless, Holmes by utilizing his sheer deductive logic comes to the conclusion that the hound is a perfect mortal animal that was being used as a device by the actual criminal to incite fear. This hellish appearance of both the hybrid mastiff dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles and the ghost-mask in “Byomkesh O Baroda” is a similar strategy adopted by the murderer. In another story “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” (1924), Holmes solves the case of blood-sucking vampires by dint of justifying his deduction that the act was in fact committed by a human being. Therefore, the analogous authorial position of implementing cogent inferences through the figure of detective and logical systemization of supernatural mysteries can be observed in writings of both Arthur Conan Doyle and Saradindu Bandyopadhyay. It is a known fact that Saradindu was hugely influenced by Conan Doyle and he might have adapted the technique of infusing ghostly or paranormal elements in detective fiction from his western counterpart. This view is further postulated in Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” (1910) which bears a striking resemblance with Saradindu’s story “Agniban” in Byomkesh series, where the method of using poisonous gunpowder while lighting a lamp or safety-matches is indeed an innovative mode of crime.
Among the twelve ghost stories of Baroda, the happenings of ten stories either refute Baroda’s attempt to make his narrative credible or reject any scope whereby the readers can find any trace of plausibility. Baroda’s various accounts present an uncanny atmosphere of his tales and rather than pinpointing the actuality of ghost or describing the ghastly appearance (except the story “Malkosh”), most of his plots revolve around the unnatural or mysterious representation of real life incidents. This peculiar depiction further complicates any assertive interpretation of supernatural phenomena which might either seem as bizarre consequences having concrete reasons or expressions resulting from unbridled imagination of the narrator, Baroda. In the story “Pretpuri”, the horror generated by the appearance of an anonymous man whom Baroda thinks as an evil incarnation of that tehsildar who had died long ago is negated at the end when the theft of Baroda’s wristwatch and moneybag is revealed. Though not clearly stated but it becomes evident that the ghost was actually a thief. In the next story “Rakta-Khadyot”, the readers wonder whether it was really the evil spirit who killed Suresh Babu or he died of a natural death caused by pneumonia. This feature, according to Goswami is a manifestation of “fear psychosis” (20) and its dreadful reaction. “Tiktikir Dim” is a comic account of how the ghost of a lizard kept on haunting the narrator; and the basic structure of this story tends readers to interrogate the falsity associated with its description. “Moron Bhomra” does not exhibit any death but evokes the fear of upcoming disaster. One can always question whether the bee was really a detrimental omen of the terrible Death. A similar treatment is found in “Oshoriri”, where the real motive of the advocate’s suicide is ambiguous. The unspecificity of the man’s death can be considered as an example of psychological breakdown resulting from immense obsession of carnal impulse or a state of frenzy when a person loses his sanity. “Sabuj Chosma” is unique because the author has coalesced strands of uncanny with scientific inventions. The knowledge of science which discards any paranormal existence becomes a device to authenticate the subsistence of supernatural entities in this mundane world. This use of science to establish a weird claim contradicts the very notion of rationality and hence, can be dismissed. “Dehantar” delineates the aspect of doppelgänger where a person changes his own nature and assumes the idiosyncrasy of a dead man. Whether the ghost has really taken over the body of that living person or it is just a psychological malfunctioning generated from unfulfilled romantic desire is essentially to be questioned.
Saradindu Bandyopadhyay has stayed in Munger for some years and perhaps his own experiences tend to create the character of Baroda and thus, the geography of Munger provides a physical space for the encounter between Byomkesh and Baroda. Like Byomkesh who endorses rational and empirical approach towards explaining natural facts, Amulya and Sudhangshu in the Bengali club of Munger also resonate the voice of reason. They are not ready to accept Baroda’s dictates regarding strange and unearthly occurrences. In all the above mentioned stories, they inevitably find faults in Baroda’s storytelling and indicate the loopholes in his incoherent narrative. They disregard any possibility of ghosts in the modern factual world where each and every incident is incorporated within the cause and effect relationship. In fact, Amulya thanked Byomkesh for reinstating his beliefs on sceptical outlook. They all become quite successful to outwit Baroda who had nothing but to receive their scornful laughter.
Paranormal takes the Lead:
Apart from championing rational mindset, Saradindu has also delicately imbued paranormal elements in the texts. In four stories, we find a completely different perspective where the rational individual gives in to the supernatural functioning of the main plot. In “Shailarahasya”, the ghost of Manek Mehta himself helped Byomkesh to solve his murder. This participation of a supernatural entity in principal affairs of detecting the crime compelled Byomkesh to believe in the existence of ghost and withdrew from his previous stance of not conforming to Baroda’s ideals. This becomes evident through his letter to Ajit,
Have you remembered that many years ago we met Baroda Babau in Munger who was a specialist in ghostly affairs? I told him- let ghost and pret exist, but I want to keep them outside my account. But after coming here, I am caught in deep troubles, and it is becoming impossible to keep those out of consideration. (my trans; 245)
The ghost of Manek Mehta provided Byomkesh with the clue to find the culprits, the address where Haimavati and Vijay Biswas lived together. Without this assistance from the ghost, perhaps Byomkesh would have never found out the trace of criminals. Therefore, this story is significant not only because it alters the conventional viewpoint of the detective but also the credit of solving the case partially goes to a supernatural being.
In the three Baroda stories, namely “Bohurupi”, “Akashvani”, and “Protidhvani” we find characters of Amulya and Sudhangshu, who all like Byomkesh believing in the existence of ghosts and supernatural phenomenon. These individuals who previously used to proclaim the voice of scepticism and scientific reasoning were forced to accept Baroda’s idea of ghosts by witnessing paranormal activities. In “Bohurupi”, Baroda throws a direct challenge against atheist Amulya who often mocks at him. In this story, the ghost himself participates in human affairs appearing before human eyes and successfully completing Baroda’s challenge of proving the actual presence of spectres and spirits. Goswami writes that the ghost has tried to “impersonate” Baroda (20). A similar technique is implied in “Akashvani”, where the disbeliever Sudhangshu himself becomes the eyewitness of paranormal incidents and thereupon, adheres to Baroda’s notion of ghosts and apparitions. “Protidhvani” is noteworthy because the authorial persona undertakes the venture in search of phantasm where he encounters shadowy presence of spirits enhancing the uncanny ambience. These accounts contradict the former rational approach towards supernatural enquiries. All the people who did not believe in the existence of ghosts and paranormal entities reconstructed their opinions and Baroda emerged triumphant. This prompts the readers to interrogate the authorial intention behind such paradoxical representation. Possibly, Saradindu Bandyopadhyay who created the figures of Byomkesh as well as Baroda did not want one of his creations to be projected as seemingly ludicrous. Hence, the necessity of Baroda’s recognition was obligatory to locate the two protagonists on an equal plane. This view is reinforced by Kshetra Gupta who in his book Ramaniya Saradindu writes,
…To the readers, in the story “Byomkesh O Baroda” one dear child of the author was ousted by the other. The author himself did not like this. Thus, he in the story “Shailarahasya” of Byomkesh series made Baroda victorious without bringing him- made ghost a winner… The problem of the murder is solved, but not the mystery of ghost. . . . (my trans; 136)
The confrontation between skeptical point of view and supernatural beliefs draws one’s critical attention to the problem regarding indeterminate ramifications of ideological face-off. In this modern society where scientific discoveries have illuminated every corners of human life, there is no place for any dark apparition to exist. It is expected from a versatile twentieth century writer having a universal outlook to advocate rational exchange of views. Moreover, as an author of detective fiction which requires a great degree of logical argumentation and reasoning faculty, favouritism towards paranormal phenomena not only questions Saradindu’s motivation but at the same level, renders the portrayal where diverse facets remain in equivalent proportion. One might also bring to the surface the creative genius of Saradindu, who maintains a perfect balance while interlacing a series of tales and fashioning a complex web of characters while bestowing optimal equipoise of social interests and narrative prerequisites. Characters like Byomkesh, Amulya or Sudhangshu who at the first hand, did not show any sign of credence to Baroda’s fabrication of supernatural episodes, had to abandon their rational standpoint in due course of time. This act of capitulation on part of the detective can be conceived as an instance where the seeker of truth (or satyanweshi) concedes defeat at the hands of ghost-explorer (or bhutanweshi) renouncing his intellectual skepticism. Amulya or Sudhangshu who were much critical of Baroda’s framing of imaginative discourse on supernatural bear resemblance with Byomkesh Bakshi as all of them exercise the power of analytical reasoning. From this perspective, they too become satyanweshi (like Byomkesh) as they both dared to face the precarious adventure of encountering the existence of paranormal beings. Taking all the stories into account, the readers get a glimpse where the satyanweshi is engaged in search of ghost, which is considered as the truth by bhutanweshi Baroda and this mutual involvement between these two personas ultimately results in foregrounding the authenticity of occult existences, where paranormal takes the final leap.
Bandyopadhyay, Saradindu. “Byomkesh O Baroda.” Sharadindu Amanibas, Vol. 1, edited by Pratulchandra Gupta, Ananda Publishers, 2014, pp. 222-56.
—. “Shailarahasya.” Sharadindu Amanibas, Vol. 2, edited by Pratulchandra Gupta, Ananda Publishers, 2014, pp. 245-64.
—. Sharadindu Amanibas. Vol. 5, edited by Pratulchandra Gupta, Ananda Publishers, 2012.
Goswami, Kananbihari. “Saradindur Oloukik Golpo-Upanyas.” The Journal of the Bengali Department, Rabindra Bharati University, no. xviii, Mar. 2001, pp. 18-31.
Gupta, Kshetra. Ramaniya Saradindu. Granthanilaya, 2012.
About the author:
Raj Raj Mukhopadhyay is presently an M.Phil. scholar in the Department of English, Visva-Bharati. He completed his M.A. in English literature with a First Class First degree from Visva Bharati University in the year 2017. His research areas include Historical Novels, Partition literature, Classical literature, Indian mythology, Mysticism and Tagore. He has presented papers in various seminars and conferences, actively participated in several workshops and published research articles in reputed journals.