Bijetri Roy, Editor-in-Chief, Inspire Spectrum
As we mark the 101st birth anniversary of the legendary genius, Satyajit Ray, here is a brief summary and review of one of his sci-fi works, Professor Shonku o’ Golok Rahasya (Prof Shonku and the Mystery of the Sphere). This story was published in May, 1965 in “Sandesh”.
An interesting take on viruses, exoplanets and alien invasion, the story starts with Prof Shonku’s neighbour, Abinash Chandra Mazumdar stumbling upon a small ball lying next to a dead snake. Mazumdar decides the keep the ball with himself.
In the meantime, Prof Shonku reveals his latest invention, the Microsonograph, a machine capable of recording inaudible sounds made by plants and animals alike. An intriguing moment is when his machine records the sound of a rose crying out loud after a leaf is plucked. For young readers, this is an intriguing moment of sci-fi fantasy, and for an adult, the message is loud and clear; biodiversity needs to be protected, plants have feelings too!
Mazumdar visits Prof Shonku and claims that the ball in his custody changes colour several times a day, which Prof Shonku dismisses as hallucination caused by sleep deprivation. But, later the colour changing ball reveals its strange phenomenon to Prof Shonku as well, making him conclude it is magical. Finding dead insects near the ball, Mazumdar hands over the strange ball to Prof Shonku.
And… finally the moment of discovery is revealed, when Prof Shonku finds resemblance in the colour changing pattern with the changing seasons on Earth! Another moment of revelation – Prof Shonku’s Microsonograph records voices of “inhabitants” of this ball, only to reveal soon that the mysterious colour changing ball is an exoplanet, Terratom. Terratom had deflected from its orbit and crashed into Earth!
Phew! This moment takes my breath away every time I come to this point of the story! The aliens communicate with Prof Shonku and reveal that they are highly lethal and are dangerous viruses themselves, thus explaining the dead snake and insects. The virus-clan claims that they are lethal enough to infect and destroy the entire human race in 3 days! Prof Shonku has quite adamantly kept the exoplanet in a glass chamber, which leads to the suffocation and death of these Terratom inhabitants.
The literary genius that Satyajit Ray was, he adds the right elements of thrill, suspense, sci-fi, horror and humour at the right moments. Of course, this isn’t something we aren’t aware of already, right? How does the story end, did I tell you? So… Prof Shonku’s cat Newton ends up destroying the “ball” while playing with it!
This story is the right blend of eccentricity, sci-fi, horror; a story to be appreciated by all generations, inventions and ideas way ahead of their times, characters as real and eccentric as possible.
Maharaja, Tomare Selam! (Salute, Your Highness – the genius, Satyajit Ray)
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