Professor Shonku is a short story collection by Satyajit Ray, featuring the eponymous character, Professor Shonku. It was first published in india by NewScript Publications, Calcutta, in 1965. Of the nine short stories that are part of the collection, eight had formerly been published in various editions of the periodical magazine, Sandesh, and one (namely Professor Shonku o Bhoot) in Ashcharya.

The collection contains seven stories, to which two other were added in later editions. Professor Shonku’s short stories are written in the format of journal entries with dates, and are assumed to be written by Professor Shonku. These stories are in the realm of science fiction and adventure.

Interestingly, a Bengali website now claims that the second half of ‘Fan’ is copied from a short story written by none other than Satyajit Ray back in 1976. Part of Ray’s popular ‘Professor Shonku’ series- the said short story had featured for the first time in a popular Bengali magazine ‘Anandamela’ in 1976. Titled ‘Shonkur Shani’r Dasha’ the story was about Professor Shonku being almost ostracized from world scientist forum for his misconduct at a science convention in Innsburck, a place that the Professor claims he has never visited.

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Plot introduction

Professor Shonku is a reputed scientist, who has not been heard of for a while. Some say that he has died while attempting a scientific experiment. Others say that he has gone incognito, and is continuing his scientific researches and experiments at some unknown corner of the earth. He will reappear in due time.

The first of Professor Shonku’s diaries come to light through a certain Tarak Chatterjee, an amateur (and rather poor) writer, who has a fascination for tiger stories. On hearing that a large meteor had hit the Matharia areas of the Sunderbans, he had visited the location in search of tiger-skin. Failing to find them, he had looked around to find a red notebook (which turned out to be the first of Professor Shonku’s diaries). This he hands to the narrator of the story, who then replicates the journal entries in the diary, and that constitute the first story, Byomjaatrir Diary.

The diary, even though apparently made of a material which is inextinguishable and cannot be torn or cut, is eventually destroyed by a bunch of red ants, who somehow manage to eat in to entirety.

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However, the narrator then visits Professor Shonku’s laboratory in Giridih, and locates 21 other diaries and replicates them periodically, each as a story. After the first few stories, the narrator does not reappear, with the stories starting with the journal entries

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Plot Summaries

1. Byomjatrir Diary

The story begins as a poor man approaches the editor of Sandesh with a journal by Professor Shanku, a scientist who was disappeared 15 years ago. The editor learned from the diary that the scientist, despite being mocked by his neighbour Abinashbabu was getting prepared for a voyage to Mars. He also invented a robot that he called Bidhushekhar. Later the Professor, along with Bidhushekhar, his servant Prahlad and his pet cat Newton, landed in Mars, where they were attacked by an army of Martians. They escaped from Mars and subsequently lost their way in space. After many days of wondering, they arrived in Tafa, an unknown planet inhabited by the “first civilised humans of the solar system.” Unlike the Martians, the inhabitants of Tafa welcomed the strangers in a hearty manner and made Professor Shanku their fellow citizen. The editor wanted to publish the journal in his magazine, but later copying the contents he found the diary was destroyed by a swarm of ants.

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2. Professor Shonku o Harh

Professor Shonku had once, at the insistence of Avinash-babu, visited a sadhu in Giridih. The sadhu (who was always seen hanging upside-down from a tree) was supposed to have the ability to bring dead animals back to life through the power of his spells. When skeletons of dead animals were brought to him, by chanting his spells, he was supposed to get the flesh and blood back on the bones, and then bring the animal to life. Being a scientist, Prof. Shonku was sure there was hypnotism involved, but was stunned to see that there wasn’t, and the animals were indeed coming to life.

Prof. Shonku decided to record the spell that the sadhu was chanting, and visiting the sadhu again, does manage to record the chant. But when he tried to play the chant at his laboratory, he realized that the only thing recorded was a ghastly laughter. Also looking outside from the window of his lab, Prof. Shonku sees the sadhu hanging from a tree in his garden, giving the professor an angry glare. The sadhu disappeared from Giridih the next day.

That incident got Prof Shonku interested in bones, and on seeing what he suspected were the bones of a Brontosaurus with a friend, he visits the forests of the Nilgiris, where his friend mentions to have discovered the bone. He does indeed find the bones of the Brontosaurus in a remote cave, but just when he had managed to clean the whole set of bones and put them together in the cave, he sees the sadhu from years ago, hanging from a banyan tree at the mouth of the cave, and chanting the same spell as he used to in Giridih. The Brontosaurus comes alive, but instead of attacking Prof Shonku in the cave, charges out and starts munching at the tree where the sadhu was hanging. The Brontosaurus was, indeed, a vegetarian, and charged at the first edible thing he could see, the banyan tree at the mouth of the cave…. The sadhu tries to chant a reverse spell and get the Brontosaurus back to its skeleton form, but just as he has completed the spell, gets crushed underneath the bones of the dinosaur, to his death.

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Memorable Invention – Mangorange, a hybrid of mango and orange.

3. Professor Shonku o Macaw

Prof. Shonku has a guest at his home and laboratory in Giridih. The scientist Prof. Gajanan Tarafdar, Shonku mentions, is quite average in his skills, but has the habit of asking very inquisitive questions about the inventions Prof Shonku is working on currently, trying to find out as many details as he can. Also, he has the habit of looking around the lab trying to get in as much information as he can. In fact, when Prof Shonku had to attend to the door for a mail and leave Prof Tarafdar for a few minutes, he comes back to see Tarafdar scurrying through Prof. Shonku’s papers without permission. While Prof Shonku could have snatched the papers from Tarafdar’s hands, decency prevents him from doing it, and all he manages to do is excuse himself for the day.

Tarafdar pays a few further visits to Prof Shonku, but is not taken into the laboratory by Prof Shonku. A few days later, Prof Shonku finds a Macaw in his garden, and decides to keep it as his pet. The Macaw along with having a colourful plumage, has a special ability, it speaks clear Bengali, and Prof Shonku can have quite a conversation with it.

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The Macaw, in conversation asks him what he is working on, one day. The Professor replies that he is trying to create a potion that will make a person invisible for a few hours. The Macaw asks him what is it called, and Shonku replies that while he has not named it as yet, the ingredients he has used are an extract of Gorgona Sauce, Paranaium Potentate, Sodium bicarbonate, Eggs of the Weaver bird, Tincture of iodine, and the extract of Gandal Pata (Skunk Vine).

A few days from that, the Macaw disappears. Prof Shonku is naturally disappointed.

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A day after, Prof Shonku comes back from his evening walk to find his laboratory ransacked. Also, he notices that a bunch of his research papers is flying out of the window. And as he tries to grab the bunch, he encounters an invisible person, and has an extended struggle with it. The invisible man is not very strong, but somehow manages to struggle out of Prof Shonku’s grasp, but while he is running away, he is attacked by the Macaw, also invisible, and Prof Shonku is able to retrieve the papers as the invisible man manages to get away. During the man’s struggles with the bird, he let out a few screams, and Shonku identifies the voice as that of Tarafdar, the scientist who has visited his house a while back.

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The mystery is revealed by the Macaw. It was part of a Brazilian circus troupe, knows 17 languages, and has got exceptional memory (which helped it to remember the ingredients of the invisibility potion on one hearing). The Macaw was stolen by Tarafdar, and brought with him to india. While visiting Prof Shonku, Tarafdar gets to read about the invisibility potion among Prof Shonku’s papers which he was going through without asking, and has the brainwave to get the ingredients from Prof Shonku through the Macaw. The Macaw does the bidding of his master, but after the secret is revealed, Tarafdar tries to kill the bird so that the secret dies with it. However, the bird sees that the only way it can survive is by gulping a bit of the potion itself, and does so to escape Tarafdar. It follows Tarafdar, and when Tarafdar is about to make away with the papers, it injures Tarafdar and helps Prof Shonku to retrieve his papers.

Notable Invention – Unnamed Invisibility Potion

4. Professor Shonku o Egyptio Aatonko

5. Professor Shonku o Ashcharya Putul

6. Professor Shonku o Golok Rahasya

7. Professor Shonku o Chi Ching

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8. Professor Shonku o Khoka

9. Professor Shonku o Bhoot

Adventures of Professor Shonku by Satyajit Ray

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