The House of the Rays

Anindita Mazumder

It is often said that Feluda, Satyajit Ray’s master sleuth resembled his creator but the inimitable character of Lalmohan Ganguly aka Jatayu was perhaps closest to his heart. It is therefore not a surprising coincidence that Lalmohan Babu stayed at Garpar Road and was a student of the neighbouring Athenaeum Institution. It was at the house at Garpar built by his grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury that Ray was born, spent his infancy in the company of his dying father, Sukumar, another genius in the world of literature and photography. In this edition of Calcutta Chronicle we sieve through time to discover the house that still stands preserving the memories of three generations of such rare geniuses.

For a long time Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, a children litterateur and the inventor of halftone block making technique, occupied the premises of 13, Cornwallis Street. He later, shifted residence to Sukeas Street but in 1914 he constructed his own house at Garpar Road. He designed its plan which would house both his residence and workshop since by this time he had already launched his dream, Sandesh, a magazine for the children in 1913. Accordingly, the house at 100, Garpar Road had the words ‘U Ray & Sons’ firmly etched on front facade.


It was flanked by a school for deaf and dumb students on one side while the other was occupied by Athenaeum Institution. However, Upendrakishore died shortly afterwards on December 20, 1915. Satyajit Ray, Upendrakishore’s grandson was born in this house in 1921. We get a detailed description of this “remarkable” house from his reminiscences along with a sketch. It was a three-storeyed building with a fine flat roof which Upendrakishore used to pursue his interests in astronomy. His own studio was also on the top most floor where his painting brushes, colours and linseed oil were stored long after his death.

The printing machinery was housed at the front part of the building on the ground floor and directly above that were the rooms for type-setting and block making. The Ray family occupied the rear portion of the house – all the three storeys. Visitors would go through a small lane and turned right to enter inside the house. The door led them to a flight of stairs and those who came to meet the family turned right after climbing the steps while those who had come to the printing press turned left.

On the third floor lived Upendrakishore’s two younger sons, Subinay and Subimal. While Sukumar occupied rooms at the first floor along with his widowed mother. Upendrakishore’s younger brother Kuladaranjan stayed at the ground floor.

Before construction of this house Sandesh was printed at a press in Sukeas Street. In fact Sukumar was at that time in UK studying printing. The father and the son exchanged copious notes in their weekly correspondences on the kind of modern printing press they would set up at Garpar Road. The first issue of Sandesh was handed over to Tagore who was abroad at that time by Sukumar.

 Satyajit Ray also left us a fine picture of the printing press. “The compositors would sit in a long row and select types from the compartments in the boxes and painstakingly compose each line for printing. In the middle of the room was a huge process camera. Ramdahin, its operator hailed from Bihar. He had joined as a mere peon but learnt the skills from my grandfather. I would squiggle something on a piece of paper and hand it over while bidding him to publish it in Sandesh. He would readily agree. He would also place the paper under the lens of the camera and would pick me up on his lap to show me its upturned image,” wrote Ray.

Sukumar was also instrumental in establishing Monday Club or Monda Club with close friends and associates including Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis and Amal Kumar Home in 1915. The invitations and the minutes of the meetings, printed at his own press at Garpar Road, provide a glimpse to Sukumar’s rare talent in evoking laughter. An interesting invitation read:

That fool of an editor

Has vanished

Without a trace

The club too sinks, such is the case.

Hence, this Monday

At my house at Garpar

If you kindly assemble

Then the club may be saved.

Pamphlets of all kinds

Are welcome

To be read out

At the session.

Sukumar, with his hands folded

Repetitively urges you to consider.

There is also another invitation that was sent out by Sukumar on April 20, 1923 for the Naamkaran Ceremony of his son (khoka) scheduled to be held on May 2 requesting them to join the “general golmaal” at 100, Garpar Road.

  Tagore had also come to this house when Sukumar Ray was on his deathbed. Even days before his death on September 10, 1923 a critically ill Sukumar had approved the final dummy of Abol Tabol which was published nine days after his death. After Sukumar’s death, Sandesh was published for another two years before U Ray and Sons was sold off. Within a few years, the house on Garpar Road was sold off too and Satyajit and his mother Suprabha went off to live with his maternal uncle at Bakulbagan. Later Ray was heard ruing that the leaving that house at also robbed him of the intellectual ambience that existed at 100, Garpar Road.

Now, the house is occupied by Athenaeum Institution. Its address has changed to 100 A, Garpar Road and its façade – visibly altered. However, the name U Ray and Sons is still visible. A small plaque has been set up by Kolkata Municipal Corporation proclaiming it to be the house where the maestro Satyajit Ray was born. It was also declared as a heritage structure.