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LILA MAJUMDAR (1908-2007)

Lila Majumdar was a teacher and pioneering children’s writer in Bengali who wrote stories that appealed to both boys and girls, a rare feat in the often rather one-sided gender politics of Bengali children’s fiction. Born Lila Ray in Shillong, a place that made a deep impression on her, she was the daughter of the younger brother of Upendra Kishore Roy Chaudhuri, the founder of the Ray family to which belong Sukumar and Satyajit Ray, so she was Sukumar’s cousin and Satyajit’s aunt, and belonged to a family that was to be of tremendous benefit to children’s literature. In 1919 the family came to Calcutta. She was a brilliant student, standing first in her BA and MA in English literature at the University of Calcutta. She became a teacher at the Maharani Girls’ School at Darjeeling in 1931, then briefly at Shantiniketan, and then finally at Ashutosh College, Calcutta. However teaching did not agree with her and she left to become a full time writer. For some years she also worked as a producer for All India Radio.

She illustrated her first story, Lakkhichhara, herself and submitted it to her uncle’s magazine, Sandesh in 1922. Upendrakishore Ray Chaudhuri had founded Sandesh in 1913 (the name means both a kind of sweetmeat and ‘news’) and it was edited by her cousin Sukumar for sometime after Upendrakishore’s death in 1915. Tragically Sukuamr too died soon after, and the magazine stopped publication for a while. It was revivied by Stayajit Ray and Lila Majumdar was closely involved with its editing until 1994. Many of her stories were written for it.

She married Sudhir Majumdar in 1933, had a son, Ranjan, in 1934 and a daughter, Kamala in 1938. Her literary career began after her marriage, and she had to fit it around her domestic and familial responsibilities, and she writes of this in her memoir, Pakdandi. Her first published book was Boddi Nather Bari (1939) but her second compilation Din Dupure (1948) brought her considerable fame. Best known for her humour, she was a versatile writer and tried her hand at detective fiction, stories of the supernatural and fantasy. She also wrote a cookbook, a biography of Rabindranath Tagore, translations of Swift and Hemingway in Bengali and a number of novels for an adult readership, including Srimati and Chine Lonthon. Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho is probably her best known children’s work. Satyajit Ray had plans to film it but never got around to it; it was filmed by other hands in 1972. Her work for All India Radio led her to write Monimala, an epistolary novel for reading in the Women’s Hour that she compared. In 1984 she was widowed.

Her book Holde Pakhir Palok won the West Bengal state award for children’s literature, Bak Badh Pala the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Aar Konokhane the Rabindra Puraskar. She also won the Suresh Smriti Puraskar, Vidyasagar Puraskar, the Bhubaneswari Medal for life-time achievement, and the Ananda Puraskar. She was awarded the Deshikottama by Visva Bharati University. She wrote over 125 books including a collection of short stories, five jointly authored titles, 9 translated books and 19 edited books.
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