Lila Majumdar (1908 - 2007)

Lila Majumdar was born on February 26, 1908 in Kolkata. Her parents were Surama Devi and Pramada Ranjan Ray, who was the younger brother of Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri. The latter was an eminent Bengali litterateur, and in turn the father of Sukumar Ray. The three generations of Ray, including Sukumar’s son Satyajit were ‘renaissance men’ noted for their interest in the arts and culture. Sukumar Ray died young but he was a noted and much loved author and poet of children’s works; his Abol Tabol remains eternally popular and has been translated into various languages including English.

Lila Majumdar received her early education in Shillong, a British hill station and now capital of the state of Meghalaya in the northeast. She moved to Kolkata with her parents and passed her class X exams where she stood second among girl candidates. This was in the year 1924. Later, she enrolled in Calcutta University, for a degree in English Literature. She stood first in Calcutta University at both the graduation and post-graduation level, at a time when Literature was a sought after and very competitive subject.

She began teaching, working first in Darjeeling and then moving to Shantiniketan, where she was specially invited to teach in the educational institution set up there by Rabindranath Tagore. She also worked for a time for All India Radio, Kolkata, where she had a popular programme answering questions put to her by young children.

Lila Majumdar wrote her first story when she was still a teenager. This appeared in the magazine, Sandesh (সন্দেশ) founded by her uncle, Upendrakishore. Sukumar Ray was then its editor. It was in 1939 that her first book for children, Baidyanather Bori (Baidyanath’s Pill; বদ্যিনাথের বড়ি) appeared. She became famous with the publication of her second book called Din Dupure (Midday; দিন-দুপুরে). Both these books had her short stories, and were very humorous in tone, capturing everyday travails from the viewpoint of children. But all her life, she remained prolific, churning out poems, short stories and novellas.

She has also written two books of memoirs, cookbooks and books on household tips narrated in a charming quotidian manner. For very many years, she also co-edited ‘Sandesh’, along with Satyajit Ray, who was her nephew, and Nalini Das, her niece. Among her many awards are the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, she received in 1963 for a comic musical drama called Bok Badh Pala (Death of the Demon Bok; বকবধ পালা). She won the Rabindra Puraskar in 1968 for her memoirs called Aar Kono Khaney (Somewhere Else; আর কোনোখানে) won the Rabindra Puroshkar and then Holdey Pakhir Palok (The Yellow Bird; হলদে পাখির পালক) received the President’s award as the best children’s book in 1960.

She died in Kolkata, on April 5, 2007, aged 99.

Published November, 2011

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