Fritz by Satyajit Ray
A word about Satyajit Ray .. Satyajit Ray(1921-92) was a man of cinematography and all other art forms that go with it. Born and brought up in Calcutta, Ray started his career as a low-paid commercial artist. Despite such a humble beginning, the flame of creativity burned in him from the very beginning. His chance encounter with the French film maker Jean Renoir marked a watershed in this master artist’s life. He saw the film Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio de Sica, and from then on, Ray plunged into the world of cinema with all his gusto and verve. Paucity of finance, and many such odds came his way, but he overcame them with remarkable tenacity. He was determined to experiment with film making, because there was no way he could put a lid his restive genius bemoaning his lack f resources.
Satyajit Ray soon rose to fame, like a Phoneix. His first film Pather Panchali (1955) based on a middle class Bengali family won him eleven international awards. With this debut Ray had arrived in the international film-making arena. He wrote stories, their screenplay, music, and directed them to the minutest detail. Among his later day films are Aparojito, Apur Sansar, and The Apu Trilogy. His film Devi and Charulata are acclaimed as two of the best art films ever made anywhere in the world.
Satyajit Ray was a brilliant writer too, who could conjure up complex plots out of very ordinary situations. ‘Fritz’ set in a British-era rest house in a small town named Bundi in Rajasthan grips the reader’s attention till the last scene when it plunges him to a cauldron of fear, confusion, and chimera.
The story …
Bundi – a quaint town, the story’s setting …
The short story is set in a circuit house (a dak bungalow generally used by senior government officers for short stays). It is situated in Bundi, a small town in Rajastan.Two visitors, the author Shankar and his childhood friend Jayanto have come to explore Bundi, and are put up in the guest house. Jayanto works in a newspaper office and the author teaches in a school. After so many misses, they have managed to get a time slot when they could go out on a journey together.
They are having tea in the circuit house. Jayanto appears lost in some thoughts. The author inquires to know what bothers Jayanto so much. He replies by saying that the faint memories of his first visit to Bundi are rushing into his mind.
Jayanto’s father Animesh Dashgupta used to work in the Archeological Department. His work brought him so many times to Rajasthan – the repository of India’s ancient monuments. Although he was a young child then, the sojourn to Bundi had not quite faded from Jayanto’s mind. The magnificent building stood still there. A few items of furniture he saw then are there too giving an impression of timelessness of the place. Jayanto becomes nostalgic as he recollects the tall rooms, the ventilators tethered to strings, the rose plants outside. The trees stood tall giving refuge to parrots and so many other birds. Jayanto remembered these vividly.
The two friends stepped out sightseeing. They go to see the famous fort of Bundi standing aside the hills.
The decrepit fort in Bundi rekindles Jayanto’s old memories …
Time seemed to stand still in the Fort’s vicinity. Everything looked so antiquated, belonging to the bygone era. Only the electric pole standing by the road declared that the old times had yielded place to new age. In the old buildings along the roads, there were unmistakable signs of the old Rajputana’s fabled craftsmanship. The doors and the balconies had intricate designs made on them. The old golden age of master craftsmanship appeared to come alive.
Jayanto was an emotional man by nature. After he landed in Bundi, he seemed to be unusually quiet, and somewhat absent-minded. Perhaps, the sights and sounds of Bundi had stirred a delicate chord in his heart. Jayanto’s palpable sadness didn’t escape Shankar’s notice.
Jayanto reminisces about the large rooms and the over-sized chairs of the circuit house. He used to sit cross-legged on those big chairs. Now, everything seems to have shrunk in size. Shankar dispels his confusion by stating that he has grown in size over the years and that makes him feel so.
The Deoder tree unveils its treasure of mystery …
Jayanto and Shankar decide to take a stroll outside in the open. After a while, Jayanto seems to be struck by the memory of a Deodar tree that used to stand around that place. He looks somewhat bewildered, and looks around to find the tree. He finds it after a few moments and appears quite excited to discover the Deodar tree there.
Jayanto’s euphoria takes his friend by surprise. Jayanto fixes his gaze on the trunk of the tree and looks into it searchingly. He exclaims that he had an encounter with an European here. The author’s surprise mounts.
Jayanto struggles to recollect what really had happened then.
The two friends return to their room. Dilwar is there to cook food for the guests. Dilwar was red-eyed, with a scarred face, but in culinary skill, he was quite adept.
Jayanto had in the meanwhile re collected a fair portion of his faded memory – about the place and the ‘European’.
The Swiss doll Fritz enters the scene …
It emerged that Fritz was a doll brought from Switzerland by his uncle during his visit to a village there. Fritz was an one-foot tall Swiss gentleman attired in Swiss clothes. It look so real as a living being. The stuff it was made of rendered it very flexible and elastic. One could bend it or twist it at will.
Jayanto, as a child, took great fancy with Fritz. He treated the Swiss gentleman as his friend. Jayanto’s parents frowned to see their little son so attached to the doll.
Shankar heard out his friend’s infatuation with the Swiss doll amusedly.
Fritz torment the emotional Jayanto ….
Jayanto was however deeply engrossed in his memories of Fritz. A shocking tragedy befell Fritz. On one occasion, Jayanto had kept him on the floor while taking tea. For a moment, he had taken his eyes off the doll. A group of stray dogs came from nowhere and snatched the doll. They bit and dragged Fritz with savage force. Poor Fritz endured the excruciating pain silently. By the time Jayanto saw Fritz again just minutes later, Fritz had been ripped apart badly. He was scarred and bruised beyond recognition. With great disbelief and shock, Jayanto looked at his dear Fritz, and assumed he was dead.
Jayanto decided to bid his friend a final good-bye. He arranged to have him buried in the compound of the Circuit House, under a Deodar tree.
Shankar, now, realized why his friend was so agitated about speaking about the Deodat tree.
The two friends retired to their beds as the night deepened.
The night proves to be very disturbing…
The author slept off as he was tired after the long walk during the day. Sometime later, he woke up abruptly to find that his perplexed friend sitting on the bed. Apparently, he had switched the bedside lamp. Tension was writ large in his face. He didn’t answer to Shankar’s query.
Quite abstractly, he asked the author if the bungalow had small creatures like rats and cats. Jayanto had felt a small creature walking over his chest when he was asleep. This had woken him up. No doubt, he was frightened.
He told the author that this was the second time he had got up from his sleep. He had heard an unusual shuffling noise the first time. At this, Shankar looked around the room to spot the nocturnal intruder, but the search was futile. Jayanto was still disturbed. To prove his point, he showed his pillow that had some faint marks pointing to the fact that a small animal had walked over it.
Shanker assuages Jayanto’s fears…
Shanker felt his friend’s anxiety exaggerated. He told his friends some reassuring words to soothe his nerves. After a bit of coaxing and pleading, Jayanto went to sleep again, so did the author.
A visit to the fort..
Next morning, they finished their breakfast by 9, and went to the fort. Jayanto again seemed immersed in his old memories of the place. He looked excited to re-discover the statutes of the elephant, the royal throne and the beds. All the while, he appeared a bit lost too.
The two friends began to walk back very leisurely. After a while, Jayanto had quietly slipped and gone to the corner of the terrace. With a little effort, Shankar found his friend, but the latter seemed to be fully plunged in some thoughts. He stood absent-minded.
The two friends decided to return, although Shankar (the author) had wanted to stay in the fort a little longer. Jayanto was perturbed by some unknown thoughts. He was not at all his usual self.
Jayanto delves into his friend’s mind …
Jayanto asked his friend persistently to tell him what lay behind his disturbed mind. After a of effort, Jayanto opened up. He told that Fritz, the long-lost doll, had come to their room the night before. He ascribed the marks on his quilt to Fritz’s footprints.
The author was beginning to feel annoyed at his friend’s irrational fear. He thought, he needs to be given some medicine to calm his troubled mind.
Shanker suggests to exhume Fritz ..
The author (Shankar) hit upon an idea that could dispel the fear of the ‘dead and destroyed’ Fritz from his friend’s mind. He felt exhuming Fritz’s remains from his grave would rove to his troubled friend that the doll had simply vanished into the oblivion. After thirty long years in contact with soil, everything of Fritz would have been eaten up. At the best, rusted and corroded remains of his metal buckle would be there. This should convince Jayanto that Fritz is gone for good from the face f the earth.
The idea of exhuming Fritz appealed to Jayanto. With the help of the gardener of the bungalow, they went to the exact spot where Jayanto felt his Fritz was buried.
Fritz emerges leaving the two friends shell-shocked ..
After not much digging, the gardener hit upon the object the duo were so keenly looking for. But, a nasty surprise awaited them. What the gardener retrieved from the soil was not some rusted metal piece, but a tiny human skeleton of a foot length. It was so real, but so frightening. The two friends recoiled in horror in seeing a foot long human skeleton.
Disturbing thoughts rushed into the two friends like a torrent. Was Fritz a human who still yearned for Jayanto’s company?
a. Why was Jayanto appearing so absent-minded during the trip to Bundi?
Answer .. Jayanto had lived in Bundi in his childhood days. During this period, he had developed an enduring relationship with the doll named Fritz. The two bonded very well, and Jayanto treated Fritz like a real human being in flesh and blood and an endearing charm. The relationship ended tragically when Fritz was brutally shredded by a pack of stray dogs. Fritz was buried, but his memory clung to Jayanto’s heart. The visit to Bundi rekindled these memories leaving Jayanto engulfed with memories of Fritz. This was the reason why Jayanto looked so absent-minded.
b. How did the author try to assuage Jayanto’s mind during the night?
Answer .. The author rightly judged Jayanto’s angst about some nocturnal visitors to their room as un-founded and irrational fear. He tried to calm his friend’s nerves by reassuring him that nothing untoward had happened and there was little to lose one’s sleep on. The author looked around the room himself to see if indeed any creature had made his way in, and there was none. Even he toyed with the idea of giving his perplexed friend some tranquilizer tablets to enable him to regain his composure.
c. How the story comes to a bone-chilling end?
Answer .. The story was heading towards a lame end until the discovery of the remnants of the toy Fritz were exhumed. The author perhaps expected to see nothing except some rusted buckles or some such scrap. But, what was found was so outworldly and bizarre. The discovery of a tiny human skeleton from the grave of a supple-bodied doll was so horrifying and grisly. Was Jayanto right in treating Fritz like a living human? The question defied any answer.