Satyajit Ray, Premendra Mitra and others jointly wrote a science fiction story for radio – in 1966

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In luscious stories of first contact (with alien beings) and in Hollywood movies like Mars attacks, extraterrestrials or pseudo-hominids are mostly imagined as reptilian creatures, or, in a much broader vision, as “Green Men” (sometimes Little). These sentient non-human beings are identified by the color of their skin or, in some cases, body hair – which is green. Color is one of the important aspects of being unlike humans on earth.

Prior to the stereotypical application of aliens or Martians as green men, the term was usually used to describe supernatural creatures like the green children of Woolpit (12th century England) or goblins in 19th century fairy tales and 20th centuries (Pook’s Hill Washer, Rudyard Kipling, 1906). Another example of this can be found in the fantastic poem written by German poet Matthew Gregory “Monk” Lewis, aptly named “The Little Green Man: A Garman Story” (1801).

However, with the emergence of science fiction in the West, the term began to be used to describe a race of aliens. From Edgar Rice Burroughs A princess of Mars (1912) to Flash Gordon comics in the 1930s, stories of Martians as green men proliferated. Harold M Sherman (The green man: a visitor from space, 1946), Dallas McCord “Mack” Reynolds (The case of the little green men, 1951) and Fredric Brown (Martians, go home, 1955) also wrote notable stories about green men during the heyday of American science fiction.

Bengal receives science fiction magazine

Fiction met rumors with alleged UFO crashes in the United States in the 1950s. Various “encounters” with the alien have been recounted, with vivid descriptions. Often the stories exhibited a striking uncoordinated similarity to each other. And, of course, the aliens kept the same skin color: green. The stories have become so popular and widespread that Variety the magazine romanticized them in Behind the flying saucers (Frank Scully, 1950). The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune – all published articles on the incidents.

Waves of this phenomenon have also reached Bengal – or, more specifically, science fiction writer Adrish Bardan. Bardhan himself was experimenting with his new magazine Ashcharjya, Bengali’s premier science fiction and fantasy magazine. The genre was still largely unrecognized in Bengali literature, despite the works of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose and Premendra Mitra, among others. by Bardhan Ashcharjya took a bold step with its first issue in January 1963 and coined the Bengali synonym of science fiction – kalpavigyen.

Ashcharjya gained enormous popularity among mainstream Bengali readers in a remarkably short time. As the Cold War and accelerating scientific breakthroughs alongside the space race propelled the popularity of science fiction in the West, Bardhan and his magazine organized the genre into Bengali. Bardhan himself played the roles of editor, translator, writer and even columnist for the magazine in the early years due to a lack of writers.

Go on the radio

With Ashcharjya Reaching its peak, Bardhan decided to expand the genre into other media formats, especially radio. When he told Premendra Mitra, the main adviser of Ashcharjya, about the Green Men of the West, Mitra offered an anthology program. Although sci-fi podcasts are common today, in 1965, in a country and state still struggling with political turmoil, winds of war and economic flows, a radio show like this was only ‘historical. On March 3, 1965, Bardhan himself, along with writers Dilip Roy Chowdhury, and Mitra released a story titled Mahakashjatri Bangali (The Bengali space traveler). When this turned out to be a success, Bardhan decided to air an Indian version of Green Men.

And so, Sabuj manush

In its execution, Sabuj manush (Green men) was different from Mahakashjatri Bangali. Director Satyajit Ray, himself a science fiction enthusiast, joined the writers. And with his addition to the team, Sabuj manush was no longer a single story told in segments written by different writers, but different stories taking place simultaneously in a shared universe.

Today we know of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and DC Extended Universe (DCEU) as a way to expand a franchise, but on February 16, 1966, when Sabuj manush was told on the radio, the idea of ​​a shared universe was new not only in Bengali literature but also, perhaps, in India. Each of the four parts of Sabuj manush is an autonomous story linked by a delicate coherent thread of competing interpretations of the phenomenon by the four authors.

The story of the secret changes made by a race of Sabuj manush (green men) to adapt to human society and participate in its administrative, scientific and cultural life is similar to that of the Marvel comic book group Secret invasion narrative arc. Coincidentally, the race called Skrulls in the Marvel Universe is also one of the shapeshifted green men.

Sabuj manush was conceptualized as part of a three-step campaign designed by Ray and Bardhan to popularize kalpabbyan in Bengal, the other two being a magazine and a film club. The idea for a radio drama came from the famous production of War of the Worlds, narrated and directed by Orson Welles in 1938. Welles’ presentation was so dramatic it was thought to have caused panic among audiences who took it for real news.

Among the four writers, Ray’s narrative style was particularly impactful and the program caused a stir. The recording was broadcast several times and articles about it appeared in the newspapers. Betar Jagat magazine, published by Akashvani Calcutta, printed the story as the first Bengali anthological science fiction work, complete with author biographies and illustrations.

History since

Thrilled by the success of Sabuj manush on radio, Bardhan expanded the works with poems about the alien race in the pages of Ashcharjya, alongside a story by Niharendu Das in 1967. However, with the untimely end of Ashcharjya, the expansion of the universe of Sabuj Manush stopped for a while.

The next installment of the saga has come in the pages of Bismoy, another short-lived science fiction magazine, written by Siddhartha Narlikar and Hiren Chattopadhyay. Bardhan also wrote a play for radio in the same named universe Sabuj manush. All these works have been collected and published in a book by Bardhan’s Fantastic magazine. The last story of this universe was written by Sudip Deb for Kalpabiswa webzine.

Now all work on Sabuj manush, along with relevant news and documentation, has now been published in book form by Kalpabiswa-Fantastic Publication. After having been inaccessible for over fifty years, the only surviving copy of the original recording of the Sabuj manush radio program was discovered in Bardhan’s house shortly after his death on May 21, 2019. The original soundtrack has been restored and re-recorded in digital format.

Sabuj manush not only tells the story of an alien race in collaborative form, but also holds a clue to the trajectory of futuristic literature in India. He revolutionized the genre and, arguably, created a model of international standard.

The cover of a new edition of “Sabuj Manush” imagines a prequel in comic book form.


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