About the Author
Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) belonged to an illustrious Bengali family. He was barely three when his father passed away. He received his education at Ballygunge Government High School, Calcutta and then at Presidency College, Calcutta (now Kolkata) . He also studied at Santiniketan for some time on the insistence of his mother.
He is best known as a reputed, international level film maker and director, though he tried his hand successfully in other fields such as writing, music, graphic design, advertisement , calligraphy, etc. He is regarded as one of the best film makers. He won 32 Indian National Film Awards, a number of international awards including the prestigious Oscar for lifetime achievements in 1992. He was also honoured with the Bharat Ratna in 1992. He wrote several short stories and novels, both for children and adults. His most famous characters are Feluda, the sleuth, and Professor Shonku, the scientist. He was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University.
About the Story
‘Frtiz’ was originally written by Satyajit Ray in Bengali. The present English version of the story is a translation by Gopa Majumdar. It is one of Ray’s stories that belong to the genre called paranormal. It presents an unusual ghost in the shape of an inactive non-living doll.
What is remarkable about the story is the adroit blending of elements of the real, the fanciful and the weird. The author builds up the atmosphere of suspense and mystery by unfolding the layers of the plot slowly, ending with a sting in the tale. The reader seems puzzled as to what the reality of Fritz, a small Swiss doll of an old man, is. Is he really a ghost, and what kind of ghost is it?
Jayanto in the story had a doll of an old smiling man which was named Fritz. He came to be friendly with the doll, and spent hours in conversation with the unresponding doll. He was then just six years old. One day stray dogs tore the doll apart. The boy buried it under a deodar tree in the garden of his bungalow. About thirty-one years later, he returned to the place. The childhood memories came to him slowly. One night he had the creepy feeling of something walking on the cover of his quilt. He showed some circular marks on the quilt, and then declared that Fritz came into his room and those little marks on the quilt were his footprints. His companion Shankar, the narrator , decided to get him rid of his whim. He suggested digging the ground where the doll was buried. When the ground was dug, a twelve-inch-long perfect little human skeleton, the size of Fritz, was found there.
In Bundi : It was on the insistense of Jayanto, the protagonist , that his friend Shankar (the narrator) agreed to visit a small town in Rajasthan, Bundi. Both stayed in the circuit house where Jayanto had lived with his family during his childhood. He seemed to be fond of the place with which his childhood memories were associated. The Fort of Bundi was an attraction for both the friends.
Childhood memories : After some time, Shankar noticed that Jayanto had turned rather quiet. He ssemed to be in low spirits, though he denied it. Both the friends went for a stroll in the garden after tea. Suddenly Jayanto was reminded of a deodar tree which, he said, ought to be there somewhere. When he saw it, he was in a jubilant mood:
‘Yes, it’s here! Exactly where it was before!’
After this incident, his memories of the place began returning one by one quickly. He remembered that the name of their cook was Dilawar, when they were here. He could recall where his father used to sit or where his mother used to knit.
Best Friend, Fritz : Jayanto recalled everything about a unique doll his uncle had brought for him from Switzerland. It was a twelve-inch-long figure of an old man. It was very lifelike. His uncle told him that the man who sold him the doll told him that ‘the old man’ was called Fritz and that he must call him by that name. Jayanto was so enamoured of Fritz that he played only with him, though he had a variety of other beautiful toys. He began to spend hours just talking to the old man, even though he did not respond. His parents warned him against playing too much with the doll.
Burial of Fritz : While narrating his story about the doll, Jayanto paused for sometime, and then resumed his story. He told his friend how one day the doll was torn apart and ruined by a couple of stray dogs. The doll’s face was completely disfigured and was beyond recognition. Fritz stopped to exist for him any more. The doll was then buried under that deodar tree. Shankar now realized why Jayanto was serious to find out the deodar tree in the garden of the circuit house.
Unusual happening : Both the friends – Jayanto and Shankar – went to bed at about then. Shankar was the first to sleep. A slight noise woke him a little later. He saw that Jayanto, with anxiety on his face, was sitting up on his bed. Jayanto told him that something had walked over his chest, and that had woken him up. He added that actually that was the second time he had woken up, and that the first time he heard a shuffling noise near the window. After having woken up, he switched the light on, but there was nothing to be seen. Shankar ruled out the possibility of a rat or a cat since both the doors were bolted from the inside. Jayanto said that whoever came in must be still in the room. At this, Shankar got up and searched everything to find anything, but in vain. He was startled by the alarm in Jayanto’s call. Jayanto showed him some tiny, brown circular marks on the cover of his quilt. Shankar said that these could have been made by a cat.
Jayanto’s whim : Jayanto kept quiet. Shankar was sure that his friend had a bad dream. He slept soundly. In the morning, he could see that Jayanto had not slept well. They went to see the fort in a car. Jayanto’s forgotten memories began coming again. After sometime he was quiet and morose. On the way back to the town, he startled his friend with this revelation:
“Fritz came into our room last night. Those little marks on my quilt were his footprints.”
Shankar could not help catching hold of him by the shoulders and shaking him. He thought how an adult person like him could be so obsessed with such an absurd idea. Back at the circuit house, he decided to get his friend rid of his fanciful idea. He suggested digging the ground under the deodar tree where Fritz was buried several years ago. He said that a gardener could be requested to dig the ground. At first, Jayanto did not accept the suggestion, but later he accepted it.
A human skeleton : The gardener was approached and requested for the digging of the ground under the deodar tree. He got ready for the job after some reluctance. When the gardener started digging, Jayanto became very serious and continued to stare at the site. Even in the pleasant weather the collar of his shirt was soaked in sweat. After some time, his eyes were seen bulging. He was pointing at the hole in the ground. His finger was visibly trembling. His voice was hoarse with fear when he said : “What ……What is that?” Shanked gaped at the ground and was horrified.
In the hole, lying flat on its back was “a twelve-inch-long, pure white, perfect little human skeleton.”
The supernatural or paranormal has always attracted ordinary human beings. Even in the modern age these is no dearth of those who claim to have fist-hand knowledge of a supernatural being – a ghost or a spirit. Films and TV serials on the the subject are plenty. The reality is that humans are always fascinated by the things which are beyond human understanding. Ghosts, witches and fairies continue to haunt us from our childhood. Even though no logic can justify their existence, they continue to exist in our memory. There are many who accept the supernatural as real.
The story ‘Fritz’ by Ray is a kind of thriller or a mystery. Jayanto, the protagonist, in inclined to believe in the reality of supernatural beings. His mind is hinged on the ruined doll. When he suddenly wakes up on the bed, he feels that Fritz, the doll of an old man, has walked on the cover of the quilt above his chest. This is logically unacceptable. But when the ground in which the doll was buried is dug out, something gives credence to his inexplicable feeling. We are horrified to see that a human skeleton, the size of the doll, is discovered underground.
What does the writer want to convey? Is it that ghosts really exist? Or, are they the figment of sick imagination? The open ending of the story is meant for free speculation.
‘Fritz’ is a story written primarily as a thriller. There is obviously no message. And yet we can get at some sort of lesson for all of us. Is is that we should not allow ourselves to be obsessed by anything or by anyone, however close we find ourselves to the thing or the person. Only when we are obsessed we invite unusual things to happen to us in one form or the other. We may get nightmares. We may see spirits with our eyes when no one else does. Or we may simply lose our rational faculties.
In Fritz, Jayanto is a sensitive person ever since his childhood. He makes a beautiful doll his best friend. How the doll named Fritz became his obsession is told by Jayanto himself:
‘I had a lot of toys when I was small……..But once I had
Fritz, I forgot all my other toys. I played only with him.
A time came when I began to spend hours just talking to
him…….My parents did warn me not to do overdo things……..’
This obsession, many years later, makes him visit his childhood place and locate the deodar tree under which he had buried Frtiz. This obsession seems to have continued throughout his life so far. The result is the horrifying discovery of a skeleton in place of Fritz. The point is not who Fritz was, or what is the significance of this discovery. The point is : why should Jayanto need to remember Fritz at all. Had he been normal, rational being, say like Shankar, his friend, he would not have bothered about a doll. And herein lies the message for us: don’t be obsessed of anything or anybody in life.
The title of the story ‘Fritz’ is at once eye-catching. We become curious to know who Fritz is. Our curiosity is soon satiated by the protagonist Jayanto when he tells his friend about Fritz – a twelve-inch-long figure of an old man, dressed in a traditional Swiss attire. It is this Fritz that remains in focus till the end.
The title of the story, as such, is both appropriate and suggestive. The story is in fact about the doll, Frtiz. It is the memory of Frtiz that makes Jayanto visit his childhood town. The thought of Fritz leads to strange incidents. The discovery of a human skeleton horrifies us, and we begin to wonder whether Frtiz was really a ghost in the form of a doll. Thus, it is Fritz that is at the centre of this story, and hence the title ‘Fritz’ is both apt and suggestive.
Jayanto is the central character in the story entitled ‘Fritz’ by Satyajit Ray. He is sensitive, thoughtful person. He is thirty-seven, when the story opens. By profession is a newspaperman, an editor working in the editorial division of a newspaper. He is naturally genial and adventurous.
He relishes old memories. As he has spent some years as a child in a remote town of Rajasthan, Bundi, he opts to visit it in the company of his friend Shankar, a school teacher.
After arriving in Bundi, he behaves erratically. Sometimes he is cheerful and sometimes morose. Shankar fails to know why his behaviour fluctuates. Slowly, Jayanto begins to recall vividly the important places of his childhood. They used to live in the circuit house where they are staying now. The memory of a deodar tree leads him to its discovery in the garden of the circuit house.
The sight of the deodar tree in the garden of the circuit house plunges him into the vortex of childhood memories. We learn how as a pampered child of his parents he had a lot of toys . His emotional attachment to a Swiss toy his uncle had brought for him was so strong that even his parents became concerned and scared. He would spend hours with this toy – a twelve-inch-long figure of an old man named Fritz. He would talk to him as if he were a living human being. Fritz did not, as he could not, respond, but it seemed to the child Jayanto as if Fritz could talk to him if he could speak to him in German. He was shocked when Fritz was torn apart by stray dogs, which made him bury to toy under the deodar tree which he discovers during his present visit.
That he is hallucinated by Frtiz becomes clear when he wakes up from his sleep. He feels as if something has walked over his chest. Some small signs on the cover of the quilt convince him that it was Fritz who walked over his chest. Shankar tries to make him forget the incident, but fails to do so. He remains obsessed with the idea of the reality of Fritz. When a human skeleton , the size of Fritz, is discovered on digging the ground beneath the deodar tree, it only strengthens the whim of Jayanto about Fritz.
It is quite possible that the human skeleton found buried beneath the deodar tree might be something else. It could be the figment of his sick imagination in which his friend, too, got entangled. No doubt, once cannot be sure about it.
In short, Jayanto, is a whimsical, hypersensitive and emotional person. His obsession of Fritz makes him behave abnormally and erratically.
The Narrator (Shankar)
The narrator in the story is a school teacher named Shankar. He is Jayanto’s close friend. In contrast with Jayanto he seems to be more mature, realistic and practical in his outlook on life. The way he narrates the account of his visit, along with his freind, to Bundi, a small Rajasthan town, reveals his sense of keen observation and human interest.
He is quite gentle and genial. His intimacy with his friend, Jayanto, reveals that he is a good friend. Even though he is not fond of visiting the place suggested by his friend, he agrees to accompany him readily. Throughout the visit he keeps an eye on the fluctuating moods of his friends. He feels concerned whenever he finds Jayanto in low spirits. He tries to cheer him up.
He is basically a curious person. When Jayanto recalls his memories , one by one, he becomes more and more anxious to know the details. Being a good listener, he pays full attention to Jayanto’s account of his association with his Swiss doll named Fritz. When Jayanto takes a pause and becomes silent, he asks, “What happened to the doll?” When he is told that the doll was destroyed, he asks, “Destroyed? How?” After Jayanto has told him about the fate of the doll with the stray dogs and has become silent, he shows his curiosity again by asking, “And then?”
Unlike Jayanto , he is rational and practical . When Jayanto suspects that some rat or cat might have walked over his chest, he says:
“Rats and cats usually come in through drains, But I’ve never
known them to climb on the bed”.
When the idea crops up that whatever has crept over Jayanto’s chest must still be in the room, it is the narrator who rises quickly and beings searching under the bed, behind the suitcases and everywhere else in the room. After some time, he rationally concludes that Jayanto must have had a bad dram. When he finds that his friend was in a distraught state he feels that he must give him a tranquilizer . Ultimately, he takes the most practical decision to get his friend rid of his whimsical thought. He says that they should dig the ground underneath the deodar tree where the boy was buried years ago.
He is also quite tactful and persuasive at times. When the gardener suspects the motive behind their digging the ground under the tree, he lays a friendly hand on his shoulder and wins his confidence by saying : “Don’t worry about the reason. I’ll give you five rupees. Please do as you’re told.”
Thus, the narrator proves to be a good friend, a helpful companion and rational being. His narrative shows his ability to tell an incident vividly and effectively.
Interesting and gripping story : All ghost stories grip the attention of the readers. ‘Fritz’ by Ray is one such story. It is unusual in the sense that in it the ghosts is not horrifying a being who is threatening or destructive. The ghost in this story – if at all it is a ghost – is a non-living, harmless, smiling, small doll of an old man imported from Switzerland. But everything is in it – suspense, thrill, feeling of creepiness, etc. It is towards the end that the doll turns out to be something scary. When a human skeleton, similar in colour and size to the ruined toy named Fritz, is discovered then we come to realize that the ‘inactive’ toy could be a ghost, not a wicked but an innocent one.
Setting : The story is set in a circuit house in a small town, Bundi in Rajasthan. The circuit house has a big garden, and old fashioned large rooms having big windows. The story that has elements of mystery requires such atmosphere. The time is contemporary . So the idea of the ‘ghost’ -whether real or unreal – is left unexplored. The story of the ghost is, thus, purposely set in a remote area of Rajasthan where the supernatural is generally believable.
Point of view : The story is told by Shankar, a school teacher, in the first person. As Shankar is a participant in the action of the story, his fist-person account is quite realistic and authentic. Everything is seen from his perspective. A third-person point of view would have been less authentic.
Language : The language of the story is simple and precise. It is mostly denotative. The writer has not used figurative language deliberatively. The story demands plain language, shorn of all ornaments. However, it does not mean that there is nothing to delight us. The descriptive imagery is superb. The whole atmosphere is built up of minute details:
Right opposite it was a huge garden with a large
number of roses in full bloom. Behind there were a
lot of trees which obviously housed a vast section of
local birds. Parrots could be seen everywhere ; and
peacocks could he heard…….