The Calcutta Garamond

A couple of days ago I picked up a copy of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda stories (an English translation by Gopa Majumdar). The book has four stories – Kailash Choudharyr Pathar (Kailash Chowdhury’s Jewel), Samaddarer Chabi (The Key), Sheyal Debota Rahasya (The Anubis Mystery) and Golokdham Rahasya (The Mysterious Tenant).

In the last of these four stories, Golokdham Rahasya, Feluda solves the mystery of a theft and murder by looking at the typeface on an envelope.

‘You see, Topshe, English typefaces are an extraordinary business. Bengali has ten or twelve different typefaces; English has two thousand. Once I had to read up on this subject while investigating a case. Each typeface belongs to a group, and each group has a particular name. For instance, this typeface here is called Garamond,’ Feluda pointed at the printed words on the envelope. Then he continued, ‘Garamond came to being in the sixteenth century in France. Then it began to be used everywhere in the world. Countries like England, Germany, Switzerland and America didn’t just use this typeface but, in their own factories, made the mould required to use it. Even India has started doing that now. The funny thing is, if you look very carefully, you will always find a subtle difference between Garamond used in one country and another. The formation of certain letters usually gives away this difference. For example, the letters on this envelope should have been American Garamond. But they have turned into Indian Garamond. In fact, you may even call it Calcutta Garamond!’

Now, this had to get me excited! And for huge fans of Feluda, there is a great interview with animator and concept artist, Sukanto Debnath, who is working on the character design for Feluda’s The Kathmandu Caper (to be broadcast by the Disney Channel in India soon) at the blog down at Rarh Magazine.

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Update – more Type-Detectivery in the Feluda Stories

I took up on Shubho’s reference about Satyajit Ray’s first Feluda story, and picked up a big, fat collection at Blossom’s last afternoon. I read the first Feluda story Danger in Darjeeling (called Feludar Goendagiri in Bengali) on my flight back to Delhi, and found the passage that Shubho recalls in his comment.

‘Look at the letter in your hand. Take the various printed words. Do they tell anything? ‘Feluda thought for a few seconds. ‘The words were cut out with a blade, not scissors’, he said.
‘Very good.’
‘Second, each word has come from a different source – the typeface and quality of paper vary from each other.’
‘Yes. Can you guess what those different sources might be?’
‘These two words – “prepared” and “pay” – appear to be a newspaper.”
‘Right. Ananda Bazar.’
‘How can you tell?’
‘Only Ananda Bazar uses that typeface. And the other words were taken out of books, I think. Not very old books, mind you, for those different typefaces have been in use over the last twenty years, and no more…’

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Comments 13

  1. Tarun Deep Girdher May 9, 2011

    thanks pooja for sharing this,. It takes a genius like Satyajit Ray to come up with such a meticulous observation about typefaces, and that too as a part of a detective story.
    Once I was too summoned to the police station to verify a fraudulent letterhead which used arial (and not frutiger).

  2. Shubho May 9, 2011

    I vaguely remember that the first Feluda story (“Feludar Goyendagiri” – 1965?) too had something to do with types: I think Feluda solves the crime by studying the letters of an anonymous mail written in the form of a collage of letters cut out from newspapers & magazines…something like that, if I recall correctly. So the typographer in Satyajit Ray did come out from time to time while writing 🙂 Also, Ray being an Arthur Conan Doyle fan, this is not surprising. Here I leave you with an excerpt from “The Hound of the Baskervilles”:

    “There is as much difference to my eyes between the leaded bourgeois type of a Times article and the slovenly print of an evening half-penny paper…The detection of types is one of the most elementary branches of knowledge to the special expert in crime, though I confess that once when I was very young I confused the Leeds Mercury with the Western Morning News. But a Times leader is entirely distinctive, and these words could have been taken from nothing else. As it was done yesterday the strong probability was that we should find the words in yesterday’s issue.” (This was, of course, Sherlock Homes speaking…)

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