“Dada, edike ashun. Mukul er barita dekhben na?” (Brother, come here. Don’t you want to see the house of Mukul?)
These loosely-strung words lobbed at a couple of Bengali tourists visiting the Sonar Fort in Jaisalmer seem to do the job for tour guide Vijay Nath aka Vijay Ghosh.
Within seconds, Nath has the tourists following him excitedly as he takes them to ‘Mukulbari’ (the house of Mukul), a fictional character from Satyajit Ray’s famous detective novel Sonar Kella (The Golden Fort).
When Ray wrote the novel back in 1971 and a film adaptation was made three years later, it is unlikely that the legendary auteur-director would have foreseen that how Sonar Kella, which will gain a cult status among his fans over the years, will also have a major impact on the livelihood of Rajasthani guides in the Jaisalmer Fort, a Unesco World Heritage site built in 1156 CE.
“My real name is Vijay Nath but to most of the Bengali tourists I introduce myself as a Bengali, Vijay Ghosh. Given the fact that I fluently speak Bengali, it helps me to boost my earnings at the end of the day,” said Nath, who has been a guide at the Sonar Fort for the last eight years.
Sonar Kella follows the adventure of Ray’s legendary fictional sleuth Feluda along with his sidekick Topshe and thriller-novelist Jatayu, as they embark on a quest to find a golden fort which a boy named Mukul remembers from his past life.
“It is almost a compulsion for all the guides in this fort to watch the film directed by Ray at least once, when they come into the profession. Since the Bengalis coming to the fort are extremely curious about the places mentioned in the book and where scenes from the film were shot, we need to do our homework,” said Pratap Singh, another guide.
When Singh takes the tourists on a detour of the fort, his voice is an incessant chatter as he occasionally tosses names of characters from Sonar Kella such as Feluda, Topshe, Jatayu and Dr. Hajra to the thrilled tourists.
“It is in this alleyway where the villain chases Mukul and that is his house, as shown in the film,” Singh says animatedly to tourists which results in a camera being thrust in his hands and a flurry of photo requests.
“We owe it to Ray for making this fort so popular with Bengali tourists. I am a native of West Bengal and have been working as a tourist guide here for the last five years. Since I am a Bengali, there’s an extra advantage that I have when it comes to wooing the tourists. But the Rajasthani guides give me tough competition as they speak Bengali almost as fluently as me,” said guide Surya Mandal.
The guides at the fort say that knowing Bengali actually doubles their monthly income.
“We easily earn around Rs 30,000 every month, almost half of which is accounted for by Bengali tourists,” said Singh.
The tourists too seem to enjoy the fact that they get to hear their mother-tongue after coming to Rajasthan.
“If you hadn’t told me, I couldn’t have imagined that my guide is not a native Bengali speaker. He showed me around the entire fort, speaking fluently in the language. It’s great to see that Ray’s book is so popular here in Rajasthan,” Kalyan Dey, a tourist from Kolkata told HT.
Last year, Bengalis constituted 60% of the 2.35 lakh Indian tourists who visited the fort.