Abol Tabol

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Abol Tabol
Cover page of the book.
AuthorSukumar Ray
PublisherU. Ray and Sons
Publication date
September 19, 1923
TextAbol Tabol at Wikisource

Abol tabol (Bengali: আবোল তাবোল; About this soundlisten ; literally "The Weird and the Absurd") is a collection of Bengali children's poems and rhymes composed by Sukumar Ray, first published on 19 September 1923 by U. Ray and Sons publishers. It consists of 46 titled and seven untitled short rhymes (quatrains), all considered to be in the genre of nonsense literature.


Bengali readers were exposed to a new nonsense fantasy world by the poems in Abol Tabol. This selection offers the best of Sukumar Ray's world of pun-riddled poetry.

Although it was not understood at the time of its publication, many poems in Abol Tabol contain skilfully hidden satire on the state of society and administration of early 20th-century colonial India - mostly Bengal. Embedding implied hidden meanings of a subversive nature in nonsense rhymes for children, was Ray's clever way of subverting press censorship by the then British administration in India, which was paranoid about seditious and subversive literature.[1]

Historical events depicted in the poems of Abol Tabol.
Timeline and brief explanations of historical events commented upon in the poems of Abol Tabol.

In analytical literature since 2017, the poems in Abol Tabol have been plotted on a timeline and compared with contemporaneous events, research having yielded plausible connections between historical events and the commentary and satire hidden in many of the poems.[2]

Publication history[edit]

Sukumar Ray wrote for the children's magazine Sandesh, started by his father Upendrakishore, in Calcutta (now Kolkata), right from the time of its first publication in 1913. Ray was living in England at that time, where he had traveled at the end of 1911, to study photoengraving and lithography. He returned to India towards the end of 1913, and, after the death of Upendrakishore in 1915, also became the editor of Sandesh, and remained so till the time of his own untimely death in 1923. The poems in Abol Tabol, most of which first appeared in Sandesh, were composed during the period 1915 to 1923.[3] Abol Tabol, meaning The Weird and the Absurd, was originally the name designating a section within Sandesh magazine, where many of these poems were first published. Thirty-nine poems and seven untitled quatrains can be traced back to having first appeared in Sandesh. Seven other poems making up the balance of the collection known as Abol Tabol were selected by Ray, from perhaps previously unpublished manuscripts, to form part of the final collection.[3] Of these, Ray wrote the first and last poems, both originally titled Abol-Tabol, specifically for the collection, possibly in 1923.[2]


আর যেখানে যাও না রে ভাই সপ্তসাগর পার,

কাতুকুতু বুড়োর কাছে যেও না খবরদার!
সর্বনেশে বৃদ্ধ সে ভাই যেও না তার বাড়ি-
কাতুকুতুর কুল্পি খেয়ে ছিঁড়বে পেটের নাড়ি

A portion from Sukumar Ray's Katukutu Buro
শিবঠাকুরের আপন দেশে ,

আইন কানুন সর্বনেশে!
কেউ যদি যায় পিছলে প'ড়ে,
প্যায়দা এসে পাক্‌ড়ে ধরে ,
কাজির কাছে হয় বিচার-
একুশ টাকা দন্ড তার।।

A portion from Sukumar Ray's Ekushe Ain

His collection had several characters which became legendary in Bengali literature and culture. Some characters even have found idiomatic usage in the language.

Some of the most famous characters in "Abol tabol" are:

  • Katth Buro (Poem: Katth Buro)
  • Head Officer Burrobabu (Poem: Gnof Churi)
  • Kumro Potash (Poem: Kumro Potash)
  • Gangaram (Poem: Sat Patro)
  • Chandidaser Khuroe (Poem: Khuror Kal)
  • Bombagorer Raja (Poem: Bombagorer Raja)
  • Hnukumukho Hyangla (Poem: Hnukumukho Hyangla)
  • Ramgorurer Chhana (Poem: Ramgorurer Chhana)
  • Tnyash Goru (Poem: Tnyash Goru)
  • Shashtthi Charan (Poem: Palowan)
  • Panto Bhoot (Poem: Bhooturey Khela)
  • Nera (Poem: Nera Beltolay Jay Kobar)
  • Katukutu Buro (Poem: Katukutu Buro)


English Translations of Abol Tabol, in reverse chronological order (newest first).

Rhymes of Whimsy - The Complete Abol Tabol, Translated by Niladri Roy, Haton Cross Press. First published 2017. Second Edition 2020.

  • This is the only complete translation of all the 53 poems.
  • The second edition incorporates the original illustrations by Sukumar Ray, replacing those in the first edition which had been drawn anew.
  • There is also a dual-language edition of this book with side-by-side Bengali originals and their English translations. Haton Cross Press, 2017

The Tenth Rasa: An Anthology of Indian Nonsense, edited by Michael Heyman, with Sumanyu Satpathy and Anushka Ravishankar. New Delhi: Penguin, 2007.

  • This volume includes, among other Indian nonsense texts, several translations of Sukumar Ray by Chattarji, including some that are not in her solo edition of Abol Tabol.

Abol Tabol: The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray. Translated by Sampurna Chattarji. New Delhi: Puffin, 2004.

  • This edition, a partial translation, also has works from Khapchhada, Bohurupee, Other Stories, Haw-Jaw-Baw-Raw-Law, Khai-Khai, and Pagla Dashu.

The Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray. Translated by Sukanta Chaudhuri. New Delhi: OUP, 1987.

  • The standard edition of Abol Tabol translations (partial) for many years.

Nonsense Rhymes. Translated by Satyajit Ray. Calcutta: Writer's Workshop, 1970.

  • This volume by the author's son is the slimmest and is difficult to find. Partial translation.

Analytical Works about Abol Tabol, in reverse chronological order (newest first).

Rhymes of Whimsy - The Complete Abol Tabol, with Analyses & Commentary by Niladri Roy, Haton Cross Press. First published 2017. Second Edition 2020.

  • Contains analyses of all the poems, with explanations of hidden satire.
  • The second edition contains approximately 20% more content and introduces substantially revised and entirely newly discovered information in the analyses.

Fantastic Beasts and How to Sketch Them: The Fabulous Bestiary of Sukumar Ray, by Poushali Bhadury. (South Asian Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2013.)

  • Analytical reviews of some of Sukumar Ray's illustrations that accompanied his poems in Abol Tabol, and how they complement the verse.

Colonial India in Children’s Literature, by Supriya Goswami. Routledge, 2012

  • This volume includes brief analysis of some of the poems in Abol Tabol. It also analyzes other contemporaneous books.

The World of Sukumar Ray, by Sukanta Chaudhuri in Telling Tales: Children’s Literature in India, Ed. Amit Dasgupta. New Age International Publishers Ltd. Wiley Eastern Ltd. New Delhi, India 1995, 88-96.

  • Commentary on some of the poems in Abol Tabol


  1. ^ Goswami, Supriya (2012). Colonial India in Children's Literature. Routledge. p. 152.
  2. ^ a b Roy, Niladri. Rhymes of Whimsy - The Complete Abol Tabol. Haton Cross Press. pp. 116–117.
  3. ^ a b Ray, Sukumar (1973). "Abol Tabol". In Ray, Satyajit; Basu, Partha (eds.). Sukumar Sahitya Samagra. 1. Kolkata: Ananda Publishers. p. 314.

External links[edit]