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FICTION : THE UNICORN EXPEDITION AND OTHER FANTASTIC TALES OF INDIA by Satyajit Ray (Dutton: $16.95; 190 pp.).

August 09, 1987|Joseph Prabhu

Satyajit Ray is best known in the West as a celebrated Indian film maker whose mastery of the whole range of cinematography invariably evokes admiration. Here he reveals another facet of his protean talent--in a collection of stories originally written for a Bengali magazine that he has edited since 1961.

While his films are generally realist in character, the stories tend toward the surreal and the fantastic. Underlying both, however, are qualities of wonder, inventiveness and charm that suggest the mythic world of the Indian epics and the ironic imagination with which Ray explores it. Man-eating birds and talking crows exist side by side with anthropomorphic computers and nutriment pills.

Ray makes no attempt to resolve the tension between myth and reason but is content to let them play on and with each other. In "Ashamanja Babu's Dog," a laughing dog evokes derision, then wonder and finally greed. And in "The Unicorn Expedition," Shonku, the inventor, sets off on a scientific expedition in search of unicorns that permit themselves to be seen in a special fairyland, but not to be captured and taken back into the ordinary world. In these exotic tales, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells meet the monkey-god Hanuman.

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