Satyajit Ray and The Unicorn Expedition

"I saw a herd of unicorns today. I write this in full possession of my senses." So begins the short story The Unicorn Expedition by the great Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray. A Professor Shanku story from the early 1960s, one of a series which reflect "my love of [Jules] Verne and [H.G.] Wells and [Sir Arthur] Conan Doyle whose works I read as a schoolboy," wrote Ray. Like anything by him, it is charming and effortless and rich and starts in Mohenjo-daro.

Ray continues in the story: "I have a book open before me on my desk which is about the ancient civilisation of Mohenjo-daro. Apart from the pottery, toys, figurines and ornaments, diggings at Mohenjo-daro have revealed a large number of rectangular clay and ivory seals bearing carvings of, amongst other things, animals such as elephants, tigers, bulls and rhinoceroses. In addition to these familiar animals, there are representations of a beast unknown to us. It is shown as a bull-like creature with a single curved horn growing out of its forehead. Archaeologists have taken it to be a creature of fantasy, although I see no point in depicting an imaginary creature when all the others are real. In addition to these familiar animals, there are representations of a beast unknown to us. It is shown as a bull-like creature with a single curved horn growing out of its forehead. Archaeologists have taken it to be a creature of fantasy, although I see no point in depicting an imaginary creature when all the others shown are real."The Unicorn Expedition, p. 156).

"There is another reason for thinking that the unicorn may not, after all, be a fantastic animal. Two thousand years ago, the Roman scholar Pliny clearly stated in his famous treatise on animals that in India there exist cows and donkeys with a single horn. Aristotle, too, maintained that there were unicorns in India. Would it be wrong to conclude from this that in India there did exist, in ancient times, a species of unicorn which became extinct here, but which survives in some parts of Tibet?" (The Unicorn Expedition, p. 158)

Above:The frontpiece to The Unicorn Expedition was drawn by Ray himself.