Once upon a time, a long time ago (over two decades ago), a child started collecting his story and comic books. The first book that he got hard-bound was Chandamama. He had graduated from his letter-after-letter reading style to the word-by-word one only a couple of years ago when he was trying to read his comic books his old way when his father had advised him to go the word by word way. it was a paradigm shift and it changed his life. He could read more in less time and with less effort than before. How did he use the time thus saved? He read some more. He had started reading stories with his first story book, Chandamama, when he was a little boy and had liked what was there. It used to have one serialized stories: one with the mythological theme, one adventure story and one of Vikram and Vetaal. In addition to that, there used to be many shorter stories too. He now writes about his experiences in this blog.
The other books with stories and some comic strips used to be Kutkut, Nandan, Champak and Parag. The first one is not published now and I am not sure about the fate of the last one. The other two have changed a lot. Chanpak is more like Tinkle that is a comic book with short stories, than like its own old self. I distinctly remember having one Parag with (then) Captain Rakesh Sharma’s journey to moon as its focal event. The year, wikipedia tells me, was 1984. I also remember having one Champak along with Parag. But why do I remember the two books from that year so vividly and strongly?
Not just those books, I remember that year very clearly too. I had spent a large part of it with the members of my extended family in my grand-parental house.
Madhu Muskaan and Lotpot used to be two children’s books that specialized in humor. They used to have funny Laurel and Hardy like comic strips viz. Motu-Patlu or Lambu-Motu. They also used to have short stories, some of them so funny that they used to make us laugh till our stomach ached. I remember that humor used to be clean back then, both in comics and in films. Television was a rarity, so there was no scope for reality shows and stand ups bringing the level of humor down and spreading it so wide that it starts affecting children too.
Our Science/Maths teacher had strongly recommended Vigyaan Pragati to all of us. So strongly that I started buying, reading and storing it carefully for future references. It used to have science based articles and biographies of great scientists and mathematicians. Those biographies went a long way in creating a halo round those heroes from the more abstract fields of knowledge. Suman Saurabh is another name that comes to my mind. I don’t remember it as strongly or positively as the books mentioned above but I did enjoy reading it a lot and collected its copies too. There used to be stories in Mukta, Sarita, Manorama, Manohar Kahaniyaan, my aunt’s novels and whatever I could get to read. And I used to read indiscriminately, and used to enjoy whatever I read. My tastes are similar even today, only I have been educated so much that I have started discriminating between high and low art. So atavistic!
The list of full length comic books that I had (and still have most of them) must start with Uncle Pai’s Amar Chitra Katha. Why? Because it used to be the only comic book symbol that our parents used to approve of back then. Its content and visuals needed no censor scissors. Its stories used to be edifying and informative, the price, light on a middle-class father’s pocket, and the finish used to be superb. Most of what I know about the mythology and great persons of India started with ACK.
One found it all there: Panchtantra, Hitopadesh, Jataka Tales, Folk Tales, Tales from Sanskrit plays and poems, biographies of freedom fighters and great men and so on. The first few titles that I had acquired, I remember, had Vasantsena amongst them. It was jointly owned because my uncle had bought it for me, and I had written on its cover page my name with that of my cousins from that uncle’s side with my childhood sense of fairness.
The list that started with ACK must then mention Indrajaal Comics, that makes a contrasting pair with the previous one. If ACK was the officially accepted and paternally bought comics then IC was the officially banned one. There was too much violence in it, and no (Indian) values: nothing edifying in this one. Yet, a child can’t be kept away from adventures, and IC was full of them.
Ah! Indrajaal Comics, with Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby, Buzz Sawyer, Garth, Kerry Drake and Lothar. There used to be heroes back then! Phantom used to be, and still is, my favourite super hero. Who else could it be but he of the tall form and strong build, he who could take out fifty crooks one after one after one, till only the boss was left, and then bring them in for justice; and that fear on the face of the boss! Then there was Bahadur, our very Indian (super) hero. Like Phantom, he had no supernatural powers. Like Phantom, he was strong and good with his fists and kicks. Like Phantom, he had a consort that was suitable for such a hero. Mandrake and Lothar, brains and brawn, white and black, contrasts at the surface, were united in the core. They were both of noble origin and they hated crime (and, unlike Gandhiji) criminals. There were a couple of Bruce Lee numbers too.
Raj Comics came up with its own superheroes: Nagraj, Dhruv, Doga, Bhokal, Parmanu, Kobi and the ever comical Bankelal. Now Dhruv had begun differently. He was a common man, with expertise in gymnastics and the ability to communicate with animals: both explainable, as he was born to the parents who worked in a circus and was brought up with animals. The archetype of the hero losing his parents in his childhood and his being brought up by loving and caring adopted parents was repeated upon Dhruv, with one change: he got a superhero sister too. He got all his “super” human powers in his later comics. Till then, his comics used to be more interesting. Nagraj had his superpowers from his first comic book. Still his stories remained interesting for some time, and then, he became popular and his exploits less interesting.
Remember Super Commando Dhruv?
Doga was a very inspiring character in the beginning. His building his body, his internal conflict and his conversion to a vigilante self to fight crime made him appealing. He was extraordinary, but never superhuman in his first few stories. And then, insidiously, like Dhruv, Doga too was made into some kind of a superhero. Bankelal made people laugh in his first few stories, but then he started repeating himself and became boring. Kobi-Bhedia comics started well but their plot later became so convoluted that now I need a reference book to understand their comics.
(Image source: bookpecker.com)
Diamond Comics brought Mr. Pran’s Chacha Chaudhari, Sabu, Billu, Pinki, Raman, Srimatiji to compete with the superheroes. I remember their only superhero Faulaadi Singh, and I remember him as an ineffectual one. The heroes and heroines that Pran had created had no superpowers, with the exception of Sabu. Even Chachaji was a common man whose “brain worked faster than computers”. Billu and Pinki were like many other mischievous children one meets in various colonies and muhallas of India. Raman and Srimatiji were like any other middle class man or woman, with similar set of concerns and problems. What happened to them in their stories could happen to anyone, anywhere. Pran’s characters were as close to the everyday life as any comic character could possibly ever be, while still entertaining the reader.
(Image source: pyaretoons.com)
I used to like the stories of Tarzan and his son Korak very much. Tarzan’s substitute in Manoj Comics was Mahabali Shera. He looked like the original, was the protector of the jungle, and could fight a tiger with bare hands and a knife. Then there was Bhutnath in Nutan Comics. He looked like a half Phantom and was his watered down version.
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