Monday, September 23, 2013

In conversation with Pran Kumar Sharma- The Legend of Indian comics

Whenever I would pick up a Chacha Chaudhary comic book in my childhood, there was this one face that I had gotten very familiar with apart from the comic characters themselves. It was this smiling, benign-looking man, clad in a dapper suit and tie, whose face would be displayed on the front page of every Chacha comic book. That man, of course, is Pran Kumar Sharma.

Even without intending to, Pran had become a part of my life. When I realized that the wonderful world of comics I am so besotted with is created by this man, I began idolizing him. I and my brother were both quite fond of the Chacha Chaudhary universe and thus Pran slowly became a household name for us. We loved the simple and enchanting world he had created in those comics. Of particular captivation for us were his illustrations; the houses, the lanes, the trees, the clouds, the clothes - everything had such simplicity and allure that we often wished we could dive into that world sometimes. Then there were the chaste Hindi dialogues, the wacky plots, the absolutely bizarre names of characters; it was all so enchanting. We understood then that the sole credit for all that goes to Pran and our admiration for him thus grew manifold. We would always wonder then how Pran must be like as a person; how would his voice sound like and what would I say if I ever met him?



As I stepped in the career of journalism, my little fascination of knowing the person behind the Chacha Chaudhary comics intensified further. And hence over the last few months, I have been striving to contact the man. The efforts finally bore fruit a few days back.


With quivering hands, I dialed his number; not knowing what to expect. The call connected and a husky, tired voice answered at the other end.  My mind was a little blank and the heartbeat had risen quite a few notches, but I still managed to introduce myself. “Am I worth it?” was his question when I informed him the purpose of my call. I laughed nervously. But he was very friendly and eased my nerves. Thankfully, he agreed to the interview for the coming Sunday afternoon. His approval made me feel like I was walking on the clouds. Over the next few days, I pompously declared to anyone who would listen about my ‘achievement’. I felt like the child who had got the autograph of his favourite film star.    

The day of the interview was a monumental achievement for me; it shall always remain as one of my biggest career highlights, no matter what. I had ceased all my other tasks to dedicate my concentration solely towards this interview. I knew very well that there would not be another moment like this. It felt surreal, almost bizarre, that I would be interviewing the man who had provided for innumerable of my memorable childhood moments. When I made the call, the first thing he said was, “I was waiting for your call.”  Wow, I thought. The legend of Indian comics was waiting for my call. This is crazy! Before I could begin the interview, he asked me politely, “Paani pee loon thoda?” (Can I drink some water?). I smiled and waited patiently for him to finish. And then began the interview.

Over the course of the next two hours, I cleared my heart of nearly all the things that I had always wanted to ask Pran. Fortunately, he obliged me. I feel he almost enjoyed the interview as much as I did. Almost.

Now I will let the legend do all the talking.


Excerpts from the interview.


Q. The one thing that many of your fans are concerned about these days is that do you still make new comics at this age?

Pran: Yes, of course. The day I stop creating comics would be the death of me. I will make comics till my last breath. Yes, I have adapted with the times now. I do not make as many as I once used to because of old age. But I do have a couple of assistants with me now who help me out. I give them the cartoons and dialogues and they colour them digitally. That does help a lot.

Moreover, I have also adapted in the stories of my comics with the age. Previously, the themes of my stories were very simple. But today’s kids are very smart. Hence, I have introduced computers, mobile phones and things like Facebook in my stories now. Kids like that I guess. And I enjoy the fact that I can bring smiles on their faces.  I will keep enjoying making comics until my end comes.

Q. How did your interest in cartooning begin?

Pran: I was always interested in drawing cartoons from my childhood, but never really thought of it as a career option in my early days. Like every other youngster, I too wanted to establish my career first. Hence, I did my M.A. in Political Science. But even after that, the cartooning bug was always there inside me. In those days, there were no such special cartooning courses. All the legendary cartoonists of India like R. K. Laxman and K. Shankar Pillai were self-taught. I too got inspired by them and then started considering cartooning as my career option.

The fact that many of my cartoons had already been published in some of my college magazines, made me eager to get many more published across many other platforms. Hence, I put my foot down and declared to my family one fine day that I am going to be a cartoonist. They were shocked. They wanted me to take up a government job as that was very popular in those days. But my mind was made up. The cartoon bug in me had risen like a storm and there was no looking back ever since.

 Q. Why did you specifically choose comics? There are so many other forms of cartooning that you could have taken up?

Pran:  Cartooning has basically three branches- social, political and comics. The last one is my area of interest. See, the thing is, in the late 60s there were many legendary Indian cartoonists, but all of them focused more on serious topics like politics and social issues. I thus wanted to attempt a different genre of cartooning.

Moreover, in those days, whatever comics we had were imported from western countries like Spiderman, Superman, Dennis the Menace, Phantom, Mandrake etc.  I wanted to create comics completely and solely rooted in the Indian sensibilities; which would have characters and issues which our children would be able to directly relate to. And in doing so they should also have fun. Hence I started creating diverse comic characters which thankfully people loved and many of which have stayed on even now.

Q. Tell us about your career progress in your initial days.

Pran: When I had made up my mind that I would be a cartoonist, I then started approaching different newspapers to get my cartoons published. Those days, the concept of comic book wasn’t there, so I had to rely on newspapers. I struggled initially, but soon enough a couple of newspapers showed interest in my cartoons and published them. As my cartoons got published, other newspapers too got interested. Punjab Kesari, Navbharat Times, Karamveer and many other newspapers published my cartoons and my name thus started getting popular.

Back then, I used to make my own cartoons and post them myself to the local newspaper houses riding on my bicycle. I didn’t get much for those cartoon strips in the newspapers; around 10 Rs. for each strip. It was a struggle. But it sure was fun.

Q. How did your association with Diamond Comics begin?

Pran: It was in the 1980s when these two guys from Diamond Comics (DC) came to my residence to meet me. They were keen to compile my comics, which had been published in the newspapers and magazines like Lotpot, into a book form. I immediately agreed to the fact that my comics would come out separately in a book was a huge motivation for me. Plus the money they offered was good; I was taken in.

I initially gave them content for two comic books, which they published as 45-page comic books.  Luckily the response was so good that all the prints got sold out within two weeks of their release. There was no looking back after that. The DC guys kept coming back to me for more and I kept creating the comics with passion. I slowly became a household name.  It also gave me a stable income for survival. There is no denying that DC gave me a platform to be famous. And now I have more than 600 comics books in my name.

Q. Was there anything specific in your mind when you created your characters?

Pran: I wanted all my characters to be connected to the Indian middle-class sensibilities. Hence you will find all my characters facing similar issues and problems to tackle in their everyday lives. My world was simple- the lives of the people, the houses they stayed in, the buildings in the background; everything was very simple and hence people connected to it. Moreover, I never wanted any of my characters to do anything unnatural; like I made sure they should never fly or crawl up the walls. Children relate to these things very quickly. I hence did not want to show them any unreal things and instead wanted to tell them that our world can be fascinating even in the simplest form.

Q. How did the character of Chacha Chaudhary come into being?



Pran:  In those days, we did not have any Indian comic character to relate with. Even if someone came out with something, people would label it as a copy of western countries. I was thus determined to make something entirely unique and Indian. Hence Chacha Chaudhary took birth. He is not handsome or strong like other superheroes, but his entire strength is his common-sense. He wears a turban, has a walking stick as his weapon and still solves the problems of the world. He is our very own Indian hero with whom everyone can relate to.

Q. What made you form Sabu’s character?

Pran:  Chachaji was having to face a lot of issues you see. Tackling goons, solving mysteries was fine but the issues started getting graver. Things like terrorism and bomb blasts started taking place. I thus thought that Chachaji should have an able companion with him to tackle all these. Hence Sabu took birth. 



He is a massive and powerful man from Jupiter. Everyone in his planet is strong and tall like him. One day he was flying his spaceship and happened to land in India. He was instantly mesmerized by the beautiful scenery; the snow clad mountains, the crystal clear water. He then met Chachaji who took him home and the two then instantly formed a friendly bond. After Sabu drank Chachi’s lassi, he then decided to stay here for the rest of his life. Sabu became like a family to Chachaji; the two are inseparable now. If Chachaji is Lord Ram, Sabu is like Lord Hanuman. Chachaji is the brain and Sabu is the brawn. Together they are the perfect heroes that our society needs.


Q. Talking about Sabu. Correct me if I am wrong, but in my childhood, I remember reading a chapter in the comics where Sabu was a genie. Is that correct?

Pran: (Laughs loudly) No one has ever asked me this question before. But you are correct. Aaapke yaddasht ki mai taarif karta hoon. I really admire your memory.

When you create a character, it goes through many shades. Yes, there was just this single episode where Sabu was initially introduced as a ‘Jinn’ who came out from a lamp. However, when I saw the print, I did not like it. Furthermore, I realized that I should not be showing something totally unrealistic to children. Hence I changed his character and modified him to be from Jupiter. That has stuck ever since.

Q. Was the idea of keeping ‘Rocket’ as a vegetarian dog deliberate?

Pran: Yes, I like to keep things in my comics a little different. Rocket too was born out of that. He is not an expensive or beautiful dog. He is a very simple dog that can be found in any lane. Chachaji once fed him some milk and since that day the dog has been with him. I kept him vegetarian deliberately so as to not let the crooks feed him meat or bones when they want to commit any wrongdoing. Thus Rocket too is an able companion of Chachaji and is like his family. He also helps him solves mysteries and takes on many bad guys.

Q. The villains in your series were generally pretty funny and goofy. However, the character of Raaka took the series to a very different level, isn’t it? He was the first really violent and dark antagonist in your series.

Pran: I wanted to create a completely different character that would take everyone by surprise. Hence Raaka the dacoit was formed. He is unabashedly violent and kills for power and pleasure. When he grew immortal, there was no stopping him except Chachaji and Sabu. People fear him, but in the end, he is always packed off in some far off and desolate place. The idea was to be innovative and not get repetitive with the stories that I came out with. Raaka’s stories take my comics to a different genre; while certain sensibilities about good and evil remain the same.

Q. The names of your characters are quite funny and unique.

Pran: Again, the idea was to be different and unique. I did not want to borrow names of normal people but create ones that are unheard of and sound funny at the same time. That too does take a lot of thinking though. I had to sometimes sit for hours to come up with names. I am happy people liked the names that I created.

Q. You created so many characters, but Chacha Chaudhary was the most famous. Was there any other character before Chacha Chaudhary that had become well-known?

Pran: Actually Chacha Chaudhary became famous in the mid-70s. There was another character of mine which was extremely renowned in the early 70s- Shrimatiji. I can’t tell you how popular she was; especially amongst the females (laughs). The Shrimatiji comic strips first appeared in the women magazine Sarita. Within just a few weeks, its popularity really soared and people just loved her. Later on, Shrimatiji started getting published from the magazine Manorama because I had some dispute with the Sarita owners. Shrimatiji ran quite successfully in Manorama for several years until the magazine was closed down. Nowadays, apart from the usual stand-alone comics of Shrimatiji, its comics strips also appears in Gujarat Guardian Daily (Surat) as well as Sudha Weekly(Bangalore).

The reason Shrimatiji's character became so popular was because she is like the very average middle-class married woman. She is always on the lookout for the street-side sales and would find out other ways to curb her household expenses. Plus, people really enjoyed her constant banter with her husband.


Q. Any particular character from the many that you created that is your favourite?

Pran: I created all my characters with equal love and passion. They are like my own babies. I can never be partial towards any one. I love them all equally.

Q. There was a TV serial that was made on Chacha Chaudhary.

Pran: Yes, it was in 2005 I guess when these Sahara guys contacted me for the want of adopting Chacha Chaudhary into a serial. Those days Subroto Roy's Sahara TV was quite popular. It was Roy's son Sushanto Roy who was primarily interested in this adoption of the series into the serial. He was the one who sent for me to meet them at their Mumbai office. He told me their wish and I had no issues. The money was good and they seemed genuine people. My only problem was with royalty. I told Sushanto that companies don’t generally give me royalty and at this age, I won’t be able to run after you, so if you can provide me the royalty I will be happy. Within minutes Sushanto asked his accountant to pay me my royalties and I was thus content. The serial too was quite good.

Q. You started way back in the 60s.What difference do you find in the cartooning style of today and that of the past?

Pran: It has changed a lot. In my initial days, drawing comic strips took a lot of effort; sketching the characters, making the backgrounds, filling it with vibrant colours and giving dialogues to the characters. It was really a tough and time-consuming job. Now, things have become comparatively easier as most people like to take the help of computers and make cartoons digitally. I, however, still prefer to make my cartoons on paper. It takes a lot of hard work. But it is fun.

Q. From what I have come to know, you were invited to many cartoon conventions from around the globe. Can you elaborate?  

Pran: Yes, after more than 20 years in the field, my name had reached to different corners of the globe. In 2006, I was invited by the Cartoonists Society of America in Chicago to deliver a lecture there on the subject of comics. It was an enriching experience as the audience there loved to hear my views. I also got a chance to meet some of my idols from the cartooning field like Mort Walker (the creator of Beetle Bailey) and many others. A few years later, I was also invited by the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain; that too was a landmark. There were many other places after that which kept inviting me like Australia, New Zealand, Moscow and different countries from Europe; I had become a known name. More than anything else, these tours gave me the chance to relive my childhood dream of visiting foreign lands. It was my passion, you can say, which made me achieve that. At first, my friends and relatives would mock me for being a cartoonist, now they are proud to be associated with Pran!

Q. What would your message be to aspiring Indian cartoonists of today?

Pran: Perhaps I should not say this, but I find a real lack of originality in our Indian cartoonists today. They tend to get inspired by western countries and concepts and try and emulate their characters. Most of the Indian comics and graphic novels that you find in the market today are modified versions of western comic characters. I thus want to tell young Indian cartoonists to please be original. If you make Spiderman wear a dhoti, he will still be a Spiderman. He will not be Indian. These cartoonists should take inspiration from Indian sensibilities and emotions. There are innumerable stories and characters that can be taken out from our country.

Furthermore, to be a good cartoonist you should have a very deep sense of humour and good intellect apart from having a balanced and good drawing sense. These are the most vital ingredients one must have if they desire to be a good cartoonist.

Q. You have often been quoted talking about the need for a comics museum in India. Please elaborate.

Pran: Places like America, England, Australia, many countries in Europe and even many smaller ones around the globe have comics museums. They know how to respect their legendary cartoonists. But unfortunately, our country does not have a single genuine comics museum. The need for such museum arises as they can preserve some the gems created by the legendary comic artists of any country which we can show to our children.

Our country too had legendary cartoonists like R.K.Laxman, Kutty, K. Shankar Pillai and others who have even contributed in our independence through their cartoons. They had themes which showed our plight during those days and ignited the patriotic passion in people. But where are those cartoons? We need to show them to our children and a museum would have been the best option to display these cartoons of our legends. I hope someday soon our country too realizes the need for this.

Q. You must have received endless praises from your fans over the years. Any particular comment that has stuck with you?

Pran: It’s really difficult to point out any one. My fans have been very generous with me. I am overwhelmed with their love for me. However, I would like to share a recent incident.

I was at a hospital, undergoing surgery for some intestinal infection I had been infected with. The day before I was admitted to the hospital, the legendary actor Pran had passed away. I was sitting in my hospital room and reading the newspapers which carried this news when the doctors came in. I looked at them and said in jest, “Looks like it’s the turn of the other Pran to go as well.” The head surgeon, however, held my hands and told me, “Pran ji, I will never let anything happen to you. I have grown up reading your comics. You are my hero.” I was extremely touched by that.  It is moments like these which make me realize that my life has been worthwhile after all.

Q. You are an inspiration to many. Have you got inspired by anyone?

Pran: Oh, of course. Many people inspire me from different fields. Currently, though, I am a big fan of Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He is a real inspiration for every one of us. Just look at the way he has risen from a small place (Ranchi) and has become a world-renowned face. We are all so proud of him today. And that is not just luck; he has put in a lot of hard work, passion, and dedication into it. Though I am nowhere as close to him in success, I can relate to him as well because I too have reached where I have because of a lot of hard work and dedication.

Q. What would you say has been your biggest achievement in life?

Pran:  I can’t call this an achievement but I guess I have contributed something towards the society; even if it is very small. I guess I provided the people of India with a ‘sasta’ entertainment. The fact that I could bring smiles on the faces of different people, made them forget their troubles for a few minutes, gives me the greatest satisfaction. That I could say is my biggest achievement in life. My fans are the ones who keep me alive even today and would do so even after I am no more. Without them I am nothing.

                                                                                                   ***************



End Note: 

This is not just an interview for me; it is a monumental career achievement. 

One of the primary reasons for me to do this interview, other than my fascination for Pran, was the fact that I could not find anything comprehensive written on him in the online media. Furthermore, in the making of this interview, I spoke to many fans of Chacha Chaudhary. All of them still fondly recall the comics, but very few of them know about the man behind them. I thus thought that it was my responsibility as a journalist to present this interview to the fans of Chacha Chaudhary. It is essential that they know about Pran. They deserve this. He deserves this.  

There will never be another Pran in our lifetime. Hence, this is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to my childhood hero. That is all I can give him in return for making my childhood so delightful and memorable.

This one’s for all of us. This one’s for ‘our’ childhood.


Concluded

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The World of Chacha Chaudhary and I

Comics. This world itself has some magical potency in it to tingle certain strange sensations inside me. No matter wherever I might be, and whatever I might be doing; hearing this word always gets my attention. The reason for that is just one- my connection with comics since my childhood has been an extremely deep and emotional one; something which goes beyond the realms of childhood fascination.

Over the last two decades I have had the pleasure of gorging through multifarious comics; ranging from Lotpot, Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Archies, Tinitin, Asterix et al. However, there was one particular comic and its characters that for some strange reasons attracted me the most. Chacha Chaudhary and his many friends occupy such a special place in the cupboards of my memory that it is virtually impossible to even think of forgetting them. And curiously, somehow or the other, there keeps coming instances in my life where I in some way repeatedly get connected to these friends of mine. Presently, I am going through one such phase again where all of a sudden I have had this increasing urge to dive into the world of Chacha Chaudhary and his friends. Hence, a few weeks back, I searched out a local shop that keeps these comics, happily brought a dozen of them and have been gorging on them ever since.

The reason for writing this post is a little different though, and not just to share my association with Chacha and his friends. The post comes from the fact that I had the privilege of interviewing the creator of the Chacha Chaudhary comics- Mr. Pran Kumar Sharma. But hold on, this is about the only thing I will divulge on the subject; for now that is.

I considered that since I have interviewed such a gigantic legend of Indian comics, it would perhaps be injustice on my part to merely present the interview in one post and get it done with. The interview with Pran ji is not just a story for me; it has unparalleled emotional significance. But more on the legend of Pran in the next post. I have hence concluded that it would be prudent to set up a base for that interview by first presenting my insights into some of the famous characters he created, and the effect of the world of Chacha Chaudhary and his many friends on my psyche.

The characters:


Chacha Chaudhary: The wise-old man of our comics. His ‘brain works faster than a computer’ and he can solve the complex of cases ranging from terrorism, dacoity, varied mystery and many more. He is more than 50 years old, wears a red turban, carries a walking stick, is bald and thin, and yet is a superhero for the society in his own right. Goons fear him, police look up to him for help and children love him. You can be rest assured that no matter what problems you are facing, Chachaji would save the day in the end.



Sabu: The superman from Jupiter, Sabu is more than just a sidekick to Chachaji. This gigantic and muscular ‘alien’ is as Indian as one can be and is like a family to Chachaji. If Chacha is the brain, Sabu is the more than ideal brawn. His character is chiefly responsible for bashing up goons and dacoits with one swipe of his hand. And you better not make this guy angry because, “Jab Sabu ko gussa aata hai, tab kahi Jwalamukhi fatta hai”.

Bini Chaachi : Chachaji’s better half, Bini Chaachi might not be a prevalent figure in all the episodes of the series but she sure packs a punch; quite literally. She has an imposing figure and can take down the meanest of ruffians on her day. However, her primary role in the comics is to chide Chachaji for being jobless and provide ‘lassi’ for Sabu.

Rocket: This forever faithful companion is probably one of the simplest of dogs one can have as a pet. But for Chachaji, Rocket is family. He also plays crucial parts in solving out mysteries and taking on the bad guys. And like many of those unusual things in the series; Rocket is the only dog in the world who is a vegetarian.

Dag-Dag: Though he is just a vehicle, Dag-Dag too is a vital chrachter of the series. Despite the fact that his tyres are bandaged, window panes are damaged, and that he emits a lot of smoke, he remains another faithful friend to Chachaji in times of need. Oh, and by the way you can never steal or cheat him as he is ‘half-human’ and can think for himself.

Gobar Singh and Dhamaka Singh: Although the series has a wide array of bad guys up its sleeve, these two are the most consistent ones. Both desperately try to rid Chachaji from their path to make their criminal life easier, but unfortunately their plethora of schemes never succeed.

Billoo: This street-smart teenager doesn’t exactly feature in the Chacha Chaudhary comics, (except for a few episodes) but is connected to the same world. He loves cricket and always manages to infuriate his arch-nemesis ‘Bajrangi Pehelwan’. He is the representation of the average teenager of today.

Pinki: Another character who is related to the world of Chachaji but has her own standalone series to speak of. This fiver-year old ‘pocket dynamite’ is an incessant chatter-box, has a lot of friends and continuously gets on the nerves of her neighbour Jhapatji. She always gets others into trouble while walking away guilt-free. She also has a pet; a squirrel named ‘kut-kut’, who accompanies her in almost all of her (mis)adventures.

Raaka: The only serious character in this world, Raaka is a dangerously vicious criminal who is a great threat to the society. He kills for power and pleasure and the only ones who can stop his reign are of course Chachaji and Sabu. The unique thing about Raaka is that he is immortal, and is gigantic and muscular in size. This happened courtesy the elixir of life he drank, made by a doctor called Chakramacharya. Fortunately for the world though, he is always disposed off into some remote places like space, sea or volcanoes courtesy Chachaji and Sabu. One can be rest assured that he will return though. Always.

                                                                                          ************************************

There are of course many more characters that Pran has created, but these are the few of them which I have connected most deeply with. Why am I so besotted with them has its own significance.

From a very early age, when I was perhaps 6-7, I had become obsessed with Chacha Chaudhary and its world. The simple drawings they had in their comic panels made me feel like visiting those very places and losing myself inside them. I remember waiting eagerly for every new title in the Chacha Chaudhary series once I got to know if it. The storyline of these comics would not be the greatest, but they had a simplistic charm about them that simply cannot be found in any other comic book. The funny names of the characters, the chaste Hindi dialogues, the total buffoonery in the stories and homely surroundings of their world, made me fall in love with them.  I even had this strange habit of keeping these comics beside my pillow before I went to sleep. It was like having a protective friend around you; which made me feel safe. I almost felt like no matter what I was going through, somehow or the other Chachaji and Sabu would save the day.

As I grew up a bit, I started collecting all the ‘exclusive’ Chacha titles I had with me and kept them safely stacked in my personal 'library'. I took them out during the summer and Puja vacations and no matter how many times I might have read a particular comic, it would always be a special feeling to leaf through their pages with no worry in the world. Life indeed was blissful back then.

Those days however, I could not buy these comics directly from bookstalls. My only source of purchasing them was at the railway stations. The Wheelers and many more like them used to keep a fair bit of these comics and every time I would enter the Howrah station, my first instinct would be to look for a Wheelers stall. Before I boarded my train, my first mission would be to get hold of a bunch of Chacha comics. It would be nothing short of an achievement to acquire even a couple of good titles like Chacha Chaudhary – 10 or Chacha Chaudhary aur Raaka ka Inteqaam. Furthermore, the train journey in itself was a perfect setting to read through the adventures of Chachaji. I loved reading those in the dim light of the chugging train; it was (and still is) a fascinating experience in itself. At every station where the train would stop, I had the habit of peeking out of the window and look at the book stalls in the hope of getting hold of a new Chacha title.

Even now, whenever I visit a railway station, my eyes automatically starts searching for a Wheelers book stall. I go there and always leaf through a few pages of the new Chacha comics. The feeling is akin to saying hello to your old friends; like revisiting those golden days of your life!

Life has of course changed manifold now. But certain things will remain the same. My fondness for Chacha Chaudhary and his world is one of those things. I might not read them as ardently as I once used to; but the love for them still remains deep. Perhaps that is why, even today, sometimes I keep a Chacha Chaudhary comic book close to my pillow. In the hope that no matter what tough times I might be going through, maybe just maybe, Chachaji and Sabu would save the day yet again!!

                                                                                                                 **

It was like walking in a dream; a dream that I had visualized innumerable times since my childhood.

The store was dingy and had many book racks. I enquired with the shop-keeper about the thing I wanted and he directed me to the corner shelf of the shop. One look at the shelf and I knew I had entered a dream world. The shelf was replete with hundreds of titles of the comic series that I wanted. I was stunned. I was mesmerized. I had never seen so many of these comic books at one place. My heart pounded in excitement. I then noticed a little 6-7 year old boy sitting near the extreme end of the shelf; surrounded by many of these comics. I however did not have time to pay heed to him. My only concentration was devoted to this plethora of comics in front of me, and I thus started picking many of them one by one. I leafed through their pages, touched them, and inhaled the smell in them; wanting to drink in every moment of this. The people in the shop looked at me curiously; perhaps thinking what was an adult like me doing in a comics section. But I did not care. I was in heaven.

I finally selected a dozen of them, albeit with great difficulty, and proudly strutted towards the cash counter. The lady there looked at me with raised eyebrows. But I was in a different zone then; nothing could bother me. As she computed my bill, I looked back at the book-shelf one last time and my eyes then once again fell on the little boy at the corner. His head was bowed; deep in reading the comics safely placed on his lap. Something about the boy seemed odd; he looked uncannily familiar. His hair was oily and fell down to his forehead. He was lanky and had a ‘nazar ka tika’ etched on his temple. He then suddenly looked up. Our eyes met and I realized I was looking back at my reflection from 20 years back. Before I could react, the lady at the counter said, “You bill sir.” I had briefly forgotten that I was in the shop and then hurriedly paid my bill. As I safely put my prized collections in my bag, she kept looking at me with her raised eyebrow. It almost felt she was asking me a mental question, “For your young nephew these aren’t they?” I zipped my bag shut and smiled at her, before answering her mentally as well. “Nope…” I said and looked back at the young boy. He smiled and waved at me. I waved back at him and finished my sentence, “This one’s for my childhood.”


To be concluded


(To read the second and final part of this post click here.)