It is common for people of my generation to look back at our boring, banal and occasionally painful childhoods as a time when things were much better than what they are at present. Perhaps, every generation does this. Things we hated doing as children we remember as hobbies, children we were condemned to hang out with are added on Facebook as childhood buddies, and books we had no choice but to read, turn into tautologies we love throwing at people who grew up around the same time as us. Yesterday, cartoonist Pran, the creator of an entire galaxy of such books, succumbed to cancer. I do not recall a time in my life when he was not talked about as a legend. He was 75.
Of the many characters Pran created, Chacha Chaudhary was by far the most famous and a striking example of the mediocrity that came to define our childhood, the mediocrity we find so hard to shake off as creative adults, the mediocrity that makes our contemporary popular and high art so not worth paying attention to.
Chacha Chaudhary was a joke on us. At a time when youth all over the world was boiling with hatred for the old guard, one of the allegedly finest characters to erupt from our national consciousness was Chacha, an old man the young could not challenge with either their brains — Chacha’s brain was faster than a computer — or with their physical strength — Chacha’s adopted son was a giant from Jupiter. The young had no choice but to fall in line.
I always wondered where Chacha Chaudhary’s children were. His dry wit, tempered with tragedy, demanded a certain submission. I was convinced Chacha had children and his cocky wit drove them away. Abandoned by his children, Chacha stood for tradition of the worst kind. He lived with his wife, who was much younger than him and whose only job was to ask silly questions and to cook tonnes of food for Sabu. Yet, it is tough for people of my generation to not cherish a Chacha Chaudhary memory.
One o' clock Sunday afternoon. My brother and I are hunched before the radio hungrily listening to our favourite show: Diamond comics. In the background my mother shouts for us to take a bath. Today, everything can wait. Today, Raka has come back from the dead. He wants revenge. Only one man can save us: Chacha Chaudhary. Innocently, almost on cue, we feign fear when Raka’s voice booms boisterously from the small Philips set knowing fully well Chacha Chaudhary will send him away yet again, and the story will go back to where it started.
All my growing up years Chacha Chaudhary fought only one opponent: Raka. The antagonist was killed at the end of every digest only to walk out of his grave at the beginning of the next. My friends and I, though quite charmed by Chacha’s caustic wit, did spare a few moments contemplating who was stronger: the man who killed or the man who came back from the dead every single time?
Like Chacha, his creator Pran was a product of his time, a Chetan Bhagat of the Eighties, an artist who toed the line and created what was expected of him. The bitter truth, the one Chacha Chaudhary would have wholeheartedly endorsed, is that Pran was at best a mediocre cartoonist with occasional flashes of brilliance. Doubtless he will be missed, his characters will be missed, yet we should not be so numbed with nostalgia that we forget those long dreary afternoons when finished with one Chacha Chaudhary digest, we so sincerely hoped Spiderman would fall from the roof.