For many of us who grew up in the ’80s, while Amar Chitra Katha was an extension of the school with all its mythologies and histories and the demons and the maidens packed into our school bags, good old Chacha Chaudhary was an extension of the home and the neighbourhood — comprising a mix of children, some who went to the local government school and those of us who wore a tie and were sent to a English medium school. Chacha Chaudhary (who also wore a tie) was a part of both worlds and we read him in Hindi, even though the comic was published in English and other languages too. No one really bothered because Chacha was never a superhero. He was too middle class, too earthy, too bhaisaab a man to speak English, accompanied by a huge, bald, underwear-sporting Sabu who was in charge of the Department of Fury, Superpowers and Jupiter.
We never saw Chacha Chaudhry as a superhero, even though his brain worked faster than a computer. There were a variety of reasons, namely his traits and observations, the humour, too, was homespun. For instance: Chacha to his wife: Arre, when I was out, why didn’t you stop taking the newspaper? Anyway you don’t know English, or you could’ve switched to a Hindi newspaper! Wife: Tsk tsk..don’t you know, the English newspaper has more pages and gets a price from the kabadi.
At regular intervals, the middle-class realism got its dose of magic from Sabu’s fury and the volcano that erupted in Jupiter. More importantly, Chacha Chaudhary was never a superhero simply because he was affordable. With their prohibitive price range, Tintin and Asterix were out of reach but the Indian comic was available on rent-a-read basis for 25 paise. For the collector, the comic was sold at a princely sum of Rs 1.50 only.
The inside front cover would have a note from the creator, Pran, with a black and white photo of him, all suited-booted with that ’70s hairstyle; it was a small peek into his drawing board that also created more middle classisms like Shrimatiji, Raman, Pinki and others. When television meant only five hours of Doordarshan in the evening, it was reading these comics that lapped up one’s afternoons.
Each of them were carefully documenting the urban Indian household and life outside its four walls. Shrimatiji and her husband once spotted their maid at a bungalow, only to realise that she owned it. The maid’s husband — a gardener — had moved to Dubai a year ago, and was now an owner of a bungalow, a VCR and a Chevrolet car. “Why can’t you go to Dubai too?” asked Shrimatiji, nudging her husband. Very ’80s and, if I may add, very Delhi.
Pran Sharma’s demise doesn’t mean losing a part of my childhood, but this city has lost another icon, and his drawing board no longer has a non-superhero who continued…