In the 1960s, Daabu and his sidekick, Professor Adhikari, made their debut. Back then, the comic book universe of Indian readers was populated by Phantom, Flash Gordon and Superman. But here was a teenaged schoolboy and a professor, people who might have been your neighbours, fighting crime and solving mysteries with the best of the superhero brigade. Suddenly, there was the possibility that your daily walk home from school would be interrupted by man-eating trees. Pran Kumar Singh, the man who first turned Indian reality into technicolour, is no more.
After Daabu, Pran would go on to sketch his most famous character, Chacha Choudhary. A tiny old man staggering under the weight of his massive red turban, Chacha is an unlikely hero. The necessary biffing and slamming is left to Saabu, a giant with a weakness for parathas and halwa. Chacha busts the bad guys with homespun wisdom and a twinkle of his eye. He makes heroism middle class, rooted in commonsense and morality rather than superpowers. By his side, is Channi Chachi, the stereotypical housewife, with her rolling pin and her ’70s hairdo and her hankering for jewellery. There is Billoo, the neighbourhood prankster, and Pinki, the girl next door. In the Shrimatiji comics, Pran created the aspirational Shiela and her husband, Kishore. Shiela frequents beauty parlours, worries about finding a match for her friend, Gogi, complains about spiralling prices.
Pran brought adventure home. He also took the stuff of our everyday lives and turned it into adventure. Life became just a bit more bearable, knowing that our daily scrapes and dilemmas were stories to be told. Thousands of Indian readers going about their daily grind will miss that transformative imagination.