scorecardresearch
Follow Us:
Thursday, May 26, 2022

Narayan Debnath, the cartoonist who never underestimated children

Narayan Debnath, like all great artists, managed to make most of his creations timeless. Which is ironic because for generations of Bengalis, a Narayan Debnath comic strip exudes nostalgia.

Written by Nilotpal Sil, Premankur Biswas | Kolkata |
Updated: January 19, 2022 3:54:06 am
Narayan Debnath, Narayan Debnath obituary, Narayan Debnath news, Narayan Debnath cartoonIn the 1950s, Debnath the illustrator was made an offer that challenged him as an artist. He was asked to conceive a comic strip for Deb Shahitya Kutir. (Express photo)

Handa and Bhoda, two bungling Bengali teenagers, making an Instagram reel on Kolkata’s famous chicken kati roll (and later fighting over it)?

Baatul the Great, probably India’s first completely indigenous superhero, flexing for a gym selfie?

Why not.

Those who follow Bengali comics would probably have no issues with these appropriations. For Narayan Debnath, like all great artists, managed to make most of his creations timeless. Which is ironic because for generations of Bengalis, a Narayan Debnath comic strip exudes nostalgia.

Best of Express Premium

Explained: The message behind Margaret Atwood’s ‘unburnable&#...Premium
Welcome to the elusive world of crypto mining: Rohtak rig, 3 engineers, R...Premium
Explained: Sugar export curbs and their impactPremium
UPSC CSE Key – May 25, 2022: Know the Relevance of QUAD 2022 to Pangong T...Premium

About sixty years ago, when the Bengali children’s magazine Shuktara brought together some of the best minds of Bengal, cartoonist Narayan Debnath, who died in Kolkata on Tuesday morning, stood out.

That Debnath, who was born to a family of goldsmiths in 1927, landed himself a job as an illustrator at the Deb Shahitya Kutir (one of the most popular publishing houses of Kolkata) in the late 1940s was no surprise to his family members. Debnath was into the arts from a very young age and his father encouraged him. He also ensured that Debnath went to the Indian Art College, a course not very coveted in middle class Bengali households of the era (or indeed, even today). A course that he discontinued in the fifth year.

In the 1950s, Debnath the illustrator was made an offer that challenged him as an artist. He was asked to conceive a comic strip for Deb Shahitya Kutir.

“I did not know what that entailed. I decided to fall back on my ability to observe things around me. The peculiarities of people around me. Their habits. Things that made them different, things that made them prototypes,” Debnath told The Indian Express in a 2013 interview.

His strip about the two bumbling boys called Handa and Bhoda attracted instant attention. “My characters were based on observations. I was talking about the boys of those times through these characters. The way they talked and dressed, everything was designed to make them more relevant to the young,” said Debnath.

As years passed, Handa and Bhoda kept pace with the times. “The trick is to never underestimate children,” said Debnath.

That strategy obviously paid off. “No other cartoonist managed to get as much love as Narayan Debnath. His patrons doted on him,” says noted Bengali cartoonist, Debashish Deb, a self-confessed fan.

That his creations shaped the imagination of generations of Bengalis is evident from the way his Bantul the Great was used to boost the morale of Indians during the 1971 war with Pakistan. The publishers wanted Bantul to be the superhero India needed. Debnath obliged. Bantul could lift tanks, uproot buildings and change directions of canon shells.

“The most enduring quality of Narayan Debnath was his versatility. He could rustle up a range of feelings in his patrons with consummate ease,” says Debashish Deb.

His career may have spanned more than half-a-century, but Debnath was never preoccupied with “material success”. “He was immensely popular, he was always working. He worked well into his 90s, but that did not reflect in his bank balance,” says Deb. One suspects that bothered Debnath much. Till his could, he did what he liked doing-create experiences for generations of Bengalis.

📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!

For all the latest Books And Literature News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement