The first time I met him, I was probably six, or even younger. It was the summer vacations -- those long, interminable days in the pre-internet era where every kid's constant refrain was 'mom, I am bored'. Exasperated, my mother would respond by handing out her thick literary tomes. I responded by handing them right back (I was six, remember!).
And that's when I met him. It was love at first sight, a romance that survived the test of time and is very much alive even today. When I see him today - decades later, I just have to find a quiet corner and I am lost to the world for some time. But today, on August 6, it is time to bid the final goodbye to my favourite cartoonist.
Thanks Pran for livening up all our lives with those colourful pages and tales of Chacha Chaudhry, Sabu, Billu, Pinki, Channi Chachi and rest of the gang. Thanks for providing us desi superheroes, for telling us tales of mischievous kids who were our mirror images. Thanks for making those summer afternoons so full of action and fun.
After the diet of Archie, Peanuts, Tintin, Spider-man and the rest of 'phirang' superheroes, you gave us characters who ate matar-pulao and used scooters and dilapidated trucks (Chacha Chaudhry's Dug-dug) to travel.
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Those characters could have been living in any middle-class locality in India; they could have been your neighbours. They had the same problems that we all faced everyday (Saboo 'helping' perennially-delayed people reach offices/railway stations/bus stations anyone?).
Who needed computers (most of us couldn't have afforded them then, anyway) when we had our very own mustachioed superhero Chacha Chaudhri, who could think faster than any computer (brains over brawn, take that you Marvel-minted superheroes)?
Watch Pran's last interview and his big screen vision for Chacha Chaudhry- Sabu
When the situation called for some muscle power, he had a trusted ally Sabu who had landed straight from Jupiter and was 15-feet tall. You mess with this guy and volcanoes started going off.
All great heroes need great villains and Pran gave us one in Raka. He was immortal but did that scare away over indomitable duo? Not at all. They instead sent him to space. That didn't work, so they dispatched him off into an ocean. When even that failed to stop Raka, they made sure he ended up on an icy mountain top. And so, they kept us entertained over the years.
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Chachaji and his parivaar may have been the most famous creations of the prolific writer but Pran also gave us the naughty Billu who was quite the neighbourhood menace, Pinki whose only intention in life is to help her neighbour Jhapatji, and the everyman Raman.
Long before Hollywood told us anyone can be a hero, Pran showed it to us in his regimented cartoon strip space. You may have left us today but your spirit will live on in those brightly-coloured panels. RIP Pran.
PS: And our love story would go on.