Fictional detective Tintin turned 88 on Tuesday. I first laid my hands on a Tintin comic as a 13-year old when I was in the seventh standard. At Rs 50 in the late 1970s, it blew a hole in my father’s wallet. But ‘The Black Island’ turned me into a Tintin fan for life.
As a schoolboy, I scrounged, saved and begged my mother for loose change so that my booty could add up to a princely sum of Rs 50 to buy my next Tintin comic.
I read, laughed like mad and read them again….and again and again. Reporter Tintin with a trademark quiff of hair and his dog Snowy, and the other characters in the comic – the alcoholic Captain Haddock, the eccentric and forgetful Professor Calculus, the bumbling detective twins Thompson and Thomson, the insufferable opera singer Bianca Castafiore, the scheming villain Roberto Rastapopulous and his sidekick Allen, General Alcazar freedom fighter and president of San Theodoros, the Arab brat called Abdullah among others just packed much fun.
I didn’t know then that Captain Haddock’s character appeared ten years after the first Tintin comic hit the stands.
In the days when Indian television programming were still in its infancy and mobile phones nowhere on the horizon, Tintin was often the only option to spend time with if it rained heavily or it was too hot to play outside.
Being a journalist was not a priority when in school. When I eventually became one, I told myself I that I was now in a profession that could make me famous like Tintin! It didn’t happen, but that’s another story.
It wasn’t only the guaranteed laughter that had me hooked. Tintin’s adventures were also lessons in geography as he took me through Europe, Americas, Asia, India and even through the streets of Delhi much before I saw the national capital.
And so as I hitched my wagon to Tintin’s, I learned about the oilfields and deserts of Arabia, the jungles of South America, the Red Indians who were thrown out of their territory following the discovery of oil, rode trains and flew through Europe, sailed on motorboats to islands and went to the Scottish highlands, saw lamas in Tibet and walked in front of the Red Fort in Delhi.
I lived Tintin’s passion as he tried to get to the bottom things or solve mysteries or prevent some terrible crime. I laughed at Thompson and Thomson’s idiocy, Captain Haddock’s unique sailor lingo, marveled at Professor Calculus’ inventions, wanted to punch Rastapopulous on his trademark nose and wished I had a dog like Snowy.
I did not know then, but Tintin would go on to affect me in real life. Perhaps Tintin taught me not to lose my cool under trying conditions. His love of adventure also rubbed on to me as I took up long distance motorcycling with a passion. This would eventually lead to a solo motorcycle ride through the Mughal Road and Kashmir to India’s northernmost point on the LoC with Pakistan in Ladakh and write a book about it.
“Tintin is me wanting to be heroic and perfect...Tintin is me...my eyes, my feelings, my lungs, my guts!... I believe I am the only person able to animate him, the only person able to give him a soul,” Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Herge who created Tintin once said.
Since 1929, nearly 250 million Tintin copies have been sold. The Tintin adventures have been translated in more than 70 languages and adapted for films.
Sabir Hussain is a journalist with Hindustan Times. He is also a veteran of nine motorcycle expeditions to Ladakh, including a solo trip in 2013. His book ‘Battlefields & Paradise’ that chronicles his journey through the Mughal Road and Kashmir to India’s northernmost point in Ladakh has just been published by Westland.
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