Once upon a time in India, children had not heard of TV or play stations. Demons like tuitions and coaching classes had not entered the realm of childhood. And kids were not prisoners of the oppressive walls of their households.
The long, sultry evenings, especially during summer vacations, were spent mainly on games like 'I spy'—when the power used to go off, which was often the case, turning the entire mohalla into a Lord's for this lovely game— or satolia (also called pithoo, a ball game) with kids from the neighbourhood.
Also read: Cartoonist Pran Sharma, man who gave the world Chacha Choudhary, dies
Dealing with the tyranny of the afternoon heat that forced you to remain indoors, though, was a problem. But those who had the liberty of spending a princely sum of Rs 2 could easily buy the ticket to freedom, and sometimes, even Jupiter.
Buying the latest edition of Chacha Chaudhary, whose creator Pran Sharma died today, would not cost much. But even those who couldn't afford to do that, help was always round the corner shop, where some enterprising 'uncleji' would rent comics for just a chavanni (25 paise).
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You could then exchange your rented comic book with other children in the neighbourhood. And if you were the outgoing, socializing type in childhood, chances are that by spending just a chavanni, you could have easily wiped out a library by the end of a day.
I have gone down the memory lane just to underline one point: why Chacha Chaudhary was every child's favourite uncle. The answer is simple, reading him was a pleasant compulsion and it was not an expensive pursuit.That is why most of us, unlike the kids today who have other distractions, still remember the turbaned character with a bhimseni lathth (always oiled), his nagging wife (Bini), half human—sorry Chetan Bhagat but the concept came much earlier—friend (Saboo) in a wrestler's chaddi and saucer-shaped earrings and a dog that was so middle class that out of compulsion it turned vegetarian.
Watch Pran's last interview
He was everywhere.
'Chacha Chaudhary ka dimaag computer se bhi tez chalta hai,'
kids would often say when credited with quick solution to a problem. And many school bullies would take off their pants, strip down to their
'Jab Saboo ko gussa aata hai to kahin jwalamukhi phat ta hai,'
before bashing somebody up. Kids today anxiously await Salman Khan's next film or Honey Singh's song, but back then the biggest Friday release would be the sequel to the Chacha's crusade against arch enemy Shaka (an immortal giant) or encounter with Daku Gobar Singh.
So, why did Chacha Chaudhary become a household name and a childhood hero for many? Credit must go its creator Pran for thinking of character that resembled a common man with uncommon friends and extraordinary skills. He would fear his wife, but take on dacoits, thugs, con men and immortal giants armed just with a stick. He would be nagged at home but get invited to solve crimes even Scotland Yard couldn't solve. Chacha was a perfect embodiment of a common man and his fantasies of greatness.
And then he was a complete desi. Though Indrajal Comics and its superheroes—Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby—were equally famous, but most of them were not Indians. Their Indian avatar Bahadur, his girlfriend Bela and dog Chhamiya tried to fill up the void for some years. But Indrajal comics began to fade away from the market in the late 80s, leaving the field open for Pran and his famous character.
India has changed a lot since the 80s. Neighbourhoods have disappeared; reading has turned into a rare childhood passion, what a chavaani could buy then even a Rs 100 note can't purchase now.
But Chacha Chaudhary remains a pleasant reminder of what growing up in India once was. It is a poignant pointer to what it never would be.