His name doesn't figure in our ration card, but he's very much part of our family. My four-year-old daughter calls him brother and is eagerly waiting for Raksha Bandhan to 'formalise' their relationship. He's the magical tomcat, Doraemon, loved and worshipped by kids like perhaps no other cartoon character.
Believe it or not, my child has even started resembling the gadget-flashing creature: the same round face, honey-sweet voice, sharp brain and occasionally red-hot temper. Doraemon stickers, pens, cookies, T-shirts, schoolbag, tiffin box, soft/hard toys - you name it, we have it in our house, which looks more and more like a one-theme merchandise shop.
For the uninitiated (a tribe that's shrinking fast), Doraemon is a Japanese robotic feline who has come back from the 22nd century to help a troubled schoolboy, Nobita. Having a solution for virtually every problem under the sun, he sounds like our politicians when he sings in dubbed Hindi, "Ab toh mera sapna hai ke sabke sapne sach main karoon…" The difference is that he makes things happen with his innumerable gadgets, while our netas, despite having all the power and pelf, rarely go beyond empty promises and hollow claims.
I'm suffering sleepless nights, thanks to a recurring Doraemonian dream (Dr Freud, please interpret this): It's 2033. My wife and me are sitting in our drawing room with our potential son-in-law and his parents. My comely and seemingly homely daughter enters with a tray loaded with teacups and biscuits. Suddenly, the boy's eyes pop out and he shouts, "Noooo! I can't marry a girl who's got a red cherry on her nose and t-t-t-tailbone!" The dream ends with the boy and his family running away as if being chased by a rabid dog. In every dream, the family is different, but the climax stays the same. I wake up and instantly inspect my child. I'm relieved to find that no damage has been done, but I wonder how long it will be before the inevitable happens.
World history isn't among my daughter's subjects at school right now, and I'm glad that she's blissfully unaware of Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the A-bomb. But I'll love to tell her a decade from now how Japan avenged its World War 2 defeat by beating the Americans in the Battle of the Cartoons. Doraemon faces absolutely no competition from the likes of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, and Spider-Super-Batman.
In this techno-cultural invasion, the Japanese have ensured that we not only buy their TVs but also watch their programmes (when Doraemon takes a break, Ninja Hattori and Shin-chan take over). Their war cry is no longer 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' It's 'Dora! Dora! Dora!' (that's what the Little Big D shouts when he craves for his staple diet, Dora cakes).
It's a pity that Doraemon was never part of my childhood, but there's no stopping the child inside me from enjoying his adventures now. This portly superhero, whose comic strip first appeared in 1969 - the year Americans landed on the Moon - was 'officially' born on September 3, 2112 (a Virgo, like my daughter and me!). I dearly wish my child lives to celebrate her favourite's first birthday.
She'll be a good old great-great-grandmother by then, with rickety legs and tricky memory, and her toothless mouth won't be able to relish the b'day cake. But it will be worth the effort for me to come back from the dead - just to see the twinkle in her century-old eyes.