It was in late 1970s when after finishing school at the Christ Church College, we used to roam around in Hazratganj, Lucknow's famous watering hole.
The pavements opposite Central Bank had some comic bookshops and this is where I first got to know about Pran ji through his comic, Lotpot. It instantly got me thinking whether he was the now late actor Pran from the film Zanjeer.
Pran ji turned out to be the first to give India its own comic strips, some of which were later turned into books and even television series. Pran dedicated a large part of his life to comics, starting from the 1960s.
One of his first comic characters was Daboo for Milaap, a very popular strip, dealing with day to day problems laced with fantastic satire and sense of humor. In 1969, he created Chacha Chaudhary for Lotpot magazine, which soon became a household name and very popular with kids and adults alike. He also created Shrimatiji, a lady who stood against daily problems; some of his other popular comic characters were Pinki, Billoo, Raman and Channi Chachi.
Also read: Why Chacha Chaudhary was every child's favourite uncle
Back in 1975, when our comic digest came from the reprints of Phantom and Mandrake comics. We picked up second hand copies of DC comics, featuring Superman or Archie, Flash Gordon, and Mad among others. War or commando digests reached here much later in the early 80s (Many of these were in black and white and thicker in volume). Pran ji broke the domination of western comics in India by bringing his version for the masses to read.
In 1983, Shrimati Indira Gandhi released his comics, Raman - Hum Ek Hain, which promoted national integration.
Comic reading was a difficult hobby then as Lucknow had just one comic bookstore called the Hobby Corner, which soon became our regular joint for picking Pran ji's comics, along with some rare old DC digests. We soon got a Hindi version of Mad comics, Deewana, which didn't last long.
In late 80s, came Tintin and Asteriks, but it was also a time when television was gaining popularity and in a few years' time, we lost a generation crazy for the comics in print.
Having said that, it is true that even today if you one lays hands on any of Pran's comic books, it can take us to a different world. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 from Indian Institute of Cartoonists and very recently, the World Encyclopedia of Comics anointed him as the Walt Disney of India. Meanwhile, Chacha Chaudhary strips found a permanent place in the International Museum of Cartoon Art, USA.
Therefore, the charm of comics will never die for a generation that has grown up reading and laughing with his creations which ranges from over two lakh cartoons in 500 comics, and a million smiles.
Last week Pran ji was admitted in a Gurgaon hospital, where he succumbed to cancer after a long battle with the disease. He would have celebrated his 76th birthday on 15th of August.
Long live Pran ji. Adieu.