Whatever Happened To Indian Comic Books?

Growing up in the 90’s, Hindi comic books were an integral part of a teenager’s social life. They were the glue that held us together. Friendships were fostered and nurtured over a mutual love for them. No conversation was complete without mentioning the new ones in the market. There were so much joy and pride in owning a new edition of one of these envied comic books, and you could always exchange it for one of your friend’s collections. They were not like the storybooks, which had only stories and no illustrations leaving the reader to rely on imagination, which in some cases might not have been as vivid as one hoped for.

The laminated and technicolour covers, crisp pages, and the smell of fresh glue could make your heart flutter. Oh! It could cost you a fortune to buy one of those. But it was a worthy investment and you could be the proud owner of a prized possession much later as well, even when it was all torn up and discolored. They were vibrant and entertaining, filled with brightly coloured pictures, captivating stories, and peculiar characters. There was the turbaned Chacha with his tall alien friend Sabu, quirky little girl Pinki, the immensely likeable Billoo, the bumbling buffoon Bankelal, the brawny Fauladi Singh, the hilarious duo of Motu-Patlu, the snake producing Nagraj, and the brave and handsome Super Commando Dhruv.

They fought with local thugs and goons, and applied their skills in catching international criminals. Sometimes they ventured into unknown territory by tackling aliens and an assortment of supervillains, but always won the battle through their presence of mind, bravery, and a little help from their friends. They entertained us, made us laugh, made us think, and ultimately helped us envision the basic goodness of human nature.

As you grow up and cross the boundaries of adolescent imagination into the mundane realism of adulthood, these stories and characters are left behind, locked somewhere deep into your mind. In the journey of life, career and family takes precedence over juvenile interests. One realizes that the real world is much more complex and realistic. There are no supervillains and alien beings to be dealt with. Only humans that behave according to their own self-interest, making them either good or bad.

Now, when our senses are overwhelmed by technology and there is a barrage of entertainment options available, those comic books have been relegated to dusty shoeboxes or a pile of garbage sold to the raddiwala – or forced to reimagine themselves as poorer versions of television shows. Children today are not interested in reading them. They are preoccupied with either battery-run toys, or game apps downloaded on their tablets and smartphones. Hunched over the screen, with a blue light illuminating their faces, they are busy as bees, using only the muscles of their eyes and thumbs to navigate the digital world and its wonders.

I recently downloaded a few comic books from the Internet and started reading them to my children, in the hope of reliving my childhood with them. To my utter surprise, they were engrossed in listening to these stories. No more distraction from smartphones or candy crushes and you tubes. They were yearning for more. At last, I was able to wean them off of Internet and TV. Hope had been rekindled, and I could see that good old-fashioned storytelling with a few colourful pictures still works its magic.

In due course, they will grow up and find other things to do and worry about. Studies, friends, love, and the paraphernalia that comes with it. But I can only wish and hope that they continue to believe in the magic of comic books. And as life gets all the more fast and furious, we can take a momentary pause and imagine an era gone by, an era free of Internet and apps, an era of simplicity, of purity, of mundane existences and delusional hopes, an era of pure unadulterated fun, an era of comic books.

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