Growing up in a Bengali household amidst maach, misti and rosgolla, one develops a penchant for comics, be it the Narayan Debnath’s Handa Bhonda or Batul that you hungrily devour as a googly-eyed kid, to Feluda comics by Satyajit Ray published annually in the sarodia edition of Sukhtara and Anondomela.
One could while away their autumn holidays as a teenager enmeshed in the myriad operations of a Bengali detective who resides at 21 Rajani Sen Road.
Growing up in the early 2000s, comic books were part of a staple diet in an era unblemished by the ravages of technology.
The monthly edition of the Shuktara would consist of the three Bengali comics Batul the Great, Handa Bhonda and Nonte Phonte besides other stories.
All three, a brainchild of Narayan Debnath, India’s only comic artist with the unique distinction of having received a D.Litt.
Debnath’s comics are steeped in humour and often parsimonious but had the unique ability to make readers from eight to 80 chuckle or crack up in laughter.
Be it the travails of super-hero Batul Da, who had a stout physique and possessed god-like strength, or the elaborate plans and cunning stratagems of two teenagers Handa and Bhonda who wish to have a laugh at the cost of the other, the comics were a rage amongst teenagers growing up in the early 2000s.
Nonte Phonter r kando-karkhana (The Affairs of Nonte and Phonte) focused on trivial lives of two young teenagers, who along with their senior Keltuda would try and find humorous plans to outwit and bamboozle their boarding superintendent.
Keltuda would often be the butt of all jokes and would end up humiliating himself in front of the boarding superintendent.
Batul da, from Batul the Great, is Bengali- bodybuilder whose ordeals often defied the laws of physics, as bullets would ricochet off his body and he could stop a train with his bare hands. Batul was influenced by Narayan Debnath’s friend Manohar Aich, a famous bodybuilder from Bengal. Batul is a character of brute strength who can lift the whole earth, run through walls breaking into pieces and can tame sharks and whales with his bare knuckles. Batul is also a part-time detective, but his amazing strength also his greatest obstacle as he cannot operate machinery without dismantling or pulverizing them.
Handa Bhonda, is a tale of two young boys, one bulky another lean, who hatch plans at the expense of each other, and all for a hearty laugh. Handa who has a reputation for being mischievous crafts elaborate ploys to trap a Bhonda but often ends up getting punished for his follies.
In an era of Kindles and Tablets, one may find it difficult to correlate with the immense joy of procuring a comic book by cutting ends and saving measly amounts from your limited pocket allowance. But it was a process, a ritual, for a worthy prize for those who lived in an era long away.