A drawing board, a few brushes, a bottle of black ink, that was all Narayan Debnath needed to ignite the imaginations of generations of young Bengali readers with comic strips that have become cult classics over the past six decades.
After a protracted illness, Debnath, 96, a veteran Bengali cartoonist and creator of comic characters such as ‘Bantul The Great’, ‘Handa Bhonda’, ‘Nonte Phonte’ died on Tuesday morning at a South Kolkata nursing facility.
Debnath had a low haemoglobin count and renal ailments. He was transferred to the private hospital on 24 December with ventilator support.
Debnath received the Bongo Bibhushan in 2013 and a DLitt from Rabindra Bharti University in 2015.
He is a Sahitya academy awardee and received the Padma Shri award barely six days ago.
Debnath was born and raised in Howrah (Shibpur). He attended a private art school in Dharmatala before joining the Indian Art College. After 5 years of training, he was forced to stop due to the onset of World War II.
Debnath began his career by making labels for cosmetic companies and developing advertising stills for cinemas. He was introduced to Dev Sahitya Kutir by a proofreader and he began illustrating book covers for them.
From the Publication’s Children’s magazine ‘Suktara’ came an opportunity to make a comic strip.
In late 1951, a haphazard start was made with four Bhonda panels. Handa joined him in 1962, and the fumbling boys were given their own monthly comic strip.
With the exception of Pratul Chandra Lahiri’s Sheyal Pandit in Jugantar, the concept was quite strange. There was no source of inspiration in the area. “In the Laurel and Hardy mode,” Debnath acknowledged.
In an interview with Metro, Debnath said, “The obese one named Bhonda, was cool and cautious, while his opponent was under Abe, too sharp and bumper, was always getting into trouble.”
Their popularity has prompted the creation of a second comic, this time in colour. Thus was born in 1965 and has the body of a Hulk, with a massive chest and muscular arms, but proportionately narrow in his legs and a boy’s face.
In 1969, at the request of another magazine, Kishore Bharati, Nonte-Phonte and their boarding school exploits were published. In the 2017 Puja edition of Suktara, his most recent piece was published.
He had drawn comic cartoons for the Ananda Mela to commemorate Rabindranath Tagore’s birth centenary in 1961.
Before he started developing his own characters in the 1960s, Narayan Debnath admitted that he had never been a big fan of comic books. His designs were inspired by the residents and dark lanes in the Howrah Shibpur area. His works were inspired by his observations of mischievous children, fruit merchants, school teachers, and other real-life characters.
Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, shared the news on social media. Since he was admitted to the hospital in the first week of January, she had been keeping a close eye on Debanath’s health.
“The death of acclaimed children’s author and cartoonist Narayan Debnath has devastated me greatly. Today in Calcutta, he breathed his dying breath “she penned. Debnath, according to Banerjee, has a permanent place in the imaginations of readers of all ages.
“His death is an irreparable loss in the realm of Bengali literature,” the CM stated, expressing her heartfelt condolences to Debanth’s family.
Governor of West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar offered his condolences on the death of the great cartoonist. He described it as a “great loss” to the world of literary innovation and comics.
Dhankhar paid a visit to Debnath at his Howrah home last month. After receiving the artists’ blessing, he claimed he felt motivated and energised. He had tweeted, “At 96, found him quite aware.”
This excellent cartoonist will leave an indelible mark on Bengali culture. Thank you for bringing joy to Bengali’s childhood. Later on, you’ll recall “Shraboner dharar moto poduk jhore, poduk jhore/ Tomari surti aamar mukher pore, buker pore”