Versatile cartoonist

Versatile cartoonist

Pran Kumar Sharma, who passed away on Wednesday, was not just a cartoonist who looked at the world with laughter in the corner of his eye, but the creator of a world peopled with characters whom we looked at with admiration, amusement and a full range of human emotions.

He discovered a variety of people from our own midst, gave them unmistakeable and easily recognisable identities, and presented them to us, especially generations of children, who grew up watching them.

He did not directly make comments on the world that kept changing around him for over 50 years of his professional life, a world which cartoonists have enjoyed seeing and depicting upside down or askew. But he related to it, reflected it and catered to it with insight and imagination.

He created a great array of characters like Chacha Chaudhary, Sabu, Pinki, Billu, Channi Chachi and others who enlivened our lives from the 1960s onwards.  Chacha Choudhary remains the most famous, an old man with a pagdi and a moustache, with a mind that works faster than a computer, an unlikely hero.  All his characters are also drawn from the everyday world around us.

The world of comics in India had only known superheroes from the west like Phantom, Flash Gordon and Superman.  Children were only familiar with Archie, Peanuts, Tintin and the like. Pran showed that heroes could be made of ordinary stuff too.

Indian collective memory and lore are not short of great heroes who fought evil and conquered the world with the strength of brawn and the power of the mind.  But Pran found them in middle class homes and neighbourhood streets and made them contemporary, so that we could relate to them like we do to our friends and acquaintances.

Cartoons and comics are social documents too, and not just stories of individual characters with strengths and weaknesses and foibles and eccentricities. In the India of the 1960s when the society was trying to shake off a firangi sway on its mind and to discover itself, Pran imagined a world and people who appealed to the popular mind.

Generations of children loved that world and enjoyed those tales of fun, fantasy and adventure. The joys were certainly for the grown-ups too. In the process, comics also became a serious commercial enterprise in India. Pran will be remembered as a person who made a difference.