Bantul the Great is three years younger than Handa-Bhonda, though their appearances suggest the contrary. As Bantul turns 50 this year, fans can pore over a selection of Narayan Debnath’s popular comics in a single omnibus volume in four-colour setting. The original comics were in two colours.
Debnath started writing Bantul the Great in May (Jaistha) 1965. Handa Bhoda was already in production since June-July (Ashad) 1962 in the same children’s magazine, Shuktara. “In my mind, Bantul is aged about 19. It is his name that came to me first. Then I fleshed out the character, puffed chest and all,” said the octogenarian author while signing autographs at Deep Prakashani’s stall at the Book Fair.
The first strip featuring Bantul has found place in a section on Vintage Bantul. The story began with Bantul sneezing away a bunch of tuberoses and unfolded as he tried to replace the flowers to escape a hiding from Pishima, the lean widow with a lashing tongue with whom he stays. His world gradually got peopled with the now-familiar characters — Uto, the pet ostrich, Bhedo, the pet dog, Lyangbot Lambokarno, the goat, and Bhaja-Gaja, the young toughs who try to create mischief away from Bantul’s eye but get caught anyway.
“When the war broke out in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the publisher suggested I send Bantul to the battlefield,” recalls Debnath. “Thus his superhuman powers got accentuated, as he started fighting the Khan sena (the Pakistan army) — blowing off tanks, blocking torpedoes with bare hands and the like. People really liked that.” So Debnath did not think twice before deploying Bantul in the recent Kargil war as well.
“In the West, comic strips are the result of teamwork between writers and illustrators ... Debnath is the only person creating an entire comic strip on his own continually for 50 years,” said Santanu Ghosh, who has edited a complete collection of Debnath’s works.
“I have to supply four strips of each series every month. I hope to carry on as long as I live,” pledges Debnath.