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The Magic of Bujjai

Having scored four issues of the The Illustrated Weekly of India from a local rare-books shop, I set about exploring contents of a 1963 issue. I thought I had hit jackpot when I discovered an interview by maths-whiz Shakuntala Devi of the first Canadian gay couple to get married.

But a few pages later, I came across a half page Panchatantra comic. I squinted. This wasn’t the Amar Chitra Katha variety. If I wasn’t wrong, this had to be the first Panchatantra comic in English! I excitedly looked for the name of the artist: it was Bujjai.

Since we are a country where over 1,600 languages are spoken, I will excuse the fact that most of you might not jump to the edge of your seat on reading the name like I did. Bujjai is the creator of ‘Dumbu’, a ‘Telugu Calvin’ (think Calvin and Hobbes, not the grumpy theologist), who came nearly 40 years before the American one. And believe me when I say he makes the blonde kid look like an angel.

While Calvin’s exploits are limited to his home and backyard, Dumbu terrorises the whole neighbourhood. My favourite comic is the one of a mother monkey admonishing its kid to stop behaving like Dumbu!

My bias that Madras is a far more exciting place for those interested in modern Telugu culture than any place in Andhra Pradesh received a boost when I found out that Bujjai lived barely 4 km away from my home, in Thiruvanmiyur. Bujjai is one of India’s oldest comic artists, if not the oldest. Inspired by the American Western comic books he found at the Mount Road Higginbotham’s in the mid-1940s, he began drawing his own comics and approached a few newspapers for publication before finding a taker in Dinamani at the Express Estate in 1948.

After 15 years, his most treasured dream was realised when A.S. Raman, the editor of The Illustrated Weekly, approached him.

While I got his autograph next to his comic (woohoo!), he narrated his Panchatantra’s origin story. It is a story, I am sure, every illustrator will relate to. Mr. Raman had asked him for two options, Mahabharata and Panchatantra. In order to influence the outcome, Bujjai prepared careful and elaborate drawings for Mahabharata, and just hastily sketched out a few panels of Panchatantra. Raman took one look at the Panchatantra drawings and exclaimed, “This is it!” The rest is, of course, comics history!

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 2:50:03 AM |

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