Chandamama days

As a kid, I was racked by guilt each time I read a comic book. They were banned in the house. Reading comics was not permitted, bringing them home was unpardonable, buying them was unthinkable. My mother’s sensibilities having been formed by voracious reading of Sarita, a magazine that stood for new age thinking (bah!) in the late eighties.

Though she was totally against my reading Raj Comics, my mother quite encouraged Champak, Nandan, Balhans and the like. Mostly because they had goody-goody stories about children my age (dealing with cute little problems like an upcoming exam or a class bully) and were published by reputed publications but also because they weren’t high on action, like the books I preferred more.

I personally had had enough of bullies and often wished I could break ribs like Doga did, or fry them with nuclear blasts like Parmanu could do (he never did though). Champak etc. were all eminently readable but they imposed a world too realistic upon an age group in desperate need of the fantastic. Even at their imaginative best, they never came close to the thrill that came from watching Super Commando Dhruv thwart a giant hulking monster with nothing more than a simple idea.

In time, at my cousins’ place, I discovered Chandamama. At first glance it appeared no different from what was allowed to me. In fact, it looked even worse with stories all set in villages or ancient kingdoms with kings and queens dressed in what appeared costumes from Ramanand Sagar’s serials.

The characters were travellers, farmers, jewel merchants, evil landlords, widows, princes, ministers, and… (gasp!) obedient children. My heart sank. What was all the more alienating was that my cousins subscribed to the Oriya edition called Jahnamamu. I didn’t read Oriya then (blame Kendriya Vidyalaya). Overall, it seemed to me that all of my mother’s favourite publications seemed to be underestimating my intelligence, or worse — trying to lead it. I didn’t like that.

I can enjoy a copy of Chandamama now more than I could when I was eight years old. But eight-year-olds are unforgiving. I read what was allowed to me with happiness, but with acute aloofness. Those were not the worlds I pictured myself in. My cousins seemed to take to Champak immediately. Partly because it was the type of fun that Chandamama rarely ever got, but also because its characters were set in contemporary reality as opposed to Chandamama’s ‘far away and long ago’.

There was however, that one time when I had nothing to read but the Oriya issues of Chandamama (which, as I have already said, I couldn’t read). I got my aunt to read me a story I chose at random because it had an interesting picture. I got hooked!

It must have been my aunt’s patient way, going over parts that I missed again and explaining the meanings of words I didn’t understand. She must have regretted it later. I am a habit former, and usually never rested till after a whole issue was finished. Everyone tried to get me to learn to read Oriya in the vacations but I decided mine was the easier way.

My favourite stories in Chandamama were the serial adventures that ran in the middle of each issue. Ones involving inter-clan battles fought with magic and heroes and monsters. Those were the first epics I knew (Mahabharat was unfashionable because everyone liked it).

I felt Chandamama existed in a different universe from the one shared by Champak and Nandan. It never had talking animals (unless they were magical creatures). Everything about it was alien to everything about the other magazines. It seemed Chandamama even refused to acknowledge a world where animals could talk. There WAS the burden of the ‘moral lesson’ to be sure, but it was easy to ignore. Chandamama held its thrall over me till later years when Champak started carrying kiddie science fiction. Then some time while I was not looking, the magazine stopped publishing.

Now it looks like everything else in the market. But I am glad it is still here. And I hope it stays around.