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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Book Review: Meri Nazaar Mein Pran: A Biography on Cartoonist Pran

 reviewed by John A. Lent

Asha Pran. Meri Nazar Mein Pran. From a Sign Board Painter to Padma Shri Awardee. Creator of Chacha Chaudhary, Cartoonist Pran. New Delhi:  Pran’s Features LLP, 2019. 80 pp. ISBN:  978-81-94070-33-7.


Let me be upfront from the outset. I have known Pran Kumar since 1993, when I interviewed him in his New Delhi home. We had occasions to get together when I invited him to speak at a conference I co-organized in Guiyang, China and at other times when I hosted him in my home in 2006 and he very graciously returned the favor while I was in New Delhi in 2009. He considered me as a friend, and he was mine. Pran was a much more enthusiastic letter writer than I, but I immensely enjoyed his correspondence which always ended with a joke.

Despite these personal connections, I will comment on this small biography written by his wife, Asha. I expected the book to be sentimental and emotional because of the strong bond between the couple; at times, it was—not in an annoying manner but rather to emphasize his traits.

Pran was born in Pakistan and left the country with family members at the time of partition. He told me that seeing bodies of dead Hindus and Muslims lying on the side of the railroad tracks as a nine-year-old boy planted the thought in his mind that his goal should be to make people laugh. Later, he did that through cartooning, developing memorable characters such as Chacha Chaudhary, Billoo, Pinki, Sabu, Bini, Raman, and a host of others that have brought joy to millions of readers in the Subcontinent and the diaspora.

In Meri Nazar Mein Pran, Asha weaves her memories of Pran with those of others, snippets from both Pran’s and her personal diaries, and other sources that were publicly available to reveal much about this private and humble man. She talks about the hard knocks Pran faced, their arranged marriage devoid of any formality, the way he lived his life “playing hide and seek between practicality and emotions,” not accepting compromise, respecting ethics as very important, and practicing transparency. Asha spends a bit more space discussing Pran’s abhorrence of “hypocritical religion” and the immense damage caused historically worldwide by the blind faith in god(s) and his belief that politics has become degraded. Ever a questioner, Pran disagreed that buildings, highways, towns, etc. should be named after politicians; instead, he believed they should carry the names of poets, intellectuals, writers, dancers, social activists, musicians, educators, artists, martyrs, and soldiers.

Blended into these characteristics were the cartoonist’s likes and dislikes. Asha lists among his likes, his fans, children (even naughty ones), the cartoons of Abu Abraham, captionless cartoons, reading, foreign travel, and the mountains. He did not like or pitied those who just count their wealth, arrogant people, and violence and its portrayal.

The book contains additional information not commonly known about Pran:  how he laid the foundation for Indian comics through his more than 600 titles; the high awards he received; his travels; Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s inauguration of one of his books; his fastidiousness with time; his family, son Nikhil, daughter Shaili, an unidentified daughter-in-law, and grandson Saraansh, and his dying days and last wishes.

Overall, Asha Pran did a good job relating the life of Pran in just eighty pages. Though her written English could use editing, it is easy to read and reflects, in her own words and with quite a bit of emotion, the fifty-year journey she shared with Pran.

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