A cursory channel-surf on the T.V showed that almost all the movie channels were telecasting patriotic films like GANDHI, BORDER, and such like. With celebrations for Independence Day round the corner, we are getting our annual audio-visual dose of patriotism – a heady mix of some-facts, some-jingoism, more-rhetoric and a lot of stirring sentiments.
When we were young, Doordarshan used to air such appropriately heart-swelling films to celebrate 15th August. A big favourite was Chetan Anand’s HAQUEEQAT, which never failed to bring a lump to the throat everytime it was shown on our grainy Black-and-White T.V set, especially everytime they telecast the song on the dying-freezing soldiers:
“Kar chale hum fida jaan o tan saathiyon,
Ab tumhare hawale waton saathiyon.”
(Sacrificing body and soul for the motherland,
Friends, now I leave the nation in your hand.) (incompetent translation by me).
But a far more potent and long-lasting source of nationalistic fervour were the Amar Chitra Katha (literally – Immortal Stories in Pictures) comics which I read and hoarded. Extremely affordable and easily available, these thin books retold history and legend in a colourful graphic form. And India, with its hoary action-packed and multi-layered past, supplied a vast storehouse of subjects.
Be it the Jallianwala Bag massacre, or the lives of Jawaharlal Nehru or the Rani of Jhansi, or the valiant deeds of pre-British-rule heroes like Shivaji or Rana Pratap, or the mythical romances of Amrapali and Nala-Damayanti, or the wit and wisdom of the Panchatantra, Jataka and the Birbal tales…the list is endless. Whenever I had accumulated the requisite sum of five rupees, I would run down to the para (neighbourhood) book shop, where a few Amar Chitra Kathas would be displayed by hanging them with clothes-pegs from a wire (in the manner of clothes drying). Flipping through a few, I would take my time choosing a new addition to my collection. And then the impatient rush home, and the losing myself in the colourful pictures, easy narration and crisp dialogues which made history come alive and which made myths appear believable.
I liked the Amar Chitra Kathas which retold the history of our freedom struggle, be it through biographies like that of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, or through incidents like the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The school history books gave us the bare facts; my Amar Chitra Kathas infused those facts with colour, vigour and voice. These books could make me gnash my teeth in rage against the evil colonial masters; they could make me cry at the courageous deeds and deaths of the freedom-fighters.
But my most-est favourites were two mythical stories – Surya [the legend of the Sun God and how the love of Sanjana and her alter-ego Chhaya (shadow) mellowed him] and Samudra Manthan [The Churning of the Ocean - how the devatas (gods) tricked the asuras (demons) by using their strength to churn the ocean (with the help of the Mandara mountain and the snake Vasuki) to get the amrita (nectar of immortality) for themselves, without giving any to them].
Thank you, Uncle Pai (Anant Pai, whose brain child the Amar Chitra Kathas were), for all the knowledge - culled from history, religion, folklore, mythology - which you fed us so pleasantly. Thankfully, these wonderful graphic stories are still available and flourishing in bookstores all over India, for generations of children (and adults) to read and cherish.
DO SHARE YOUR MEMORIES OF PATRIOTISM.