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Narayan Debnath—A Journey Parallel

Humankind has always been in a dire need of a saviour, be it  mythical,  religious, or cultural—the latter often being someone amongst them, with flesh and blood but perhaps a greater spirit. We have long back inherited cowardice ( ‘average’ is the word for it—our desperate attempt at euphemism!), and at the same time, have been taught that there is no medal for it. Then how do we survive? Well, there’s no recipe for it but to wait for some brave soul to come up as the ‘hero’ or some kind soul to give birth to someone similar. Remember Brecht’s Galileo?—How a whole civilization was clinging to him? Or its immediate contemporaries like DC or Marvel? While Brecht, in search of a hero, decided to cruise back to 17th-century Europe, in the same decade, the latter two were born with a promise of supplying much literal ‘supernatural’ saviours. 

But what if this comes at a very heavy price? What about the docile, middle-class? Do they dare dream? Can they afford their hero? In an era when the Bangladesh Liberation War was brimming with hundreds of promises, there came a need to galvanize the struggle of a clan—and Narayan Debnath was the man to provide it.  At the backdrop of a heroic war, he was called up by the publishers to give birth to an indomitable hero, who would be the need of the hour to uplift the spirit of a community. Thus came Bantul the Great; bullets cannot pierce his skin, he can uproot trees, he is the new tough guy who can teach the naughty man a lesson, he can never be breached. But what makes him special is not just the superpower but an immense accessibility to every household of Bengal. No fancy clothes, no hi-tech arms, Bantul became the ‘parar chhele’ (next-door boy) for the middle-class, who, though holds such extraordinary powers, is often silenced by Pishima for his mischiefs. 

Look, on the other hand, at Nante-Fante or Handa-Bhonda—Debnath creates an utopian world for them, far from the bustle of a mercantile globalization. Life here is simple, mischief is untouched by the complex values, justice is established without a revolution. Above all, the little joys of life are almost always enjoyed to the bottom of the heart. Nante and Fante bring justice back to the boarding in their daily dose of laughter-blended fights. Narayan Debnath shows us how bigger things can be achieved with much smaller steps, without turning every stone around. Perhaps, it’s a very cautious call of the master to nurture the elementary values of our collective consciousness and provide us with an alternate hero who is seemingly one of us. After all, the lesson is to keep things simple.

And the man himself was a prime example of that. In a small, very simple room in the narrow, serpentine lanes of Howrah, he went on supplying the courage to the clan. Even during the last few months of his life, he has entertained his kid fans, sketched Bantul with a shaky hand, and wrote a few words of warmth for them. No artist can ever be dead. And he is one of the finests. But would this tantalizing world allow us retain these minimalistic spirit of life? Would we be able to fight a giant with these simple values? Do we have the faith to stay put with whatever we have in store? Perhaps, time will tell, and so will the newer editions to come. 

‘Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.’ 


Arkaprabha Biswas | 19-Jan-2022