In 2016, cartoonist and founder of Dhaka Comics Mehedi Haque went to Kolkata to receive the Narayan Debnath Comics Award from none other than the legend himself. He later had the opportunity to visit Narayan Debnath at his home in Howrah.
While speaking to The Business Standard, he remembered the eminent artist to be a humble man with a great sense of humour; someone who was actively drawing away even at the age of 92.
"It is hard to believe we were talking to a man of such great stature, he was so friendly and so warm with us," he said, adding, "His death also upsets me as a reader; my entire childhood was spent reading his comics."
The creator of iconic cartoon characters like Handa-Bhonda, Nonte-Fonte, Batul the Great and Bahadur Beral passed away yesterday at the age of 96. He was suffering from a number of health related complications and was admitted to a private hospital in December.
Born in 1925 in Shibpur, Howrah, Narayan Debnath was interested in visual arts from a young age. Before delving into the world of comics, he used to design jewellery at his father's shop.
His family was from Bikrampur in Bangladesh but they later migrated to Kolkata.
He enrolled in an art college after finishing school but could not continue due to the Second World War. He then worked for a few advertising firms.
He received the Shahitya Akademi Award in 2013 and the prestigious Padma Shri in 2021. His comic series Handa-Bhonda has been running for 53 years, which is a world record.
Editor of UNMAD magazine and senior cartoonist Ahsan Habib said he is heartbroken ever since he learned of Narayan Debnath's demise. "His comics shaped our childhood, we grew up thoroughly enjoying them."
The first Narayan Debnath comic he read was an episode of Handa-Bhonda where Handa was trying to catch a fish and the hook got attached to a train instead and he got dragged away with it!
This was the magic in his comics, they were written in simple language but left an everlasting impression on their readers.
He added that Narayan Debnath was well renowned for his wit and humour. There were many times when the news of his death circulated in the media, he would joke about them too. But it was hard to believe that this time, he was really gone.
"We knew he was sick, but we did not know he would be gone. It is not just me, the entire world of cartoonists is deeply saddened by his death," he said.
Speaking of his work, Ahsan Habib said he used onomatopoeia (words that imitate sound or noise) in his comics, which made them more interesting to readers.
"His work was detailed and so intriguing. He did everything with such ease and fluidity, a rare quality," he said, adding, "I have never seen anyone present abstract work the way Narayan Debnath did."
Mehedi Haque further added, "Narayan Debnath was absolutely elated while talking about his time in Bikrampur. He shared stories about this particular porota he really liked, the boat rides he took," he said.
He kept telling Mehedi about his wish to visit Bangladesh again, "Arekbar jawa holo na (Wish I could go again)."