I flew back in time as wistful memories of me and some of my dear friends like Parag Giri, Tilak Tamang and Yagya Rai gallivanting around Krishnanagar in Mirik, Darjeeling, and stopping by the Prem Chandra Memorial Rural Library, in the mid and late eighties came flashing back. A strong feeling of nostalgia swept through me as I recalled how we spent time in the small, run-down library by the green Sumendu Lake and read all the popular Tintin series, and waited for the new ones to arrive. Thirty years later, Tintin happens again, and how!
Indian artist Mahafuj Ali’s fan tribute to celebrate the 90th birthday of the popular comic character brought cheers among us, Tintin fans in Darjeeling, as we welcomed our hero, the detective, the reporter, to our own region. The sketch Ali created of Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy trying to catch the Toy Train, against the backdrop of the mighty Kanchanjungha, was enough to stir emotions and bring forth echoing memories of the comic days when computers and Internet were not heard of. Also seen in the sketch is another popular character from the comic series, Captain Haddock, holding out his hand for Tintin to hold from the train, while the twins, Thompson and Thomson, fall down running after the blue coaches. Two more characters, Bianca Castafiore and Professor Calculus, are also seen inside the heritage train.
As the sketch went viral and invited a flood of comments that expressed joy and emotions, and welcome messages in the Hills, Ali, the 33-year-old artist hailing originally from Krishnanagar in Nadia district in West Bengal, says Tintin had to go to the Darjeeling Hills and other parts of Bengal, as “he is so close to us and everybody admires him here.”
The Belgian Embassy in New Delhi also posted the sketch on its Facebook page to mark the birthday on 10 January this year. Created by Belgian cartoonist Herge, Tintin was born in the year 1929 in a weekly youth supplement of a Belgian newspaper, with a full-fledged adventure comic series made of him later. “Happy birthday, Tintin! On his 90th birthday, here is Tintin making a special visit to the Queen of Hills, Darjeeling in India.”
Last year, Indian artist Mali created a fan tribute to celebrate Tintin’s birthday in traditional Bengali attire in front of the Howrah bridge in Kolkata. This time, the Bengalis in West Bengal suggested Tintin to go further north to explore Darjeeling,” the embassy’s Facebook post said.
On the other hand, Ali (MAli) said in his Facebook page, “Last year, brought him and all his close friends to cut the cake in Bengali attire in front of Howrah Bridge. After that, they were surprised with the love and affection of the people. So they decided to stay here and travel to other parts of Bengal. Every Bengali suggested him to go to Darjeeling and that’s how it is. They are in Darjeeling.”
Thrilled to the core, I later asked Ali why he chose Darjeeling, of all the places in Bengal, and the reply I got from Sydney in Australia, where the artist is presently based, took the entire episode to a whole new level.
“Tintin has a permanent effect on 90s’ children. He had carved a niche in our minds from childhood when we saw him fighting with the bad through all the stories. In an era without the Internet, there were limited shows on Doordarshan (TV), and Tintin was the mirror for us to see the world. He went to the extreme corners of the world for his friend, explored the moon, flew the plane, steered submarines and did everything to be a role model,” Ali said.
“As he and all his friends like Snowy, Captain Haddock, Prof Calculus, Thompson and Thomson, all became so close to me and many others like me, we started to believe that they are real persons and our small minds used to always wonder why they are not visiting our land. But of course they will come to Kolkata airport and then they will of course go to other parts of Bengal. Because they are so close to us, everybody admires them here,” he added.
“After visiting Kolkata, surely the next destination would be Darjeeling, the queen of hills. Thought many stories about their Darjeeling journey; they will surely take the Toy Train up through the clouds, and Tintin will ask others to look out from the window to watch the rolling tea gardens and small waterfalls on the way. Surely, Captain Haddock will be convinced that Darjeeling tea is better than whiskey. And the best part, they will be welcomed by the smiling and happy people of Darjeeling. People will show them the way to Mall Road, the place where they get the best momos and a lot more. They have to buy the monkey caps and shawls, as they may have not thought India could be this cold. They will go to Tiger Hill and be blown away by the magnificent view of the Kanchenjunga. All these thoughts came to my mind and I made this frame, where at one single look, people can tell ‘this is Darjeeling.’ The clouds, mountain, Toy Train, awesome shapes of trees and of course the full team of Tintin in one frame,” Ali continued.
Ali is 33 now, but still loves to read children’s books. A self-taught cartoonist, but professionally a landscape architect, he went on to say: “And there is a reason behind choosing Darjeeling as my favourite spot. The thesis for my Masters course was on the North Bengal Elephant Corridor, for which I lived in the region for a month and went to every corner of it, and I fell in love with that region.” Ali studied in a collegiate school in Krishnanagar and did his Bachelors in Architecture from BE College, Shibpur, and Masters from CEPT University, Ahmedabad. He lived mostly in New Delhi after that as he worked there, while he is presently living in a small town near Sydney. “It was an enjoyable experience of being appreciated, as I had done this purely from my own childhood dream, and it was not a commissioned work,” Ali goes on further.
While in the near future, we may see Ali coming up with more beautiful sketches that summon up the days of yore, I, as a Tintin fan, will always hold on to this piece of my past and hark back to my golden childhood days.