Bantul The Great, Handa Bhonda, Nonte Fonte, and several other naughty and doughty creator Narayan Debnath passed away on Tuesday at a south Kolkata clinic where he had been admitted since December 24. He was 96.
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Debnath’s hemoglobin count was low and his kidneys were failing. Family sources indicate that the end came around 10.15 am. Namita and Swapan and Tapas, his sons.
Debnath received a DLitt from Rabindra Bharati University along with the Sahitya Akademi award in 2015. He also received the Banga Bibhushan in 2013. The Padma Shri award was given to him last year, but only six days ago, when he was already receiving BiPap support, it reached him.
Born and raised in Howrah’s Shibpur, Debnath attended a private art school in Dharamtala before merging with the Indian Art College. His training was interrupted after five years when World War II broke out.
In the beginning, Debnath designed labels for cosmetic companies and created slides for cinemas that would show publicity stills.
He illustrated book covers for Dev Sahitya Kutir after a proofreader introduced him to the publisher. Following this, a comic strip was invited to be included in Suktara, the magazine for children.
Four Bhonda panels were installed sporadically at the end of 1951. Handa joined him and in 1962 the bumbling boys were introduced to the public in a comic strip.
Despite the concept being quite foreign, and Barakat Khan (Pratul Chandra Lahiri)’s Sheyal Pandit in Jugantar as the closest local inspiration, there were no local influences. “I drew them in the Laurel and Hardy style. According to Debnath, in an interview with The Telegraph, Bhonda was cool and cautious, whereas Handa, who was smart but pompous, was always in trouble,” he remembered.
A second strip, in color, became popular due to their popularity. He was born in 1965, an enormous man with muscular arms and a bulging chest, but disproportionately small legs, and he had the face of a boy.
The book was published four times before India and Pakistan went to war. Bantul fought against the enemies, lifting tanks and altering cannon shells’ direction by blowing through his mouth. Bullets bounced off of him. He whistled when he returned from the war a hero. Rupa Majumdar, director of Dev Sahitya Kutir, said, “It was such a compelling visual that he became a household name.”
In 1969, a magazine, Kishore Bharati, requested an article about Nonte-Fonte and their boarding school adventures. In the 2017 Puja edition of Suktara, his last contribution was published. He had created a comic strip commemorating Rabindranath Tagore’s birth centenary for Anandamela in 1961.
The President, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and others offered their condolences to his death at Shibpur crematorium.