Kolkata: Bantul creator receives Padma Shri in hosp bed
Times of India | 14 January 2022
KOLKATA: Close to a year after his name was announced as a Padma Shri recipient, the country’s senior-most cartoonist, Narayan Debnath, was finally conferred the honour at Belle Vue Clinic on Thursday afternoon.
The honour was conferred on the nonagenarian writer and illustrator by MLA Arup Ray and Bengal’s additional chief principal secretary B P Gopalika.
The 96-year-old was hospitalized on December 24 and is currently on ventibipap support. Debnath had to be hospitalized owing to acute weakness, followed by low haemoglobin.
For over 70 years now, Debnath has been creating landmark Bengali comic strips, including ‘Bantul the Great’, ‘Nante Fante’ and ‘Handa Bhonda’. He holds the record for the longest-running comic by an individual artist for the ‘Handa Bhonda’ series and is the first and only Indian comics artist to have received a DLitt degree.
Last January, Debnath was hospitalized a little after the announcement of the Padma Shri awards. Seated in his hospital bed on January 30, 2021, he had drawn a sketch of his famous cartoon character Bantul. It hadn’t taken long for the video of him drawing Bantul to go viral.
According to granddaughter Alicia Debnath, that, perhaps, was the last time he had drawn a cartoon. Debnath had been discharged and taken back home. But his health started deteriorating last July.
“He had renal issues and suffered from sodium-potassium imbalance and had to be given strong medicines. Dadu, who would earlier watch television or chat with us, was largely confined to bed,” she said.
On Thursday, she was present at the hospital when the honour was conferred on him. “In between, Bengal’s governor had come home and greeted him. My grandfather is usually very reticent. When I had asked him how he felt when his name was announced as a Padma Shri recipient, he had said ‘bhalo legechhe’. Dadu was honoured. He had really waited for the award to reach him. Dadu would even ask me: ‘Koi tor Padma Shri? Kobe ashbe?’ (Where is your Padma Shri? When will it come?),” she said.
The Padma Shri finally arrived when his condition was “quite serious”. “Thursday happens to be the 21st day of his hospitalization and the third day he is on ventibipap. This is certainly not a suitable time to confer an award on him,” she said.
On being asked if the pandemic had impacted the nonagenarian’s life, she said, “No. We didn’t allow people to meet him when he was at home. He would sometimes ask us if people were still wearing masks.”