Josna Rege

7. The Comic Shed

In 1960s, Books, Childhood, India, Stories on March 3, 2010 at 1:26 am

Our bungalow on I.I.T. Kharagpur’s Hijli campus was built around a central walled courtyard with a green orange tree in one corner and in the other, a green guava tree, a magnet for parrots of exactly the same shade of green. The living quarters opened on two sides of the courtyard, and another living space and washroom, originally designed as servants’ quarters, were built into the other. Since we had no live-in servants, that extra room lay vacant, until it became the comic shed.

The biggest single source of comics was my Auntie Angie in England, who faithfully packed and posted my cousin Lesley’s old copies of Princess, Jackie, and The Beano in an eagerly-awaited parcel that arrived by seamail every three months.  After the Arab-Israeli War of 1967,  when Suez was closed, the parcel took six months to arrive, now having to travel all the way round the Cape of Good Hope.

jl.incrowd on flickr

There were the coveted Archie comics from America. Knowing nothing about that strange society didn’t prevent us from identifying with the characters, my best friend Puttu taking Veronica as a matter of course and me having to be satisfied with Betty. (Shelley, an America-returned classmate who was predictably smitten with Veronica, was designated as Archie, although I doubt if he was aware of this.)


Classics Illustrated were treasures, most memorably Great  Expectations, with its haunting picture of the ravaged Miss Haversham still in her wedding white, her bridal veil and wedding feast hung with cobwebs. There was no need to read the original after the intensely satisfying comic, and it wasn’t until it was on the required list for my PhD qualifying exam that I actually read the Dickens version. It was okay, I suppose, but that scene from the Classic Comic still wins hands down.


Homegrown Indian comics were thin on the ground in the comic shed, since in the mix-sixties we had not yet seen the Amar Chitra Katha series, which emerged in 1967, mostly depicting heroes and villains from the epics and the Independence movement. The proudly Indian Chacha Choudhary comics, featuring the skinny dhoti-clad superhero with a brain faster than a computer and the faithful giant Sabu as his sidekick, did not appear on the scene until even later, in the early 1970s. There was The Phantom comic strip in The Illustrated Weekly of India, but I could never make much sense of it—it was a boys’ thing, I suppose.

The Phantom (The Illustrated Weekly of India, September 2, 1962)

All these assorted goodies, interspersed with brightly-colored candy wrappers, were strewn several layers thick over the floor of the comic shed, and neighborhood children would drop by to enjoy them, entering quietly and often unannounced through the courtyard door.

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  1. Oh, this brings back memories! My sisters and I used to thrive on several of the comics you mentioned and also Chandamama, Tinkle etc. I still buy a few every time I go back home, hoping to acquaint my daughter with a taste of my childhood :).


    • Nice to think that two or three generations across the world share the experience of reading these comics. How we used to bury ourselves in them! When I went back to India when my son was younger I too used to buy Amar Chitra Kathas and Chacha Chaudhary comics for him. And although there are now many homegrown children’s books available in India, I noticed that the old Enid Blytons were still on sale at the news stands!


  2. Wonderful. (There are several literary classics that I know/knew first from comics. And I quite agree that Great Expectations never lived up to the comic version!)


  3. Hi Cussin, I did enjoy this! thanks for the ‘heads up’. Do you remember the toy box too in Bassett Street? As everyone else is saying ‘keep on writing’. Love you lots and will show this to Auntie Angie when she next comes up. Lesleyxx


    • No, I don’t think I do: what was it, Lesley? Bassett Street and Mansfield Road get confused in my memory. Hugs to Auntie Angy, and please tell her how much her parcels of comics meant to me. xxx Jo


  4. Thank you for all your sweet comments. I guess comics have played a big role in our lives. And I didn’t even mention the Tintins—they require their own separate post; and besides, the hardcover Tintins that Sally and I collected, one by one, birthday by birthday, were too precious for the comic shed.


  5. Josna-
    It is such a pleasure to read your blog, to learn about small and precious tidbits of your life. Each entry is story in itself-beautifully poignant and always humorous.

    I used to read Archie comics too! You are certainly more of a Veronica-Betty would simply be an injustice to your character.

    Please keep writing!

    Sending all my love from India-


  6. I also thoroughly enjoyed Classic Comics (and had a similar experience with moving from them to the original :-))…but I did. Reading the comics was a stepping stone. Someone had a good idea.


  7. Really enjoying this slices of life. So evocative and alomst like poetry. Thanks for this blog.


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