Living with Luann

luannSometime in my ninth year, my parents decided that reading the newspaper would broaden my horizons and somehow lead me to be a well-rounded, erudite individual someday. I am not sure where exactly they got this notion from – after all, Indian journalism is not renowned for its literary excellence. Moreover, newspapers were boring. This was the mid 90s when newsprint was uniformly dull and monochromatic, and sensationalist tabloids merely a twinkle in some future media mogul’s eye. There was practically nothing to interest a preteen on the cusp of puberty among the political reports and business news, especially one as terribly girly as me. I would have given up on the venture altogether when something unexpected happened. One day, my dad rebelled against my mother’s diktats and started bringing a different newspaper in from work. A shinier, glossier update on what I was used to, this broadsheet not only had colour! photos! but also boasted of a thoroughly entertaining “Leisure” page. That page swiftly became my morning fix almost single handedly on the strength of its daily comic strips.

Thinking back, I don’t seem to have much recollection about the particular nature of these strips – there were standalones as well as long, involved story arcs spanning months, years, even. But I devoured everything that came my way, the unfunny strips, the snoozefest strips… and the one I’d wait for with mounting eagerness: Luann. For something that was such a huge part of my formative years, it’s strange how little thought I expended on it once I grew out of my early teens, but from the ages of 9 to 15, those few panels everyday were an integral part of my life. Luann was everything. Uber femme and gossipy, it managed to capture the quintessence of teenage girlhood. It was about friends and boys, the trials of school and parents, and the angst of being so utterly misunderstood that no one but your dog and your journal could understand your pain. There was a lot of me in Luann, the plain, dumpy, bespectacled girl who fucked things up irrevocably while lost in a world of her own. She somehow made me feel understood, and validated – just a little bit less alone.