The Magic of Mayukh Choudhury
It is a well known fact that the life of an artist is much more difficult and challenging than the life of an engineer or a banker. More so in a country like India where in the recent times art and literature are looked upon as career choices for the rejects of the successful society. Hence it should come as no surprise to you that there were such geniuses born in the fields of comicbook and graphic novel who were much ahead of their times (far ahead than DC or Marvel were and perhaps still are in terms of depth of plot) and who with their simplistic yet profound storylines, have made contributions to the field of comicbooks, that are worth noting(sadly most of us are unaware of these artists and writers, and this is an attempt to bring one of the best of India into focus). Mayukh Choudhury (also Prasad Ray, but really known as Shaktiprasad Raychowdhury) was one such great comic-book-writer/artist whose tales of action, adventure, sci-fi with immaculately detailed and progressive style of art made him one of the greatest and most neglected creators of the world. And it will surprise you to realize, that in a country that is so used to borrowing ideas from mythology that these thoughts, ideas and art were explored as early as the 1960s!
“Agantuk” (Stranger) by Mayukh Choudhury is arguably his best creation. Revolving around the life of a boy who is a member of the Kolkata Boxing club and his new friend “Upen” who joins the club as well, this story introduced to us the idea that grew to be so popular in the form of Professor Xavier’s men! With the lean Upen taking his spot in the boxing ring, he is soon faced by a local goon who turns to dirty tricks. But not only does Upen manage to doge attacks of his burly opponent, he showcases inhuman speed and agility! And considering how lean Upen is, readers are most definitely surprised when just one of his punches lifts the big, burly man, clean off his feet! It is only later when the goon assults Upen and his friends with a group of other henchmen, Upen is shown to unsheathe talons from his fingertips and slay the attackers with calculated precision.
Revealed to be an extra-terrestrial with the progress of the story, it is also revealed that Upen is on a mission to find a particular piece of technology on earth which according to his superiors, mankind is not ready for. But he is not the only Urra on Earth, there are others who are not as peace loving as him and will go to any extent to finish their mission if it even means killing innocent humans. The technology is revealed to be an -invisibility device developed by Upen’s boxing friend’s uncle. Its now upto Upen to save this human family that he has started liking after spending so much time with them against his own kin.
Now one may say that, these themes and concepts are pretty common. Aye, they are now! But the time when this comic was written, they were not. So it makes us think about what the Indian comic writer was capable of and what would have happened if our country was a better place where he could have developped himself further. Mayukh Choudhury had created many more graphic novels, each with some spectacularly detailed and profound artwork. His line work was refined and could represent the most specific details with the fewest possible strokes.(The illustration of our Urra here, can put James Howlett to shame, trust me.) Most of his work dealt with themes which can now be called modern(sci-fi, detective, journals, versions of indian assassins, classical crypt-adventures) with styles of representation that can best be described as the union of National Geographic and Middle Earth.
Mayukh Choudhury died as a lonely man and in absolute poverty, it was an odd stench that made his neighbours investigate. And it is years after his death and the steadily incresing maturity of the average comic reader in India that we realise the sheer genius of this man…
And there is no better way to end our introduction to Choudhury than to quote writer Arindam Mukherjee: “More than a decade before Wolverine of X-Men comics bared his adamantine claws, a sci-fi storyteller from Bengal named Mayukh Choudhury created Agantuk—a graphic narrative that appeared in the Bengali periodical Deb Sahitya Kutir in the 1960s. The comic strip featured a humanoid extraterrestrial creature, not exactly a mutant, but with ears very similar to those of Avatar’s Na’vis, who grew deadly claws at will. The similarity is uncanny.”