An entire cupboard in my thatha’s (grandfather) house in Mumbai was filled with a treasure – books. While there were all kinds of books in it, my personal favourite were the Chandamama series.
If you have had the chance to ever read one, the image of Vikram and Vetala is sure to be etched in your mind.
On 29 September, Karatholuvu Chandrasekaran Sivasankaran, the artist popularly known as ‘Chandamama’ Sankar, who created the iconic series, passed away at the age of ninety-seven in Chennai.
Born in 1927 in a village in Erode in Tamil Nadu, Sankar along with his mother and brother moved to Chennai in 1934. It was during this period that his talent for drawing was discovered, by his school teacher who noticed his sketches.
Subsequently, after completing his school education, Sivasankar enrolled in the Government Arts College in Chennai and underwent training for five years. In 1946, immediately after he graduated from college he was offered a position at a Tamil magazine called Kalai Magal.
Six years later, in 1952 Nagi Reddi, a filmmaker, who along with Chakrapani had launched Chandamama as a Telugu periodical magazine for children, hired him as an in-house artist. From then on, there was no looking back. His sketches in the book were a visual treat, and with its popularity catching on, the magazine was published in 13 regional languages.
The magazine had a cult-like status among its young readers. For those who grew up in the seventies and eighties, no train journey was complete without a Chandamama comic for company.
Sankar worked at the magazine for almost six decades and called it a day in 2012 when the magazine decided to shut shop because of financial problems.
While Sankar led a very modest life, what made him feel extremely rich were the memories that he helped children create for themselves. One story mentioned in The Hindu is of how a young shepherd in Odisha preserved his hard-earned copy of Chandamama by rolling it up and inserting it into the hollow of bamboo stick, hoping to someday draw like Sankar.
While messages of tribute have been pouring in from all across the country, Sapna Khajuria, a lawyer based in Gurugram who happens to be one amongst the many who enjoyed the comics growing up says, “My brother and I would fight over who got to read the latest issue first. Since our father’s posting was often in remote stations, we wouldn’t manage to get our hands on the latest edition on time. Later, there would be a re-enactment of the Vikram and Vetala story (with us 4-foot tall kids floating in our mum’s kurtas and holding a sword we crafted out of cardboard).”
“My parents got our Chandamama collection bound together in various sets, which is at their home, now to be treasured.”
Sankar’s illustration helped bring to life the various stories and folklores for children and ignited in them a questioning and critical thinking mind. The colours he used in his sketches were so vivid and made everything seem real.
Thank you for leaving us with so many memories to look back at with so much fondness.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)