When I was growing up in the 1970’s along with a bunch of young kids between the ages of four and eight in Kolkata, life was magical. It was made up of an eclectic mix of cultures, habits, food, and super heroes – all of which resided in the apartment building called Karnani Estate! I was just about four years old when Raj Kapoor’s iconic film Bobby got released. As Dimple Kapadia made her debut with Rishi Kapoor, our mothers perked up our wardrobes with Bobby dresses, Bobby shoes, and even Bobby ribbons for our hair. Listening to the song’s lyrics, “Jhoot Bole, Kauya Kaate…” (Loosely translated: If you tell a lie, the crow will bite), we all became terrified of the crows. We imagined that the drop-dead gorgeous chocolate hero, Rishi Kapoor was probably good at scaring off the crows.
I remember the modest Parsi family, Medhoras, who resided on the same floor as us in the building. They were rather modest and preferred to be “gentlemanly” about the apartment’s frequent water and electrical problems. However, it was evident that they frequently hobnobbed with the Mehtas, another Parsi family residing on the same floor as ours. This made them quite visible because the Mehtas were a much loved couple, with adult sons and daughters, all of them married and away in various parts of the world. I was particularly fond of Mr Medhora. He was a thorough super-hero, always leaving behind chocolates, LPs and warm words of encouragement for us during the weekends when he took Mrs Medhora to the Parsi Club or for some Navjote or the other. His two lovely daughters, Behroze and Meher, were equally warm and caring like their father, and ever willing to share their toys, home, food, and music.
Besides Dhansak and bread pudding, the Medhora’s had an enviable collection of LP records. We used to stare at the handsome pictures of Feroz Khan, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and Meena Kumari on the covers of those records and to us, superheroes were right where we lived — in our homes! Much later as we grew up, Indrajal Comics introduced us to Phantom, Mandrake and Lothar… and then the world of Amar Chitra Katha where even the ordinary man was a superhero because of his noble deeds.
Needless to say, the love for superheroes began then – and continues for some of us until this day. But more importantly, what continues with that is hope! The vagaries of our youth and middle-age have not stolen the thunder from that magical word “super” only because it is filled with hope. Dara Singh, the He-Man of the black & white films’ era who passed away a couple of days ago was a superhero in real life and reel life. He was super because along with a body of steel, he had a heart of gold.
But, what is the “super” part in the heroes of our lives today? Can we call a common man “super” even if he dresses or expresses his emotions like a hero of a film? Do we think our police officers or lawmakers are superheroes with lots of “super” in them? Going by the state of our country, maybe not. After all, they are not giving us anything to hope for – certainly not with a scamster going to watch the Olympics at London, and a teenage girl being molested and stripped of her clothes and dignity by 30 people in Assam. Maybe we should ask the FBI or Interpol to help our CBI to hunt down the “super” and return them to our “Heroes”. If in a democracy, that can’t happen, then it must be time for people like you and me to don capes, fix claws, learn how to somersault and break a leg. That is super.
(The writer can be reached at www.arpitabhawal. wordpress.com)