<%-- Page Title--%> Art <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 158 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 11, 2004

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‘Tokai’ Gets a New Lease on Life

The cartoon character created 25 years ago celebrates its birthday with an exhibition

Mustafa Zaman

Tokai is a cartoon character and more. Rafiqun Nabi, aka R Nabi envisaged this stump of a street child who was pitted against a world that found it convenient to bother less about his kind and even leave him out of the scene. Tokai is the representative of the lives on the fringe that go on without the privileged ever being privy to it. R Nabi, who came right out of the camp of artists that Zainul Abedin moulded with his own hands, created Tokai 25 years ago and by doing so he pushed an underrated reality into the mainstream.

Tokai simply shot to fame overnight. The character's huge popularity with the newspaper reading public made its creator a household name. Today, to mark the silver jubilee of this character that gave us the interesting euphemism for street children, its creator with the help of Gallery Chitrak makes an attempt to showcase a whole array of works that tries to do justice to this popular figure.

The cartoons that once adorned the pages of the now defunct weekly 'Bitchitra', find their place on the gallery wall. There is also a new twist to it, -- the artist tries his hands on a new genre where his cartoon character meets the regular settings of watercolour paintings R Nabi also is renowned for.

The boy, Tokai is set against a series of swiftly painted backdrops. In many of these watercolour paintings the dexterity to handle the media, and the play of light, transform many a bland setting into interesting pictorial compositions. For the Tokai buffs, the show titled "A day in the life of Tokai" certainly takes things to a newer height. The "pundit" from the gutter with his witty answers often questioned accepted reality.

Tokai burst into the scene in 1977. It first appeared in an issue of May of that year, remembers R Nabi. He also shed some light on its ancestry, he says, "it was fashioned after a boy named Mokka of Narinda, Dhaka." This is where R Nabi himself spent his childhood. He remembers how a chubby little boy, who was known for his intelligent quips, earned a nickname Motka, "but he himself used to pronounce it Mokka, as he was just three or three and a half at that time," explains R Nabi.

Fashioned after this real life character, Tokai was launched in the anniversary issue of Bichitra that came out in May 1977.

In the first cartoon, Tokai was shown sitting behind a makeshift secretariat table, from where he announced: "let's play secretaries". As a character that took off with the intention to poke fun at the socio-economic realities, it went through a lot of phases. After 25 years its impact may seem to have waned a little. But how this exhibition dedicated to Tokai made clumps of people gallery bound, is a proof that it had the capacity to sway a majority of newspaper reading public in its hey-day, which was in the late seventies and throughout the eighties.

R Nabi created a lot of other characters, but the one that is unequal in its popularity and that became the most loved and enduring name in the cartoondom, is Tokai. Tokai has braved two decades and a half, and now at last he has even found himself in pictures suitable for collecting.

Gallery Chitrak brought out a finely printed book on the occasion. The hardbound book contains reproductions of all the paintings and a few cartoons. The only thing that this huge show does not include is the first few sketches of the Tokai character that are no longer in possession of the artist. The weekly Bichitra once printed a series of drawings showing the mutation from a scratch to the final drawing. Had these been preserved and exhibited, the show would have come to a full circle.


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