Cartoonist Narayan Debnath, the creator of Bengali comic characters 'Bantul The Great', 'Handa Bhonda' and 'Nonte Phonte', died in Kolkata on Tuesday morning after a prolonged illness, said the hospital where he was undergoing treatment.
He was 97 and survived by two sons, a daughter and a granddaughter.
Debnath, who was handed the Padma Shri award while undergoing treatment at the hospital, died at 10.15 am, his family said.
He was put on ventilator support as his condition deteriorated after being admitted to the hospital on December 24.
In his career spanning over six decades, Debnath created comic characters such as 'Bantul The Great', 'Handa Bhonda' and 'Nonte Phonte' -- all of which are household names in Bengal.
Condoling the death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Debnath brightened several lives through his works, cartoons and illustrations.
"His works reflected his intellectual prowess. The characters he created will remain eternally popular. Pained by his demise. Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti," Modi tweeted.
The first comic strip of 'Handa Bhonda' was published in 1962 in Bengali children's magazine 'Suktara', brought out by Deb Sahitya Kutir.
It was followed by 'Bantul The Great' (1965) and 'Nonte Phonte' (1969).
Debnath continued working till the age of 93 when the last comic strip of 'Nonte Phonte' was published in the 2017 Durga Puja issue of Suktara.
Earlier, he created 'Rabi Chobi' -- a comic strip that was published in May 1961 in children's magazine Anandamela to mark the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore.
Debnath was born in a family of jewellers in Shibpur in Howrah. His enthusiasm for sketching jewellery designs from a very early age prompted his family to admit him to the Government Art College in Kolkata after he completed schooling.
He dropped out of the college to take care of his family business, but soon went back to the drawing board.
Debnath started freelancing for a few advertising agencies, creating movie slides and logos, before getting in touch with Deb Sahitya Kutir.
"Bantul was not much popular during the initial two-three publications, but became a cult as the average Bengalis identified with his traits and exploits," said Rupa Majumder, the publisher of Deb Sahitya Kutir.
Debnath was conferred with Padma Shri in 2021 but could not visit New Delhi to collect the award. State Home Secretary BP Gopalika and Cooperative Minister Arup Roy handed him the medal and certificate on his hospital bed on Thursday.
He was conferred with the Sahitya Akademi award in 2013 and the West Bengal government also honoured him with Banga Bibhushan the same year.
The Rabindra Bharati University gave him an honorary D.Litt in 2015.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who visited Debnath at his home last month, said his death was a huge loss to the world of literary creativity and comics.
"Sad at demise of Padma Shri #NarayanDebnath legendary cartoonist and creator of immortal characters Bantul the Great, Handa-Bhonda, Nonte-Fonte for children's world. Huge loss to the world of literary creativity and comics. My thoughts are with his family, friends and fans," he tweeted.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Debnath's passing away is an immeasurable loss.
"Extremely sad that the noted litterateur, illustrator, cartoonist, and creator of some immortal characters for children's world, Narayan Debnath is no more. He had created Bantul the Great, Handa-Bhonda, Nonte-Fonte, figures that have been etched in our hearts for decades," she said.
"We were proud to bestow upon him Bengal's highest award Banga Bibhusan in 2013. His passing away is certainly an immeasurable loss to the world of literary creativity and comics. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, readers and countless fans and followers," Banerjee added.
The cartoonist's younger son Tapas Debnath told PTI that he would urge the government to help preserve his works.
"We would like to urge the government to help preserve my father's works, a treasure trove, for the future generations," he said.
Debnath is credited to have first introduced the concept of comic-strip in Bengali literature, said actor-MLA Chiranjit Chakraborty, who is the son of noted cartoonist Saila Chakraborty.
"Debnath is the inventor of storyboard in true sense in a comic series," he said.
Publishers' and Booksellers' Guild president Tridib Chatterjee told PTI that Debnath created 'Bantul The Great' during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, and 'Bantul' was often seen pulverising the Pakistani Army in then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the comic strips.
"It was astounding how he could produce so many comic strips with such unfailing regularity. Each of them was unique and unparallel in their strokes, imagination and quotient of humor. He had a razor-sharp mind," Chatterjee said.
The guild will commemorate him at the upcoming Kolkata International Book Fair, he added.
Debnath was confined to his Shibpur home for the last five years as his health condition deteriorated with age. He was also having financial difficulties.
The cost of his treatment at the hospital was borne by the state government. His earlier medical expenses were also borne by the state government, said minister Arup Roy.
Kolkata's mayor Firhad Hakim visited the hospital on receiving the news of Debnath's death and paid tributes to him.
His body was taken to his home in Shibpur before being consigned to flames at a nearby crematorium.