Thursday, February 12, 2015

Before Cartoon Network became CN

I had a great time growing up in urban India in the nineties and the early oughties, both in Delhi and Hyderabad. We didn't have internet invading our homes, no cell phones to keep us hooked; And thankfully no iPads to play Angry Birds on even before we got potty trained. What we had, instead, was freedom to stay out all day during summer holidays and evenings on schooldays, without fussing parents, a lot of leisure time and not enough money to splurge. We visited friends' houses, rode bicycles, played cricket anywhere we saw an empty place, and played hide-and-seek whenever there was a powercut. In Delhi, Vikas Puri especially, because we lived in a housing complex, there were a lot of kids who hung around everyday till it was dinner time. It was great fun. Schools closed out early, studies weren't intensive enough to have us prepare for IIT-JEE from grade 3 and overall, there was a lot of space for ideas and conversations.

Maybe I'm just getting nostalgic, maybe everyone looks back at their childhood with rose-tinted glasses or maybe that period was truly a wonderful time to grow up. And I was in an impressionable age- An age when I wanted to be a Cricketer, Astronaut, Diver, Archaeologist, Filmmaker, Wild-life photographer among a lot of other things. Wanting to go to Hogwarts was one of them. It might seem perverted now but at 12, I was already fantasizing about live-in relationships. I strutted around wearing badminton rackets as batsman's pads when I was probably 6. No, I don't think amma took me to see a doctor. She probably thought it was normal for a shy boy, with some imagination, to put pencils in sharpers and throw them in a bucketful of water and make a underwater sci-fi movie inside his head- With voiceover commentary. Or for him to clamp headphones over his head, and hide under the bed with a gun in his hand, and imagine himself as the leader of a guerrilla operation set out to save a kidnapped girl. I have to admit Prahaar had to to with that period of abnormal fascination with the army- R.M.E as I used to write on the army trucks and tanks I drew obsessively. And then there was a phase in Ammamma-Thatha's Hanuman Nagar house when, sitting the opposite way in foldable iron-chairs, I raced cars with the owners' grandson.

Anyway, all these memories have been popping in my head since a couple of days because I've been listening to Harry Potter audiobooks ( Jim Dale's version is highly recommended to those who want to revisit the books ) and been having CartoonNetwork-of-the-90s-was-awesome conversations. I always wanted to do a "You'll understand this if you grew up in the 90s" like posts but didn't know how to get started. And though this might not exactly qualify under that category, this is the closest I'll ever come to something like it. I'm just going to walk-through the list of cartoons I loved watching as a kid

1. Sky Commanders- I was obsessed with this when we were in Delhi. I distinctly remember rushing into the house from the rickshaw so as not to miss even the titles. I have to admit I'm kinda embarrassed with it now, but to hell, what's a childhood if not an occasional indulgence in kitsch

2. Centurions- Loved, loved the three guys who set out to save the world with those amazing body suits. I so wanted to be the Yellow Suit-Land Specialist guy and though he seemed the coolest, there's no denying he sucked at his job. He had to be rescued more often than he was of any help.

3. Swat Kats- Bade miyaan, Chotte miyaan. I've never seen Swat Kats in English all my life, and it wasn't until recently when Anirudh told me, I didn't know their names were T-bone and Razor. I remember crafting my own version of those wristwatch-esque guns with paper and glue.

4. Flinstones- Pure genius. Yabba Dabba Doo will always be my warcry.

5. Laff-a-lympics- I have no clue why so many people haven't heard of this but it was a riot. All those looney cartoon characters in one place.

6. Tom and Jerry- Both this, and Tom and Jerry Kids, were fantastic slapstick. I always had a soft corner for Nibbles ( I didn't know his name until I googled it now ) despite his sometimes irritating cuteness. And there was this aweosme dog-duo, father and son, I think were called droopy dog and dripple. My induction to deadpan long before I became aware of that word.

7. Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner- Acme products zindabad!

8. The Addams Family- Whoever created that walking hand, hats-off man.

9. Scooby Doo, Where are you? - The mysteries seem quite clever, now when I think about it. And Shaggy's beard was a stroke of genius.

10. Dexter's Laboratory- This again, I remember seeing only in Hindi. "DeeDee, kitni baar kaha hai tumhe- aaaaargh!!!"

11. Johnny Quest- The closest I've come to falling in love with Sci-Fi. And that title song was truly epic.

12. The Mask- I don't remember the dog's name but the hero was called Sachin and the title song was something like "Main hoon nakaab".

13. Captain Planet- The stupidest bloke you could come across as a kid. I have no clue why the kids called upon his help because they inevitably had to get him out of trouble every single time. It was like a ploy to teach kids, "Stay away from these superheroes. They suck."

14. Popeye- Remember the music that blared when Popeye finally ingested his beloved Spinach?

15. The Mummy- The Animated Series- I suppose I've always been obsessed with realism. Otherwise, how do you explain an extensive disinterest in Sci-Fi since childhood. And this I think shaped my tastes. A mad, half-dead mummy dealt using antique guns- awesome. A bunch of pocket monsters that developed powers and fought each other- what shit!

16. X-Men Evolution- I suppose it is like this for all kids but I especially identified with fictional characters that were my age and resembled me in some way. Dreamy, shy cartoon characters attracted me more than the attention-grabbing, rising-to-the-occasion type ones. And I was pretty anti-violent too. Which explains why my favourite X-Men character was Speed. He couldn't harm you for shit. Of all the cool fellas out there, I couldn't get beyond Speed. Fuck, this is embarrassing.

( I'm planning to do a similar piece on the Harry Potter series pretty soon, but lest I forget, my favourite Harry Potter character was, again, Sirius Black. Favourite is probably the wrong word; Let's say the character I most identified with. I'll also do a Tinkle characters retrospective.)

17. Chip & Dale, Alladin, TaleSpin- I think these cartoons used to be telecast on Sony. Not a regular watcher of these shows but used to tune into them once in a while.

18. Tiny TV- This was so much fun. I think I watched Tiny TV even till I was 15 or so. That too in Hindi. Noddy was pretty cool- Blyton is such a master of creating wonderful escapist worlds. Bob the Builder was sweet with all that bonding. Kipper was wistful. Pingu was brutally funny. And Oswald, lets just say, is the world's greatest stoner comedy. A blue octopus, an orange dog that looks like a walking hot god, a flower that rides a unicycle and an extremely irritable penguin. What were they thinking. And despite all these quirks, I must admit, I miss that world.

For all those cartoons I loved seeing, I didn't watch some of the most popular ones- Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Pokemon etc.

--

I had fun writing this post, revisiting all those cartoons. If you grew up during the same period and watched a lot of Cartoon Network, comment below and let me convince you into accepting that Yogi Bear was the original Dude.