It was three in the afternoon, and everyone in my office was starving. Every few minutes, someone would step out to ask the morose watchman whether the office boy had come back with lunch, and the watchman would shake his head glumly, even as he burped after his own meal.
Finally, the boy turned up at 4.15 pm.
“What happened to you?” we asked. “How long does it take to go buy lunch?”
“I didn’t get a bus, madam,” he sighed.
“Why do you need a bus? The hotel’s straight down this road!” we said, puzzled.
The boy looked bewildered, “But you said Adyar Ananda Bhavan! And we’re in T Nagar!”
“Thank God no one asked for Mysore bonda,” a colleague sighed, “Suppandi would have been waiting for a train now.”
And that’s the story of how our office boy was named after the legendary Suppandi. To those of us who grew up in the eighties or later, the moronic servant with a flat head and angular face was a constant presence in our lives. He messed things up when he obeyed his master, and he messed them up further when he thought for himself. And yet, his stupidity made him endearing to us, and must have to his employers, if they retained him after all those debacles!
In Tinkle, where the cowardly Shikari Shambhu ended up an accidental hero, and the scheming Tantri the Mantri ended up saving the king he was trying to kill, Suppandi stood out by frustrating his employers for decades. His expression of wonder, his smug confidence in his own intelligence, and the yells of his employers make us laugh, even when the joke is apparent from the start.
Suppandi’s first appearance was in January, 1983, in Tinkle No 27. He was different from other Tinkle characters in that he was not created by the editors and publishers, but by a contributor, Sameer Salman. Sameer sent in three narrative stories, and the man with the oversized head and skinny body was illustrated by Ram Waeerkar. Waeerkar would go on to draw the Suppandi sketches until his death in 2003, after which his daughter Archana Amberkar took over.
From following his masters’ instructions to the word — Suppandi has banged his head against a door after being asked to ‘use his head’ to figure out how to open it, and he has brought his miserly employer’s friend a magazine neatly cut in half after being told to serve the guest only half the portion of anything he asks for — to coming up with alternate plans that he considers superior to his masters’, this dimwit leads us into one hilarious disaster after another. He is one of India’s best-loved comic characters, and readers send in their own ideas for Suppandi stories very often. Having brought out several ‘Best of Suppandi’ collections, Amar Chitra Katha decided to put up some of his stories on YouTube too. In December 2011, the publication announced that they would bring out a new Suppandi magazine targeting teenagers.
Suppandi 48, a quarterly magazine, carries what the publishers call ‘young adult’ jokes, with references to drug use, among other things. The character was given an alter ego, Super Suppandi, who dresses like Salman Khan and sports an eighties’ Bollywood hairstyle. He’s not just a servant any more, but is seen failing at various professions. The magazine has a disclaimer saying it ‘may not be suitable for sober, naïve or prudent readers’.