Ranabi and Tokai – Addressing Important Issues

Every country in the world faces distressing socio-economic and political issues to a greater or lesser degree, and Bangladesh is no different in this regard. Through a lovable cartoon character known as Tokai, renowned Bangladeshi cartoonist, Ranabi, presents some thorny issues in a way that has a unifying effect on his readers as they relate to what is being discussed.

Ranabi is the pen name that Rafiqun Nabi puts to his work. He studied at the Institute of Fine Arts of Dhaka University and later in Athens under a scholarship from the government of Greece. Ranabi is an accomplished artist on many levels, but he is most recognized for his cartoon character, Tokai – an eight-year old street child of Dhaka who survives by begging and by picking out discarded items from garbage bins. Tokai has a wisdom beyond his years with regard to political and socio-economic issues, and he has a way of sharing his views with the world that is amusing, and yet at the same time painfully to the point.

Having made his first appearance in 1978, the pot-bellied, bald-headed Tokai is not only the longest running cartoon character in Bangladesh, but is the most loved, as he puts into words the hard to express emotions and frustrations of the less-fortunate souls of society. Ranabi based the character of Tokai on a street child who lived outside his home for a time. This young boy had an enquiring mind and was full of questions whenever he saw Ranabi. After the boy died, Ranabi realized that he was representative of thousands of penniless street children living in Bangladesh and so his idea for a cartoon character grew, resulting in Tokai.

From his very first appearance, Tokai won the hearts of the readers who expressed their appreciation to Ranabi and even offered suggestions on topics for Tokai to tackle. As Tokai’s popularity grew, Ranabi started to express his observations on society, politics and politicians through his creation. Despite the often depressing, or even distressing, issues that Tokai addresses, he is always cheerful and his remarks are witty. Rather than promote revolution or demand change, Tokai simply comments on the hypocrisy, inhumanity and peculiarities of society.

Social issues that Tokai addressed more than 25 years ago are still relevant today, but through the years Tokai has been instrumental in making people more tolerant and sympathetic toward the street children of Bangladesh – and that is an accomplishment that his creator is justifiably proud of.