Narayan Debnath, 96, on Wednesday passed the “higher mental function test” in hospital on Tuesday after he deftly managed to sketch his favourite character ‘Bantul’ sitting in his hospital bed. The legendary artist-illustrator was admitted to hospital last week, three days after he was conferred Padma Shri. He is being treated for urinary infection. A medical team has been set up for the nonagenarian patient, who has been the flag-bearer of cartoon stories in Bengali for the last six decades.
“To check his cognitive system, we had asked Debnath-babu to do a sketch. And he instantly came up with Bantul. Thus, we were sure that his system is functioning well,” consultant neurologist Satyabrata Pulai told TOI on Wednesday.
Even as his condition was quite stable till Tuesday, his blood pressure suddenly fell at night and Debnath had to be shifted to the ICU. “He is doing fine on Wednesday. He has had his breakfast. If we ask him to sketch Bantul again, he will readily do it,” Pulai said. The doctor and his son, nephrologist Smarto Pulai, physician Samarjit Naskar and interventional cardiologist SB Roy are part of the team set up to treat India’s only comics artist with a DLitt degree.
All of the doctors have been looking after Debnath over the years. All are his fans, having grown up reading the comic strips that seemed to have acquired a cult status among Bengali children. “The doctors treating him are familiar to him and know his system very well. They are personally attached to him,” Debnath’s granddaughter Alicia said.
“Bantul does seem to be its creator’s pet. For the last five years that I have been seeing him for age-related memory loss, the moment I found him illustrating Bantul, I knew that the brain’s orientation is fine. It’s easier to deal with his ailments when we are confident that the central nervous system is working fine,” said Pulai.
On Tuesday, while doctors were checking Debnath’s mental functions, they were surprised when the 96-year-old mumbled to Naskar: “What’s your daughter’s name?” On being told, he quickly scribbled “Srishti”, dedicating the latest edition of the Bantul sketch to Naskar’s daughter.
Debnath has tested negative for Covid. When the time came for vaccination, doctors said they would have to take extremely cautious decision on whether the 97-year-old should be inoculated.