After a long search, the author stumbled upon a stash of Gold Key comics from the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, which he acquired at a bargain price, making the day one of the most memorable in his life.

Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite writers. I’ve been a fan ever since I read ‘Salem’s Lot’ and ‘The Shining’. I recently read a book by him called 11.22.63. An unusual title for a book, but the date will be recognizable to most Americans born in the forties, early fifties, or earlier. It is a seminal date in American history, the date the charismatic American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It is one of those dates that is seared into the memories of people old enough to remember a cataclysmic event, much like 09.11.2001 (the World Trade Center attack) or 26.11.2008 (the Taj Hotel terrorist attack) for most of our generation. 

If you haven’t read this book, I heartily recommend it. It’s the tale of a time traveler trying to prevent the assassination of JFK and it weighs in at 740 pages. Not the longest book that King has written; he’s known for spreading himself thick when it comes to novels, but a hefty tome nonetheless. Apart from providing a gripping read that will keep you up nights, it can also be used as a doorstop, a stool if you are vertically challenged, and a blunt instrument if you harbor homicidal intentions toward anyone.

However, I digress. This is not about King. It’s about how certain dates remain imprinted on your memory. In my case, one such date is 01.03.2003. No horrifying attacks or tragic incidents occurred on that date. I remember it for two incidents which made it one of the most memorable and happy days of my life. Having whetted your curiosity, here’s the story.

As recounted in one of my earlier write-ups, my fledgling but much-loved collection of 50 comics had been hijacked by a diabolical, juvenile master criminal. As a result, my parents had decided not to buy me any more comics or books, and I had to rely on a library or three for my reading fix. While the libraries in Trivandrum provided me with lots of books to read, my comic reading more or less came to a halt. Most libraries did not carry comics, with the honorable exception of the Trivandrum Public Library. 

Even the august institution did not allow readers to borrow comics. You could sit in the library and read comics to your heart’s content, but taking them home was a no-no. During my stay in Trivandrum and, later, in Irinjalakuda, my collection of books did increase at a snail’s pace, but my comic collecting almost came to a full stop. Of course, I did get the odd comic from here and there, but comics were hard to come by in Kerala, especially my favorite Gold Key, Dell, and Fawcett comics.

The comic book quest

In 1989, I was posted to Delhi. Delhi was a haven for book lovers, with lots of libraries and scads of booksellers selling used books. I discovered the wonderful Daryaganj market and also found used booksellers in places like Karol Bagh, Saket, Rajinder Nagar, Rohini, and Lakshmi Nagar.

I used to visit these sellers frequently and soon picked up loads of books by my favorite authors. Comics, however, proved very hard to come by. I used to come across the occasional Indrajal or Amar Chitra Katha comic, but even these turned up in drips and drabs. Then one day, I came upon a stash of 15 or so Gold Key comics in very decent condition with a seller in Karol Bagh. 

The author in his library

They were from the late seventies when Gold Key was in decline and were all funny animal comics like The Pink Panther, Porky Pig, Looney Tunes, and Tom and Jerry. I wasn’t complaining. I grabbed the bunch, took them home, and devoured them. It was like rediscovering the golden days of my childhood. I read them all in one sitting and then a second time. My love for comics, always smoldering and never quite extinguished, was suddenly fanned into flame. Like Rip Van Winkle awakening from a deep sleep famished, I began searching for more to satisfy my reawakened craving.

Over the next several years, I got quite a lot of Indrajals, Amar Chitra Kathas, and DC and Marvel comics, but the Gold Keys were pretty thin on the ground, and Dells were almost impossible to get. I had sounded out most of the sellers I knew in Daryaganj, Karol Bagh, Saket, and other parts of Delhi, and they promised to look out for these elusive comics. Then I got a break. 

One of the sellers in Daryaganj was a middle-aged lady who used to come to the market with her son, a young guy in his early twenties. I’d requested them also to keep a weather eye out for these comics, and they told me that there was an old guy in Greater Kailash (according to them, he was in his nineties) who had a room full of comics, some of which may be the comics I was looking for. He was leaving for the US to be with his kids and was disposing of his collection. They promised to give me first crack if they did manage to get his stash. I’d heard a lot of promises of such undiscovered treasures which never ever translated into reality to get too excited by such promises. I gave them my home number as I did not have one of those newfangled cell phones at the time. One never knew. Maybe this time I might strike it rich. 

The morning of 1.3.2003 was no different from any other March morning in Delhi. The all too short winter was retreating, and the early March days were pleasant, a brief respite before the fierce summer. It was a Saturday, and I could feel a little tingle of excitement. The Cricket World Cup was underway in South Africa, and today was one of the most anticipated days in an Indian cricket fan’s calendar, the day when India played arch-rivals Pakistan in the cricket World Cup. Tensions between the two countries meant that they did not play bilateral series anymore, and the infrequent meetings were usually in international tournaments. These matches were fiercely contested; almost the entire population of the two countries would be glued to their TV sets. I felt a knot of apprehension in my stomach. 

Pakistan was a fabulous team with probably the best bowling attack in the world. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and the express Shoaib Akhtar formed probably the best pace attack in the world. Add the steady Abdul Razzaq and the mercurial Shahid Afridi, and you had a lineup that would have the batting line-ups of most teams quaking in their boots. The batting was stacked with top-class batsmen like Saeed Anwar, Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan, and the great Inzamam Ul Haq. I hoped India would put their best foot forward and especially hoped that my idol Sachin Tendulkar would come good.

A collector’s dream come true

 At around 8 am, the phone rang. I was having breakfast and reached for the phone in annoyance at the interruption. Suddenly I snapped upright, all senses alert. It was the son of the lady seller from Daryaganj. Apparently, they had got a bunch of comics from the old man they had mentioned. There were quite a lot of comics, too many for them to carry to Daryaganj on Sunday along with the other books they had to transport there. Would it be possible for me to come down to their place and take a look? 

Would I? Would a tiger refuse an invitation to dinner where the main course was a plump goat with a chicken or two for dessert? I informed them that I’d be there before 10 am and bolted the rest of my breakfast, beset with excitement. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but this sounded like the real deal. I told my wife I had an urgent appointment with a bookseller and needed to leave immediately. She put on her resigned ‘Not again?’ expression but didn’t object as I picked up my bag and rushed out. I had to change two buses before I reached Taimur Nagar where the lady lived. I reached the place in an hour and tracked down the residence in a narrow alley using the techniques learned from a lifetime of reading about Holmes, Poirot, Wimsey, and Philip Marlowe. I knocked on the door, and the son opened the door and ushered me to a room on the first floor. There, piled on the table, a bed, and other available flat surfaces were piles of comics.

I felt giddy with excitement. It was like discovering the treasures of Ali Baba, Captain Kidd, or Nebuchadnezzar all in one place. Moreover, one did not face any peril from the forty thieves or Long John Silver and his mates. I could make out the distinctive red and blue spines of Gold Key comics on some of the piles. I sat down on the bed next to one of the piles and began looking through the piles.

The comics in the piles were all used, some quite tattered but most of them still had covers and were in readable condition. I began to sort through the comics and place aside the ones I wanted. After an ecstatic half-hour, senses giddy from the intoxicatingly musty smell of forty-year-old comic books, I had completed my inventory. The haul exceeded my wildest dreams. I still remember there were 174 Gold Key comics, 101 Dell comics, 92 Classics Illustrated comics, and sundry DC, Marvel, Harvey, Charlton, and Fawcett comics. All were from the fifties, sixties, and early seventies. 

The total haul amounted to 472 comics, and they cost hardly anything for in those days before the internet changed the price dynamic of old comics, they were dirt cheap. Almost in a daze, I got the comics packed in three cartons, piled them into an autorickshaw, and headed home. My comic collection had got a major boost, and now I knew the sky was the limit. I got back in time for lunch but couldn’t eat much, my stomach still roiling with excitement. It had been an incredible day so far and, hopefully, it would get even better, as the much-awaited clash on the cricket field was about to start at Centurion in South Africa. 

Having polished off lunch in record time, I settled in front of the TV set, the three cartons of comics strategically placed within easy reach. I was still on a high after my wonderful morning, and I tried to tell myself that even a loss to the old enemy would be bearable. I was one of that generation of cricket fans who had become inured to defeat at the hands of our greatest rivals through the eighties and nineties. The wounds inflicted by Javed Miandad with his last ball six off Chetan Sharma at Sharjah were still festering. One reason for optimism, though, was the fact that India had never lost to Pakistan at a World Cup. The pessimist in me wondered whether the law of averages was going to catch up with India today.

 Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first. A terrific century from India’s old tormentor Saeed Anwar along with cameos from Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan, and Rashid Latif took Pakistan to an imposing 273 / 7 off their 50 overs. My heart sank, India had a mountain to climb. In those days any total over 260 was usually enough to ensure a victory what with the mental pressure of chasing a big total against a terrific attack with the hopes of millions of rabid cricket followers hanging heavy on the shoulders of the team. I felt my heart sink. It looked like India was destined to go down to Pakistan for the first time in a World Cup. I consoled myself during the break going through all the wonderful comics I had acquired. 

The newspapers had been full of reports for days about how Pakistan’s gun attack, led by Shoaib Akhtar the fastest bowler in the world, was going to target the Indian batsmen, particularly their talisman Sachin Tendulkar. The Indian innings began with Sehwag and Tendulkar facing up to Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar. The air of tense expectancy, when Shoaib thundered in, was shattered by a roar as Tendulkar drew himself to his full height of five feet five inches and dispatched Shoaib’s fourth ball over the point fence and into the screaming crowd. The wind seemed to rush out of the sails of the Pakistani pacemen. The little genius had won the first skirmish and what followed was an absolute onslaught on the Pakistani attack. 

Sehwag watched on admiringly as his diminutive partner launched into a scintillating array of brilliant strokes. The bat seemed to gleam like a rapier or shimmer like a magic wand as the trademark straight drives, exquisite flicks, flashing square cuts, and copybook cover drives flowed with Tendulkar in full spate. A calf injury well into his innings slowed him down, and he finally holed out off Akhtar for 98 off 75 balls. He may have missed out on a much-deserved hundred but he had still delivered a knock for the ages and had put the bowlers on the mat. 

India still had a way to go, but the bowlers were punched drunk after the onslaught by the Little Master, and Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Kaif, and Yuvraj Singh completed the formalities. Led by its greatest idol, India had won a famous victory. India would go on to lose the final to a rampant Australia, but to Indian fans, it did not matter. The important match was the clash against the old rivals, and bragging rights were again with India. As for me, my happiness was complete. What better end could there have been to this incredible day. 01.03.2003, a date to remember and savor for the rest of my life.

Vineeth Abraham

Vineeth Abraham calls himself a “complete, utter and unapologetic bibliophile”. He owns a large personal library and resides in Irinjalakuda, Kerala. In Shelf Life, Abraham writes about reading, books, and beyond.


  1. Great read (as also the Indrajal one) ; and something i can relate to perfectly. The Gold keys and the Dells (esp the earlier series like Mighty samson, Turok, The Rifleman and more) dwindling away is a great loss. I have a few myself and we’re now (we being Hachette) reviving and republishing the Classics Illustrated (both senior and junior), so watch out for those and spread the word.

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