Anant Pai, popularly and fondly called “Uncle Pai” passed away yesterday. I am indebted to him forever, because he helped me make my kids realize that reading was fun. In the process, he also introduced them to Indian culture.
I find it impossible to believe that there would be people who don’t know Uncle Pai. Just in case you have not heard about him, he was the creator of Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. That should ring some bells.
My generation grew up reading Indrajal comics which told stories of Phantom and Mandrake the Magician. Uncle Pai worked for Times of India, the publisher of Indrajal Comics.
As the history goes, he saw a quiz program on Doordarshan, the only TV channel we had then, in which one of the contestants could answer questions about Greek mythology, but couldn’t answer who was Lord Ram’s mother. He was shocked. Unlike most of us who are shocked about so many things around us and then give it only lip service, he decided to do something about it.
With his experience of comics as a medium, he thought about telling stories of Indian fables, mythology and history to the young reader through comics. Thus was born Amar Chitra Katha, the first real Indian comics.
This introduced a young generation staying in nuclear families due to urbanization to the stories that they would have otherwise heard from their grand parents. As of now, Amar Chitra Katha sold almost 100 million copies.
Later, he also came out with Tinkle, a monthly comic magazine for the kids. Tinkle had stories related to it’s unique characters like “Tantri the Mantri”, Supandi & Shikari Shambu. Tinkle became amazingly popular amongst young children.
When Mihir, my son was growing up, I and Geeta, my wife, always worried about how were we going to make sure that he doesn’t become a TV addict. We wanted him to enjoy reading. Two things that we did at that time really helped us achieve that.
One was a big investment that we made in Childcraft. At that time, my monthly salary was Rs. 2,700/- and the Childcraft costed Rs. 3,300/-. But we still went ahead and made that investment. I think that is one of the best investments I made. Mihir read it over and over again. Mayura also grew up reading them. Only last year, when Mihir turned 24, did we finally gave them away.
The other thing that didn’t cost so much was the subscription to Tinkle. Mihir would eagerly wait for an issue of Tinkle. And when it came, he would read and reread it till we got the next issue. For him, Shikari Shambhu, Supandi, Kalia the crow and Tantri the Mantri were all real life people. He would enjoy their stories and would never be tired of telling them. In the process, he developed a great sense of humour, an ability to tell stories and good knowledge of English language.
Thank you uncle Pai, for giving these gifts to millions of children in the country. We will always remember you.