Anant Pai introduced Indian children to the colourful world of ingenious and fascinating comics. He will be really missed.
A twitter update said ‘RIP Uncle Pai, I learned more from you than from my textbooks, AND you made it fun!' The man behind the Amar Chitra Kathas and Tinkles of our childhood passed away on February 24, 2011. Mourned by a nation that grew up on these beautifully illustrated and ingeniously crafted comics.
Two days before his death, Anant Pai won the first Lifetime Achievement Award at the first Indian Comicon (Comic Convention) held in New Delhi. Known to at least two generations of Indians as Uncle Pai, he showed millions of Indians a way to connect with their roots.
It's been more than two decades since ‘Amar Chitra Kathas' have become the reason why thousands of children all over the country remember the brave Pandavas and the devoted Hanuman. He was also the creator of Tinkle, the magazine that is still going strong, despite the many small tweaks and changes it has gone through over the years. Tinkle brought to us Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu and many more such characters that have left indelible marks on our childhood years.
Every fortnight, a new volume of Tinkle would bring to thousands of children, and sometimes adults, joy and excitement. Copies were exchanged and stories discussed. Letters were written to Uncle Pai thanking him and suggesting changes. It was an honor, to get your letter published, and the luckiest ones got replies printed alongside. Tinkle has always maintained a healthy interaction with its readers, filling its pages with contributions from them in the shape of ‘It Happened to Me' stories, quizzes and even entire stories.
Anant Pai was born on September 17, 1929 in Karkala, Karnataka. He lost his parents at a very young age of two. When he was 12, he came to Mumbai. He studied chemistry, physics and chemical technology at the University of Bombay and had a dual degree. Despite the scientifically inclined academic background, Uncle Pai had a passion for comics.
He started off with a children's magazine called Manav, which didn't see to much success. It was after a Doordarshan quiz he happened to catch that the children could answer questions about Greek mythology but drew a blank when they had to name Lord Rama's mother, that Uncle Pai got the idea to start Amar Chitra Katha.
He left his job in The Times of India and with the help of G.L. Mirchandani of India Book House, took out the first issue of the series, ‘Krishna'. The idea wasn't an instant success, and it was after almost four years that Amar Chitra Katha finally took off. There was no looking back, with the series becoming a publishing milestone, selling over 85 million copies of more than 400 titles in close to 40 different languages.
Tinkle started in 1980, a children's magazine published by India's first comic and cartoon syndicate, Rang Rekha Features, also started by Uncle Pai. Right from the start, Tinkle became a favourite among children, with witty stories set in both modern times and long gone days.
The stories almost always had a moral but were never didactic, instead choosing to relate to children by speaking their language. Characters like Suppandi, Anwar, Nasruddin Hodja, Shikari Shambu and Kalia the Crow, all became close friends, their exploits and follies entertaining the readers thoroughly.
Pai put in close to over 50 years in this field, one that was close to his heart and became his life's mission. His rewards were many, with awards like the Priyadarshni Academy Award in 2002 and Vishwa Saraswat Sammaan in 2003, but Uncle Pai considered the adoring and zealous children who greeted him during his travels as his real reward.
The last few years of his life though, not many children thronged to get a glimpse of him, but his work lived on, with younger generations turning to the brightly illustrated stories of Amar Chitra Katha.
The last few years of his life, Uncle Pai became the mascot of ACK media set up by Samir Patil. ACK media brought all the Amar Chitra Katha titles and Uncle Pai, who didn't have copyright over his works, joined the new company as Editor Emeritus and Chief Storyteller. He was the Chief Storyteller all right, and will remain so for generations of Indians, for ages to come. He will be remembered as a man who took mythology from the forgotten background and made it ‘cool'.