Amar Chitra Kathas have been a part and parcel of our growing up years. And, with the passing away of its founder ‘Uncle Pai', childhood will not be the same anymore
“RIP Uncle Pai,” scream my news feed lists on Facebook and Twitter. Those three words and a report on his death has me reaching out for the cardboard box in the loft. Hard-bound books, with oily patches, shredded spines and dog-eared pages. ‘Tinkle', the fortnightly for children from the house of Amar Chitra Katha. Rs. 7.' smile at me. As I flip through the pages, I notice a scrawl in the first page. “To Nithya - At Erode. 1.45 p.m. May '93. Trip to Madras,” my grandfather's pen had scribbled the words.
These books defined my childhood. I remember the antics of Suppandi and Shikari Shambu, revisit Pyarelal and Tantri the Mantri (and remember how much I loved his long, pointy nose) and re-read the adventures of Kalia the crow and Chaman Charlie, and Uncle Anu's trivia. I spot the 10 differences in an old Mango Bite ad and allow ‘Tinkle to Tell me Why'. Little Raghu, Anwar, Ram and Shyam come back into my life. And so do Mopes, Purr and Mooshik. Savio Mascarenhas' sketches make me ‘See and Smile'. I notice a half filled subscription form in my childish handwriting, along with a Tinkle Super Quiz form. (My mother used to be my very own Google back then.)
Of mythology and summers
All that I know about mythology, I owe it to two people – my grandma and Uncle Pai. I have always been an ardent fan of Uncle Pai's Amar Chitra Katha publications. Stories from the Jataka Tales, Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna Leela and other Indian classics were read out to me, when I was a kid. As I grew up, I devoured biographies of famous people such as Vivekananda and Harishchandra. Tinkle, Tinkle Digest and Amar Chitra Kathas were bought on railway platforms, to keep me entertained during train journeys. Summer afternoons were spent discussing stories from fat Tinkle holiday specials.
I remember cooking up ‘true-life incidents' (thanks to my very normal and quiet childhood) hoping they will get published in the ‘It happened to me' column some day. They never did. I must have spent a fortune sending postcards to Uncle Pai telling him how many buckets of tears I shed, when I read the story of the girl, who wore second-hand uniforms to school and ate frugal meals. I was jealous of the children, whose letters were published. I still think my poignant notes were much better than their silly “How old is Tinkle? And Doob Doob and Chamataka?”questions. The unkindest cut? Uncle Pai wrote back to them!
When copies of Tinkle began falling out of out of my cupboard, my mom decided it was time to get them bound and give most of them away.
But, for me, Uncle Pai, very much like the characters in his book, was evergreen. I thought he would always be there, till I learnt of his death. I visit Anantha Kumar's small bookstore (where once I regularly picked up my Tinkles) and I buy the latest copy in memory of the man who kept me entertained for many happy hours.