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Updated: March 4, 2011 16:19 IST

Goodbye, Uncle Pai

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Many a summer evening in one's childhood has been spent reading Amar Chitra Katha. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
The Hindu
Many a summer evening in one's childhood has been spent reading Amar Chitra Katha. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha have been an integral part of childhood experience for generations. Remembering Anant Pai, who gave wing to many unforgettable characters and stories

They were among the most confiscated books in junior school, the books siblings who grew up in the 1980s and the 1990s would fight over. Free periods were idled away by telling each other jokes from the books, and guffawing incessantly after. Long train journeys to one's grandparents' place in the sweltering summer were thoroughly enjoyable thanks to the company they provided. We would run through them so quickly, driven by the anticipation of buying the subsequent volume at the next big station.

And, their dimensions were so perfect that slipping a book into a science textbook was ever so easy; our unsuspecting mothers would never know all we were taking in wasn't just the Genus and Species table but the immortal genius of Anant (Uncle) Pai, creator of Tinkle comics and Amar Chitra Katha (ACK).

Uncle Pai passed away last Thursday, but the cartoon characters he conceptualised have been immortalised. In Tinkle Digest, among a host of others, there is Shikari Shambu, the genial forest ranger with his famous moustache.

Tantri the Mantri is the wily minister in Raja Hooja's court. Kalia the wise crow was Tinkle's pioneer character, but Suppandi probably has the biggest fan following. His antics as a domestic help, the innumerable times he gets fired and his simplicity are what have continued to entice readers of the comic.

Fun with a moral

MBA student Harsha P.J. says his favourite cartoons were Suppandi and Shikari Shambu. “I loved Tinkle because the illustrations were easy to understand and contained good graphics for that time. Almost every child/young adult would have read them, and still cherish those stories.”

NGO worker Palakshi Goswami came to love the Tinkle series “for the manner in which fun was intertwined with a moral.”

Computer Applications graduate Tarun Papali says what he loved most about the Tinkle series was that it was economical. “We could actually manage a collection we could flaunt. Back then, Tinkle's jokes were the ones that always cracked us up. Nothing ever got stale. And, most importantly, Tinkle came to our aid during exams. When we didn't know an answer, we'd bluff away, and every joke from the comic book that came to mind in the exam hall was jotted down intermittently. The funny part, however, would be when we would get back our answer scripts and find that we've got full marks for that particular answer!”

Intriguing young minds

Recalls 22-year-old Sneha Kumar: “I thrived on ACK when I was young. Having always been fascinated by mythology and history, Uncle Pai found the perfect way to intrigue young minds in a light-hearted way about India's prolific culture. I was a part of my school's quiz team, and thanks to ACK, the religion and mythology rounds were always a breeze,”

Tinkle and ACK have charmed many, but how do they compare to foreign graphic novels?

According to Yashas Mitta, who works for a leading comic book company: “These comics cannot be really compared to foreign graphic novels, which are very worldly in nature. Tinkle and ACK are truly Indian at heart and took cartooning mainstream. These comics manage to bring a smile on one's face every time you read them. Tinkle and ACK are timeless!”

Most of us probably still have our voluminous collection of dog-eared Tinkles resting on a less-conspicuous bookshelf. But, the truth is that in some way or the other, the Tinkle comic is a vital part of who we are.

Years after devouring the series, we remember how we graduated from reading Uncle Anu's science lessons to the irksome Goel, Sinha and Mathur self studies. We all probably still call a friend with a somewhat rectangular skull and an elongated mandible …“Suppandi”!

*Kids who grew up reading these comic strips loved that they were easy to read, had good graphics for that time, were economical, had characters they could mimic, would always leave them in splits, provided education and information simultaneously.

*Favourite cartoons from Tinkle include Suppandi, Shikari Shambu, Little Raaji, Kalia, Tantri the Mantri

*ACK got kids through GK tests and quiz competitions. It's been the fun-nest medium through which Indian history and mythology were learnt.

*They can't compare with foreign graphic novels because of their Indianness.

*These comics remind us of simpler times when the toughest choice one had to make was picking which pencil to sketch a cartoon from Tinkle with!

*They are timeless creations and have found a way to still be part of our lives


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