When a quiz show on Doordarshan brought to light that the participants who could answer questions on Greek history easily, didn't know who the mother of Prince Ram was, a man called Anant Pai started on a journey devoted predominantly to Indian culture and history, which was later to be followed by kids all over the country for several decades and still continues on its eternal mission of spreading the joy of reading.
He donned the roles of writer, editor and publisher of his best-known creations, the Amar Chitra Katha series and the Tinkle that spurred a revolution in Indian literature though comics and went on to find a place in the book-shelf of every Indian child. Uncle Pai, as he is fondly remembered, played a vital role in instigating the habit of reading among children.
With his extensive imagination that led to the birth of many unforgettable characters, Uncle Pai succeeded in making a lasting impact and hence achieved his goal of spreading knowledge through comics.Readers would agree that the Amar Chitra Katha books, the brainchild of this passionate story-teller, was always a part of growing up and were the fun alternative for children to be connected to culture and mythology, a feat no history school textbook was successful at.
Interestingly, the characters featured in these comics were not only meant to enhance reading but also bore the responsibility of gently instilling moral values in the readers. Stories of Kalia the crow and Kapish the monkey illustrate how one can brave grave situations and danger by sheer presence of mind.
The cunning tricks of Tantri the mantri that always boomeranged on him and the vicious deeds of the rakshasas teach one about the outcomes of evil and nurtures goodwill towards others. Who can forget Suppandi the simpleton and his misadventures that never fail to rouse a guffaw each time? The fascinating facts and theories of science Uncle Anu shares with a bunch of kids stand testimony to the fact that practical lessons are large by more effective than theoretically imparted knowledge.
In every issue of the Tinkle, the most exciting feature for many was ‘It happened to me', under which real-life adventures that were written to Uncle Pai by kids from all over the world were published. A blogger recollects how she would try and get into adventures just so she could write to Uncle Pai about it in hope that it would be published in the following issue along with her name. Uncle Pai was always a ready listener and enthusiastically received children's contributions with joy. with the same joy that evidently adhered to every kid's writing. He plunged into the task of burnishing the power of imagination in young minds to make their childhoods interesting and memorable.
With a multitude of more such historical and fictional characters, Uncle Pai's troupe of story-tellers have led journeys to several lands of yore, some unheard of and some magical. Long-forgotten stories were revived, the illustrious glory of history, restored. Humour, witticism, love, kindness, devotion, cleverness and intrigue are all woven together in each book, with the support of the extraordinarily talented illustrators/cartoonists without which the idea would not have had a full impact, nor made the entire collection a true treasure trove.
Besides being a story-teller, he was an educationalist, an inspiration and a confidant - truly our own "Uncle", a title he earned from his loving young fans. He taught us to differentiate good from evil, to imagine, to dream and to imbibe good values. A Tinkle fan Panchajanya recalls an anecdote in Uncle Pai's life which appeared in one issue. "When Uncle Pai was a young boy, he used to go to a common well in the neighbourhood to draw water. On one such trip, he noticed that there was a print of two feet on the stone step adjacent to the well. It had formed over many years, by people standing on the wet stone which had ultimately worn down to the print. It apparently left a deep impression on his mind to make him realise that even stone with a little more than water can be worn down with perseverance."
On February 24, 2011, Uncle Pai died in Mumbai following a massive heart attack. He is survived by his wife Lalita Pai, his children and all of us - his nieces and nephews, besides Shikari Shambu, Suppandi, Little Raji, Pyarelal, Mooshik and others. He might be gone, but true to the clever title he gave his creation, his Amar chithra katha series and Tinkle will live on to enchant readers for generations to come.After all, he was the man who made history by retelling history.