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Growing old with Shikari Shambu: 40 years of ‘Tinkle’

Tantri the Mantri   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

In 1980, during an editorial meeting, when Amar Chitra Katha’s Anant Pai, aka Uncle Pai, suggested making the fortnightly comic book series a weekly, associate editor Subba Rao was baffled. “I told him that we will, in another one or two years, completely run out of the pool of stories,” Rao remembers, laughing.

So, as a counter suggestion, Rao presented the idea of a comic digest comprising non-mythological stories (so that it looks different from ACK), compiled from various parts of the country. “Mr Pai was not sure in the beginning, but he asked me to work on the details and I put together a format,” he continues over phone from Mumbai. On that day, Tinkle, the children’s magazine with a tagline ‘where learning meets fun’, was born. Forty years on, the magazine and its characters that have for long become household names, continue to thrive.

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Watering the seed

“In a way, Tinkle owes its birth to my grandmother. Many of the stories I heard from her in Coimbatore made its way into the early issues of the magazine,” he continues fondly, adding, “My son was hardly three years old at the time and the stories I told him would also surface on the magazine.” While he was the chief storyteller for Tinkle, Luis Fernandez was in-charge of the scripts and Kamala Chandrakant, editing: this was the core team, supervised by Uncle Pai, of course.

Though the initial decision was to start off with folktales, the editorial team soon shifted its focus to creating original characters. Rao often asked his team, “Where is our answer to Detective Moochawala [an eponymous character created by Indian cartoonist Ajit Ninan]?” And one day, Rao was watching The Lucy Show (an American sitcom of the 1960s) on television, when a character struck him. “Lucy’s husband was a big-time hunter. And, I found one of the episodes around this character, extremely funny.”

Subba Rao

Subba Rao   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Inspired by the character of Lucy’s husband, upon discussion with the team, the answer to Detective Moochawala took form: Shikari Shambu, the cowardly hunter who is perceived by the rest of the world as courageous, conceptualised by Fernandes and visualised by cartoonist Vasant B Halbe. Then, came Kalia, the Crow. “We used to have lunch in our editorial office in Colaba. Everyday, promptly at 1 pm, a crow would come to the window. Luis used to feed the crow,” remembers Rao. And, thus the crow became a character created by Luis and visualised by Pradeep Sathe.

Interestingly, Suppandi, on the other hand, was created by a reader, whom Rao managed to coincidentally meet years later. Through a ‘write-in’ contest, Suppandi, the lovable simpleton visualised by Ram Waeerkar, arrived at Tinkle and refused to leave (we are not complaining). Tantri the Mantri (who last year became the king after 35 years of plotting), Anwar and Mooshik followed soon after.

Since then, many editorial and design changes have characterised the 40-year-old Tinkle to the magazine that it is today. As characters like Shikari Shambu and Tantri live on, a crop of new characters has also found its ground under the sitting editor-in-chief Rajani Thindiath: Super Weirdos (superheroes with weird powers), WingStar (a young crime fighter from Mizoram), YogYodhas (warriors who use yoga poses to fight evil)... the list goes on.

Inclusivity is key

Rajani took over as editor-in-chief, 10 years back. “At the time, there were some things I wanted to do: like making the new characters more regular and also making the magazine, balanced,” says Rajani. And to that end, strong female characters started making an entry into the main narratives.

“Gender roles are shaped from childhood, right from when a child reads a pronoun. And, when we think of a doctor or an engineer, we would immediately think of a male figure,” says Rajani.

Another focus of hers is on diversity: regions, festivals and cultures from across the country are featured. For instance, WingStar’s protagonist is from Mizoram. And, through Super Weirdos, she wished to draw attention to the oddities and quirks in one’s behaviour which are most often perceived as an embarrassment.

Birds and Bodyguards

Birds and Bodyguards   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

How do they tide through the pandemic? The lockdowns sort of opened the doors to digital possibilities, says Rajani. They immediately shifted focus to their app which was launched last year.

“Content-wise, on the app, we had to make it into a weekly. Because we are on the app, we do vlogs of editorials, host quiz shows, give general knowledge trivia and so on,” says Rajani, adding, “Uncle Pai’s vision for Tinkle goes ‘of, for and by children’. So, it was important to have their voices on the platform.”

Rajani adds that the platform, in fact, does not matter. “Tomorrow, if even the stories come in a hologram, they are still stories.”

Rao agrees, “Ultimately, you must know how to tell a story.”

A live party will be streamed on the Facebook page Tinkle Comics Studio at 5 pm on November 13. There will also be a game show at 11 am, November 14, on the Suppandi and Friends channel on YouTube.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 3:21:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/childrens-magazine-tinkle-turns-40/article33084075.ece

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