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Happy birth month Uncle Pai! What’s new in the Tinkle world?

Kalia the crow hits the Big Four-Oh next year. He’s become more complex over the years, expanding his social circles as he moved from the little forest he was born in, to colourful Big Baan.

He is not the only character from the well loved Tinkle universe who is suddenly all grown up. Earlier this year Tantri the Mantri, the prime minister who was as incompetent as he was ambitious, has finally become king, after just four decades of devious plotting.

Suppandi, who made his debut in 1983 as a village simpleton inspired by a character called Chappandi, from a Tamil folk tale, is now much slicker. He has lost his shoulder towel and gained both a girlfriend as well as a Twitter account boasting more than 11,000 followers. As for Shikari Shambu? He’s now a politically correct, if still rather cowardly, conservationist.

This month Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) celebrates the birthday of Anant Pai, fondly known as Uncle Pai, who started ACK in 1967 to encourage Indian children to learn about India’s epics, literature, folk lore and more. In 1980, he launched Tinkle , a magazine for children, with 35,000 copies that sold out. Next year, Tinkle , which now has a circulation of 3 lakh per issue, turns 40.

Over the past four decades, audiences have changed. “The fact is, we can’t have the same characters we did in the 1980s,” says Rajani Thindiath, Editor-in-Chief of Tinkle . “The kid of the 1980s was watching Doordarshan,” she says. “Each child is a product of their time. And today’s chidren are much more aware of the world, but also more demanding.”

Given that this is also the age of outrage, a lot of the tropes that worked for the comics in the 1970s and ‘80s would be unacceptable now. Cautiously agreeing that writers need to tread more carefully, Rajani says “Because we are writing for children, it makes it easier. We will not show blood and gore, violence or murder. Sex is anyway out... I know that kids can see a lot of this on TV anyway, but I will not show it to them in the magazine.” She adds, “We do push boundaries though. We push for gender equality. We show fathers cooking. We have women superheroes, as well as female villains.”

There is also an effort to push back against stereotypes. Shikari Shambu’s wife, Shanti, for example, is more than just a crochety spouse, now, with a strong, brave personality.

Shambu also has a less controversial job these days. “He is a conservationist,” says Reena I Puri, Executive Editor, Amar Chitra Katha. “I also felt that putting animals in the zoo was wrong, so now he releases them into a reserve.” She adds, “If he must use a gun, he’s only given a tranquiliser gun... We got a PETA award after that!”

Reena worked with Pai from 1991, when she joined as Associate Editor of Tinkle . She helped develop a slew of new characters, including spin-offs from the old favourites: Little Shambu, Junior Tantri, and Little Suppandi. (So far, Tinkle has created about 140 characters for readers.)

“I was there till 2005, after which I moved to ACK,” says Reena, adding that Pai always insisted that 70% of the stories came from their readers. “The children would write to us with ideas, sometimes on little scraps of paper,” she says. “Once, during summer holidays, we got 10,000 in a month. We were inundated, but we still read and responded to each one.”

Rajani says a lot of their ideas still come from children. “They wanted superheroes, but I did not want another Superman. So we introduced a wonky superhero, with SuperWeirdos. Aisha wants to be a superhero, but her only power is to giggle...” When children asked for horror, Tinkle created Dental Diaries, starring a cowardly vampire who has lost his fangs. “We realise that every child struggles with being different, so we want to make the ‘odd’ special.”

Despite Tinkle’s new, nuanced characters, Suppandi still reigns supreme. Reena is thoughtful when asked why. “Mr Pai used to say most of these characters are not very bright. They make mistakes. When they make mistakes, the child reading allows himself to make mistakes. They realise there are no perfect superheroes out there. They need to rely on the one within, get up and walk on.”

(Can’t) Look into his eyes

Savio Mascarenhas will not remove Shikari Shambu’s hat, no matter how many times you ask.

Currently Group Director at Amar Chitra Katha, Savio has been with Tinkle comics since 1994, and has been drawing the popular Shikari Shambu character for 20 years.

“Shambu was created in 1983, and Vasant Halbe, the artist who first drew him, created this very quirky, funny character,” says Savio, adding that one of Vasant’s ideas, was to draw Shambu’s helmet covering his eyes. “Children keep writing to me to ask if he ever takes off his helmet. They want to know how he can see. So I say he has strong instincts. Or he’s afraid of the animals,” Savio chuckles.

Savio Mascarenhas, Group Director at Amar Chitra Katha, drawing Shikari Shambu

Savio Mascarenhas, Group Director at Amar Chitra Katha, drawing Shikari Shambu

However, given how Shambu has started traipsing around the world on his adventures, it does become challenging. “It’s tough when he goes on vacation,” sighs Savvio. When Shambu went into the desert, Savio put him in a keffieh. “When he was underwater, I put on a diving helmet,” he says. “Once the writers were making fun of me, and said they will force his hat to fly off in the next story. I said go ahead. When the scene came, I drew his hat falling off. Then in the next panel, I drew his head covered with a leaf.”

Under Savio, Shambu has packed on a couple of pounds. “I gave him a little rotundity in terms of his face and structure. After all, he loves ladoo s. He lazes around a lot. And it works. Kids love him in that shape and structure.”

Savio says he was nervous when he started drawing Shambu. “I got a letter from a child, who was very disappointed that I had taken over from Halbe. I wrote and told him that over time artists grow old, and when we move, someone has to continue. This is what life is about.”


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 4:22:19 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/happy-birth-month-uncle-pai-whats-new-in-the-tinkle-universe/article29487827.ece