A twitter update said, “RIP Uncle Pai! I learned more from you than from my textbooks, AND you made it fun!”
The man behind the Amar Chitra Kathas and Tinkles of our childhood passed away on February 24, 2011. He is mourned by a nation that grew up on these beautifully illustrated and ingeniously crafted comics.
Two days before his demise, Anant Pai won the first Lifetime Achievement Award at the first Indian Comicon (Comic Convention) held in New Delhi. Known to at least two generations of Indians as Uncle Pai, he showed millions of Indians a way to connect with their roots. It's been more than two decades since Amar Chitra Katha became the reason why children all over the country remember the brave Pandavas and the devoted Hanuman . He was also the creator of Tinkle, the still popular magazine. Tinkle gave us Supandi and ShikariShambhu and many many more such characters. Letters were written to Uncle Pai thanking him and suggesting changes. It was an honour, to get your letter published, and the luckiest ones got replies printed alongside. Tinkle has always maintained a healthy interaction with its readers, filling its pages with contributions from them in the shape of “It Happened to Me” stories, quizzes and stories.
Anant Pai was born on September 17, 1929 in Karkala, Karnataka. He lost his parents when he was two years old. He studied chemistry, physics and chemical technology at the University of Bombay and had a dual degree. Despite the scientifically inclined academic background, Uncle Pai had a passion for comics. He started off with a children's magazine called Manav , which didn't see too much success.
A Doordarshan quiz he happened to watch changed the course of his life. He noticed that children could answer questions in Greek mythology but drew a blank when they had to name Lord Rama's mother. Uncle Pai decided on Amar Chitra Katha. He left his job in The Times of India and with the help of G.L. Mirchandani of India Book House, brought out the first issue of the series, “Krishna”.
There was no instant success. It could almost four years for Amar Chitra Katha to take off. And then there was no looking back. The series now sells over 85 million copies with more than 400 titles in close to 40 different languages.
The last few years of his life, Uncle Pai became the mascot of ACK media set up by Samir Patil. ACK media brought all the Amar Chitra Katha titles and Uncle Pai, who didn't have copyright over his works, joined the new company as Editor Emeritus and Chief Storyteller. He was the Chief Storyteller all right, and will remain so for generations of Indians.
He will be remembered as a man who took mythology from the forgotten background and made it ‘cool'.
Tinkle started in 1980, a children's magazine published by India's first comic and cartoon syndicate, Rang Rekha Features. It was started by Uncle Pai. From the beginning, Tinkle was a favourite. Its witty stories set in the past and the present, always had a moral but was never didactic. It spoke to children in their language. Characters like Suppandi, Anwar, Nasruddin Hodja, Shikari Shambu and Kalia the Crow became friends.
Pai worked for over 50 years with his comics. His rewards were many. He won the Priyadarshni Academy Award in 2002 and Vishwa Saraswat Sammaan in 2003. But for Uncle Pai the adoring and zealous children who greeted him during his travels were his real reward. In the last few years of his life though, not many children thronged to get a glimpse of him. However, his work lives on and more and more children will continue to read the brightly illustrated stories of Amar Chitra Katha.