They say, to write is to live forev- er. This holds true for Anant Pai, the visionary behind Amar Chitra Katha, who passed away February 24, but whose legacy
and spirit lives on in his comics and the
hearts of millions of his readers.
I consider myself lucky to have met him.
In 2007, I was attending an animation festival in Bengaluru that I almost did not go to.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the
chief guest was Pai, the man who conceived,
created and popularized ACK and Tinkle,
and whom we all knew as Uncle Pai.
When he arrived, I was taken aback to see
a man weathered with age. I had forgotten
that the man we all remember as the eternally youthful ‘Uncle Pai,’ who illuminated
our childhood with his pictures and words,
was in his late 70s. But all my apprehensions vanished the moment he took to the
stage and gripped the microphone. It was as
though some magic had taken over him. His
energy was astounding, his enthusiasm
admirable. He addressed the youngsters in
the audience, switching effortlessly from
English to Hindi and back, once even slip-ping into Kannada, as he narrated anecdote
after anecdote from his journey from a
small town in Karnataka to the hearts and
minds of children across India. He spoke at
length, doing what he was best at — telling
stories and inspiring young minds to dream,
aim and achieve.
There is this oft repeated tale of how ACK
was born when Uncle Pai saw a quiz program on television where participants well-versed with Greek and Roman mythology
couldn’t name Ram’s mother. But Uncle Pai
narrated a second incident that day, which
for him was the proverbial last straw.
His nieces and nephews had once created
a ‘family news magazine.’ It had a story
about an Indian child with an English
name, living in a city with an English name,
who ate exotic English food and dreamt of
going to London. It dawned on him that all
that kids were exposed to were books written by non-Indian authors and that their
fertile imagination was being influenced by
a culture that wasn’t their own. He knew
right then that he had to put his vast knowledge of Indian mythology and history to
good use and the seeds for ACK were sown.
It wasn’t an easy journey. Despite his conviction, it took a him a long time to find a
publisher. Finally G L Mirchandani of India
Book House recognized Uncle Pai’s passion
and the potential in his idea and ACK (or
Immortal Picture Stories) was born in 1967.
He then set up Rang Rekha Features,
India’s first comic and cartoon syndicate in
1969. Finally in 1980, he launched Tinkle—
the immensely popular monthly magazine
for school children, first published in
English and later syndicated in as many as
20 Indian languages.
But these were not his first encounters
with publishing and comics. In 1954, he had
unsuccessfully tried to launch a children’s
magazine called Manas. Then as a junior
executive at the Times of India, he was
involved with the launch and marketing of
Indrajal Comics. These experiences prepared him for what was to come and made
him the marketing genius who took both
ACK and Tinkleto their peak.
Uncle Pai always reminded me of my
grandfather whose retelling of stories from
Goodbye, Uncle Pai
Akshata Udiaver remembers the man who
made history and mythology interesting for
her and millions of other Indian children
mythology, folk tales and the epics predominate memories of my childhood. In his
absence, Uncle Pai took on that role
through his books, filling my childhood with
fascinating words and pictures, igniting in
my impressionable mind an undying love of
books, comics and history. I never found
history or mythology boring and I have two
people to thank for that — my grandfather
and Uncle Pai.
So, that serendipitous meeting with
Uncle Pai was a dream come true. I badly
wanted his autograph, but finding no
paper to take it on, I handed him my business card, requesting him to sign on the
back of it. When he saw my surname, he
flashed his warm and toothy smile and
started conversing with me in Konkani. He
shared a funny incident about the village
from which my last name was derived,
telling me he had been there on many
occasions! I later learned that Uncle Pai
was also a linguist, who had mastered several Indian languages.
When I mentioned that my grandfather,
an exponent of the Harikatha (a devotional,
musical format of story-telling popular in
Karnataka), heartily approved of ACK, it
piqued his interest. He revealed that his initiation into the art and craft of story-telling
occurred as a child in his home town in
coastal Karnataka under the twin influences
of the musical dance-drama Yakshagana
and the Harikatha.
On discovering that I was an aspiring
writer, he chided me for not sending my sto-
ries to Tinkle. ‘You must visit us in the ACK
office. We always encourage young writers
and artists to work with us,’ he said.
There is so much to learn from Uncle Pai.
He led a disciplined life, with a fixed regimen of going to bed early and waking up
much before sunrise, and perhaps that is
what allowed him to devote so much time to
his passion. He was immensely hard working, something that all those who worked
with him will vouch for. He donned many
hats — writer, artist, editor and promoter,
keeping himself occupied with creating and
developing something till the very end.
Uncle Pai’s humble nature and effusive
personality belied his many achievements.
What began as one man’s mission to bring
Indian mythology, history and folk tales to
every Indian child is today a mini comic
empire, which annually sells close to 3 million copies of 440 titles worldwide in more
than 20 Indian languages, besides English.
On February 20, at the 1st Indian Comic
Con, Uncle Pai was awarded, in absentia,
the Lifetime Achievement Award for his
contribution to Indian comics. They played
a video message (now on You Tube) from his
wife, as she sat by his bedside in a Mumbai
hospital, where Uncle Pai was recuperating
after a bad fall that left him with a fractured
foot. His fans in the audience were disappointed at having lost a golden opportunity
to meet him.
Little did we know that within days we
would lose him forever and that the award
would become a fitting farewell gift to the
man who gave generations of Indians growing up in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s a
treasure trove of reading material.
We hope that the young entrepreneurs to
whom he handed over his legacy preserve it
well for generations to come. ;
Akshata designs, writes and is the founder
and editor, AllAboutAnimation.com