Google today put up a tribute to Uncle Pai on what would have been his 82nd birthday which compelled me to write this post that I have been planning to write ever since I heard of his passing.
My obsession with reading began when my unsuspecting mum got me Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘Ganesha’ from the library when I was just 2 years old. Returning it then became a massive headache for her because I would not part with it. If you have seen a 2 year-old throw a ‘crying’ tantrum ( it seems as if they can’t breathe and will probably choke on their tears and are also the most tortured babies in history) then you can understand my mother’s plight and that of the hapless librarian’s. So, I got it back again and again. And thus began my longest love affair with books.
Uncle Pai got the idea to start a comic strip like ACK when he saw a quiz contest on Doordarshan where the contestants answered all questions on Greek mythology but didn’t know who was Lord Ram’s mother. At the time when the only comic books known to the Indian kids were Archie and Superman, ACK came and took the market in a storm with Indian stories and values in each book. I think he did a brilliant job of turning ACK into a formidable educational tool, when I watch ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ today, and find that all the questions on Indian culture, mythology and history can simply be answered if you have read your ACK’s properly.
Presenting history with beautiful illustrations made it interesting and easy to understand for children even as young as 3 or 4 years old. Ask any Indian what image springs to mind when you say ‘Jhansi ki Rani’ and everyone will tell you its the cover of ACK with the brave queen on a rearing white horse in the middle of a battlefield. The gorgeous Rani Padmini standing over her funeral pyre, to the brave freedom fighter Chandershekhar Azad behind a tree in his last stand-off with the British, the adorable antics of the child Pandava’ s from the Mahabharta and Sardar Bhagat Singh with his lopsided fedora and black mustache are all iconic images emulated even in school books and movies. Yes, those illustrations are unforgettable indeed. Reading ACK’s took you into another world of simpler times, showed us city kids the Indian farmer working hard in his fields, taught us morals to live our life by and introduced us to a civilization to be proud of.
Amar Chitra Katha’s in my childhood days were the books that were the most affordable, with beautiful illustrations and the most entancing stories. I had such a huge collection of Amar Chitra Katha’s by the time I was 10 that my mum decided to get them binded to increase their longevity which proof lies in the fact of them being in great shape even after 30 yrs. I later found this form of preserving Amar Chitra Katha’s in every self respecting book lover’s home.
Not all of Anant Pai’s vision was serious history and culture. Tinkle showcased a lighter fun filled side of him with the much loved Shikari Shambhu, the cowardly hunter; Suppandi, the village simpleton; Kalia, the intelligent crow and Tantri the conniving Mantri. It also used to have a few pages on interesting facts which was our ‘National Geographic’ for those days. Tinkle was a book no parent could refuse their child on the pretext of being frivolous or useless. And again it was affordable.
I saw ACK in its new Avatar a few months back in book stores and was hard-put to avoid buying the whole lot of them, then and there. They are now selling them in genres such as history, religious guru’s, complete Mahabharta, complete Ramayana, Jataka tales and many more. The revamped version are just as pretty though appear thinner due to the better quality of paper being used, I think. And yet, they have a tough competition from all the hoards of children’s books by foreign authors in hard cover and pages. I think the trick is to catch your readers young. Maybe, ACK can also bring out some editions in hard cover and pages for the young kids of 2 or 3 yr olds and see how it goes.
Yes, Uncle Pai leaves behind a formidable legacy and I hope those who are now in charge of operations at Amar Chitra Katha can live up to the vision and dedication of a great man.
I bought the ‘history’ of India pack with all great rulers in it. ‘Aniruddha’ was my husband’s pick being a childhood favourite for him with all its romance and magic. (His mom aka my mum-in-law sadly distributed all his carefully ‘binded’ ACK’s to the neighbour’s kids so he must start his collection all over again.)