"When zealous kids greet me by adorning the path with flowers and waving copies of the Tinkle, there is nothing more that I can ask for. Such instances may have been few, but forever etched in my memory" - Anant Pai
Traveling by train has always provided many of us with fond memories as a child. We may not actually like the destination, but the journey would be made memorable thanks to the sights and sounds it offered. I, as a kid was always averse to traveling, the whole practice of searching for clothes, packing them, dressing up in clean clothes, and traveling all the way to Central Station was a ritual I abhorred. A reason for which was because I hated to get out of my comfort zone and take the trouble of getting out of my home to a relative’s place where I would not have the complete freedom to be myself and do as I please. But my whole outlook on travel was changed by one man, his creation – that was exclusively for kids had completely converted my hatred for travel and had ignited within me an eagerness to look forward to that crowded Central station and the whole ordeal of traveling in packed trains with vendors and other passengers alike hustling by.
He had transported me to a different land, a land where Shikari Shambu - a bumbling hunter by a comedy of errors managed to catch his prey, Kalia - a smart crow who always outwitted Chamataka the cunning fox and Doob Doob the crocodile, his ever-faithful yet dimwitted friend, Tantri - a scheming minister who always ended up at the wrong end of his own plans while trying to steal the royal throne from the good natured and trusting king Hooja, Uncle Anu - a bearded and bespectacled man of science who educated his young friends with simple and practical science experiments and Suppandi - a simple-minded servant who tickled my funny bone with his lack of common sense. This man was the father of all these characters, a man who brought all these colorful characters to life and with their antics brought a smile to our faces. He may be no Walt Disney, but then in a time where there were no playstations or I-Pod or no multiplexes and twenty-four hour cartoon channels he had managed to capture the imagination of every boy and girl who had at some point of time flipped through the pages of his creation. And for that, he shall not be deemed lesser than a Walt Disney, he was Anant Pai– the founder of Amar Chitra Katha, the publishing house for Tinkle Comics and widely regarded as the Father of Indian Comics.
Uncle Pai, as he is famously known to every child, not only entertained us with his comics but also managed to teach us history and mythology in his own inimitable style. Amar Chitra Katha which was found as a reason to reignite a dying knowledge of our history among the young audience not just achieved that, but in the process it was also able to preserve our culture and our folklore. With beautiful illustrations and a very simple narrative and language Uncle Pai had blessed me with those memories of childhood which I shall never forget. Before Enid Blyton he was the catalyst who was able to inject in me with a fetish for reading the printed material, which before graduating to reading novels actually began by reading Tinkle comics. Summer vacations was always about spending a lazy afternoon curled up in the bed reading through the troubles that Shikari Shambu had fallen into, those were also the days when there were lending libraries more than video-game parlors.
Back then in the publishing industry in the early 90’s there were probably not many publishing houses around which catered to a child audience in the way Amar Chitra Katha did. While there were others desi superheroes like Nagaraj, Doga and Chacha Chaudhury and Sabu who used an over-the-top storyline, Uncle Pai had always maintained to entertain children with clean humor and humane characters and a simple story, a reason why it was a big hit. Tinkle may not have had the flair, the richness or the packaging of a DC Comics or Archie’s digest, but then it was a comic book which we could all relate with, a comic book with a lot of heart and sincerity. It was simple and honest, it portrayed the simplicity and the honesty of the Great Indian Middle Class. If Doordarshan with its teleserials like Buniyaad, Vyomkesh Bakshi, Hum Log epitomized the Indian Middle Class Adult of the 90s, Tinkle Comics with its simplicity and down-to-earth characters symbolized the Indian Middle Class Child of an era that has gone by. In this age of digital revolution where entertainment actually means playstation and I-pods and flashing high-end mobile phones to the new generation brats, it is worrisome to see the death of simplicity that an Indian comic book house possesses.
Uncle Pai in his lifetime was sadly not conferred with any notable national award for his contribution towards having revolutionized the publishing industry, except for the recently received Lifetime Achievement Award at India's first Comic Convention. He may get an imaginary yet a fitting farewell from the characters he had etched in his comic book. He departs as an unsung hero, a visionary, a dream weaver, and a story-teller, but to millions of children across the country he would always be regarded as a man who gifted them with the simple pleasure of reading. And for me he will always be the man who made my train journeys special.
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