The Immortal Picture Story of namma ‘Uncle Pai’

The effusive tributes that have followed the passing away of Anant Pai, the Karkala-born creator of Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) and Tinkle, shows the hold that the comics and the magazine have had over four decades despite the media explosion after the advent of satellite television in the 1990s.

The life of amgal “Uncle Pai”—as generations of children addressed the former Times of India executive who was also behind the Indrajal series that brought Phantom and Mandrake into our consciousness—was not without life’s cruel irony: both his parents were dead before he was two.

And the man who gave life to such immortal characters as Suppandi, Shikhari Shambhu, Kalia the Crow and Tantri the Mantri, remained childless.

He was trained to be a chemical engineer but spent only three months working as one: “One month, plus two months’ notice.” Yet, he was the “parental scholar” to millions of children, young and old. In 50 years of married life, Uncle Pai and his wife Lalitha Pai stayed apart from each other on just one single day.

***

Editorial in The Pioneer:

“For those of us who remember a time when the blackberry was just a fruit and Shaktimaan the ultimate superhero, the death of our beloved Uncle Pai has led to melancholy mixed with nostalgia. A traditionalist to the core, he believed that strong cultural roots and solid understanding of one’s heritage was the key to success.”

Jerry Pinto in the Hindustan Times:

“One day, in February 1967, I was in Delhi,” he told me when we met several years ago. “There, at the junction of Gurudwara Road and Azma Khan Road was a shop called Maharaja Lal & Sons. It was selling televisions sets. At that time, Delhi had television but Mumbai didn’t. A quiz show was in progress. None of the contestants could answer a simple question like, “Who is the mother of Lord Rama?” I felt bad about that but I tried to explain it to myself. They were not interested in mythology, not interested in the past. They were looking to the future. But then the next question was about a god from Mount Olympus and all of them knew the answer. I realised that these young people had been alienated from their own culture. And I realised that comics might be a way of bringing them back.”

His nephew Prakash Pai in Mid-Day:

“When we met him on one Sunday morning, he simply asked us a few questions about Indian mythology. We simply had no answers to his questions, though we knew everything about Archie comics. That was when he told us that he would start a movement to enable us to know about our own heritage.”

Pradyuman Maheshwari in Exchange4Media:

“With apologies to my teachers, I must say that whatever bit of Indian history I know, it’s thanks essentially to the Amar Chitra Katha series of comic books.

“I first met him as a rookie journalist in the late 1980s. Pai was looking for writers for Partha, a magazine he had started, and I was happy to moonlight. He didn’t pay big monies, but the Rs 200-300 a piece was enough for a few good meals.

“Meeting Pai for me meant keeping aside a few hours. Or perhaps more. He would regale me with stories about governments – from Prime Ministers like Atal Behari Vajpayee recognising his work or some State government according Tinkle special status in schools. Those were days when Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana had the nation glued to the telly, and I would often ask him why he didn’t do Amar Chitra Katha for TV. He was very keen, but preferred the animated form to costume drama. When I once suggested that I would love to be associated with the TV avatar of ACK, he asked me to take the lead and present a proposal which I did and he took me to Padmini Mirchandani at India Book House.”

Murali Gopalan in The Hindu Business Line:

“It was always my ardent desire to meet him and, one afternoon nearly five years ago, I called Pai to break the ice. The first thing I remember was his enthusiasm and warmth while greeting another aficionado of comics…. I confessed to him that The Phantom was still my top favourite to which Pai reminded me gently that he was actually part of the think-tank that brought Indrajal Comics to India. Apparently, surveys showed that The Phantom would click with the masses since it was being featured in the comic strips of The Illustrated Weekly of India and there would be a readymade connection. It did not, therefore, make sense to think of Batman or Superman as the first local offering. The first issue was The Phantom’s Belt way back in 1964,” Pai told me with authority. I gasped at his memory and told him that I had been trying to get a copy of this comic for years.”

Reena I. Pur in the Associated Press:

“He believed the best way to communicate an idea or value to a child is through stories. He taught me everything I know. He wanted comics to become a medium accepted in schools.”

Report in The Times of India:

“Most publishers were sceptical [of Amar Chitra Katha] but Pai persisted and the series finally began with the launch of the first title, Krishna. He lent it the auspicious Indian touch by titling it number 11 instead of one.”

Saloni Meghani in the Mumbai Mirror:

“In the 1980s, Anant Pai, universal uncle for an entire generation or two, caused a scramble among siblings on afternoons when an Amar Chitra Katha or Tinkle was slipped under the door by the magazinewalla.

“He helped mothers bribe children into finishing their homework with ‘bumper issues’ on the 10 avatars of Vishnu or Birbal‘s tales. He shaped the stereotypes of Rakshasas and Rajput princesses in the minds of many. And if it weren’t for him, we would have known precious little about the Panchatantra or the Jataka Tales.”

Pooja Pillai in The Indian Express:

“As for Tinkle, it was a magazine not only for the children, but also by them. It was launched by a 12-year-old girl, Elaine D’Lime, who had won a nationwide contest organised by Pai, and to this day, it continues to be influenced by its young readers. In fact, many of its readers eventually grew up to join the staff of the magazine, such as senior illustrator Savio Mascarenhas, who has been with the magazine for 16 years.”

Sharon Fernandes in The Indian Express:

“Way back in 1986, I wrote a question in neat cursive, using a pencil: “What causes hiccups?” I wrote my age, address and the name of my school, and made sure I stuck enough glue to the Re 1 stamp on the envelope. I remember walking with my mother to the post box to mail my letter to Uncle Pai, to get my question printed in Tinkle, copies of which were my most prized possessions. The question would be printed in the “Tinkle tells you why” section. I was nervous, and I am sure I prayed every night for Uncle Pai to read my letter…. My question never got printed, but I got an envelope, saying thank you for sending it across. I didn’t mind. I had a letter from Uncle Pai and it meant the world to me. It always will.”

Abhay Vaidya in DNA:

“I noticed the seriousness with which Pai treated letters pouring in from children — on postcards, inland letters and envelops. He was famous as ‘Uncle Pai’ and we got letters from all corners of the country; the smallest of towns and talukas. Since he could not reply to all individually, there were printed letters in handwriting font with his signature. I was quite impressed when I first saw those letters and helped in the chore of mailing them.”

Actor Siddharth tweeted:

“A tear and a prayer for the demise of the legendary Anant Pai. He is as much a part of my childhood as my education at school. RIP, Uncle Pai.”

Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah:

“Sad to hear about Uncle Pai. Grew up on a steady diet of Amar Chitra Katha comics from Kashmir Bookshop & my yearly subscription of Tinkle.”

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: A letter to Uncle Pai

ACK Title No. 11

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21 Responses to “The Immortal Picture Story of namma ‘Uncle Pai’”

  1. Anand Says:

    Thank you very much; I grew up on Amar Chitra Katha. Can anyone please point to resources (any images) on C M Vitankar, who did the cover illustrations on many of the acclaimed ACK visual story books?

  2. prakashchandra Says:

    We lost a great personality who introduced amara chitra katha series, his memorable work made him immortal in Indian hearts.

  3. Sanjeeva Says:

    Not only the children of India, the parents too are indebted to him. He brought a silent revolution of creating reading habits, awareness of our culture and history through his illustrations and publications. May his great soul rest in peace. It is a pity that such a great person did not get any notable awards (or did he?). It is also sad to observe that his demise was not published prominently in most of the newspapers. Had he been born in any other country, particularly in western countries, he would have been a great household name.

  4. Soumya Says:

    Uncle Pai, RIP…
    He will remain immortal thanks to ACK, Tinkle and other popular characters he created – Kapish, the monkey with the magical tail, Suppandi,….

  5. the colonel Says:

    my children grew on them.

    after a certain time, the only news you get is someone whom you know, is well no-more

  6. Uncle Pai’s sad demise « Sapna's Blog Says:

    [...] of writing a post for Uncle Pai, the creator of Amar Chitra Katha. But just found this post with a collection of what people have to say abt him, which is more than what I could say. Sharing [...]

  7. Mysore Peshva Says:

    No Padma Vibhushan, no Rajya Sabha membership for a brilliant, honest, low-profile man that loved India more than most — a man that resurrected India’s Puranic treasures for children and created a culture of pride for India.

    Jai Ho.

  8. Goldstar Says:

    A truly truly great Indian. His contribution to the kids and parents of a two or three generations cannot be measured. RIP. He will live on in the hearts of millions of Indians.

  9. Deepak Says:

    He was the father of Indian comics. Through ACK and Tinkle, he has left behind a legacy for the country. RIP Dear Uncle.
    It is tragic that Govts give Padma awards to characters like Saif Ali Khan, but did not bother to acknowledge the good work done by Uncle Pai….

  10. Vinay Says:

    Rest in peace.

    Wow, I have dozens of Tinkle, ACK and other comics lying in the loft. I read and reread them as a kid. Tomorrow’s a Sunday, and I will ferret them out and read them yet again!

  11. mankuTimma Says:

    RIP Uncle Pai..
    Thanks for Tinkle, all those titles of Amar chitra Katha and for being a significant part of my childhood.

  12. Book Reviews at BookRack Says:

    Indeed a stellar contribution and he’ll live on with Amar Chitra Katha in our hearts

  13. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Agree with Mysore Peshavan! Uncle Pai was a genius and he has singlehandedly rescued India’s heritage that was being washed away.

    Now Sapna’s Blog: Your blog is interesting but clubbing the demise of Uncle Pai under ‘Latest Crap’ is in bad taste!

  14. Prasad Says:

    He was known more as Pai Mama!

  15. Jayashree Says:

    We always talk about the contribution of RK Narayan but how many children know him and his work in India and the World. Pai’s contribution is Universal. he has developed the habit of reading in Children. Hope Pai’s kins continue his work for eternity. A Great loss indeed. He has left his indelible stamp on the development of children!

  16. Gokulam 3rd Stage Says:

    Tinkle and I grew up together before we parted company somewhere around issue number 250. I like to think I got my reading habit from there.

    I was always intrigued by the advertisements for “Partha” which were in Tinkle, though I never did get my hands on one.

    My ACK comics were mainly Kannada versions. I still have some of them which I read from time to time for old time’s sake.

    Uncle Pai will be missed.

  17. harkol Says:

    It is said, A man’s true worth is known by the mourners at his death. By that measure, Uncle Pai was truly worth more to millions of Indians, including my young children, than many of our Bharat Ratnas.

    He was one true pan Indian hero, who created a world of mythological comics that will live on. His is an life time of effort, that has created a rich treasure, that deserves the support and preservation for generations to come.

  18. mounaprasad Says:

    Thanks Churmuri for this post on Uncle Pai,

    A great human being and a genius who made my generation aware of the great indian culture. We need to give him a Bharatratna posthumously.

    We will miss u uncle pai …Rest in Peace.

  19. Faldo Says:

    Couldn’t agree more with others that Uncle Pai has played a major role in bringing many cultural events, stories and great personalities into the lives of many Indians, for past several decades. His treasure needs to be preserved, so future generations can continue to be enriched and entertained.

  20. Divya Says:

    Thanks Churmuri! Growing up reading about Uncle Pai’s adventures with children was a favorite section of TINKLE! Cant help feeling wistful and nostalgic over those days of ‘Supandi’ and ‘Shikari Shambu’! He has inspired a whole generation and will continue to do in the future to come!

  21. jyoti Says:

    Uncle Pai recieved the most noblest awards and the greatest was the Life time achievement award which was bestowed to him in his absentia in Delhi by the Government of India.while he was unwell during the last days of his life. He was eagerly awaiting for this moment to go & accept the award .but God had other plans for him.
    A Prayer meeting to pay tribute to the wonderful legend will be held at Rang Sharda hall, Bandra,(W) Mumbai .on 25th March 2011.

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