Friday, March 11, 2011

Uncle Pai

My first experience of jealousy (that green-eyed monster, as Iago would tell Othello) involved my best friend in school. We were in class IV. He was a great guy. He would buy me cotton candy while returning home. So, when one day he invited me to his house, it was a big deal. He lived in a colonial mansion (his grandfather or someone was a Raibahadur during the British era), unlike the small, rented house my parents could afford. What’s more, he had his own room. We went to his room, threw away our bags and shoes, and he opened a medium-sized wooden box which was sitting pretty on the floor. And lo, I was insanely jealous of my friend. I wanted his life, then and there — nothing less would do. The reason: The box was filled with comics, each issue of Tinkle ever published till that date, and every issue of Amar Chitra Katha comics. My eyes caught the cover of one of the comics, an Amar Chitra Katha issue on Urvashi, the heavenly nymph, as she waits for her lover in the garden, wearing, well, almost nothing. This is perhaps the only childhood memory I remember so vividly, with all its myriad colours. I still remember the desire filling my heart. I wanted that wooden box with all its contents inside, all for myself. It was the beginning of my love affair with books.

Those days we lived in a town where the morning newspapers arrived in the afternoon, after we had returned from school, had our lunch, and our mother was trying to convince us to take a siesta. The newspaper guy was a smart fellow. He would arrive in a bicycle, and ring his bell to hand over to us the copy of Dainik Assam. Then he would rummage through the basket tied in the handle of his bike and fish out the latest copy of Tinkle or Amar Chitra Katha. If I remember correctly, the price of the comics was Rs 2 or Rs 3. Those days that was a lot of money. We had a rule. We would buy only three comics in a month. Once the month’s quota was over, my mother would tell the newspaper vendor to bring the copy next month. It was painful to wait for the month to be over, especially after we had finished reading the three comics thousand times over...

This post was to be a tribute to Anant Pai, popularly known as Uncle Pai, who passed away last month. In the last two weeks or so, I have read the tributes and obituaries about Mr Pai, how he was the father of Indian comics, and how he changed the way we perceive publication for children in India. I have visited sites in the net hosted by people who are utterly, utterly nerdy about ACK comics. There are sites from where you can download scanned copies old ACK issues. I have a whole bunch of them in my computer. In short, the influence of Mr Pai on an entire generation of Indian population (especially those who grew up in early 1980s) is nothing short of historic. After his death, someone posted in twitter: “The contribution of Anant Pai to Indian culture and heritage is far more influential and important than most people who claim to be the guardians of Indian culture.” This says everything. Our history wouldn’t be the same without Mr Pai.

Personally, I owe my knowledge of Indian mythology, culture and history to Mr Pai. At least, he helped me build a great foundation.

What’s great about the ACK titles is how lucidly a series of panels could tell you an interesting story, which is at once informative and entertaining.

After Raja Ravi Varma, it was the ACK that visualised what mythical characters should look like and set a standard, a standard that has been followed over the years in various other medias. Remember, Ramananda Sagar’s ‘Ramayan’ and B R Chopra’s ‘Mahabharat’? Remember how the characters were dressed, and the kind of gaudy jewellery they wore? History tells us that the sartorial habits of the people from the ancient times were not that dramatic (for an authentic look at how our ancestors dressed, please refer to Sham Bengal’s ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’.) If it’s so, then from where the TV serials found their inspirations? From ACK, of course. Look at the drawings, the handsome figures, the pretty dresses, and all those fancy jewellery, — they are so lifelike, you start imagining these ACK panels as reality.

I don’t exactly remember most of the ACK comics I had read, and I have read quite a few. But if you ask my about a mythological story, say about Eklavya or Angulimaal, I can tell you the story — how it unfolded. I suspect the story would be the same story that I learned from an ACK.


Anant Pai’s Wikipedia entry
An interview with Anant Pai in The Hindu
Anant Pai: The many sides of the ACK founder, in DNA
Uncle Pai’s love for kids was extraordinary, in DNA

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