India's very own story-teller Uncle Pai no more

By: Radha Radhakrishnan
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Amar Chithra Katha
Imagine an era of no television, no internet, no video games, no multiplexes and no shopping malls… This was the India I grew up in. The country remained so, till the early 1990s when liberalisation paved the way for much advancement we live in today. For many of us who were part of the “no-frill" generation and had very ordinary and middle class upbringing, Indian comics were a great source of regular entertainment and knowledge. My parents never stopped us from buying and reading them because they had good, Indian content and came cheap. Western comics were out of reach. They were not easily available and importing was neither easy as a process nor easy on the pocket.

There were three key comic publishers in India then. Indrajaal comics from Bennett Coleman (publishers of The Times of India) who mainly brought out comics on super heroes like Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur (Indian super hero), then there was the Amar Chitra Katha or ACK as its popularly known today that brought out comics based on Indian mythology and Tinkle comics in the 1980s and South-based Chandamama that brought the famous Vikram and Vetal stories. One man who revolutionised Indian comics is Anant Pai, popularly known as Uncle Pai to many children addicted to ACK comics. He was also instrumental in popularising Indrajaal comics having begun his career there.

Over the years and decades, comics from the ACK stable have turned out to be a great and ideal source of knowledge on Indian mythology and history among children. Few years ago, when I realised my five year old son knows more about western classics and has abysmal knowledge on Indian ones, I quickly stacked up his shelf with Indian comics… making it mandatory that he reads them. In the process, I read many comics all over again. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them again. Its then that I realised that Uncle Pai had great ability to appeal to the child in us with his simple and captivating manner of storytelling.

The post-liberalisation era changed the market dynamics for many publishers focused on content creation for children through comics and books. ACK and Chandamama, two leading publishers were impacted by the change, particularly by the rapid and ever increasing influence of technology in a child"s growing up years. We are now living in a phase where most children keep their mobile phones and iPods on their bedside instead of books that children of my generation used to keep. The last couple of years – 2007 and 2008 - were in a sense redemption years for both brands as they tried to revamp and reposition their product to suit the present generation of children.

But for individuals belonging to the past two generations, Uncle Pai was, is and will always be a visionary who removed their boredom, ignited their imagination and kindled their creativity through a marvel called Amar Chitra Katha.

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