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. The man who started it all – Anant Pai – passed away yesterday.
I first met Anant Pai 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. He started ‘Partha’ when he realised that kids required much help in personality development and some very basic corrective measures could help them achieve much, including success in examinations.
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.
I had no experience of television production and there were other proposals, offering bigger monies and boasted of greater expertise. Pai didn’t want that: he wanted someone who believed in Amar Chitra Katha to take things forward. He once invited me home to discuss the project, but by then I was sure I wouldn’t ever be able to do much with ACK on TV.
He always wanted to do more, not content with Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle Comics, both of which he edited and ensured that the content was in order.
I hadn’t met Anant Pai for a decade, and had been wanting to do that for a few years, especially after the comic book series had been sold by IBH. I was happy to know that the new suitors had given him pride of place in the management structure and ensured that the dynamism and attention to detail didn’t go undiminished.
As I read tweets and tributes on Anant Pai or Uncle Pai, as he was better known, it was clear that he had a large following. I am happy to note that like me there are a few generations of Indians who learnt whatever they did about the Vedas and Valmiki from ACK. I know there have been many names suggested for the Bharat Ratna, but for me – and as for many others who’ve tracked him – he is a true jewel of India. Educator, editor and a great human being.
RIP, Anant ‘Uncle’ Pai.