If I say that the majority of us Indian children since the late 1960s have learned the majority of our religion, mythology and history from the comic book called the Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Illustrated Stories), it won’t be an overstatement.
The creator of these hugely popular comics, a master storyteller, Uncle Pai, was an Indian educationist.
Early Life and education:
Anant Pai was born in Karkala, the erstwhile Madras Presidency of British India rule on 17 September 1929 to a Konkani-speaking Brahmin couple, Venkataraya and Susheela Pai. He lost both his parents at the age of two. He was then brought up by his maternal grandfather till his death in 1944 when Anant Pai was only 15 after which he moved to Bombay, where he studied in Orient School, Mahim. He pursued his higher education in chemistry, physics, and chemical technology at the University of Bombay and was a dual degree holder.
From his early life, he was passionate about publishing comic books but failed in his first attempt at creating a children’s magazine (Manav, 1954). After this failure, he Joined Times of India’s books division as a junior Executive. Putting him in the thick of affairs, The Indrajal Comics, which was famous for publishing comic book series like Mandrake, The Phantom (Vetal) and Bahadur, was launched by the Times Group.
In 1961, at the age of 31, Anant Pai married Lalita and the couple was childless.
The idea behind starting a comic book series devoted to Indian culture and history came to Pai from a quiz contest aired on Doordarshan in February 1967, in which participants could easily answer questions pertaining to Greek mythology, but were unable to reply to the questions like “In the Ramayana, who was Rama’s mother? It upset him and he set out to correct it by creating comics based on Indian stories.
Amar Chitra Katha:
In 1967, Uncle Pai left the job of Times of India and started publishing Amar Chitra Katha, a comic-book series which retold traditional Indian folk tales, Hindu mythology, and biographies of historical persons, with the help of late G. L. Mirchandani of India Book House. Most other publishers had rejected the concept. He took on the role of writer, editor, and publisher.
The first Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) in 1967 was the story of God Krishna (Mirabai). He did not know that he was starting something that would become a phenomenon.
The stories were simply told and easy to read and understand. And they were beautifully illustrated. There were gods and warriors with rippling muscles, beautiful goddesses, and queens dressed in colorful robes and exquisite jewels and demons and scheming villains with their scary rages. And in the battle between the good and the evil, the former almost always triumphed.
ACK comics were so interesting and fun to read. And the sheer volume of information they provided in a fun way really attracted all of us. Even for Indian kids growing outside India, ACK became their “only way to connect with the Indian culture in a foreign land”.
Mr. Pai, also known as the ‘Walt Disney of India’, was involved in the entire creative process, from the beginning to the end. He would look at the script and the sketches and suggest changes. He was a walking encyclopedia who had a story for every occasion.
Mr. Kadam, the artist behind more than 100 Amar Chitra Kathas, including the 42-part best-selling series on the mythological epic, Mahabharat, worked with Mr. Pai over many years.
The series went on to become a publishing milestone for the Indian comic book scene, selling over 100 million copies of about 600 titles. Despite competition from 24-hour television, video games, and international comics, ACK still sells more than three million copies a year.
In 1969, Mr. Pai founded Rang Rekha Features, India’s first comic and cartoon syndicate. In November 1980, he started Tinkle, a children’s anthology of short stories, jokes and educational articles in comic-book format. Tinkle too replicated the success of ACK.
In 1989, Rang Rekha launched Chimpu Comics, which included his own works like Ramu and Shamu, Kapish, Little Raji and Fact Fantasy. This venture failed to repeat the success of ACK and Tinkle and eventually its publication was stopped though most of these characters continue to appear in newspapers and magazines. Anant Pai remained managing director of Rang Rekha Features till 2000 when he sold it to a Hyderabad-based animation studio named Color Chips.
Besides comics, Pai was also a specialist in personality development. He founded the Partha Institute of Personality Development in August 1978, which conducted personality development classes through correspondence for children and teenagers.
Mr. Pai has written and produced two video films, Ekam Sat (the Vedic Concept of God) and The Secret of Success, in both English and Hindi.
The Amar Chitra Kathas cemented Uncle Pai’s connection with his young fans. The publishers would receive 5,000 letters every month and during school vacations, the numbers would go up to 10,000. Pai’s involvement and the personal rapport he shared with his readers earned him the title “Uncle Pai“.
In 1994, the ACK office caught fire and all the artwork and books were destroyed. They were devastated. But then they published an appeal in the latest issue of Tinkle – asking children to send them any spare copies they had of the comics.
The response they received was overwhelming. They recovered every single copy of Amar Chitra Katha!
What can be the best way to pay tribute to a storyteller? Tell his story! – Reena Puri, Amar Chitra Katha editor. And to honor the master storyteller, On 18 February 2012, the publishers ACK Media, which had been managing Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle since 2007, released an Amar Chitra Katha title on Anant Pai, which was scripted by Gayathri Chandrasekaran, assistant editor of Tinkle, and illustrated by Dilip Kadam, who had illustrated many of Amar Chitra Katha’s most famous titles.
The creator of India’s most loved comic books, Anant Pai, was immortalized in a comic-biography – ‘Anant Pai: Master Storyteller’.
Awards and recognitions:
He won Maharashtra Rajya Hindi Sahitya Academy Award, Dr. T. M. A. Pai Memorial Award, Millennium Konkani Sammelan Award and Priyadarshni Academy Award. He was also felicitated with Karpoorchand Puraskar of Uttar Pradesh Bal Kalyan Sansthan, Yudhvir Memorial Award in Hyderabad, University of Bombay Department of Chemical Technology’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation’s Award and Vishwa Saraswat Sammaan.
On 19 February 2011, he was awarded Lifetime Achievement Award — at the First Indian Comic Convention.
Google Doodle: Google’s international and India search pages honored Pai with a comic-style doodle of him on 17 September 2011, the 82nd birth anniversary of Pai. The doodle featured Mr. Pai sitting in his office, surrounded by shelves full of his own creations.
Anant Pai died of a massive heart attack on the evening of 24 February 2011. He had been recovering from hip surgery which was necessitated following his falling down from the stairs a week prior to his death. His last rites were performed later that night at the Shivaji Park crematorium, Mumbai.