Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The legend of Uncle Pai

I have been meaning to write this post for quite some time now, but due to my laziness, it was just sitting in my drafts folder in an unfinished format.

If there is one character in modern history that deserves the ultimate recognition for igniting young minds, it has to be Uncle Pai, the man who was bestowed with tremendous vision to have nurtured the greatest comic books in India - Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha (ACK).  Mythology and folk tales were impinged in our minds with highly simplistic narration and fabulous pictures. The books were absolutely Indian in style and substance.  We all loved it.

I was in my third or fourth grade, and it was the time of my life, when "I doesn't know" and "I don't know" were used interchangeably and without a trace of guilt.  All that I knew was that it just couldn't be "I know don't".   It was not an outstanding realization but nevertheless, a very important one.  We had moved our house to a new locality in Malleswaram 17th cross, and there was this uncle(that's what we called him; no idea of his name till date), who had a small yet fulfilling space of books just about a hundred meters from my house.  It was called as the "Cynosure Circulating Library", that's what my friends said, though there was no name tag hanging in front of the library, highlighting the proof of the name.  Anyway, as they say, what's in a name! A bunch of young guys, we always made it a point to go to the library in the evenings.  People from my generation would always remember Tinkle or ACK in a bundled format, where five or six editions of the books would be stitched together.  The bound book per day would cost no more than 50 paise or 1 Rupee.  The whole process of going to the library was a fun exercise, a sort of holy pilgrimage, with each of us having a clear idea of what exactly we wanted to read.  For some reason, I was never a fan of Phantom, Mandrake, Disney and so on, but Tinkle and ACK were delightful reads.  It was easy to identify these mythological characters, and the fact that my grandmother played an important role in narrating everything about Ramayana and Mahabharata and the tons of stories associated with these two epics, helped me stitch the narration with relevant and beautiful pictures.  Not that dates matter, but the very first ACK that I owned was Draupadi.  I was always hooked to the first story in the Tinkle, as it would invariably be about a folk tale picked from some part of the world, and it always carried a deep message.

Looking back, the best part about these books were that they always had something useful to impart, apart from the fun factor.  I always wanted to see Tantri the Mantri be successful with his plot some day, and even though, I knew that Shikari Shambu was a coward, I never wanted to see him hurt.  For some strange reason, I wanted to see Chamataka, the sly fox, in partnership with Doob Doob, be successful against Kalia, the crow.  In the same vein, I also hoped Suppandi would use his brains some day.  But, the best part about these things were that they never changed.  The illustrations that went along with the text was always brilliantly done.  The stupefied faces of Chamataka, and Supandi's owner had to be seen to be believed.  The dumbstruck expressions put forth by these characters left a lasting impression on me.  Apart from these fun characters, there were also the knowledge oriented Tinkle Tells you Why, which invariably I would end up reading after I finish all the stories.  It happened to me, Little Raghu and many more were fascinating.  The best part about these short stories was that they were generated by children.

Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha have created a legacy; a legacy that was built upon years of hard work and trust.  I cannot think of any other book that has influenced the kids so much that could result in an admonition from mothers, "You cannot read these books unless you finish your home work." Uncle Pai is undoubtedly a national treasure and it pains me to note that a man worthy of all the praise failed to get the Padma Shri from the Indian Government.  It is no loss to the great man, but certainly brings ignominy to the Government.  


  1. I was really affected by his demise, praveen sir. :(
    As you mentioned, he was somewhat like a hero for me. he made my childhood wonderful: TINKLE is synonymous with so many wonderful memories for me.
    May his soul rest in peace.

  2. ACK was my fav when I was growing up. Uncle Pai will be missed.

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  3. Hi Lakshmi,
    Yup, he was a visionary! Tinkle and ACK are two of the best comics from India :-)

  4. The talk of tinkle so reminds me of the days when i used to hide the books inside my text book when i was in 6th grade and mom assumed I was actually studying!