Remembering UNCLE ‘PAI” : “ The father of Indian Comics ”

The “Walt Disney of India”

Mr Anant Pai, or as the younger kids called him, “Uncle Pai”,is regarded as the Father of Indian Comics. The reason for me to write something about him was an article posted in Facebook that celebrated his 51stBirthday.

Well, you may not know him by name but you will definitely remember his comics like Amar Chitra Katha & Tinkle. Quite fascinating is the story that led him to bring out this child friendly, beautifully illustrated narratives.

All this happened in 1967, while watching a quiz show on television, on the Doordarshan Network. He was quick to realize that while Indian children could easily remember the facts about Greek Mythology, they couldn’t answer a simple question about an important character in Ramayana, one of the greatest epics in Indian mythology. It is on record that it is this reason that had upset him and paved way towards the creation of child friendly, beautiful illustrious narratives.

About the Great Father

Sir Ananth Pai was born on Sep 17, 1929 in Karnataka. He was orphaned when he was 2 years old and grew up with his relatives during his formidable years. These were the years when he fell in love with literature and devoted much of his time to learning several Indian Languages. He joined Bombay University, in Chemical engineering, but dropped out to pursue his career in Journalism. He joined Times of India as a journalist, where he managed Indrajal Comics, a series that brought American Comics like the Phantom, Flash Gordon, and Mandrake for Indian readers by the Times Group.

The Beginning of his Epic Journey

I am sure that any child born before 2000 would have read Amar Chitra Katha or Twinkle. They were the days before television and other forms of media took over children’s entertainment factor. I remember the days I would wait for the next edition of Twinkle, which was published every fortnight, and my excitement would reach higher peaks thinking about what might happen next in the stories.

The stories I feel in Amar Chitra Katha did have a deep impact in me towards a visual representation of stories foretold by my grandmother during my formative years.

One of his first adventures on the journey was the children’s magazine Manav, published in 1954. Apparently, it did not find much success. He then decided to join Times of India as a Journalist. He left Times in the year 1967 to continue his passion & vision towards pursuing his dreams of publishing comics of Indian Character and Folk tales.

The Formative Years: Epic Journey

Success did not come easy to him with leading publishers like Allied and Jaico rejecting his concepts. It was then with the help of Late G.L. Mirchandani of the Indian Book House that he had managed to publish his first set of copies in Amar Chitra Katha, a book series that retold the Traditional Indian Folk tales, Hindu Mythology & Biographies of historical persons in an illustrated and child friendly manner. The concept did not take off as expected as the firm started losing money. Schools would not buy them for their library because they considered comic books to be frivolous. Book shops also refused to stock the same as it was not associated with an established brand.

Then Pai decided to change things. To showcase the impact of his comic books, he persuaded one of the Delhi Schools to run an experiment. This experiment consisted of training one set of Students in History using Amar Chitra Katha & the other set of students using the time-tested traditional methods and to be later tested. The results revealed that students who had studied using Amar Chitra Katha had learned more than those who did not.

As the word spread more parents, schools and shopkeepers began buying Pai’s books. One of the best features in Pai’s books were the easy- to- read, beautifully illustrated stories, about brave warriors, stately gods & scheming villains. There was no looking back since then. It is reported to have sold 3 million copies annually with its 440 titles having sold more than 100 million copies till date.

Some of Sir Pai’s Achievements in Children’s magazine /comic vertical includes

  • Launched India’s first Comic & Cartoon Syndicate, Rang Rekha, 1969
  • Founded Partha Institute of Personality Development, 1978
  • Launch of Comic Digest Tinkle in 1980

A rigorous stickler for things, he was always involved in every aspect of the creative process. He would look into everything from the script to the sketches and insist that every book should have months of research behind it. One of the activities that he enjoyed the most is sitting with children and reading stories from his own comic books.

He passed away on the 24th of February 2011, due to heart attack. He was married and did not have any children.

Partial Awards & Recognition Include: –

  • Lifetime achievement award: 19th Feb, 2011. (@ First Indian Comic Convention)
  • Karpoorchand Puraskar award of Uttar Pradesh Bal Kalyan Sansthan (1994)
  • Yudhvir Memorial in Hyderabad ( 1996)
  • Maharashtra Rajya Hindi Sahitya Academy Award (1996)

He might have physically left us, but his memories shall prevail on through his characters and illustrations for the future generations to remember. A great storyteller and a great Humanist…. We shall miss him for sure….

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