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Uncle Pai should be remembered more for Tinkle than for Amar Chitra Katha

Soumyadip Choudhury @soumyadip

Updated: September 17, 2011, 12:35 PM IST
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The single biggest reason I love the Oscars (apart from the fact that it's a traffic generator for the website I work for) is that it filters down the choices and makes it easier to pick a movie to watch in whatever little time I have in my life to watch movies.

Of all the 54 films nominated at this year's Academy Awards, I suddenly realised that The Social Network was the only one on my watched list. In a rush to make amends before the statuettes were handed out, picked a copy of Toy Story 3. First need to catch up on the first two installments of Toy Story. 127 Hours, The Kings Speech and company could wait (they still are).

Toy Story 3 took me on a flashback with the few toys I had in my childhood. None survive today. Neither do any remnants of my once-impressive school-time comic book collection. The few I have with me now have been put together via numerous trips to the Sunday Market at Old Delhi's Daryaganj.

Second-hand markets can compensate for some of the losses, but then there are no second-hand stores for people. Once gone, gone. I can find old copies of Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha at Daryaganj, but the man, whose vision gave us an enriched childhood beyond the American comic book characters and Pran's over-rated creations is no longer around.

For me the Uncle Pai association is stronger with Tinkle than with Amar Chitra Katha. Amar Chitra Katha told mythological and historical stories, Tinkle was (and I believe still is) much, much more.

An issue of Tinkle had explained all that went into the making of the much loved magazine and I came up with a hand-drawn comic magazine of my own. Tinkle explained me how things work better than my science teacher at school. Tinkle told stories from faraway lands of the North East to the kids of 'mainland India (Tinkle didn't offer me help with acne and matters of adolescence, for those I had to rely on Teenager).

An excerpt from a November 2005 post on my personal blog, Cutting the Chai, celebrating 25 years of Tinkle:

"It was the wee years of the nineteen hundred and eighties. Television didn't air Cartoon Network, cyber space was still confined within the peripheries of laboratories and MMS was a distant dream. Kids played real games requiring physical exertion. And also read a lot of comics. During those days of idyllic endeavours it was usually the American fare, which captivated minds of a generation just out of their diapers (now reading and writing blogs). The desi stuff wasn't much to boast about (of course, as always there were exceptions). A scientist by education, but an entertainer by vocation - Anant Pai, aka Uncle Pai - initiated a comic magazine called Tinkle. A place where learning meets fun.

This was 25 years ago. In this quarter of a century Tinkle has added a lot of sparkle to a lot of lives. Shikari Shambu, Suppandi, Tantri the Mantri, Kalia the Crow, Pyarelal, Nasruddin Hodja, Raghu, Anwar and many more who I cannot presently recall became nicknames of kids in school. A dedicated team of cartoonists and able story tellers (most often readers themselves) led by Uncle Pai made their way into the hearts of millions. Ram Waeerkar was my favourite. I loved the way he drew the eyes, especially of animals. Notable mentions include Sanjiv Waeerkar (a relation of Ram's?), VB Halbe, Prasad Iyer, Pradeep Sathe and Archana Amberkar."

Tinkle hasn't really got it's due. It has stubbornly withstood the onslaught from beyond the borders as well as the cheap and tasteless Indian fare - which ranged from the gross to the utterly disgusting. In this cacophony of blood, gore, cleavages, dumb humour and now television and the Internet, Tinkle stood its ground and dutifully continues to educate and entertain the generations.

Amar Chitra Katha, fulfilled a different, albeit related, purpose. It was not only a rich source of elementary knowledge on history, biographies and mythology for an entire pre-cable TV and Internet generation but also gratified other needs of pubescent boys.

The women of Amar Chitra Katha, can give the Sheilas and the Munnis a run for their money any day.

September 17 is Uncle Pai's birthday. Google has put up a doodle to celebrate the man and his work.

Anant Pai passed away on February 24, 2011. He was 81. People die. Traditions live, unless we slowly kill them too.

As in Toy Story 3, where you don't throw away your old (but loved) toys, you don't sell-off or dump your old comic books either. Pass them on to someone who you know will cherish them. And the tradition will live on. Uncle Pai will live on.
First Published: September 17, 2011, 12:35 PM IST

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