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March 27, 2011

Page: 34/36

Home > 2011 Issues > March 27, 2011

Media Watch

Anant Pai: The One Without Parallel

THERE is one person whose passing away has touched me deeply and that is Anant Pai, the Uncle Pai to thousands of children who grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. And I am most grateful to Deccan Herald, DNA and The Hindu for acknowledging his undying contribution to the education of children by acquainting them of our great cultural heritage, of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and even the Pancha Tantra through publication of his comic texts.

For almost three generations of children ‘reading’ comics that he brought out under the patronage of India Book House was an absolute must. It would surprise today’s parents that Amar Chitra Katha under some 440 titles sold over 86 million copies, a record that is long going to be unsurpassable.

I first came to know Anant when he joined The Times of India which had launched Indrajal Comics. He must have thought that coming as both of us did from the same background, he should make my acquaintance. That acquaintance turned out to be something more: He literally adopted me an elder to be respected and whose blessings were to be sought. To say that I was embarrassed is to put it lightly. When he left The Times of India he came to seek my blessings. I had to tell him that I was not that old to bless anybody. I was hardly a decade older to him. In all the years that followed, whenever he would embark on a new project there would be that quiet phone call, I knew for what. But by then I had come to accept him unquestionably. Perhaps he needed some kind of moral support.

He had lost his father when he was a child and was brought up by his relatives in Bombay (Mumbai). To graduate from the Bombay Department of Chemical Technology was a major achievement and once when I asked him why he had not pursued his career based on his qualifications he merely smiled. He was a great believer in destiny. I remember a long conversation we had when he invited me for dinner at his small apartment in Parbhadevi, Mumbai, cluttered with books. His knowledge of Indian classics was unbeatable and I could never understand how he mastered Pali, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali in addition to the languages he had necessarily to be familiar with like Konkani, his mother tongue, Tulu, Kannada and, of course, English. He could recite Tagore’s poems like any good Bengali in the right accent.

Thought I was away from India on foreign assignments for over two decades, Anant never forgot me and invariably there would be an occasional surprise call to inquire about my health. He would send me his publications and once when I asked him how he managed to produce them in such a delectable form he invited me to his office and introduced me to his staff. It was an education in itself. I wish I had put down what I had learnt. I remember asking him why he never asked me to write copy for any of his comics for all the respect and affection he gave me, his answer was: "Do you know how to write for children?" and there was laughter all round. I had to ruefully admit that I didn’t. That was one field in which he excelled. I can’t imagine I can ever conjure up Kalia the crow, Ramu and Shamu, Tantri the Mantri or Shikar Shambhu, let alone Raja Hooja or Suppandi.

Anant had that super talent to think out names that could quickly stir up the minds of children. In that sense Anant was unique.

DNA ( February 25) wrote: "The loss of this beloved ‘Uncle’ sent a wave of grief over social net-working sites where within minutes of Pai’s demise people began posting their memories of Amar Chitra Katha and, of course, Uncle Pai." As Shakti Salgaonkar wrote: "It would have been a rare household in the 80s and 90s where fights would not have broken out among children over who would get to read Tinkle first." Sunday DNA (February 27) devoted an entire page to Uncle Pai on "the many sides of the ACK founder!" Subba Rao had a delightful piece on Uncle Pai. Thank you, Subba. And thank you Abhay Vaidya and thank you Amberish K. Diwanji.

The Hindu carried full-page tributes to Uncle Pai twice. Once in The Young World supplement (March 1) and then in its Metro Plus supplement (March 5), under the same title: "Good Bye Uncle Pai" and that said it all. Again, thank you, Neeti Sarkar. All of them wrote from their heart. Swati Daftuar said Pai "was the chief story-teller all right and will remain so for generations of Indians, for ages to come". How true and how well said! And said Neeti Sarkar: "Most of us probably still have our voluminous collection of dog-eared Tinkle resting on a less conspicuous bookshelf but the truth is that in some way or other the Tinkle comic is part of who we still are."

Anant never sought publicity or fame. At the very least, he deserved to get Padma Vibhushan. And may I say without wishing to hurt anyone’s feelings that Anant deserved a higher award than any contemporary film star, sports person or celebrity. He was never in the public eye. Yes, he received the Priyadarshini Academic Award in 2002 and Vishwa Saraswat Sanmaan in 2003 but he deserved much more. He did what was theoretically expected of any journalist: Inform, Educate and Entertain. He did that in ample measure. There never has been a journalist like him in the past one hundred and fifty years. Anant is one without a second.

To be fair, many distinguished journalists fought for independence, and paid heavily for their daring. An excellent example is the founder editor of The Free Press Journal, S Sadanand who was frequently fined heavily, had his press confiscated, but nothing daunted, continued to fight. Any comparison between him and anyone is odious. But it is in the field of education, especially in the field of children’s education that Anant Pai excelled. It is a neglected area, for centuries assigned to grandparents. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan had published C Rajagopalachariar’s Mahabharata and Ramayana which have gone into scores of editions, the only two books, one understands, that have done so magnificently. But Anant Pai has his own place.

Goodbye, Anant. We will meet again soon. There is always another life and there will always be many more generations to educate. And Radha and Krishna, Ram and Sita not to speak of Hanuman should continue to fascinate generations yet to come. As matters stand, perhaps some one will reprint all those back issues of Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle to keep the fountains of knowledge flowing. Bless them.

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