Thank You, Uncle Pai

Among the many Enid Blytons and Illustrated Classics that made up my list of favourite books during childhood was a heavy old bound collection of Amar Chitra Kathas. Having worked its way down to me through a long line of cousins, this dog-eared hand-me-down copy looked rather shabby and forlorn among the glossy paperbacks in my bookshelf, but it is this particular book that I have read more times than all the rest of them put together.

Such was the magic of Amar Chitra Katha. Having spent a considerable part of my early childhood in Dubai, away from grandparents, temples, festivals and other trappings of an idyllic Indian childhood, it was Amar Chitra Katha that first gave me a taste of our culture – of gods and demons, of proud kings and warrior princesses, of Chatrapathi Shivaji, Tenali, Jhansi ki Rani and Panna Dhai. Into an imagination crammed with ideas of English boarding schools (St Clare’s) and rebellious children rowing off to stay in islands (Secret island), Amar Chitra Katha unleashed images of King Vikramaditya carrying a grinning vetal on his back, of Birbal cooking Khichdi on a tree and of Krishna beheading a livid Sisupal with his flaming discuss. For books I read when I was so young, it is amazing how much of it has stayed with me since – to this day, the images that form in my mind at the mention of Arjuna, Vishnu or Krishna are those calendar-art images planted in it by Amar Chitra Katha oh-so-long ago.

And then, there was Tinkle. The quintessential companion on long train journeys. And if I’d been a good girl throughout, a few digest volumes at the end of the vacation to pack and take back to my bookshelf back in Dubai. A long line of gags and laughs from cover to cover, in the form of Ramu and Shamu, Tantri the Mantri, Kaalia, Kapish, Suppandi and Naseruddin Hodja. Snippets of information from Tinkle’s Tells Us Why and the bespectacled Uncle Anu, which I used to secretly try and memorize to impress friends later. And chances are that, if I cleared up my old study desk, there would be, to this day, half-written accounts of experiences (both real and fabricated!) under the header “It Happened to Me” in envelopes addressed to Uncle Pai!

I have often wondered that, for an Anglophile generation like ours, would we have ever known stories from Panchatantra and Jataka tales if not Amar Chitra Katha? Would we have ever heard of Amrapali or Prabhavati or Manonmani? All that remains to say is this: Thank you, Uncle Pai. Thank you for Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and the indelible mark you’ve made in the lives of an entire generation.

Jyothi Varma

Twenty something blogger, whose passions include books, photography, cinema, and writing about all of the above! 🙂

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